Classical Music and the Los Angeles Unified School District

What does the Los Angeles Unified School District know that we don’t? Only one thing. They sent out a survey [pdf file] of the arts in the schools.

“‘Do you think that arts education is of value to all students?’ This was the only unanimous response in the survey” and every respondent said yes.

On the basis of that response, the school district made an unprecedented leap of faith. They appointed a commission, dragged in outside arts organizations from every dark corner where they had been hiding, and made them take a role. And they did it within a year of completing the survey. Of course they discovered other things in that survey. The parents had been volunteer teaching in the arts, raising money ($100,000 in one district in one year), dredging up community support. The schools, without funds, without resources, without time in the students’ day, had been quietly implementing and going forward with arts programs. The arts organizations in the community had been donating time and resources to the schools.

Male conductor in blue suit leading orchestra of elementary-aged children in folding chairs

School Orchestra, March 22, 1952
Amos Sewell

This is community action at its finest. And finally, the district woke up, realized what had been happening underground, brought it into the open, coordinated people and effort, and put the money up to make it happen. As of 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District committed $4.7 million to the development of 45 elementary schools with arts education built into the core curriculum, as a launching pad for integrating the arts into the core curriculum of its more than 400 schools. $1.1 million, more than 23% of the budget, was to be spent, immediately, on musical instruments.

Hats off the the Los Angeles Unified School District. And since we’re talking about schools, let’s learn! So wherever your school district is, point to the example of Arts in Focus. Start talking to people–other parents, teachers, community leaders, whoever. Point them to the resources showing how the arts influence education, and start organizing. Start talking to your school board. This time, let’s not let “Back to School” be about clothes, backpacks, and all that. Let’s let it be about our children.

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