In elementary school, I, like almost every other grade-school student in the ’80s and ’90s, learned how to play the recorder. It’s not much more than a glorified whistle with a few holes carved in it to change notes, but I embraced the silly instrument for a short while and went beyond the standard “Hot Cross Buns” to earn extra credit by teaching myself how to play the Irish classic “Molly Malone.”
Fast-forward a few decades and that song is still burned into my brain. It’s become an important staple in the nightly lullaby repertoire I sing to help both my sons fall asleep.
“See, and that’s just one small example of how powerful and important an arts education can be,” said Joe Landon, executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, after I told him about my recorder skills.
The advocacy coalition Landon runs is putting on a big conference about arts education in San Diego this week. Called Arts Education Learning Exchange, the first-of-its-kind conference will, in part, highlight the Chula Vista school district’s recent $15 million investment in expanded arts education and San Diego Unified’s initiative to integrate arts education into most its schools. For San Diego Unified, the accolades come in the midst of an effort to make sure not just some, but all of its approximately 130,000 students eventually get access to a quality arts education. Last week, I wrote about that effort.
But back to me and my recorder.
Landon told me there’s an entire generation of kids who went through the educational system after me without getting much of an arts education at all. He said the federal K-12 public education policy No Child Left Behind and the economic downtown played a big part in killing creativity in schools. The economy and the policy, he said, forced many educators to cut budgets and worry too much about teaching kids how to pass tests. The arts were widely seen as unnecessary.
Landon said that’s changing. He praised the replacement for No Child Left Behind, the so-called Every Student Succeeds Act, as a public education policy he thinks will result in a huge boost for arts education.
The co-author of a paper called “A Policy Pathway: Embracing Arts Education to Achieve Title I Goals,” Landon said another positive trend in arts education is more and more school districts using Title I funds, a federal source of money earmarked for assisting students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to pay for arts education. In the paper, he argues that arts education has been proven to help disadvantaged students.
“There are still some districts that are hesitant to spend Title 1 funds on arts education,” Landon said. “But that’s changing, too.”
A final note on the recorder: Last year my colleague Mario Koran conducted an important investigation into why kids in San Diego still play it in school. Here’s a snippet of what he found:
Turns out there’s an actual reason schools encourage the recorder. Little-kid fingers aren’t all that dexterous. Because it’s a bit easier to play, it serves as a nice transition that gets kids ready for more complicated instruments like the clarinet, Nicholson said. Plus, they’re cheap. You can buy one on Amazon for about $10.
So it looks like the recorder might be here to stay. Lord help us.