Monday, April 30, 2012

Music and Movement in the School


I went to music class tonight for the first time in many years. My daughters' school hosted a night of music and motion led by Mrs. Koch (pronounced "cook") who has long impressed me as a good teacher. Watching her tonight only reinforced how good a teacher she is and also got me thinking about what is valued in education.

My daughters love their music classes. They take mandatory music class, voluntarily take a string instrument class, one sings in the school's chorus, the other is likely about to try out for the Syracuse Children's Chorus. Music matters to them. They play music at home, the sing in the car, and so on. Mrs. Koch teaches them things about music that I don't know, things I ought to know (especially since I'm listening to music during more than half of my waking hours), but that I wasn't ever taught and have never learned.

Which brings me to politics. Music education is among the first things to be cut in budgets. Music teachers are put out of work. Band instruments aren't replaced. Classes are axed to make way for the "core" curriculum. You know the story. Music is extra and our kids are behind, so we have to get down to basics and get rid of all that frilly stuff.

(Now, when we apply the same logic to varsity football, there is a shift in who does the arguing, but that's beside the point. Both sports and music do similar things for me in this argument.)

Tonight, at Music and Movement, we had students from pre-K through grade seven. We had babies. We had high achievers and special needs kids. And we had parents. What we didn't have and what would have rounded out the audience would be a few politicians. You know, the ones who say we don't have money for schools and we especially don't have money for music in schools. Times are tough.

I say, bullshit.

Mrs. Koch provided a valuable service tonight in that she showed me how valuable music education is and how necessary a good teacher such as herself is. She moved us through at least six different activities in the course of an hour and each one had several components of learning attached to it. Here's one other thing: she maintained order while everyone was having fun. She made it a point of her teaching to create order, to build harmony in the group. We were very different, but we were all working together on this project. It was a thing of beauty.

I'm an English teacher and it's unlikely that my subject is going to get the axe yet. Give it a few years and we'll see, but for now, I'm safe. Why my subject is any more important than music baffles me. Haven't all the great minds of any generation known music? Are you telling me that the guys at Google don't bother with music? That Bill Gates and Warren Buffet don't have an appreciation of music? Are you going to tell me that an appreciation of music doesn't get someone very far? If so, get out. You're full of it.

My school is too small to have a music class. We don't have a music teacher. And so we don't move to music, learn to follow a beat together, create movement for ourselves and share it with one another. That's because it's too frivolous for a bare-bones program such as mine. I'm not complaining about my program. We really are bare-bones and meant to be; we are the emergency room of education. But is this what we want for all our kids?

I'm going to go back to my soapbox about the Common Core Standards again and say that we don't need standardization in our schools. I would prefer that New Orleans schools play with Dixieland, that Appalachian schools move to bluegrass, and that schools everywhere work with the musicians in their backyards. If we have to give up a few days of testing in order to accommodate this, I'm even more for it.

There is a push for accountability in the classroom. Fine. Then let us also have accountability in the policies we set for our children's education. If we are going to continue to cut music classes and music teachers, I want someone to be accountable for it. And the accountability can't be a simple matter of accounting, that we don't have the money. Our kids deserve better than that. They deserve classes in which they sing and dance rather than politicians and policy experts whose song and dance no longer carries weight if it ever did.

Sing, dance, and write on.