In a shocking move, Atlanta public schools have ended all of their music and band programs for elementary students, preventing hundreds of children from expressing their creative spirit and denying them exposure and enrichment in one of the most important facets of human culture. “We (music teachers) were blindsided, when other teachers received contracts, we received letters saying we were going to be abolished. We didn’t know. It just hit us,” says teacher Arthur McClenton.
Not only is it a shame and a disappointment to the children and their passionate teachers, it also deprives them of an important aid to their mental development. The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study indicating that “researchers found that kids who took music lessons for two years didn’t just get better at playing the trombone or violin; they found that playing music also helped kids’ brains process language.” It also was found to dramatically improve the chances of children from impoverished neighborhoods to graduate highschool, as Dr. Margaret Martin found with her Harmony Project in Los Angeles: “Since 2008, 93 percent of our high school seniors have graduated in four years and have gone on to colleges like Dartmouth, Tulane, NYU,” Martin says, “despite dropout rates of 50 percent or more in the neighborhoods where they live and where we intentionally site our programs.”
The budget cuts in Atlanta public schools can be traced back to Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who has been attempting to “strong arm control of local schools away from school boards” and replace the public school system with a voucher program. Those voucher programs have leeched over $5 million away from the public schools, and the effects are starting to be felt. He’s going further with two bills proposing to create “Education Savings Accounts”, which would create accounts for parents to spend education money as they see fit.
Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Jounal-Constitution sees through the rhetoric, and slams the proposal for its free-market restructuring of the public school system: “It envisions government as little more than a glorified collection agency on behalf of affluent parents who deem public systems insufficient. The state will use its powers of taxation to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from workers, shoppers and businesses. The state will then hand that money to parents, to be spent as they see fit as if the money were their own…This isn’t reform. This is abandonment.”
If this sounds familiar, its because it’s part of the same story playing out in Republican states across the country. It’s the manifestation of the Koch Brothers’ vision of America, where public institutions like the school system is turned into private, for-profit institutions that end up excluding poor and minority children. It should come as no surprise that the Koch Brothers donated $12,600 to Nathan Deal’s re-election campaign and $50,000 to the state Republican coffers during the last election cycle.
This is the first loss, and unfortunately probably not the last, that the Atlanta public school systems will endure. Republican Governors and Senators will not stop until they have made brought the cruel, corrupting influence of the free market into every aspect of American society. Sadly, it appears our children will have to suffer first.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.