Fonder, Mark, Journal of Historical Research in Music Education
The immigrant problem is a big one and the biggest end of it falls upon the public schools. Several states endorsed state regulation that required English as the language of instruction. Schools are not as rigorous as when they had attended school. Employers often said prospective workers were lazy, could not spell, and wrote illegible garbled prose. Pupils are bombarded with tests. It is cram, cram, cram.
Were these lines pulled from today's news? Actually, according to William Reese, these were among the major public school issues of the latter nineteenth century. (1) Concerns ranging from prayer in school, spending gaps between rich and poor districts, resolving conflicts between science and religion, and equality of opportunity versus special needs were also hotly debated issues. Sound familiar? One hundred years ago an educational pundit wrote: "Whenever anything goes wrong in the life of the nation, the public looks to the schools for the remedy." (2)
Politicians and citizens alike have repeatedly turned to the schools to improve society. While one could conclude that nothing has changed over the span of a century, there have been enormous changes in public schools. For better or for worse, these include the expansion of curricular offerings, the professionalization of the teaching staff (followed by "instant certification"), and a steady but noticeable shift from local to national authority. However, although the pendulum of reform continues to swing back and forth between traditionalists and progressives, it is evident that resolving some major core issues remains unfinished business.
Problem areas have persisted in school music education as well. As they have for generations, debates continue about ability grouping, literature quality, and whether music belongs in the core or the "extra" curriculum. One hundred years ago, discussion focused on the inequity of rural versus urban school music offerings, and illustrated the advantages of the urban school. …