Every now and again someone has the crazy idea that I may have something of value to say and asks me to be a part of a panel discussion. As patient readers of this column, you know that I always have plenty to say – whether or not it is of any value is another mater! My latest victim was the National Music Council who asked me (along with several more insightful individuals) to share a panel discussion on the role of the broader music community/industry in supporting music education and to discuss what, if anything, this group could collectively do to help advance our cause. Richard Bell, CEO of Young Audiences and one of the really bright thinkers in the area of arts education, was one of the other panelists. Responding to a question from the moderator, Richard went on one of the more interesting riffs I have heard recently regarding what the community needs to do to support music and arts education. He calls these goals “The Four C’s.” I found the Four C’s to be so fascinating that thought I would slightly modify and share them with you:
The Four C’s 1. Count and Compare –Counting Counts. Readers of this column know what a fanatic I have become about the need for, and use of, data regarding music and arts education. Richard makes the point that we need to count everything… from the mundane to the meaningful. “Mundane” would include things like the number of students enrolled in our programs, what percentage of the school population participates, and what our program offerings are. Mundane does not mean “unimportant” – these things are very important and the truth is, we do not document these fundamental statistics enough. “Meaningful” refers to such figures as, the average of our students’ performance on standardized tests vs. non-arts students. How about attendance, class rank, college bound seniors? This information provides some additional context to the importance and value of our programs. But, counting alone only gives us a snapshot of a point in time. The real value comes when we compare what we count over time so we can learn how trends may be developing. Do we have more students in our program or less? Are certain programs growing while others may be shrinking or is everything growing relative to the student population? Counting does count. The magic occurs when we count and compare! 2. Connect – We need to connect what we do with the broader community. Sitting in our music rooms isolated from other teachers, administrators, and parents doesn’t get it done anymore. Get out of the classroom and into the community – engage and be engaging. Look for opportunities to connect what you do in your programs with other aspects of the school – other subjects or activities. Better yet, find ways to connect to other aspects of the community. Historically, music educators have enjoyed the sense of mystery that surrounds what we do. This comes from having our own classroom or wing set off away from the rest of the school. If we want music to be treated like a “core subject” we have to act as if it is one – that means reaching out and connecting with others and being accountable for what we do. By connecting with others you also create opportunities to share the important role of your program with others who may not be as well informed. In essence, you are creating additional “advocacy moments” to help promote and share the great work that you do. 3. Close the Gap – Richard was referring to closing the gap between Classical and Popular Music. There should not be this “genre divide” in the music and artistic communities. Hip Hop, Jazz, Pop, Classical and any genre-bending combinations are all musical art forms. This does not mean you have to like them all, but we must appreciate the fact that the act of creating music is an artistic endeavor. We should not be so snobbish in our outlook toward music we may not be particularly attracted to. Now let’s apply this concept to music education. We have this same problem. I call them “Genre Snobs.” Band vs. Choral. Orchestra vs. Band, and Everyone vs. General Music. A battle where one views themselves superior to the other. At the end of the day we are all after the same goal: educating children. The vehicle we choose to use is music. Each way is just a different approach toward the same end. The music education community needs to work together for our common purpose to ensure that an education that includes music is the right of all students. Arguing with one another based on our different programs or feeling superior between segments within music education only provides those who wish to cut back or eliminate our programs more ammunition and a wedge to use against us. It is the old divide and conquer routine. Focusing on those things that divide us will take us down. Working together and focusing on those elements that unite us will help build our community. 4. Create and be Creative – Teachers need to be creators, students need to be creative. Most music educators I know are also excellent musicians. Most thought of themselves as performing artists long before the pathway to teaching became clear. Artists do not, and should not, stop being artists when the become teachers. Being continually dedicated to creating and learning in our own art form only benefits the students whom we serve. Practicing our craft at the highest level demonstrates the importance of our work. For our students, creating music has to be a priority of any program, regardless of what type of program or grade level. It is through the active creation of music that provides all the many benefits documented by research over the past decade. Active engagement, not passive, is the key to unleashing the creativity in our students and ourselves. Which brings us to my final point. The reason I enjoy participating in these panels and presentations is not because of what I may have to share. The reason I enjoy these events is because, as this column clearly points out, I am bound to learn something new or insightful from the other people I meet in the process. It is something we all should try to do in any interaction we have. For me, it makes me a better person. For you, I suspect it will make you a better teacher, not of music, but of our next generation. Thanks for the inspiring insight Richard!