Save our Musicians

10 Nov

Our school district cut over $10 billion from it’s budget last year.  It’s looking to cut an additional $10 billion next year.  Where do school districts look first when they want to save money?  Music.  Arts.  Foreign Language. Libraries.  Any curricula that is not on “the test.”  Schools are so caught up in their race to the top that they seem to have forgotten that we’re talking KIDS’ lives here.  I’m sure I’m not the only parent who sees her student as more than just a series of test scores.

Mr. 16 has always been a “smart kid;” more than capable academically.  He puts up with academics because he knows success as represented by grades will allow him to pursue his true passion: music.  If it weren’t for music, he wouldn’t play the school game.  He’s not the only student passionate about that which is not tested.  He’s not the only student doing well in school because he’s happier when he’s also involved in music.  Many, many research studies have been done that verify the connection between higher achievement and involvement in music and arts programs.  It seems to me that in the search to save money and still boost achievement, school districts are shooting themselves in the foot when they put music and arts on the chopping block first.

I just completed a budget survey on our district’s website.  To their credit, they are gathering input from parents and staff; hopefully using this information to make the best decisions they can.  (They have a pattern of “gathering information” after they’ve already made up their minds on whatever it is, but want to give the impression of including your ideas.)  Being an online survey, it is limited in the sort of information it can gather.  It’s hard to put into character-limited word boxes the look on Mr 16’s face when he gets a new chart to play in jazz band.  Bubbles can’t express how Mr 16 turns to playing his soprano sax when he’s feeling down or confused.  Ratings can’t communicate the collective pride of the marching band after performing the show of a lifetime at State Competition.

 Of course every student needs to be able to read, write, balance a checkbook, understand what buying on credit really means…but think about YOUR life.  Is that ALL there is?  I want Mr16 to be an adult with an appreciation of life that exists beyond a paycheck.  And if he’s truly lucky his paycheck will come from music, and he’ll be able to afford a second cup of coffee now and then!

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2 Responses to “Save our Musicians”

  1. CGibson January 1, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    As a Grandma, I wonder what kind of educational world my little 5-year-old boy will inherit. I’m afraid and worried for him. I also don’t like the high-stakes testing he will soon have to endure. I wonder how you manage, Heidi, raising your son in this educational landscape…I’m looking for some words of advice from you, I guess.
    Thank you for sharing your ideas and concerns, Heidi.

    • secondcupofcoffee January 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

      When a district encounters a budget crisis and they start considering music and the arts as “fluff,” I think it’s important to let your voice be heard as loudly and often as possible, as well as enlisting the help of others to save these programs. Zach takes private lessons as well as participating in multiple band programs at school. We would definitely continue with that if the district cuts programming. I would also consider moving him to a school that still had a music program. With his focus on majoring in music in college, he NEEDS a highschool music program. Music is so much more than the music itself–he and his friends (who I LOVE–how many moms of teens can say that?!) are so driven and motivated; often researching on their own to find new composers, charts, audio/video of music they’re playing in different ensembles. They develop skills that support academics, they’re happier in school, they develop skills and appreciations that will last past their formal education. I think this is true of any “elective.”

      Zach sees his other classes as necessary “evils”….a way to access the colleges he prefers and the acquisition of scholarships. He knows the stupid test results are a consideration for college admissions, so he takes them seriously, but sees them for the dog and pony show they are. It’s unfortunate the district sees these tests as the be all end all, and is constantly wringing its hands over how to eke out higher scores. The only positive I can see is connected to college admission–but even the colleges know that these scores are but one part of the students they’re admitting.

      Advice for Mr5? Be a learner of everything that interests you. Find a way to continue with them even if your district downplays the importance or eliminates any of them. Try to come to an understanding of why tests happen, and never let that be the only measure of you. Advice for Grandma? Let Mr5 explore lots of things and support his passions for as long as they last. Encourage him to try new things. (Zach tried soccer and little league baseball–all ended with a horrible coach–he’s so done with sports–but he gave it a try. I kinda miss the chili-cheese fries they made at the little league park!) We required Zach to be in band in middle school; he started with trumpet–hated it–and found the love of his life–the saxophone. Now he challenges himself to learn new instruments. He plays sax in one concert band and jazz band, but plays oboe in two other concert band, and starts learning percussion this week in an after school “winter percussion” ensemble.

      Bottom line–be as passionate as you can about your learner’s passion and do everything you can to protect and nurture it.

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