Cutting Fine Art Budgets

February 14, 2013
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Essay #1
“Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.” Joseph Stalin knew the power of education on either side of the spectrum, for the benefit of his own communist ideals or for the power of promoting what he dubbed ‘the cult of the individual’ – and what Americans today consider democracy. As any finely tuned weapon, a nation’s education system must be considered from all angles, and the government must decide how to most effectively trim the budget to make and support it while maintaining its strength and integrity. Thus the issue of what programs school budget cuts should remove first arises. The obvious answer appears to be to trim the unnecessary fine arts – the metaphorical tasteful engraving on a pistol and pretty jewels on the hilt of a sword. However, many argue for the developmental power of those programs in forming the unique ‘individual’ that democracy so values. But for all that the arts promote creativity and spirit, in this day and age in the chasm of economic collapse and the dormant volcano of nuclear warfare, it is a cold, hard fact that we cannot afford to support expensive art programs that do nothing to bolster our country globally.

As stated by Harvard professor Marguerite Roza in Source G, elective courses cost on average twice as much per student as core classes such as algebra, literature, and composition. Roza outlines an estimated $512 per pupil for elective classes with an additional $564 per class for foreign language, while English and math programs totaled a mere $434 and $328 respectively, both per class. (Source G) America’s Department of Education must outline a specific amount of money for each school, which in turn has to make the choice of which programs to cut. When some school districts can save $7 million (Source C) by making an obvious statistical choice, one must ask why they do not. As it stands, America is being a figurehead country that values exorbitant displays of superiority over wise conservation of interests. We spent roughly $180 million dollars on President Obama’s 2013 Inauguration, while we are over $16 trillion dollars in debt. We were not originally a country that spent money so heedlessly – our roots were humble guerilla fighters who valued setting traps in the forests over useless open warfare. We must return to this prudent mindset, and rebuild our ideals of wisdom over wealth. Our schools must be built on this model of sensible spending, especially considering that putting money into other courses than fine arts would result in better quantifiable test scores. Schools with higher scores are, in general, allotted a larger budget by the ED. Eliminating the high costs of fine art programs, rerouting the money to core classes, and getting paid more for this decision seems like killing two birds with one stone.

In addition, giving more support to science, math, and English programs would have far more macrocosmic effects than simply giving back to individual schools. According to a 2012 global census, America is seventeenth in education worldwide – behind Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Germany, Austria, Poland, and other countries that have espoused communist ideals and governments in the past and some in the present. The census was based on test scores, class sizes, quality of teachers, and even the “potential for success” evaluated in the students. This “potential” is what supporters of the fine arts claim their programs – and theirs alone – nurture in American children. However, America cannot keep its wavering position at the peak of international economy and military when “textbooks… technology… and training teachers” (Source D) are being shoved aside to appease indignant parents protesting the loss of a music or photography class. Private lessons can be provided for those with true talent and those who are considering art for a profession after college. It is not the responsibility of the school to pay for those who are only taking it for a required credit or an hour to sleep. For example, the number of students thinking of becoming professional musicians constitutes a miniscule 2% of an average high school band class, a fraction that is even smaller in other arts such as painting or sculpting. In the end, logic dictates that if Korea and Japan can outscore American students’ “potential” when they put more emphasis on core classes than any other country and all but ignore fine arts, these fine art programs cannot be the sole reason for it, and as America struggles to keep dominance over these rising global powers our education system must be a weapon that is finely tuned.
When all pretty ideals and pretenses of sophistication and political correctness are abandoned, everyone agrees that only the upper echelons of artists, more Gods than men, those like Mozart and Da Vinci and the likes of which we haven’t seen in centuries, can be considered ‘finely tuned’ – and even these virtuosos and masters are clinically insane and unstable personalities. Great writers like Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf were severely depressed, Edgar Allan Poe even dependent on drugs to mask his severe bipolar and manic depressive tendencies. Franz Schubert, said by Beethoven to be a “divine genius”, suffered from cyclothymia, hypomania, and syphilis transmitted to him by prostitutes. Van Gogh was clinically insane and chopped off his own ear to send it to his old roommate to die in unrecognized poverty. And these are the best, the shining examples of everything artists can amount to. The vast majority of artists beneath these historical figures are, simply put, doomed to fail. Generally speaking, artists do not succeed at their trade. A painter’s average annual income is about $32,000; a freelance musician can make on average as little as $15,000 a year. In a nationwide survey of musicians in the early 21st century, 85 percent of those asked were drug users – but Americans today tend to believe that this is natural for them, as drugs ‘enhance’ the music and provide an outlet when they realize just how poor and unsuccessful they are. It is a downward spiral that can be seen in rock, pop, and country bands across the board, and will continue to occur. Recall now that we are investing twice as much in these individuals as we are young mathematicians, engineers, doctors and biologists, professors and ambassadors. We are paying double for classes with a 2% professional output, and of those 2% a small chance of measurable monetary success, and of those successful a near guarantee of depression if not alcoholism, poverty, and drug use; compounded, fine arts produce less than one percent of contributing members to society of all the children they take in, sucking money from educationally valuable courses. The data doesn’t lie, and communist China, creeping up the charts economically, socially, and militarily, has obviously considered this.

Still, we are America. We are the voice of democracy, of freedom and unity, creativity and innovation, liberty and hope for all. Since our conception, we have been born from and held steadfast to our devotion in the American Dream, which promises a measure of happiness and success for every child and mother and father. Therefore, we do not take funding from the arts in an attempt to suffocate our citizenry’s creativity or create mindless automatons for the country’s overall success. We cut our losses because we cannot set up the next generation for failure. We cannot tempt them with pretty words of art’s transcendental nature knowing the statistical likelihood of their triumph, and hoping that they will build an America that doesn’t need to be transcended with the use of chemicals and drugs. We cannot allow them to lay their futures on unsubstantial hopes and dreams; we must keep their feet firmly on the ground, surrounded by the paradise that their engineering minds have made and secured by their military innovation, questing intellect casting their eyes to the stars with wonder and compelling their mathematical hands to build the vessels to take them there. America has never fallen in times of crisis, but always risen as a beacon of light for the world; and so we will do again. On the firm foundation of a thrifty education system and democracy in our grasp, we will emerge as an intellectual nation once more and ensure the safety of American children yet to come.

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