Wednesday, March 5, 2008

NBC Nightly News - Better Minds Through Music

As seen here (This link takes you to a blog on NBC Nightly News' website that links to resources directly involved in this study. The video of Brian Williams giving the story is available as well but it is not possible to link directly to it from here.)

NBC Nightly News reported a new (?) study that shows music ed in schools improves performance in math.

This isn't new. Studies have been showing the correlation between music and academic performace for years. If you let kids in school (at any age) take a music class, their scores on exams in academic courses go up. I grew up in school districts where music was a standard - even if it was considered an "Easy A" course to boost your GPA. Although I can think of some times when I had my doubts about the intelligence-boosting aspect. Case in point: high school chorus is rehearsing an English-version, concertized performance of Faust. High school boys get bored too easily. As a second alto, I was sitting next to the bass section so I was treated to a front-row view of their antics. Boys find things to do when bored in chorus class - like re-write the libretto. "Gounod" became "Gonad" and the situation deteriorated from there.

I liked to sing but I'll never claim that I was good at it. Today I only sing in church on Sundays. My excuse is, in church, they have to forgive you. ;-) I always wondered if my very deep alto range could be pushed further to a full contralto (basically a female tenor). Every choir director I ever had discouraged that kind of training. I could never tell if it was really bad for me, if I just didn't have enough talent for that kind of investment, or if they just had never had a female student with that deep a voice and thus had no idea how to handle it.

I skipped lunch to take chorus in school. I did feel rejuvenated going back to my academic courses. So maybe I did benefit in the way the news report said. I believe it enough to ensure that my own children get to enjoy music. Even my two-year-old has a weekly group for children her age where she can bang on Remo's line of instruments for children and play games to music and learn songs she can sing along with at home or in the car.

It makes me concerned for my children and others of my friends and neighbors when I hear that a local school district is in financial dire straits and one of the first programs cut is the music program. Gym programs get cut, and then there's public shock and outrage that kids are overweight and not active enough. Then music programs get cut, and there's public shock and outrage that kids are bored in school and glued to video games and wasting their creativity. You'd think the solutions were obvious - guess not.

Back in January Barry made news in his hometown by donating instruments to a local middle school whose instruments were literally falling apart. (News report on Note that the area where he lives is not poor by any means, and yet even this school district can't find a way to prioritize the needs of a practical music program. What Barry did was set an example that ANYONE can follow. So here's a few clues from a fellow parent who is probably going to deal with this situation in her own school district:
  1. You can't rely on a school district or board of education to make the best decisions and provide every educational opportunity your children need.
  2. Music programs are not about turning your kid into the next Mozart, Yo Yo Ma, or Kelly Clarkson. They are about opening them to a different dimension of life and probably helping them in their academic studies. Music is not less important just because most kids taking it are not going to be famous.
  3. It shouldn't take a celebrity to draw attention to or provide a solution to gaps in the school program. It's nice, but not a key.
  4. Take the study mentioned above and others like it seriously.
  5. Fighting the Board of Ed is only one option. Others include passing the hat amongst yourselves to fund a boosters program, or finding a music program outside of the public school system - like your house of worship or local cultural center. They almost universally have a childrens' music program.
  6. Nothing is stopping YOU from enjoying these programs, either! My daughter has learned to love to dance because of the music in our house and in preschool. She has a thing for the drums too - I won't tell her 'no' if that's what she wants to play! That mistake my folks made won't be repeated.

Bottom line - everyone benefits when children and their families have a chance to make music (no matter how badly). But don't expect the school board or anyone else to automatically make it happen for you!

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