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The Often Overlooked Value of School Music Programs

Public schools, in general, have become incriminated in the public mind for having failed society. They must be re-envisioned, restructured, reassessed, and refinanced if they are to serve the public good, according to commentators ranging from folks waiting in line at the post office to governors and national policymakers. Given that schools provide the one common experience that all Americans have, it’s easy to blame them for anything that might follow from attendance, no matter how tenuous the connection. If something’s wrong with society, it must be a problem that schools and teachers are responsible for.

One approach to re-conceiving schools is to strip them down to the bare essentials, especially the STEM imperative that politicians and policymakers believe will make the U.S. economically competitive in the long run. If an academic program doesn’t help us contend better with China and India and help us maintain our standard of living, then it’s a frill that our tight budgets should not accommodate. Among those superfluities most readily targeted are programs that serve the arts, which might divert kids from academics for an hour or so but produce so few professional musicians and artists that they can no longer be justified.

Or so they say.

We beg to differ. We speak from different yet related experiences as educators and citizens. Melissa is a jazz singer who founded and operates Jazz House Kids, with considerable assistance from her husband Christian McBride, a bass player of international acclaim. This foundation is designed to provide New Jersey youth with the resources, support, and direction to play, sing, and appreciate America’s original art form: jazz. Peter is a career educator from the field of English (literature, writing, and language in relation to other artistic genres), first as a teacher and since 1990 as a teacher educator. They are linked by Peter’s brother Fred, who is presently chair of the board of Jazz House Kids and a longtime business executive and musician. What we share is a lifelong love of music and a great concern for the future of American youth.

Music as Team-Oriented Work
We do not see music at a sideshow to the real business of education. Rather, we consider formal music programs to provide an activity that accentuates and channels kids’ positive interests into team-oriented work that enables them to find a reason to believe in school’s potential for improving their lives. In other words, strong music programs serve as the medium through which young people can develop an affiliation with the institution of school.

The Arts and Schooling
This feeling of belonging and reciprocal responsibility in turn helps to sweep them into other positive currents of activity and direction that school can provide young people. In this sense, music is not a frill. Rather, it’s an essential means through which youth, particularly those who have yet to shine or are at-risk, can find reasons to persist academically across the curriculum and take part in the positive social updraft that both music and school can enable.

Read more: Melissa Walker, The Art of Teaching Science


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