[Yesterday a friend posted the image to the right on her Facebook account with the comment, “Oh, yes it does!” Ever the fiscal conservative, I responded, “No, it doesn't!” She asked me to explain my rationale. The response became unwieldy for a Facebook comment, so I moved it here. Enjoy. Or don't. :)]
We Love Music and Arts
My last two years of high school included: ballroom dance team, a cappella choir, chamber choir, and symphony orchestra (where I was concert master)—with barely time to finish the needed academics to graduate.
Fast forward a generation to my own kids. While we have homeschooled all six of our kids (three now in college), all of high school aged kids have taken a few classes at the local public school. Most of their selections were music and/or arts classes. My 15-year-old currently homeschooling her academics and attending a charter (public) performing arts high school. The two younger boys take a school-related musical theater class as well.
Read that: we love music and arts and think they are extremely beneficial.
Public Schools Should Not Fund Music and Arts
In spite of all this past, current, and probable future involvement with public school music and arts, I do not think public schools should be funding these programs.
Public schools should never have become the source for all that is good and holy—and certainly not the source for all the “important” things our children learn. In spite of that, schools have become a behemoth, ever-expanding, all-encompassing, government-sponsored day care system that takes our kids from kindergarten (and in many states, pre-school) through 12th grade. We offer up our children seven hours (or more!) hours per day, 180 days per year, for at least 13 years—and depend on the teachers to provide everything.
Public Schools Are Minimally Academic
In addition to actual, academic classes, schools we have utilized have provided (often in mandatory settings):
- “I language” classes
- Values clarification
- Conflict resolution
- Sex ed
- Maturation education
- Tolerance education
- Hearing tests
- Vision tests
- Physical education
- Vocal music performances, tours, and competitions
- Instrumental music performances, tours, and competitions
- Drama instruction and performance
- Sports teams and competitions
- Dance instruction, teams, and competitions
- Cheerleading squads
- Adult roles courses
- Debate and forensic events
- Visual arts
- Nutritional services
- Channel One
- Scholarship assistance
- Crossing guards
- Clubs of all kinds
- Royalty contests
- “Enrichment” activities while waiting for the kids in remediation
- Before school care
- After school care
- Etc., etc., etc.
Please feel free to add to the list in the comments!
What Is the Role of Public Schools?
Years ago, in Florida, I served on the school advisory council (before we started homeschooling). At the meeting, half the allotted time was devoted to moaning about “lack of funding” and the other half to figuring out “good, valuable, important” programs to add to the school day—and to use more funding.
During one month's SAC meeting, a teacher proposed that we should start providing dinner service “so the poor working parents wouldn't have to go home after a long day at work and cook.”
I proposed that we set up little cots and bureaus in the lunchroom so that the parents wouldn't have to be bothered taking their kids home at all. (Yea, that went over really well.)
Bottom line: the public schools have no defined scope or mission.
“Important” Does Not Mean “Fund It with Taxpayer Money”
In every school situation I've been in, administrators and teachers seem to think that if they can successfully argue that something is “important,” nothing else matters. The school district should, ipso facto, provide funding and the school should start administering.
What in the world ever happened to parents?
Unfortunately, parents have been all too happy to send the kids off and let someone else do the work. Whew! If we just throw more money at the schools and provide more programs—we won't have to lift a finger. (Except, perhaps, by joining the PTA and serving as a room mother once or twice per decade.)
Public Schools Are Not Equipped for Artistic Excellence (or any other)
While there are exceptions—and I've personally experienced them (shout out to Mr. Sandgren, choir!)—non-academic classes at public schools are generally mediocre. Even “award-winning” high school groups are generally competing against other mostly mediocre groups.
Now I'm sure your school is the exception. (Funny, everyone's is.) But the hard truth is, public school music teachers, drama teachers, orchestra teachers generally are not the cream of the crop in their professions. (OK, the same can be said for public school math and English teachers, but I digress.)
That doesn't mean the kids don't have fun and it doesn't mean they don't learn. It doesn't mean all teachers are bad or poor or fair, some are exceptional (shout out to Mr. Lindsay, junior honors English!). It doesn't mean teachers don't have wonderful intentions. But it's opportunity cost we should be looking at.
If we can remove the “cafetorium” (a three-story lunchroom complete with enormous flat-screen monitor (used to transmit crucial info like “Chicken nuggets today!”) at many schools such as Willow Creek Middle), the auditorium, the lunchroom and kitchen, the football stadium, the gymnasium, the busses, etc., etc., how many world-class voice lessons, dance lessons, theater productions, coaching sessions, etc., etc. could we afford?
My daughter's current performing arts high school contradicts this notion. The instruction is utterly top-notch. But they've been able to do that only outside the typical public school structure (in a charter school). Each instructor is not just an expert teacher, but a working professional in their field.
While we absolutely love what is offered—and plan to continue to attend and promote the school to any like-minded artists who will listen—I think the community would be better served if tax money was given back to the earners, schools focused on academics, and individuals were allowed to select this type of instruction on their own. They would do this if the programs suited them and if the benefits outweighed the costs. For us, they certainly would.
If we must have public schools and if we must all hand over our kids 7 hours a day, 180 days per year, for 13 freaking years to “trained educators” perhaps we should define the role the school should fill.
Here's my idea: schools teach academics. Period.
Are Parents Really Idiots?
On a slight tangent, I'd argue (hard) against the idea that we need to send our kids away at all. Most parents have been hoodwinked into thinking they are too stupid to teach high school level subjects. Seriously, how hard was high school? (And if you really think it was that hard, maybe it's because you went to public school.)
Parents have also been largely convinced that they need an education degree or certification in order to qualify to teach high school level material and below.
Do these parents realize that education is one of the least academically rigorous majors available in a typical college? (Look at a typical course of study and compare how much is mastering academic content and how much is classroom management.) Do they realize that the majority of elementary education teachers, for example, chose the major in order to avoid upper level math (see research by Sells, et. al.)?
Guess who taught AP Chemistry at the local high school where one of my daughters attended? The cheerleading coach—who didn't know chemistry. (Yes, we opted out of that “opportunity.”)
For the sake of argument, let's assume the parents really are complete dolts in a critical subject or two. Could they still be capable of finding at least one person on earth who has mastered, say, high school algebra?
Poor Kids Won't Suffer—Really
The first objection I always get is that poor kids won't get music (or art or sports or…)!
Please don't go there. It's complete BS. In the United States, people get what is important to them. We were dirt poor in college (well below the poverty line — and had two kids before Sam finished his PhD), so we scraped and saved and bargained and bartered and did whatever we had to in order to provide our kids with what they needed.
Every single time I've been in a meeting where someone claimed the schools had to provide something because they couldn't afford it otherwise, the people screaming poverty had nails, hair dye, clothes, jewelry, shoes, and/or purses I couldn't afford. The nails alone could have paid for quality piano lessons for a couple of kids.
OK, so some poor kids will suffer—because their parents are selfish idiots who think rhinestone studded nails are more important than piano lessons. If that's the case, let's outlaw child-bearing by fools.
Philosophy of Self-Reliance
So, no, I don't think the school should provide everything you and your children have ever wanted, neatly wrapped up in a convenient, “free” package. In fact, I think the schools—that are funded by the hard work of Americans—should provided a very basic, minimal, academic education, and then get the heck out of Dodge.
Even though money isn't an issue for us anymore, we require our kids to pay for their things on principle, in order for them to learn the value of things they receive and to see the work behind them.
Once they turn eight, they buy most of the things they need, like clothes, toys, gifts, entertainment, etc. (As I write this, my nine-year-old is shredding old business documents to earn a few dollars toward a computer program he wants. He's already lined up his next job with a college-aged sibling: cleaning out and vacuuming her car.)
My 15-year-old just returned from a competition musical theater tour to Disneyland that she paid for herself. She also pays for her monthly tuition to the group that went on the tour. How? She sold flashlights and pizza cards. She worked concessions at football and basketball games. She prepared and served popcorn at a Halloween party. She washed cars. She ironed shirts. She babysat. She buster her backside.
All my older kids have done similar things for camps or tours or competitions or lessons or teams or other fun things they wanted to participate in. Your kids (rich or poor) can, too.
My husband put himself through college, from BS, to MS, to PhD. I had my education (tuition and books) funded by mom and dad until I was married. Given our experience and that of many roommates and friends, Sam and I saw a stark difference between those who had education handed to them and those who worked for it. Because of that, we decided the self-reliance model should continue.
We have three kids at BYU this year, one in graduate school and the others undergrads. Our kids pay their way through college—with minimal help from us as undergrads—even though they generally don't qualify for any financial aid because we make too much. Yes, it's tough. But it's entirely possible on minimum-ish wages jobs, with hard work and sacrifice.
Do the math. Nobody needs the government nanny to go to college. Period. We've just been told—over and over by those who want to control the money (and by doing so control us)—that we need assistance and help to make it.
Community Dies When Schools Take Over and Give “Free” Services
The homeschool community is living proof of individuals—without government intervention or funding—filling the needs of families and children. It could fill another entire post, but I don't intend to do that here. Suffice it to say that resources that are available become extinct as people lose the ability to take care of themselves.
When Mrs. Sutton—funded by Uncle Sam—starts teaching all the six-year-olds to read, the parents forget how to do it (and don't have a model for teaching reading) and become dependent on the government to provide even the simplest, most basic tasks.
From what I read and hear today, parents can't possibly be expected even to feed and transport their own kids to school. After generations of subsidized school lunch programs and taxpayer-funded busing systems, most parents—even those who are educated and financially well off—cannot fathom the idea of being responsible for such things.
Schools Should Not Fund Music and Art and Everything Under the Sun
In conclusion, no, I do not think music and art and dance and theater and sports belong in public schools. Even if they are good. Even if they are valuable. Even if they are important.
Schools should have a defined purpose and meet that purpose efficiently and effectively—and leave the rest to us.