PARAMUS, NJ—With students set to arrive in about three weeks, teachers at Washington Street Elementary School were scrambling Monday to deal with a new round of budget cuts that slashed funding for the pipe cleaners and googly eyes they say are the cornerstone of a humanities-based education.
"We are closing the door on our children's creativity," said Melinda Jarvis, a first-grade teacher who has used bendy and twisty materials in her art lessons for more than 15 years. "Without pipe cleaners, these kids will be totally unable to transform everyday objects into things with skinny arms and legs. We'll just have a bunch of egg cartons sitting around. How is that going to teach them anything about the rich artistic traditions that have shaped our civilization for millennia?"
Jarvis, who plans to lead an Indian-style sit-in on the first day of school to protest the cuts, is only one of thousands of educators across the country to face dramatic drops in their arts budgets over the past several years. In Boca Raton, FL, there were reports of up to 16 kindergartners sharing the same pine cone. More than half of Iowa's elementary school students gave their mothers crumpled-up Kleenex wrappers taped to tongue depressors as Valentine's Day "roses" last year. And a school in Oxnard, CA was reduced to having students draw crude eyeballs on scraps of construction paper handed down from third-grade classes.
Bergen County superintendent of schools Jim Eckford said his office was forced to make some very difficult decisions, and that Washington Street Elementary School students and teachers alike would simply have to adjust to the new reality this fall.
"I would love nothing more than to see every student be able to make as many Santa Clauses with big, bushy beards as their hearts desire," Eckford said. "But these are tough times, and the fact of the matter is, cotton balls don't grow on trees."
In light of the budget tightening, Eckford suggested teachers develop creative outlets for their children that involve pebbles or paper-towel rolls, or somehow combine art class with lunch period.
Local parents have joined the chorus of opponents, pointing to the need to stay competitive with better-funded private schools in which students have unlimited access to pipe cleaners and have been known to glue googly eyes to other googly eyes.
"Cutting pipe cleaners and googly eyes is simply going to lead to the elimination of more items from school budgets, like Popsicle sticks and yarn," said Geraldine Mailer, president of the Washington Street Elementary School PTA and a mother of four. "To write out one's name, or the name of one's mommy, by pasting dried macaroni to colored paper is to illuminate the human soul. We're going to wind up raising a generation of mindless conformists."
Mailer said that the deprivation could lead to future problems, including low self-esteem, juvenile delinquency, and a chronic inability to create homemade cards and scrapbooks.
"If we're going to deny our children access to diverse forms of mixed media, we may as well just shove a piece of paper in front of them, stick a pencil in their hands, and tell them to have at it," Mailer said. "But is that what we want for our kids? Is that what we want for art?"