Where You Live: Norwood

By Carl Cummings

Town Hall in Norwood, Mass. WGBH listener Carl Cummings submitted an op-ed about arts education in Norwood. (bunkosquad/Flickr)

"There’s an interesting – and enraging – economic situation in Norwood that I’d like to share. 

"Last week the town’s school committee passed a 2012 fiscal budget that will dramatically decrease the public school system’s music department. 

"Fighting for fine arts funding is unfortunately nothing new. It’s a campaign that WGBH has been very active in historically, and it isn’t the first time this battle has been fought in Norwood. The music department there has in fact enjoyed a rich history of quality, consistently developing both award-winning groups and passionate, successful students over past several decades. All of which hasn’t come easy; without constant effort from the town’s parents, educators, students and alumni to secure funding, the department likely would have been critically reduced years ago.

"But I call this recent development both interesting and enraging for two specific reasons.  

"As mentioned in the article, these cuts were actually proposed from within – the only cuts throughout the entire school system were in fact proposed by an apparently inexperienced Fine Arts administration. A questionable decision that is eye-raising and interesting in and of itself. But it’s also thought-provoking because while there is initial outrage from parents, the debate is starting to become framed as “extracurricular versus core curriculum” programs. Or even more basically, as the age-old “arts versus sports” debate. The athletics teams aren’t cutting programs, why should the music department?

"And that gut reaction, truthful as it might be, misses the point entirely. 

"Music and the arts don’t happen only after school or only on the weekends – they’re not simply activities or clubs. This is purely opinion, but I know many people share the view: Fine Arts are as fundamental to a complete education as Math, English, Science, or History.  And the true challenge in Norwood – and in schools everywhere in the country – is gaining them this core curriculum visibility. 

"Instead, budget cuts have forced Norwood’s school committee – in fact their Fine Arts administration itself – in the opposite direction, reducing the role of music in education even further by relegating it to “extra” status. A “nice to have." I find this exceedingly interesting, and suggest that the argument itself must be reframed if a solution is to be found. 

"Likewise, I find one specific element in this situation particularly enraging.   

"As the above article points out, “The elementary school instrumental music program will be cut by $63,000, the biggest hit to a single program”. The idea of knocking out the very foundation of a program for the sake of trimming the budget elsewhere is mind-boggling. Common sense dictates that this will ultimately kill interest and involvement at all levels. But to target the youngest-possible age group affected by this situation and identify them as the best place to save money? That is astoundingly short-sighted on an even broader scale.

"We’re now saying that it’s not even important to invest in exposing kids to music at an early age? I think most people – experts and lay folk alike -- would disagree with that philosophy. Cut the high-end competitive high school programs if you must, rather than deprive children the chance to fall in love with music during their formative years. 

"So Governor Patrick might have numbers to back up his claim that Massachusetts has “weathered the recession better than the rest of the country”, but the fact remains that economics have forced the decision that the arts are extraneous in education. In my mind, that is not exactly coming out of a recession unscathed. 

"And it’s inexcusable that kids in Norwood have to suffer the effects. 

Follow stories of economic change throughout Massachusetts — and tell us about the stories of economic struggle, change, or growth you see in your community.

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