Play It Again, Teach: A Contingency Plan

By Bryan, Laura | Education, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Play It Again, Teach: A Contingency Plan


Bryan, Laura, Education


Many years ago, Walt Whitman wrote, 'I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear" (in Bartlett, 1982). It is sad to say, but Whitman might have a difficult time finding a song in our cognitive-oriented schools of today. A greater emphasis on academic skills during the last three decades, combined with school budget crunches and more teacher accountability, has caused public school music programs in many schools to fade into oblivion. According to Chapman ( 1998), only 3% of the nation's children are receiving an arts-integrated curriculum. In addition, schools that do offer public school music often use it as a "babysitting" service, so that teachers are able to have a planning period. It is not surprising to find a public school music teacher with 60 or 70 students in the room. One reason for this "state of the arts" was America 2000, a program promoted by the George Bush, Sr. administration, outlining six national goals for education. Although extremely worthy, the goals caused more than a few raised eyebrows due to the complete omission of a reference to music or to any of the arts.

Lawsuits began arising all over the country, charging that schools without music programs were failing to provide adequate education for their students. For example, in Louisiana, these particular lawsuits were being supported by such persons as music educator Ellis Marsalis, father of jazz stars Wynton and Branford Marsalis, and New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick, Sr., father of pianist Harry Connick, Jr. (Horn, 1992).

At this point, a brief discussion as to why music is so important seems to be appropriate. Of all the arts, the one that appears to affect the lives of children most directly is music. Music is something they can understand, participate in, and enjoy. Music leads children into worlds of fantasy and imagination. It has no barriers of race, ethnicity, or color. Through the experience of music, children learn to empathize with the feelings and aspirations of their counterparts worldwide. One of the most prolific writers concerning the effects of music is Don Campbell. His book, The Mozart Effect (1997), is devoted to dramatic accounts of the positive effects of music. For instance, Campbell states that students who sing or play an instrument score up to 51 points higher on SAT's than the national average. Harvard's Project Zero (Tilney 2001) has supporting data showing student academic improvement after an arts-integrated curriculum was initiated. We have learned through brain research, theory and experience that music is essential for healthy, whole humans. According to Jensen (1998), the evidence is persuasive that our brains may be designed for music and the arts, and that these subjects have positive, measurable, and lasting academic and social benefits.

It appears that music does indeed pack a powerful punch. However, in spite of all that we know concerning the positive effects of music, many public schools continue to perceive it as a luxury. How, then, can children be exposed to this "universal language" of music. If school districts are not willing to implement public school music programs, then the burden will fall on the teachers. The remainder of this article describes how teachers must shed their inhibitions and be willing to integrate music into their daily routines. Suggestions are made as to how music can be utilized in the classroom when the teacher him or herself is not a trained musician and does not feel comfortable doing musical activities.

First of all, teachers can draw from the information gleaned from their music education classes to set up music centers. An inexpensive keyboard, an old second-hand piano, and/or any other type of musical instrument plus songbooks and sheet music, provide the necessary tools for children to make music. Teachers who have been through the basic music courses in their education programs should be able to instruct their students in playing and singing basic, simple tunes.

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