Schools and music - How much and what?

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Dec 02, 2004 8:51 am

The arts and music have been taught, at least to some extent, in most elementary and secondary schools for many years. However, the schools are under nearly constant budgetary pressure. In that environment, teaching of music, in any form, is almost always one of the first things to fall by the wayside entirely, or be reduced in amount.

Given that situation of having to choose between the necessary and the merely highly desirable, just what should kids learn about music in schools? Should the curriculum be focused on music appreciation to give the students a sense that there is more to music than rap? Should they learn music theory to some degree, so that a private teacher has a leg up when students take private lessons? What would you want YOUR kids to learn about music? What do you think are the best arguments in favor of keeping music in the schools? We may not be able to dictate what the schools do, but we may be able to clarify in our minds what is most important - and maybe even provide some ammunition for somebody out there facing cuts in a school music curriculum.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Thu Dec 02, 2004 11:15 am

One strategy that has been used with success in some places, and which adds nothing to the school's budget, is to give students time off to attend private lessons off campus. With a formal arrangement with the private teacher, attendance and progress records can be kept and made available to the school teacher or supervisor, who can then assign a grade.

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Postby 119-1097335655 » Fri Dec 03, 2004 4:15 am

Before we can begin talking about curriculum essentials, we must first establish that Music, in any form, is worth spending money on in the classroom.

This probably sounds foolish, but I do not think that all school administrators take for granted the necessity of musical education. Many school administrators often depend on standardized test scores, which in my experience never test a student's knowledge of music, for their jobs as well as their schools' budgets. Thus they are often stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to their schools' music program: do they fund it and risk their job and their school's future funds, or do they funnel the money into notes on the upcoming battery of standardized tests?

Personally, I have nothing but contempt for the Standardized Test, at least in the form that it is currently administered. However, it is an inescapable reality for the public school system in the united states [sic] and thus, so is the need for a good argument in favor of any form of musical education within this system.
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Postby 75-1095335090 » Fri Dec 03, 2004 7:12 am

There was a series of ads running on TV a few months ago. The most memorable one for me started with this guy in a business suit trying to open a door. He kept pulling on it and jiggling it, but the door still wouldn't open.

After a few moments, a kid comes up behind him carrying an instrument case (I think it was a guitar...), shoots a funny look at the business-suit guy, then pushes the door open.

The catch phrase at the end is something like "Music lessons make you smarter."

So, someone out there is trying to get the message out that music lessons are important.... I think the ad was Toronto-based. It'd be nice to see similar campaigns everywhere. That should free up some funding so we can get on to the idea of "what needs to be taught."

I've heard that in Japan part of being considered literate (or at the very least, a graduation requirement) is the ability to read music.
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Fri Dec 03, 2004 3:27 pm

I think wouldbewarrior makes a good point: schools are in a terrific bind right now, not only for funding but even to fulfill their minimum functions. The decline of the nuclear family, the explosive growth of entertaining distractions available to kids, and the empowerment of children today amounting to a subculture of their own, with great power over a significant fraction of the economy--public schools are fighting a rear guard battle just to get their attention. But at the root of it all is the order of priorities in society as a whole, wherein we're so much more willing to spend our time, effort and money on entertainment and goodies than on education. This is not new, of course, but maybe the scope of it is unprecedented.

So how can schools find the time and resources for the arts? I think it's a good argument in favor of having at least something available, to point out that it's often the only chance a lot of students will have to ever come into contact with good music. But for a lot of schools it's simply impossible; so maybe time off for private lessons ought to be given a fair trial.

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Postby 119-1097335655 » Wed Dec 08, 2004 8:53 am

I certainly see a lot to praise in the 'indepent study' method. It not only provides the parents and students with the opportunity to put their resources to what they believe will be the best use, but also promises to put little or no additional financial stress on the school system. However, this system is likely to serve only those students who have already had the good luck to be born into musical families. By not providing any initial exposure to the student body, it virtually guarantees that, while students with parents who value musical education will obtain some musical education, those for whom the term 'classical' is associated by apocryphal myth with 'boredom' and 'uncoolness' will not obtain any such thing - though they be equally able to so theoretically.

Unfortunately, I don't see any simple solution to this obvious shortcoming. Perhaps there could be a period of introduction, a semester or two during which the home room teacher spends an hour or two a week exposing her children to basic ideas. This could be done by the teacher herself, if she is musically competent or, if she is not, she could perhaps bring in volunteers to cultivate interest. At the very least, playing some classical music in the classroom and directing those students who end up tapping along or air-conducting to the tunes of Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Schumann and their ilk to a proper place for obtaining musical erudition does not seem like a painful or difficult or very expensive thing to do... But who knows.

For the moment, I am just going to rejoice at my own excellent childhood fortune.

P.s. I live in Japan right now and, although I would not go quite so far as to say that Japanese consider knowledge of classical music a basic staple of education, I have been truly surprised by the amount of interest it enjoys in the general population.

P.p.s I really think we should be addressing, as Dr. Leland says, the larger problem of where, in general, we should focus our attention and resources as a society. However, this is sort of difficult for people who struggle mightily but often fail to gain enough perspective to see the 'big picture'. Edward Gibbon, who chronicled in painstaking detail the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, once said "History is, indeed, little more thant the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."
I suppose this could simply mean that mankind deplores the boring and applauds the sensational with cultlike devotion. But if it means rather that we just tend to do a lot of stupid things and correct them inconsistently and long after, then perhaps we should not worry too much over the state of our public school systems or their deplorable rejection of music curriculum. We should certainly strive to improve or at least maintain the classical tradition, as well as do what we can to introduce it to a new generation of young afficionados-in-waiting, but perhaps we shouldn't hope (or even try) to fix everything. Eventually education will deteriorate to the point where no one is satisfied and then the pendulum will swing the other way (as this post has...) and music will be reinducted into the halls of public education. Or maybe the modern era will follow suite with the Roman example so painstakingly outlined by Mr. Gibbons.

I dunno, but it's late in Asia and time for me to go to bed and not think of such things for a few hours. Night.
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Postby 119-1097335655 » Wed Dec 08, 2004 9:02 am

P.p.p.s. I just ordered a new Korg 670 special edition digital piano and am awaiting its arrival with bated breath! Yay me!
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Postby Glissando88keys » Wed Jul 19, 2006 6:33 pm

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:So how can schools find the time and resources for the arts? I think it's a good argument in favor of having at least something available, to point out that it's often the only chance a lot of students will have to ever come into contact with good music. But for a lot of schools it's simply impossible; so maybe time off for private lessons ought to be given a fair trial.

Dr. Bill.

It doesn't cost much, if anything, financially, to re-introduce weekly assembly programs in the schools, where the children could sing, participate in productions involving music, and showcase their musical talents.

Schools could invite performers and guest speakers whose contributions to the arts are noteworthy.

Local musicians could volunteer their time to perform for the students.

Several programs are available through museums and cultural insitutions where artists are sent to the schools to provide enrichment in the form of music or art appreciaition and participation. These programs operate on a shoestring budget. They may be supported with government grants (Endowment for the Arts, etc.)and in some cases are free to the school districts.

After-school programs could be run by local music and art teachers to enrich the normal curriculum. The teachers would be getting additional exposure in the community with the resulting increase in business making it worth the effort.

These are only a few ideas. I'm sure there are many more out there.




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Postby Glissando88keys » Wed Jul 19, 2006 6:53 pm

Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Editor wrote:However, the schools are under nearly constant budgetary pressure. In that environment, teaching of music, in any form, is almost always one of the first things to fall by the wayside entirely, or be reduced in amount.

Given that situation of having to choose between the necessary and the merely highly desirable, just what should kids learn about music in schools? ... We may not be able to dictate what the schools do, but we may be able to clarify in our minds what is most important - and maybe even provide some ammunition for somebody out there facing cuts in a school music curriculum.

Rather than responding to budget cuts by eliminating music, why can't schools implement music programs based on the resouces thay already have?

Many teachers play an instrument. Most schools have at least one piano. Why can't there just be more music?

It is now a proven fact that Music can increase Mathematics comprehension and competency. Why not capitalize on this apparently strong relationship to help kids learn their math?

Music appreciation is sorely needed. Occasional use of the PA system for music would not be costly. Maybe for a few minutes before and after the school day. Music could be heard throughout the school in between periods, during passing. Instead of making room in the budget for this, the school would be tapping an already available resource.


This reminds me of something that took place when I was in kindergarten. There were a set of color-coded bells neatly arranged on top of the coat lockers. They sat there, neglected for the entire school year. I remember sitting at my table, dreaming of the day the teacher would announce music time- hoping and wishing that the teacher would take down and distribute those bells. This happened exactly once all year. What a valuable resource wasted! Not only the bells, but the potential of awakening music in some budding musician.

Resources are available to teachers and schools for music enrichment. The question is why are they not using the resources they already have, instead of focusing on what they do not have? I feel the budget is just an excuse for something much larger, but I'm not sure exactly what the big picture is. Anyone have any opinions? ???




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Jul 19, 2006 7:29 pm

Glissando:

I have two public school teachers in the family and I think I can give at least a couple of first-hand comments here.

1. Unused musical instruments ("resources they already have") cannot play themselves. You can't simply assume that, oh, there must be a teacher or two who can play the piano, because even if there are they are so overworked and harassed now, trying keep up with all the paperwork, meetings, curricula changes and politically correct behavior that accompanies government mandates and funding that they simply don't have any leftover time or energy.

2. Use of local talent is fine if they exist. But what about the small communities where such people are in very short supply? What about the "local talent" that consists of harried parents who work outside the home and still have to raise children, or the local musician who has to use his talent on a second job inorder to scrape by, or the local piano teacher who is so busy she hasn't had a chance to practice in years?

3. What about the school piano (I've seen, and worked on, dozens) which has become so decrepit from abuse and lack of servicing due to non-existent funds that it's useless? We used to take our NMSU faculty trio all over the place to public schools, but half the time we couldn't play together because the pianoi's pitch has dropped so low the strings couldn't tune to it.

These are the kind of nitty-gritty local realities that mandated disasters like "No Child Left Behind", or well-meaning proposals from outside the system do not--perhaps cannot--take into consideration. That's why a "time off for private lessons" idea might make sense.

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Postby Glissando88keys » Fri Jul 21, 2006 12:33 am

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:These are the kind of nitty-gritty local realities that mandated disasters like "No Child Left Behind", or well-meaning proposals from outside the system do not--perhaps cannot--take into consideration. That's why a "time off for private lessons" idea might make sense.

Dr. Bill Leland.


Dr. Bill, time off for private lessons is an excellent suggestion and a viable option to supplement a practically non-existent budget and music curriculum in schools. From the student's standpoint, the recognition achieved and credit accumulated will only encourage his music pursuits, and enrich his education. Parents will benefit at having the investment of private music lessons pay off in ways that are similar to sending their child to private school because the credit will go towards fulfilling graduation requirements. I'm asssuming that music teachers will have to be certified at the state or city level or hold a degree from an accreditied school, to provide quality music education.

It is all too true that teachers are overworked, stressed out, underpaid, and under-appreciated. Some of my family members are educators, or school administrators, (one is principal of an inner-city junior high school) so I can appreciate the complexity and effect of some of the problems you mentioned in your last post.

My sister has so devoted her entire life to "her children," that she has little precious time for anything else. She and her fellow teachers perform in tireless dedication on a daily basis. Parents struggle to support their families under extremely difficult circumstances. Time constraints are a pressure to all, parents, students and teachers alike.

Parents who could not afford private lessons for their children would love for them to be exposed to good music within the school system itself. Active participation in music is always preferable to the passive, mind-numbing din that passes as entertainment.

My vision for the future is that music become a priority for public school students, and included as an integral part of an interdisciplinary approach to teaching history, world literature, art, science and math. I feel that inclusion of music in these disciplines would stimulate student interest in learning these subjects as well as learning music. It would make music more accessible to the many who cannot afford music lessons. It would also reinforce music that is learned outside of the classroom, for those students who are privledged to take private music lessons.

For this to happen, obviously, funds need to be either allocated or redistributed to restore music education to the school budget and include multi-disciplinary approaches to education. We parents, teachers and the public need to find a way for this change to take place.

Where there is a will, there is a way.




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Postby drewnchick » Fri Jul 21, 2006 1:47 pm

It seems to me that there are many more fundamental problems in the public school system than lack of musical education. Please keep in mind that I do not in any way want to disparage the talents and desires of individual teachers; for the pay they receive, they would only desire to be a teacher because of their deep love of children and teaching. However, the system as it is today only serves to inhibit those teachers in their attempts. The "modern" methods of teaching often result in children who struggle with the basic concepts of reading and mathematics. When these basic problems are addressed, I believe that music appreciation and literacy will quickly follow and improve (not on their own, naturally, but teachers will have more time and possibly energy to devote to it).

Music is and always has been an important part of education. It was a section of the Quadrivium, a method of education used from Greco-Roman times up until the latter 1800s. We need to retrieve the concepts of a Classical education, where music was as important as science.

All these smaller problems are symptomatic of the larger, encompassing problem of poor education methods, from Pre-K all the way up through college.

Read Dorothy Sayer's essay: "The Lost Tools of Learning", an excellent assessment of modern education, written in the 1940s (I think). You should be able to find it on the Internet; I will try to find a link for it and post it here.
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Postby drewnchick » Sat Jul 22, 2006 7:15 pm

Here's a copy of the essay:

http://www.veritasacademy.com/lostools.htm

:)
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Jul 23, 2006 7:34 am

Drewnchick and Glissando, thanks to you both for insightful comments.

As an example, my state long ago cut out funds for the frivolity of music. Schools have choirs and bands, of course, for those who wish to take them, but that's all. We seem to be in a period where tight budgets and fiercely monitored political correctness are mandating programs that really serve no educational purpose, and the dumming down of much of the core curricula. The Arts always get short shrift at such times.

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sun Jul 23, 2006 11:52 am

the dumming down of much of the core curricula


What can we say about the original topic of this thread: which was that, given that school budgets will be limited, what music and art areas should be taught with the limited time and money available to achieve maximum effect?

By the way, Dr. Leland, did you mean "dumbing-down"? :D
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