The Ottumwa Courier

Opinion

April 5, 2012

Do not shortchange the arts

Our Opinion

OTTUMWA — For far too long, school districts across the country have unfairly targeted the arts, citing tight budgets.

Vocal and instrumental music, drama and speech as well as the educators associated with those programs are sometimes the first to go when a district is strapped for cash.

But a group of music supporters recently told members of the Van Buren school board that while cutting back on the arts may save money, the cost to students and society is far greater than just dollars and cents.

“Studies show that participants who are exposed to music increase their memory and intellectual capability and are less likely to be into drugs, alcohol and non-attendance at school,” said student Calvin Mertens at a recent school board meeting. “Music is important to a well-rounded education, essential to the arts and should be available to everyone.”

The student and others pointed out when the district chose not to fill a teaching vacancy, only one music teacher was expected to serve nearly 300 students at Van Buren’s junior and senior high schools.

And yet, Mertens noted the district was less than equitable when it came to cuts elsewhere:

“In sports, every five years, each team gets new uniforms. We’re still using the same choir robes we had in 1978. Also, last year, the school spent $89,500 on coaching salaries. Why can’t we take some of that spent on coaches and give it to the music program to hire an extra teacher. We’re showing more interest in extra-curricular activities than in something that is a core educational responsibility of the school.”

He’s right, of course; many school districts across the country won’t touch athletic budgets, but the arts are sometimes the first to go.

That said, we’re not in favor of eliminating athletics. In fact, we believe team and individual athletics are crucial to many students’ overall experience during their time in school. It’s also fun and helps to create a sense of pride within the communities a school district serves.

But as studies have proven repeatedly, the arts are critical in helping students with their comprehension of core studies. The arts also inspire, entertain and feed the souls of our young people.

Bob Galloway, an instructor at Van Buren, may have said it best when he addressed the school board:

“When you destroy music, you are destroying a part of the arts department. You are destroying humanity. You will lose an opportunity to help young boys and girls. I ask you, don’t kill your music department. The talent is there.”

There’s a great deal of talent in southeast Iowa. Let’s not shortchange the arts anymore.

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