Sean Penn, El Chapo, and the secret of our profession...
Maybe it’s watching the stories about El Chapo and the young lives he ruined with drugs. Maybe it’s spending time this weekend with the incredible instrumental hip-hop duo Black Violin who serve as role models. Or, maybe it’s because today is Martin Luther King Day and his speech has been running through my mind. Whatever the reason, I think it’s time I said something out loud that I have been thinking for about for awhile, which is:
Music education is failing to help the kids who need it the most.
It's not anyone's fault, but it is happening. This is not to say that the educators who teach in such places are failing, because nothing could be further from the truth. These teachers are deserving of a Midwest Medal of Honor and Grammy Educator of the Year Award. These teachers are saints in my book.
I think we all know that where money is plentiful and diversity is limited, music education is alive and well. The suburbs are our sweet spot and the places where we revel in Ravelli, Mackey, and all things Grainger. But in the inner city, where free and reduced lunch rates hover near or above 75%, and the majority is what we call the minority, the student experience can be decidedly different. In places like these, the music participation rates are smaller and the retention rates are even less. Simply said, music education is struggling in the very place we need it to succeed.
Music is not alone in the problem, nor is it the source.
Where young people read English below grade level, they often read music below grade level. Where they struggle with issues of basic number counting, they often struggle with basic rhythms. In these challenging places, students' musical skills are not that different than their other academic skills. But, is that the bar we want to compare ourselves too?
If we REALLY believe in the power of music. If we TRULY think that it helps people, then we have a professional obligation to provide the best possible experiences we can for EVERY child!
Listen, I taught in East Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots and I spent most of my career in places that were as diverse as they were economically challenged. I have seen first hand the power that music can have in these places. And yet, I am also painfully aware that I am as guilty as anyone and could do more in this area with Be Part of the Music. I am working on this.
I am not writing this to get you to “do" anything. I am writing this to remind myself that I can do more... and WILL!
FYI: El Chapo called me first! You know, before Sean Penn. Yes, that’s right, I was his first choice. It just so happened that I was knee deep in score study and didn’t take the call!