I want to express my deep disappointment at the Keystone Central Board's decision to terminate one more music teaching position in the school district, this time at Central Mountain High School.
As one of the biggest school districts in our state, any further attrition of faculty and resources would, I am afraid, weaken the quality of the music program and negatively affect the students, faculty and community of KCSD. I urgently request the KCSD board to rethink its decision, and to reinstate the teaching position at the earliest.
As the parent of a KCSD student who is an active member of the orchestra, band and choir, I have had the good fortune to experience, at first hand, the wonderful music education that our district's music teachers provide our students. As parents, we have tremendous respect for everything the music teachers do, especially since we are aware that many of them have an itinerant schedule teaching at different schools to meet the district-wide requirements.
The value of music education in schools need no further advocates, but I will reiterate what I have observed firsthand all these years with my own child and her academic cohort. It is a proven fact that students who are in music programs excel academically as well. The students in our orchestra, band and choir are some of our most academically high-achieving students, mostly in honor and high-honor rolls. They consistently perform well in tests, and if we should check national SAT scores, we would find this to be true there as well. Why is this? Studies have connected all kinds of heightened brain functions with the practice and study of music: pattern recognition, spatio-temporal logic and reasoning, the ability to handle multiple activities effectively, the ability to think abstractly and to handle complex distributed concepts - the benefits are endless.
Students with music background and skills score high in college applications as well. Why would our school district want to take away such opportunities from our talented young men and women? This will happen if we thin down our program and stretch faculty and resources.
In addition to taking saxophone and viola at school, my daughter also takes piano lessons privately. So is music a discretionary subject, something that you let your child study if you have time and money to spend downtown? I would say, no. Music is not a discretionary subject. Music and arts - these two subjects are usually grouped together - are necessary and core subjects in any school curriculum for many of the reasons I cited above. Even the draconian measures of No Child Left Behind include "arts" and thus music in its list of "core curriculum."
Again, why is this? I am sure most of us have attended the orchestra, band and choir concerts and performances put together by the students and music faculty at KCSD schools. What these performances do is to create a particular form of culture, add a particular layer to us as a community, a sublime, pleasing and complex layer that simply would never exist in its absence. It might sound tautological, but that is the absolute truth. A child who has never heard a musical instrument will never hear it unless it is played to him or her by someone.
An auditorium full of adults and children enjoy these performances and it creates a community that appreciates and values music and everything music brings with it. These performances create an audience with certain values. Eliminating and weakening music education will affect us adversely as a community. I remember the solemn feeling most of us in the audience experienced at the recent PMEA District 4 Band Fest - a wonderful event - where we were reminded of the fact that the future of such band fests hang in the budget balance of the state. We must not balance the budget on the back of essential academic programs.
Playing or creating music is very different from downloading music or listening to a song somewhere on something. Do we want our children to live creative lives? Or do we want our children to live derivative, imitative lives? All of our students deserve the opportunity to walk in to that orientation day at the school where the music teachers welcome you and allow the students to touch and explore all the various instruments and sign up for one they like. Learning from one of our music teachers is different than learning from music software or learning by oneself or from friends or even other musicians. Our music teachers have spent their entire educational career learning music and how to teach music to young people in the most effective manner. They combine the best aspects of both theory and practice. It is a mistake for us as a culture and as a community to devalue music education and our music teachers. I respectfully urge the KCSD board to reinstate the position at CMHS, and to offer your unconditional support to the growth of music education at KCSD.
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Gayatri Devi teaches English at Lock Haven University. She lives in Lock Haven.