I would like to go back to the ethical ramifications of cutting arts from schools. There is a fairness and justice issue as well here. There are two groups of children that come up when we talk about the (lack of) fairness when cutting the arts. First are children from low-income communities and second are children who are gifted in an art form.
John Rawls wrote A Theory of Justice which explores his idea of justice and fairness. Rawls acknowledges the imbalance of wealth in our society and he posits that this inequality is actually just provided that everyone in society benefits, particularly those who are “least advantaged”. According to Rawls, it is ok when some have more (even a lot more) but there has to be benefit for all.
The reality for children from low-income communities is that they don’t have access to many if any arts experiences or education outside the school day. School is their best shot at getting this. By denying poor children exposure to and education in the arts during the school day we immediately begin to limit their future options. We limit their creative and artistic literacy. We literally deprive them of a way to communicate with and understand the world. In addition, we limit the knowledge they have about the world. In not learning about and understanding great artists and great works of art we limit what they know and what they can imagine. Without meeting William Shakespeare, Pablo Picasso, Martha Graham, or Wynton Marsalis in their classrooms, the doors of possibility and opportunity close a little bit more tightly. The arts are part of the escape route from poverty. They allow students to imagine other possibilities, to understand the complexities and nuances of the world and of life, and to communicate their thoughts, beliefs and ideas.
The second group of children we overlook when we cut the arts from schools is the artistically gifted. This is a group of kids that is rarely if ever taken seriously by public schools. Rare is the district that properly identifies and nurtures artistic giftedness. The myths around academic giftedness extend to the artistic domain as well. There is the misconception that gifted children will somehow develop and maintain their giftedness without support and appropriate education (research tells us they won’t). Like a muscle, giftedness will languish if not developed. I for one do not relish living in a world where artistic giftedness borders on extinction.
In public education we do not get to pick and choose which children we serve and how. Rawls, when he wrote about the imbalance of wealth, could have easily been writing about other resources such as education. Some schools are going to provide a better education for lots of reasons – good principal, good teachers, low-crime in the neighborhood, parents who know how to navigate the educational systems, parents who are able to support school financially. But for those schools that do not have some of these benefits, we are required by tenets of justice and fairness to ensure these poorest schools can benefit. Striking the arts from the curriculum is promoting injustice and this is a terrible misstep for public education.