R – My statement letter from 6 years ago for a bill that would repeal a provision that allowed a school administrative unit to delay adoption of the system of learning results in the performing arts, enabling only partial adoption of those standards. With the help of many hands, we got the legislature to repeal the provision. In coming across this again, I found that it outlined many of my core beliefs about Music Education.
The issues surrounding our K-12 Music programs in today’s Maine are complex, and parallel those of the Visual Arts. Yet there is one common thread we can easily tie these together with: Understanding of what the Visual and Performing Arts offer our students.
It can be said of the Arts that they suffer a great dilemma: they are a process based discipline in a society that is increasingly concerned with primarily the product. There used to be a time in our state’s history when the Arts were considered a standard part of education for all students. This was long before scientific studies were done on the benefits of Arts education, but we knew instinctively that they were a critical component for all. Over the years, as the tangible case for the benefits of Arts education has strengthened, there has become less and less tolerance for results that are less easily seen or touched or measured. Consequently, we have allowed the public to perceive Art and Music as “what artists and musicians do” and the corollary perception that these are specialized areas of study. Worse yet, the Arts have achieved a popular perception that they are merely for those who show an interest or aptitude in them.
The Arts are Basic Coalition (ABC) developed a position statement five years ago that is instructional and enlightening. It states as documented fact that students who participate in the arts improve their learning in other subjects, understand diverse cultures, learn group cooperation skills, have fewer disciplinary problems and higher school attendance rates, increase their scores on standardized tests, and develop such life skills as creative thinking and productive interpersonal communications. Revealed in this statement is the clear reality that there is nothing “specialized” about the subject area. In other words, the Arts are not for the artists, and Music is not for the musicians: Art and Music are for every child and young adult. Research and informal study alike reveal that the benefits are not skewed toward the talented. Additionally, it could be argued still that the greatest value of Arts education lies in the inherent value of the discipline as a whole. The true value of Mathematics for example, while latent in other areas of study, is certainly founded within its own discipline. The same holds true for the Visual and the Performing Arts. Its curriculum involves rigor, discipline, self-discipline, depth and breadth of study in an area of intrinsic value.
In our pop culture society, we have interpolated what we see on TV with what we believe Arts education to be. It is high time to take to heart what George Frederick Handel said himself about his music, “I am sorry if I merely entertained them… I wished to make them better.” We must begin to mount a counter offensive against the factions of our communities and our state that have placed a false but convenient brand on the Arts. We must begin to demand comprehensive Arts training, in the school day along with all the other NCLB Core Subject Areas, for every student in every grade in PK-12 in every school district. LD 1137 is a bill that will ensure for years to come that no one shirks that responsibility and that all school districts take the high road for the complete education of Maine’s children – all of Maine’s children.