BC Government To Cut Elementary School Band Programs?

cutsHello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday Morning News Post!

Readers, when it comes to issues regarding economics or politics, I’m basically a moron. I’d really like to have a better understanding about these things but somehow I just can’t muster the enthusiasm for learning about subjects filled with A.) numbers/stats/mathematical equations or B.) insufferable lying douche-bags.

So when either of the above two subjects come up in conversation, I generally have to keep my mouth shut and assume/hope that there are sensible and knowledgeable professionals making decisions for the collective good of the people. I’m not proud of this, in fact, I know it’s irresponsible. (Bad citizen! Bad citizen!) Perhaps the only thing worse than wearing your ignorance with embarrassed silence, is wearing it with loud bravado.

Unfortunately, morons don’t generally possess enough self-awareness to consider themselves as such. We’re a rare breed, much like the small percentage of children that store-bought Halloween costume warning-labels are written for, you know… the kids who are stupid enough to think that a Superman costume will make them fly BUT smart enough to read the directions on the box stating “Warning: This costume will not give you the ability to fly!”

Every so often however, a read a headline like I saw the other day: BC Government Cuts Elementary School Band Programs and I feel like I have to do something besides changing my facebook status to “Gord Campbell… WTF?!”.


I know it’s easy to point to the billions of dollars spent on the Olympics and get infuriated, but the Olympics are an investment,… right? I’ll be honest, I enjoyed them from afar (Montreal) and at the time it was cool to see Canada’s notoriously “pretty but boring” city let loose and throw a party. But now that the party’s over, I see this headline about BC education cuts and my buzz has been killed, the “ugly lights” have been turned on and the record scratches to a halt as my national pride is quickly replaced with an immediate hangover of embarrassment.

Maybe it was a sound investment, I really couldn’t tell from anything I found online. But you know what else is a sound investment? Education and the Arts.

And why are we cutting expenses on infrastructure of all things? Especially education?

It doesn’t make any sense to me. The only thing I can think of is that the current Government does not see the importance of arts education, but elected Governments aren’t stupid, they won’t cut things that will jeopardize their re-election. Sooo, that would mean than the general public really isn’t too concerned about it?

Yikes! If so, that’s a whole other ball of wax to get into next SMNP.

It’s clear that I’m against these cuts, after all, my Elementary school band program was how I got started playing the clarinet in the first place! It was an amazing experience that I’m thankful for. Sure, we sounded like death. But we learned the basics of playing an instrument, learned about playing as an ensemble, rehearsing to get ready for concerts, etc. If band programs didn’t start until high-school then I think a lot of kids wouldn’t bother. Nobody would consider putting off Math class or sports activities until highschool, so why music?

Any thoughts, for or against these cuts? Please, pass’em along. Meanwhile, if you’re against these cuts then write or call your MLA, you can locate them easily here. I’ll be sending a letter on Monday.

On that note, I gotta tap out. Sorry, this SNP was pretty disjointed. I’m tired, my sinuses are killing me and for some reason the library I’m in is extremely hot and humid despite Montreal’s returning Winter weather. I’m outta here!

Thanks for reading and have a great week!

  • Janet

    where’s the article?

  • Rachelle

    After reading your post James I was compelled to rant…oh I mean…..comment.

    This news is neither shocking nor unexpected for me but just really, really sad. You’ve touched on the subject that both infuriates and frustrates me the most.

    I moved to Canada eleven years ago and have spent most of my time living in ‘beautiful’ British Columbia. Now I am running, screaming to Quebec because I am tired of beating my head against the proverbial ‘brick wall’ that exists in this province when it comes to the arts.

    There is a definite lack of respect and support from the general public here for the arts and when it comes to the BC government they love nothing more than to slash music and art programming and grants.

    What’s even more disturbing than the government bureaucrats killing much needed public arts programs is the general attitude on the street here towards professional musicians and artists.

    If I go to Toronto or Montreal and someone asks me “What do you do?”
    And I say “I’m an artist.”
    The general response to this is “Oh, what kind of artist?” or “What are you working on right now?”

    If someone in BC asks me “What do you do?”
    And I say “I’m an artist.”
    The general response is “Oh , that’s wonderful. I paint/photograph/play music on the weekend. It’s fun isn’t it? But what do you do for work? What’s your REAL job?”

    Then there are the corporations/businesses who want you to work for free or donate your work to them “for the experience” (I guess my 15+ years of experience don’t count?) or “for the cache of being seen in their premises”. Hmmmmm….

    I have no problem donating art or my time to worthy charities or non-profits but when you have businesses with healthy bottom lines expecting freebies just because you are an artist…what does that say?

    If business people have no respect for the years of training or personal expense that professional musicians and artists endure then how can we expect a government elected by those same people to see the value in arts education? The attitude shift has to start with the people.

    An arts education should not be considered expendable. Period.
    Every child should have the chance to discover and hone their talent…whatever that may be….but that is not the overriding philosophy in BC.

    I will never personally understand a society that places no importance on arts education but that’s because I was raised in a country where in my publicly funded high school I had the choice of seven different art/music/drama classes plus a school orchestra, stage band, jazz band and a once a year school musical production.

    (Of course my school used to make and bottle it’s own wine too so maybe the school administrators were simply drunk when they wrote the cheques for the arts programming.)

    Hey, there’s an idea! Send boxes of wine along with the letters to the MLA. Maybe that will change their minds. :p

    Thanks for a great post!


  • http://wsf1027fm.blogspot.com/ Guy

    Yes, where’s the article? I just Googled “BC Government Cuts Elementary School Band Programs” and your blog post was the first item (congratulations on that, by the way!). It’s not that I don’t believe you. I, like you, am ignorant of economics and politics. I used to lap it up but the last few years I just stopped caring and stopped reading newspapers. But I have found, when I stop to read an article beyond the headline, the truth is much more nuanced than we’re led to believe. Case in point (if off-topic a tad): During the lead-up to the Olympics, there was a piece in the Guardian slamming everything about the upcoming Games. I knew nothing about them (and cared even less) but decided to follow some of the links to see if they were true. The writer said, “the Vancouver and British Columbian governments have hinted at what’s to come by cancelling 2400 surgeries, laying off 233 government employees, 800 teachers and recommending the closure of 14 schools.” So I followed the link to the story in the Sun and read it all the way through. Here’s what it said (my CAPS since I don’t know how to do italics here): “The Vancouver and Prince George school boards are CONSIDERING widespread layoffs or school closures because of funding shortfalls, CBC News has learned. In Vancouver, 800 teachers with less than five years of seniority were sent letters on Tuesday morning advising them of POSSIBLE layoffs next year… The letters sent to the teachers are NOT layoff notices but, under the terms of the teachers’ collective agreement, have to be sent out any time lay-offs are even being considered.” And yet the Guardian author was telling us that they’ve already laid off 800 teachers. And no doubt that incorrect information gets out there.

    So you may be right. Or may not be. But if you just read the headlines, chances are there’s more to it.

  • http://www.johndoheny.com John Doheny

    Back in the late 90s when I still lived in Vancouver I had occasion to sub in a rehearsal band for a guy who taught ‘band’ in a suburban high school, and he told me his method for hustling funding for “frills” (read “arts programs”) at his school. He had a program called ‘music composition’ that was open to all comers, no auditions required. He was careful to stipulate that the inability to read music was no barrier to admission. The ‘composition’ program was really just some keyboards midi-ed into a bunch of Band In A Box programs. The students would type in a canned chord progression, select a beat and tempo from the BIAB menu, and then one-finger a melody onto it on the keyboard. A chimpanzee could do it.

    His rationale was that his requests for money for boring, mundane things like new music stands or instrument maintainance would be ignored, but that anything involving the magic word (computers) would instantly open the money taps. A couple of years later, as a sub in district 39 (Vancouver), I’d see this same mind set at work in ‘computer equipped’ kindergarten classes, where the school had blown half their annual budget on computers so their kids could use corel-draw programs that were nothing more than fingerpainting without the mess.

    He also repeated the rationale used by many parents when robbing school budgets and cutting arts programs. “I want my kids to be proficient at using this equipment.” He said he never had the nerve to say back “If they were my kids, I’d want them to have the same education as the guys who INVENTED this equipment, and that education included a full range of arts and music programs.”

    This kind of cut the frills(arts) thinking is the educational equivalent of narrowcasting in radio, and shows a profound lack of understanding of how human learning actually works.

  • http://jamesdanderfer.com james

    Huh? Articles? What do you think this is, CNN?! I get all my news from more reliable sources: facebook and other drunk guys at bars.

    First off, you’re right, news sources are subjective. Where’s the best place to get news from then?

    Secondly, I corrected the title of this blog so that it included a question mark at the end, since the cuts won’t be voted on until April 29th. My mistake. And I was focusing on the music program cuts but that’s only a part of the proposed education cuts which include cutting ESL programs, special needs support, and possibly school closures. You can read/watch more from this CTV page or this article from the Province.

    Here’s a little info from CBC.ca, also on that page is an interview with VSB chair Patti Bacchus which has a lot more info (it’s the 8min video, not the 1 min video).

    Here’s some more info from the VSB website. I checked the BC Liberals ‘News’ page but found nothing addressing this, just Liberal success stories alternating with trash talk regarding the NDP.

    If you find any other sources to prove or discount the above news sources, please post them in the comments section, thanks!

  • Kostas

    James, as far as I know… The BC government has not cut anything per se – except for funds to school districts!

    Many school districts in BC are faced with drastic cuts next year. The biggest problem is demographics. We live in such an expensive city that everybody is moving away. The further from the city you go, the cheaper life is. Those “cheaper” areas to live are getting more student enrollment and their school districts will end up with more money because of it. Unfortunately the schools left in our city are stuck with huge problems with their budgets being downsized.

    My school district (north Vancouver) is stuck trying to figure out what to do with a total of TEN MILLION dollars being cut over the next three years. Vancouver, I am sure has even bigger cuts ahead.

    Vancouver has decided that one of the things they can no longer afford is Elementary Band. There is also another major school district that is about to make the same announcement. The only way to save these programs would be for parents/public to make a stink. Even then, there is no guarantee. The only thing that might save the band programs would be a user fee. Although having to pay to be in band isn’t fair… it has worked for the past 20 years in north vancouver. My students have to pay $400 a year to be in band.

    Fact is, Education is going to look allot different in the years to come. The cuts will continue to grow too. When the BC government makes decisions on new budgets, I am not sure their concern has anything to do with our well being.

    People have forgotten how to complain and how to protest, including me. When the public does not scream or fight back at these things, the government can do anything it wants. There is a reason that the 60’s were a special time for our society. People had the guts to fill streets/campuses/halls/parliament buildings to fight for what was right.

    Thanks for caring enough to post something James! It’s the right thing to do.

    I could be way off in my thinking, but maybe not!
    Thanks for reading,

  • Janet

    That’s funny… I’ll ask around to my other sources, but my brother is also a professional musician in Vancouver/BC and from what I’ve heard, there’s been tons of money poured into various provincial arts programs, lots of new grants, and music festivals. They just don’t seem to get as much credit as when local subsidiary councils make cuts — and blame it on the province.

    Bear in mind that the 2010-2011 fiscal years are going to bear the heavy brunt of the recession — which BC weathered far better than the other provinces in Canada. And WAY better than what’s going on with any of the public services here in California. If you think cutting back on elementary school band programs is a big deal…

  • Cory

    Digs I fall into the moron category you so articulately described when it comes to politics. Just wanted to say I love reading your blog!

  • Janet

    I asked my contacts on the inside and got an explanation for this, just posted a longer comment under Part Two.

    But I have to correct some facts here – first, the province does not control how local school districts use funds, but distributes funding on a per-student basis so that local districts can have the maximum flexibility to respond to local needs. Second, under the present provincial government, the per-capita spending on elementary and high school students has gone UP, not down. On a per-student level, education funding has reached an all-time high. The problem here is that when an area changes demographically, the school district has fewer students, and therefore experiences “a budget shortfall” — not because the province has cut funds for education, but because the local demographics have changed and under that funding model they are therefore entitled to less overall public money.

    In reaction to this, some people may say, change the model so that it’s per-school. But this problems for places where young families can afford to buy homes. Growing communities east of Vancouver in the GVRD and in other parts of the province are finally getting funding at the level to support the students they have instead of busting at the seams, and tons of schools have opened up across the province. For these communities, which would otherwise have to wait and fundraise and petition for funds to build a school, they now have the flexibility and the responsiveness in their budgets to afford more teachers, make more classroom space available and build more schools. To them it’s a solution, not a problem.

    But you can’t have it all, unfortunately, so in a shrinking district where the demographic is aging and young people aren’t moving in, the choice (as the VSB is facing) comes down to either consolidate schools and maintain extracurricular programs, or maintain the same number of teachers and other union employees and operate under capacity with fewer extracurriculars. It’s their elected job to make that tough choice and reflect the will of the people who voted them in. Less ideologically and more practically, despite the fact that closing a school can be a sign of demographic shift and not necessarily political failure, it does generate bad press and may put their elected seats on the line.

    Hope that helps clear things up.