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Tis the season for many things: a season of giving, of thanks, and of celebration. As I attended the concerts that mark the holiday season—as they do for schools throughout New York State—I could not help but think back to September and October, to a time when students were at the start of the process to learn songs and many other life lessons in music classes. I can vividly remember observing a teacher who was teaching a group of second grade students. It was a wonderful lesson.
It was clear that they were learning, immersed in a multisensory experience that should be part of every child’s routine in elementary school. Their hearts and minds were engrossed in joyful learning. Their voices rising and falling, learning the foundational skills so they could become adept not only to sing, but to transfer a whole set of dispositions that will more than likely help them grow into capable students.
As I sat there watching and listening, seeing children dancing, playing instruments, reading music, and growing, both individually and collectively, I wondered if this was happening elsewhere in schools and classrooms. Mostly, I wondered about places that could not afford to have such a vibrant component to the learning that all children should experience. I also wondered not only of the financial struggle to preserve this part of a child’s education, but the fact that in the race to somewhere, with a narrow focus of the metrics that seem to count, how much of this type of engagement is being cut out?
After I left the music class I encountered the greeter at the school. We struck up a conversation and I came to learn about her sister who teaches art in a school district some 460 miles away in upstate New York, near the Canadian border. It turns out that things in this teacher’s school district have gotten so bad that she teaches over 1,000 students, split between two buildings. Beyond the budget cuts that have forced her caseload to become unwieldy to “do art projects” there is the insult to injury, which, as a result of APPR she must now perform extraneous and useless “assessments” on each of these students. What a shame it is for this veteran teacher of over 20 years to sacrifice her limited time with students to over assess children in art to be in compliance with the APPR accountability system.
Whether it is music, art, robotics, athletics, theater, or any number of experiences that are part of the fabric that weaves itself together in unique patterns to form the tapestry that each child experiences in education, we must pause to celebrate and give thanks. Tis also the season not to forget our obligation to protect what we value most, and stand up for quality public education for all students.