"Everything that can be counted doesn't necessarily count; everything that counts can't necessarily be counted."
- Albert Einstein
My mother and grandmother were seamstresses. They impressed upon me at an early age that each part of the process of creating a sewing project was important to the final product.
If they skimped on or rushed through the design, the fabric selection or the workmanship, the result would most assuredly be less than what they wanted. The dress wouldn't fit. The curtains wouldn't hang straight. Their efforts would have been wasted. "Penny wise and pound foolish," they might have said.
All this came to mind during the past few months while we've been paying attention to the Carson City School District's budget woes. Through a long and contentious set of contract negotiations, we heard that there just wasn't enough money. Something had to be cut.
Therefore, as one of its remedies, the district cut staff in elementary school libraries and music programs. Don't they realize that libraries and music are essential to good public schools? That they are neither frills nor luxuries? They are as important as good fabric and thread are to a dress. My grandmother would have called that cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.
Five years ago, the International Reading Association stated that the number of books per child, the condition of the books and the staffing of school libraries had seriously deteriorated. "This fact has serious implications for children's literacy. Children who have access to books are more likely to read for enjoyment and information. Children who read for enjoyment increase their reading skills and their desire to read to learn." In short, libraries count.
In addition, researchers from Hong Kong found that children who were given musical training had better verbal memories than those who were not given lessons. And music releases endorphins in the brain that actually aid in problem solving. Moreover, during the reading conference in Reno last month, I heard repeatedly that music helps children learn and retain information while increasing engagement in learning tasks. Music counts.
Without good music programs and well-stocked and well-staffed libraries, student achievement suffers. The resulting student performance will be less that what we desire. Less than we are told we must expect in this world of No Child Left Behind. All this seems to have escaped the consideration of Carson City School District accounting office, however.
Libraries and music provide vital keys to learning. They provide a rich tapestry of background knowledge and experiences that we know enhance a child's ability to learn new things. They also provide different ways of knowing by tapping different parts of the brain. But possibly more significantly they provide motivation. They allow children to explore and discover hidden talents and new interests, to learn who they are and who they might become.
I know motivation is hard to measure. You won't find it on an accountability report. Nonetheless, motivation is fundamental to everything that happens in school and in life. It is the tie that binds. Motivation counts.
Some students will be motivated by good grades or higher test scores, but the harder to reach students, the ones critical to our success as a public school, are motivated in other ways. What will spark a child's imagination? What will inspire him or her to set and reach seemingly impossible goals? Will it be a musical instrument? An inviting library? A sport? Will it be a field trip to the planetarium or art museum? Our question should not be which of these we can we afford to offer, but rather, which can we afford to give up? The next program they cut could be the one that inspires your child. Your grandchild.
I understand and appreciate the nature of a public entity, of public officials managing the taxpayers' money responsibly. I also understand that public funds only exist for the public good. We must be mindful of the fact that schools are in existence for one purpose only - to reach and teach every child who comes through the door.
Perhaps education is not subject to some of the laws that govern accounting. Perhaps it is more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps school is really a tapestry of threads and patterns woven so intricately that removing one here or there not only weakens it, but may eventually destroy it.
Like my mother, my grandmother and myself, many children are motivated to do their best by imagination and inspiration. Let's be sure that in our concern over dollars and cents, that we not forget about our children's hearts and minds. That's where the true treasure lies.
Lorie Smith Schaefer teaches at Seeliger Elementary School.