Music Makes You Better in Math and Science: And Why That Argument Doesn’t Work

Woman-Violin-Clipart-1You’ve seen and heard the evidence regarding the correlation between music education and math and science scores? That’s a great argument in your music education advocacy efforts – if you’re willing to continue to play second fiddle to other subjects in the hierarchy of education funding. This hypothesis concedes that math and science are top priorities, and that music is only a vehicle to enhance one’s ability to excel in those subjects. While cranberry sauce enhances the taste of turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, in difficult times we’ll do without cranberry sauce, but not without turkey.

I’ll assume that most who follow this blog believe in art for art’s sake. We believe that the arts in general and music specifically enrich our lives. As Winston Churchill once said when told that significant cuts to arts education would be necessary to fund the war efforts, “Then what the heck are we fighting for?” or words to that effect.

Yet when push comes to shove in allocating resources to our learning institutions, those subjects traditionally seen as the primary prerequisites for success in the workplace are given top priority. Art for art’s sake is simply not a compelling enough reason to fund music education programs in times of budget shortfalls.

In the early part of the 20th century, Dale Carnegie taught public speaking classes at the local YMCA for a very modest fee. He was amazed at how many disenchanted technical professionals in industries such as engineering sought out his courses. They had been led to believe throughout their education years that technical proficiency was the key to success. The real world workplace shattered their perception. They quickly learned the reality that softer skills such as communication, collaboration, leadership – dealing with real people with different personalities – were the keys to career advancement and success.  And those are the skills that are so effectviely developed and enhanced through music education.

Besides, many of the technical aspects of the engineering and science fields are being handled by high-speed computers or they are being outsourced overseas. Not that Math and Science are no longer important – they’re just not enough.

Yet there is good news on the horizon. The 21st century workplace is changing, and the skills needed to succeed are changing as well. As articulated by such authors as Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, and John Kao, the sensitivities of the artist are skills needed in the workplace now more than ever. In the book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” Pink articulates that the ability to create products and services that have a unique genesis or story, make an emotional connection with customers, and have visually appealing attributes have never been in greater demand.

If the world is changing such that the sensitivities and skills of the artist are becoming increasingly necessary to succeed, then why choose a music education advocacy stance that concedes 2nd tier priority? Your thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Music Makes You Better in Math and Science: And Why That Argument Doesn’t Work”

  1. I think it may be difficult to convince an entire culture that worships financial success that music and the arts are actually essential, until we can demonstrate in dollars-and-cents exactly how that happens, i.e. statistics on how many successful businesspeople studied music, played in band and orchestra and/or sang in the choir during their early years. Your book does that quite well, but since it’s not on the Best Seller lists (yet), spreading this information far and wide may still be challenging, especially when so many folks in our current economy are struggling with tight budgets. You DO make a very strong point re. teaching the “softer skills” – without developing people-skills, human success stories would be very empty indeed!

  2. Thanks Marilyn. It’s always an uphill battle, but the point is that the other arguments aren’t working, and the world is changing such that the sensitivities of the artist are more important in the workplace. And I’m not alone in making that case. The authors noted in the article are best sellers who make similar assertions in their books with examples, though their books address arts in general while mine is specific to music.

    It’s gratifying that I’m seeing similar assertions more often in the news:

    My goal is to inform Music Education advocates and redirect their debate toward a point of view that will carry more weight with the administrators who allocate dollars.

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