R – I have three questions for you High School teachers out there. Here’s question #1: “Should music education be for every student?”
I wish I could hear your own individual response to this… is it “yes”, “no” or “depends”? My own professional journey has led me through all three of these answers at different stages in my career, but fundamentally this is a philosophical question that goes to the core of what we believe as music educators. It is NAfME’s belief that music IS for every student and I believe that the majority of us feel similarly. We argue all the time (with parents, administrators and even at times our own students) what the value of music education is and we implore them to consider the benefits both intrinsic and peripheral to the profession. We talk about studies that show how in pull out programs across the country, students who are pulled from a subject to participate in music not only test as well as the others, but sometimes test even higher in that subject than the ones who stayed behind. We talk about SAT scores being higher for music students than non-music students. Studies show that drop out rates, drug use and social behavior are all positively impacted when measured against our music students across the country. When our programs are threatened, we argue vehemently the universal value of Music Education.
Question #2: Have you made any effort to implement a graduation requirement for music in your High School?
Question #3: Does your answer to question #2 align with your answer to question #1?
I wonder sometimes if we aren’t guilty of having cooked our own goose. When we talk about music receiving equal shrift with other disciplines, we often choose to ignore one basic premise to the whole picture: Math, Science, Social Studies, Physical Education, English Language Arts, even World Languages are all universally accepted as subject areas necessary for each and every High School student. Music is not. But here’s the bigger problem: that universal perception in practice is dead on accurate… we do not mandate music for every student. To suggest that this is a topic we have never moved on would be quite inaccurate: inaction IS an action. We have largely rested on our belief over the years that what we do is critically important, without actually putting teeth into it. Though we know what we do IS critically important, we only have a year of fine arts required in the state of Maine. What this means – in practice – is that students determine if they want to take classes in visual art or classes in music. Some do choose to do both, but that is by accident, not by mandate. Consequently, the general public has every right to view music education (performing arts) as important for JUST the musicians, visual art important for JUST the artists. Then we wonder why our communities don’t see music as essential as the other disciples and are shocked and dismayed when we’re the first to consider being cut when crunch time comes? What would happen if we were on the same playing field as the other disciplines that don’t have to argue their worth (and incidentally, which other of these subject areas is required of all students until they enter high school???)?
I got sick of fighting for the “essentialness” of music education and worked with my visual art colleagues first in my gig in Vermont and then again at York High School to establish this very graduation requirement (half year of each). And it didn’t occur quickly, but we did our groundwork, did our homework, drew up the proposed curriculum and pathways, and presented it to a very enthusiastic school board both times. The York High School class of 2012 was our 5th where every single graduate earned standards based credit in music as a requirement for them to receive their High School diploma. And it required no extra money or staffing to implement. It didn’t increase graduation requirements either: we just mandated that it would be visual “and” performing arts, not visual “or” performing arts. This put us in perfect alignment with the actual state graduation requirement! Listen, this isn’t about me or about York High School, it’s about putting convictions into action and this is just one first hand account of having done so.
Reflect for a moment where music stands right now in your own high school’s educational priorities. Content with it? If so, then great. But if not, then WE need to consider being the ones approaching our administrators with authentic ways to make music education essential for all students. Work to create a music requirement for every high school student? I’m not naive: I can tell you better than you can what the roadblocks and brick walls will be if you choose to go down this path, and the journey there is a daunting one with absolutely no guarantee of success. And only you know the circumstances in your own school that will determine if it’s even feasible to begin that journey. Unless I’m in your shoes (and I’m not), I will be the last person to judge those types of decisions you’d have to make. But in general, and this is why I wrote this blog post today, I have a strong conviction that it’s one thing to loose the battle, it’s another to have never taken up the fight… and I’d love to see more colleagues take up the fight. “I’d rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed.” – Robert H. Schuller. Please, don’t get me wrong. Choosing not to pursue a graduation requirement is not the “nothing” of the Schuller quote. But not being proactive about changing the culture of your entire high school – administrators, teachers, students and community – in its approach to music education being essential for all students is. That’s what this is all about.
A music graduation requirement for high school students? Food for thought.