Edward Carrington III is a member of the church where I serve as pastor. He will soon graduate from Cal State East Bay, and next month will release his first CD, produced by Ricardo Scales.
Carrington is an accomplished saxophone player. For 10 years I, along with the rest of the Resurrection Community Church family, have watched with pride as he honed his skills. He is also a graduate of the Oakland School of the Arts.
Carrington's emerging success raises a question with which we all must grapple: Can we continue de-emphasizing the arts in public schools?
By arts, I mean any discipline that allows for creative activity. This would include, but not limited to, music, writing, performance and visual arts such as drawing, painting, carving, sculpture, printmaking and murals.
When schools face a budget crisis, invariably the arts are the first on the chopping block. Some schools have managed to maintain their arts programs in light of budget cuts because of parents personally willing to fill the financial gap.
But schools that maintain a commitment to the arts represent the growing exception. For far too many schools, cultivating the arts is not an option.
Meanwhile, student achievement has been whittled down to test scores emphasizing math and science. But whatever academic goals are to be achieved, it is doubtful those objectives will be reached without the inclusion of the arts.
The arts create a forum for safe expression, communication, exploration and imagination, along with cultural and historical understanding.
It can make math and science relevant to certain students who would otherwise be unreachable. Studies have associated the arts with gains in reading, verbal skill, cognitive ability and critical thinking.
Moreover, the arts have been shown to improve motivation, concentration, confidence and teamwork. For some students, interests in the arts may represent the sole reason they are actively engaged in learning.
But we are left with a tragic irony in that the mechanism that could greatly assist student achievement among the first to go when resources become scarce.
With annual deficits and cuts to the state budget, it comes as no surprise that California is lacking in its overall commitment to arts education.
The Alliance for Arts Education wrote back in 2008:
"For the past 30 years arts education in California's schools has been disappearing at an alarming rate. Only 11 percent of the public schools are meeting state goals for arts instruction. The state's recent fiscal crisis has resulted in still more dramatic cuts to visual and performing arts education programs."
I recognize the arts are an unfortunate casualty for a state in tough economic times. In other words, California simply can't afford it.
Though understandable and predictable, I can't comprehend why reactionary measures are easier to afford than proactive ones.
If California has come to the realization that it can't afford reactionary policies such as prison overcrowding and certain social services, the alternative is to invest in proactive policies.
But it can't be done on the cheap. Do we want improved test scores? If so, the arts must be comprehensively added as a key component to student achievement.
The goal is not to produce the next John Coltrane, Pablo Picasso, Sir Laurence Oliver or Edward Carrington.
The goal is to improve student achievement armed with the well-documented knowledge that emphasis on math and science alone can leave too many students wanting.
Carrington had the benefit of attending a school where his talents could be nurtured. There are countless numbers of students, victimized by where they happen to attend school, who are languishing without the arts as an option.
We can do better; we must do better.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.