A thousand parents and students turned out in Upper Darby May 2 to urge the restoration of art, language and technology classes to public elementary and middle school curriculums there.
Upper Darby is only one of a number of school districts in the Philadelphia area impacted by state cuts to funding for public schools. Last year Gov. Corbett cut $860 million from public schools; this year’s budget proposes to cut $100 million more.
As it was when No Child Left behind was passed, the programs deemed most disposible in the school curricula are the arts, languages and technology. As a society, we’re taught to be pragmatists and materialists and those programs — we seem to think — are the gravy, not the meat, of education.
Except, they aren’t.
The results of cuts to these programs have far deeper effect on the academic future for our children — and on our ability as a nation to claim a prepared and educated workforce — than you might be tempted to believe.
Study after study shows that the arts drastically improve math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skills in K-12 students. There is also evidence that the arts improve concentration, confidence, and teamwork.
For a lot of children from financially challenged families, the cuts to school arts programs will represent zeroing exposure to everything from Mozart to Michelangelo. Engagement with the arts during school hours also more than halves drop-out rates, according to Americans for the Arts, and in Philadelphia schools where only 60 percent graduate, this is not an inconsiderable benefit.
Similarly, elementary second-language instruction has been proven to significantly improve problem-solving and evaluation skills, reading and math scores, even I.Q. scores. It is an area of learning where American students already lag far behind their peers in other developed nations, and indeed, behind their peers in not-so-developed nations. This is no longer a secondary skill but a primary one for students hoping for college degrees or entry to the global marketplace. By depriving our children of this learning throughout their school years we are, in effect, hobbling them. Putting a lien on their future.
As for technology ... well, the thinking behind cutting those courses really stuns. Technology is one of the few sectors of the economy not reeling from the recession. In fact, it’s a booming jobs engine and one that has, for some time, carried the imprimatur of American creativity and ingenuity in design and development. So, by all means, let’s nip that right in the bud. You know, at elementary and middle school level, where children start taking the technology leaps that their elders can’t even envision much less manifest.
The screaming need here is for the governor, elected officials and school boards to invest in education, not gut it.
The critical thinking and problem solving and creative skills fostered by just the programs that are being cut are what’s needed.
And the foresight to understand that investing in our children, investing art (and languages and technology) is what pays off — big time — in the long run.