For California students, arts education is about civil rights

For every student, whether they attend school virtually or in person, access to an arts curriculum is imperative. It’s even more important now that the pandemic has kept students apart for so many months. The arts help us all connect and feel compassion. Lawmakers should prioritize funding for arts education.

Art is essential for the development of adolescents. The arts interact with the hippocampus of the brain, which develops emotional awareness and promotes empathy, especially at a young age. Research has also shown a link between arts education and improved academic performance.

Yet while the arts provide tools for living a happy and balanced life, arts education is often one of the first programs to be cut from the school budget. As the pandemic recedes, students need access to the arts to heal from months of isolation and readjust to life face to face.

Biden administration fiscal year 2022 the budget proposes to double the financing of Title I at $ 36.5 billion, the largest increase in history. This is an opportunity to address years of underinvestment in very poor schools and to dramatically reshape public education in a holistic way. Research shows that arts education supports the objectives of Title I, including improving student outcomes and the school environment. Likewise, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised budget made historic commitments to education, with billions of dollars in funding for California schools.

However, neither budget made a commitment to arts education despite its profound impact on students amid the pandemic.

This is especially important in California because my state is behind other states in the percentage of students enrolled in art programs – only 39%, incredibly low compared to 70% in Arizona, Wisconsin and Ohio.

California Education Code requires full access to the visual and performing arts (VAPA), including the teaching of music, dance, theater and the visual arts. However, nearly 9 out of 10 schools in California do not offer this education.

Schools need to extend arts education to more students now more than ever.

As students and their peers found themselves reduced to small boxes on computer screens when distance education replaced classroom teaching during the pandemic, feelings of sadness, depression and anxiety are on the rise. become commonplace. Some students discovered ways to alleviate these emotional burdens: they recognized music, dance and the media as crucial forms of healing and connection.

I discovered this effect myself.

As a classical singer for 10 years, I anticipated the euphoria I felt during a concert. First the chorus would warm up, then we would apply blush to our cheeks and wait 15 minutes before going on stage. We would begin to sing a selected repertoire, going from French to Latin then to English, until the conductor sustained our last note and then released.

There is a second between the end of a song and the applause where I hold my breath. My eyes scanned the audience until I saw the face of an 80 year old woman in the front row who is a regular at our concerts. I watched the tears start to form at the corners of his eyes. Then the applause arrives. As we bow and then leave the stage, it reminds me of how much singing means to me and to those who come to hear us.

These types of experiences in the arts benefit all students, and they are essential for struggling students right now who are in need of healing. For California students, arts education is about civil rights.


Sonia Patel Banker is a comrade with the Southern California Civil Liberties Union, where she worked to promote the Campaign for Justice in the Arts. She will be senior at University of San Francisco High School this autumn.

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