Saturday, May 11, 2019

Consider the Difference

The theme of my daughter’s final high school choral concert was “How Can I keep from Singing?” Interspersed with the musical selections of the evening were students who gave brief speeches on the topic, “Why I Sing.” I wish I could share their words with you here.

It struck me as particularly relevant. As the school system is challenged by limited funds and is forced to consider cuts to a variety of programs, Music Education has moved into the spotlight. You’ve probably heard by now that the Board asked the Superintendent to have staff compile a list of programs and their costs to inform their considerations.

Cuts to elementary instrumental music were on that list. Of course that is of great concern to anyone who understands the value of arts education to all our students. But I think it is important to note that music hasn’t been particularly singled out here. It was one item among many that was put forward to be considered.

I’m an outspoken Music Education Advocate. That’s pretty well known. And it is gratifying to see students, parents, and teachers rise up to decry even the mere possibility of cuts. But the situation facing the board today is not about sacrificing arts education specifically. It is about finite resources at the County level and a Board of Education being forced to consider all possibilities to make a school system work.

Everyone seems to have picked their own villain here. Some blame low fees to developers for a lack of revenue. Some say that Howard County has long underfunded schools and that the true solution is to increase revenue is by raising taxes and nobody wants to be the one to do that. There’s a good deal of accusations and posturing and video clips and pie charts.

I’m not here to pick a villain. I would like to remind folks that the last time that big cuts to elementary music were on the table, teachers were being threatened to keep silent. Parents were being  insulted by Central Office and members of the board of education. Anyone who dared to disagree with the decrees issued by school system leadership were labeled as troublemakers.

That’s not where we are today. To my knowledge, teachers are not being threatened or bullied into silence. Board members are responding to parent questions with respect and openness. We may not be happy with where we stand financially but the people who are leading our school system are showing responsiveness, accountability, transparency, and respect. Board members are communicating with the public in a way that shows they are aware that they are public servants. In 2014 many seemed to believe they served at the pleasure of the Superintendent.

That’s a big difference.

Get informed. Get involved. Advocate for the programs that are the most important to you. There are plenty of opportunities for you to do that. You can come to a budget hearing, or attend the next meeting of the Howard County Parents for School Music. Your voice is important. I’d suggest to you tread more carefully when it comes to pointing fingers and assigning blame. Don’t be too eager to jump on someone else’s bandwagon about who the bad guys are. Anyone who tells you it’s simple is either misguided or disingenuous.

Make up your own mind. And take a moment to appreciate that no one is going to call you selfish or a troublemaker for doing so.

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