For more than a decade, Texas schools were forced to sacrifice trade programs because state leaders implemented rules funneling students onto a college-readiness path. Before long, it became obvious what a mistake that was as the industrial sector found itself scrambling to locate welders, pipefitters, operators and other well-trained tradesmen to build and run their plants.

Priorities in recent years have shifted as a result, and Career and Technical Education programs now are all the rage in public schools. Tens of millions of dollars are being invested in area high schools and colleges to provide the training for young people to be holding a diploma one evening and a welding torch at a job site the next morning.

That lesson also can be applied to the fine arts programs that for decades now have suffered as politicians and bureaucrats deemed them less important than other academic needs. Music, art, theater and other fine arts classes lost funding and some schools were forced to drop them entirely. Others reduced them to extracurriculars, minimizing their role in a young person’s overall education.

Just as with trade programs, de-emphasizing the fine arts is a mistake.

Painting, graphic design, photography, band and other pursuits are not hobbies but potential career paths for students gifted in those areas. They are as much God-given skills as an aptitude for engineering or chemistry. And they likewise provide life skills and an understanding of broader topics that will be needed to navigate adulthood.

A report issued a year ago by the Brookings Institution supported the findings that fine arts programs “challenge us with different points of view, compel us to empathize with ‘others’ and give us the opportunity to reflect on the human condition,” the report by Daniel H. Bowen of Texas A&M and Brian Kisida of the University of Missouri states.

The duo’s paper also provides evidence that arts participation among adults is related to behaviors that contribute to the health of civil society, such as increased civic engagement and greater social tolerance.

Bowen and Kisida studied arts participation in Houston elementary schools and determined increases in arts learning positively and significantly affect students’ school engagement, college aspirations and their inclinations to draw upon works of art as a means for empathizing with others. Students in the study also were more likely to agree school work is enjoyable, makes them think about things in new ways and that their school offers programs, classes and activities that keep them interested in school, they found.

Reading the pages of this newspaper and following schools on social media also provide evidence of the value of the arts on local campuses. The all-state choirs and bands are full of southern Brazoria County students, and local high school artists will be among those works fetching thousands of dollars in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo student art auction. Graduates of our schools have gone on to be book illustrators, highly regarded composers, Broadway performers and recording artists.

Without the avenue provided by fine arts programs in our local school districts, these young people would have had to trade their dreams for programs considered more practical and more deserving of funding.

One of the purposes of education is to encourage children to think for themselves, to learn the tools to push innovation and form ideas for tomorrow. Teamwork, patience, diligence and creativity are among the cornerstone behaviors required to succeed in an arts activity, and those skills are the same needed to succeed in a career and company.

Brazoria County benefits from the importance its schools place on the arts as heard in the sounds its young people provide us to hear, the art they create for us to see, the outside-the-box thinking they force us to do — and the strong, well-rounded adults arts programs help produce.

This editorial was written by Michael Morris, managing editor of The Facts.

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