I remember my elementary school days vividly and fondly. More so than the basic school work, I remember the artistic outlets offered at my urban public elementary school in great detail. I was able to participate in some of the most unique programs including Talented in Music-Choir, Talented on Music-Orchestra (in which i learned to play the violin at age 8), Visual Arts, Talented in Drama, and numerous citywide programs that partnered with urban public schools. I was fortunate enough to foster my various talents outside of school as well, supplementing my free school programs with private lessons in dance, piano, and voice. Moving into middle and high school, I was able to attend a private school where many of these types of arts programs were readily available and at my disposal. No, I wasn’t going to become the next Picasso or the next first violinist of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. I didn’t even desire to become the next child piano prodigy. Yet, my plethora of arts educational programs opened my eyes to a wider world of humanity.
When I was happy, I could release my bubbly energy into those black and white keys on my piano at home. When I was sad, I could find a way to release my tension into the air via the art of dance. When I was angry or hurt, I could express myself through poetry as my 5th grade English teacher had taught me to. The arts were not only a way of expressing myself; they were an outlet–an outlet for rage, fear, joy, and, pain. And though I’m no longer an active violinist or a practicing visual artist, I’m sure those skills helped foster a greater since of humanity within myself.
Unfortunately, many kids these days don’t get the chance to experience the beauty of art as I did. Instead of putting money into arts programs in public schools, the government is putting money into more daunting security measures that are set up to imprison, i mean “protect,” our students. Now, there are more police officers than art teachers in our schools. Our schools, which were once a place for students to learn and express themselves (at least intellectually), have become dark prison cells, our kids becoming prisoners of a war against humanity.
The lack of arts education in public schools is dehumanizing an entire generation of potential leaders. Instead of the melodic flow of music, we hear the stark rhythm of gun shots. Troubled youth will pick up knives before they pick up a paintbrush. For example: John* comes from a turbulent home environment. His home is full of domestic violence and the streets around him are drug ridden. His after school activities included detention and possible “hanging” in the streets with friends. This “hanging” in the street could lead to a variety of negative situations, including drug violence and possible imprisonment or death. This could simply be avoided if there was something extracurricular to occupy Johns time. I have seen poetry, music, and visual arts turn kids like John around. Instead of looking for love in the streets, kids like John can find that in music, drama, dance, and other creative outlets. It has been proven that art, specifically in music and visual arts therapy, can heal the mentally challenged, PTSD patients, and yes, troubled or potentially troubled youth.
The lack of artistic opportunities provided to low-income kids is sadly startling and is not allowing them to be the best that they can be. I know doctors and lawyers who said music lessons changed and saved their lives. We must believe that art is still invincible and work together to make the youth of today invincible as well, and not invisible. We must push our local and state governments to not cut what is most needed in our urban public schools. We must push our local communities to keep supporting and providing free artistic outlets for local youth. Most importantly, in all that we do, we must strive to bring humanity back into the world, step by step.