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.
You were a member of the task force that created the National Standards for Music Education. What do the Standards mean for music educators today?
All of us on the National Standards task force realized at the time that the work in which we were engaged was important. I remember feeling a bit awed by the responsibility of:
- developing the first draft that MENC published for member input;
- sorting through thousands of suggestions from hundreds of members across the country to create the second draft that was published;
- weighing hundreds more recommendations submitted by teachers in the field in response to the second draft; and
- finalizing and publishing the final National Standards document, including the introduction and glossary.
The process was incredibly intense, and often complicated by negotiations with various partner organizations over issues such as format and terminology.
The National Standards have in many ways had a wider impact than anyone could have anticipated. We expected them to guide curriculum and help reconcile the Tower of Babel differences among the state frameworks that varied so widely back in the early 1990s, which they have done. There are now few if any such documents that fail to emphasize the need to perform, to create music, and to respond to music.
What I did not anticipate, but has become increasingly obvious as I have worked with teachers across the country, is that:
- The Standards helped reconcile curriculum differences among teachers who had been driven more by the method in which they were trained than the outcomes they were seeking. For example, Orff and Kodaly advocates have blended practices to address areas in which each method offered strength.
- The glossary in the Standards provided our profession for the first time with a common set of key terms and definitions for use in curricula and classrooms.
- The Standards have strengthened the resolve of and guided ensemble directors who knew that their students should learn more about music as they mastered pieces for their next concert.
- The Standards have, metaphorically, provided the hub that connects the diverse spokes of many initiatives that might otherwise never have been connected, such as assessments that were based on differing local curricula or state standards.
- The Standards have empowered music education professors in higher education institutions to negotiate changes in previously hidebound undergraduate curricula, to provide their students with broader preparation, such as in creating or evaluating the quality of music.
- National Standards have provided an alternative basis for curriculum development for teachers who have not been satisfied with their state standards.
MENC is currently working with partner organizations to pursue funding for the development of the next generation of music/arts standards, to join the process of developing national Common Core Standards that began with English/Language Arts and Math. We will announce more details about this initiative as they emerge.
Discuss your work as the Arts Education specialist in the Connecticut State Department of Education.
My work as Connecticut Arts Consultant is different every day, providing the kind of variety that I need to sustain my interest and passion. My mission is to do whatever I can to help ensure that all children get the best possible education in as many art forms as possible. Achieving that requires collaboration with teachers and districts to set arts standards, then develop standards-based curriculum and assessment; developing and maintaining a statewide e-mail network through which I communicate with and sometimes mobilize arts educators and supporters; advocacy within my agency to make the arts eligible for competitive funding; persuading very busy and often reluctant administrators that they need to look beyond tests and tested subject areas to invest in quality arts projects and programs… in many ways, the scope looks like what music teachers or district-level program leaders do, but on a statewide scale.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is that I have built a statewide network of respectful relationships with arts educators and administrators who constantly volunteer their services to participate in projects that advance the cause of arts education. Indeed, there is very little of importance that I can accomplish individually – everything really important that we have achieved, we have achieved together.
I was initially hired as the music consultant for the Connecticut Department of Education, but suddenly – as a result of layoffs, and without any particular qualifications or training – I became the state’s arts consultant. As I have discovered since, working with teachers of four very different arts disciplines gives the word “multicultural” a whole new meaning! Such a broad scope of work has also provided me with daily opportunities for learning that build on the skills and knowledge I developed as a music teacher and professor, and really broadened my horizons. My wife and I studied ballroom dancing, love going to galleries and plays, and the only TV show we DVR and watch religiously is “So You Think You Can Dance.” When we venture outside our narrow boundaries of specialization, we grow.
—Roz Fehr, August 17, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education