I loved high school. And this statement isn’t only something I can say in retrospect, tinted by the lens of nostalgia since I wasn’t incredibly popular or anything. I was a good student and a good athlete, just like many of my college friends at the University were when they were in high school.
The reason I enjoyed high school as it unfolded was mostly because I went to a really good public school that offered tons of interesting courses and sports teams that had 0.500 records. I took courses such as ceramics and advanced painting and played basketball, volleyball and ran track. For the most part, these activities were free to me. Around my junior year, due to budget cuts, a pay-to-play fee of $50 per sport was introduced to all athletes, but this was something my middle class family handled in stride (today the fee is $90 per sport). Now I see these options as individualized opportunities: They are what I chose to spend my elective credits and my free time on. They supplemented the standard math, science, history and English courses.
At the time, though, they certainly didn’t feel like privileges. They were natural parts of my routine: I had painting every other day and volleyball practice each day after school. Again through the lens of retrospect, I find myself thinking about — and missing — these parts of my high school experience the most.
Today, the idea of having a high school experience like mine is laughable. This is because it’s now financially implausible — or it will be if Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts to education are carried out. My alma mater, the Berkley School District in Berkley, Mich., would lose about $900 dollars per student after cuts. This means that next year, with increased expenditures and reduced revenue, the school district will lose a staggering $4.3 million, according to the district’s website. Even if the district cut the entire K-12 music program and all middle and high school athletic programs, the funds saved would only cover 35 percent of the $4.3 million. Like many other schools across the state, educators face a task I don’t envy. Cuts are coming, whether they like it or not, and preparations must be made. But what to cut? Which parts of a child’s education do we value more than others? Why?
As expected, most districts have to turn to the usual suspects of art, music, gym, after school programs and athletics — anything “extra.” This isn’t because the educators themselves don’t value these subjects. But they have little choice: You can’t cut chemistry. Likewise, you can’t fire the teachers — though you can get rid of any who specialize in art, music or any other extras.
I’m worried about what will happen if and when “the extras” are cut. This issue is particularly troublesome for me, since so much of my time in high school was spent in the gym and the art studio. I can’t imagine a high school experience without these things. I don’t want to. While I understand that Michigan is in serious financial trouble, I just can’t picture high school without athletics. I can’t imagine walking past my old ceramics classroom, now empty, the wheels dusty from disuse.
Taking away these things is taking away a core part of a student’s education. This is the biggest consequence of Snyder’s proposed cuts. An education consisting of only the four basic subjects isn’t a comprehensive education. And the results won’t be pretty either: I see a mass of uninterested, burnt out students who don’t really care about learning. And why should they? Each time their government makes debilitating cuts to education it shows just how highly it values their schooling.
But another very serious ramification will emerge from these cuts. Art, music and sports — all so wonderful because everyone can participate — will become distinguished by socioeconomic class. If we cut art programs, only students who can afford to take lessons at nearby art centers will be able to pursue art. If schools raise the already high pay-to-play sports fee, only students who can afford to pay upward of $90 per sport will be able to play. Worse still, if we cut athletic programs, only students who can afford to pay for Amateur Athletic Union basketball will have a chance to develop any athletic potential.
High school shouldn’t be bare bones, nor should a student’s experience be limited by the amount of money his or her parents make. But that’s where we’re heading with Snyder’s proposed budget cuts.
Mary Demery can be reached at email@example.com.