It's fair to say that I spent most of my teaching career in lower socio-economic areas that were diverse in population. I didn't do this for moral or philosophical reasons. I didn't do it to right a wrong or make a statement about the educational injustices of poverty. I did it because it simply fit my personality and teaching style. In other words, I did it for me.
One day in a department chair meeting, we were handed the latest enrollment statistics for the school (gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, etc.) As someone who is interested in data points, I dove into the numbers with the zeal that others might delve into a Holst score. As I looked at page after page of spreadsheets and pie charts, I came to one inescapable conclusion: the band I taught looked nothing like the whole of the school.
To be clear, in none of the traditional ways that we break down student enrollment data did my ensemble even come close to looking like the breakdown of numbers on the spreadsheet. I wasn't even within the standard deviation in one single area. I was shocked!
How could this be?
Was there a reason?
Was I to blame?
Where were the "rest of the kids" on these spreadsheets?
In order to alleviate my sense of guilt, I looked at the enrollment numbers at my feeder programs and found the same level of disparity, but why?
Yes, among my music education colleagues I was quick to point out that my school had an 82% rate of free and reduced lunch AND a successful band program, but what I failed to mention was that my band did not share the same free and reduced lunch rate as the school. Not even close.
You don't have to be a mathematical scholar to know that if my first period class was disproportionately not like the rest of the school, in a classroom somewhere else on campus was disproportionately higher in the other direction.
Listen, I don't think it comes as a surprise that music education is not as diverse as we might like or hope for it to be. You also don't have to be Einstein to take out a map and make the correlation between laudable music programs and the affluent suburbs. It's easy to say "it's about the money," but I am not convinced that money is the central issue when it comes to failure or success. An issue? Yes, but the central one. I don't believe so.
Of course, it takes money to run a music program, but if money alone were the issue and we were to buy all new equipment and build great facilities in the middle of the inner city, would those students be performing at the Midwest Clinic or Grand Nationals in the near future?
What stands in the way of success for these schools and their students? What keeps them from reaching their potential? What is holding them back? If I were to be honest, I would have to admit it might have something to do with me.
I'll be back next week to finish this conversation, but in the mean time, I have a homework assignment for you. Pull the enrollment data for your school and compare it to your ensembles and ask yourself, who am I teaching and how does it compare to the rest of the school? The answer just might surprise you.
Have a great week everyone!