Sunday, December 1, 2013

Why Do We Spend More on Football Than the Arts?

Music is not wrecking these kids...

An article I just read in the New York Times called "The Real Humanities Crisis" by Notre Dame professor Gary Gutting made two strong points. First, along with the economic collapse of the middle class, we're also experiencing a collapse of the "cultural middle class." Second, as a society we make spending choices that run counter to common sense, such as government spending on football rather than a symphony orchestra.
Fair treatment for writers and artists is an even more difficult matter, which will ultimately require a major change in how we think about support for the arts. Fortunately, however, we already have an excellent model, in our support of athletics. Despite our general preference for capitalism, our support for sports is essentially socialist, with local and state governments providing enormous support for professional teams. To cite just one striking example, the Minnesota State Legislature recently appropriated over $500 million to help build the Vikings a new stadium. At the same time, the Minnesota Orchestra is close to financial disaster because it can’t erase a $6 million deficit. If the Legislature had diverted only 10 percent of its support for football, it would have covered that deficit for the next eight years.
Indeed. How does Gutting think we can strengthen our regard for humanities in our cultural middle class? Education, and it's a two-fer, if you follow his logic.
We could open up a large number of fulfilling jobs for humanists if (as I’ve previously suggested) we developed an elite, professional faculty in our K-12 schools. Provide good salaries and good working conditions, and many humanists would find teaching immensely rewarding. Meeting the needs of this part of the cultural middle class could, in fact, be the key to saving our schools. At the same time, colleges should rethink their dependence on adjuncts, who often differ from regular faculty members more in their poor pay and work conditions than in academic quality. If adjuncts don’t meet the standards to be part of the regular faculty, they shouldn’t be hired. If they do, they should be treated the same.
Here's how this works: More students would go into the humanities if quality jobs awaited them. These well-trained, well-paid teachers would not only strengthen the economic middle class but also improve the schools that will provide the well-educated future members of our currently strained -- some would say dying -- middle class.

Here's where my priorities align with the author's: almost in every respect. I admire teachers (was one myself for twenty years), I've never thought our public schools are failing (in an environment of high immigration we've actually been holding our own), though I understand the giant disparities between schools in affluent neighborhoods and poor, often urban ones. I've always viewed with suspicion and alarm the move toward constant testing (as a way to determine either teacher competence or student achievement) because it's caused us to spend far too much time on reading and math to the detriment of music and the arts, as well as history and social sciences. I feel the humanities help develop the whole child and, as studies have shown, actually improve that part of the brain that supports critical thinking, the imagination, and visualization skills that open the door to understanding math and the sciences.

Reading, and language in general, by the way, is taught more in the home than anywhere else, a sad fact in that homes mired in generational poverty will produce a steady stream of language-challenged underachievers who will rarely outperform their lucky counterparts on the "good" side of the tracks.

So I'm ready to endorse the proposals of Gary Gutting. Let's put our educational institutions on a sound economic footing, develop an army of humanist educators ready to support the growth of the whole child, get the colleges ready to take our kids on the last journey to adulthood ready to participate in a cultural world, not merely a business-oriented one, and let's have our schools support sports in the context where they belong, one of growing healthy human beings, not as a disproportionally funded training ground for the lucky few who make it to the professional level.

A final point: How many of you grew up in this culturally interesting middle-class world? I sure did, and it sure existed all around me in the 50s, 60s, and 70s when I grew up. Maybe I was just lucky to grow up in one of those households that taught me, in the natural course of living, all the vocabulary I'd ever need to succeed in school and eventual careers. Along with that, I was inculcated with an appreciation of the varied tapestry of life, music, and the arts, not to mention political thought. So were most of my friends in my decidedly middle class neighborhood. We grew up ready for life. What we did with it was something else. Some of my friends turned out to be losers, some turned out, literally, to be rock stars. Others, myself included, have led successful lives, with more or less creativity and individualism in the mix.

Why wouldn't we want to sustain or improve on that world? I certainly would, and I hope our government, on all levels, recognizes the need to grow culture and not stomp it into the ground because we can't afford it. We can't afford not to have it. It's what makes life worth living.

Spend as much on literature, music, and art as football? Why not?

No comments:

Post a Comment