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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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