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To cut or not to cut- On cutting elective music education in public schools to conserve funds

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Message Michelle Bryant

     Elective music courses should not be cut to conserve funds in primary nor secondary public schools. Neither should music as an extra-curricular activity be cut from these schools. Music can improve both mental and social skills, which have many applications in today's society. School music programs are therefore a worthy investment.  

     High school students have indicated that they create music as a physical outlet for their emotions, and that participating in a music program as an extra-curricular activity or as a class has improved their self-image (Ebie, 2005). When the effects of leadership, music, sports, and other extracurricular activities were compared, musical activities were one of the two best methods to enhance personal development (DeMoulin, 2002). In particular, music students had enhanced wellness and efficacy as measured with the Personal Development Test (DeMoulin, 2002).  

     However, some are concerned that these benefits come at unacceptable costs.  They feel that the expenditure of the students' time on music programs is unjustifiable because it takes time away from other coursework. They believe that cutting music in favor of improving the rigor of reading and math courses will improve test scores ("School Cut Back Subjects," 2006).   Moreover, participation in musical activities was not associated with better academic performance for the middle school children who were studied by Davenport (2010). Schools are also concerned with the monetary cost: depending on the scale of the program, eliminating a school's music program may save a significant amount of money. The exact amount varies: a school in Indiana spent $20,000 whereas the Fairfax school district spent $7 million ( "Budget Cuts Eliminate School's Beloved Music Program," 2010 ; "Large budget shortfall threatens Fairfax music programs," 2009).  

       Nonetheless, cutting music classes completely to allow other classes more time is a misguided course of action because the effect of music training on academics may simply need more time to be manifested.   This could explain why the high school music students in Davenport's (2010) study did have significantly better academic performance, and why the middle school students did not. Moreover, Eisner (2002) found that musical education is correlated with better test scores and G.P.A.s (as cited in Jones, 2009).

     Unfortunately, some would argue that parents should turn to private lessons if they want such an advantage. However, private lessons are expensive. Moreover, group instructors teach teamwork, which is a good skill for kids of all ages and backgrounds to learn.  

     There are several ways to reduce the costs of a school music program. For example, schools can use the program itself to raise funds. The best approach will probably be to use some combination of charging admission for concerts, selling things like candy bars or other food items, partnering with local businesses, and anything else they can think of. Different approaches will be needed for different places: music programs should be creative and come up with a variety of different ideas for fundraisers. One example of a school that approached this the right way is Hanover High School in Massachusetts: they had a car wash and a flea market to raise funds for their program (Clinton, 2010 ). Moreover, parents and students joined forces to make this happen on the same day (Clinton, 2010). Regardless of the extent to which fundraising is feasible, it should be attempted, and the school districts should make up the difference. Another approach to increasing affordability is obtaining simpler or donated uniforms or, if necessary, completely eliminating them. Schools also may choose to not supply instruments (they need not rent or buy instruments for students). This may be an unfortunate choice for those who can't afford instruments, but it is a better choice than totally eliminating the program. Instructors also have to buy music, so maybe they can bargain for cheaper pieces or just buy less pricey pieces of music for their groups.    

     It has been argued that music programs should try to become financially independent from the school. East Village public school's music program has shown that this can be done (Bishop, 2010).   However, if schools are truly concerned with academic performance, one would expect them to support activities that can lead to increases in academic performance.  

     Some may be concerned that investing money into such programs is a waste because most individuals do not continue participation in musical activities once they complete their education (Jellison, 2000).  However, these programs culture an appreciation of music that is beneficial to future musicians and future non-musicians alike: music need not be played by an individual for an individual to enjoy it.

      Moreover, in light of the positive effects music bestows on mental processes which are implicated in academic achievement, music programs are a wise investment in children with varying academic interests. The enhanced brain development that musicians obtain can be exploited in a variety of different academic disciplines.   In particular, musicians have increased corpus callosum density ( Schlaug, Jäncke, Huang, & Staiger 1995). A thicker corpus callosum means that information will be shared between both cerebral hemispheres more efficiently and therefore any skill that uses both hemispheres, such as reading, should be facilitated. Therefore if students study music while they are young, they can retain an advantage in academia.

     Moreover, young children can obtain a 46% increase in spatial reasoning intelligence as a result of taking piano lessons, which is a crucial foundation upon which certain mathematical skills are developed (Rauscher et al. 1997). Musical interventions can also improve dyslexia because they lead to improvements in timing skills (Overy 2000). Swanson and Castellanos (2002) found that the having a twin with a small corpus callosum increased the likelihood of being diagnosed with ADHD.  This raises the intriguing possibility that musical interventions could help treat this disorder.

     Students may attain a thicker corpus callosum with videogames, and learn teamwork through sports. However, music can benefit more people simultaneously than video games: it can provide an emotional release for the players, and entertain the audience. Moreover, playing in a music ensemble requires more sophisticated non-verbal communication than sports.  

     A quality music education will also expose children to aspects of other cultures. As a natural consequence, children become less ethnocentric, develop a greater capacity to sense others' emotions, and are more loving (Phillips, 2006). Thus, music programs benefit children in a variety of ways. They are worth implementing because children will benefit from them socially, emotionally, physically, and academically.

 

 

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I am Michelle Bryant a pre-med student and psychology major. I am an aspiring child psychiatrist. I also play viola at a Nursing Home.
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To cut or not to cut- On cutting elective music education in public schools to conserve funds

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