The time is now.
While advocacy can mean to write your elected officials, speak at school board meetings or campaign for issues, it also means to spread--one voice at a time--the message that music can help people, in unique ways, reach their full potential. This is not solely MTNA's responsibility. Each member shares responsibility in presenting the message, because who is better able to address the importance of music study than the independent music teacher? If we don't promote music, who will?
Teaching is our specialty, but it must not be confined to our studio. Part of our job is to speak outside the studio, empowering parents and students to say "yes" to music at a time when other influences are pressuring them to say "no" and providing information that assures them music is a wise investment of their time and finances. We've entered a time when we can no longer depend on others to promote the importance of music and our profession.
With the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act and its emphasis on boosting math and reading skills, music is once again under the gun. And although music is defined in this law as core curriculum, many districts are pulling teacher and classroom resources away from the arts to fuel math and reading programs. With this environment, we simply cannot assume parents and community members will somehow understand the complex nature of music making, the mental discipline needed to play, the emotional enrichment and other benefits music provides in all life experiences, without fully articulating it. Students, parents and your community need to hear from you.
Armed with enthusiasm and a passion for the art, every recital, community performance, studio newsletter, prospective student phone call and parent/student interview can be used to exchange information about the value of music. This column in the August/September 2003 issue of AMT contained a list of music advocacy websites that can be used to keep up to date on the latest findings in music research. Each site contains a vast amount of useful information. The creative teacher might insert the Learning to Play Brochure, from the American Music Conference's website www.amc-music.org/advocacy/brochures, in recital programs or studio mailings, or show the VH1 News Special Report: The Case for Music Education video from AMC at parent open houses or new student interviews. Simple conversations also have impact. In addition, AMC has available a "Music Education Advocate's Toolkit," containing brochures, sample letters, the video mentioned above and PowerPoint presentations.
About a year ago, I wrote a short article in my quarterly studio newsletter relating the studies linking higher SAT scores with music study. Soon afterward, a dad pulled me aside and excitedly told me he heard somewhere that musicians do better on their SAT tests than nonmusicians. ("Where did he hear that?" I chuckled to myself.) He then went on to tell me about an incentive he put in place for his girls' at-home practice sessions. If they put in their required weekly practice time for the year, he would reward them by letting them take a day off school to go on a family ski trip. Whether or not you agree with the reward, the message to me was clear--this dad was placing value on his children's musical education and taking an active role to support it because of information I shared.
Some teachers have been turned off by the many studies linking the effects of music study to strengthening other academic and social skills. Many say, "Why not simply promote music for its own sake?" Consider these ideas from WhyMusicEd, a music advocacy service: As an independent music teacher, you "already understand that music is a unique form of human communication that conveys emotions and other information that cannot be expressed in any other way. But the majority of the public does not fully understand the intellectual processes and emotional satisfaction derived from singing or playing an instrument because they have no prior experience. Sadly, music has the unfortunate place in today's culture of having to defend its existence to people in authority who have either little exposure or understanding of it.
So how do you grab the attention of the musically inexperienced so they support music by giving their time, energy and resources? First, we must capture their attention. We understand that the ultimate goal of music education is music literacy and artistic expression, and this is what we strive for. But sharing the fact that studies are showing music may make kids excel in areas unrelated to music and describing the complex mental processes involved in music making is a tool, although not the ultimate reason, we use to gain their interest. To be truly effective, we must use every tool available to promote music, including understanding the data linking music to SAT scores, math proficiencies, health benefits and so on, as well as articulating the need to educate the soul. We know music enriches the human spirit, feeds the emotions and provides solace, peace, beauty and passion to our inner being. Others do not. We can no longer live in a vacuum and hope for the best. Robert Kennedy said, "If not me, who? If not now, when?" if you love music, your profession and teaching, the time is now for your voice to be heard.
For a listing of advocacy-related websites, go to www.mtna.org, click on "American Music Teacher," then click on "Tell me more about ... Bonus Bytes."
Rebecca Lewis, NCTM, is the Arts Awareness and Advocacy Chair for the Pennsylvania State MTA. She holds a master's of music degree from Northwestern University and a bachelor's of music from Wittenberg University.
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|Title Annotation:||Forum focus: arts awareness and advocacy|
|Publication:||American Music Teacher|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2003|
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