Neglect to the Arts
The story of a struggling artist is as old as time. Someone who’s outlook on life is seen through the kaleidoscope of their imagination. There’s a recognized brilliance that comes along with being an artist, but also a sense of rejection from the rest of society. We are made to believe that creative minds are born and not made, but I believe if given the right circumstances anyone can learn the skill of creativity just as we learn long division in math class. The current lack of support for the arts by the TDSB in terms of funding is stripping important opportunities away from students. If we want to keep seeing forward imaginative thinkers coming from the school system, something has to change.
The arts are not only an outlet for student expression, they’re also a tool that can be used to aid the development of language, motor and social skills. The way the curriculum is shaped and what is “advertised” to students as important courses makes a significant difference in the way we the students view certain subjects. From a young age we’re taught that science and math should be our main concern and the arts are somewhat of an extracurricular activity instead of a valued subject. The more open and creative format of art classes allows for students who would otherwise not be engaged in school to have an opportunity to learn in a way that benefits them. The fact that the Progressive Conservative government’s new budget, cut the Ontario music fund from $15M to $7M earlier this year is no help in getting more students involved in musical education. A report by People for Education found that 41% of elementary schools in Ontario have a “specialist music teacher”, a number that was closer to 60% 20 years ago. The consequences of neglecting the arts aren’t getting less grave, so what makes the TDSB and provincial government think that it’s okay to put the development of Ontario students on the backburner.
It’s not just the students that are feeling this hit to the school system. When speaking with music and drama teacher here at Harbord (Ms.Martin) she stated that “The current lack of support for the arts in general and music in our schools in particular is abysmal.” But it wasn’t always this bad “The TDSB used to have an excellent elementary school itinerant music programme in some areas of the city, and a merely adequate one in other areas. Instead of improving the programme by increasing the number of hours the less well served schools received, the Board cut hours in the better served areas. The Board calls this equality and cites government cutbacks.” I was curious about a teacher's thoughts on the effects of musical education on her students, when asked she explained that “Despite the fact that the arts are suffering, the students at Harbord who take music are engaged and passionate about their music. They are eager to learn and to improve their skills. They enjoy performing. Learning music inspires their self confidence, and their ability to focus. It teaches perseverance, teaches problem solving, and improves communication and collaboration skills. It fosters leadership. Employers are often interested in hearing about an applicant's experiences as a musician at a job interview. Quality music education contributes to vital workforce developmental skills.” She added that “so far, the arts environment at Harbord is holding on, but we can not continue in this vein forever. The arts have so much to offer: they were part of the ideal education in ancient Greece, along with the maths and sciences. We have lost touch with their importance in society, and have forgotten their influence in other subjects, and their influence on making a person whole!”
It seems as though the pillars of education we rely on are crumbling beneath us. With all the valid and urgent issues being discussed in the media and the government, the TDSB music program doesn’t strike most as the highest of our concerns, but the effects of these budget cuts and failure to meet needs is being felt to a high degree. I was told once by a conductor at a government run music camp that you will always find a friend in your instrument, and for certain kids that means more than anyone could imagine.