Creative Arts Programs in Schools: Guest Post

Today, I am pleased to have as a guest blogger, Elaine Drennon Little, who is taking part in a Women on Writing (WOW) Blog Tour.  Elaine is a writer and educator.  She writes as passionately as she teaches.  Her new book, A Southern Place, tells the story of a young woman and her search for connections and her fight for life.

But, Elaine isn't writing about her book, exactly.  Instead, she is sharing her thoughts on Creative Arts Programs in Schools as an educator, as well as a writer.

Welcome, Elaine!

The Arts Education Network has the following sentence at the top of their website: Learning and participation in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts are vital to the development of our children and our communities. This topic is paramount to me as an educator, but also as a student of the arts. 
 

I was one of those nerdy kids who was always the last chosen for sports teams; I often feigned illness on “field day.” However, my chorus classes were the one place that I could truly feel like a rock star. My friends, mostly nerds like me, were all blown away when at fifteen, I was asked to come “sit in” with a band, a group of older “unbelievably cool” guys who could have sat beside me for a year and never known my name. But they were musicians; they saw how the teacher moved me from one section to another to help people learn their parts, then switched me to accompanist when she need to conduct. By age sixteen I was playing for money every weekend—my lone artistic outlet in my small high school gave me my first chance to see what I could do and who I could be. 
 

As a teacher, I felt it was an honor and privilege to help guide and instruct young people. Every year we’d hear war stories of how football, soccer, track---whatever sport was in season—saved this kid or that one from the streets and turned them into the great citizens of tomorrow. I’d grit my teeth and bear it because I had to; it was the athletes that drew the crowds, made the papers, gave our school bragging rights, but I knew the other stories. I knew kids who got up every morning and got themselves to school when no coach was filling their heads with dreams of glory days. 
 

In every school in the country, there are smart, talented kids who keep coming to school only for that one hour of band, chorus, visual art, drama, musical theatre—whatever creative outlet gives them a reason to live.  In my little AA division (less than 1000 students) alone, every graduating class featured college-bound students in all these areas, many with partial to full-ride scholarships. I retired from teaching two years ago, but my Facebook page is highly active with former students pursuing the arts in colleges, grad schools, indie bands, equity theatre groups, and (prideful drumroll here) now working as teachers and mentors of the arts for the coming generation. 
 

Arts in the schools is a project that never stops giving. Aside from my artsy, tree-hugging rant, the research has been done and the results are conclusive. Middle and high school students involved in the creative arts score higher on academic tests; they are also less likely to have registered emotional problems. Unlike many individual athletic endeavors, the arts provide creative outlets that can be actively followed for a lifetime. Several years ago the Georgia Institute of Technology, a world-class academic institution, became concerned about the climbing suicide rate in their numbers of high-functioning scientific scholars. One of the many actions that they hoped would combat this was to add two a cappella choirs with a highly acclaimed director to their offerings. Guess how many subsequent episodes have occurred among these brainiac singers—that’s right—NONE! Brain research has shown that when a body is actively engaged in difficult musical pursuit, blood pressure lowers and the stress level is sufficiently lowered as well. 
 

Both visual and theatre arts are often a part of institutional treatment for severe emotional disorders. I like to believe that, by making such offerings a part of the school curriculum, we are helping to prevent disorders before they happen. A child who finds his/her passion in a particular art form can use this as a coping mechanism for anxiety and stress forever
 

There is, of course, another important plus to arts in the schools: Another Jackson Pollack, Leonard Bernstein, or Chita Rivera may exist but never rise to fruition if those talents are not cultivated. Bringing fine arts into the public school system makes the fostering of artistry accessible to all, not just those in affluent communities or able to afford private lessons. In the true spirit of the American dream, the next “household name” artist should come from Anywhere, USA. With fine arts in all schools, this can really happen.
 

Today, arts programs are most often the first to be terminated when budget issues become outstanding. I’m starting to worry about those college arts majors I mentioned earlier: Where will they go? What will they do? More importantly than this, I worry about the generations of children, pushed to live for test scores with no creative outlet to keep them centered and self-fulfilled. 
 

The often-heard adage “music has charms to calm the savage breast” is often misquoted, using “beast” in place of “breast.” When thinking of the plight of arts in the schools, I can see how such a mistake could have started.  Music calms the soul and lowers the blood pressure. Art forms in general give us all a creative outlet that calms and nurtures us without drugs, psychoanalysis, or other expensive therapies.  Arts in the schools are slowly being taken away, leaving us with angry, anxious, unsettled students and teachers trying to find their way in an unstable environment.
 

If we don’t find a way to remedy this, soon, we could be looking at a few beasts… I know that educational funds are lacking in all areas, and it would take many pages more to address these deficits and their possible solutions. However, cutting arts funding hurts all and helps none. The arts reach out to all students, across the board, awarding the opportunity for input (from all) to the greater good (of all.) 
 

“Just do it,” advises Nike, but without funding, the “athletes” of the arts will not be allowed to “do their thing” along with their classmates.
 

What should these singers, dancers, actors, painters, dreamers-of-dreams “just do?”
 
About the Author:
Adopted at birth, Elaine lived her first twenty years on her parents’ agricultural farm in rural southern Georgia.  She was a public school music teacher for twenty-seven years, and continued to dabble with sideline interests in spite of her paid profession.  Playing in her first band at age fourteen, she seemed to almost always be involved in at least one band or another.  Elaine’s writing began in high school, publishing in local newspapers, then educational journals, then later in online fiction journals.  In 2008 she enrolled in the MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, where upon graduation finished her second novel manuscript. Recently retiring after eleven years as a high school chorus and drama director, Elaine now lives in north Georgia with her husband, an ever-growing library of used books, and many adopted animals.


Find out more about this author by visiting her online:
Author blog: http://elainedrennonlittle.wordpress.com/
Author Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/elaine.d.little


A Southern Place is available as a print and e-book at Amazon.

Comments

Kath Fearing said…
Elaine, Thank you so much for these amazing, truthful words. It seems that our schools have become consumed with paranoia about tests and (at the college level anyway) the amount of money and glory that sports bring. More people need to speak up about the basic human need for the arts -our children especially. They are so creative as little ones. Something happens when they get to school are are not allowed to be creative or think outside the testing box. Thanks, again.
Elaine Drennon Little said…
Thank you for your comments. I totally agree---maybe if we all remain vocal about it, someone will listen...
Brava, Elaine! Your words resonate with me on every level. I have taught creative writing for many years now. I am so saddened by the lack of funding and support in the schools for the arts (all of them).

Thank you for writing about this very important topic. I hope all my teacher/writer/artists friends share this blog post.

Together, we can make a difference!
Margo Dill said…
Wonderful post, and I couldn't agree with you more. It is scary that we value sports over arts. And many communities are now leaving it up to the parents to enroll their children in art/music classes on their own. Well, some parents don't have the money. You and Linda are both right--together we can make a difference!

Popular posts from this blog

Hyacinths to Feed Thy Soul

Meaning of Quilts

The Pros and Cons of Teen Marriage - Guest Post