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What We Lose When We Cut Fine Arts Education

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Even I can be amazed at how far off track we've gotten.

A few nights ago I attended our high school choir concert. It was particularly bittersweet because our young choir director has had quite a year. She delivered a child with some complications, including a complication that led to surgery a few weeks ago (for her -- the baby is doing well now). Somewhere in the midst of all that, administration called her in to tell her that she was being involuntarily transferred to the elementary school and will no longer run the high school and middle school choral programs she's built over the past seven years. So in addition to the usual seniors' last concert feelings, there were a few other emotions in the room.

She held things together with class and professionalism through the concert. They finished with the "senior send-off" song -- a medley of "For Good" and "Defying Gravity" from Wicked. And then, to her surprise, the seniors told her to go sit in the auditorium.

The seniors (there were many of them) stepped up and delivered personal messages. Some were funny, some sad, some angry-ish. One girl who is not terribly talkative or outgoing tried to speak, but couldn't stop crying; the fact that she even tried was pretty impressive. And then, after flowers and a scrapbook and the words, they sang her the song that they had written for her. A couple of the seniors had written it, and they had used her surgical "break" to teach the chorus to the rest of the choir. The whole presentation was heartfelt, pitch perfect, somehow managing to strike perfect notes while steering clear of the uglier politics of the situation. It was a send-off that any teacher would be honored and pleased to receive from her students. It is possible that I even cried a little, possibly.

The students talked about choir being a family, about the ways their teacher had touched their lives, changed them personally, helped them grow into better people, stronger people, more capable, knowledgeable and talented people. It was about relationships. It was about how those young people will carry the experiences on into the rest of their lives.

It was, in short, a thousand worlds away from talk of testing and standards and competencies and test preparation. I don't think you could have gathered many dry data points in the room, nor do I think there was much to be gained by arranging the choir members into some sort of bell curve.

It was so clearly the sort of thing that can only happen in school, that should happen in school, and yet which the Reformster concept of school doesn't even imagine would happen in school.

They are so far off track. So far. And they continue to insist on dragging the rest of us with them, toward some imaginary land where students compose songs to commemorate the growth experiences they had in front of a computer screen, answering rigorous multiple choice questions. "Oh," they will sing, "the way you implemented that scripted program with its standardized exercises will stay with me for the rest of my life."

So far off track. So far.