6. Music

It is time for music to take its rightful place as a priority in schools – not replacing reading, writing, math, etc., but not eliminated by them, either. Music is a way to access concepts that are hard to access in other ways. And it’s how most of us learn the alphabet. It is fairly conspicuous in most kindergartens and first grades, and in many second grades. Primary teachers usually make sure children use every kind of intelligence they have to learn what they need to learn. But all kinds of things happen after the primary grades to prevent music from being a major part of the curriculum, a major learning tool.
Imagine, for a moment, a school in which reading is treated the way music is treated in most schools, and hence, in society. The reading teacher sees the class for a half hour each week, in a reading room, if one is available. If not, the reading teacher brings a cartload of books into the classroom. Either way, the classroom teacher takes a much-needed break. She/he does not really know specifically what happens during reading time, but no matter. Incidentally, on the way to the teachers’ room, the teacher passes a child who is late coming back from the music disabilities teacher, and tells the child to go to the reading room. The teacher then sits down over a cup of coffee to look over some simple adagio movements the children have written. He/she is not much of a reader anyway (in fact, is word-blind), and there are two assemblies per year when children display their reading skill. Some have taken reading lessons, and gone to reading camps, and are able to read entire books! Most have already learned that such children are gifted, and publicly or privately think reading is mostly a way of showing off.
I hope the absurdity makes a point. We have set up a structure that puts music way down on the priority list. During my years as a teacher, occasionally I would hear a complaint about how much time I spent on music. It actually was a very small portion of the day, even in my most musical years. I know teachers who use music very effectively throughout the curriculum. I admire them, but during my years in Wellesley, I only scratched the surface of music’s potential. I used music to build classroom community, but used it only occasionally to teach math, language arts, and science. I enjoy music, and have some musical talent, so I thought it was “my thing,” but not something I should “impose” on uninterested children and parents.
If you are one of the millions of people who grew up thinking you had no musical talent, I urge you to look again. I don’t mean you should take piano lessons. That, done the way it’s often done, can reinforce negative feelings. Just ask yourself what happened to make you think you had no talent, or why you think music is for the talented while reading is for everyone. And please try not to will music avoidance to your children. Music is a mostly unused learning tool which can open doors for children who are too often left outside.

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