Music to Our Ears: School Budget Cuts Are Claiming Valuable Music Programs as Victims-Until Rescued by Electrify Your Strings!

By Wood, Mark | USA TODAY, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Music to Our Ears: School Budget Cuts Are Claiming Valuable Music Programs as Victims-Until Rescued by Electrify Your Strings!


Wood, Mark, USA TODAY


WATCHING children's faces when they master a new song on their instrument or with their voice can be a life-changing experience. Confidence building, empowerment, sense of self, and learning diversity in our culture all are vital ingredients not only in the study of music, but in life. Then why is it that these programs are the first to be cut and compromised in our schools? Music and the arts should be on an equal level with sports, mathematics, and language skills, instilling our children with great tools of self-expression. Too bad there is an increasing gap forming between school budgets and the prominence of music education programs. However, there is no gap where the effects of self-esteem in school age children and music education are concerned.

Think back to your elementary school days, and what do you remember best? Sure, mathematics and science were important but didn't music and the arts do a better job of engaging your young, supple mind than heavy academic textbooks? Schools expose students to music, but music education, sitting alongside art and extracurricular activities, quickly is becoming a steadfast member of the endangered species list. In 2010, K-12 budgets were reduced $1,800,000,000 nationwide, according to estimates by the National Association of State Budget Offices--and more cuts are on the way.

The impacts of these cuts are deep and the percentage of kids with access to music has declined 50% in the past five years. For instance, a school district governing board in Arizona has cut costs on its elementary music program so that students now only will have access to music education once a week. Nearly half of all districts in California have cut or reduced art, drama, and music programs. In New Jersey, the past three years have seen marked cuts in elementary and secondary schools.

Are young Americans becoming less and less well-rounded? Has the focus of our education system become so narrow as to exclude the very subjects that are proven to stimulate creative and adventurous thinking? A study published in Psychology of Music notes that students who are exposed to musical training exhibit superior cognitive performance in reading skills over their nonmusically trained peers. Music can make you smarter.

Results from a Gallup poll indicate strong feelings from Americans towards music education: 95% believe it is a key component in a child's well-rounded education; 88% say participation in music helps teach children discipline; 80% agree that music makes the participants smarter; and 78% believe that learning a musical instrument helps students perform better in other subject areas.

David Bornstein, who writes about social innovation, addressed this connection in a recent blog post on The New York Times Opinionator: "The assumption that music education should prepare children for a musical career sets music apart from other subjects in school. We don't teach kids math so they will become mathematicians. We teach kids math so they will be able to use math in whatever they need it for. We teach math and reading as life skills, not professional skills. If we think of music as a professional skill, then it's fortuitous that many kids quit young. That's part of the winnowing process, which helps us identify the ones who have the talent to attend Julliard, but if we think of the ability to play music as a skill that can enrich anyone's life, then what we see now is more like a hemorrhage of musical potential."

It is no secret that the study of music and the arts has been shown to stimulate other parts of students' minds, harness their creative energies, and even contribute towards keeping them out of gangs and other harmful situations. Music serves education in a variety of ways, as it requires extensive mathematical understanding, advance social and communication skills, teamwork, and artistic creativity.

Although the advantages of music education are well documented, support for such programs continues to suffer.

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