It has become an all-too familiar tune: In the midst of shrinking budgets, creative services are first on the chopping block. In business organizations, that often means scaling back marketing and advertising budgets. For school districts, it's arts education.
Jackson Public Schools again appears to be on the fence about continuing the Strings in Schools Program this year. In the past, JPS were at an impasse with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, which dispatches its renowned musicians to Jackson schools. In 2009 and 2012, the program came close to being shelved before community and parent groups got involved to save the program.
This time around, neither JPS nor MSO have indicated where the program stands, which worries many parents of the more than 800 students participating in Strings. The evidence for the positive effects of encouraging musical creativity in children is voluminous, but the research also shows that those benefits extend beyond artistic endeavors.
An Oct. 12 New York Times op-ed by author Joanne Lipman points to numerous captains of industry and other leaders in their respective fields who once played instruments. Lipman lists Paul Allen, the outgoing chief executive officer and co-founder of Microsoft Corp.; Larry Page, one of the co-founders of Google; Woody Allen, a filmmaker and playwright; author Stephen King; and Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of
the Federal Reserve Bank.
Paul Allen, one of the wealthiest people in the world, started learning the violin when he was 7 years old and continued playing while he was helping create software that would revolutionize the computer and software business. Music, he told Lipman, "reinforces your confidence in the ability to create."
If anyone is need of a creative confidence boost, it's the Jackson Public Schools. The state's largest school district serving Mississippi's capital city, JPS is beset with poor test scores and graduation rates. Although both are climbing, they remain lower than national averages.
Music could be key to JPS' and, therefore, Jackson's renaissance. Lipman writes: "Consider the qualities these high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. All are qualities notably absent from public life. Music may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view— and most important, to take pleasure in listening."
We believe that JPS would be better with the Strings program than without it. It remains unclear what stumbling blocks exist between JPS and MSO, but the program is worth saving. We encourage the organizations to work out their differences and urge the community to offer its support to ensure the program continues.