Monday, February 21, 2011

Budgeting Education, Valuing Expression

Budget talk is everywhere. If you are in Austin, you know that the reality of balancing school budgets equals cuts to education in the form of school closures and job loss. The past few weeks have seemed pretty unbelievable as parents scour the books, picket, and protest the shutting down of schools in Austin’s Independent School District. As an arts educator, I’m used to the constant threat of cuts to the arts in schools, but right now, entire schools are being cut!

Tunics at the State Capitol (Austin)
As an Americans for the Arts supporter, my inbox has been full of warnings of pending votes in Congress on cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts, with urgings to contact my representatives and express my desire to save arts programming. I follow the steps, fill out the email form, and even personalize it to my perspective as an arts performer, teacher, scholar, nonprofit board member, and administrator--only to find out that the measure passed the House by a margin of 8 votes. If this stands, the NEA budget will decrease by close to 25% (or down $43 million from its current $167.5). Thankfully, the bill still hasn’t passed the Senate, and they begin consideration when their session resumes on February 28th. It’s not too late to contact your senator through Americans for the Arts and pledge your support for the NEA.

What would Isadora think about all this? I imagine she would encourage us to think about how, as a society, we are expressing what we value. The mark of value in a capitalistic economy is currency, money. We express value by how much we are willing to pay for particular goods or services. Prices are driven up and down according to supply and demand and the logic of the system is not influenced by the kind of values that make up a moral code. There is no inherent conscience in capitalism—if we are choosing to organize not only our national but, more and more, our world culture according to capitalistic principles, it is imperative that we not lose sight of elements of our human culture that teach creativity, critical thinking, and compassion for and consideration of other people and perspectives. Education and the arts are essential—let’s value them as such!

Where will we be if we continue to shortchange thought (education) and expression (arts)? From my perspective, if we do not preserve time, space, and opportunity for the development of thought and expression, freedom will atrophy.  What is freedom if we devalue critical thinking and place limits on our capacity to shape thought into expression through communication?

Duncan’s work was not just about personal expression, it was about making an argument for individual, creative expression as an inalienable human right. Duncan’s was not a passive perspective, and her courage and willingness to use both her body and her voice to express what she believed to be important is, perhaps, the most inspiring aspect of her legacy. Let's honor her and learn from her example by continuing in her (bare)foot steps!