At the beginning of 2017, lawmakers in North Carolina voted reduce class size in kindergarten to third grade classrooms. While there are benefits to smaller classes, like more one-on-one attention from teachers, this reduction would come at the expense of art and PE classes. Yes, you read that right, lawmakers voted to cut art and PE classes in elementary school. WFMY 2 News explained the reasoning and possible effects of this policy in a video. In order to keep art and PE classes, counties will have to produce large sums of money. It would cost Alamance County $4 million and Guilford County $16 million to keep these programs.
On the level of administration and teachers, this policy would induce major changes. Art and PE teachers will likely lose their jobs. Some of them will be lucky enough to be one of the few that is chosen to be a kindergarten, first, second or third grade teacher if they have the qualifications to do so and want to. Other teachers will lose their jobs. Teachers will lose precious planning time of which they already lack. Administration will have to find classrooms for these new teachers to teach in or get mobile units for those who will not have rooms. I know in my elementary school and in many in our school district, we lacked enough classrooms for teachers and had about eight mobile units. At what point are there too many mobile units? Mobile units are considerably smaller than classrooms and containing kids in these oversized closets will only increase teachers and children’s frustration levels as the kids will not be able to move as much.
This brings me to perhaps the biggest issue that I have with this policy. Children need to move. Children need to create. Children need freedom to explore through movement, sound, color and shape. Schools are already giving a considerably larger amount of testing in elementary school than when I was in kindergarten twelve years ago. This testing focused environment is constricting to children’s identities and abilities. It says that if you are not book smart, you are not smart. There are no creativity tests. Taking away children’s creative outlets makes it seem as though art and movement are not valuable. It places all the pressure of a child’s worth on their test scores and academic abilities. I have yet to be asked to take a test outside of school. How important is it to produce a generation of test takers versus a generation of outside-the-box thinkers? Most people enjoy elementary school because it allows them to dabble in music, art and physical activity. NPR published an interview with Dr. Gregory D. Myer, the director of the Human Performance Lab and director of research at the Division of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, detailing why kids need to move to learn and learn by moving (focusing on the importance of PE). He states that PE classes do not need to be cut, but rather increased in quality and quantity in elementary school to promote socializing, enjoyment, good physical fitness habits and longer quantity, better focused attention given to academics. This greatly contrasts the proposed plan.
The Huffington Post published an article about the negative, and often unforeseen, effects of cutting arts programs. Some of the effects that go unmentioned are removing the public from public schools (through arts performances and showcases), project management skills, leadership skills and the ability to combine creativity and academic skills (like the intertwining of math into music). Furthermore, there have been findings that smaller class sizes were not necessarily enough to produce substantial results on academic performance, as they often came at the costs of other programs and activities. For instance, often times the teachers that school districts hire to fill the needs of these new classes are not certified, but they need a teacher so they hire them. I’m not an expert, but I do have common sense. Having five extra kids in classrooms of experienced teachers is going to be more beneficial than having five less kids in an unexperienced, unqualified teacher.
I want to leave you with a video. This is a Japanese kindergarten classroom. It has an open, circular design so that kids can wander about as they please. There are trees in the classroom and various textures and nooks that kids can explore. This allows kids to learn through experience and build skills that are not quantitative (socialization, durability, creativity, team-building). It allows kids to be kids. Now, this classroom was designed and implemented around 2014, meaning that it is a relatively new design and concept. In 2017, America is considering cutting arts and music. I know that there are cultural differences between America and Japan, but there are not so many that children’s needs are completely different. One of these countries is on to something – something good and innovative. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the United States. So what do we do to keep the arts? You can peruse the Americans for the Arts Action Fund’s website, which has numerous resources and ways to get involved in preserving the arts in elementary and secondary schools. The time to act is now. It’s up to us to advocate for change for our kids.