Fair warning - this is a LONG post. If you've read my blog for long, you know that one of the issues nearest to my heart is music education in our schools. I've been threatening to do this post for a long time, and after a recent discussion with my husband's niece, I felt I couldn't wait any longer.
We recently had the pleasure of having my husband's niece and her two children from Philadelphia for a lovely 5 day visit. Julian is 3 and Jessica is 8, and they are great kids. We had so much fun showing them "life in Texas" and life in a small town. I'm not sure who had more fun! As we were sitting around the dinner table discussing back to school things, my great niece Jessica turned to her mother and said "well Mom, you know that this year you won't have to buy a music book". Silly me, I assumed that she was borrowing one from an older friend. No, my niece explained, they are cutting music at Jessica's school, unless they sign up to play an instrument. Now mind you, Jessica is going into the third grade. I was stunned, not to mention heartbroken. We hear all the time about music programs being cut, but I think I had gotten somewhat complacent. We are incredibly blessed to live in a school district that places a great deal of emphasis on Fine Arts education. In fact, Georgetown has been named one of the "Best 100 Communities for Music Education" twice. Our state mandates that music be part of the required curriculum in grade K-5. And legislation was recently passed that mandates a fine arts credit in both middle school as well as the existing fine arts credit requirement for graduation from high school. My niece told me that Jessica would have to take music again once she began high school, meaning she will have a 7 year gap between music instruction. I'm sure the only reason they require fine arts education in high school is because it is mandated by No Child Left Behind. And that, my friends, is such a huge disservice to those students!
There is substantial research that supports the link between music education and higher general educational comprehension.
Fact: Students taking courses in music performance and music appreciation scored higher in the SAT than students with no arts participation. Music performance students scored 53 points higher on the verbal and 39 points higher on the math. Music appreciation students scored 61 points higher on the verbal and 42 points higher on the math. (Source: 1999 College-Bound Seniors National Report: Profile of SAT Program Test Takers, The College Entrance Examination Board, Princeton, New Jersey)
Fact: According to the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988, music students received more academic honors and awards than non-music students. A higher percentage of music participants received As, As/Bs, and Bs than non-music participants. (Source: NELS:88 First Follow-up, 1990, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington D.C.)
Fact: Lewis Thomas, physician and biologist, found that music majors comprise the highest percentage of accepted medical students at 66%. (Source: As reported in “The Case for Music in the Schools,” Phi Delta Kappan, February 1994.)
Fact: Research made between music and intelligence concluded that music training is far greater than computer instruction in improving children’s abstract reasoning skills.(Source: Shaw, Rauscher, Levine, Wright, Dennis and Newcomb, “Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning,” Neurological Research, vol. 19, February 1997 )
A background in the arts is one of the qualities that major corporations and universities look for in applicants.
“The arts enrich communities and employees, and also stimulate the kind of intellectual curiosity our company needs to stay competitive.” (Source: Norma R. Augustine, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Martin Marietta Corporation.)
“A grounding in the arts will help our children to see; to bring a uniquely human perspective to science and technology. In short, it will help them as they grow smarter to also grow wiser. (Source: Robert E. Allen, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, AT&T Corporation, in “America’s Culture Begins with Education”)
"Arts Education aids students in skills needed in the workplace: flexibility, the ability to solve problems and communicate; the ability to learn new skills, to be creative and innovative, and to strive for excellence. (Source: Joseph M. Calahan, Director of Corporate Communications, Xerox. Corporation)
Still not convinced? There is much evidence that involvement in the arts and extra-curricular activities can keep students from becoming involved in substance abuse.
Student involvement in extracurricular or cocurricular activities makes students resilient to current substance use among their peers, according to a recent statewide survey of Texas Schools. Secondary students who participated in band, orchestra or choir reported the lowest lifetime use of all substances. (Source: 1994 Texas School Survey of Substance Abuse Among Students: Grades 7-12)
If that doesn't convince you, read the comments made by former students of Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, where the overall graduation rate is 30 percent, but the graduation rate for band students is 90 percent. According to Fernando Pullum, music director at Washington Preparatory High School, " Music saves lives by raising kids' self-esteem and providing an alternative to the negative activities that are all too prevalent throughout the community that surrounds my school."
One of Pullum's former students, Lorenzo Johnson, has added his voice as well. Before attending Washington Prep, Johnson lived amid drugs and violence, struggled to stay out of gangs, and got poor grades, he recounts.
When I started high school, I decided to take a marching band class, he says. I started getting more involved in school, and my grades improved to As and Bs. I started composing music, and I received a commendation from the City Council for my musical activity. For those of us fortunate enough to have gone through Washington Prep's music magnet, we feel so blessed to have found a way out. I am now in college, but along with so many of my peers, I will continue to give back to my former school and to my community.
Sticking with the choir and band was an escape from hanging out with gang members and smoking marijuana, says another Washington Prep graduate, Nichol Luebrun. But the band and choir gave me more than just something to do. They changed my life. They instilled in me a love of music. They taught me discipline, perseverance, leadership, and boldness. I am proud to say that this past year I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school and attend college.
I would call the above examples "analytical" reasons for arts education. Now I'll share the "emotional" reasons for involving your child in the arts. They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
Already on the path to teaching....
If you'd like to read the article, simply click to enlarge
Marching in the Main Street Parade, Disneyworld
UIL Marching competition
Program from first college recital
DWR Quartet with the head of the Saxophone Department at UNT College of Music
If you live in a school district that has or is considering cuts to arts education, I urge you to become an advocate for arts education. Speak to your school administration, the school board, local politicians and most importantly, other parents. Get involved. Below are some links that can help you frame your arguments most effectively.
If you'd like to read a fascinating book about the effects of music, I highly recommend "This is Your Brain on Music" The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin (Dutton, Penguin Group, 2006)
And finally, if you are still with me, bless your hearts! I'm sorry this post ran so long, but this is an issue I feel very passionately about. If your child comes home from school one day and says that they want to join band, RUN, don't walk to your nearest music store and get them set up. The lessons they learn and the joy they will feel will last them for their entire lives, whether they pursue music as a profession or not.