Sears was once the nation's largest retailer and its largest employer. In its heyday it was both the Walmart and Amazon of its time.
Formed in 1886 by railroad station agent Richard Sears, the company started as a watch business in North Redwood, Minnesota. Sears moved to Chicago in 1887, published the Sears catalog in 1896, and opened the first store in 1925.
Sears' stores helped reshape America, drawing shoppers away from the traditional Main Street merchants. Sears brought people into malls, contributing to the suburbanization of America in the post-World War II era. Its Kenmore appliances introduced many American homes to labor-saving devices that changed family dynamics. Its Craftsman tools and their lifetime guarantees were a mainstay of middle-class America.
It wasn't just appliances either. Sears sold (and until Monday, still sells) instruments. Yep, that’s right, the American behemoth sold instruments to the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Elvis Costello, and little Susie who sits third chair in your second ensemble.
Sears truly changed America and music education. And then Amazon and Walmart changed Sears.
We are a "want it now" and "want it cheap" society. This culture didn’t just appear, it has existed for over a century. In fact, it is how Sears came to be the nation’s largest retailer. They provided access to cheap products quickly (relative to their time). And I don’t suspect that we will be any more patient or less thrifty moving forward. The need for efficiency and the want for ease is what drove the invention of the wheel and fire, so we’re dealing with some serious historical evidence that says it’s here to stay.
Don’t get me wrong, people see the value in investing time and energy into long term solutions. They also understand that, sometimes, you get what you pay for and that less expensive is not always the right choice. But, to override their initial reaction, you have to take the time and effort to educate them why fast and cheap does not necessarily mean the best value.
This is where Sears failed. And, this is where music education fails.
Learning to play and instrument is NOT quick or cheap, and while we music educators understand that, most people do not. But, the ROI (return on investment) and value proposition is undeniable. Each and every person will benefit from this experience if they are willing to invest the time and stay the course. This is not a one semester or one year course. This is a multi-year commitment that requires TIME to be successful. This is where we are different from any other class in school.
Think about it.
If my child takes a year of Algebra it is likely he will become proficient in Algebra. If he takes a year of American History, he will become proficient in American History. If he takes a year of Physical Science, he will become proficient in Physical Science.
If he takes a year of music, he will be NOWHERE near proficient in music.
If he takes two years of music, he will be a ways away from proficient.
If he takes three years of music, he will likely be approaching proficient.
If he takes four years of music, he will likely be proficient and or competent.
Perhaps one of the key issues that plagues music education is not lack of awareness or understanding of its importance, but the lack of awareness/understanding of the time it takes to be proficient.
Awhile back I talked about the need for more time in student schedules (Time’s Up for Time to Be Upped) and I believe we need to be equally vigilant in educating students and parents about the time needed to be successful in playing a musical instrument.
As a part of this awareness, we might also find new and better ways to:
develop new ways to measure and show the student progress.
help parents better understand not just where their child is, but where they will be in six months, 12 months, 24 months, etc...
celebrate more mini-milestones of progress throughout the year
find different ways to assess progress other than ratings/grades/chair tests
use performances not as an act of finality, but as a measure of growth
help parents understand that saying NO when their child wants to quit is the right thing to do.
It’s time for us to create more time in this activity by dedicating more time to rethinking the perception of time required of the activity.
Music education, and our programs can (and will) stand the test of time. However, we might find greater success if we learn from the fallen iconic brand and get SEARious about teaching our school communities about the value of staying the test of time.