Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Fund the Arts, Not Sports: A Response

George Heymont, San Francisco-based arts critic, wrote a piece for today's Huffington Post reviewing two documentaries about arts programs, but it goes further and addresses the need to increase arts education funding, and in that process cut sports funding. I don't disagree that the arts need more funding (what field doesn't?), but his article is riddled with fallacies, inaccuracies, and easily disproved ideas. (And I'm not disagreeing just because he takes an easy blow at my school.)

Heymont's negative assertions towards sports and sports programs come without any significant backings. There are no statistics, news articles, etc., to help prove his point. Most of them seem to be taken from a satirical, exaggerated TV show or movie. And having been involved with the arts for almost my entire life, as a student, teacher, performer and stage manager, I can find examples in the arts world to equal his sports points.

According to Heymont, sports programs.

  • Lead to institutionalized drinking (he connects drinking and sports three times in five paragraphs)
  • Teach that only winning is important
  • Injure and kill people on the playing field
  • Foster atmospheres of hostility
  • Pray in public

They can do some of those things, yes, but so can the arts.

  • One problem Heymont has with sports is that they teach competition. "Sports programs often teach kids the importance of winning at all costs." Yes, winning is often important in sports ... but it is in music, too, to a large number of students and educators. Visit a marching band competition in Texas, or a show choir competition in Minnesota. Talk to blooming orchestral students about how important it is for them to win an audition. Look how many playwright competitions there are, or watch the competitive nature of a Broadway audition. But then read this article and watch the video. And actually talk to a sports coach who emphasises things other than winning. They're far more common that Heymont assumes, and don't just coach Little League. (And ignore the theatre competition that Heymont mentions a page later when reviewing Most Valuable Players, and quoting that it's "referred to as 'the Super Bowl of high school musical theatre'".)
  • Heymont doesn't see that sports bring in more money for schools than arts programs do, and are typically the only part of a school that the outside community sees (aside from the marching band's halftime show). It's natural for them to receive more funding. There's also not a mention of large parent booster groups, typically for an entire athletic department, which will more often than not be larger than the music department. And how those booster funds and money raised from high-profile sports often helps support lesser-profile sports.
  • Heymont blurs the line between curricular and extra-curricular programs, equating the two. Most in-school physical education programs - which are also being cut in great numbers - teach for life-long learning, physical activity and health after graduating from high school. At a time when obesity and diabetes rates are at an all-time high for our nation, I can't think of a better reason to continue funding phy ed and sports programs.
  • He quotes from the filmmakers of Most Valuable Players, presumably in support of their statement, that "arts keep kids off the streets, create expectations and set goals, build self-esteem ... (and) encourage friendships ...". Sports programs can, and do, have many of these same goals.

Heymont uses outdated reasoning when rationalizing arts programs. The Mozart effect has been greatly distorted by the media and politicians, and there are no clear correlations between arts programs and increasing intelligence, spatial reasoning skills, and group cooperation, at least not any more than other subjects. Besides, can't helping your team score a goal teach good group skills? Doesn't the fast thinking that football and basketball require, for example, help increase "the ability to adapt to new situations" that Heymont claims only arts do?

Also problematic is some of his wording in approval of the arts. He writes that "arts programs are designed to help talented children blossom and thrive." This clearly ignores the thousands of "untalented" children who participate in and are affected by arts programs, both curricular and extra-curricular. Most arts educators would even say that it is working with the "untalented" children that is more rewarding, and it ignores the on-going research in the field of music education that works to uncover loaded terms such as "talent" and improve on the ideas of music education for all.

Most troublesome about Heymont's article is that it has an air of sophistication, elitism and simplicity: sports are bad, arts are good. Only the arts, according to Heymont, can help students become "more motivated, more sophisticated, more adaptable, more tolerant, and better educated." Sports can be just as good for students as the arts can, and in high schools - especially in small towns - many students participate in both.

Yes, sports can create overbearing parents, but so can the arts (the term "stage mom" has to come from somewhere). Yes, sports can lead to drinking, but so can the arts. Yes, sports can focus too much on competition, but so can the arts. And just because no one has died "while playing a musical instrument or reading a poem," using that point to argue against sports is like arguing that it's safer to swim with sharks than get a soda from the vending machine. Injuries occur in the arts frequently, and can be just as damaging to one's career.

We need to move past the point of divide between sports and the arts. We need to reorganize our thinking so that we don't assert, falsely, that only the arts can improve students and lead them to "be better citizens of the world".

Arts funding is vital and important to our culture and society. But there is a place for sports and physical education programs, too. Arts funding won't increase if we continue to build rifts between these two activities; it will only drive away an already-dwindling audience. Articles like Heymont's only serve to widen the gap.

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