With many of the nation’s education leaders focused on the importance of STEM education, the movement to add music to the equation is getting more attention. Recently, a panel of experts gathered on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to discuss ways to elevate music education– and the arts in general – and turn STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) into STEAM.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) sponsored the event, called “Music Education Powers STEAM: The Broader Minded Role of Music in Preparing a 21st Century Workforce.” The panel included Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, NAfME President Glenn E. Nierman, David Dik, National Executive Director of Young Audiences Arts for Learning, and Dru Davison, Arts Administrator for Shelby County Schools in Memphis. The panel was moderated by Matt Wallaert, a behavioral psychologist with Microsoft/Bing.
The participants all agreed that successful music education advocacy depended on highlighting how music develops key skills in students, including self-reflection, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation.
“The goal of our teachers is not to make music majors, but lifelong persons who appreciate the arts and there are number of 21st century skills like communication and collaboration that happen almost every day in the music classroom,” explained NAfME President Nierman.
“Everything can be connected. Instead of saying ‘now we are studying science and then we are studying art,’ it can be integrated curriculum that can be really engaging to students…because we all know students learn in multiple ways,” said Rep. Bonamici, who also reported that the bipartisan Congressional STEAM Caucus has grown to include 63 members of Congress.
Nierman added that music offers students the chance to interact intellectually, kinetically, and emotionally, allowing them to take ownership of their world through creation and expression.
“One of the things that the arts and music do uniquely is to help that child discover who they are as a person and their relationship to their fellow human beings,” explained Nieman. “I have often talked to school boards about the fact had we had more students to come in contact with arts education and the integration of art, maybe we would not have had Columbine, the awful things we see happening in schools.”
Dru Davison urged all stakeholders to recognize the role music teachers play in helping close achievement gaps. Davidson pointed out that too much of the dialogue about science and technology education and career readiness tends to focus on very high-achieving students. A strong music education program, he argued, can help struggling students – which Davison was when he was in school – become more engaged in their studies and steer them toward a career and college readiness path.
“What are doing to prescribe solutions those students who are not at that high end?” Davison asked. “The music teacher specifically has a unique role and I think we’re the prescription in many cases.”
Watch the NAfME STEAM Panel Discussion
Rep. Bonamici also emphasized that music and arts education can help close the gender gap by getting girls involved with STEM.
“Girls begin to realize that there are parallels between music and math or science and art, “Bonamici explained. “So we can start to get that confidence back and begin to close the gender gap.”
“Every child deserves arts education,” Bonamici continued. “It shouldn’t be an extra class or done in the basement or up in the attic of the school. It should be for everyone. We have to move STEAM forward and translate it into policy that will benefit not only to our students and our schools, but also to our business community and to the country – to make sure we are globally competitive and our students become innovative thinkers.”
The day after the briefing, more than 150 music education leaders and supporters visited Capitol Hill for NAfME Hill Day 2014 and shared with elected officials the urgent need to ensure the continued preservation of school-based music programs across America.
By Richard Naithram