This little exchange from Mr. Holland’s Opus has been running through my head this week:
Principal: Each school in the district has been asked to submit proposals on ways of reducing costs by 10% in September. This is what I’ve decided.
Mr. Holland (looks at paper): The entire music department.
Principal: And art, and drama.
Mr. Holland: Well, congratulations, Gene. You’ve been looking for a way to get rid of me for 30 years and they finally gave you an excuse.
Principal: You know, I’m not as popular as you. I’m not anybody’s favorite anything.
Mr. Holland (interrupts): That’s because you’re the enemy, Gene. You just don’t know it.
Principal: BUT, I care about these kids as much as you do, and if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.
Mr. Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want to, sooner or later these kids aren’t going to have anything to read or write about.
In his well-known commencement speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs talked about dropping out of college and “dropping in” to classes that he enjoyed. He said, “Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.” Mr. Jobs chose to attend a calligraphy class during that time, and consequently you can read this blog in an interesting typeface. In fact, Tim Carmody, in a Wired business article, wrote, “Jobs’ ability to bring these two cultures [technology and the creative industry] together and translate between them contributed directly to Apple’s transformation from a computer company to a media company.”
Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg majored in psychology? It takes skill and proficiency in all kinds of domains to solve the challenges of the 21st Century. Unfortunately, our college graduates don’t seem to be getting the critical thinking skills they need. In 2011, a study led by Richard Arum, a New York University sociologist, showed that upwards of 45% of college students “made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning, or writing skills during the first two years of college.”[i] But, as Sara Rimer writes, “Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.”[ii]
For what seems to be my entire life, I’ve heard about the funding cuts that arts and music programs suffer at the hands of those with power to cut it. Richard Dreyfuss delivered those lines as Mr. Holland way back in 1995, after all. But we keep hearing about it, even in 2016.
If you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. As part of our Kindermusik community, you come to class and appreciate the value of music and movement for our young children. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s helpful to keep in mind the bigger picture, when you’re asking your child to practice her recorder or clearing space in the family calendar to get your baby to the studio. This is more than just a fun way to spend a half an hour, to get out of the house for a break. You are helping build your child’s brain in ways that will have far-reaching consequences.