Sunday, October 04, 2009


By Sari Rynew Sari | Op-Ed in the Daily News

Rynew is a retired LAUSD middle school music teacher who lives in Studio City.

10/2 - ISN'T it encouraging to hear about two new arts schools opening in the Los Angeles Unified School District? Imagine all the classes in art, music, dance and drama.

But what about LAUSD's other 600,000 students? Too bad only a small percentage will be able to take advantage of these programs.

Most people would support having students exposed to the arts, so where are the voices of concern from our national and local arts organizations and guilds when we need them the most?

Though educators and researchers have provided copious studies proving the benefit of arts education, school districts continue to put this on the top of the chopping block. Isn't it interesting that even in the Great Depression, public schools in Southern California continued their already well-developed music, art and drama classes? Could it be that a well-rounded education was held sacred, unlike today?

As a retired LAUSD music teacher, I saw firsthand how exposing students to music changed so many lives. I had the joy and challenge of presenting instrumental music to about 300 students a year at my middle school. The vast majority did not choose my class as an elective, but this same majority was enthralled by the thought that they were going to get a full-fledged musical instrument (not a recorder) in their hands.

Once they mastered the basics, I even allowed them to take their instruments home. As a result, many of these beginners went on to join our other performing groups and then continued to participate at their high schools.

Why is this important? The answer is that I witnessed the turnaround of student after student. Some discovered amazing hidden talents that lead to careers, including teaching. For others, it provided a safe haven where they felt appreciated and accepted. The exact same results came from our art and vocal music teachers. If this worked so well in middle school, imagine what this could do in elementary schools?

Unfortunately, the push for higher test scores is leading to the elimination or reduction in these classes all over the district.

Talk to some of us "older" folks. What got us up and out of the house to get to school every day? We didn't even have the constant pressure of test prep and test taking. But we did have full arts programs and vocational ed. So, was it the hours of "fun" academics that enticed us to go to school? I don't think so.

To make matters worse, we now have API (Academic Performance Index) scores to worry about, and the increased pressure for higher and higher scores. With the proliferation of charter schools and the stronger push for increased academic accountability, are there any doubts that the arts will take a further hit? Do you think there will be a place in the curriculum for the arts at these schools?

I see a major conflict here. School districts must lower their dropout rates while at the same time cutting out the classes that offer all - not just the middle and upper class children - the connection to the school environment that will keep them coming day after day.

Testing has its place, but our society needs as many students as possible to get the best education we can offer. This can't happen if they don't have any incentive at all to show up.

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