Don't Mind Me, That's Just My Heart Breaking

Free A Child's Cry

Yesterday one of the largest school districts in Illinois said it intends to cut 164 staff, a move which will reduce the music teachers in the district by about 50%. As a bellwether for the state, it is a flat out scary decision to see and should concern all arts educators in Illinois. Superintendents don't just communicate with one another about whether they should take a snow day. Rest assured a green light for deeper arts cuts across the state was just lit. If District 204 (with two GRAMMY recognized high schools) thinks a 50% music reduction is acceptable, who is next?

Congress acted swiftly to save our largest financial institutions, telling us that the country was on the brink of another great depression. I don't disagree that we were, however fast forward a year and Wall Street has miraculously paid out over 18 billion dollars in bonuses. In one short year Wall Street has moved from the edge of the cliff right back into their Central Park condos. Meanwhile the states are under water dealing with the continued tax revenue fallout from the housing bubble which was largely caused by the inappropriate lending by many of these same financial institutions. Ironic? Something isn't right with this picture.

Worse yet...and in classic legislator fashion...the problem is now being passed on to our children. Every time there is a political campaign we hear about solving spending problems so they are not put on the backs of the next generation, which is nearly always an empty promise. But this time it is far worse: They're not passing on a broken system (like Social Security), this time politicians are making decisions that impact the education of students right now, today. They have no problem using children as leverage. In Illinois Governor Quinn is holding education hostage in an effort to get a tax increase. But even if he gets an increase it won't be enough to fix the damage already inflicted. Illinois is not alone,  the education funding problem is a national epidemic. And where is Congress in midst of all this? Stalemated in a healthcare debate.

A bailout for AIG? No problem. A bailout for our children? Pound sand, we're too busy pointing fingers. And what about the White House? It seems they are too busy praising the firing of teachers and creating a Race To The Top to notice what is really happening. Does anyone really think that test scores are going to improve by increasing class sizes and cutting the creative arts? Talking school reform in the midst of state budget crises is like arguing about best practices in fire prevention while your home is ablaze.

The old adage is that when education funding is cut, the arts are first to go. True, but we must realize that there is far more to it than fewer concerts. We are robbing students of essential means of developing their thinking, creativity, and expression. This isn't about teachers, it isn't about the arts, it is about stunting the intellect of the next generation. We know that the next generation will need to be more creative to deal with the myriad of problems being passed on to them. We're currently making certain that they won't be equipped to deal with them.

Don't mind me, that's just my heart breaking.

6 responses
While the rest of the country has been dealing with a rising unemployment rate for the past year, it's about to get a lot worse with continued school cuts. The scary thing is that next year will probably even worse.
Cutting teachers, bad. But is government investment in the problem the answer? We need ed. reform from bottom-up, not the top-down. More and more districts are going to fail AYP as the required percentages in each category climb to 100% by 2014. Then what? NCLB has to be reformed. Who's doing the changes?

Obama's comment on supporting firing teachers was a sound byte from one press conference taken out of context. The media dramatized it - we don't have to accept it at face value.

U.S. Public Education needs to get out of a 1950's paradigm and full enter the information age with the rest of the corporate world. Until we do, we are an endangered species.

Thomas, I agree with your reform points. But the current crisis is one of education funding, and it seems to me that our legislators are turning a blind eye to it now that Wall Street is back on its feet. I don't see any meaningful education reform getting traction in the midst of of these budget cuts.
I cannot find many examples where politicians made decisions based on recommendations from educational experts. We are in the trenches and see what kind of media our students REQUIRE for their learning. There is movement in our state to return to educating kids the way it was in the 1960's and 1970's. The problem is, our kids learn differently. The mass media market controls how we teach our kids, and if we force them to learn via a different schema, we are setting them up for failure. The arts are a formidable figure in the mass media market, and to eliminate expert knowledge from the schools results in less information for the students. Many people ask, is the United States falling from the ranks of a "superpower?" Quite certainly, the answer is yes. We seem to believe that we are teaching our kids the right stuff to be successful, however, it was the legislators that decided what curriculum was important, not the teachers. I'll never forget my freshman year at the University of Illinois, living in a dorm with students mostly from South Korea, Japan, and China. Almost all of them were majoring in engineering and ALL of them had a well rounded education. Out of 100 students I met, 80 of them could play an instrument. As a result, here they are at one of the most respected schools for engineering in the country. Again, it goes back to who is the government listening to, the experts, or other legislators.

Should massive cuts in education continue, there is no doubt in my mind that our country will become less of a superpower, and more divided than it already is.

Public education is a State-level issue. Here in PA, where they went four months without a budget this past year because of bickering in the state senate, and education is THE issue that is being argued over. The state has already slashed funding to the library system several years back.

If you look back at the list of Secretaries of Education we've had in the White House, you will see a mixed bag. Some, like Roderick Paige under G.W. Bush have experience as a college dean and superintendent. Others, like Margaret Spellings (NCLB co-founder) have a political science degree and was heavily involved in education only as a big wig in the Texas School Boards association.

Current Sec. Arne Duncan has direct experienced with underprivileged Chicago children and his own education foundation, but his Harvard degree is in sociology. On paper, he's more of a social reformist than an educator. He has had experience tutoring, however.

The U.S. losing superpower status is as it should be. Just as we in America don't like corporate monopolies, the ever-entangling global community cannot tolerate a superpower.

Well said, Brian. Thank you for eloquently stating what so many are feeling.