Time for a Heart-to-Art

Written by Emily

“How about that little toddler in the red overalls?”
“You mean the one defying her mother?”
“That woman has no control.”
“Or maybe her child just hates her.”

Said the mothers in the imaginary dialogue playing in my head after we left mommy-and-me music class.

What. Just. Happened?

While the other children sat with their mommies listening to the lovely instructor, Sylvie plotted against me:

Oh! They’re making a circle? I’ll stand in the middle. 
A quiet song? Listen to this guttural noise, guys.
Time to clap. I prefer deep knee bends.
Mom’s coming my way! Stiff arm!

Suddenly, the thought of sitting on my lap repulsed her. The child whose greatest night would include me and the glider and a fuzzy blanket–the whole night–now squealing and writhing away. She much preferred to serpentine in and around the other moms and children, stopping only to stare and pet the little ones as though they were livestock. But when we all got up and galloped like horses, she had different plans. She moved to the corner of the room to clap and wave like she was on a psychedelic trip.

At the end of class, I was exhausted from willing her to sit with me. No Jedi mind trick could change the course of this child’s actions.

Not the best.

That night when music class was a thing of the past, soon after I closed the book of her choice, she nestled into the crux of my arm. Peace. In the darkness, above the whirr of the sound machine, a song bubbled out of my girl. She hummed and moved to the beat of the music she learned that day.

She heard it all.

She learned it.

She made it her own.

Shame on me.

I used to ask my high schoolers to dance through essay writing and perform vocabulary. I knew that some kids learned through experience and movement. Had I forgotten so soon?

Shame on me for expecting my toddler to sit with me while music played. We were there to experience and make music. That is exactly what she did.

She fell asleep babbling to the music in her head, music she felt so much that she couldn’t stand to be contained.


It’s school budget time. In districts across the country, I imagine it’s like the show Chopped: Teachers under pressure, churning out their best, working with the finest ingredients they have to produce something special–exquisite, extraordinary or palatable. They hold their breaths…

Art and music and drama, you’re chopped.

My alma mater is considering chopping the arts. Schools close to home and far, far away are offering the same solution to their budget crises.


I say no. Everyone, please say no.

I think of Sylvie, who danced and moved and squatted to the music and learned it.


Shadow Dancing

We need to make room for children like her. They need a place that doesn’t just allow them to move but fosters that movement, a place that encourages and inspires and embraces their yearning to see the world differently through color and shape and rhythm.

“We’ll just cut the staff, not the program,” administrators say to grieving students and parents.

No good.

Cutting the staff means fewer students able to choose the arts. They’re made to decide between AP Language Arts and Ceramics or Honors Chemistry and Advanced Drawing. No. If we require our students to choose, the arts will lose because our educational culture tells them core classes are the important ones, the valuable ones. Shame on us.

Our children flock to the arts. Classes are full. Kids are chomping at the bit to get into drama and art and music…not because they’re easy but because their passion is unlocked there. Our kids are anxious to learn differently. There are no scantrons. They use their hands, their hearts, their minds. They question. They wonder. They create.

Administrators, decision-makers, board members, peer into an art class. Watch drama unfold and take hold of our children. If it’s done right, you’ll see we’ve got it backwards. What’s happening in those classrooms, on those stages, in those studios can inform and shape and add to what’s happening throughout the school. Let’s hold onto and celebrate professionals who can channel our kids’ passions rather than make them wait with baited breath to see if they’ll be chopped.

I pay $268 for my girls to take a 10-week music class. That’s a luxury not every parent can choose for their children. And they shouldn’t have to. That’s the beauty of public education. The arts can be accessible to everyone. They must…


so that education is so full and so deep and so rich that it can’t possibly be contained.


Say no to cutting the arts. Say no in every way you know how. Make signs, create a mural, sing a song, dance it out. Send a letter. Make a video.

Like this one from Steve Beres, an art student from my hometown:

Do something.

5 comments for “Time for a Heart-to-Art

  1. Lisa
    April 15, 2013 at 7:08 am

    Amen! As a music teacher, I see students every day who are able to grow and learn in my class in a way that is meaningful for them, students who have otherwise been labeled “difficult” or “slow learners.” Without the arts, I fear that we are creating a society of cookie-cutter people who believe there is only ONE right answer, who lack the out-of-the-box thinking skills to solve problems creatively, and who believe that conforming=success. Thank you for writing this and for understanding how important the arts are for our children and our society. Bravo!

  2. Shirley
    April 15, 2013 at 7:56 am

    I am a scientist, but I love the arts. The arts give so much to people and it is well known that arts help children learn in many other subjects.

  3. April 15, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Every time that people call for music cuts, I’d like to ask those people to comfort a newborn baby without ANY music. No rocking to the beat, no humming, no swaying. See how that goes for ‘ya.

  4. April 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Programs aren’t programs without the people who make them. I am holding my breath and saying my prayers for the creative and gifted teachers who give of themselves to our children.

  5. Kelley
    April 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Great post Em! I really hope your school chooses to keep the arts – they made a huge difference to me!

    P.S. The art teacher from your high school looks awesome – I love the beard!!

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