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Arts are more than `entertainment'.

Byline: Richard Giarusso

I am a member of the Class of 1996 at West Boylston High School (WBHS). Following my graduation from West Boylston, I completed a BA in music and English at Williams College and a PhD in historical musicology at Harvard University. I am currently on the faculty of the musicology department at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Recently, it has come to my attention that, in an effort to balance the school budget for the 2008-09 academic year, a proposal has been aired that would eliminate almost all curricular offerings in music and art throughout the school system. As an alumnus who benefited greatly from my work in the arts at WBHS, I am writing to voice my extreme distress at this proposal and to defend the place of the arts as an essential part of any well-rounded secondary education.

Too often, courses in music and art are looked upon purely as "enrichment" activities-fun electives aimed at providing an hour or so of "diversion" within the school day. Indeed, the School Committee's readiness to look always to music and art in proposing and carrying out budget cuts suggests this flawed perception is alive and well in West Boylston.

Previous cuts have already marginalized the place of music and art within the curriculum, and the severity of these latest proposals is just too extreme.

It is time for the School Committee to recognize that the gradual yet steady elimination of the arts in our school system is a policy that simply cannot be pursued to its grim conclusion.

During my time at WBHS, my classes in the music and art departments were hardly "enrichment" activities. They were an integral part of my secondary education. Without them, and without the examples of professionalism and dedication set by my teachers in these disciplines, I imagine that my future career path would have taken a dramatically different direction. I would hate to think that students like me, in future generations, would be denied the same opportunities that were such a formative part of my high school experience.

Speaking more broadly, the offerings of the music and art departments are in no way peripheral to a well-rounded secondary training. They provide unique opportunities for personal expression and creativity that also contribute to the development of a conscientious and disciplined work ethic that serves all students well.

The challenges our society will face in the coming decades will demand unconventional thinking, an awareness and appreciation of difference and diversity, a fresh understanding of our need to work with others, and a spirit of benevolent humanism-skills that are all uniquely developed within the context of an arts-based curriculum.

It is no secret that the place of the arts in American society is one which is becoming increasingly marginalized, largely as a result of short-sighted policy makers that see only the bottom line and presume to rank the importance of academic disciplines based only upon the most obvious and easily attainable evidence. The situation is dire, and the burden falls upon educational institutions at all levels to uphold the integrity and educational value of the arts in a society that would happily see them relegated to the status of mere "entertainment."

The prospect of a K-12 curriculum in which all art and music would be cut is a very bleak one indeed. I would hope the School Committee will have the foresight to envision the dismal and narrow educational future that lurks beyond this particular bottom line. Music and art are not dispensable areas of study, and to treat them as such is to do a disservice to our young people and to our community at large.

Richard Giarusso is a graduate of West Boylston High School and currently on the faculty of the musicology department at the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 17, 2008
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