Archive 2008 - 2019

Setting the Stage: Real Drama vs the Theater of Austerity Politics

by Dianna Vosburg

Apparently, the Fin Com had to slash 477K from the request in the
proposed school budget. I signed, even though my two high school students are
not studying drama. I signed because the arts are essential to being fully human
in a just human civilization, and if it is one thing this world needs, it is
more humanity…and less austerity.

I thought about how national policy plays out on the local stage (no pun). The
flawed doctrine of austerity--combined with tax avoidance, conflicts of
interest, and corruption--line the pockets of the powerful. For example, the
extremely wealthy in America hide over 11 Trillion dollars in secret offshore
tax havens. This costs our Federal Government, and those costs are passed onto
states, cities, and town. We see rising property taxes, more regressive taxation
such as sales taxes and fee increases, a need for overrides, dubious schemes
like the Milford casino, and pinched budgets.

Austerity is an economic theory recently debunked by real world experience and
also by the errors and bias in published studies that tried to support the
underlying premise: that national debt stifles growth. Since the recession
began, we’ve seen economic boom times for those who make more than 500K, while
everyone else has seen their income drop. Austerity means that we can’t invest
in long-term public good because the elites don’t want to pay back into the
civilization that helped them extract and keep their wealth. (This points to a
larger problem of the role of money in politics…but that’s another story).
Austerity itself stifles growth by reducing incomes, and thus participation in
the economy.

But why should we invest in drama, or any of the arts, or the humanities in
general? What is drama good for? Drama is far more than a home for students who
don’t play sports, or an elective to relieve stress or explore self-expression.
Drama helps students learn values and ethics. The arts are the flowers of
culture…how values are experienced and reproduced. Storytelling, costumes, music
and lyrics, role-playing, and over all these, metaphor: this is how we learn
best, how we transmit the great stories. The play of imagination, creativity,
and immersion are how we learn to solve problems, and that is essential to
tackling the great problems we face in our immediate future. The solutions
cannot be simply technical: they have to be informed by what we are solving
these problems for…what technology, policy, and markets are for: a thriving
human civilization that is just and sustainable.

What may be lost in the high-tech emphasis in our high school? Is school
primarily for landing a narrowly specialized, highly skilled 21st century job,
or is that only one possible goal? Isn’t education also for developing values,
understanding, and, hopefully, wisdom? For developing engaged and informed
citizens who can work together to maintain our democracy? Education should help
students become flexible, resilient, and creative, who are skilled with
language, thought, and nuance, and above all, who are good. Drama is just the
ticket and should be supported by the town and the school, and indeed by anyone
who has an interest in the future worth creating.

Comments (2)

In an ideal world, we would have an "immune" system, people wouldn't evade taxes, and schools would receive funding for any program imaginable. However, that is not how the world works. As a teacher, I fully support having drama available to students, and it is sad that a few language teachers had their time reallocated due to student demand. However, the teachers negotiated for a hearty raise this year, and that money needs to come from somewhere in the school budget. The schools are given so much money to work with; they should be responsible enough to divide it to best meet the needs of the majority of the students. Drama is not a program most kids get involved with, and they are not cutting the entire department. Furthermore, any teacher worth their salt is going to instill the aforementioned qualities in students, regardless of if it is history, health, softball, or drama class. Informed, well-spoken, creative citizens don't solely come from the stage. Those skills should be instilled well before a child reaches school age, and fostered throughout their k-12 careers by caring role-models in the school system. If that means paying the majority of teachers more to remain competitive and attract quality teachers at the cost of part of the drama teacher's time, then I am for it. Think of the whole and the long-term, not just the knee-jerk reaction to something being cut back right now. There simply isn't money lying around for the taking, so the schools need to use what they have to do what they can.

Karla Alfred | 2013-05-02 21:00:35

I sit next to a Holliston teacher in my chorus, which rehearsed last night. When I mentioned this article, she said that some language teachers had been laid off and there was far less discussion about that. What a crying shame: teachers are losing their jobs when corporations pay ever lower effective tax rates, with 1/4 of profitable corporations paying nothing, and in some cases actually paying a negative rate. Corporate profits are at an all time high. Meanwhile workers are gouged while income inequity's a measure of how much money has infected the democratic process. Big business writes their own loopholes, so while this tax avoidance is legal, it's just not right. We need to develop an immune system.

Dianna Vosburg | 2013-05-01 05:24:38