I took a writing class for elementary education majors a few semesters ago and had the opportunity to do some research about music and its importance in the elementary school classroom. For my next few posts I want to share my research and some of my thoughts about music and the role I feel it should play in America’s public school system.
Holly is a high school girl who had a dramatically life-changing experience when her band teacher introduced her to the flute. After years of struggling in school, fighting family challenges, and getting into trouble, she took a completely different path when she began focusing her energy on mastering the instrument. “Every [music] piece was like a journey into a world where I could escape my terrible reality,” she explained. “I could no longer feel the pain of a broken family and the predetermined social status I was given as a result of that” (Gaines, 2011). Holly’s musical experience helped her excel in school, make more encouraging friends, and face her challenges with greater courage. “It was as though I had finally found something that would always be mine,” Holly said. “No matter how bad things got at home, I could just play my music and I was in a parallel dimension” (Gaines, 2011).
Holly was fortunate enough to have a mentor seek her out in high school, but many educators and parents are concerned that children will not experience the benefits of music education without an introduction in elementary school. Elementary music education is designed to establish a foundation of musical understanding, appreciation, and sensitivity while providing an opportunity to pursue future music interests. Students are taught the basics of music theory, are exposed to several styles of music, and can experiment with a variety of simple instruments. Because music plays such an important role in every culture, music education also serves as a way to help children identify with their own culture and learn to appreciate others. This early exposure fosters a unique musical appreciation and cultural awareness that is most effectively developed at the elementary age.
Although many programs, including music, could enrich students’ education, school budgets are experiencing significant reductions due to the recent economic downturn. These budget cuts leave fewer resources for schools to divide among various school programs and other financial demands. Because music and the fine arts are not part of nationally tested curricula under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), it is difficult for school administrators to justify including them in their schools. As a result, music programs are among the first to see budget cuts or be cut altogether.
While those who favor cutting music programs may understand the value of music education, they assert that it is unessential at the elementary level. Therefore, they argue that limited funding given to schools should be focused on subjects the schools are actually accountable for under nationally mandated testing. Ultimately, schools cannot financially afford to continue elementary school music programs when their funding is reliant upon students meeting core criteria in math, reading, and science.
On the other hand, proponents of elementary music education argue that music is essential for a child’s balanced development and, as such, is an integral part of a well-rounded curriculum. They contend that involvement in music assists development of essential life skills, advancing a child’s social and cognitive development, while improving their performance in core subjects. And, as mentioned earlier, advocates of elementary music programs also maintain that music education plays a crucial role in children’s development of cultural awareness. In conjunction with these benefits, advocates stress that regardless of any financial burden, the costs of removing music from public school classrooms far outweigh the cost of funding. Music education is an essential part of a child’s education that we cannot afford to cut.
What has been your experience with music in public school? How do you feel music has influenced your growth and development as a student and as an individual?