#WeAllDeserveArts: Krystal Williams – Band Director, Western High School (Baltimore City Public Schools)

February 5, 2021

Arts Education: The Toxic Cancel Culture of American Education

As a teacher of 14 years in one of our nation’s most notable cities, I know what it’s like to not have all the resources at hand to teach music. Like most cities, Baltimore has its issues and unfortunately those issues of inequity affect our most vulnerable, the students.

Teaching any subject during a pandemic is extremely difficult. However, arts teachers have been met with an additional level of challenges. Nevertheless arts teachers have learned how to navigate this terrain with little to no increase in support. Yet we persevere like the true creators we are. But some districts have chosen avoidance over equity, easy over what’s morally right.

It is easy to say that kids need math and reading more than dance and music, but any parent will tell you, virtual class without a creative outlet leaves kids void of joy and laughter. Parents love to see this innocence in their children no matter how old. Likewise, arts teachers absorb that joy like the heat from a warm blanket on a cold day.

Of all the SEL (social emotional learned) practices, the arts have always been the most impactful. The arts are the glue of every known culture and society throughout history. So much so, that we clung to it like our own pandemic life jacket.  How many of us only made it through the quarantine due to the arts?

We watched Versus battles, Quarantine Karaoke, Tiny Desk Projects, Virtual Concerts, Artists paint masterpieces with virtual audiences watching, dancers performing in their living room  in tiny zoom boxes and countless other isolated displays of art. This is where we kept our humanity during civil unrest. Art where we  remembered to “breathe” even while others could not. Art gives a voice to the voiceless, sanctity to stress, and joy to the joyless. My 9 year old son made a replica of Van Gogh’s Starry Night with Legos. It was more than an assignment as it was his current life reflected. That’s what arts teachers do, they teach us how to create our own reality.

Of all the displays of the arts that were consumed and binged upon there is a covalent bond, someone taught them. Let’s be honest, it’s not like we were watching demonstrations on the quadratic equation or MLA format during months of the quarantine with our small pods of family and friends (note, this is not saying other subjects are less, just that the arts are important too).

We have adopted a toxic cancel culture behind the arts. Discrediting it without a proper trial. Even criminals get the benefit of the doubt in court, but not teachers, especially not arts teachers. We become enemy number one at budget talks but so necessary when the world stopped and paid attention.

However, modern day education executes the arts without proper context of its infinite list of benefits. There is no amount high-stakes testing that can capture all of the multiple intelligences like the arts. Every student may not be the next Maya Angelou but removing arts programs means we may never know who the next great artists of our time would have been.

Krystal Williams is currently the Band Director at Western High School in Baltimore, MD. She has been a Music Teacher for Baltimore City Public Schools for 14 years. Mrs.Williams attended Morgan State University as an undergraduate Music Major 1999-2004 and Graduate Assistant to the Director of Bands at  Morgan  State University, 2006-2009. Williams  holds a B.A. in Music, a M.A. in Teaching from the College of Notre Dame Maryland. Currently, she is the Music Technology Chair for MMEA Maryland. She currently resides in Windsor Mill, MD with her husband Dwight and son Matthew.

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