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They're doing it again: Phasing out the music programs in the schools

Updated on June 6, 2009

In an article in the Daily Kenoshan Newspaper this morning, the headline read: The Day Music Died. The ensuing article read: " According to music teachers at the Kenosha Unified School District, School Board President Eric Olsen has declared a total phase-out of the music department in Kenosha to take place over five years. By eliminating music as part of the education of Kenosha's students, a number of teaching positions might be saved." My first reaction was: OMG, they're doing it again! Why does the music department have to save the teachers?

Kenosha's school music program has historically been one of the very best, as far as public school systems go. It has long been a national model, and its student concerts are led by guest conductors of world renown. The Band-O-Rama in particular usually sells over 3000 tickets over the weekend it is offered. So why phase out their music program? I'm thinking: If this isn't typical of the board of education, I don't know what is.

This has been happening at high schools all across the country. In major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, art and music programs are all in danger of being cut. At both Grosse Pointe high schools, in Detroit, accompanists who work with vocal music programs are being laid off. The schools in phoenix are making major changes to all of their arts and language programs.

In addition, Boards of Education are busy closing large schools in favor of smaller ones. Student populations appear to be down and the economy has cut many positions to save revenue. In most cities, the first departments to go are the arts: art, music, photography, theater, etc. Back to basics appears to be the most common mantra right now. This is not necessarily due to the fact that students will get a better education, but primarily to cut back on spending.

When I was teaching high school music in the Chicago Public Schools in the 1970s, we went through the same thing.. There were six music teachers in the high school were I taught, so they decided to cut three of us. They did it by seniority. I wasn't high enough up on the list and so I was one of the three who had to go. To save our jobs, they put us back in the elementary schools Based on seniority I "bumped" the principal's favorite teacher. She hated me from then on. For me, it was two years of hell while she tried to make my life miserable. I'll never forget it.

And, most importantly, the kids suffered. They saw me once a week. The first year, I had no office or classroom. I slung my guitar over my back and schlept a record player and art supplies from classroom to classroom. I was responsible for all the kids in the school, K-8. They saw me so infrequently that they couldn't remember what they learned from week to week. The younger ones couldn't even remember my name.

Fortunately, the second year, they managed to give me a classroom. I started including dance, movement, and theater games into the curriculum. I would change the seating around and try to do all sorts of innovative things. Better for me, but the "old school" principal didn't approve and lowered my "superior" rating to "excellent".......still good, but I'm an over-achiever and I wasn't happy. I finally succeeded in getting transferred back the a high schools, by getting a masters in Special Education. There were positions open in that area.

The most important thing I took away from this situation was how much the children need the arts and creative outlets. They were very responsive. And some, who never succeeded at anything else, excelled in this type of environment. One's state of mine and sense of well being is enhanced by these experiences, enabling them to have the self confidence to take risks and open their minds to other more academic endeavors. I strongly believe these programs enhance our children's lives and make them happier and better adjusted students. Will someone please stop the madness!


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    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      10 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      @The Musiconomy: Thanks for an interesting and informative comment.

    • TheMusiconomy profile image


      10 years ago from New York City

      Great hub and I enjoyed the comments from everyone. This is a hot topic and deserves a long discussion.

      I am definitely a proponent of self-reliance, but I do understand the lack of money these days would prevent many people from paying for private music lessons outside of the school system.

      But honestly, the cost of music or arts education really comes down to priorities for most people. There are ways to get a great deal in music lessons by getting a bunch of kids together for an hour with one instructor. Everyone pays $10 and everyone wins! That's $40 a month on average for music ed. It could even be less depending on where you live.

      How much does a cell phone cost per month? How much does a video game cost? It's all about personal responsibility.

      But I do think that cutting music programs are setting up schools for more failures in the future.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      11 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Hi Alek,

      Honestly as someone who was a full time teacher for a few years I just saw the good, bad, and the ugly of the profession.  There are many good teachers out there that encourage their kids, but I have just noticed through out the history of the world one of the first things to go in education are good programs.  Some of the greatest musicians were from poor backgrounds and self taught, so to me it is totally probably to fulfill your needs outside of the public school if there is a void.  I have seen many people let down via public education, so I try to build them up by letting them know they are the masters for their own education.  One friend was told by his teachers he could not read, so recently I have been trying to show him that is not true. The reality is many kids will not have a good school or caring teachers, so by instilling in them that they can take charge of their own education, that is my goal. However, I suppose I just have a different take on this issue.

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      11 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      In reference to examples from other kids (above): This sometimes sparks that bit of competition needed to "seek out" on one's own. Some kids just don't have the level of maturity that you mght have had.

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      11 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Thanks, SP, for the really good comment. A lot of what you say is true. But, in response to you suggestion that:  "If the public school is not meeting your needs read books or take music lessons outside of school" What if you can't afford to take music or art or whatever lessons outside of school? This sometimes sparks that bit of competition it might take to "seek out" on one's own.

      And not every kid has the audacity, spunk, and general wherewith all to engage in independent studies. I read and wrote a lot independently as a kid, but I was always very intellectually inquisitive, especially when it came to language and the arts. But, some kids just need that push from a caring or talented teacher, or from the examples of other kids around them.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      11 years ago from Southern California, USA

      My honest opinion is each of us needs to take ownership of our education outside of the classroom.  If I had relied on my teachers to give me the knowledge I have today I never would have found it until later in life.  I had some good teachers in elementary and high school, but during the in between years there was a void, and it was up to me to fill that void.

      I used to think there was a dumbing down conspiracy, but today I just believe people have to take ownership for what they want to learn.  If the public school is not meeting your needs read books or take music lessons outside of school. Through out the history of education there has been a tendency to have students who did not achieve, and bad teachers in every century and decade.

      Even back in the fifties my mom complained about a teacher not allowing her to go onto the next level of reading books because she want the class to progress "together".  Even in books written in the nineteenth century we hear stories of how some teachers were not all that stellar, and some kids really did not try the hardest.

      As someone who was told I could do very little by some teachers, I simply had the audacity and spunk to prove them wrong.  My independent reading outside of school happened to be where I learned the most before high school, and even afterward to some extent.  One must be an avid reader, go to the library often, and take enriching lessons such as music on the side. 

    • alekhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      11 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Yeah, do you believe it? What the hell is the matter with these jerks? Do you think it's a conspiracy, I mean, as you put it, a "dumbing down" conspiracy. Thanks for the comment, D

    • Dink96 profile image


      11 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      I hope this doesn't go very far. I call it part of the "dumbing down" of America. And I'll stop right there. :-)


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