Eliminating Fine Arts Is A Bad Idea

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A disturbing trend is unfolding in the Rim country -- a de-emphasis of the fine arts.

The latest manifestation is an expected decision by the Payson Unified School District to cut back on the chorus and art programs at Rim Country Middle School.

Faced with a potential $400,000 budget shortfall, PUSD is eliminating elementary physical education and, it now seems apparent, fine arts programs at the middle school in which at least half the students are involved.

And there is evidence that the middle school decision is not an isolated occurrence. With the retirement of Payson High School drama teacher John Siler at the end of the school year, the district apparently at least considered seizing the opportunity to eliminate the drama program at PHS altogether.

And then there is Gila Community College. Faced with an enrollment slump due to an ill-timed transition from Eastern Arizona College to Pima Community College as the provider of academic programs, the school has decided to scale back its offerings by focusing on occupation-related programs and de-emphasizing or eliminating those fine arts classes that aren't bursting at the seams with students.

This despite the fact that one of the missions of the community college system in America is to be a repository and an advocate for the arts in the communities where they are located.

Administrators and educators can make all the excuses they want -- mostly about economic realities -- but something much larger than even elementary school physical education is at stake here.

RCMS middle school band teacher Mike Buskirk has researched the impact of music and fine arts throughout history. Two anecdotes stand out.

  • At the Council of Trent in 1810, music was eliminated from schools. By the 1870s it had been put back in because church choirs had all but disappeared.
  • In 1971, California and New York eliminated elementary school music programs. Fifteen years later, rap music emerged from these very areas -- complete with rhythm and poetry, but no melody.

Perhaps even more important is the question raised by another RCMS teacher. What about the kids -- and there are more than a few -- whose only success in school is being part of the chorus?

At least when physical education is eliminated, parents can encourage their children to exercise, and even participate with them in physical activity. There are little leagues and other options available.

But when the fine arts are eliminated there is little recourse.

John F. Kennedy put it best when he said that the arts, far from being a distraction, are the means by which a society should be measured.

It is incumbent on all of us -- educators, school board members, parents and citizens -- to keep the arts alive in the Rim country.

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