Despite the value of music in the context of human evolutionary and emotional roots, our education system places its usefulness somewhere below sunscreen on a rainy day. We all know that if a politician had to choose between dropping the music department or dissolving the science department, he would decide to cut the music department without thinking twice; nobody else would think twice about it either. It’s the course of action that everyone expects. It’s ingrained in our mind that when it comes time to make “tough” decisions in education, music will always come before that of history, math, science, and literature.
But how did this come to be the case? It can’t be temporal precedence—the discovery of music came long before these four subjects sprouted from the minds of our ancestors. It can’t be the importance of education in preparing children for their future careers—musicians abound and the famous ones will make more in a year than most scientists make in their lifetime. And surely it can’t be natural importance in the context of life—music can and does influence everyone. So what then makes music the red-headed child of the American education system?
Could it perhaps be the inherent enjoyment we derive from music that spells its doom in the educational world? Hey it’s fun, so let’s get rid of it! This would present a rather conflicting idea though—because music is something that everyone enjoys in one form or another, it becomes something of lesser value when compared to math, literature, science, and history for example. Yet, in a strange way, this could make sense.
In our culture, it seems that we put an emphasis on the idea that life is not easy and that oftentimes, those things that we find stressful are most important. For example, the life path that we traditionally think of when imagining the future is filled with unsavory difficulties. There is the matter of getting through school with good grades, completing homework for twelve years, making it through the stresses of college, finding a job, learning how to support oneself, the list continues on and on. And what do all of these things have in common? They are all difficult to accomplish and they are all important (to many of us). It seems that more and more we associate only those things that are hard to obtain with worthiness.
This correlation is not lost upon current education curriculum. Consider these five subjects: history, science, literature, music, and mathematics. Now imagine a room full of a diverse and representative group of students, maybe about fifty people in all. It is your job to administer an oral survey regarding these five subjects. You stand at the front of the room and begin the questions. First, everyone is asked to raise their hand if they enjoy history. You get a nicely mixed set of responses: eager grins, eye-rolling, slight smiles, and very definitive shakes of the head. In other words, there are several yeas and several nays. The audience follows suit for the following three questions about math, science, and literature with varied reactions from person to person. But when you finish asking who likes music, the response of the audience is unanimous.
Every pair of eyes is staring at you with an “are-you-really-serious” expression and most hands are only partially raised, as if to say, “The answer is obvious, do I really need to make the effort of doing this?” Not everyone enjoys history, math, literature, and science—some find them to be too difficult or too disinteresting; and yet everyone is required (via the educational curriculum) to learn these exact four subjects. Meanwhile, music is somehow both enjoyable to all and less important comparatively. It is a contradiction to be sure, but should it be extended to the education of our students? A discussion about music’s practicality and link to the core curriculum will follow in “Part 3: Save the Last Note!”