A New Year’s Vision for Music Education
By Mike Blakeslee, NAfME CEO & Executive Director
The New Year is a traditional time for making resolutions to be, somehow, better than we were in the last year.
Now, I’ve got two problems with that. First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never been very good at making resolutions. In my household, it’s typically my wife who makes the resolutions for both of us. You can guess how that works.
Second, talking about resolutions for our Association and our field, I would start from the point of view that we actually did pretty well in the past twelve months. We saw music specifically enumerated in the new law controlling education in the United States. We saw continued progress by teachers across the nation and in maintaining compelling music programs at the school and district level as well as in parsing the challenges of the new voluntary, national Standards for music education. And we saw a new vigor to the discussions we’ve always had around our goal of encouraging music for all.
But, of course, while the year ended with some pretty impressive results, we have nowhere near reached our stated goal as the National Association for Music Education. So it really is reasonable for each of us – leaders at the state or national level, teachers in elementary and secondary schools, and teacher educators and researchers – to adopt a resolution or two. Here’s my try:
In 2017, I will do all that I can to help our association bring us closer to the goal of music for all.
If that sounds overly simplistic and lacking in specifics, it seems to me that it comes with at least two challenging but attainable activities….
- First, our Association will have to engage in even more advocacy — but it will have to be smart advocacy. We have a new administration and Congress to work with at the Federal level and shifting power structures in many states. We have to find a way to work with all those who will be making decisions that affect our field, remembering that those decision-makers are more often than not working from doctrines or strategies that have been developed without reference to music education. We’ll have to develop more capacity at the state level (which is where most of the action will be for the next period) and develop clean, understandable messages that help all concerned think through their draft policies in terms of practical support for music education. We have to make them see this because of the real, almost universally held, belief that music education is good for all students. So in practice this means capacity building and clear messaging.
- Second, our Association will have to help teachers consider and adopt practices that focus on culturally responsive music teaching. The students in our classrooms and rehearsal rooms are still kids, but in many of our communities they are kids who have grown up in a world full of issues that only started registering on curricular radar in the last generation. Demographics, technology, shifting socioeconomic status of school populations – the changes are here and the list of changes goes on. Dealing with this requires a willingness to question existing practices with care. We don’t want to delete or dilute things that have made us strong for a century or more, but we may well want to expand and enhance our offerings. And the key is that this has to be done by each teacher or local group of teachers, based on the knowledge of their schools’ traditions, a grasp of the goals for instruction listed in the Standards, and (even more importantly) a deep empathy for the students and communities in which they work. So in practice this means, for NAfME, more varied and easily obtained professional development and professional communication systems.
I think you’ll agree that this is, indeed, challenging. Is it attainable? I think so – at least, I and your extremely capable and dedicated staff at NAfME headquarters are already working on ways to make this happen.
As with all good resolutions, the real key is consistent practice beyond the end of January, all the way through to 2018. This time, I’m making a commitment to try to stick to the resolution.
Note, however, that I’m not necessarily making the same commitment with regard to the resolutions that my wife just handed me. I’ll do my best, but we’ve got to be reasonable.
NAfME CEO & Executive Director, Mike Blakeslee