“Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not a preparation for life but is life itself.”
This year, our school-wide (pre-school through 8th grade) intention, or umbrella project, will have to do with music and sound. Today I went to a meeting to discuss this topic, which is always a sticky one for me, a former punk rocker, collector of absurd songs and lover of all things rock and roll.
I might be totally wrong about this, but my question about music in school always goes back to democratic education. What I see in music in school is a preoccupation with "fine" music, and an exclusion of other music children really listen to at home, on the radio or on the music players they have. In choosing certain folk songs, 'children's music', etc.., aren't we giving a message that only some music is good enough for school? Often when pop music is played at school, it is something like the Beatles, which seems to be our pop equivalent of classical music these days. I don't love Carrie Underwood, Justin Bieber or the Black Eyed Pea's tunes, but many of the 4th graders I worked with last year do. Am I telling them that that part of life must be kept out of school? It all feels wrong to me.
I am grateful that the schools I went to opened their doors to our music. The hippies who ran them understood how crucial music can be to identity. see 'farewell to hippie high'
What I would rather the school say is that if school is life, then the music we talk about at school can include the music we love everywhere else. I can understand the perspective of musicians and educators who fight to preserve classical music, early music, 'etc.. They are fighting a tough battle in the world of Rianna. I fight too, really!
But what I don't want to do is shut the school door on something that means a lot to many kids.
In our discussion, Mary, an accomplished musician and Symphony performer, asked, surely there are some criteria and standards for good visual art in school? Why not music?
This goes back to the visual culture debate in art ed., but really, in my studio, we look at the student's own art and a lot of contemporary art, which, with it's emphasis on ideas, now encompasses many media and techniques and has gone beyond drawing, painting and even, having to be beautiful. Whether it's how to represent a Circus performer as in the preschool last year, or how to show the concept of beauty in nature during middle school photography class, the criteria I use is, did this artist deal well with the same idea my student is thinking about?
So, when developing a music program, how do you reconcile children's personal music, the music that has deep meaning to their lives, with the 'fine'? How can we develop critical consumers of music, and how do we teach musical literacy when not a trained musician? How to emphasize ideas in music, the same way we do with visual art? Finally, how can we talk about music in a way that is both inclusive and expands perspectives?
“We only think when we are confronted with a problem” -Dewey