(This is our work desk, where Mark, Lucy and I enjoy countless hours of being creative together.)
As an education major in college, I'm no stranger to the horror stories of schools losing their finding for arts programs, music programs, anything creative in general... And they are horrible stories. It is more than a shame that so many adults in the world judge these areas as unimportant. Perhaps it is because the artists are out creating art and the money managers and politicians in the world don't value arts as highly as they value math, debate club, etc. I suppose there is a small possibility that children don't show enough enthusiasm for the arts to convince the managers and politicians otherwise.
So I'm just going to interject here: The arts are crucial to a human's development--as a human. Yes, math is extremely important to our success in life. Geography is essential to understanding one's place in the world (literally and metaphorically speaking). A firm grasp on spelling and grammar is going to be incredibly helpful. (Trust me, I would never belittle grammar. ;)
However... seeking mastery in an art may be the best opportunity for developing virtue you will ever find. I suppose the word "virtue" can sound boring or didactic to some of you--but isn't it the simplest way to define those things which make us good humans? I guess we're all tired of hearing "patience is a virtue"...but it is. It is an active virtue: you have to work at it, rather then let it happen.
You writers and other artists will immediately be able to see the truth in that statement. From the writing point of view, to succeed in writing a book, you need to first learn patience with yourself. You will not be perfect immediately. Acknowledging your own imperfections is, I believe, the first step to becoming a successful artist--along with simultaneously recognizing your gifts. Then, you work. And work. And work. And work. You learn empathy as you delve into your character's life. Then you once again take a step back into humility and allow others to critique your work. Then you revisit patience as you submit to agents and editors.
That's the condensed version. But it is easy to see that the virtues you gain in becoming a good artist are the same virtues you need to grow into a good human being.
And people say the arts aren't important in kids' lives.
(Here's where my mom would say, "Gag me with a spoon!")
When it comes down to it, I think the arts should be emphasized to children even more than to adults, for a very important reason: children have a huge advantage over us when it comes to learning, even greater than how quickly their brains can take things in. They aren't afraid to do so. If you are conscious of raising your children in the arts, they can learn that you will always support them in their endeavors. If you are careful to recognize each small success and be realistic about failures (because believe me, they can tell when they've failed) and still be encouraging, they will trust you and feel affirmed as they "play" with drawing, painting, writing, acting, singing, etc.
("Play" is a key word, because it is important that kids have fun with, well, everything, or they'll probably give up on it. They need opportunities to develop a passion.)
To bring this back to my original topic, while I think anyone who tries to remove arts programs from schools should be slapped, I think the problem is deeper and more basic than that. Parents need to be committed to introducing art into their children's lives.
And the easiest way to do that? Commit yourselves to art. Set an example to your children, let them see your struggles and enjoyments. Draw with them, write with them, sing with them. Ask them questions about the creative choices they make, and talk to them about your own creative process.
Who knows? In a few years, they may be the Shakespeares and Vermeers and Bernhardts of the world...or they may be the money managers and politicians--but if they are artists as well, imagine what they could accomplish.
I can't think of a better gift you can give your children--or the world.