Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cut Right...Cut Left....Building a Play for Educational Cutbacks

By Mark T. Burke

This morning I listened to the NPR clip "Sweetness and Light" by Frank Deford. Mr. Deford's states quite simply that during economic times like now, SAM (sports, art and music) activities in schools would seem the obvious choices for cuts.  He then points out there are reasons why music should not be the top cutback priority within SAM activities.  The following quote from Mr. Deford is one that should be personally delivered to and discussed  with decision makers, each and every day. 

"...when children who are artistic or musical are denied that opportunity in school, their young personal loss eventually not only robs them of developing their talent but diminishes us as a culture."

Mr. Deford also points out, at a time when our nation is struggling with childhood obesity and the long term impacts (Impact of Childhood Obesity Goes Beyond Health), school administrator's decisions to "knock out athletic exercise at a time when childhood obesity is an absolute epidemic could be just as damaging for the health of the nation."

So what do we do?  If SAM activities are clearly within the scope of cutbacks, how do we build a plan?  I think we begin by remembering the mission of our schools....Education.  When we ensure the education components of SAM activities are our focus, we can better ensure we spend our dollars and time wisely.

So here is my guiding principle.  We must.....

"Ensure we understand the difference between arts education and arts extra-curricular.  Likewise, ensure we understand the differences between sports and health and wellness education."

As a teacher and administrator, I have witnessed music teachers who confuse their extra-curricular activities and their teaching responsibilities. I've seen choir directors who use their instructional time during the day prepping for the annual musical and band directors who leave their lessons and classes sit idle while they design drill or copy music for the marching band. We must be diligent in our teaching responsibilities so that we are teaching valuable music (arts and creative) skills to the entire student population.  This ensures the value of our programs is recognized.

As a high school student, I experienced what happens when physical education teachers / coaches confuse their educational responsibilities with their extra-curricular responsibilities.  I participated in gym classes where the athletes and non-athletes were mixed.  I especially remember spending time during our "wrestling" unit being teamed up with the school's star wrestler.  He was really excited to smash my face into the mat and watch me turn purple.  I had no clue what I was doing because we did not learn skills, we just jumped right in.  The same "educational" approach was used during our "football" unit, "basketball" unit and others.  Physical education should be about teaching students life-long skills, not exposing them to insurmountable personal challenges against fellow classmates.  While I have some faith today's classes have evolved, as a teacher, I've witnessed that shift has not been adopted globally.

Ensuring we keep education and extra-curricular activities tracked accordingly, we improve the value of our spending.  By doing so, we ensure we educate students and IF cuts are needed, we have a stronger foundation on which to help educational leaders make decisions.



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