Why Doesn't My Child Have Time to Practice?
Is increased academic pressure depriving our children of an arts education? Edward Rothstein wrote in The New York Times about the many projects which New York's cultural institutions have established to induce children back into museums and concert halls now that the arts curriculum has been cut in public schools. In many neighborhoods, we have seen funding for music and art programs severely curtailed and parents being asked to fund programs privately. Though foundations and individual patrons have tried to shore up the gaping holes that these cutbacks have left in the curriculum, parents are often unaware of their importance until these programs are gone. Funding, however, is not the only reason that the arts are losing ground with our younger generation.
Time, our most precious commodity, is in very short supply for every young person I know between the ages of 10 and 18.
Few adults who play an instrument began at the age of 25; few adults who paint began at the age of Grandma Moses. Most of us learn the skills that we take on in later life as our hobbies or avocation before the age of twenty. We do carpentry because we helped our fathers, as children; we sail because we lived by the ocean during the summers; we garden because our mothers always had wonderful flowers. A recent study of what young professionals do with their free time listed "Exercise" as their No. 1 choice. If we are not careful, the next study in ten years will list "Playing Computer Games" as the No. 1 choice! When my children extol the virtues of the upcoming "virtual reality", I find myself offering the choice of "life" as an alternate option, much to their displeasure. Somehow, "life" has become a less interesting option for many young people. Where have we gone wrong?
Ironically, the brightest young people end up at schools that are extremely demanding. Three-plus hours of homework in the 7th grade are not unusual. Advanced curriculums offer algebra in the 7th grade and Shakespeare in the 9th, if not before. Suddenly, all of the children who took piano lessons from 1st to 7th grade are quitting because they do not have time to practice...and they don't! The child who took painting lessons in the 4th grade will not have time in the 8th. A band or orchestra program, or a painting class, within the school curriculum will keep a child involved, but without it, it is an almost impossible situation for all but the most dedicated child and parent.
Is it really the lack of funding that is depriving us of children who will be culturally literate, or is it the question of time and how we value it?
Are we, as parents, allowing educators to rob our children of their enjoyment of youth and vital time in their lives to acquire skills in the arts that will be with them for life just so they can take a sophomore mathematics course, instead of calculus, their freshman year at Yale? Do we sit quietly by as the new middle school head tells us that for our son or daughter to succeed, it is recommended that all outside activities be dropped?
"As parents, we have been, perhaps, too willing to believe that schools could mold our children into bright, wonderful people. "
I advocate a better balance in the lives of our young children. I revel in the challenging curriculums that my sons enjoyed at school, but I know that I am not the only parent who has done some 5th grade homework so that his or her child has time to practice the trumpet or violin. Particularly in the area of the arts, there are skills to be learned at a young age that never can be learned so well later in life. No great musician ever began to play at 20; few people become truly bilingual if they do not speak their second language as a child. Conversely, many books are understood far better at the age of fifty than they ever could be at twenty, and many students are not at the brink of deadly boredom if they do not take algebra in the 7th grade.
Learning to play an instrument teaches us communication skills, demands diligence, and offers the excitement of being unique.
Drawing a picture and going to a museum offer skills, which will provide years of enjoyment, with only a pencil and a piece of paper, or a pair of walking shoes. Sitting in front of the computer and clicking on a music program, or bringing in works of art from the World Wide Web, is not a substitute for the real thing.
The arts offer balance in our lives. Let us try to provide for our children the time to develop into well-rounded individuals. One cannot go to concerts, practice an instrument, paint a picture, or visit a museum if one does not have the "free" time to do so. As parents, we have been, perhaps, too willing to believe that schools could mold our children into bright, wonderful people. What we are beginning to discover is that it is our responsibility to protect the balance in their lives. Remember, practicing the saxophone and playing some jazz are excellent escapes from reading Melville. Let us be sure that our children have time to develop "escapes", which are not limited to the teenage tragedy of deadening the brain with drugs and alcohol. Let us help them and guard some of their time for "life" and the arts.
Bonnie Ward Simon, BA, MA, M.Ed, M.Phil.,
President of Maestro Classics