Tuesday, May 8, 2012

AMERICAN CULTURAL TRAGEDY: THE DECLINE OF MUSIC IN SCHOOLS



Item:
Line 49 - Band/Music - Eliminate or support by parent donation only [School District Trustee Minutes]

Item:
...music has been cut to the bone at the elementary and junior high school levels; without those schools feeding the high school, there is no program…  [Newspaper Article]

Item:
…no new students will be admitted to the music education program at Chico State in the fall.  The music education option, which aspiring teachers take, is being suspended.  [Newspaper Article]

Item:
…because every dollar has to count, some educational programs that we value, such as music, will draw the short straw.  [Newspaper Editorial]


As a kid who picked up at tuba in seventh grade and never fully put it down, I have been asked to join in the campaign to upend Chico State’s decision suspending the music education program (that's the program that prepares folks to teach music in schools) for the upcoming academic year.  Sorry, I can’t.  Administrators were left with few options.

A Chico Enterprise Record article reported that only 24 students are currently enrolled in the Music Education option at CSU, Chico.  Of those, about 20 are slated to graduate in June.  That number is in dispute.  But what cannot be disputed is that the university administering an undergraduate program for only a handful of students doesn’t pencil out.  So, as crappy as the decision is, it may be the only decision that could be made.

Why?  Recall the laws of supply and demand.  The more widgets a factory can manufacture, the cheaper the widget becomes.  However, when demand for the widget wanes – think buggy whips – it doesn’t matter how cheaply they can be made, there is not market and therefore no need.

Am I comparing dedicated music teachers with widgets or buggy whips?  Not intentionally.  But examining the trustee minutes and the two newspaper articles above, it is clear that the market for music teachers is in - how shall we word this? - decrescendo.


My e-flat tuba from 7th grade
That is ironic, because here’s what we know about music education:

·      Kids involved in music perform at higher levels on standardized tests.
·      Kids involved in music report that they have a greater sense of belonging to a community.
·      Kids involved in music are less likely to engage in gang activity or criminal endeavors.
·      Kids involved in music are more likely to attend and graduate from four-year colleges.  (And individuals who graduate from college earn higher salaries and thus, repay the tax dollars invested more than those who do not graduate a post-secondary institution.)

There’s very little bad that can be said about offering music as part of a comprehensive educational program Kindergarten through twelfth grade.  Except for one thing: 

You can’t test music by filling in bubbles.

If you can’t test it – if there is no measurable result – then there must be no value to it either to the students who must be simply wasting their time in band, to a society which clearly must not benefit from the arts and to taxpayers who demand measurable results for every penny sent to any government entity.


Still, as citizens we are loathe to see any programs we support end of in the ditch along side the highway to austerity.  We demand music, athletics, drama, vocational education, science labs, small class sizes, special education programs, gifted programs, and high test scores for all.  Beyond schools, we insist upon police protection, fire protection, safe roadways, foolproof telecommunications, clean drinking water, adequate sewage treatment, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, safe air traffic, and, of course, national security. 

We just don’t want to pay for ‘em.  The historic roadmap out of recession has nearly always involved government spending – either treasury dollars or borrowed dollars – on infrastructure and other programs in order to prop up employment and get money circulating through the economy.  Taxes on this recirculation help to retire the debt.

But currently, a tiny, powerful few [an example might be a group known as ALEC] are whipping up a boisterous and willfully ignorant minority – they only need a third of the electorate in states like California – to slam the door on exactly the type of economic policy that would steer us out of the doldrums.  They do this by moving the target of angst from government largesse to government debt to public pensions to a socialist, Kenyan president to whatever wave they can ride until the wave is proven false.  Furthermore, in whining about the "size of government," they force teachers, firefighters, police and other tax contributors out of the work force and into the enlarging pool of those needing government assistance.


The result?  Among many: no money for music in our schools and no need to train the music teachers of our future.

We get what we pay for.  Right now, we are paying for membership in the community of third world nations.  And who is among the losers?  For one, the kid who misses the opportunity to pick up a tuba in Junior High and carry what he learns through a satisfying and productive life.


Resources: 

What ALEC says about ALEC:  http://www.alec.org/
What others say about ALEC: http://alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed

© 2012
Church of the Open Road Press

8 comments:

  1. Well written. Wish it were not true and also wish it were not just specific to music education. "If you can't measure it, don't do it" is a business cliche and the smartest business people know it is not absolute.
    Gov't is not a business and while some business mentality may be adoptable, the basic objective of profitability does not, should not drive decisions. You tagged it Mr. B

    ReplyDelete
  2. It comes down to valuing the whole human being. Not just robots who can spit back answers, but people who can be creative in their endeavors, learn to work together for a common cause, and create beauty in the midst of a chaotic world. Educate everyone in a mediocre manner, then we don't have voters who think, question or participate in our democracy.

    ReplyDelete
  3. A former California Music Educator of the Year responds:

    They cut what they deem to not be important. I'm getting tired of fighting.

    ReplyDelete
  4. But the big picture is not about cutting something that is deemed important by some and unimportant by others - it's about standing up for a well-rounded, world class education. Something we cannot provide unless we as citizens are willing to pay for it. The "No Tax" freaks are holding our kids hostage and it has to stop.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am afraid that the problems of education and this country in general are bigger than music. this reminds me of watching the small quartet play as the Titantic sinks.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Perhaps, however, the principal difference here as that we are in charge of the iceberg as well as the ship.

    Though our collective selfishness (I pay too much already) short-sightedness (My education didn't help ME become rich) and willingness to accept the latest boondoggle (Our public school system should be operated more like a business) we are choosing to exercise control over neither.

    Public schools work best when we afford them our time and our collective financial support.

    My God! That sounds like Socialism.

    Yep.

    ReplyDelete
  7. When you have no energy to power the ship icebergs and direction are impossible to avoid and obtain. Looking at finances in Kalifornia it appears you are adrift.

    xXx
    The NATION of JEFFERSON

    ReplyDelete