In one of the last vestiges of time-honored prejudice, anyone who likes music and has opinions about music, is deemed “qualified” to comment upon the selection of music, the topics covered in the music curriculum, and now whether or not there are basic music concepts that could or should be tested. It is universally accepted that all performing arts teachers, and music instructors in particular, are the constant prey for these self-proclaimed critics.
As identified in the so-called “No Child Left Behind Legislation” music and the performing arts are core academic subjects that are worthy of the time and resources of the school district.
In his slipshod attempt at assisting music education, Mr. Elliot has hit upon a fundamental debate in the sphere of teaching music. Mr. Elliot believes that any testing would be detrimental to the experiences in music to be afforded to students who play an instrument in the band or orchestra, or those who sing in the choir. Nothing could be further from the truth. If students were to be tested on music fundamentals, beginning in elementary school, the school district would be forced to have all music courses taught by trained music specialists, and much like students have math class every day, music could be taught daily and experienced and learned more than once a week, as is the case today. Vibrant and dynamic music courses could be designed to teach all students the highly laudable goals of basic music literacy that have long since been identified in music courses of study.
A basic understanding of music education involves balancing the teaching of music fundamentals to all students, and the demands of performing ensembles for the elite few. Music Educators can no longer afford to be elitist in our approach. Music must be for all students, and as much disdain as we hold for the high stakes, “leave no child untested” environment in which we now function, a standardized test, measuring music fundamentals at all grade levels, would promote the greatest realization of comprehensive arts education in the last one hundred years.
There is significant and wide-ranging research that demonstrates the positive impact of sequential training in music upon math scores, and all academic achievement. The political and educational climate of today demands assessment and accountability at all levels. Voters and the politicians who represent the voters demand to know the results of their invested tax dollars. While there are many intrinsic values to the study of music and the other arts, some concrete proof of learning that is based upon content standards is the customary and useful practice of today. Failure to educate today’s young people in the basic goals of music literacy is to leave the child half-educated.
The trite example cited by Mr. Elliot to begin his article is so far removed from reality that it is laughable. No skilled and licensed music professional would even suggest that knowing the difference between Britney Spears and the Beatles is worthy of being discussed in music class much less posed as a question on a standardized test. In fact, despite one or two intelligent comments, the entire premise of the post is flawed. Music literacy, music theory and history, and performing ensembles are all part of inclusive course of study in music. The testing of basic skills and academic standards should include music, and should not be perceived by disinterested bystanders, novices, music-lovers, or music professionals as a threat or potential harm to music education. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, testing music would no doubt improve the quality of all K-12 music education programs.