My 10-year-old daughter came home from school weeping a few weeks ago. Of course, as any parent would, my head went to the worst possibilities: are you hurt? who was mean to you? how can I fix this?
It turned out to be pretty minor. She wanted to join Strings Club at her school, but it costs $200 a year. To a kid who counts a lemonade stand as top earning potential, it was an amount that seemed insurmountable. As she’s explaining why she was so sad, she wailed, “Why does everything have to cost money?”
She’s a bit young for economic theory, but I was relieved that this was an easy fix – in fact, I was super excited. My kid is interested in playing music, and it is only $200 a year!
As the weeks passed, however, that moment has haunted me. For some families, getting their kids to something like a Strings Club would be insurmountable. The cost of the instrument, the freedom to leave work and pick up your kid after, and the time to remind her to practice all amount to more than $200, especially when you already spent the evening making sure everyone was fed and homework was done.
One more thing, one more dollar – insurmountable is relative.
How to Fix a Broken System
Here’s the thing – the U.S. is working with a broken education system, but we still expect to be a world power. We can’t pay our teachers (who are often paying for supplies out of their own salaries), the testing we were sure would save us has caused more anxiety than solution, and kids often just don’t want to go. In the meantime, we’re stripping schools of music and art programs – or making kids pay for them – in a misguided effort to save money and make education better.
It’s a crazy hamster wheel we’re on – the very thing we are pulling from our kids is what science tells us makes them better thinkers and scholars: music, sports, and a willingness to learn. Unfortunately, it’s easy to squash a kid’s desire to learn – take away the things that make them happy (Art class, P.E., Music), and learning becomes a dreaded necessity rather than a joy.
My family is lucky; we live in an area that still supports the arts in school and has strong national rankings. We have teachers, dedicated to their classrooms, who ensure each child gets the attention he or she needs. This town is also proof that the answer isn’t just in finances – Marquette isn’t a wealthy district with an excess of funds, but it’s a town that cares about the arts.
Science-Backed Evidence – When Need to Change Our Thinking
My daughter cried because she believed art was out of her reach. I was happy to explain it to her, and now she’s excited about playing the violin. If my fairly-middle-class life makes my child afraid of missing music because of money, what does that mean for kids in poorer districts? What does it mean for families who can’t make the logistics of “extra” fit into their lives? Here’s a heartbreaking thought – they don’t go home and cry about it; they know it’s something that could never be on the table for them – it’s truly insurmountable.
There’s an easy answer – and it looks like it can be had for around $200 a year. When we’re looking over millages on election day, consider what a small amount of money can do for not just a school but for our society. It wouldn’t take much to get our kids the “extra” things they need – once we start believing that they aren’t just “extra.” It will mean we need to change how we think about education, and that might be the biggest leap. When we change how we think about these “extracurriculars” and treat them as essentials, our kids will do better and be happier.