I shared this post on Facebook a few days ago and it generated a few discussions, so I thought I’d write about my thoughts here as well. Art and music are two things that are near and dear to my heart. My childhood was defined by music, and I’m convinced that my weekly private piano lessons and daily music classes at school had a huge impact on how I developed as a person.

There are studies that show the advantages of picking up a musical instrument as a child. Since I am someone who built a career in the music industry before pivoting to WordPress, I’m probably biased when it comes to the topic of music education. With that said, I think my biases are informed and reasonable.

I understand that Randolph is in somewhat of a budget crunch, but it’s frustrating how arts and music are always the first things to get cut. In this case, I was surprised to see physical education cut as well because teaching kids how to exercise and stay healthy is of paramount importance as well.

I wonder how the discussion went. Was it just some random meeting where the people in charge just decided to cut PE, art, and music without much thought? I wonder if they did any “market research” by polling kids and parents first.

I think a blanket cut of PE, arts, and music sets a terrible precedent, especially when there was no input from students and parents. When I first saw this article, my mind immediately jumped to remote learning. Over the past few months, many educational institutions from elementary schools to universities have shifted to virtual classrooms thanks to tools like Zoom, Skype, and other purpose-built solutions. With the right incentive structure and game theory, I think remote learning can work really well for core subjects like math, science, and history. On the other hand, remote learning is a terrible medium for things like music and art for the following reasons.

  1. Learning a musical instrument through Zoom is terribly inefficient and incomplete. Our current mainstream streaming technologies are incapable of transerring high quality audio reliably. Even if we had a decent low-latency and high-quality streaming service, most people do not have the necessary audio equipment to capture the sound of their instrument.
  2. Collaboration is a huge part of music. We do not have the necessary technologies to replicate playing in an ensemble over the Internet.
  3. When it comes to art, most people do not have access to high end camera equipment to convey small details like brush strokes and precise shades of color. If serious art classes are conducted over the Internet, I think the quality of art as a whole will drop dramatically over time.

So, with the above in mind, my solution to the problem doesn’t involve canceling PE, arts, and music. Instead, I think a new model that shifts core subjects like math and science to an online medium, while retaining in-person classes for art, music, and PE would be very interesting.

This would allow the school to reduce costs by consolidating core subject teachers. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t advocate for cutting teachers, but cutting teachers while retaining a complete curriculum for the students is much better than cutting teachers and destorying the curriciulum. We have to remember that school is not about the teachers – it has and always will be for the students.

Like I said early, long-term online education can only work with the correct incentive structures. I don’t like it when people point to the unoptimized user experience of Zoom and Google Hangouts and make claims that online learning is doomed. The shift to tools like Zoom over the past few months is a REACTIVE action to the COVID-19 pandemic. If online learning takes off, I’m sure someone out there will PROACTIVELY create a better and more optimized tool for the job and make a ton of money – that’s how capitalism works.

I think this model could potentially work for the following reasons.

  1. Expecting a kid to go to school for 8 hours a day and stay focused and productive the whole time is absurd. It’s funny how adults crave flexible work hours while forcing children to conform to set work hours. Online learning can change this – kids can learn and work when they are focused.
  2. Online learning from home could potentially improve relationships between parents and children. I guess this would require parents to work from home as well, but as we’ve seen, many companies are already in the process of shifting to remote work.
  3. School becomes “cool” again. In this model, kids go to school to relieve their stress by attending music and gum classes, which is actually a VERY important thing. In my discussion with friends, one concern that came up abou this model is the new COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. This is precisely whey I think a model like this would work. By decentralizing core subjects into on-demand online silos, you can reserve the physical space in the school for extracurricular-esque subjects like PE, art, and music.

This model certainly isn’t perfect, but I think it’s something.