Arts are still needed for rounded education
A recent letter offered a passionate plea for saving the jobs of teachers in the Clarence public schools. I have great empathy for the writer’s plea, but her suggested solution causes me some concern. She suggests that “extracurricular” activities such as the arts and sports be eliminated from the budget so that the money saved could be used to retain teaching positions that might otherwise be cut because of lack of funds. Isn’t there a touch of inconsistency in this solution? Are not art and music classes as well as sport teams taught by teachers? Are we then to pit teacher against teacher and subject against subject in this downward spiral of financial cutbacks?
Art and music courses are not extracurricular activities; they are bona fide courses mandated by the New York State Department of Education. This has been so for decades. The “arts” have historically served as a civilizing influence in society and their pursuit brings lifelong rewards.
From a historical perspective, music became recognized as an integral part of the school curriculum when the concept of a “liberal arts education” was first formulated at the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment. Music, recognized as a universal language of emotion, was placed with the language arts of grammar, rhetoric and logic. While at the same time music, recognized as numbers in motion, was taught along with arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. These subjects made up the two divisions (trivium and quadrivium) of the liberal arts curriculum.
Unfortunately, commercial and political influence in present day public education has adulterated classroom time with copious test-taking and offered job aptitude as the desired goal of contemporary educational pursuit. It is my opinion that the arts are still needed in education today every bit as much as they have been for centuries, and the eradication of ignorance is still education’s loftiest goal.