Back. To. School.

Grad school beginneth. I’ve made kind of a big deal about this beginning. Maybe I’m hoping more people will think I’m cool if they find out I’m taking a super cool class about the sociological aspects of music ed and then its history. Or I’m making excuses. Or I’m not sure how to talk about it as being an actual priority in my life because the people in and around me don’t necessarily know its my current endeavor.

The first assignment (barring the biographical survey and picture assignment that I knocked out right away) is a 2-3 page paper in appropriate language for the school board rationalizing a music program in “our community”. Being that it’s the first assignment, I’ve made it a mountain rather than what it actually is…pretty small and creative for a grad-level class.

Here’s the rub (is that a good use of that expression? I don’t use it because I’m never sure, but now that I’ve asked you, the responsibility to reteach me falls on you, as my conscientious reader): I’m not sure how to exclude things that are important to me. I’m also not sure what of my core beliefs about what I do would be appropriate for a school board that’s looking at the money and statistics of test data to make a school district better.

So here’s a warm up. Things that might not make it to the school board (hypothetical)…

Music builds community in my classroom and our school. That community in turn extends to family members outside of our school. Sound like a reach? Gramma doesn’t agree with you because her little dumpling came home singing the song about the cat who ate the butter and then she had the same kiddo sing for her friend Nell who dropped by for tea and gossip. Ok, that was contrived, but seriously have had parents report that Grandma and Grandpa in a distant land (Arizona, for instance) really enjoyed that cowboy concert when they came to visit. Technically family fits into community…AND consider the community in my classroom. So much about making art and being expressive is vulnerable. The safety of the music room and the trust that is formed among that community (a class) is pretty key for students to tap in.

Music in schools gives kids ownership of music outside of school. Maybe the kid who starts the garage band would have started it even without some influence from school music, but when kids take games out to the playground or recognize a melody from a band piece they played in high school or cherish a memory formed around a contest they went to…that’s ownership. Remember when we _____. You get the idea. I see this more in the form of…”You’ll never believe what they played at the football game on TV…I heard the national anthem!” or “I sang that song for my little sister and taught her the dance.” That’s ownership. I nearly wrote that you don’t pass along something that you don’t value, but then I realized a lot of things get passed along that aren’t so valuable (I specifically thought of passing along duties or work that no one wants to do…but that’s where my mind went first. White elephant gift exchanges are notorious for this passing along of things you don’t want).

Music in our schools allows for some downtime from the rigorous rote stuff. The little kids get to play and use their imaginations. It isn’t drill, drill, drill all the time. This is NOT me saying I don’t teach rigorous and relevant material. Nope. I do. But I have the liberty (and luxury) of mixing it into a lot of games and settings where the work is less noticeable and the testing isn’t standardized. Basically, the creativity is hard to measure objectively, so I’m left to teach objectives with subjectivity. Win. When I went to kindergarten, I’m pretty sure we played a lot. I don’t remember what we did, but we had toys and fun. Our kindergarten students are readers by the time they leave. They drill and test and drill and test all year. That’s some hard work. When they come to music, I want to contrast the drill and kill with play and fascinate. And it sort of works. I think a couple of them believe my piano really is magic… 🙂

I’d run amiss to neglect the collaboration, responsibility, discipline, multi-tasking, smart-people stuff too. But our professor said something interesting last week. The statistics (in a study) of the music kids (in this case orchestra students) being “smarter” were probably more a factor of which kids were drawn to and stuck with orchestra than orchestra raising their math scores. It all has to do with culture. Shewt. Not a great selling point when you put it that way. If your kid can’t cut it in orchestra, he or she probably doesn’t fit into the school-culture that the smarter kids are drawn to….? That sounds awful. Disclaimer: you don’t have to be in orchestra to be smart! (Look at me, for example–our school didn’t have it. We’ll never know where I would fall…). There are great collaborative benefits (and without the competition of team sports…we compete, but more “against” ourselves…with the exception of show choir, marching band, and jazz band competitions that someone thought would benefit from the implementation of places, trophies, and state championships). The discipline, listening to others, etc. etc….it’s all there and pretty hard to deny.

Music in schools is a natural way to teach so many things about other cultures, about history, about languages, people skills, movement. It’s not really a stand-alone subject and the concepts underneath that broad title aren’t really stand alone either. You won’t find me teaching rhythm this quarter, melody next quarter, fingerings for the recorder third quarter and have a perfect performance fourth quarter…that’s absurd. Music educating lends itself well to the “spiral curriculum” hailed in Ed college classes all around. There’s always somewhere else to go with it. I think a lot of other subject areas would do well to consider their field in light of multiple contexts, too. Maybe they do. Actually, I know some teachers who pull youtube clips of songs to teach things in their rooms. Re-writing lyrics to a pop song barely counts as a curriculum cross-over, in my humble opinion. Actually, that’s not a very humble opinion, but perhaps you will grant me that. Pinterest (and let’s face it, the Internet) has a lot of “music lesson” ideas that are pretty shallow, so that sticks out, but some teacher really do go above and beyond. Miraculously and in spite of some pretty weighty expectations from the state level. I walked in on a grade level performing reels similar to ones I’d taught in my classroom. Wha-wha-what!? I want IN on this. It totally pertained to their social studies unit. Golden!

I got off on some bunny trails here, so I should probably get back to the assignment and end this.

Thanks for hanging with me–I know it’s been a while and I know this got wordy. I’m closer to knowing where I want to take this paper, so much obliged for the help!

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