R – What if I told you I was about ready to cry “uncle” and give in? What if I told you that our 5 year efforts of the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative have been for naught? What if I told you that I am bowing to the scattered belief that proficiency based learning in music is a fad that’s just going to fade away? What if I told you that I’ve finally just gotten too weary listening to too many music and art teachers saying that the arts are “unique” and we can’t be expected to do the same things as the other content areas due our uniqueness? What if I told you that I’m about to give up on the whole battle of fighting for standards based learning and grading? What if I told you that my degree should not have been in “music education”, but rather in “music creativity” or “student expression” or “aesthetics”?
Okay, I’ll bite. Here it goes:
The arts are unique and shouldn’t be expected to hold students to individual academic standards, much less ones that are assessed and reported. It’s okay that we can’t actually articulate what our kids are graded on. Assigning the same grade to every member of the ensemble holds academic integrity because, well, it’s an ensemble class. What we “do” in music is significantly more important than what our students learn. We aren’t teachers, we’re coaches. It’s okay to program whatever we want for our concerts just as long as our kids like it. It’s okay to not program masterful compositions by the dead composers because… well, they’re dead. It’s okay to piss and moan when we are referred to as “specials” when all we do is piss and moan about how special we are and can’t be expected to grade the same way as other subject areas. It’s okay to program what kids like and it’s even okay to have the kids select the literature for us; after all they are at least as qualified as we are with our many years of college education and experience in such matters… English and Social Studies teachers should be allowing students to choose their textbooks, right? It’s okay for our kids to sing and perform with whatever tone they want because it is about individual expression anyway. It’s okay to grade our students on participation. It’s okay to grade kids on whether or not they showed up to class and put the correct end of the trumpet to their face. As long as all the notes are played right and the audience likes what we did and we show up to the parades and town functions, our jobs are safe. It’s okay to pass out programs at our concerts that say absolutely nothing about why we are essential or why we are performing the songs listed. It’s okay that we teach with a chip on our shoulder due to the fact that nobody understands us. It’s okay that we are more concerned about creativity than developing the skills which allow students to display it. It’s okay that we are more concerned about creativity than academic accountability. It’s okay that we are more concerned about creativity than keeping the arts in our schools. We can just remove music from the curriculum completely, help the other subject areas to teach creativity, and then call it a day anyway, right? It’s okay that we run ensembles the same way they were run during the Clinton administration. It’s okay that we run ensembles the same way they were run during the Reagan administration. It’s okay that we run ensembles the same way they were run during the Nixon administration. It’s okay that my online grade book has assignments, not skills, listed horizontally across the top. It’s okay that we run co-curricular activities cleverly disguised as academic content. And get paid accordingly. It’s okay to differentiate between talent and skills. It’s okay that we focus on the kids “who want to be there”. It’s okay that we grade “intuitively”.
There’s only one problem in all this: I refuse to allow Maine’s students to live in that world. I want music education to be as academically essential as I believe it is, and my actions need to speak as loudly as my words. So I guess I’m not going to cry “uncle” just yet. As a matter of fact, I’m going to keep moving toward proficiency, academic standards and individual student accountability toward specific, measurable learning targets for as long as my administration allows me. State mandates? Don’t care. To either extreme. Giving “grades” doesn’t make music academically essential, making those grades MEAN something ACADEMICALLY does. I believe in fostering creativity and giving students an aesthetic experience. But music education is not co-curricular, and it’s essential to do those things – and more – in context. I know what work I’m going to continue doing both now and for years to come, because I couldn’t imagine doing anything less.