Parents often feel helpless when it comes to advocating for their school music program. Usually this is due to lack of knowledge of the subject and not enough time in their lives to attend PTA and Board of Ed meetings. Because a large amount of students quit between their first and second year of study, there is often not the same critical mass of parents involved in the program in order to advocate properly, as well.
Meanwhile — on the “inside” of the system — school leadership is so consumed with outside accountability measures, educational fads, and high stakes tests that they quickly lose sight of aspects of education that are truly important to our kids’ growth as human beings — namely the arts.
But we the parents need to remind school leadership what is important.
You don’t need to be a “helicopter parent” who attends every single PTA and Board of Ed meeting in order to help ensure music programs thrive in your schools. All it takes is 5 to 10 minutes a day of being mindful of what children need to be great at a musical instrument — and therefore at life — for parents to realize how much collective power they really have.
Here are four ways parents can help keep music education thriving:
- Understand that your child’s instrumental music experience is just as (if not more) crucial to their growth as human beings than any other subject. Music is not a “special” or a “frill” subject — it should not be taught that way and should not be approached that way by anyone. When met with some rigor, it is often the most enjoyable subject during the school day and should be treated like the core subject that it is. When taught well and minimally supported at home, the craft of learning a musical instrument develops fortitude, willpower, and metacognitive skills that we parents stay up at night hoping our children have when they grow up.
- Attend your child’s concerts, and insist that performances occur more often during the year. Your physical presence at school concerts helps to create a community culture around music education. Performance is one of the biggest reasons why your children practice, and the more often they occur, the more consistently motivated they become. Take a close look at your child’s face the moment they conclude their first performance on stage with their ensemble and you will see what I mean. Additionally, discuss with your music teacher and your Principal the importance of even the smallest performances every six weeks or so; two concerts a year is not educationally sound or appropriate. If we are to teach concepts like goal-setting, patience and perseverance, we need to follow it up with shorter term performance goals.
- Be aware of, and don’t accept, your child being withheld from music class in order to finish up other schoolwork. I appreciate the fact that all teachers have a lot of goals, benchmarks and mandates to meet. With the addition of high-stakes testing, there is undue stress on administrators and teachers to get students to “perform”. But when parents insist that music should not be the sacrificial lamb for test prep, they are sending the strongest message possible to school leadership : Testing is not the be-all and end-all of their child’s school experience. Some other thoughts to consider if and when your child is withheld from music class for extra work in another subject:
- During the course of a year, a student being pulled out for music misses less class time than when they go on field trips or attend school assemblies. Add up the time each year your child attends these events and ask yourself: Should music be cut for this? Is our school’s scheduling aligned with its values?
- When a teacher is absent for a 6 hour school day, it’s the equivalent of a student being pulled out 12 times for 1/2 hour music lessons. Of course teachers are entitled to be absent, but music instruction should not be “punished” when lost time needs to be made up.
- If a student attends every single pullout lesson in a school year, they will have somewhere between 12-14 hours of instruction on their instrument for the entire year. Considering all the benefits music education has on the brain, is 12 hours a year really “getting in the way” of academics? Any administrator who is willing to creatively schedule will find ways to accommodate this.
- Don’t let your child quit. All children are capable of enjoying a successful K-12 music experience with a little support. By not letting your child quit, you are sending a clear message to school leaders that you believe playing a musical instrument cultivates crucial “non-cognitive” skills that matter a whole heck of a lot in the grown-up world. The more students stay with their instrument, the larger the program will be. The larger the program, the less likely there is of a cut to it. Spend 5-10 minutes a night helping your child create a practice routine and they will be far less likely to become frustrated and quit.
Although it is reasonable to expect that school leaders have the best educational interests of our children in mind, we parents ultimately have a better ability to view our education system more objectively; our world is not filled with mandates, edu-speak, and other “noise”. Therefore, the most powerful thing we can do to ensure music education thrives in our society is to truly embrace the benefits that it has to our children and insist it is part of their daily school and home lives.
The actions of parents assisting their children’s practice at home, accompanied with a long-term commitment to their children staying in their school music program, speaks louder than words ever could.