Look at a stand of trees outside the nearest window, now that the fall foliage is at its colorful peak. If you notice the variety and intensity of hues, the patterns of the leaves, and say to yourself, "It's like an artist's palette!" or "What beauty!" you are esthetically educated, sensitive to art and beauty.
One of the chief goals of public schools and other schools around the state is to give all children, from kindergarten up, an esthetic education.
And, in addition to conventional art instruction, teachers use art as a tool in science, languages, social studies and mathematics classes.
But educators and arts groups are concerned about the future of esthetic education -- and art education generally -- in light of the widespread budget cuts at all levels of government. They expressed their fears during a recent two-day conference in Annapolis, sponsored by the Maryland Alliance for Art Education.
The first gathering of its type in the state, entitled, "Arts for All Children," it brought together for workshops and panel discussions 123 school administrators, supervisors of arts programs, several state and local arts council members, college representatives, and symphony orchestra and opera representatives.
Bruce Horner, coordinator of music programs for Anne Arundel County schools, summed up the concerns of many of the participants. He predicted that students and parents may soon have to pay directly for whatever arts instruction is offered in public schools.
"The arts are considered by budget-trimmers to be a soft area on the periphery of education," said Richard T. Pioli, esthetic education director of the Montgomery County public schools. "They are the first to go when the cuts begin. Schools need outside grants to counter this, but these are limited." He added that organizations such as Concerned Citizens for Arts in Public Schools, a Montgomery parents' group, perform "a needed . . . function" by keeping an eye on school arts programs.
Eoline Kukuk, coordinator of the Interrelated ARTS program in Montgomery schools, which trains teachers to use the arts in classroom instruction, added, "Even some elementary arts programs are being eliminated. As is often the case, if the classroom teacher is not confident, teaching music will be deemphasized. This is a good point at which the parents can step in through the PTA and deal with it."
Others, including Michael A. Collins, an elementary music teacher in Prince George's County public schools, said the conference participants were "overly concerned with budgets and funding. Everyone is too urgently worried that elementary music will be eliminated. It will be reduced, but not eliminated."
Meanwhile, the state Board of Education in Baltimore is considering a proposed Arts/Physical Education Bylaw that would establish competency-based, art-education prerequisites for graduation.
After a session on esthetic education at the Annapolis conference, one participant made the fall foliage comparison to describe the importance of esthetic awareness:
"You can see the leaves in fall for all their color and variety, knowing Halloween and Thanksgiving are close at hand, or you can see them as only a nuisance -- just something to rake up."