Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Once again, a school decides that "Athletics good, Arts bad"...

Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor.

You see, I just read a news story that made me roll my eyes so hard that I fell over backwards.

It seems that a primary school in Elwood, New York, has cancelled a two-day, year-end kindergarten show, citing the need for the kindergarteners to spend the time preparing for "college and career" and "concentrating on preparation for first grade". The school suggested they attend a later "Game Day". While the article (from Today Parents) did not specify what that Game Day will entail, in my experience grammar school game days focus on athletic events.

The cancellation of the kindergarten show, which involves the children singing and performing plays and the required rehearsals beforehand, caused an uproar as both parents and students protested. After the protests, the school's interim principal sent another letter which further justified the decision to cancel the show this way:

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers

Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind

So, the position is that participating in performance arts do not give children "lifelong skills"? What about the discipline and dedication needed to prepare and give such a performance? In the documentary "Shakespeare High", which is about high school students participating in the annual Shakespeare Festival put on by the drama teachers group in Southern California, actor Kevin Spacey (who took part in Festival when he was a student at Chatsworth High School) says that participation in the performing arts is not just good for students planning on going into show business, but gives benefit to students going into non-performance careers by giving them the confidence they need to be successful in whatever field they eventually enter.

Maybe especially, in this case, what about the students who aren't good at or just don't enjoy the athletics required in Game Day activities, but who enjoy and are good at dancing, singing and acting? Don't they count? Why are these athletic events being privileged over performance arts?

Oh, yeah. Now I remember. Athletes are revered in our culture as heroes, while actors and singers and dancers are often viewed as soft, coddled and self-indulgent. Except, you know, that it takes a lot of discipline and dedication to succeed in the ultra-competitive world of the performing arts. Dancing, for example. I've worked with a ballet company before as a props handler, and dancers are the best-conditioned, most disciplined people I've ever seen. I've also participated in theater productions in backstage capacities and I've seen first-hand all the skills that are necessary to put on a production that are applicable to all areas of life. As just one example, a performer in a play has to memorize his or her lines. If those school administrators cannot see that an ability to memorize material will help their students in college and career, they don't know their business very well.

As usual, arts activities are the first to fall while athletics are always among the last things to go.

Don't get me wrong. I love sports, not so much as a participant any more (although I used to compete in both softball and volleyball), but definitely as a spectator. But I get kind of disgusted sometimes at how athletics and athletes are privileged in our culture over the arts.

The only thing that dismays me is that one parent quoted in the article I've linked to above blamed the cancellation of the kindergarten show on Common Core. This dispute is not the fault of any particular teaching system or philosophy. The attitudes behind it have been around since long before Common Core was a gleam in some educator's eye and will be around long after Common Core has gone the way of the New Math and every other educational fad.

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