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I'll Take An order of Arts Education Please

January 4, 2012


WARNING: The following blog is one of my less entertaining blogs. I don't have much of a sense of humour with this topic. BUT! I'd like to think I made some great points and that you could somehow help your own child or community in resolving a pandemic that's occurring in regard to our Ontario arts curriculums. So, if this catches your interest please read on. I promise to make up with something less serious and more light-hearted next week, but right now I need to get this out. CHEERS! .. now read on


"The Ontario curriculum mandates that elementary students receive instruction in the arts and physical education, but the funding formula does not provide sufficient funding for specialist teachers in music, physical education, visual or performing arts, or design and technology. Staffing elementary schools with teachers who have specialized training in these subject areas greatly enriches the educational experience of students, often leads to a broader range of extra-curricular activities at the school level, and provides the timetabling flexibility to allow regular classroom teachers to have the preparation time they need." - Quote from Building Better Schools, An Education Agenda for the 2011 Provincial Election:




The above quote supports a conversation I had earlier with one of my student's mother. We were discussion the current situation in Ontario's public schools regarding funding, support and planning towards music education and other arts. For those of you who don't know, I have been giving private lessons since the age of 18, performing and instructing in clinics and workshops for the last 8 years and received a bachelor's degree in Music after attending Humber college. Growing up in Mississauga I attended Cawthra Park Secondary, School of the Arts, where I received daily music lessons for four years and I attribute a lot of my talents, both as a business man, inventor and musician, to the creative and cognitive thinking skills I acquired while studying the arts. To me, it is immeasurable how important that experience and time I spent studying music, art, and literature is to my life and that education is slowing being weeded out of Ontario public school systems.


A few years ago at Humber, while taking a pedagogy course (a course designed to instruct students in the art of teaching), I had the privilege of being in a class taught by an exuberant teacher named Brian Lillos. He was outspoken, opinionated, direct and cleverly sarcastic. He had a way of presenting information to the class that often sparked a debate and always ended with enlightenment through a stern tone and glance. One particular subject he became overly excited, and angry, about was music education. Being the class suck up (not really .. .. maybe a little) I decided to write my final essay for the course on this topic and do as much research as possible. As part of the course you had to gain experience by volunteering your time to teach in a school of your choice and work alongside a teacher/group of teachers. Naturally, I chose my old high school of which I had spent many years participating day and night in various performances and school events. The school had a massive band program that had achieved numerous national awards for their performances in a variety of styles. Classical orchestra, chamber and small group choirs, jazz and vocal jazz ensembles were all featured at varying levels and ages. Built in 1972 the school saw robust funding on behalf of the government to kick-start the arts program they had set up. In 1984 the school was receiving nearly $18,000 per year from the Ontario government to fund it's various projects in the music department alone. Today, the school receives zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkis (I'm bringing this one back!). This saddens me on a level you can't imagine.


Weekly I talk with my students, briefly, about their school lives. Sometimes, we talk in length about their particular systems and teachers. Back when I was writing my final essay for my pedagogy course I found some interesting statistics (if I find the essay I'll put it up somewhere for anybody to read). Here is an article published in 2001 (http://www.ed.brocku.ca/~rbeatty/music/elementary/elementary.pdf). A section states the following:


"The majority of respondents perceived themselves as music teachers (51%), 24% were classroom teachers, 16% had a music/other subject teaching responsibility and 7.3% were principles. Geographical representation of respondents was somewhat consistent with general population density in the province: 17% were from eastern Ontario, 30% from central Ontario, 15% from Toronto and area, 25% from southwestern Ontario and 7% from northern Ontario. Most respondents taught in a school with enrolments of 250 – 499 (50%). Other teachers taught in larger schools of 500-749 pupils (27.5%) or in somewhat smaller schools 100-249 (16%). Only 4.1% taught in schools larger than 750 students and a small 1% taught in school with less than 100 pupils."


So, imagine that there are 100 music teachers from varying schools. Only 51 of those teachers consider themselves to BE music teachers. The rest are all striving to get a full-time job! That's the reality of most arts classes currently. I don't put the blame at all on the teachers. They, like many people, are just trying to survive and are doing it admirably. In many cases these new teachers strive to learn an instrument themselves in order that they can teach the upcoming school year they've been offered. I applaud them for doing this, but it's insufficient for most schools and their students (there are exceptions naturally). The majority of my students take a guitar course in high school or grade school (7 & 8) mainly because they want a "burn" course that's easy to do. The teachers of these courses invariably know slightly more than my students, who are for the most part elementary, or are on par with my students. This to me is unacceptable, but what can you do? Most schools have no funding to support a music program. They are required to support the necessary subjects like math, english, science and history before the arts at all costs. Even creative writing, from my observations, is slowly becoming extinct in the common language curriculum of today.


The traditional music program at the grade 7 and 8 level normally offered a band instrument option. Not everyone was required to take it, but usually a large percentage of the grades did participate and this is what fuelled the interest for a band program at the high school level. Now schools are being forced to down size. Few schools still do fundraising or ask for help from parents. Many parents are simply strapped for cash and unable to put out any more money than the school is already asking for. Other schools, usually short of an accredited music instructor, are going towards offering either a rudimentary piano program or guitar program. The reason is both budget (it's cheaper and easier to buy and maintain cheap keyboards or CostCo brand guitars) and the ability of the teacher (the instructor previously has learned piano/guitar as a child or are a hobby player at home). This in turn leaves high schools with little interest in a band program, as the feeder schools offered no such opportunity earlier, and they resort to the same guitar/piano program; which once again fits the budget set out by the principal and their overlords.


Talk to the young people of today. Ask them about their current arts programs and the teachers who instruct it in their schools. Then observe what they do with themselves. I've had students that have zero creativity what-so-ever. They have no motivation, are lacking any form of imagination and as a result are without the tools to succeed in various aspects of school including math. Their ability to perceive and visualize a problem, not to mention focus and follow through on these concepts, has been stifled. You ask them how their day/weekend went and they say "boring!". Why you ask? "Because I couldn't find anything to do. There was no games. No TV. No MSN". Please, whatever you do, don't ask them why they couldn't draw, write, read, play an instrument or even go outside and play football or hockey with their friends. I guarantee your brain will hurt and you might develop a nervous twitch in your right eye after trying to follow that line of questioning. Is it their fault?!? No. Obviously technology, insufficient activities, insufficient parenting (I'm not blaming anyone. It's a hard life and working all the time is tiring. I totally understand being swamped and not having time to spend with your kids, but it is a reality for some) among other influences are to blame. BUT!!!!! Where do kids spend most of their time as children? What influences their critical thinking skills the most? Their social skills? Their social life?!?!? **And then Tina told Jason, who told Janice. And then Janice flipped out on Ryan who was like wtf?!?** …….. The answer is school.


Schools HAVE to be more influential in culturing and nurturing our children to be creative, artistic, inventive thinkers. A study has recently found that only 46% of children in 2008 enjoyed reading. READING!!!! You can't FIND a more fundamental and educational activity. If all our kids know how to write is "LOL" and "OMG" after every sentence then our society is doomed to be nothing more than a culture of simplistic abbreviations for heartless expressions and emotions. Imagination and creativity is fading from our young minds and I really fear that a generation of  illiterate, unimaginative, in-the-box thinkers will be our future politicians (more than they are now).


Once again, next week will be less of a depressing dump fest and if anyone has anything they'd like me to research and elaborate on I'm all ears! I can always use ideas. But, to restate, get involved with your kids and other kids you may teach or influence in your community. The government does have an "Activity Tax Credit" up to $500 that can be applied to music lessons, painting classes, sports, etc. Please get involved.


Here is the link to the Ontario Activity Tax Credit: http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/catc/




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