By Bill Marx.
I don’t have much to add to Howard Sherman’s excellent reaction to the absurdity of MA’s Everett High School ditching its drama classes, the authorities first complaining about the content of a play, then citing the usual (and convenient) budget woes.
This is no hypothetical, but a scenario played out at the high school in Everett MA and reported by The Boston Globe. While the school superintendent, Frederick Foresteire, wraps himself in the protective shroud of marshaling resources in challenging economic times (unquestionably a legitimate concern in every public school in the country), targeting a drama program for eradication after registering his personal disapproval of said program smacks of retribution.
The article seems riddled with mixed messages. If there has been the demand for multiple sections of drama up until now, how does increased enrollment warrant elimination of a course of study? It is impossible to determine from the article whether any other academic area was treated comparably, though that would seem germane.
I would also highly recommend a piece written by Julie Hennrikus of Stage Source, who makes an eloquent case for the elemental importance of arts education.
Sign the petition via the link on Howard’s or Julie’s blog asking to have the theater program reinstated at Everett High School.
Who should be involved in this fight? Julie suggests the usual players:
Let me be clear—when I speak of the theater community, I am speaking of the ENTIRE theater community. Big, mid, small and fringe, community, college, commercial, presenting organizations, venues. Actors, playwrights, dramaturgs, designers, directors, technicians, administrators, and everyone else who participates in the creation of theater. And also, of course, the audiences. Organizations, artists, and audiences. These are the three legs of the theater community. We cannot (and should not) be required to speak with one voice.
What Julie doesn’t say is that, in this season of arts festivals in Boston sponsored by big media (Boston Globe + WGBH) and generous mega-millionaries, the theater community should not be alone in this crucial fight. Anyone who seriously cares about our long term cultural health should be on the battle line. Unfortunately, entrenched corporate thinking among philanthropists, artistic organizations, and the mainstream media has encouraged a short term approach to popularizing the arts that is more about garnering the biggest bang for the publicity buck than making or encouraging the substantial investment, in resources and public pressure (political and otherwise), that is required to keep arts education from slipping out of our schools further.
This is a vital battle because, as Elliot W. Eisner argues in The Arts and the Creation of Mind, the primary justification for the arts in our schools is not their potential pragmatic or cash value but “the development of the thinking skills in the context of an art form, the expression and communication of distinctive forms of meaning, meaning that only artistically crafted forms can convey, and the ability to undergo forms of experience that are at once moving and touching, experiences of a consummatory nature, experiences that are treasured for their intrinsic value.” The arts are an indispensable part of the growth of consciousness, nurturing and enriching the mind in its becoming.
Presenting shows that appeal to the young, bringing in student groups, offering price discounts and workshops, these are valuable short term strategies, but they do not take the place of making a serious and sustained encounter with the arts an integral part of a child’s life, in and out of the schools. Granted, efforts to ensure that arts education is a significant part of our schools is not the kind of glamorous activity that prys dollars out of the wallets of donors or drums up tourism. But those who care about sustaining the arts (and young minds) need to do more than make ourselves feel good today. The future is not going to take care of itself . . . the situation at Everett High School is an alarming reminder of that.