Students, parents and alumni appear to have successfully pressured administrators at Riverside-Brookfield High School to find a way to increase the number of classes for a music teacher whose position had been cut to just one class for the 2023-24 school year.
The argument for reducing the teaching load for that particular faculty member was that enrollment is down across the board in music and the number of teachers has to align with the amount of interest.
That can be a compelling argument for administrators who are constantly weighing what they can offer versus what they have to spend to make it happen.
But we’d also argue that when it comes to education in the arts and humanities, dropping enrollments can also be viewed as the legacy of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There is a much wider trend, which we are now seeing play out in states across the nation, to strangle what used to be considered the foundation of a liberal education.
Higher education has been, over a long period now, tailored to view its role as a training ground for minting the latest wave of corporate employees, vocational schools for the business sector – the value of an academic major being weighed on its ability to provide a new graduate with the money necessary to pay off the exorbitant loan payments with their attendant usurious interest rates.
There’s been some movement at the high school level, at least locally, to not view secondary education as preparation for that version of higher education. RBHS is exploring ways, for example, to provide its students with real world experience to enable them to move directly into a chosen profession.
While we have conditioned ourselves to think the result of education ought simply to be a job, that’s incredibly shortsighted from a nation whose very democratic foundation requires a citizenry that is educated and able to think critically about the reality it encounters.
That ability comes through an education grounded in the liberal arts and sciences – one that values critical thinking above all else. We have to resist the self-serving corporate view of education as their training ground.
While certainly students with solid educations in the liberal arts make fine corporate employees, that’s a secondary benefit. The first is to ensure that we have a population capable of governing itself by being able to think critically enough to avoid being manipulated by those interested in profiting from a poorly educated populace.
So, good for RBHS in finding a way to at least maintain the status quo when it comes to music education. Perhaps the administration can increase their own efforts at promoting those offerings and others in the liberal arts to counteract falling enrollment in the future.