Why can’t music get more respect in schools?

When it comes to young people, there’s really nothing that music can’t do, as today’s inspiring op-doc video from the New York Times proves. Again.

Why can’t it get a little respect from a civilized society?

The South Washington County School District’s budget is a mess. Somehow, despite voters approving almost every levy that’s proposed over the years, it’s run up an $8 million budget deficit, the Pioneer Press reported over the weekend.

It’s about to ask voters for more money, but in the meantime the district is moving ahead with plans to eliminate jobs and programs to try to keep its reserve fund at 5 percent.

What will get cut? Surprise! Athletics aren’t on the list, although it plans to raise activity fees by $10, which in a rich district like Woodbury, is pocket change that people throw on the bureau at night.

Instead the the district plans to eliminate band and orchestra in elementary schools, among many other reductions including special education and reading programs.

Again with the music programs?

Cutting the music program will save more than $400,000. The increase in athletic fees will raise about $35,000.

There are enough studies and research to show the value of music for young kids. The “Mozart Effect” was shown by researchers in 1993 that after listening to Mozart’s sonata for two pianos for 10 minutes, people “showed significantly better spatial reasoning skills than after periods of listening to relaxation instructions designed to lower blood pressure or silence. The mean spatial IQ scores were 8 and 9 points higher after listening to the music than in the other two conditions,” reported the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

In other words, music makes for smarter people. Can football do that?

And it’s hardly a secret that when young people are denied musical instruction, it isn’t going to get any better in high school.

That’s one of the reasons for MPR’s Play it Forward campaign, the instrument drive that tries to keep musical instruction strong.

The threat was great in Stillwater in 2013 when administrators similarly intended to eliminate band programs. A few months later, 63 percent of voters approved a levy that would cost them about $14 a month on average.

Music was saved.

So far there’s been no similar cry in the wealthier district to the south, a district that doesn’t have anywhere near the musical tradition that Stillwater schools have.

The cynic says the threat of cutting music is a ploy to get a levy passed. But that only works if people care about the value of the arts in schools, at least as much as they care about athletics. There isn’t a lot of evidence that that’s the case.

In other cultures, people turn junk into musical instruments. In too many schools, we turn musical instruments into junk.

  • Moffitt

    What are you talking about? “Glee” lasted 6 seasons. But seriously, I don’t know why support for the arts have waned in American schools. Perhaps we really are a dumber, coarser society now. Perhaps if they added dancing sharks, people would care.

    • >>Perhaps we really are a dumber, coarser society now<Head

      It’s a sad state of affairs when society doesn’t value the arts…

  • kcmarshall

    Ironically, I’m heading to my 4th grade son’s first band concert this afternoon. To be entirely honest, I don’t expect to gain any IQ points from the experience. I’m very glad, however, that he has had the chance to get this far in the process. Thanks to St. Paul schools for the opportunity.
    ps: just got a text message from my wife; the boy forgot to take his trombone to school. With an extra trip to school, we’re winning in musical education but losing in carbon footprint…

    • tboom

      You may not be gaining IQ points, but Mrs. tboom would argue your son is (using the study referenced in the article in Bob’s link). Mrs. tboom is a music teacher who would also argue that my only redeeming value is that at one time in my life I could play a trombone.

  • jon

    I read these stories and reflect on my own jr. high experience back in the ’90s…

    Band was not cut at my school, well not entirely, bus service for the band kids was cut, uniform budget was cut, and instrument rental assistance was cut, but the program still existed… and the program lost 0 students after the cuts. We stopped having uniforms, we wore black shoes, black pants and a white shirt… (those were the only requirements, so band uniform ranged from a white undershirt and black sneakers with electrical tape over the NIKE logo, to button down white shirts with loafers) car pools got the kids to school, or we walked, in the early morning, before the sun came up…

    Before the cuts we attended one competition, we were rated 3/5 after the cuts the band went to another competition where they were rated 2/5… when I moved away from the area (2-3 years later) the band was rated among the best jr. high bands in the state, they still didn’t have bus service, or uniforms, I think instrument rental assistance was given back at some point through a grant from some where… The high school that we feed into was also rated among the top bands in the state.

    Inter-mural sports did take a hit though, they also lost bus service, and uniforms… and after that participation dropped to the point where they couldn’t field a team for many sports, eventually the whole program was cut.

    I guess the moral of the story is that band and music can survive, but it takes a persistent group of people to force the issue… the band parents fought and managed to get cuts to both programs but not enough to kill either. After that the students (probably driven by their parents, figuratively and literally as they were organizing the carpools at 6 am in the morning) decided which program to keep… I’d also have to give props to the commitment of the band director, who engaged students and parents in a way that the gym teachers and after school “coaches” did not…

  • Jeff

    Two thoughts…

    1) The man who was in charge of my high school’s music program fought to get marching band, concert band, orchestra and choir the same status as sports in regard to getting letters and pins to put on your Letterman jacket. His argument – like kids who play sports, kids in the music program practice after school and perform and even compete. I wonder now if he did that to make it harder for his budget to get cut when the athletics budget didn’t get cut.

    2) It’s known that brain stimulation of any type helps overall learning, especially in early childhood. Think about how much your brain works when playing a violin, and instrument often taught in elementary schools. Your right hand is doing one thing, your left and is doing something else, your right arm is moving a lot and crossing your body’s midline, your ears are listening to what you are playing as well as what others are playing, your eyes are looking at your music as well as the conductor. A lot is going on! Schools who want to improve their test scores will benefit from having an elementary school music program!

  • BloomingtonChris

    The accountability systems by which Minnesota schools are judged are based almost entirely on the scores on the MCA tests – reading and math. If those scores don’t show sufficient growth over a couple of years, the feds can force the principal to be replaced, fire half the teachers or close the school outright and turn it into a charter. The idea that schools should provide a well-rounded education that includes the fine arts, or at least give kids the opportunity to give music or theater a try, has been bulldozed by obsession with test scores. There will always be budget cuts and until policymakers accept new priorities for schools those cuts will fall on “nontested” subjects like music, theater, physical education and world languages.

    • That’s the other interesting thing. There are plenty showing that mastering music increases the ability to master math.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        In age long before ours the study of music (harmony in particular) was coupled with mathematics (arithmetic and geometry) and astronomy as the “secondary” education in the 7 liberal arts.

        One might argue that the ability to engage in theater would improve reading and reading comprehension scores as well.

      • Kassie

        And, kids who are physically in school regularly are going to do better on the tests too. I knew kids in school who would of dropped out if it wouldn’t of been for the band or the art classes or the industrial education classes. I knew kids who by their senior year were taking three music classes a day (concert band, jazz band and orchestra.) Maybe they didn’t learn as MUCH math, English and science as I did, but they took their minimum requirements so that they could play music. I started 10th grade with over 800 kids in my class. About 500 graduated. There would have been many, many less without arts, music, business, and technical classes. And sports.

  • Mike

    I’ll admit I had no musical talent, still don’t; but that has never stopped me from being a supporter of arts education in our elementary, middle, and high schools. And by “arts” I mean the full range, not just music. I cannot paint worth a damn, but I appreciate going to the MIA and taking in all they have. I am a terrible photographer, but that does not preclude me from marveling at the works of Ansel Adams. As for the music, don’t ask me to pick up an instrument, but I’ll stand behind and have the backs of those who want to make sure kids get those opportunities.

    When we look at the great cultures and societies across the centuries, what do use as a measuring stick for that greatness? Their contribution to art and music for starters. Do we in our nation really want to walk away from that path and have future generations mocking us for our obtuseness? One would hope not.

  • Jack

    I enjoyed the video of the Landfill Harmonic.
    With so much money in this world in so few hands you would think those entitled hands could loosen a touch and give. I think you referred to them as Loose Change on the Bureau. I doubt this will happen, though.
    So dot-dot
    Maybe high schools can dumpster dive and make their own killing two birds with one stone, art (mixed media) and music. Extra credit if they learn the value of carefully selecting their trash to throw away in addition to the notion that people have value as well and should not be thrown away either.

  • Christian McGuire

    I can never understand the drive to eliminate band programs from schools. With the Edina report of 2004, it is pretty clear that schools end up losing money when they cut existing band and orchestra programs It seems it stems from the same naive market-driven approach which caters to the wants of here and now rather than the development of a fully realized and educated citizen.
    The market driven approach does NOTHING to expand the mind for children end up learning only what they “think” they want without careful reflection. They become disinclined to stretch their minds, be exposed to new thought.
    “If you go to school and learn only what you want to learn, you will find you have learned nothing new.”
    It is the broader learning one gains from learning and experiencing history, science, literature, music, that helps them grow as a mature and active citizen.
    * Music has traditionally (and I’m speaking since Pythagoras up until the fads of the 20th century) been regarded as the final prerequisite for philosophical discourse.
    Bring education back to the schools – market driven economics is only ONE of many philosophies our children should be exposed to, When this fad passes, we can expect a better and more diverse citizenry which more creative and entrepreneurial ideas.
    For colleges, don’t offer internships only to students in business programs. The workforce will be much better served with the variety of perspectives offered in History, English, Music, Art, Anthropology, etc. courses sit in, learn There is really no great skill or learning needed for a business degree when a simple certificate would suffice (or 6 weeks in retail management would provide any would be undergrad the know how on running a business).

    • Christian McGuire

      While I am a supporter of public schools, I do not unerstand many of the decisions in St. Paul in which the Board was willing to give every student a “gadget” for 4 million bucks? But not do anything to sustain a vibrant band and orchestra program from elementary school – high school? Learning does not happen on iPads – it happens in the brain.

  • Christian McGuire

    Here is the “Music in Edina” Status report from 2004 which demonstrates clearly how schools lose money when they cut band and orchestra programs. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByHj5sz29bwwd2Z3NUc3VjNrMFE/view

  • davehoug

    Hey, at least the arts are not expected to give young minds a concussion 🙂

  • Anna

    The problem is that we are no longer a civilized society and the digital age is rapidly making that a permanent reality.

    The saying goes “Music soothes the savage beast.” There are two things that are common in every civilization—-language and music and this civilization is rapidly destroying the former with text messaging, tweeting, etc and the latter by eliminating programs that don’t fit into the bottom line of education.

    I’m a professional musician and I started with piano when I was 7. I went on for a professional music degree and I think those studies made me the nurse and the teacher I am today.

    All the science and math in the world is useless without the civilizing effects of music and art. And several posters are correct in that learning an instrument, singing in a choir enhances math and science ability.

    If it’s not physically tangible, it’s not valuable for today’s school boards. Music is played and then it is gone so it is not valuable. It is definitely tangible by its lasting effects on math and science reasoning skills.

    We can thank No Child Left Behind for the demise of music programs across this country.

  • EMarieB

    As a special education teacher and parent of 3 sport and music involved children, the comparisons with sports and music/special education is not a fair one. First, special education is mandated and funded based on the needs of the students and can not be cut. Second, sports provide a significant value to students not just concussions. The answer to this problem is not trying to make one program better or valued by degrading another. The people of the city do have a say…vote and be involved with your school board and administration. They are the ones that listen to the people and decide what are the opinions of the children, parents, staff, community, and administration. If they are not listening to the majority, then we have the ability to make sure they do not continue to be in a position to make decisions. Thats how our system works. Be involved and be positive.

    • I don’t believe the budget deficit came up in the last election in the district.

      • EMarieB

        I am lucky to live in a community with very involved parents. Our school board meetings are well attended and our administration is always available to listen to individuals in the community. It doesn’t matter if its an election year, hopefully you voted for like minded individuals in the first place. If this happens then you can trust the decisions being made and know they are doing the best from what they have heard. Its easy to point out problems and fan fires with comparisons to sports and special education, I know why this exists. It starts conversations and helps to inform those that might not know whats going on. It is a good question being posed. I applaud you for showing the importance of a well rounded education. Hopefully more people get involved. Hopefully the moral of the story is… Be heard. Be positive, Be involved.

  • Terry

    Okay, how about a fee to participate in band and orchestra? That might offset things a bit. And how about taking a hard look at the “Spanish Immersion” program in South Washington County? I see elementary world languages are on the block, but I did not see if the popular Spanish Immersion program was. In fact, let’s get rid of the whole program, which to me seems like a total frill when faced with decisions about how to best allocate scarce public education dollars. I don’t have to go on about the Mozart Effect and all that, but I would argue that music, including band and orchestra (which are not extra-curricular activities) is one of those fundamental components of a child’s education.