The United States is in danger of losing its status as the world’s premier economic power. And the only way to retain that status is to fully develop the potential of our greatest resource – people. To do so will require an educational system designed to prepare people to compete successfully in the creative, global economy of the future.
In an effort to improve our ability to meet these challenges, Congress, in 2001, approved the No Child Left Behind Act, which ties federal school funding to student performance on standardized tests. In response, many schools have “narrowed” their curriculum by increasing emphasis on the “basic” skills – reading, writing and math – measured by those tests. As a result, funding and time allotted to music education has been dramatically reduced in many districts. This, despite the fact that according to a 2003 Gallup survey, 95 percent of Americans believe music is a key component in a child’s well-rounded education.
My purpose is not to question the importance of raising expectations and increasing accountability within our schools. Rather, it is to ask whether this curriculum shift best serves our children, our communities, and our nation.
There is a growing body of research indicating that involvement in music education profoundly impacts the learning and development of children. Such involvement positively influences math, reading, writing, logic and communication skills. Further, this impact is especially strong on low income and “at-risk” students. An integrated arts curriculum also positively impacts teachers’ attitudes and school climate. Happy teachers are better teachers and a more positive school environment is a more effective learning environment.
But music’s most important impact may be on an individual’s creativity Again, research supports its positive impact on an individual’s ability to “think out of the box” and imagine limitless possibilities. It teaches many skills to succeed in life, including problem-solving, decision making, self-confidence, self-discipline, teamwork, the development of informed perception and articulating a vision. Early music training also enhances abstract reasoning skills and uniquely enhances higher brain functions required for mathematics, chess, science and engineering. Thus, effectively integrating music into the curriculum is as much about teaching creative thinking as it is about appreciating the arts.
How does this apply to the global economy of the future?
Specifically, the issues we will face in science, math, engineering, politics, international relations and the environment will become more complex. Solving increasingly complex problems will require an increase in the creativity of those who will be addressing them.
Further, for America to successfully navigate through a more complex, geopolitical world, we must develop an increased appreciation for diverse cultures. Involvement in music programs can be particularly effective in exposing students to other cultures and fostering a better understanding of those cultures.
In short, not only does involvement in music programs improve students’ performance in the test areas of math, writing and reading, but also develops precisely the skills needed to compete in the global, creative economy of the future. Yet, despite its documented benefits, only one in four eighth-graders reported being asked to sing or play a musical instrument at least once a week. Further, from 2002 to 2004, state-level arts funding was reduced by a third.
In the final analysis, the security and economic well being of our nation depends on the quality of our educational system. Thus, our approach toward music’s role in our schools should not be that it is a “non-core”, “add-on” activity but rather as being central to educating our children to compete successfully in the economy of the future. Thus, rather than turning down the volume on school and community music programs, we should work to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to join the band and sing along.