Thursday, May 17, 2012

New Superheroes for Schools: Arts & Music

Credit: Scott McDowell (?)/Mercedes Benz
I recently read an article by Brett Zongker (Associated Press) about Sarah Jessica Parker adopting a Portland, Oregon school. SJP and two others are taking on "some of the nations worst-performing schools." How so?! Well, they are going to improve these schools with an arts education. Perhaps you can tell by the tone of my writing but that previous sentence was lathered in sarcasm and a hint of irritation.

First of all, I want to say that I think it is good that these schools are receiving this type of help. My issue is that the arts and music should never have been taken out in the first place. Yes, I am well aware of the budget cuts and demands of high stakes testing (thanks to NCLB).

I just find it odd how there has been such a switch in perceptions of these programs. Music and the arts have consistently benefited students for years but have been some of the first programs to be put on the chopping block due to financial stress on educational systems. Now, after forcing these programs to hide behind the curtain, they are brought back in a new light-- seen as the cure that will help rescue children in impoverished communities. They're like the new Superhero, one that fights off the surrounding enemies (such as drugs, gangs etc...). In some ways the music and arts programs are like the "Avengers." In the movie, Nick Fury says this, "There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people. So when we needed them, they could fight the battles that no one could." Like the Avengers, music and the arts are powerful. Together they positively impact many lives. We just don't value them enough to integrate them as a permanent component of education. [Of course, this is rooted in political wars. These programs get caught in the middle like a ping pong ball.]  It's when there are massive problems like severe drop out rates that we call on them to save us. We forget how wonderful they are to have around, which is a shame. Shouldn't we be in the presence of greatness every day? Shouldn't we encourage greatness every day?

There are lots of qualitative and quantitative data that supports the benefits of integrating music/arts in the regular curriculum. In some ways, it's just good common sense that music and art are important in the development of children. Here is what some have advocates have to say:

      John L. Vitale (2011) says this about the importance of music education, "....musical study increases general cognitive abilities (problem solving skills and out-of-the-box thinking)" (p. 335).

     Lang Lang International Music Foundation (2010) states that:
  • Music is a universal language -- it fosters communication among students, breaks down language barriers and is a "medium for exchange." (p.3)
  • Music education improves science, math & reading performance
  • Music education and brain development -- "The Rauscher/Shaw report suggests that the study of piano actually impacts brain function and transitions not only to academics but all skills that involve higher thinking" (p.4)
  • Music education improves 21st century workforce skills -- promotes habit of excellence, develops quick mind, & promotes cooperation and teamwork
  • Music education develops discipline and reduces anti-social skills-- "Students are more willing to stay in school if they are enrolled in music courses because even when they are struggling academically, music gives them something to look forward to" (p.5) As a result, drop out rates are reduced significantly. 
   National Association for Music Education (2007) made similar claims about music/arts benefits:
  • Success in society
  • Success in school and learning
  • Success in developing intelligence
  • Success in life
A favorite quote from this resource -- "When people put on a ply or a dance together, they learn to cooperate-- and find they must go beyond tradition and authority if they are going to express themselves well. The sort of community created by the arts is non-hierarchical -- a model of responsiveness and interactivity that a good democracy will also foster in its political processes. And not the least, the arts can be a great source of joy. Participation in plays, songs and dances fills children with happiness that can carry over into the rest of their education" (NAME).

These are just some resources I could access easily. There are multiple studies that support music and the arts in education. That is because it's not new news that these programs are needed in schools. I'll be honest, I fear how many children that will fall through the cracks because of the changing views of these programs (and for those that already have). Music and arts provide a place for everyone and gives children the opportunity to express themselves. The right brain needs the left; the left needs the right. 

We must not let schools be without these beneficial programs because the consequences become overwhelming. Once we cut out music/arts, the cord begins to unravel and it all gets out of hand. That's when we call for help-- we create a crisis and expect someone or something to save us. When really, the most simple thing is to preserve and protect. For the sake of ALL children, we must save these programs.

Vitale, J. (2011) Music makes you smarter: A new paradigm for music education? Perceptions and perspectives from four groups of elementary education stakeholders. Canadian Journal of Education, 34(3), 317-343.

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