By Todd Devlin, June 16, 2019
The consensus among educators is in: The proposed cuts to education in Ontario are immense – and they will have a significant negative impact on students, including larger class sizes and the reduction of various courses.
In a letter sent to the Minister of Education, Arlene Morell, Thames Valley District School Board chair, conveyed this fact, saying that the changes will “significantly impact our programming and pathways for our secondary students, narrowing the scope of what schools can offer.”
That narrowed scope means that elective course offerings are being reduced.
Specifically, art, music and drama appear to be in danger. Educators believe this will make it more difficult for students to get into university arts programs and affect many students’ overall level of engagement at school which could hurt Ontario’s high school graduation rates.
That is particularly the concern of one London mother, whose daughter was told she won’t be able to continue taking music next school year. The Grade 11 student, who attends H.B. Beal Secondary School in London, was told that the number of music classes being offered was cut – and she wasn’t one of the lucky ones to get a spot.
“She came home in tears, absolutely devastated,” said the mother, who has chosen to remain anonymous. “The fact that my daughter is in Grade 11 and her music career in high school has ended is really unfortunate.”
Especially unfortunate, the mother said, because music is often what has kept her daughter interested at school. She’s a hard worker, but school hasn’t always come easy, her mother says. However, music, a love she developed while at Wortley Road Public School (under the guidance of Sherry Wood, the school’s beloved music teacher), was different.
“That’s the sad part,” the mother said. “Music has really kept her engaged in school. Music gave her success and an opportunity to have something to look forward to.”
With the music class no longer available to her, a guidance counsellor suggested she take a law class, a subject which she has no interest in.
Cuts to arts classes are particularly noteworthy at Beal Secondary School because it is the arts high school in London.
“One of the reasons she went to the arts school was so she could go into arts,” said her mother. “I know parents who can’t wait for their kids to get into (Beal) and they’re going to be disappointed when they find out that they’re not going to be able to take classes [because of cuts].”
But this isn’t about one school, of course. The proposed cuts to education are likely to chip away at the arts, in some form or fashion, at all schools. And teachers are not happy either.
One such educator (who we’ll call Mrs. L.), who is a drama/dance/vocal music teacher at a school in Elgin County, says arts programming helps young students’ learn about themselves and create a sense of identity during their formative years.
“The kids I get in my classes generally don’t have any other space in the school where they feel like they belong,” Mrs. L. said. “The ones who don’t think they need to belong find out they do, and they can be friends with students they wouldn’t normally socialize with.”
Art Fidler certainly concurs with this point – and the significant importance of the arts on the wellbeing of young students. A former high school drama teacher himself, and professor of drama at Western University (in the faculty of education), Fidler still hears frequently from his former students.
“Frankly, I’ve heard many times that ‘drama class saved my life,” says Fidler, who served as Artistic Director (and in many other capacities) at the Original Kids Theatre for nearly two decades.
Meanwhile, Fidler says he’s also been told by students that drama and theatre allowed them to “explore ideas, world cultures, alternate realities, literature, music and more, beyond the mainstream of their teen lives.
“So many of them look back and notice that the benefits of drama are not just for those that end up in theatre, but for everyone.”
This is an important point, as the arts often don’t get enough credit for providing students with opportunities to improve their overall thinking and problem-solving skills during a critical time in their development.
However, these realities have been gaining traction in recent years as educators and employers see the value of interdisciplinary thinking. There is a global movement in education to add an “A,” for arts, to the STEM acronym (science, technology, engineering and math). Teachers working in STEAM settings incorporate the arts – language arts, visual arts, dance, drama, music, design and new media – to create a more well-rounded curriculum that engages all kinds of young minds and prepares them to be the leaders of tomorrow.
Now Ontario is robbing certain students of that opportunity to develop valuable creative skills and share their thinking with their peers.
After all, as Fidler reminds us: “The vision of a better, more accepting and creative world is built in young minds.”
Todd Devlin is a freelance journalist and editor based in London, Ontario. He has written for numerous publications, including Yahoo Health, Metro, Sportsnet.ca, Business London magazine and Western Alumni Gazette, among others. A graduate of Western University (Masters, Journalism) and McMaster University (Business degree), he is the founder of London’s Walk & Talk for Mental Health, which raises awareness and funds for local mental health support services.