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My soccer coach changed my life

My morning reading included My soccer coach changed my life, an opinion piece in the SF Chronicle. The writer makes the point that her involvement in soccer in high school taught her how to set her sights high and work hard toward a goal. She credits her soccer coach with her getting into UCBerkeley.

I second her argument and take it further: cutting arts, physical education, and other “non-essential” parts of the curriculum from public schools doesn’t just hurt kids who need an extra boost. It hurts even the “best” students.

Last fall I wrote an article on school funding for Growing Up in Santa Cruz. I was tempted to write the article in first person, about my own experiences with “non-essential” curriculum. Because unlike Zulma Muñoz, I didn’t grow up with any major disadvantages. I was a straight-A student with educated parents living in a small town.

But it was “non-essential” curriculum that saved me, as well. Though I was a good student, I didn’t like school — many of the academic classes were boring, and the social climate was unpleasant for me. What got me through the day were the creative classes — art, music — and my extracurricular activities. In the fall I ran cross country; in the spring I ran track. I don’t remember any particular coach inspiring me, but I do know that there were many days that the only thing I looked forward to at school were the non-school portions of the day.

For my article I interviewed Meri Pezzoni, who recently retired from teaching choral music for PVUSD. She said that other teachers would complain that certain students wouldn’t turn up for math but they’d be there for her choral class. Her point was that at least they were there for singing; once in the door, it’s possible to reach a student. But if you don’t get them in the door in the first place, you’ve lost them.

“Extra-curricular” activities are often the ones that get the kids in the door. They are absolutely essential if our aim is to educate children to become productive members of our society.

Right now throughout California, however, school boards, site management teams, teachers, and principals are meeting and trying to figure out what they’re going to cut. Of course they’re not going to cut math or language arts, because they are “core” curriculum, and probably more importantly, they are what is on The Test.

What’s going to happen is that those schools that still have music are going to have a hard time justifying putting money into it. No matter that music education improves test scores. No matter that at-risk kids might only be turning up at school to play a sport or finish their sculpture in art class. No matter that our best students, who are soon going to go off to our best universities, might also be inspired only by something “non-essential.”

They’re going to have to cut, and cut they will. To save the state money, they’re going to lay off all those teachers, who will then not have to pay income tax, and who won’t buy taxable goods, so the state will make less money. And we’ll end up with yet another generation of kids who will miss out on the inspiration, team-building, and goal-setting that they would learn in their “non-essential” courses.

Posted in Parenting.

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