‘Glee’ Finale Makes the Case for Arts Education

By Mark Walsh — March 23, 2015 2 min read
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I was never a true “gleek"—a devotee of “Glee,” the Fox show about a music group at an All-American high school in Ohio.

I trailed off after the first couple of seasons, when the New Directions glee club at William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, was always just about to get to show-choir “sectionals.” Did they ever make it?

Well, of course, they did, and then some. On Friday night, after six years of solos, duets, and sing-offs, as well as battles over high school friendships, faculty rivalries, dreams, and heartbreak, “Glee” aired its series finale. (Recaps from MTV and Entertainment Weekly.)

The two-hour closer was in part a final argument for the value of arts education, a theme of the show throughout its run. (More on that below.) The first hour was a “prequel” that told the tale of how the original New Directions came together under coach Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison). This was a way to showcase the show’s original stars—Rachel (Lea Michele), Kurt (Chris Colfer), Mercedes (Amber Riley), Artie (Kevin McHale), and Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz).

The first hour also paid tribute to lead singer Finn (played by Corey Monteith, who died in 2013 of a drug overdose) by showing his memorable first-season rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

The finale’s second hour was titled “Dreams Come True,” and was mostly a flash forward five years to see what the characters achieved. (The most improbable is Coach Sue Sylvester—Jane Lynch—who is vice president of the United States.)

In the middle of the finale was the show’s final lesson about arts education. In a scene labeled “present day,” Will Schuester is called to the district superintendent’s office. There are references to Shuester leading the fight against past efforts to trim the arts at McKinley High including by his one-time glee club nemesis turned budget-chopping school board member (in a memorable cameo by Neil Patrick Harris).

“The district board of education has decided to make McKinley an arts school—William McKinley High School for the Performing Arts,” Superintendent Harris tells Schuester.

“Over the last decades, school districts across the country have been facing multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls,” he continues. “Our quick fix was eliminating arts programs altogether, prioritizing what we would hope would be more essential subjects such as math, reading, [and] science.”

“We were wrong,” the superintendent says. “Scores did not go up. In fact, in some places they got worse.”

“You refused to let that stop you,” he tells the glee club coach. “And I decided it was time to stick my neck out and make a pitch to the board. And to my great surprise, they agreed with me.”

A stunned Schuester tells him, “If there is anything I can do to help, just let me know.”

“What are you talking about?” the superintendent replies. “I’m going to have you run the school. I’m making you principal, Will.”

And that’s where Schuester still was in the five-year fast-forward. While some of his former students have achieved various forms of musical stardom, “Schu” was doing his best to make sure the future generations of glee club members could get their shot.

After all, sectionals are just around the corner.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.