Let the Music Play

This week's installment of As the World Burns, features presidential politics, which I find amusing for a number of reasons, not the least being the way electoral politics gets covered in the popular press, as if going to the polls every couple of years is the very essence of democratic (or republican) citizenship.

Last week, Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute wrote a "fair and balanced" commentary for Foxnews.com, raising the question: "what if economic conservatives stay home on election day?"

From his laissez-faire libertarian perch, Tanner characterizes most of the GOP presidential candidates (except Ron Paul) as being nothing more than big government hucksters in conservative clothing. He then veers off into anti-intellectual territory to drive home an ideological point about limited government, at the expense of presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.

What's Huckabee Cardinal Sin? He "failed to call for spending cuts. He actually wants to increase spending on a variety of programs, from education to infrastructure. He even wants the federal government to fund art and music programs in the nation's schools." Gasp!

Not that Tanner is interested in engaging the reader in a serious discussion about the role of federal government, education, art or music, but his remarks do touch on a serious question, as it pertains to the indoctri - I mean, education - system in this country.

Just to riff on one chord, let's consider the question: what does music have to do with improving education?

Going back to Plato and Aristotle, music has been considered one the "Four Pillars of Learning."

Plato said: "The decisive importance of education in poetry and music: rhythm and harmony sink deep into the recesses of the soul and take the strongest hold there. And when reason comes, he (the student) will greet her as a friend with whom his education has made him long familiar."

Aristotle said: "We become a certain quality in our characters on account of music."

Even Allan Bloom said: "Music is at the center of education, both for giving passions their due and for preparing the soul for the unhampered use of reason."

Add to that a growing body of research that tells us arts/music education enhances academic achievement, which is why a consortium of the nation's largest educational associations issued a statement of principles on "The Value and Quality of Arts Education," calling for basic arts education to be recognized as a serious, core academic subject.

A week before Tanner entertained us with a bit of ideological idiocy, Harris Interactive, an online polling and market research firm, published a survey, reporting that people with "more education and higher household incomes are more likely to have had music education." Some survey highlights:

Two-thirds (65%) of those with a high school education or less participated in music compared to four in five (81%) with some college education and 86 percent of those with a college education. The largest group to participate in music, however, are those with a post graduate education as almost nine in ten (88%) of this group participated while in school.

Participating in music programs can also provide people with certain skills that can be utilized in a job and career. Just under half (47%) of those who were in a music program say music education was extremely or very important in giving them the ability to strive for individual excellence in a group setting.

A plurality (44%) say music education was extremely or very important in teaching how to work towards common goals and two in five (41%) say it was extremely or very important in providing them with a disciplined approach to solving problems.

Just over one-third say music education gave them the skill of creative problem solving (37%) and how to be flexible in work situations (36%).

If you're interested in other reference material, check out the May 23, 1996 issue of Nature, which published a study about first-graders who participated in music classes and saw their reading skills and math proficiency increase.

Also, according to several studies conducted by the College Board, music/art students scored consistently higher on both the math and verbal sections of the SAT.

Some people say that art and music are an impractical luxury for schools, given the hyper competitive demands of "globalization" that require a strong background in science and math.

Laying aside the wrong-headed workforce-training assumptions behind such an instrumentalist educational philosophy, another way of looking at it is: given the "new economic" reality - where workers won't have long-term jobs or careers but multiple jobs and careers - the advantage goes to those with nimble minds and creative intelligence; not the proficient test-takers our education factories are producing.

Improving the achievement gap? Raising test scores? Preventing kids from dropping out? We need more music education, not less. The math is simple.

Sean Gonsalves is a syndicated columnist and assistant news editor with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com

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