Music Education and Problem Solving

If you Google “Music Education NCLB,” you’ll find article after article decrying the cutting of music and arts programs from as far back as over a decade ago.  Even back then, experts spoke of the positive effects of music education on scholastic performance because of its influence relative to discipline, competitiveness, achievement, creativity, and physical development.  In recent years, more and more studies have been conducted on brain function, how music increases brain development and activity, and plays a key role in connecting both halves of the brain together.  This builds neural pathways, permitting this type of activity to be translated to other academic disciplines as well as the workplace, just as dedicated practice builds the neural pathways which lead to virtuoso performance technique, and as well as the muscular strength and agility to permit flawless execution.

Some of these studies have posited music education also fosters the ability to solve problems, enabling the individual to think creatively about solutions, since, as Einstein is quoted as saying, “We cannot solve the problems of today with the same kind of thinking that created them.”  If we can’t solve the problems of today with traditional thinking, then how can we ever hope to solve the problems of tomorrow if we continue to refuse avoid, and sometimes, refuse, to change?  If change means growth, then not changing means stagnation, and, if you’re familiar with the Law of Diminishing Returns, even stagnation leads to death…but in a much slower manner than declination.

Unfortunately for the organization, when stagnation is recognized, instead of panic, complacency usually results.  Then the phrase, “All we want to do is maintain” becomes the mindset… to maintain one’s current lifestyle, maintain one’s level of comfort, or maintain the current situation.  If this sounds familiar, then the “maintenance staff” at your school are the real leaders.

In order to “maintain,” the modus operandi is a mentality relating to “cutting.”  It’s interesting to note that in the human condition, “cutting” is seen as self-harm, and is a warning sign there may be deeper issues manifesting themselves as a cry for help.  In the business world, however, cutting is viewed as “business as usual” while working on the budget.  It seems that “What do we really need?” is the question which needs to be answered in every budget planning session today.  It is precisely this type of thinking that has led to cuts in the arts programs in schools so that resources can be put into disciplines that we really need, like science, technology, engineering and math.

I really hate to break it to everyone that’s thinking this way, but if you agree, you’re about 40 years too late.  In the 1980’s there was a void of teachers in the fields of math and science.  Education at that time was focused on producing early education and special education since the realization was made that the child’s most formative educational years were from birth to 6 years of age.  Then, as teachers began to find their job opportunities diminish due to funding cuts resulting from an aging population, an unemployed tax base, and fewer children in families, they sought additional specializations, like special education, to make themselves more marketable.  That type of thinking is still pervasive in the human resource offices of many school districts.

Just a few years ago, STEM was the rage in the public school environment, since the intersections of the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics are evident.  The acronym produces the imagery of a flower, since the stem supports the flower’s ability to be created, or perhaps beckons to draw upon medicine’s stem cell, which can be manipulated into specialized cells for healing and regeneration.  Common Core is also a topic which everyone seemed to love to hate – not necessarily because of the emphasis on mathematics and English language arts competencies at which students should be proficient prior to entering higher education or the workforce, but because it was another attempt by the federal government (this time in cooperation with the governors and the heads of the departments of education of each state) to tell local school districts what they must do when it comes to education.  Interestingly, a bill was drafted in 2015 by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chair of the Senate Education Committee, and ranking member Patty Murray (D-WA):

Draft legislation from the Senate education committee would require states to create their own accountability systems and bar the federal government from incentivizing states to adopt specific standards, such as the Common Core State Standards. (Source:  Accessed 2015.04.11)

While some cheered this, others looked at it and said, “Make up your mind!”  Then again, perhaps deep down, we as a society really don’t want to create problem solvers.  Even though music education is now receiving renewed consideration to be included as a core subject, solving problems means there may no longer be the need to solve problems.  Maintenance, as stated earlier in this article, requires problem solving abilities.  Once problems are solved, someone or something needs to create more problems that require solutions.  Solving those new problems will require an even more evolved type of thinking…which may not be recognized until another 40 years have passed.

When you consider leadership’s role is to bring to fruition the vision that’s been set for the organization, whether that vision is set by the leader or by the governing body of the organization, the path upon which the organization is traveling may have to change.  For some, change may provide opportunity; for others, change may create problems.  Therefore, if our educational system is aimed at creating global leaders, then aren’t they really the disruptors of the status quo, which could categorize them as problem creators, allowing them to employ expert problem solvers to enable the vision to be reached?  Then, once the vision is attained, then what?

That’s another problem that needs to be solved.