1 Introduction and Thesis Statement
If there is one issue that unties all policy makers everywhere on the globe, from Jerusalem to Teheran, it would probably be their universal underestimation of music education. As discussed below, by putting music and other arts at the bottom of the educational hierarchy (Robinson, 2006) the American policymaker is about to risk one of the cornerstones of his future in order to save a nickel today. But why is it so?
This paper neither discusses the cultural value of music, nor advocates the importance of preparing the next generation of American Idols. It does not take a stand in such matters. Instead, it presents evidences and ideas from three fields of interest, namely the principal responsibility for the students’ cognitive well-being, developing work moral and promoting innovation, and shows how closely related are these issues to music education in schools. Moreover, looking at the evidence, it is unclear how other components of the education system can compensate for the loss of one its major backbones.
2 Three Good Reasons to Continue the Program
Loyal to the thesis and the scope of the paper, this section discusses three possible secondary effects of musical education on children and adolescents. These effects are presented through state-of-the-art empirical evidences and interpretations, and are compared to the arguably most important goals of the US education system today.
2.1 The Neural Underpinnings of Musical Education
Recent advancements in the field of neuroscience have opened a portal to a new age in education. Today, essential mental capabilities such as attention, memory and multitasking, as well as impairments of them, can be traced back to their underlying neural pathways. Consequently, the contemporary educational research and practice is occupied with themes such as “brain-based leaning” and “mental training,” all of which deal with the prospective role of improving neurocognitive abilities in order to increase classroom performance.
Important as they are, these efforts may have missed an empirically supported cognitive training method, which exists in every school’s music classroom. Suggesting that “Performing music at a professional level is arguably among the most complex of human accomplishments,” (p. 473) Münte, Altenmüller, & Jäncke (2002) present neuroimaging findings that show significantly stronger neural activities in the brains of musicians compared to a control group of non-musicians. Furthermore, these increased activities (i.e. higher working capacities) were found exactly in the areas of the brain that are the most important for academic performance. For example, the Corpus callosum, the area that connects the two hemispheres (and thus plays a major role in multitasking) is much more effective among musician; it is thus safe to assume that the latter enjoy their enhanced mental capabilities in other fields.
2.2 Practicing Discipline and Persistence through Music
As with any other demanding profession, being talented or having a keen for music or not enough to succeed. The ability to play or sing a musical piece requires enormous time and effort, whereas gratifications are never immediate. Practicing music is hence practicing other valuable skills, primarily the ability to demonstrate high work moral, to prioritize work over inferior alternatives and to comply with instructions and musical scores.
Upon graduating their music programs, most students are not likely to become concertmasters, but they will gain the required set of skills for distinction at any profession they will choose. It is thus imperative to implement and expand musical education programs within any system that promotes excellence and personal development.
2.3 Creativity and Innovation
Among most industrialized societies, abstract concepts such as innovation and novelty are considered as a primary driver of economic growth. If innovation, a process of coming up with new ideas and turning them into something valuable, is so vital for the US economy, it is clear why “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy” (Robinson, 2006).
To put it simply, creative thinking is the exact opposite from repetitive thinking. Assuming that today’s schools “are educating students out of their creativity” (ibid.), it is not impossible that we will witness a gradual decline in innovation (including the academy, but not only there) as well as all the other products of the creative mind.
Fortunately, this trend can and must be stopped. An upgrade (instead of a cutback) of the music educational programs should positively affect at least two aspects of the student body: First, it will offer a respected educational alternative for those students whose talent is not in math or biology, but in arts, music and so on.
Second, by allowing students to sharpen their intellect through creative work (just like kindergarten students), music programs will turn the mediocre to good and will help to find the brilliant among the good.
In Peter Shaffer’s 1979 play “Amadeus,” 19th century composer Antonio Salieri describes the role of musicians during his time: (Shaffer, 1993)
Yes, we were servants. But we were learned servants! And we used our learning to celebrate men’s average lives! We took unremarkable men: usual bankers, run-of-the-mill priests, ordinary soldiers and statesmen and wives – and sacramentalized their mediocrity. We smoothed their noons with strings divisi! We pierced their nights with chitarrini! We gave them processions for their strutting – serenades for their rutting – high horns for their hunting, and drums for their wars! (p. 18)
Ever since Mozart, Salieri’s bitter rival and the first pop star, we are used to idolize our musicians and to enjoy their work as a form of entertainment. Yet, as described above, music is one of the most complicated crafts of all, and a rewarding activity to those who practice it.
When thinking about budgeting policies, we cannot afford ourselves to examine the nation’s investment in education as it was any other expense. We must consider how we best prepare today’s first graders, who will retire in six decades, to the challenges of their careers and the challenges of the future American society as a whole.
Music education is far from being considered as an expensive educational effort. On the other hand, the yield on this investment is so tangible, that letting go of it is one of the most unreasonable decisions our society can make.
- Münte, T. F., Altenmüller, E., & Jäncke, L. (2002). The musician’s brain as a model of neuroplasticity. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3, pp. 473-78.
- Robinson, K. (2006). Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. Retrieved 10 July, 2009 from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
- Shaffer, P. (1993). Amadeus. London: Penguin Books.