• from The Columbus Dispatch - "State Should Fund School Auditoriums"

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State Should Fund School Auditoriums

April, 2000

By William L. Bainbridge

While visiting school systems throughout Ohio during recent years, administrators have from time to time expressed concerns about the state’s handling of school-facility funding. In particular, they complain that construction of gymnasiums is permissible under state guidelines, but the construction of auditoriums is forbidden.

This seemed to make little sense, but it didn’t really strike home until I heard it from an official source: While being interviewed on a radio program, Randall Fisher, executive director of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, said, "Auditoriums are generally not permitted, since we only fund facilities which are in constant use."

At least three things are wrong with this position:

  • The constant-use argument doesn’t hold water when compared with other state-funded facilities.
  • It has no basis in educational outcomes.
  • It is not true.

At best, the constant-use argument is flawed. It seems like a strange statement because schools’ auditoriums are in continual use. We at SchoolMatch see the facilities used as classrooms not only for drama and music, but other academic disciplines. In fact, we have even observed auditoriums lobbies being used for classrooms.

That state funds are involved in the $188 million reconstruction of Ohio stadium lead to some serious thought about Fisher’s statement. You would have a hard time finding more loyal Ohio State University football fans than yours truly and his family. We go to away games and rarely miss a home event. But even the most dedicated fan would have to admit that Ohio Stadium may be as far from constant-use as any educational facility in the country. Frankly, figuring 25 days of use per year is probably generous.

The point is that students can have significant learning experiences in auditoriums. Instrumental and vocal music drama, public-speaking and dance groups all need auditoriums for practice and performances. Likewise, schools should be assembly places for noted speakers, public meetings and other community happenings. These kinds of events enrich learning.

Even more important, research indicates that various parts of the human brain are "wired" at different times after birth, making it possible to precisely pick optimal windows for learning different skills. For example, a significant amount of research exists relating music instruction to the development of human intelligence. The auditory cortex, which produces sound, explodes with new connections after birth and maintains a high level of activity as children mature. Providing children with opportunities to stretch their auditory activities has proved itself as a way to increase a child’s intelligence quotient. Music, drama and public speaking can play a major role in helping youngsters better learn math, foreign languages and science. Such activities do not blossom solely in crowded classrooms; schools need auditoriums for educational purposes.

Moreover, many school boards in Ohio would benefit from meeting in facilities that will accommodate a large number of citizens. Gymnasiums do not lend themselves well to such usage, and generally are not available in evening hours because of basketball, volleyball, gymnastics and wrestling practices and contests.

The state’s apparent position is that the education of athletes is more important than that of performing artists. That’s a shameful, narrow-minded approach to the development of the young people of Ohio.

This position needs to be altered immediately.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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