There is an inherent irony in this artistic mecca we call New York City when it comes to the Education Department's arts education policies. Insideschool's own Judy Baum reported that although there is no lack of good arts education programs, "46% of elementary schools do not meet the state standards in the arts." Insideschools alum and Gotham Schools writer Philissa Cramer highlighted that "about 20 percent of schools do not employ a single arts teacher, even for a part-time position."
Not surprisingly, the arts become the first casualties as both local and national educational trends focus more and more on standardized testing. And when you factor in shrinking budgets and classroom space, the situation gets even worse.
I find these developements especially disturbing since I was brought up in a household that viewed the arts as a basic human need, right up there with food, shelter, and clothing.
Moss Hart, a famous playwright who grew up poor in the Bronx and Brooklyn in the 1920's, recalls a similarly arts-centered upbringing. In his memoir, Act One, he recalls that his family never considered giving up the theater, even though "I can well remember the times we went to bed in the dark because there was no quarter to put in the gas meter; or even more vividly, some evening meals eaten by candlelight for the same reason...We were grateful for this small patch of lunatic brightness in the unending drabness of those years."
Fortunately, every school Brooks has gone to has had rich arts programs. From his music therapy program in pre-K at CDC led by the extraordinary Judi Rubin Bosco, he moved on to PS 178 and benefitted from Little Orchestra Society, Cool Culture, and two outstanding art and music teachers, Ms. Gomez and Ms. Uffer, that elevated every school assembly. And finally, LearningSpring has a strong art and music presence, including a dance, art, and music therapy program new this year and a much-touted annual talent show that we hope Brooks will grace with his dance moves.
Brooks also gets a lot of arts exposure after school: private piano lessons, Broadway shows (and Off and Off-Off), museums, and one of our favorite family activites, "Broadway Playhouse." Sean Hartley and his diversely-talented band of players introduce children of all ages to Broadway composers through sketches and songs. Since my husband and I have spent many years writing musicals, this is a natural for us. But also for anyone who remembers their high school musical role fondly (which I'm guessing exempts my blogger colleague Elementary Dad given his latest post). There is a simple nostalgic charm that comes with participating in a Rodgers and Hammerstein sing-along with your kids:
_There's a bright golden haze on the meadow,
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow,
The corn is as high as an elephant's eye,
An' it looks like its climbin' clear up to the sky.
Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I've got a wonderful feeling,
Everything's going my way._
There is a humanity in these artistic experiences that New York City kids deserve.
Albert Einstein had a sign in his Princeton office that read: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Perhaps Chancellor Walcott should take note.