Speaking Up (or Protesting Quietly) for Arts Education

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Mar 14, 2011 0 comments

Tim Mikulski

Tim Mikulski

I'm always talking about the importance of arts and arts education advocacy since my background is in the political world, but I know that it can be intimidating to talk to a local board of education member, local legislator, or state representative - let alone a U.S. Senator or Congressperson.

While we try to make the latter easier thanks to a day-long training session before National Arts Advocacy Day and offer other advocacy resources such as our current Testify on Behalf of Arts Education campaign, those methods aren't universal solutions.

For this reason, I often collect stories about local efforts to fight for arts education (and the arts in general) in case anyone ever wants other advocacy alternatives.

It just so happens that last week, there were three different types of advocacy efforts going on in three areas of the country - Reading, PA; Melrose, MA; and, San Diego, CA.

Reading, PA

Daniel Long will go one day without music on March 31. This is significant for a few reasons. First, Long is a music teacher at Twin Valley High School. Second, his method of garnering attention for school music programs in Pennsylvania has caught on across the state, inspiring other music educators in Berks County and the 700 members of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. Through "The Day the Music Died," Long hopes to discourage school districts from cutting back on music programs to balance district budgets. Long and his fellow music educators will still teach that day, but instead of playing or listening to music, students will write about music appreciation.

San Diego, CA

Like others across the country, San Diego Unified School District announced on March 1 that 34 full and part-time music educator positions would be in danger of elimination due to budgetary constraints. While middle school band students took to rallying before their school board meeting by playing jazz standards, local columnist Genivieve Suzuki, took to the web to tell the story of her husband, Paul, who would be one of the teachers who could be laid off. In her poignant written essay, Suzuki weaves in Paul's 11-year history with the program alongside facts about the benefits of music education and the impact these cuts could have for all of the elementary schools who feed into the middle school program. It's an excellent example of using the written word for advocacy that could also be used as direct testimony or a letter to the editor of other print and electronic publications. Combining that with the action of the middle school band performers, parents, and supporters, you have a ready-made two-prong approach to advocacy.

Melrose, MA

Melrose visual arts teacher Dawn Benski testified before her local school committee during a discussion about next year's school budget. During her time, Benski, a full-time elementary art teacher, explained that the schools have a tradition of supporting the arts, but the flat funding that she was requesting still wouldn't solve a larger problem-the middle school has 800 students and just one art teacher. Her personal story also included her very real concern that the middle school students are unable to learn in a sequential or cumulative way. These are the types of advocacy messages that can make a lasting, personal impact on a board.

Those are just three ways to advocate locally for arts education at the school district level.

What types of advocacy efforts have worked for you locally? What method do you think you might want to try next?

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