This week, we’ve been focusing on music in schools and the importance of having it as part of curriculum. Perhaps our law makers don’t see the importance because it’s not part of the competitive world of technology, but to devalue it’s MANY benefits is foolish. Music is the ultimate communicator of the world! It makes us think, empathize, smile, cry and is there when it seems no one else is. Having this tool and outlet in schools can only be an asset to a productive society. Think of a world without music. Does it make you shutter? Me too! And if you read the viewpoint of this music teacher, I think you’d agree that she would shutter to.
My name is Christine Ehrlich and I am approaching my ninth year of teaching general music in a K-12 school. I see students in grades K-8 each week for general music and students in grades 3-12 for extra-curricular such as choir and guitar ensemble. Each day I enjoy getting to know and grow with students, as any educator should, but I am so very lucky to do so in a classroom that is built around a subject that has meant so very much throughout my own life, music.
Politically speaking, the subject of “music” in our schools, like other subjects in the arts, is termed a “special” or “prep” period. This description, simply explained, is that music is a subject that is not tested by the state through standardized testing and, sadly, is then referred to as “non-academic” by many. Practically speaking, music is a subject that is added into school schedules, such as gym or art, for students so that their homeroom teachers may have a “prep” or break period to prepare with for the remainder of the classroom day. Other realities of music, as a subject, include it often being one of the first subjects to be cut when school budgets are tight, as it is a non-mandated/tested subject by state government. “Music” is often treated politically and practically by state school systems, administrations and some parents as an extra or a luxury for students to have within their academic career.
The reality of our nation’s current educational system is that it remains non-dependent on music in the fact that a school can omit the subject of music and carry on to serve its students and satisfy state regulations. It is undeniable that it is possible for a school to not hold a seasonal concert or offer instrument lessons to its students and still have them graduate and enter the world as academically prepared for whatever comes next. Schools within our nation, by state definition, are not required to offer music as a subject. Subjects such as mathematics and reading are the free and equal academic meal that our states are required to offer their youths. Subjects, such as music, are considered more as the “dessert” that no child “has” to receive to prosper. Today, sadly, education has turned more into a business and music is more of an accessory than a demand.
Why then, after all of these facts being stated, are there countless organizations and people that dedicate their lives to the preservation of the arts within our schools? In a time, where we have so many other “bigger fish to fry” in our nation’s educational system, what is the fervor behind people fighting so fiercely to maintain students’ relationship with music as a subject? Why back a horse in our schools’ academic race that states are not consistently sponsoring?
Over the past academic history of our nation there are countless journal articles, research studies and arguments as to why music is so very vital within our schools. I will not deign to even try to cite them all. However, I can offer a perspective that is unique and exclusive, which is my own.
Long story short, my journey as a music educator began with music touching my life as a student. My life was forever changed when I was in music class in second grade and the music teacher corrected me for talking and he challenged me to sing what he had been teaching, thinking I had not been listening. Embarrassed, I stood up and sang it well enough to look over and see my homeroom teacher’s eyes bugging out and her mouth agape with a half-smile and the music teacher having a somewhat defeated, but pleasant look of surprise on his face. Throughout my career as a student, as a young person, as a developing human being, I can assure you that music was absolutely necessary and vital in my development and life’s journey.
After my “music class incident” in second grade, I was asked by my mother the following summer if I wanted a bike or if I wanted singing lessons. I chose singing lessons. I went from being the child who was bullied for her weight throughout elementary and middle school and feeling depressed and worthless through the cruelty of others, to that of being confident and believing in myself through my singing voice. Music had made me feel worth something. My social and personal challenges continued through high school and music was always there to both challenge and comfort me. I have no idea how I would have survived through all that I did at school. I ultimately chose to be a music educator to be sure to give that same chance to other students to have what I had needed, music.
Now that I have the personal and political out of the way, I move on to my experiences as a music educator. Within my undergraduate career at Temple University, a very important conversation stuck with me. One of my professors, Dr. Darrel Walters, explained to us within class that a complete and whole “education is like a three-legged stool.” He went on to explain that “academics, such as math and reading, teach us to use our brain, one leg of the stool.” Dr. Walters then continued to mention that “health and science teach us to use our bodies, the second leg of the stool.” Finally he went on to mention that “the third leg of the stool, the arts, teach us to use our hearts.” His point was finalized with the statement of “without all three legs supporting it, the stool cannot stand.” This resonates and holds very true to me today in my classroom. I strongly believe that an education that develops the minds and bodies of our nation’s youth, that neglects their emotional development, through such things as the arts, is incomplete and leaves them wanting.
When students walk in the door each day, it is our responsibility to prepare them, as best I can, to be complete and contributing future members of society. As an adult, I have already learned and experienced how tough the big world is out there, with sometimes unexplainable and formidable challenges. Skills like being able to add, subtract, read a book, formulate an equation, name the capitals of all the states, write a novel, build a house, etc. will not solve every problem life throws in my students’ way. The songs I sing with them and the instruments I teach them to play will not solve their problems either…but can help them get through it. Music is a subject that can hold your hand and your heart in ways that no other subject can. Music can travel with us our whole life with memories, it can give us strength in the face of challenges, it can help us heal. It is to be strongly argued then, that music is a “special” or a “prep” but it is not, in any case, expendable or unnecessary.
Today I meet students in my classroom that carry burdens that I cannot even fathom as a person. I meet students facing poverty, facing bullying, facing illness, facing disabilities, facing violence and so many more challenges. They need music, as I do, just as we all need water. Human beings need to feel. It makes life worth living and gets you through all of the bad that life can throw your way. Music can be the lighthouse that you spot in the distance that helps you get through life’s storm. With all things considered, music is by no means expendable or an accessory subject in our schools. Without it, our students are sent out into the world with less of the weapons and tools they may need to lead a full, productive and happy life. Music isn’t a subject that is being tested in our schools but rather is a subject that stands beside us when we are tested.