With school budget season upon us, I would like to pause for a moment and reflect upon music and arts in our schools. Many would say that when times get tough, this is an area where money should be cut but I beg to differ.
I had the privilege of listening to children grades 5-12 from throughout Ulster County sing at the All-County Choral Festival on March 1, 2014. All three groups of singers (elementary, junior high school and senior high school) sang with enthusiasm and did an amazing job after their full day of rehearsal. The music was varied in style and very enjoyable to listen to. The elementary and junior high school choruses had songs in foreign languages as well as with clapping and/or other choreography to add to the excitement of the song. It was obvious that the teachers and students had all worked hard to prepare for this concert.
In this atmosphere of enjoyment contrasted with the yearly rounds of budget cuts, I read the President’s message with a somewhat heavy heart and have received permission to share it for your contemplation.
We would like to thank you for joining us in our celebration of music in the Ulster County schools. Parents, students and teachers have worked hard to produce the beautiful concert you will hear today. And even as we take pride in today’s performance it is equally important that we consider the environment in which it has been created.
We are continually called upon to defend and justify the importance of music. We are asked to provide scientific data to prove that music changes lives, shapes neuro-pathways, creates social bonds, sensitizes the emotions, and develops compassion for our fellow human beings. Students and teachers of music have always known this. The president of Cornell University David J. Skorton stated on June 26th, “It is through the study of art, music, literature, history and other humanities and social sciences that we gain a greater understanding of the human condition than biological or physical science alone can provide.”
The current path of education leads us away from what matters most. As Diane Ravitch has pointed out, the concept behind a ‘race to the top’ is fundamentally flawed. There is no race where everyone wins. The democratic ideal is educational equality, not winners and losers. When the value of education is reduced to a formula then the essence of education is lost.
The health of music education reflects the state of education as a whole. How long can the canary sing in this environment? You are about to hear a wonderful concert. You will be inspired, moved and uplifted in spite of over-testing, cuts, and reductions of music departments county-wide. The canary is still singing, but for how long?
We don’t have to claim that participation in the arts raises test scores. That’s not the point. The arts are far more valuable. They awaken our soul and spirit and they don’t need any more justification than that.- Dr. Barbara Wild & Mr. Randolph Loder, Co-Presidents, UCMEA
Perhaps you attended the All-County Band Festival last weekend or will be joining me in attending the All-County Orchestra Festival this weekend. Perhaps you enjoy other musical venues put on specifically by Kingston school district students. Maybe your focus is visual arts rather than music or maybe sports or some other aspect of the many wonderful experiences that Kingston offers to our students beyond just “reading, writing and arithmetic”. Please be involved in the budget process and urge the Kingston Board of Education to continue their focus from past years and retain our wonderful music and arts and other programs that make KCSD such a rich experience for our students. Also remind our board of education that as we continue to deal with the Common Core Agenda not everything can be measured by STEM and high-stakes testing.
Additional opportunities for you to get involved include an online budget survey that the district will be posting on March 24, 2014 and the third budget forum on April 7, 2014 6pm at the Cioni administration building.