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Thursday, September 1, 2011

School Shows

Everyone I know says that their bookings in schools are down. It's easy to see why. Between government budget cuts to schools and teachers, a focus on testing, literacy, and technology, and audiences that have more experience with screen time than face time, a school assembly begins to seem like a waste of money, a waste of time, or a cute anachronism, a throwback to earlier times.

It's easy to see this in a self-centered light, where my business and the business of my friends and colleagues is affected, and that is certainly true. But it's equally true that children lose when they have no experience with live performances. I believe that sitting together in the same space listening and watching and reacting together is a fundamental human skill and pleasure, and I regret deeply that many children rarely if ever get this opportunity.

Singing together is an art that is fading, and has been for a long time. Listening to stories, or watching a dance performance, or visiting a museum gallery are all on the endangered list of school experiences, and in the lives of most people. We say we want community and creativity, and yet we invest less time in those things. And it's particularly true for schools.

I don't believe that a focus on testing that excludes time for science, recess, gym, the arts, and social studies is good in any way for students, and yet we see schools around the country that have given up or limited each of the above in order to raise scores. Too many children will not know how to think critically, to be creative, to interact socially and care for each other because the focus has shifted.

I think the answer is actually simple. Raise taxes on the upper 1 or 5 percent of the population, and fully fund education. And let "fully funded" mean time for genuine arts experiences of all kinds. We need kids who can read. But we need a lot more than that, not for ourselves, but for the future of our country, and the planet.