It is an unfortunate irony that the teaching of music suffers from the fact that music is so enjoyable. The assumption seems to be that anything that much fun must be frivolous or peripheral to serious work. Schools’ focus, in that view, should be on the more important academic subjects – especially if money is tight.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Music is fundamental learning. With its direct connection to the nervous system, music warms the heart and stimulates the mind. It hones perception and motor skills, enhances learning in other areas and in a real way imparts civilization.
Nonetheless, as the Herald reported Friday, music teaching continues to suffer in comparison to other areas of instruction and is too often one of the first programs school boards and administrators look to when budgets need to be cut. Even in places where music programs have not had their budgets slashed – such as Durango School District 9-R – music is too often seen as something extra, outside the core curriculum.
District 9-R does support music. Durango High School had tremendous success this past year with its award-winning band and orchestra. Local music students are also helped and encouraged by Fort Lewis College and Music in the Mountains.
But 9-R only requires students to take music courses through elementary grades. At the middle school and high school levels, it is an elective.
The result is that students with demonstrable talent, good study habits and supportive parents can have a meaningful and enjoyable experience with music and leave with an understanding that will enrich their lives.
That is not enough, though. All students can benefit from music.
The fault is not all 9-R’s. Parents and the larger culture are more to blame. Dee Hansen, co-author of the 2004 book The Music and Literacy Connection put it this way in a phone interview with the Herald: “Nationally, music education is not only underfunded, it’s under-respected.”
That should be corrected. Education is too important to ignore one of its most critical and proven components.
That teaching music boosts learning in other subjects has been observed for centuries and borne out by research in recent years. Not only do math and music exercise similar mental skills, but, as Hansen’s book suggests, studies have also clearly shown a link to language skills.
There is also the fact that while playing music is fun, mastering an instrument – any instrument, the human voice included – takes discipline, focus and practice. Those same qualities are needed throughout life, including in learning math, science, language or any other subject.
Beyond that, there is a more basic benefit. Children are not empty vessels to be filled with words, facts and equations as if pouring grain into a sack. They are immature members of the world’s most influential – and most dangerous – species. Educating them is also about fostering and passing on our civilization. As important as they are, math, science, history and language alone do not do that.
Religion is not the purview of public schools; they can do their part to hand down our culture and our humanity through literature, art, theater, sports and, perhaps above all, through music. They can, that is, if we all support and insist upon those things in our schools.