Brahms vs. biology? Education: Howard Schools should not weaken arts education to bolster core studies.

September 12, 1997

IT IS ONE THING to crack down on smoking in school lavatories, but in Howard County, they're talking about lowering the boom on music and art education in middle schools.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey makes a terrible mistake if he relents to pressure from some circles and sacrifices arts education in an overwrought, if well-intentioned, move to focus on math, language, social studies and science in middle schools.

Pitting the core subjects against arts and music is a mistake. Why turn one positive education goal into the enemy of another positive education goal?

Indeed, middle schools need to spend plenty of time helping students to master English-language tenses, learn about the Revolutionary War, study light and sound and grasp algebraic equations. But they ought to do this along with delving into piano and painting, not at the exclusion of them. Schools should be places where young minds expand in many directions.

Yet we are led to believe that it has to be one way or the other. It must be Brahms or biology. To add sculpture, you must subtract geometry. This either-or philosophy reared its head last winter when a report on middle schools in Howard all but concluded that educators need to forget about improving self-esteem among students if teachers expect to boost academic performance, as if one goal inherently conflicts with the other.

Howard County is not the first school system where arts education is absorbing the blame for whatever inadequacies there are in other subject areas. The same discussion was held last year in Anne Arundel County and in school districts elsewhere in the country.

Art and music studies are what motivate some students to go to school. Even the best and brightest students in the core subjects are enriched by study in these areas. Only a precious few will become professional musicians or artists, but many of these children benefit in other ways; the discipline of music education, for example, can help them learn to tackle complex math concepts.

Dr. Hickey should trumpet a loud, unwarbled message that middle schools will not weaken arts education as they search for ways to bolster instruction in other subjects.

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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