When we were in Florida last month, this article about budget cuts to the arts programs in Lee County schools was on the front page of the paper. News stories like this are quite familiar here in the recession battered midwest, but I was taken aback to find the same problems existing in more affluent areas of the country.
This makes me sad – and angry. As a musician who would likely never have been exposed to music if it weren’t for her wonderful elementary school music teachers, I’m heartbroken for all the potential young music makers who will never have that opportunity to develop a talent, or discover a life long passion. As an adult who has worked with student musicians for 20 years, I’ve seen firsthand the powerful effect the arts can have on children of all ages. It develops confidence, fosters a spirit of teamwork, provides an outlet for stress, all while improving fine motor skills, coordination, and mental agility. If you ask me, music packs a powerful educational whammy, one that should be valued above many others.
The newspaper article referred to a study which indicated that students who majored in music as undergraduates had a higher acceptance rate to medical school than those who majored in biochemistry. It also cited the many studies which have proven that music education helps children develop critical math skills, while education in fine art encourages creative and non-linear thinking. Certainly these are fine arguments for continuing to support music and arts education for children of all ages. I wish, though, that we didn’t have to persuade people that music education is important only because it makes you good at something else, wish that people would see the value in learning to make and listen to music or art for its own sake, simply for the power of having the ability to create something beautiful in your life and to offer it to others.
It seems to me that as a society, we place less and less value on the well rounded individual, one who has been educated and has an appreciation for all manner of ideas, than on the “superstar,” the kind of person who capitalizes on one area of expertise throughout their life. Nearly as soon as they start talking, we ask children what they want to be when they grow up. And while we probably don’t expect a serious answer, it’s all too easy for little people to start pigeonholing themselves at a very young age, especially if their exposure to opportunities is limited.
I think encouraging people, especially children, to be one-dimensional does them a major disservice. Education should be about exposure to all manner of thought and history and ideas, not just about learning information to fill in the right answers on a state mandated test. Life is long, and sometimes hard. Being able to call upon multiple areas of interest and talent is crucial for keeping pace with the future.
Music has always mattered to me. It has enriched my life in more ways than I could ever have imagined. And it all started on Wednesday afternoons in fourth grade, with a plastic recorder, and Mrs. Evans, our music teacher. In this, the richest of all countries, we must continue to offer that gift to our children.