BY: CAROLINE ROLF
It is no secret that public music education needs a revamp.
I have been thinking this since my first music class in public elementary school – each student in my grade three classroom was handed a shiny plastic recorder that my teacher had purchased out of pocket at the local dollar store. Thanks to her generosity, we could learn a few scales and practice “Mary had a Little Lamb” until we were out of breath.
That was the first time I had considered this attempt at music education wasn’t up to par with the hour of French or Spelling we had to put in each day. It became more clear in middle school when we were using the same, dulling, shitty, plastic recorders to play a few advanced notes with accompanying buckets as drums from my classmates in the back. My public high school was no improvement – Music or “Band” was an option for half a semester in grade nine, but if you chose a different education path, that’s all music was ever going to be, an option.
Music isn’t mandatory like Math or English is. Yet studies show music education can lead to higher test scores in classes like these. Music education has also been linked to children with higher mental ability and keeping them on a path towards higher education and employment.
You know what there is less evidence of? Hamlet or The Great Gatsby helping with any of these goals. But here I stare at these old novels on my bookshelf, collecting dust right next to my saliva-crusted recorder, recognizing that the teachings of those books aren’t going anywhere.
The U.S. Department of Education reported in 2012 that, “In the 2009-10 school year, music education was almost universally available in the nation’s public elementary schools,” but upon closer inspection it was found that a large percentage of teachers rated their resources inadequate. The evidence in the DOE suggests that over two million students across America go without any music instruction at all.
Why is music education necessary?
It is thought that musical training aids brain development since birth. Early in life, the left side of the brain is known to process language and reasoning is physically developed by the basic nature of hearing music to making it. As we grow up, music has been linked to our spatial intelligence and problem solving ability.
These studies among many others support the claim that students who participate in music education have higher academic scores than students who do not. Advocates of this are continually linking the effects of music on academic performance and the central nervous system.
While these reports hold importance, they disregard the true value of music education, which is that music is fundamental to the human experience. It has been considered that the creation of music by humans predates language itself, dating back 53,000 years. Music has the ability to express humanity on a deeper level and communicate a meaning that cannot be put into words.
Given the relationship between post-secondary education, employment rates and salary, it would seem reasonable to consider if arts education could be included in the ongoing discussion concerning income inequality. Even if you don’t end up in a world-renowned orchestra, studying music could help you in securing your chosen career, becoming a Nobel Prize winner, or even an Olympian. At least you could end up an exceptional cellist. It’s time that serious public music education is reinstated.