4. Is Additional Funding Really Necessary?
New music studios and organizations are formed every day. In the articles released
within any music pedagogy-related community you will first and foremost find words about the importance of a music education and the preservation of music as an art. Yet, with this aside, the majority of people in our world continue to be musically illiterate. They can’t play a single instrument, read music notation, sing from notes, nor write music down on paper.
In actuality, it isn’t hard to teach music literacy even in public schools. It would be enough to simply introduce more effective methods of teaching into school practice. However, the schools see it differently. It is believed that in order to save music, more books about music and instruments must be sold, and more lessons must be held, not to mention that the parents must be convinced, as well as those in the administration and governmental sects, that music education is important. As for the question of why it is that music education that needs saving does not actually educate, well, that is considered to be an indecent and offensive topic.
Hundreds of thousands of educators are currently caught in a storm of activity: they spend millions of hours with students, gather at conventions, send out colorful brochures about the positive influence of music on the brain, publish sheet music and books, and organize protests in defense of music education. This has been going on for almost a century! It would seem that these efforts are bound to push music education into the spotlight. Yet, the situation remains the same: we’ve still got a musically illiterate society.
Our children are growing up without live music. Parents can’t play them a single lullaby, instructors at daycares can’t play even the most simple of nursery songs, and adolescents can’t write down a simple melody they might have thought up on a piece of paper. The result is a widespread inability to listen to advanced forms of good music. The most simple and uninteresting forms of music dominate what’s on the radio, albums released by major record labels, and live performances. It’s been a long time since our society has produced new Mozarts and Beethovens, and people are gradually losing all interest in serious music.
At this point you might be asking, “But is it really necessary that everyone learns music at the same level as a pupil of a music academy?” The answer is that not only is it necessary, but it is completely possible. You don’t find it surprising that 99% of Americans can read and write, do you? I assure you that that learning to play or sing from sheet music can be much easier than learning to read!
The question of an effective education is one of the sorest spots for educators. If it is worth bringing it up, the conversation quickly turns to the topic of subsidies for music programs. “Look,” one might say, “before, there was more money, and we taught better. But now, they completely cut our funding!” Yet, if that is the case, why is it that when we were getting paid more, we didn’t pass music literacy on to the next generation? After all, it was from this very generation that the musically illiterate, apathetic policy makers came from.
If it really were all about the money, the teacher’s success would depend strictly on his salary. In actuality, it depends on the methods and abilities of the teacher. Amidst us are the ‘pioneers,’ those that are willing to get creative. They are more productive than the others, but still earn the same money! Of course, the educator should be compensated for a high success rate. Yet, if there isn’t a productive method, results can’t just be squeezed out of thin air! Subsidies are just a type of ‘fertilizer,’ meant to encourage results. We can’t expect the sprouts pop out of the ground if we never sowed any seeds.
It could be that my idea seems like blasphemy, but we music educators have been getting what we deserve. Music education will continue to grow poorer and shrivel until we learn to teach kids effectively. There exists such a law on “fairness” in the marketplace: ineffective work costs just as much. Thus, if music still hasn’t been stubbed out completely from school programs, then we can only be grateful for people’s trust in the importance of music education.
Chemistry is based on the table of elements, not medieval alchemy. Math is based on the multiplication table rather than Roman Numerals. But the fundamentals of music education are still in disarray. Educators are still arguing over how best to name the notes: Solfedggio, as in Do, Re, Mi, or The Alphabet System: C, D, E. It still hasn’t been decided what music is exactly. Is it a language, or a form of art? And what constitutes a music education: lectures about music, or the making of it? On top of that, for some reason it’s been decided that music pedagogy has long since been fully developed, and all that’s left for the teachers to do is to pick the best course of teaching and to follow it effortlessly without any more thought.
I got to thinking, and can say with authority that our system of music education is at the same level as medieval literacy education, when only a select few knew how to read and write. To prove my point, here is a quote from the book “Education in the Netherlands: History and Contemporaneity,” by the well-known historian Nan Dodde:
Several centuries have passed. Much has changed in civilization. Everyone, regardless of ‘talent’, studies the fundamentals of mathematics and chemistry. Yet the basics of music are still not any more accessible by anyone but the chosen few. I don’t know of a single contemporary course that is capable of teaching music literacy to any person. Our society can’t even imagine what could be otherwise. One can only lose that which one once had. While a person isn’t educated about music, he will never sound the alarm about music literacy! Until our children start reading and writing in the language of music, the music educators will continue to be dismissed and forced out of schools.