IN a display of unprecedented unity, the nation's music and educational communities have sent an urgent message to federal and state policymakers: "America is losing its soul" - musically speaking, that is.
Composers, rock musicians, music teachers, principals, and others have raised their voices demanding that music and other arts be included at the center of school curricula, because experience in the arts is "fundamental to what it means to be an educated person."
In a report presented to members of Congress in March, the recently formed National Commission on Music Education calls for a more balanced approach to education reform efforts. Government leaders have expressed alarm over falling math and science scores, the commission says, but when it comes to student participation in the arts, they have been silent.
"We believe such nearsighted concern shortchanges our children because it leaves them only half-educated," the report states.
One example of disproportionate funding and attention, it says, is that the United States government spends 9 1/2 cents on arts support for every $100 it spends on support for science. Indeed, the National Science Foundation expenditures for science education ($180 million out of $1.8 billion) exceed the entire budget of the National Endowment for the Arts ($170 million).
Beginning last fall, arts advocates held public forums in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Nashville to gather data for the report and to hear witnesses tell of a decline in music and arts education in the public schools.
Stuart Gothold, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education, testified that 99 percent of children in his district do not receive a comprehensive K-12 arts program. When budget cuts loom, music and art programs are considered the most expendable, other testifiers said, because of a perception that the arts are a diversion or "curricular icing."
"This perception has been around for a long time," says Karl Glenn, president of Music Educators National Conference, in a phone interview. His organization sponsored the forums and the report along with the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Inc. and the National Association of Music Merchants.
"It's important not to separate the arts out from other parts of life. Art and life are one," says Mr. Glenn, who is also orchestra director at Cass Technical High School in Detroit.
THE report was prompted, says Glenn, by the omission of any reference to the arts in the 1990 statement of six educational goals outlined by the president and the nation's governors.
"Growing Up Complete: The Imperative for Music Education" follows a 1988 report called "Toward Civilization: A Report on Arts Education" issued by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) at the request of Congress. "Growing Up Complete" is meant to be a private-sector extension of the latter, Glenn says.
More than 60 national and international groups have endorsed the report, including Future Business Leaders of America, the Educational Testing Service, the National School Boards Association, and the National Council …