IN MY OPINION
Music's value as an educational tool What's your opinion? By John Gerdy, Ph.D., Special to the Sunday News
If you have been following the topic of education reform in America, these terms and concepts are familiar: "No Child Left Behind," "Race to the Top," teachers' unions, charter schools, teacher pay and standardized testing. All have been offered as solutions or strategies to reform our schools.
While these ideas play a part in education reform, the debate boils down to expectations and reality.
First, standards regarding what constitutes an education worthy of the 21st century and, as a result, the expectations on our schools to effectively deliver it, are rising dramatically. Second, the cold, hard reality is that schools must meet these rising standards and expectations at a time of declining funding and resources.
That being the case, we must develop curricular and teaching strategies that are more effective in providing the skills students need to succeed in the information-based, interrelated, global economy and world culture of the 21st century.
Here are two strategies, both of which rely on music.
nWhether it relates to the economy, the environment, geopolitics or public health trends, the world community is becoming increasingly interrelated and interdependent. Travel is faster, safer and more accessible. Global communication is instantaneous and available to most people on the planet. From the challenges associated with the spread of disease to environmental impacts to economic trends, international and cultural boundaries are diminishing. The U.S. is part of a global economic, environmental and geopolitical system.
Much of our success as a nation will depend on how successfully we "navigate" this increasingly complex and global community. In other words, simple proficiency in reading, writing and math is no longer enough. Today, education must include an understanding of, appreciation for, and ability to function in a multi-ethnic, multinational world.
Schools are responding to this challenge by offering students more access to international education opportunities. Whether through exchange programs, foreign tours or all-star orchestras, the number and type of international education programs that can be built around music are unlimited. Thus, the potential for music -- the international language -- as a teaching platform to enhance global and cultural understanding is enormous and will continue to increase.
nIn addition to expanding international learning opportunities, educators are developing more "integrated learning" offerings, an interdisciplinary teaching strategy that combines curriculum from more than one content area. By combining knowledge and thinking from different disciplines, students learn to apply concepts in one area to challenges in another.
Music's potential as an effective tool in this regard is significant. For example, study of the civil rights movement in the U.S. can be enhanced by incorporating songs of that era into the curriculum. Teaching students "This Little Light of Mine" or "We Shall Overcome" adds another dimension of depth to a student's understanding of this period in American history. It brings the subject matter to life in a vivid, interesting and "participatory" way.
The most obvious benefit of this approach is a clearer, broader, more thorough understanding of those subjects. Just as important, however, is that it instills in students the ability to think about and place issues in a broader, more integrated global context, a skill that will become increasingly important.
In short, today's education must develop the ability to think across disciplines, to incorporate sights, sounds, culture and information from various sources and disciplines into a cogent, broad knowledge base. Because music is the universal language, it provides an avenue to understanding the connections among all subject areas. Music touches upon every aspect of life, culture and history.
School reform is about providing our children with an education that is worthy of the 21st century. As our schools struggle to meet this challenge in an environment of decreased funding, we must become more efficient with our resources as we expand our international education opportunities and continue to develop innovative interdisciplinary courses and teaching methods.
Music's unique ability to bridge societal, cultural and educational gaps is a tremendously powerful educational tool that will only grow in importance and influence, making it a particularly effective educational and community investment.
John R. Gerdy, Ph.D., is founder and president of Music For Everyone. Its mission is to "cultivate the power of music as an educational and community building tool in Lancaster County.''
Send "In My Opinion" submissions to Barbara Hough Roda, P.O. Box 1328, Lancaster, PA 17608-1328, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.