MENC President Scott C. Shuler took office in June. He discusses his commitment to music education and the arts as well as how he views his two-year presidency in this four-part interview.
What will be the focus of your presidency, whether issues or tone?
Any MENC president should have three over-arching goals:
- To improve our profession – and, through those improvements, the music education received by citizens across our country.
- To improve the status of music education and music educators in schools.
- To improve the effectiveness of MENC itself.
The means of achieving these goals necessarily varies according to current conditions, such as the economy, the philosophy of the federal administration, and the legislative environment. For a national organization whose membership is as diverse in their roles and needs as ours, the focus cannot be monolithic. There are, however, a few key areas in which I would like to help our profession grow.
Achieving goal one means continuing our work to sharpen the goals and improve the classroom practices of music educators in schools PreK-Postgraduate. Establishing National Standards is part of that process, but without follow-through, standards become like too many local curriculum guides: theoretical treatises that sit unused on teachers’ bookshelves.
- We need to help teachers bring those standards to students through professional development and other resources provided by the national organization and its state affiliates.
- We need to align undergraduate music education curricula with the kind of education we need those students to deliver after they graduate.
- We also need to ensure that music education and educators remain relevant, in part by periodically updating the standards themselves, a conversation in which we are already engaged. However, just as important, we need to create curriculum that matches the needs and interests of 21st century students. Change is tough – but always necessary. There is no such thing as standing still because, in the words of the song, “that big wheel keeps on turnin’.”
Advocacy is eternally important … more so now than ever. That is the face we turn outward, and advocacy supports the second goal listed above.
The retirement of long-time MENC Executive Director John Mahlmann added two unanticipated layers to my term as president. First, I served as co-chair with Paul Lehman for the search that led to the hiring of our highly skilled new Executive Director, Michael Butera. Then it became my responsibility to work with Michael and the National Executive Board to examine MENC’s internal systems and external relationships, to ensure that he and the organization are as successful as possible.
One recurring theme – especially in the current economy – is achieving maximum efficiency, enabling MENC to achieve as much as possible with members’ dues. Sometimes such efficiency comes from clarifying priorities. Sometimes efficiency takes advantage of technology, which can also reach our younger, “digital native” cadre of teachers. Sometimes efficiency stems from partnering more effectively, such as by providing services that are less costly when centralized. Membership is one such centralized service; there are potentially others.
One truth that is obvious to anyone who gets to know MENC’s staff is that they are wonderful people, deeply dedicated to music education and educators. As we have downsized headquarters staff, they have consistently stepped up to the plate to do the best they can on our behalf with fewer resources.
Do you feel it is important for MENC to work with other arts groups? Why?
Partnerships help associations achieve shared goals, just as collaboration helps individuals achieve theirs. That’s why Covey assigns collaborative action to the highest levels in his classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Collaboration is the way wise people and organizations mobilize more ideas and resources to achieve higher goals than they could attain individually.
One blessing and challenge of my “day job,” in which I work with representatives of all four art forms (dance, art, theatre, and music), is the broad range of ideas and issues that educators in different arts areas bring to the table. For example, music educators bring a day-and-night commitment to their field and skill working in groups (“ensembles”); art educators are students of creativity and very conscious of each child’s individual potential. While such differences in perspective and focus can sometimes necessitate mediation, when properly respected, they generally lead to stronger final products in shared initiatives.
In the final analysis, we all want the same things: quality arts education for all children regardless of where they live, a society of adults who value and benefit from active arts participation, and greater respect for arts educators and programs. We will be more effective in reaching those goals if we work together.
More broadly, we also need to work with professional associations and organizations outside the arts that share our priorities. For example, our colleagues in subject areas such as social studies and world languages are as concerned as we are about the narrowing of school curricula due to high stakes testing in ELA and math. They value teaching the “whole child” and want schools to be responsible for providing instruction in all core subject areas, just as we do.
—Roz Fehr, August 10, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education