He believes, and I agree, that there should be a balance. When programs are put on a priority list, the students in programs at the bottom of the list will not receive a quality education. Chances are, things are missing from the program that would normally allow it to achieve success.
When you read this, understand that I am a musician. My focus on this post will be on music...but the arts, in general, face the same issues. The arts are usually at the bottom of a priority list if one exists. And it's usually worse for the other arts programs.
You're going to read this post and maybe think I hate sports. That couldn't be further from the truth! I played baseball for nearly 11 years and LOVE the game. I ran track and cross-country (sorry, I didn't like cross-country), played golf, basketball, and even gave football a try. I am an AVID Cleveland Browns fan (much to my dismay), as well as the Cavaliers and Indians. I'm proud to be a Youngstown State University Penguin, University of Illinois Fighting Illini, and Indiana University Hoosier. I DO think, however, that athletics as a whole do not need my help for advocacy. Music and the arts, on the other hand, need more balance in many public schools and colleges.
This is where this blog comes in. What is a balanced approach and what does a balanced school look like?
So here are 5 things to consider.
5. The arts actually exist.
Literary, visual, and performing - heck, a culinary arts component wouldn't hurt anyone either.
The assumption is that since the most talked about stuff in society are sports, that people and students must not care about the arts. The reality is, we are force-fed sports from a VERY young age. I played baseball four years before I joined band.
The funny thing is, some people actually believe that if you handed a first grader a trumpet, it's too hard for them. However, giving them a baseball glove and bat is totally fine - or how about a football helmet and pads?
Have you ever asked a high school student or adult if they want to draw or paint? The response is usually "I don't know how", unless of course, they "know how". Younger students? Oh, you better believe they're down with drawing or painting! This is why starting young is so important. The fact is, advocates for athletics have known this - which is exactly why we start sports so young. Time for music and the arts to do the same thing.
4. Options for music and the arts start at least in 5th grade.
Sure there are general music classes and art classes - and they are very important. But there are many schools where starting band or choir doesn't happen until after 5th grade. Some schools even start as late as 7th or 8th grade. And, by then, it's oftentimes too late. Students have learned a life without music by then. Just ask any coach who has tried to start a lacrosse team at a high school where there isn't a youth team in town. Ain't gonna happen in many cases.
Personally, I feel 5th grade is a little late. But at least by the start of 5th grade, they have only just started to achieve a higher facility in fine motor skills - and can further develop them on a musical instrument (Coincidentally, this is why I feel we should start sooner. So that fine motor skills are developed in tandem with a musical instrument - much like they are with throwing, catching, and/or hitting in baseball).
3. Facilities are at an equal level.
This one hurts me the most. How many schools have I seen built over the last 10 to 20 years that include some kind of performance venue/cafeteria/gym/trophy display multi-purpose thing? And yet, behind the new building, is a football stadium...usually attached to the school is a gym for basketball and volleyball games.
The argument is, "football needs a place to play" or "football games are highly attended; we need a place for our community to watch". And you know what? That's totally valid.
Did you know that music needs a place to perform? And did you know that a dedicated concert hall actually makes the music sound better? Plus, it sends a strong message to the students that a community cares enough about the arts to have spaces that are equally as important as the spaces for sports. Having a performance venue can be used by the theatre program, community music groups, traveling music groups, film screenings, guest speakers - so many things! If done right, you might even be able to make money with a good venue.
Plus, I look at it like this; football teams will have 50 to 100 players and only 22 play at a time. There literally is no limit to the number of musicians/artists/dancers/actors you can have AND no one sits the bench. The arts are the ultimate experience for every student on your campus. But what if our marching band is SO big we can't march on the field? First of all, that may not be possible (check out this nearly 800 piece band and a video of them in performance)...second of all, have a competing group and a football game group if you want. If you have so many actors that there aren't enough roles in a play or musical...then have another play.
Not only that, when schools and colleges make huge decisions to build new facilities or renovate old ones, these decisions effect their community for decades. Hopefully longer than any single person currently using the facility. When you talk long term, balance is necessary so people in the future aren't hindered in their decision making. "Well, we don't have a concert hall, so why would we add another music teacher for our growing band program?" Or "it's hard to justify starting a soccer team without a soccer field."
2. Scheduling is friendly for everyone.
The athletics is an easy one. They are usually after school. Okay, I know I understated that...it isn't easy. But since music is generally during the school day, it's a little different.
In middle school, give every student the opportunity to sign up for a music class. Band, choir, and orchestra (if you've got it). Put a math class or English class during the band hour and choir hour...a class where you more than likely have other options for the band and choir students to take so they don't miss out. And yes, make band and choir at different times. Singing is good for playing an instrument, and playing an instrument is good for singing.
In high school, it should be very similar. Band and choir (and orchestra...again, if you have it.) students shouldn't have to choose between a required history class or music. Again, simply schedule courses that must have multiple offerings throughout the day during the band and choir times, so that those students aren't forced to quit. You'd be surprised how much this happens.
"You can do anything if you put your mind on how to do it, rather than on why you can't"
1. Faculty are sufficient for successful teaching (and coaching).
This is one I think some people aren't going to agree with me here.
The bottom line is, there are very few schools with enough teachers for the arts.
To me, it's easy. There should be at least three teachers for band, at least two for choir, and however many necessary for the general music classes in elementary and middle schools. The three band teachers should be: brass, woodwind, and percussion. High school and middle school for choir.
Music teachers go to music school to study their instrument; a brass instrument, woodwind instrument, or percussion. Or voice. Okay, and strings and piano...but they don't count because many schools don't have orchestras.
And while being an accomplished performer and teacher on a brass, woodwind, or percussion instrument doesn't make you an expert on every instrument in your respective family - it's certainly A LOT closer than asking a brass player to "figure it out" with woodwinds and percussion.
What will those teachers do? All three can go to the middle school together - at least for the 5th and 6th grade bands - and work with the students learning their respective instrument families (some days, of course, having full band rehearsal). As the students become more proficient, they need less attention and the music teachers can split up. One takes the top high school band, another takes the second band in high school, someone can take the 8th grade band, they all share marching band, etc. There are many ways you can make this work.
Why 120 per grade? If you have 480 students at your high school, you should at least have a band of 120 (25% involvement). That would allow your program to have two concert bands of 60, and a marching band of 120. Your 5th grade classes would likely be around 60 to 90, with a gradual decline to 25 to 40 by their senior year of high school.
Does that sound too high to you? Then I'm willing to bet that 3 out of the 5 on my list are severely lacking or even missing from your school.
Here's the reality - everyone LOVES music. So many adults who don't know how to play an instrument say they wish they did. There's nothing wrong with the trombone or Mozart. Those two things have been around for a very long time. The problem is not enough people understand it. But we are force-fed an athletics-heavy diet at a very young age, with little-to-no exposure to the arts at the same ages we start teaching our children to "crush the guy with the ball" or dream to "go pro". I acknowledge this isn't true everywhere, and those places with a more balanced approach to education are an example for us to follow.
Again, I LOVE sports. I play and watch them all the time - I even run my own fantasy football league. But your school has more than just athletes! The students in your school deserve the opportunity to learn about the arts, just as they deserve the opportunity to learn how to play sports. We push sports because we dream that maybe the next Michael Jordan or Joe Montana is roaming our hallways...and that is exciting! But you may have the next Yo-Yo Ma, Salvador Dali, Dorothea Lange, Will Smith, Laura Linney, or Ludwig Von Beethoven too! And that is EQUALLY as exciting!
The scary part is that if we don't start to push for a more balanced approach to education then we start to build generations of people who don't know the value of the arts - because they have never experienced them. Cities take tax money to build professional sport venues...but let their orchestras die away or suffer massive cuts (see the city of Minnesota). There are college campuses that struggle every year to make their budgets work...yet half of their campuses are sporting facilities with very little to no facilities for the arts and even the most critical of academics. These things happen because those communities have trained themselves into a state of unbalanced education. Trust me, none of us want that.