As Californians, we task our children to be career-ready innovators capable of creating a future that will sustain the largest and most innovative economy in the Nation. Our educational system also values educating our young people so that they become lifelong learners and citizens who actively participate in our democracy. Training in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM subjects) are key to producing the next generation of problem solvers in California.
However, while these technical skills are important, they do not address other traits that employers are seeking. The ability to work well in teams, learn from criticism, communicate, and adapt quickly under pressure (often while multitasking) are all skills that are essential for employment. Our students, regardless of STEM knowledge, will struggle to reach these expectations in a setting where passive listening and standardized tests rule class time.
The arts address these concerns. As suggested by the STEAM movement, the addition of the arts is vital to enhancing children’s likelihood of success both during school and adulthood. Currently, STEAM focuses on integrating art projects into STEM classrooms, giving students chances to experience STEM concepts in new ways. STEM and STEAM models can be effective approaches to connecting learning across the curriculum when paired with sequential, standards-based arts education as a foundation.
However, as a stand-alone approach to providing arts education, STEAM fails to provide foundational learning necessary in the arts disciplines so that effective arts learning can take place. California students must first be provided access to discrete music and arts classes taught by qualified teachers so that learning in the arts builds over time. The STEAM Model is an effective tool in education only when paired with sequential, standards-based arts education provided by qualified teachers.
Taking music classes, specifically, has been linked to higher math, science, and reading scores. But, this is a narrow understanding of what makes music essential in the school curriculum. Reading and
making music in a sequential, standards-based music class with a qualified teacher is linked to skills employers need and that STEM classes do not address. A few of these skills include increased attention spans, ability to multitask, adaptability under stress, stronger empathy, active listening, and a more positive outlook on teamwork and self-worth.
Listening to music is the only activity that lights up the whole brain at once and those who engage in making music have visibly more connected brains than before learning to play or sing. New studies (controlling for performance before taking music classes) show links to higher GPAs, graduation rates, and attendance rates (especially on the days that music classes are held). Music instruction also seems to reduce discipline referrals for involved students, producing more positive views of school and closing achievement gaps between less advantaged students and their peers. These positive results may be rooted in music classes’ unique blend of shared leadership, where different roles are all necessary and students must work in harmony to produce effective ensemble performances. Such an environment results in the student experiencing a sense of identity as a “musician”. It also provides students a safe-haven in a motivating peer group.
The array of positive engagement that standards-based, sequential music education provides is unmatched by any other subject and must serve as a foundation for improvement and employability of our workforce. CMEA calls for music classes taught by full-time, qualified music teachers to be scheduled alongside other STEAM curricula. Music education is most effective when presented on its own by those with educational and musical training. These teachers must be evaluated on teaching music to encourage the full range of possible growth in students and not on other subjects’ test scores. By allowing children to break the silence of school days, our young people find answers that we have not thought to ask and will continue to grow California’s economy into the future.
Adopted by the California Music Educators Association Board of Directors, August 10, 2014