Can I be real a second? For just a millisecond? Let down my guard and tell the people how I feel a second?
My apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda, but that’s what popped into my head when I started to write this, and, if I’m learning anything about this new blogging habit, it’s that when good words come to mind, you write them down. Even if they’re someone else’s.
Anyway, I didn’t come here today to toss “Hamilton” lyrics at you; I came here to talk about something that, to be honest, drives me a little bit insane. Even worse than people who misspell my name.
I am a musician and a music educator. You know this, you can see it on my profile. Just look up and to the right. I’m currently in my 20th year of teaching music in the public schools, and I could write a half-dozen posts right now on the challenges that teachers of the arts face. And two dozen more on the rewards of doing what I do.
But a thing that constantly troubles me is something that, frankly, a lot of people see as giving support to what I do. We are always hearing about how great arts education is when it comes to improving student scores in math, reading, science, you name it. And it’s 100% true. And I’m glad people know it.
But why is that the big selling point? We don’t hear people pushing for math education because it improves understanding of science. We don’t hear people demanding that students study English so that it helps them comprehend and discuss what they learn in their social studies classes. These subjects (“core subjects,” to use a phrase that sets my teeth on edge whenever I hear it) are non-negotiables, because society understands their intrinsic value. As do I.
(Forgive me, I’m about to shout.)
THE ARTS ARE INTRINSICALLY VALUABLE AS WELL.
Math, science, history, physical education, vocational training…you will never hear me say that these are not important and worthwhile. As a lifelong learner, I value my education in all of these areas, and I constantly strive to deepen my understanding of them. They have value in and of themselves.
Music is not “extra.” Art and theatre and dance are not “extra.” Furthermore, they are not simply valuable because they can aid in the understanding of something else. I have no problem teaching my students a song to help them remember the names of the US states and capitals. But that’s not why I’m teaching them music. That is a wonderful by-product of the education I am helping them achieve in rhythm, melody, musical structure, in style, and performance practice, and in the life-giving joy of creating something out of nothing.
When we lose sight of this, we lose sight of ourselves.
Miranda, L. (2015). Right hand man [Recorded by Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton]. On Hamilton: An American Musical [MP3]. New York: Atlantic Records
fondablaster. (2011, August 20). What will your verse be? [Video file]. Clip from Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_zsMwCOoEs