A C A L L T O A C T I O N
Kentucky's Assault on Beauty
Senate Bill 1 - 2016 and the Danger it Poses
to Performing & Visual Arts in Kentucky Schools
Matthew Taylor, DMA
February 17, 2016
February 17, 2016
In a vote today, the Senate of Kentucky has laid the foundations for drastic changes in P-12 education with legislation called “Senate Bill 1-2016,” an initiative sponsored by Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.
Among the many changes outlined in the bill, we find several refreshing initiatives that educators in our state will no doubt welcome.
Not long ago, before accepting my position at Morehead State University, I was on the faculty of an elementary school during the Common Core Curriculum Standards roll-out, and it was tough. It’s refreshing to see evidence that legislators are growing weary of incessant testing, and the requisite “teaching to the test” that it requires, along with the tedium of complicated “accountability structures” leveraged against teachers by evaluators who often have never taught, and rarely even live in the same area code. For those of us in education, the trust and freedom that this bill grants to local schools is hard-won.
How can something so good be so bad?
The implications for the performing and visual arts—especially in the poorest districts—could be dire. Much of the issue is related to the way in which school districts “read” the law and interpret the application of its statutes. In other words, depending on a school district’s reading of the language in the bill, a school could simply decide to eliminate the bands, orchestras, theatre programs, and art classes from their curriculum, and it would be totally legal. At the very least, the bill makes it easy to cut jobs and rationalize a less comprehensive arts education for our youngest citizens.
It’s a very, very big deal.
A Few Examples from the Bill
Section 4 of the Bill states that students require only “sufficient grounding” in the arts to understand his/her history and culture. Schools could use this language to release them from the responsibility to provide sequential, standard-rich curricula from the Kindergarten and up.
Remember when you were in school, and you had music and art once a week? You learned about the steady beat, heard Mozart and Sousa and Jazz, and danced to get the wiggles out? Perhaps you also escaped into artwork by Monet and John Singer Sargent? Painted or drew or colored or papier-mâchéd? Well, under the more vague terms in this bill, a district could make a case that students would receive their “standard-meeting” requisite arts education in a single class. Or, instead of seeing your art and music teacher once a week, it could be integrated into a class by a non-certified educator with very little training, or even taught once in the 6-year term of the typical primary education. Not good enough. The arts are among the great treasures of humanity. Why would we want to teach them like they are an afterthought?
High school programs could also be affected.
Section 2 of the bill expands the types of courses that could be used to meet the high school arts requirements. In the language of the bill, “If a high school offers a foreign language course, application-oriented career and technical education course, or a computer technology or programming course that incorporates the design content techniques of creativity, and interpretation, the course shall be accepted as meeting the arts and humanities requirement for high school graduation, notwithstanding other provision of law” [KRS 156.160 (1)3].
Puzzlingly, this means that high school students could obtain required arts credits by studying Spanish, or enrolling in a computer coding class. If a district were to follow the letter of the law, especially one where money is tight, this statute could allow the philosophy that the need for a music, theatre, or art program is redundant as long as there is a Spanish teacher, or a web design class.
Really, Kentucky? I don’t even know what to say.
Among the other serious implications for the arts, the bill also removes external accountability from arts education, which as a nasty side effect causes it to have less administrative priority than other “assessed” core classes. If a school isn’t ranked by its music program, why have one at all? Dangerous talk….
Heartbreaking. Frustrating. Chilling.
Times are tough in the Commonwealth right now. In my own personal history, when I was faced with adversity as a boy, and then a teen, I found comfort and solace in music. It is the same today.
What about you? When you have a bad day, doesn’t a great song make it a little better? What about looking at a beautiful picture, or having someone ask you to dance? Why would we not value our own heritage as a community of artists and art consumers? Why would we not want to see our children growing up as explorers of the rich cultural landscape of our nation, state and world?
I’m reminded of the words of Mary Oliver, former United States Poet Laureate, from her book of poems, A Thousand Mornings:
The man who has many answers
is often found
in the theaters of information
where he offers, graciously,
his deep findings.
While the man who has only questions,
to comfort himself, makes music.
A Call to Action
The bill has not been signed into law. Though it has passed the State Senate, it must now advance to the House of Representatives. I implore you, if you are a resident of Kentucky, please contact your State Representative. If you aren’t sure who he or she is, you can find out here. Also, feel free to learn more about the implications of the bill from the wonderful work done by the Kentucky Coalition for Arts Education, here.
Make your voice heard, and send the message that the arts are a priority for the citizens of our state, and we demand that they be a priority for our elected officials, too. Share on Facebook, Twitter, whatever, but that's not enough. To make a real impact, write or phone your representative. It's the only way to get them to hear your voice. T