Keep Music in the Public Education System

I was looking for a terrific Youtube clip of the Barenaked Ladies when they accepted a Juno Award many moons ago. As usual they were dressed like bums in stained t-shirts and jeans. What struck me was the comment Steven Page made about school. He said into the microphone quite casually “some of us are here because we learned music in school. Keep music in the public education system.”  His words transformed his appearance into a scholar of learning.

This comment was especially meaningful to me on two levels:

  1. Steven Page accredited public education during the Mike Harris regime when everyone in Ontario hated teachers
  2. I am a music teacher, although I wasn’t then

The core subjects, being math and literacy, are the most significant for the majority of funny_math_cartoon1students. I get that. These are the subjects that form a solid foundation for further learning in the secondary panel. These are the subjects that are of particular interest to colleges and universities when kids are applying for post-secondary schooling. These are the subjects that tend to assist most people in their career paths and overall professional success. I get that. The Arts are a mandate in elementary learning yet the kicker is most parents couldn’t care less how their child does in music or visual arts. Meh, if their kid can bring home a nice little cut and paste craft, they’re happy. When a child gets a good grade in music or dance, that’s lovely but not especially significant. Personally, I tend to side with Sir Ken Robinson when he begs the question during TED Talks and in an RSA Animate Do Schools Kill Creativity? Robinson, an educator, consultant, and international speaker (as well as a blue blood), greatly values the Arts, more so it would seem than the core subjects.

ballerina-dancing-cartoon-i13No I don’t believe the Arts should have as much time devoted to it as the core subjects since less than 10% of students will eventually make a decent living as artists of any sort (that is fiction writers, dancers, musicians, and actors). Ditto athletics. I have two cousins who went through an elementary arts school in dance known as the National Ballet School in Toronto, Ontario, a renowned dance school throughout Canada. This is the school that graduated Karen Kain, the most famous female ballerina in Canada. The younger of my two cousins, Jennifer, danced the leading children’s role in The Nutcracker, a 2-part ballet with a musical score written by Tchaikovsky. She was in McLean’s magazine, Chatelaine magazine, the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun for her accomplishment. She wasn’t talented enough to become a professional dancer and she wasn’t physically strong enough to become a teacher.  She and her husband opened their own ballet school and are very successful. The other cousin runs an art gallery. Well, she’s still in the arts.

I grew up in a family and extended family heavily immersed in the Arts. I am trained classical in piano with the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. I participated in many recitals. teacherMy music teacher enjoyed my company and often took me to operas. I acted in high school musicals (although my pitiful voice excluded me from leading roles). Of course there were my cousins and their stunning ballet performances. The Arts were an essential part of my life.  In the end, I developed a career from my music talents. I am a music teacher in my school and have been for 3 years. I love my job and i am very good at it. I work harder at my music teaching career than I have at any job in my life and I’d like to think my students benefit from my enthusiasm. My school is so accommodating of music that I even have a full keyboard lab so all of my students have the opportunity to learn how to play keys. Cool.

Most people won’t go on to carve out a career path in the Arts. I get that. But the Stivers-1-19-04-Piano-lesso Arts are a vital part of most cultures throughout history to present day. And generally students who become involved in extra-curricular activities, such as dance or music for instance, perform better academically than students who don’t. Here;s something else you didn’t know: private music tutoring leading to a certain grade in music is the equivalent of one school credit in high school. No fake.

And yet I recall sitting in on a planning discussion with teachers. The reason I am a full-time Arts teacher is because I provide what is known as planning time. Teachers are given 200 minutes a week in the elementary panel (more in the secondary school panel, but hey, no one said life would be fair). This is time to plan and gather materials for lessons although many of the other duties I listed in my blog PD Days Are Great Holidays for Teachers….Not are also conducted. We were deciding on the subjects I would teach their children in their absence. I offered music during one full period of 40 minutes. They looked somewhat amused and decided  that was “too much time to spend on music.” One of the teachers at this conference was herself a music teacher, also classically trained with the Royal Conservatory. I was insulted.

2405-keira-knightley-films-scenes-for-the-500x0-2The Toronto International Film Festival is currently in town. There is a feeling of electricity everywhere. People want to meet actors, watch movies, listen to music soundtracks and watch people dance in celluloid. In a splendid irony, a movie called Can a Song Save Your Life? is a film where actors portray a perspective on music.  Do you remember Mr. Holland’s Opus?  What aboutThe Pianothe mute pianist whose only means of communication was through her piano playing. Who could forget the soundtrack to Rocky? Without music would there have been a Beethoven, a Mozart, a Bach? Without playwrights would there have been  a Shakespeare, a Tennessee Williams, or a Lorraine Hansberry? Without dance would there have been a Karen Kain, a Michael Jackson, or a Fred Astaire? Without sculpture would there have been a Statue of David? Without painting would there have been a Leonardo DaVinci? Without fashion design would there have been a Gucci or a Prada? Without animated film (and digital programming) would there have been a Loony Tunes or a Pixar?

No jobs in the Arts? No future in the Arts? Speak to a performer, a sound technician, a computer animation programmer, or a fine arts teacher and you’ll hear a very different perspective. Keep music and all Arts in the public education system. They are a mandate  for a reason.

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