Field notes: Saving song and dance

I cried. It was only Babes in Arms, but the kids sang and danced as if on Broadway?and some of them actually had Broadway genes in their vocal chords and gambly arms and legs.? A lazy Sunday afternoon and I caught the last performance of the high school play.? Not being a theater person, I am always amazed by these productions, since they always seem to hang by a slender thread, plagued by scratchy mics, falling props and costumes, and, of course, forgotten lines. ?But the kids'?efforts, backed by dozens of adults in the wings,?working the lights and the sound system,?playing in the orchestra, ?were so innocent and energetic that Yes, you couldn't help but get a little emotional.

But I started to get really teary?thinking of the next day's board meeting ?budget workshop,? the last of a series of painful meetings in which we public servant powerbrokers stare into the?sights of the budget howitzer and start firing, so to speak.??There, a few feet in front of me,?playing the French Horn in the orchestra was a young Intermediate school music teacher.? With a proposal on our plate to cut 12 percent of our teaching staff, his chances of surviving the knife were slim.

But it's not just him or even LIFO. It's where music and art seem to be?in the ?educational pecking order.? For many reasons our little school community, with dismal proficiency scores in STEM subjects, prized art and music.??And?these?intimate and personal?expressions of community values,?and priorities, on a?stage on a Sunday afternoon, are part of what?make me fear anything, including curriculum, with the word ?national? attached. I'm a firm believer in NCLB for its emphasis on academics, but hate its one dimensional focus on math and ELA.? Same with a national curriculum, if it is simply STEM fear writ large.

Music and art are essential to our school systems -- as they are to our kids, and to our country.? As essential as math and science.? And that is one of the reasons?my friend Todd Brewster, with his co-author Peter Jennings, in their masterful In Search of America (full disclosure, I helped on it) featured ?the stage? as a key part of the American character. And the authors built their chapter on the stage around the role of the high school musical:

Today, the teenage theatrical production has become a kind of rite of passage of American high schools, the first time many adolescents get to grapple with big, adult issues using only their voices, their feet, and their ability to imagine themselves into a character by immersing themselves in the nuances of a script?. No matter how crowded the chorus scene, one is essentially alone on a stage, vulnerable, at the mercy of one's wits, which, no doubt, is one of the reasons educators see theater as good preparation for life.

So true.

I won't be able to dance at my next school board meeting, as I promised our own song-and-dance man Mike Petrilli, but we need to watch Fordham's April 1 spoof on Glee again to remind ourselves that music and dance are no jokes -- and that the education of our children can and must be joyful.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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