Public school cuts cause decrescendo in college arts

Photo illustration by Robby Hirst | Lariat Photographer
Photo illustration by Robby Hirst | Lariat Photographer
By Haley Davis

Imagine a world without people such as Beethoven, Picasso, Morgan Freeman and the Beatles.

All of these people are artists. They are painters, musicians and actors ­— people who create art for others to enjoy. However, all these artists had to learn their craft from somewhere.

A recent bill approved by the House of Representatives committee will cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Its budget will be slashed to $75 million for the 2014 fiscal year, a 49 percent decrease from the agency’s funding for 2013.

Elementary, middle and high schools fine arts programs are also feeling the pain of budget issues.

Dr. Lynn Gackle, assistant director of choral musical at Baylor, said she wants to remind students they will be in control of eventual cuts or funding in educational budgets through their ability to vote at both the state and national levels.

Closer to Baylor, Waco Independent School District music program has felt the need to cut some of its fine arts programs.

Orchestra programs were cut in fall 2013 at elementary and middle schools in Waco, leaving only two orchestra directors who each split their time between two to three middle and high schools in the district.

Strong fine arts programs in urban areas can help keep students busy and off the streets. The National Education Association reports that the arts give children and teens another outlet to learn and grow.

It helps give them a goal to work toward and helps keep them from getting into trouble.

If fine arts programs continue to be cut in primary and secondary schools, the college arts could suffer.

“Music has always been a large part of my life, which is why I decided to major in it,” Houston junior Laura Wohlfort said. “I was born with a natural ear for music and musical talent, which being involved in the arts growing up helped me learn about myself.”

If children are not exposed to the arts, it could affect our culture, Tyler junior Mckensey Savell said. The arts touch everyone’s life in some form.

“I’m scared that the industry as a whole will suffer if they proceed with taking these classes out,” said said.

Savell, who is a film and digital media major, said she believes entertainment and art are huge industries. Every job within it requires the creativity, fearless expression and skills learned from the fine arts classes that are at risk of being taken away, she said.

In an analysis done by the Americans for the Arts in March 2013, 905,689 businesses in the United States are involved in the creation or distribution of the arts and employ 3.35 million people. This is 4.4 percent of all businesses and 2.2 percent of all employees.

“Just imagine cutting the arts, and all of that potential you would cease to unleash in the minds of young students,” Boyd said.

Even with all the benefits that the arts have on students academically, developmentally and socially, programs across the country are having funds cut or programs done away with completely.

Many schools are also cutting programs in order to fund other academic subjects such as math, science and reading. The No Child Left Behind Act that became law in 2002 has schools focus more on core subjects and testing.

However, are these budget cuts actually helping students learn better? Many experts say by cutting fine arts programs, schools are actually hurting students.

“School may be the only way that some students can get an introduction to things like piano lessons or classical music or art, and I think that it should be left open for children to discover,” Galveston senior Margaret Patterson said.

The College Board reports that in math and critical reading, students who took four years of arts and music classes while in high school, on average, score 100 points higher on their SATs than students who have taken a year or less of fine arts classes.

“I think art is something enjoyed by the smartest of individuals, and the irony that it’s the first thing to be written off as not essential to education highlights an alarming amount of ignorance in the field of education,” Dallas senior and Film Digital Media major Ryn Miller said.

Students who are involved in the arts don’t just score higher on standardized tests. The College Board also states that students who are involved in the arts have lower drop-out rates and higher GPAs.

“Being involved in music teaches you to set goals, to work hard and continue working hard until you achieve them,” Tomball senior Megan Wilkie said. “This is something that translates across all academic courses. Reading music and music theory specifically supplements areas like math and logic.”

Americans for the Arts has published several research studies that support this claim that students who are involved in some sort of fine arts program overall do better in school. Its research shows arts education helps close the achievement gap, improves academic skills essential for reading and language development. The arts also help motivate students to learn.

“The fine arts has allowed for me to discover my creative side and how that can also benefit me academically,” Coppell junior Calyn Boyd said.

The parents’ magazine Primary Times reports having children involved in the arts at a young age allows them to learn how to freely express themselves and gain confidence and overcome shyness. The arts also help foster creativity and imagination in children.

“My trumpet teacher taught me in high school that playing an instrument is one of the only things in life in which there are no shortcuts. You have to be diligent, be responsible for yourself and be a team player,” Keller senior Courtney Roberts said.

The Washington Post reports that receiving constructive feedback is one of the 10 skills children learn from the arts. Through the arts, children learn feedback is an important part of learning and not something people should to be offended by.

“In art, you are constantly getting critiqued by your peers, and you learn to take everything with a grain of salt, and you learn how to take other people’s advice to improve your work, even though you want to think that your idea is best,” Patterson said.

Other skills on the Washington Post’s list include collaboration, dedication, perseverance and problem solving.

Savell, who has been involved in dance for many years, said every kid will take a different life lesson from the arts, but all lessons are equally as important in the long run.

The arts don’t just help students academically and developmentally, but the pressure of focusing on core subjects can leave students mentally drained. The arts can help students have a constructive outlet to rest their mind.

“Art classes were my favorite in high school,” Waco junior Kalyn Dunks. “They offered a break in my day to just enjoy myself and not have to worry about school work. It makes me sad to think other students won’t have this opportunity.”

Patterson said kids should be involved in arts because it gives them a time to reflect and express who they are without the fear of being judged.

Being involved in the arts does take a lot of time and effort. Roberts said she took up time she could have spent on homework. Overall, being involved in her school’s music program taught her how to balance school and extracurricular activities.

Dr. Gackle has with in the past year started the Youth Chorus of Central Texas, a choir that targets teaching music to students ranging from the age of 9 to 12. Her and Florence Scattergood, a longtime Waco teacher, started the program because they noticed the gap of opportunities for students in Waco. Both women are passionate teaching the arts to children and supplementing the lack of arts in schools.

“The arts are not a frill or extracurricular, but rather the arts are part of the human experience,” Gackle said. “They reflect our minds, our spirits, our dreams, our pain, our hopes, our innermost thoughts.”

Gackle calls people to recognize that the arts are valid intrinsically. She said the arts are a part of our human experience and therefore, at the core of a complete education.

“Art is the way that God manifests his beauty in this world of sin,” Miller said. “Music, literature, theater and physical artwork all serve to depict the human condition and demonstrate the similarities that all people share. Art creates empathy and a society without compassion is a society that cannot thrive.”