I can’t lie. I am really worried about the world that we live in today. Last week terrorists attacked Paris. A fanatical regime attacked innocent unsuspecting civilians as they went about living their lives. It was very difficult to comprehend. The terrorist won. I became worried about the safety of my children going forward from that very moment.
A few days later I was sitting in a meeting at my elementary school going over data that proved what we already knew; a large percentage of our low income second language learners are reading below grade level. Toward the end of the meeting it was suggested that we stop providing art and music to the lower grades and replace this time with additional reading instruction. Respected colleagues of mine were losing their minds. You could hear the tension in their voices as two of my coworkers tried to manufacture the argument that it can be considered cruelty to children because they aren’t reading on grade level and questioning what the future holds for these children. I had heard this rhetoric before, however now it was being twisted in a direction that I don’t believe it was intended.
I whole-heartedly believe in the importance of reading, however I have to question the cost. The meeting started by analyzing national norms compared to New York State norms, which we were told are one grade level above the national norms based on the computer assessment we were using. For example, a student reading on a 3.0 level at the beginning of third grade is considered one grade level behind. In order to pass the third grade NY state test students needs to be on a 4.0 reading level in order to be on track. We found very few students reading one grade level ahead which projected the success rate on the test. In fact, the majority are projected to fail.
What pains me is the insanity of it all. I get that politicians don’t understand childhood development, but some teachers that I work with seem to have accepted this insanity as reality. Could it be that adults that are responsible for educating and nurturing young minds have bought into the idea that all children must be reading at a specific level in a specific grade? In reality the bar is set for children that are on a fast track and today there is an urgency to move kids along to close a predetermined gap. Progressing one grade level a year is considered unacceptable by these standards for at risk students.
I felt the need to defend the arts, although I was a solitary voice during this meeting. I knew instinctively what the arts means for many of these students. I didn’t have research at my fingertips, but I knew the importance of the arts for students that need an escape from subjects that they struggle with. The brain is a complex organ and there is more to human development than the area that controls reading. The arts fulfill people’s souls. Eliminating the arts for children is not the magic pill that they are looking for to raise reading proficiency.
It’s been a discouraging week. There are terrorists throughout the world looking to harm innocent people and then there are well meaning professionals in our schools that believe eliminating the arts is going to close a gap. Part of society is willing to ignore the ramifications caused by poverty and believe solutions can be found by destroying our humanity.