Last week, Lake Highlands area choir directors were leading their student groups in choral competitions in South Texas. This week they are leading a different fight – to perpetuate strong fine arts programs in the Richardson ISD by maintaining fine arts as a mandatory piece of the graduation curriculum.
This Wednesday, April 29, Texas legislators will vote on Senate Bill 3 (SB3) and House Bill 3 (HB3), which propose to eliminate the state’s one credit fine arts requirement. The proposed “Recommended” graduation plan – under which most college-bound Texas seniors graduate – is often referred to a “4X4+2,” because it requires four years of instruction in English, math, social studies, and science, plus two years of foreign language. Adding to these “core” requirements – especially math and science – has left fewer openings in student schedules. The other eight credits in the 26-credit plan will be electives, meaning fine arts will be offered but optional. For the first time in twenty years, there will be no fine arts credit requirement for graduation from Texas public high schools.
LH arts teachers fear their programs will be seriously weakened. Fewer kids will give fine arts a try, they worry, and fewer will discover their enjoyment of (and possible talent in) theater, dance, music, and visual arts. Students who may have chosen to join the marching band or learn country and western dancing will be forced to fill their day with Calculus and Astronomy instead. And arts teaching positions may be lost as the number of arts enrollees decreases.
The benefits of fine arts instruction have proven to be many. Author Dan Pink argues in his book “A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” that the workforce of the future is in need of creative and empathetic big picture visionaries. Education should be balanced, he insists, between right- and left-brain skillsets. Advocates for minority and disadvantaged students fear that they’ll be channeled into TAKS prep courses by teachers whose salary is tied to standardized test scores and not be permitted to explore fine arts and other courses which could spark them to stay in school. Above all, the parents I’ve heard from say studying the arts has helped their students become well-rounded people and enthusiastic learners.