What Are We Really Risking When We Cut Music and Art from Education?

This past month I heard from a former student, a music teacher, who had just heard that her contract was not being renewed for the next year, and this after she’d just moved to the new position thinking that this was a place where she could really do some good. My last two-years teaching at a Southern California middle school, the art teacher transferred to another school, the music teacher and the shop teacher retired and none of these positions were refilled. I thought, if I was a local parent looking at a school with almost no elective classes, I’d send my children somewhere else. With all of the Charter School and Voucher buzz in the air, how can local schools hope to compete if they continue to cut into the arts part of education?

Sunday afternoon I sent the following message out on the social networks: I’m researching an article about what we’re risking when we cut music/art from our schools, love 2 hear from music/art teachers experiences. Initial response were of the frustrated variety, the best being: “All we risk losing is engagement for about 80% of the student body. Is that bad? #sarcasm.” I heard from another former student and musician, Bob Walker, who gave me a link to a recent speech by former President Clinton that began:

If I had not been in a school music program, I would never have been elected president, because it taught me discipline and order. It made me listen better. And once I got into jazz, I realized you had to make some things up along the way, but while you were making them up, you had to stay in the right key and still play in tune.

Clinton continued, “We do not all learn the same way. We now have actual pictures of the human brain that show that different brains respond to different stimuli and become interested in absorbing information by different approaches.” Speaking at his presidential library for a two-day conference aimed at strengthening arts organization, he added, “There are an enormous number of people, little children, who will learn about math and science and history and English if the arts are incorporated into the way they learn.” I have fond memories, as the tech support person who quietly worked in the back of the classrooms, that the happier primary classrooms always had some element of music and art in every lesson.

Walker also gave me a link to the National Association for Music Education where, he said, I might find more research-based responses to my query. Yeah. I think I found a great place to start my search. The document that really spoke to me was the 21st Century Skills Map that was created by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills in collaboration with art, dance, music, theater and visual arts associations. The PDF spells out how Arts Education addresses several essential learning skills such as Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Innovation, Information Literacy, Initiative and Self-direction, Productivity and Accountability and Leadership and Responsibility. What I identified with were some of the things that I’ve been writing about when it comes to how we’re getting it wrong when we use technology in the classroom to do out-dated drill and kill activities. It’s in the connections between the learner and challenging creativity where we find our students far beyond memorization, recitation and all the things that are forgotten as soon as the test is done. Music and the arts speak to us and those around us for the whole of our lives. I’ve just barely tapped the surface of this subject and I would like to continue to challenge my arts education friends to drop me a line with your stories of success and difficulty and/or leave a comment below. Make yourself heard before the wrong-headed decision-makers shut the door and steal this essential part of learning from this generation of learners.

Resources:

 

This was a class project in which we had to gather source footage to make a statement about a societal topic. This video promotes the importance of music in lives of children, students, and all people. Footage is excerpted from School of Rock, Music of the Heart, Small Wonders, and a couple existing YouTube videos. Opening song is “Hush” by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma