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Anne Mikolay

The Covid-19 pandemic is changing academia.

At a May 11th meeting, Kean University’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a resolution to suspend various academic programs to offset a $20 million deficit due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The university has eliminated its bachelor’s degree programs in music, theater, sustainability sciences, and economics.  Similarly, in keeping with the New Jersey Department of Education’s new curriculum guidelines, the 2020-2021 school year in Middletown will reduce instruction in art, music, and Spanish, and focus on computer skills and health/physical  education. This new curriculum, “K-5 Computer Science and Design Thinking and Career Readiness Life Literacies and Key Skills,” is a response to education’s recent necessary shift to distance learning and an effort to prepare youth for a future of telecommuting and careers in technology. While the Department of Education’s guidelines have not eliminated the arts from the K-5 classroom (art, music, and Spanish instruction will alternate during the week with typing, computer skills, and phys ed), this move, coupled with program cuts at Kean University, foretells a more technologically centered society.

Technology has enhanced our world and will likely affect us going forward in ways we can’t even imagine; however, a word of caution is required here. Our efforts to further incorporate technology into our lives must not diminish or devalue artistic expression. The core of who we are as individuals is expressed creatively through our instrument of choice, whether it’s a piano, a paintbrush, the written word, or a computer.  While future generations will need technological skills far more than my generation ever did, students of all ages must be encouraged to appreciate a splash of color on a piece of paper or the joyful noise made possible through music or words. If formal education skews the balance between the arts and the sciences, society will be diminished. Of course, it is possible to creatively express oneself via the computer, but there’s something special about a child with a simple crayon and paper. Bigger, and in this case more advanced, is not always better. In our rush to adapt to the “new normal” thrust upon us by Covid-19, we must not let technology usurp the arts that soothe and inspire us. We cannot dance to a computer as we do to music. We cannot admire the flow and grace of a computer’s lines in the same way we marvel at a painting. We cannot identify with a computer’s protagonist and become caught up in the narrative. Computers have an important place in our world, but the arts are equally important and very necessary for our wellbeing.

I appreciate technology, and I am sincerely grateful for it; however as a writer and an artist, I can’t fathom a world in which the arts are devalued rather than promoted. Technology may be education’s “new normal,” but we must never dismiss the arts that speak to and express our souls.