When budgets are tight, school music programs often are targeted for elimination. Music educator author John L. Behnam has worked as an advocacy consultant saving and building music programs for the past 30 years.
Through his advocacy work, he developed methods responsible for saving $70 million in proposed music cuts–equivalent to approximately 2,000 teaching positions and 400,000 music students.
MENC and Rowman & Littlefield Education copublished his new book Music Advocacy: Moving From Survival to Vision, a summary of the practice of music advocacy. It is a compilation of research and experience gained from 30 years experience by one of the nation’s most successful advocates for music education. The book provides music educators, administrators, school board members, and community advocates with step-by-step procedures for saving and building school music programs. Tips include understanding the school system, forming music coalitions and the role of the music education profession, and how to develop and use impact statements and crisis management, educational reform. MENC members receive a 25% discount off the list price of $80 for the hardback version and $34.95 for the paperback.
Benham answered questions about music education advocacy and his book:
Q: Why do you believe advocacy is important?
A: If you don’t want to be a music education advocate then why are you a music teacher? Teaching is curricular and extra-curricular activity, it is fund-raising, it is standing up for your music program if you really want to have a music program. Think of advocacy as an ongoing process, not something you gear up when you have a crisis.
Q: Why do you think some music teachers are uncomfortable with the notion of music education advocacy?
A: Music teachers who are tenured may feel as if they are safe and don’t need to worry about it. They are probably in denial. You are losing an opportunity to solidify your position and improve on it. Teachers who are constantly defending their music programs are in reactive mode and operating from a place of panic. The best advocacy is ongoing, demonstrating how much you care about your students, demonstrating what they can do to reach the people who matter. It also helps to rally support from parents and others in the community because they can make an even stronger case. They know what your music program is doing for their kids.
Q: What was the toughest case you’ve ever had to go to bat for?
A: I would lump all of the hardest ones together. Those are the ones where neither teachers nor parents show up to advocate for a program. You have to want to save your program. You have to have good relationships with the parents of your students so they are ready to help if you need them No one can do that for you.
Q: What kinds of materials does your book provide for music educators?
A: The book includes a 3-page survey that lays out what I do when I step in to help a program, information I have collected over the past 30 years. The survey tells you how to gather information step-by-step information that, by law should be available to the public. You learn to research what the economic impact on the community might be. This is information that music teachers have used to help save their music programs.
Q: Who is your book aimed at?
A: It is aimed at anyone who cares about having music in schools—music educators, community activists, the music industry, school board members, and school administrators. I have never met a school administrator who really wanted to cut a school music program, and the material in my book gives them a way out. Find like-minded people to work with. They are out there if you look.
Q: Discuss your own career as a music educator.
A: I have taught music in school districts all across the country. I’ve taught in inner city districts. I’ve taught instrumental and vocal music. I understand how school music programs work. What I am doing now is an important extension of that. I do the work I do because I care about kids. I care whether they have great music programs. Airports and travel get old after a while, but that keeps me going.
Q: Is there a central theme you want readers to take away from your book?
A: For me it is pretty basic: caring enough to put students first. Any discussion you can come up with—keeping music programs, saving the jobs—comes back to this idea. Students are the reason we have school music programs. If your primary concern is students, it is hard for a school board to say no.
They don’t care about teaching challenges, about saving jobs, but they do care about students, and if you care enough, you can make a sincere heartfelt argument they can relate to.
And if you focus on students, you can be collaborative rather confrontational. Parents are your best advocates. Find effective ways to use them. And remember that school board officials are there to serve the public. You can remind them of that without being confrontational.
Photo by Roz Fehr
—Roz Fehr, November 4, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education