The Role of Education and of Music Ed.: Life Skills vs. Work Skills

I came across this music education advocacy article from the International Society of Music Education (ISME) website by New York University Professor David Elliott that articulates the importance of providing children with an education that establishes a foundation for life skills and happiness beyond the narrow-minded objective of career preparation. Elliott states:

“…our schools should aim to develop students as people, not just job-fillers for today’s marketplace mindset. As many scholars have insisted in different words, education is for life: education ought to be conceived for life as a whole, not just for one aspect of life, such as work…In summary, music education is a unique and major source of many fundamental life goals. By actively supporting the aims of music education, school systems increase the likelihood that students will learn to make a life as well as a living both inside and outside school.

“…public school systems in most countries are becoming more and more focused on “testing” students in a narrow range of “academic” subjects using mechanistic measurement devices. Why? Many scholars suggest that this movement (sometimes called “Educational Reform”) is part of a global effort by corporations and “marketplace educators” to shape and “manage” schools according to the needs and values of “marketplace capitalism.” (This is an old story tracing back to the industrial model of the “school-as-factory” that exists to produce future factory workers). Educators have always been under pressure from the business world to devote more time and resources to the production of students-as-job-fillers by means of academic-vocational studies alone. This pressure has become more intense in the last fifteen years with the advance of globalization, which requires “standardization” in all realms of life, including schooling. Clearly, however, corporate leaders and marketplace educators are not concerned (at all) with enabling our students to make a life as well as a living.

“…Broadly speaking, then, we need to advocate on behalf of music education and arts education because what we do professionally is deeply connected with the need to protect and sustain the right of children to receive a balanced and comprehensive education, which means a school curriculum that makes a central place for the life values we can provide through systematic music teaching and learning.”

I applaud these noble objectives. I also believe that the generalization that corporate leaders and marketplace educators are not concerned (at all) with enabling our students to make a life as well as a living is overstated. There is a school of thought gaining acceptance that the successful corporations of the future will be those that attract the brightest minds by creating an environment dedicated to employee values.

But I also believe that we’ll never change all of the minds of those that pull the strings on educational resource allocation, and therefore we must sell to them on their own terms. In other words, by arguing that music education provides a foundation for both a life of fulfillment and for success in 21st century careers, we are equipped to make the case for music education that will compel those of either mindset. In a conversation that I had with Richard Baker, Fine Arts Program Coordinator at the Louisiana Department of Education he wholeheartedly concurred. “We must argue it both ways,” he stated.

As I’ve articualated here previously, “We should be able to justify arts on their own merits – in an ideal world. Here on the planet earth, it’s not working. Essentially, legislators and administrators believe that when forced to choose between worthwhile priorities, the most essential function of education is to prepare students for their careers. Art for art’s sake is an argument that essentially frames the music education funding discussion in this way for legislators and administrators – Do I fund programs that are necessary or those that are a luxury in the context of preparing students for the “real world?” Math and reading are seen as essential in any vocation, music only for the aspiring musician.

We need to reframe the terms of the debate.”

“Until we start articulating that music and the arts are essential these days in preparing students for all vocations, current trends will continue.”

For more info on articulating the benefits of music education that apply to success in the business world, see 9 common lessons of music education that translated into success in business. For testimonials from CEOs and business leaders, see the previous posts “More CEOs and Executives on Music Education Advocacy,” and “High-Tech CEOs Say the Value of Liberal Arts Education is Increasing.” To hear audio excerpts from CEOs and business leaders discussing how their musical experience prepared them for business success, see Music Education & Success: The Audio Interviews

To read the entire text of David Elliott’s article at the ISME website, click here.

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