Arts Ed Shouldn’t Be an “Either/Or” Proposition

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Alliance: Last week, as the California Assembly prepared to vote on AB 2446 (Furutani), the Alliance put out a call to arts education advocates.1500 advocates responded, sending messages of opposition to their representatives in the Assembly. We were inspired by the response and share one of those letters with you here. It was written by Bill Martinez, a music teacher in San Dimas, California.

Although the bill passed in the Assembly, we will continue our fight in the Senate. At a time when local districts have been forced to drastically cut art and music programs, this bill would further diminish access to arts education. It changes the high school graduation requirement, forcing students to choose between the Arts and Career Technical Education (CTE) and Foreign Language. As Martinez explains below, an “either / or” choice doesn’t serve California’s students

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My wife and I have both been Music teachers for 15 years. During this time we have had the good fortune to work in communities that have supported our efforts to improve the educational experiences of our students. Unfortunately, we have also had to deal with adversity common to arts teachers in California but uncommon to teachers in other core subjects. (I need to stress that Music and the Arts are Core subjects under No Child Left Behind.) Assembly Bill 2446 appears to be yet another symptom of the lack of regard and respect paid to our chosen subject matter.

Proof of the value of Music and Arts Education is abundant; I encourage you to go to the Music Educators National Conference website – menc.org – for a sampling of the abundance of research available on the subject. Despite this, for 15 years we have had to justify our value to the school curriculum over and over again: Budget problems, the perception that the Arts are a “luxury”, old and irreparable equipment (instruments) that can’t or won’t be replaced due to budget concerns, school site plans that take Arts availability away from students who score low on a standardized test, and the obsessive over-reliance of data from these tests that have turned students into statistics – Arts programs have survived, and in many schools thrived despite these obstacles. Arts advocacy has become a second (unpaid) job for many Arts teachers, and it will continue to be as long as our place in the curriculum needs to be justified.

Lumping other educational areas together with Arts education under one umbrella, as this appears to do, cheapens the value of all the courses involved. Could anyone imagine telling a high school student that they could fulfill a graduation requirement by taking either Algebra or Biology?

Regardless of what one thinks of the merits of Vocational courses, Arts education is unique and valuable on its own terms. It is certainly a component of the “College-Going-Culture” touted by school administrators and by the State’s own Taking Center Stage II” initiative. And it deserves to be preserved and expanded whenever possible. Any legislation that restricts student access to the Arts, or relegates it to “optional” status, as this appears to do, should not be considered. And I would certainly hope that the Governor, whose own wealth and status are a direct result of Arts involvement, would feel the same way, and that his example would inspire you to encourage advocating the Arts for all students.

Sincerely,
Bill Martinez
San Dimas, California

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5 Responses to “Arts Ed Shouldn’t Be an “Either/Or” Proposition”

  1. Bill Brown Says:

    Hi Bill,

    I am not getting your arguement…..Vocational courses are “a component of the “College-Going-Culture” ….huh? We are mainly trying to meet the needs of the middle kid. The kid who is not going to a major university. We in Industrial Education are just trying to give kids a chance to select our class as an option to prepare themselves for the future.
    Currently, my Engineering students have to take “Ceramics” or “Drawing and Painting” to fullfill their VAPA requirement instead of classes we offer to prepare them for jobs in industry. Shouldn’t they have a choice?

    Regards,
    Bill Brown
    Architecture and Engineering teacher
    Santiago High
    Corona, CA

    • Bill Martinez Says:

      Hi Bill,

      It was not my intention to argue against vocational courses being offered to students. The point I tried to make was that Arts instruction has an inherent value to students that is different from ALL other subject areas, including yours. This is not to suggest that any subject area is more or less valuable than another.

      Actually, I think that gives us something in common. The amount of required coursework continues to increase in reading, math and science -often at the expense of our subject areas. The demands of testing and “accountability” have served to narrow our students’ education significantly. We need to stress the value of our subject areas in truly making the educational experience complete for all students. Why not have all students take an Arts course and a vocational course? Maybe those 11th and 12th graders who need to fill up their schedules, whether they are college-bound or not, can choose both – and be glad they did.

      Telling a student that he or she can choose either Arts or Vocational coursework gives the impression that BOTH are secondary players in the grand scheme. We should not accept this. This thought process makes us expendable, and I believe that Arts teachers and Vocational teachers have an obligation to prevent this.

      As for the “College Going Culture” line, that’s something I first heard from an administrator in a staff meeting; We were discussing a State initiative. Frankly, I had the same the same reaction as you when I heard it the first time. I intended to use this phrase in describing the value or Arts instruction; to me it’s just more jargon, not intended to advocate against anything else.

      Thanks for responding.

      Bill Martinez

  2. Darren Willis Says:

    “First they came …” is a famous statement attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller. If you’ve never heard of it, Wikipedia it.
    Well, they “came” for Career-Technical Education twenty years ago, and the Arts people said nothing. Are you surprised that now that your day has come and there is no one to stand up for you?

    Many times I have heard the statement that “it shouldn’t be an ‘either/or’ choice.” My challenge: Where is the Arts education group that has come up with something better? Where is the mystical option for legislating the “Both” that you claim you’d like to see? What took you so long to put it together?

    AB 2446 is not going to put a stake in the heart of the Arts. These classes are required for entry to the UC/CSU system, so they are always going to be a part of the high school curriculum. However, it is going to bring about educational parity and freedom of choice, things that do not currently exist in k-12 education. All the fear-mongering that the Arts and Language educators have stirred up about AB2446 comes down to a turf war and the fear of loss of job security.

    AB 2446 will simply give California students more options in plotting their own educational pathway. It will reverse the trend of 33%+ of California students dropping out of high school because they see no relevant application to their education.

    I do not know a single CTE person who wants to see arts or language programs closed. I do not know if I can say the feeling is reciprocated. Let’s try this, folks: Instead of fighting to see which side (V/PA or CTE) will survive, let’s work together to cement BOTH positions as essential to a balanced education! We can easily save CTE, V/PA, and Foreign Language if the people working against this legislation were working to unite us all under one banner.

  3. Arts Ed Shouldn’t Be an “Either/Or” Proposition (via ) « The Fender Music Foundation Says:

    […] Arts Ed Shouldn’t Be an “Either/Or” Proposition (via ) Alliance: Last week, as the California Assembly prepared to vote on AB 2446 (Furutani), the Alliance put out a call to arts education advocates.1500 advocates responded, sending messages of opposition to their representatives in the Assembly. We were inspired by the response and share one of those letters with you here. It was written by Bill Martinez, a music teacher in San Dimas, California. Although the bill passed in the Assembly, we will con … Read More […]

  4. Jennie Basford Says:

    Fantastic! I’ve been hunting for information on this for hours. I really wish there was more info about this. Greatly appreciated

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