The San Diego school board has issued a Plan A of budgets cuts and has a Plan B in place, which includes eliminating the visual and performing arts across the second largest school district in the state of California. The arts are currently the only curricular area to be cut under Plan B. There is a discussion amongst my circle of colleagues about the ethical nature of cutting the arts. So, here are some thoughts on ethics and the elimination of arts education from public schools.
In both ethics and the law, we create sets of rules (at least in western ethics and since this is the United States, western ethics rule, if you will excuse the pun). I quoted Frank Griswold earlier about ethics being the sets of rules we agree to live by once we decide to live together. Once we set up those rules, we don’t get to break them because it is more convenient to do so. Convenience is not a reason to compromise on our core beliefs.
This extends, of course, to how we educate our kids. We have created essentially a set of rules (in the form of No Child Left Behind) that we have agreed will guide the education of our children. This is part of our ethical obligation to our children. We – America the country, not just American parents - have an ethical responsibility to educate children. In meeting that ethical responsibility we created NCLB (I have no doubt this could be argued about how successfully we met that responsibility through this piece of legislation).
As those of us in the trenches know, the arts are mandated in No Child Left Behind as the part of the curriculum. So in deciding to exclude the arts from the curriculum is in violation of our original agreement about what a child in a public school should expect to receive.
I realize that NCLB is not perfect and I also realize that it is not equitably applied due to high-stakes testing. If we agree as a society that NCLB is not meeting the needs of our children we have an ethical obligation to rewrite it, rework it or throw it out and start again. Nonetheless, we are currently violating our ethical duties by allowing American children to receive less than what we agreed they needed.
Our second ethical failing in considering the arts education cuts is that we are allowing public education to promote a form of illiteracy. By failing to teach our children the arts from the time they enter school through the completion of their high school diploma, we fail to prepare them appropriately for the world they are about to enter. We are promoting a form of illiteracy. This illiteracy translates into fewer skills and less knowledge to solve more complicated problems than previous generations.
How can we rationalize this? We cannot and we should not. One of the great philosophical thinkers, Immanuel Kant, recognized the danger in rationalization and the driving need of humans to do so. Rationalization allows us to excuse ourselves from our ethical responsibilities and we must be careful in this regard. Our rationalization of the elimination of school curriculum teaches our children a number of things – and none of them are good.