Why is it that the people most responsible for educating our children are so often on the wrong side of history?
I’m talking about the federal, state and local governments that have cast a collective thumbs-down on music education.
The “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001 specifically included arts education as a core academic subject. But the legislation also elevated math, reading and other subjects above other elements of the academic curriculum, and many school districts responded by de-emphasizing music and arts programs.
The consequences? By 2010, according to the Department of Education, 40 percent of high schools no longer required coursework in these areas.
Music is a form of communication more magical than any other, from birds singing in treetops to whales sounding their eerie songs in ocean deeps.
Cave paintings depict people dancing, suggesting the presence of rhythmic music. The first musical instrument might have been a hollow stick to blow through and make sound.
Hebrew scripture is replete with references to vocal music, and King David’s harp was one of the first stringed instruments, which he used as accompaniment when singing the many psalms that scholars believe he wrote.
Ancient fathers of the Christian Church saw all creation as the song of God.
St. Gregory of Nyssa carried the thought another step when he wrote in the fourth century, “Man is a musical composition, a wonderfully written hymn to powerful creative activity.”
Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox priest and writer, suggests that the utterance, “Let there be light,” set the universe as a fugue. God sings. All of creation sings.
As God rebuked a beleaguered Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth . . . when the morning stars sang together?"
Freeman calls music not entertainment, but “the very heart of creation. Man is not only a singer, but also a song. We are not only song, but also the song of God.”
Contrary to state and local pressures to defund music and other arts, a nationwide study of 1,000 teachers and 800 parents earlier this year found strong support for music education at all grade levels.
“Striking a Chord: The Public’s Hopes and Beliefs for K-12 Music Education in the United States 2015” identified strong majorities of teachers and parents who said music education should be funded, even at the expense of other programs and classes.
Eighty-three percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents said cutting music education is detrimental to students.
They pointed to a dozen areas they would rather cut than music—school and district administration, standardized testing, athletics programs and even advanced placement classes were all identified as better areas for budget cuts than music education.
How important is music to humankind? Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College, goes so far as to credit music as a proof of the existence of God.
Twice in my life, I have had something a little bit like a mystical experience. Once was the first time I heard Beethoven's 9th Symphony. I thought, ‘I have ceased to be a human being. I am now the music itself. I will never get back into my body.’
*The image above is an illuminated initial letter from the beginning of “Song of Songs” in a twelfth-century Latin Bible, now located in the library of the Winchester Cathedral.
In my next blog, “Eternal Muffin”
Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Guy-Boat-Peter-Yaremko/dp/0990905012/
Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.
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