Silencing music is no way to run our public schools

chrisMy neighbour mentioned his son who attended Winchester Public School, now attends a private school. He  told me his child was not doing well in his class: he sat in a corner in the classroom and was allowed to do his own thing. As a result, he fell behind. The teacher was unable to meet the needs of all the students in the class.

I have always thought that television shows and movies that depict the closing of music and art programs in schools in order to balance the books were a little over the top and not believable. And yet the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) was recently faced with a decision to lay off its music instructors to save $2 million in next year’s budget.

To be faced with such a scenario at the TDSB feels surreal. Why was there so little outcry? Why are we not doing more to prevent such proposed cuts?

Music and art was such a big part of my creative development when I was in elementary school. It helped me to become the person I am today. Eliminating art and music is like depriving the brain of oxygen. We simply cannot allow the TSDB to go down such a path.

chrisMany great musicians started their lifelong journey with music in our schools. Troy Sexton of Stomp said: “Not every student gets to go on to be a professional musician. But the confidence, the pride, the group work, the teamwork, listening to each other, learning how to tell a story with music, you learn in the music room.” For me, that really sums it up.

Over the past five years or so, I continually hear about the funding crisis at the TDSB and there seems to be no resolution in sight. It’s been ongoing since the Mike Harris era. The only solutions offered at TDSB seem to be closing schools, eliminating programs and selling off assets. But these initiatives don’t address the long-term funding problems that TDSB faces. Indeed, I find myself in agreement with Trustee Chris Glover: “If the province wants to put us under supervision then they can make the cuts and do it themselves.”

I was likewise shocked and appalled when I learned that Regent Park Duke of York School is closing and the property is to be sold off. When I spoke to the trustee for that school in 2010, I was assured it wouldn’t happen.

It’s time the province takes a serious look at our educational system in Ontario and makes the necessary changes to make the system work for everyone. Part of that change must include providing adequate funding to our schools. Nobody knows this better than Premier Kathleen Wynne, a former TDSB trustee who was Education Minister in the McGuinty government.

Music and art programs are usually the first to get axed in poorer neighborhoods like Nelson Mandela Park Public School and Rose Avenue Junior Public School, both Downtown.

Changes to the system will only take place if we stay within it and demand change. Exiting the public system will only cause it to erode further than it already has. We have a collective responsibility to stay, to fight for the cause and to demand change. Let’s have a sustainable and lasting public education system. A healthy public system will produce a healthy society and workforce in the long term.

The alternative is not an option. Our entire community will suffer. Schools are a vibrant part of our community, and it is up to us to keep them that way.