Well, at least this time the school administration is being open and truthful in stating their reasons for planning to cancel music in these two Massachusetts communities. Frequently, school administrators openly lie about the reason – claiming it is a “…lack of funding” issue – when they know the real reason is that all open course periods not being used for the core courses (math, English, history and science) are being used for test preparation. Based upon thousands of teacher comments and posts from across the nation, that honesty is a refreshing change in the rapidly growing trend to eliminate music, arts, and electives from our schools. Yet even here the school administrators appear to be using intentional misdirection in claiming a new music elective will maintain the option for students – despite knowing that elective is likely to never happen because of scheduling realities.
(A remarkable and passionate letter to the town’s administrators
from teacher Gina C. follows this introduction,
as part of our BeHEARD! initiative to publish teacher stories
so that teacher voices are heard nationwide.)
This time, because of the all-too-rare honesty of the school administrators, the residents of two towns will have the chance to see the real trade-offs. Thanks to a retired teacher in one of the two impacted towns, with two of her own children still in the school system, the community is getting the chance to understand and voice their opinions on the decision. Once again, it is a teacher who cares deeply about the students, who is leading the fight.
Residents will be able to see if mandates and requirements by career DoE bureaucrats, who have not been in classrooms for years if at all, will be allowed to force all students to be trained to be engineers heading to a four-year college, regardless of what the child and parents want. Want to be a poet, or a plumber, or a carpenter, or a lawyer? Want to go to a 2-year community college to study journalism? Nope – those career DoE bureaucrats back in their cubicles know what is best for the child – you’re going to Dartmouth to become an engineer.
The issue this time is STEM – a set of courses centered on boosting student proficiency in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The concept is straight-forward – courses that integrate all four of these interrelated disciplines so that we produce more college-ready students ready for careers in technical jobs.
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Now – truth in advertising – I personally would have loved STEM courses had they been offered back in the dark ages when I was in school. I am a geek first class, and STEM would have been perfect for me. But my daughter is a lawyer, and my son a police officer, and as a teacher I have seen thousands of students with interests far wider than just preparing for studying math at Yale – so I also can see where a student’s passion can lie somewhere miles away from technology. So trying to channel a career choice for a child – regardless of what that child or parent wants – is simply wrong and unfair. If the child cannot pick music, or home ec., or graphic design, or a host of other electives that are part of where the student (not the career bureaucrat) wants to go, then we have failed that student.
And even if I ignore the career issues, eliminating music and the arts, especially, cheats the child out of some of the most important and rewarding parts of an education. I am a geek, but I still can be stunned and brought to tears when Mozart holds a sustained, plaintive note over 12 bars of music begging for it to resolve to the “right” note, and enjoy watching people and events around me. A child who knows only technology and their cell phone is somehow empty, and can see only part of the world around themselves.
So the retired teacher, Gina C. helps her community lead a fight to stop a decision to eliminate music and the arts in lieu of STEM courses. It is probably going to be another losing fight – because career DoE bureaucrats, safe in their cubicles with little or no recent classroom experience, cannot see the need for both. And because those same career DoE bureaucrats believe they know, far more than any parent or student, what is best for the child.
We must fix this.
(Gina C. is a retired middle school and high school music teacher in Massachusetts, including chorus and general music courses. )
I am the parent of two children at the Elementary School. I am writing to you on behalf of my family and other families in our town who are concerned over proposed changes in the 7th grade curriculum, specifically the dropping of the required art and music courses.
Historically, the children of our towns have always received classroom music instruction and art instruction from grades K-7. Classroom music, also called general music, is where the creativity takes place. The chance to learn how to write and compose music, not just read and play what others have written, is was happens in chorus and band. Art class is where the children have the opportunity to create without rubrics and assessments and worries about test scores. Losing these creative blocks will be a MAJOR drop in the breadth and quality of education for our students.
I am a music teacher. I taught middle school and high school music for many years. I taught in a school with a strong middle school concept and I understand it well. The schools that I taught in had Classroom Music as a requirement for all three of the middle school grades. They also had art instruction required for all three grades. So I think you can understand my surprise, shock and concern.
The current proposal is to replace the requirements for art and music at the seventh grade level with STEM courses. We find this odd because the students already have science, technology and math as requirements. This STEM would be in addition to those. The current trend nationwide is to add an “A” to STEM, making it STEAM because it is widely known and accepted that the arts and creativity are essential to the success of any STEM initiatives. And yet our school is looking to REMOVE the arts?
The administration will tell you that they are adding in an art and a music elective for 7th grade. The problem with this is that these classes will only serve a tiny fraction of the students. Also because of the difficulty students have in scheduling the electives they want, these courses are likely to not even run. Music and art should be core curriculum courses required of all students at this age.
I have heard the school committee members and administration brag about the amazing music program at our school. What you are really referring to is the performance based programs of band and chorus. General Music is for ALL students, not just those who are interested in performing for an audience. All children are musical and it is the district’s responsibility to foster this musicality through the middle school years. Most adults do NOT perform in a musical group. But nearly all adults are music consumers. The general music curriculum supports these future consumers of music. And also it allows children the chance to make music and experience music without the performance piece. Think of it as the importance of the process over the product. Band and Chorus are amazing, wonderful programs. Thank you for offering them. However, they are not a substitute for General Music. Band and Chorus are the product, while General Music supports the process. To top it off, we currently have a top-notch general music teacher who is super creative and fun. Let’s take advantage of this!
The Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Frameworks contain a myriad of musical and artistic goals for grades K-12. These frameworks were set up by experts in the fields of music and art, among others. These experts firmly believe that arts instruction must continue all the way from Kindergarten to Grade 12.And the music frameworks are heavily skewed towards the general music side, including composing, describing and analyzing their own music and the music of others using appropriate music vocabulary as well as critical responses. These standards can only be achieved in a General Music Classroom. Without this program, how can you address this essential need in the education of our children?
Our children will attend this school in less than a year. The lack of support of the arts makes one seriously consider whether this school will be the best choice for them. Please do not remove art and music as required programs for ALL children in the middle school.
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