I have a difficult time bringing up the future of music education in Alberta in a public venue such as a blog. The reason is rather simple; when I bring up issues affecting music education, I am almost always given a cold shoulder or, even worse, vehemently and violently opposed.
Yes, it’s true, some music teachers don’t want me around. In Alberta music education, particularly instrumental music education, you don’t talk about things that can be spun to suggest that we take away from concert bands.
I’m spurred onward by a reminder of what it means to demand the best of your profession. That reminder came in the form of a friend, Joe Bower, who worked tirelessly for a better education system in Alberta. He passed away at the beginning of this year, and left many inspired individuals wanting to carry on his torch. I can only hope to carry on his torch with the same efficacy he had, but I’d rather not do it alone. I know a great many teachers who will continue to advocate as he had in their fields of expertise. Mine is music education.
So give me a cold shoulder if you must. But know that music education in Alberta is not yet complete, and with three decades of status quo, perhaps it’s time to address it.
It has been proven time and time again that musical activity and understanding is a uniquely human attribute. Daniel Levitin in his book “This is your Brain on Music” discusses in one chapter the direct links neurologically between music and emotion, a uniquely human attribute. Sociologically, Carljohnson Anacin has discussed how each society has created for itself an artistic rhythm, a specific pulse developed in every human based on their cultural upbringing. Philosophers point out rightly that only humans can truly experience music’s purpose (although they don’t always agree what that purpose is), and that as a result music is essential to our humanness.
Here’s the deal; politics has decided what subjects are core and what are not. Music is not a core subject in Alberta. Only recently (as in during the last 4 weeks) did the United States finally agree that music should be considered a core subject. But these are political entities that decide what is most valid in the development of human beings, regardless of what attributes actually constitute humanity.
It’s not dissimilar to climate change deniers in political office; they can deny it all they want, but the fact is it exists. Politicians can avoid making music core, but it doesn’t change the fact that music is a unique part of our humanness.
Just as easily as Donald Trump can offer a policy based on the idea that Muslims are bereft of humanity, policy can be implemented that suggests music is not an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. In both cases, the political entities would be dead wrong.
Humans communicate with depth and creativity, conceptualize numbers and values, develop social norms, explore and innovate, stand on two feet and have opposable thumbs, and are omnivorous as products of evolution. As a result, the political entity that is our education system places language, math, social studies, science, and physical well-being as core elements of developing our young humans.
For the political entity that is the Alberta Education system to not situate music as core to the development of our young humans is to deny them that aspect of their humanity.
The implication of course then is that if music is essential to our humanness and therefore should be core to the education of our young humans, it should be instructed to all our young humans in such a way as to develop the musical aspect of their humanity. Not only that, but it should be instructed by people trained to teach it, just as language, math, social, science and physical education is. To be clear, there is a pointed difference between a musician and a music educator; you can be both, but it is faulty logic to assume that any musician can teach it.
These assertions have major implications for music education in Alberta. First of all, only 10% of high school students participate in instrumental music programs, and even less in choral programs. What about our music education system prevents students from exploring this uniquely human attribute? Are there systemic issues that negate participation, either explicitly or accidentally? The answer of course is yes.
Another major implication is that music cannot be taught by generalists who have not been instructed on how to teach music, much less generalists who have no musical training of their own. That is a call to our post-secondary institutions to ensure generalists know how to teach music, and to our education system to ensure that every school has a music specialist on staff.
But the problem is nobody is talking about the fact that Alberta’s music education system has a race problem, a relevancy problem, a funding problem, and a professionalism problem. In fact, to suggest so is to label oneself as “against concert bands” (this is what a fellow music teacher accused me of being recently). The rationale for that label is for another blog, as is a deeper explanation of those problems.
I’m not against concert band in Alberta’s schools. I like concert bands, and I’d rather have band available at every school where concert band is considered a relevant part of the community. I’m not against music in any shape or form in our schools; rather I want more music in Alberta’s schools. I’m merely against teaching one type of music in schools, much as I’m against teaching students there is only one way to solve a math problem.
Alberta Education’s music curricula is approaching 30 years of implementation. I have no intention of idly watching music education stagnate and whither in a system that was built for a very different culture than exists in Alberta today. It is time to look at our school music programs and really question how well they help our young humans develop their ability to music. Is their in-school musical learning disconnected from what happens after the bell rings, or after they receive their diplomas?
Or are they developing into lifelong musickers?
As humans, it should be the latter.
Some other Education Blog Posts
Why I will never be an award-winning band director
The Arts: Good for the economy ... Banks on it
Just let me teach
Parents should be freaking out right now - Tatlo
Sources used in the writing of this blog
Anacin, C. G. (2014). Syncretism in rituals and performance in a culturally pluralistic society in the Philippines. The Social Science Journal. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2014.08.005
Blacking, J. (1973). How musical is man? Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
de Quadros, A. (2012). Music is essential to our humanness. (Y. O. Communications, Interviewer) Retrieved July 27, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7c1_LkJ0I4
Levitin, Daniel (2007). This is your brain on music: The science of a human obsession. New York, New York: Penguin Publishing Group.
Myers, D. E. (2008). Freeing music education from schooling: Toward a lifespan perspective on music learning and teaching. International Journal of Community Music, 1(1), 49-61. doi:10.1386/ijcm.1.1.49/1
National Association for Music Education. (2015, December 9). More than 140,000 music educators and music supporters celebrate the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, elevating music as a stand-alone subject. Retrieved January 7, 2016, from National Association for Music Education: http://www.nafme.org/more-than-140000-music-educators-and-music-supporters-celebrate-the-passage-of-the-every-student-succeeds-act-elevating-music-as-a-stand-alone-subject/
Paynter, J. (2002). Music in the school curriculum: Why bother? British Journal of Music Education, 19(3), 215-226.
Regelski, T. A. (2012, March). Musicianism and the ethics of school music. Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education, 11(1), 7-42. Retrieved from http://act.maydaygroup.org/articles/Regelski11_1.pdf
Wasiak, E. B. (2013). Teaching Instrumental Music in Canadian Schools. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.
Some other articles on Music Education Philosophy
Alperson, P. (1991, Autumn). What should one expect from a philosophy of music education? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 25(3), 215-242.
Elliott, D. J. (2009). Praxial music education: Reflections and dialogues. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385076.001.0001
Goehr, L. (1989, Winter). Being true to the work. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 47(1), 55-67.
Koza, J. E. (1994, Fall). Aesthetic music education revisited: Discourses of exclusion and oppression. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 2(2), 75-91. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40327074
McCarthy, M., & Goble, J. (2002, September). Music education philosophy: Changing times. Music Educators Journal, 89(1), 19-26.
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Hanover: University Press of New England.