The Case for Music in the Schools

By Miller, Allan; Coen, Dorita | Phi Delta Kappan, February 1994 | Go to article overview

The Case for Music in the Schools


Miller, Allan, Coen, Dorita, Phi Delta Kappan


Far too many school boards and administrators deny that the study of music is one of the basics of education. Mr. Miller and Ms. Coen provide compelling arguments to the contrary.

WHEN Wynton Marsalis his jazz combo to our college campus recently, he repeated what he said to the National Commission on Music Education. "Our nation suffers from a cultural problem more than a scientific one," he said. "Whether we re behind the Japanese is secondary. Our culture is dying from the inside."

Unfortunately, some modem educators are part of the problem. They have forgotten the call of the founder of our American school system, Horace Mann, who believed that music was essential to the education of the young for the development of aesthetic appreciation, citizenship, and thinking.

In today's schools, music as a subject of study is just as important as it was in Mann's day. But far too many school boards and administrators do not consider the study of music to be one of the basics of education. Few students in the U.S. have access to institutional or private music instruction that involves a balanced, sequential curriculum. And these conditions have a serious impact on American culture. Music is valued more as entertainment than for its contribution to the development of our cultural life.[1]

America cannot afford to ignore the virtues that the discipline of music teaches young people. The U.S. school system has been under attack for some time by business leaders, politicians, and the news media. Whatever the merits -- or lack thereof -- of such criticisms, everyone agrees that our schools should do more to cultivate better-disciplined and harder-working citizens. Music is the one area of the curriculum that has already shown itself capable of doing the job. Ask former students about the subject that best taught them stick-to-itiveness, the value of hard work, and the importance of self-discipline. From those lucky enough to have taken part, the answer will be music.

Consider the place of homework. Homework has never gone out of style in the music curriculum. It is impossible to master a band instrument without considerable discipline and many hours of practice. Informed school boards and administrators know this and so work to protect their school music programs.

Where music programs have been cut, economic crisis has often remained. In one school district, administrators needed to cut $156,000 from the district budget. They argued that they could do so by cutting the positions of five music teachers. However, they failed to consider what would happen to the students who were then taking music classes. There were 2,529 instrumental music students in the district at the time of the proposed cut. As a result of cuts at the fifth- and sixth-grade levels and in the secondary music program, overall music enrollment would have dropped to 736 students. Thus 1,793 students would have to be placed elsewhere. The district would have had to add 29 new classes and hire more than six teachers for them. When music educators in the district pointed out to the administration that, in order to "save" $156,000, the district would have to spend $192,000, the administration reversed the Cut.[2]

In 1991 Lorin Hollander wrote that what many of the recent national reports on education reflect is that we no longer nurture the creativity and humanity of our children. We may be destroying creativity in our nurseries and in the primary grades of our school systems. It is ironic that, as a growing body of psychological research confirms the critical importance of music and art for children, these programs continually come under the knife of budget-cutters. The problem is that much of the information supporting the value of music and art is not filtering down to the local level, where a great many decisions about the content of the curriculum are made.[3]

The primary purpose of including music in the school curriculum is to disperse its message throughout the culture. …

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