Music and arts education programs matter because they engage the bizarre and beautiful creativity of Generation Y.
So, I've been thinking about education recently. Entries on the joys and trials of being a Suzuki Mom have flooded my inbox (send more!), and my colleague Alberta, a fine violinist and writer here at SHAR, just posted an entry last week on the sacrifices and payoffs of studying and playing the violin.
The entries on this blog, however, aren't reflective of the dominant opinion on most school boards. No surprise there. Arts education can't really compete with the sciences, and I'm not sure if they've ever been able to compete. Certainly these days most of the rhetoric from President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has centered on the sciences. When Obama and Duncan talk about our test scores dropping behind Scandanavian countries or China, it's usually in the sciences. Administrators value reading, but not reading as a way to make art: more so, they care about reading skills because the savvy use of language is necessary to get ahead.
Don't get me wrong. Few of us grow up like Mary, Sibyl, and Edith Crawley on Downton Abbey and a degree in engineering or business is more likely to land you a comfortable job than a degree in writing sonnets or playing concertos (believe me, I know). But what the administrators, czars, and boards who are running America's schools don't understand, or haven't really recognized yet, is how bizarrely creative and talented young folks are these days.
I'm not ignoring the shortcomings of my generation and Generation Y (when I was teaching, I sometimes wanted to smash the smartphones, Donkey Kong-style, that snuck into my classroom. Then after class I would fire up Facebook to complain about smartphones). While there's a virtual explosion of creativity on social media and the Web, it's not all encouraging. I've noticed a recurring sad character in recent indie films: the young, directionless, and irredeemably weird psuedo-artist who makes YouTube videos (e.g. Sophie in Miranda July's The Future. Maybe we should actually group Generation X and Generation Y together and just call it the Miranda July generation). I guess my point is that there are plenty of shortcomings and annoyances to go along with these generations, but there's certainly no shortage of creativity in them.
I admit that I'm personally invested in arts education. I earned a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Virginia in writing, and before starting work in SHAR's social media and web department, I taught writing at the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. I loved teaching college students, but one of the most rewarding teaching jobs I had was at the Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virginia, where I taught high school students during the summer.