Arts Education an Operatic Tragedy

Instead of honoring Gov. Corbett with an award for his contributions to education, the Pittsburgh Opera ought to stage The Beggars Opera to recognize how public schools are going hat in hand, hoping to salvage their arts curriculum with donations.
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Believe it or not, this Saturday the Pittsburgh Opera is planning to honor Gov. Corbett with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to... wait for it... EDUCATION! I kid you not. The Opera announced that Corbett "will be honored for his early work as a teacher as well as his long-standing protection of the public interest" and that, "as Governor, he has recognized the economic, educational, and social value of the arts."

Is the Opera so out of touch that it doesn't realize Gov. Corbett has actually devastated public education, cutting $1 BILLION from Pennsylvania's schools these past two years? These cuts have crippled local school districts, which have been forced to slash arts education.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials conducted a survey of the impact of those cuts last fall and found that 44% of the state's school districts have already eliminated courses -- the first to go? Arts, music, and foreign languages. The very things students need to become educated citizens who will appreciate the arts, be patrons of the arts, and become future artists themselves.

Last week, 1,000 people gathered in Upper Darby, outside of Philadelphia, to protest the state cuts that have forced that district to eliminate all elementary arts and music programming, as well as foreign languages in the middle schools. This is Gov. Corbett's true legacy in the arts.

And look at what is happening right here in Pittsburgh: our flagship arts school, CAPA, is cutting private music lessons. Taylor Allderdice is laying off its marching band director. Elementary schools across the district are losing music, art, library, and language instruction. How in the world are our kids going to become opera lovers?

Public education is a public good. But Governor Corbett is trying to privatize public education through vouchers and tax credits (which funnel public money into private schools) and the loosening of charter school regulations. Gov. Corbett has clearly lost touch with the reality of Pennsylvania's schools: for the opera to salute his "exceptional career as public servant for the good of Western Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth" is a cruel farce.

It's also farcical to hear the opera and Gov. Corbett himself touting his credentials as a former teacher. He taught high school for one year in the Pine Grove Area School District out in Schuylkill County. That school district, by the way, has lost $1.1 MILLION in education cuts these past two years.

The de-funding of public education in Pennsylvania is a tragedy of operatic proportions. Instead of celebrating Gov. Corbett, the Pittsburgh Opera ought to stage The Beggars Opera to recognize how public schools are going hat in hand, hoping to salvage their arts curriculum with donations. That opera is an 18th century classic still popular today for its themes of political corruption and poverty. Sounds just right.

Originally published on Yinzercation, May 7, 2012

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