Politicians and arts education

Bad things invariably happen when politicians start messing around with education. Two realities tend to dominate the discussion: money (or the lack of it), and whether to cut education in the arts. Witness the legislature of my state of North Carolina as it wrestles with HB 13. The bill passed in the House in February, and it stalled in the Senate as legislators ponder what to do with it.

First, state legislators lowered maximum class sizes from 24 students to between 19 and 21 for kindergarten through third grade, a rule that takes effect in this coming school year.  But this puts arts and physical education programs at risk. The class-size mandate takes away school leaders’ flexibility to fund these important programs. Smaller class size requires hiring more teachers, which costs money. Lots of it.

Why is it that when politicians need to find money for education, the first place they turn is music, drama, dance and visual art? Grownups know that these very disciplines make a community great, and that starts with children in school. Evidence abounds to demonstrate the benefits of arts education at an early age.

Educating a child in the arts encourages creativity in self-expression, obviously. It strengthens math and science skills and academic performance generally. It improves critical thinking skills. What could be more important? It builds confidence. Motor skills improve. It encourages self-discipline, perseverance and mental focus. It enriches social skills as students learn, rehearse and perform together. It develops personal responsibility. We in a civilized society place a high value on these. Legislators should wake up and see this.

Everyone wins when arts are taught in the schools. All of us lose when politicians take that away.

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