Kill the music: Students must read, write, do math


This weekend’s Wall Street Journal featured a well-intentioned piece, “A Musical Fix For U.S. Schools,” which took up nearly 3/4 of a page with a huge accompanying photograph of a child playing the trumpet. Unfortunately this visual only added to the Oliver Twist like desperation of can I have some more porridge please, as the author ran through shopworn arguments to show that music is good for you and therefore we should serve it up in schools like oatmeal.

Citing studies, the piece had promising subheadings of “Music Raises your IQ,” “Music training can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor districts,” “Music training does more than sports, theater or dance to improve key academic skills,” “Music can be an inexpensive early screening tool for reading disabilities,” and “Music literally expands your brain.”

Where the piece falters, besides not demonstrating a musical fix for schools, is in its misguided call at the end of the article that music programs should not be expendable or have to justify their being.

In American schools that are already faltering in the important areas of reading, writing, and arithmetic, it would be misguided to add music as part of the curriculum when more time really needs to be spent on the three “Rs.”

It is absolutely illogical to spend valuable school time practicing the scales when students cannot master their ABCs. Being able to clap in rhythm is a misguided way to count time as the Titanic of math education sinks under bizarre common core conditions. Students would be much better off practicing writing persuasive paragraphs that explain what we can learn from the sinking of the Titanic.

Why is it that every time someone argues for saving music in our schools they must mention classical music as if it will somehow change the world completely as we know it. This sentiment is reminiscent of former Georgia Governor Zell Miller’s initiative a number of years ago when taxpayers had to buy into his worshiping of “The Mozart Effect,” which resulted in all mothers in the state being given a Mozart CD to take home with them after having given birth to their child. Even the New York Times\"Protege was skeptical of the Governor’s logic, there being absolutely no proof that having infants listen to Mozart will turn them into the equivalent of victorious intellectual disciples chosen by the Valkyries. Myself, I would have preferred Beethoven for infants, but that is beside the point.

Which brings me back to Joanne Lipman’s muscial fix piece–which cites a study in which high school students “from impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago” who take music show “significant increases” as opposed to students “enrolled in a junior ROTC program” in not only musical intelligence but also by extension the ability to use language. So much for the author’s wish to presumably unite students and improve their learning, unless she is tone deaf to her calling out the two different groups this way.

It is time for American schools not only to not offer music as part of the curriculum–ever hear of something called extra-curricular?–but to cut other “play time” such as study hall and serve up some heavier portions of the three “Rs.” Otherwise America will soon sing an even sadder tune on the world stage.