Music Makes You Smarter / Basketball Makes You Taller

SATURDAY, MARCH 6, 2010

I don't know. Maybe it all comes down to my thinking that with all of our bumper stickers, tote bags, t-shirts, refrigerator magnets that we, music educators, might come across as a little bit pathetic. Either way, I think some rational arguments can be made against some of our historical stances when it comes to defending the importance of music in our schools.

"Music Makes You Smarter"

This platitude has several issues as far as I am concerned. As music teachers, we quote all kinds of research pointing to how music students in high schools are on average stronger academically than those who did not study in music. I don't dispute that for a moment. I'm sure they are. Frankly it only stands to reason. I do however fear that this is tantamount to making the assertion that "Basketball Makes You Taller." Without hard data in front of me, I bet that if you take all boys that reach the height of 6'8" by the time they get done with high school, there would be a far greater percentage of them who played basketball than those who did not reach 6'8". They played basketball because they grew tall, not the other way around.

Maybe music attracts smart kids.

I've also read a lot of suggestion that introducing music in early childhood, right down to playing Mozart to a baby in the womb, seems to stimulate an intellectual development that leads to better-than-average success academically. I have a hard time imaging that such studies were able to get a legitimate control group that would validate such assertions. If you are the type of parents that would treat your kids to pre-natal Mozart and Suzuki violin instruction, would there not likely be a few other things you are doing right that might also lead to the success of your children?

Am I then saying that music doesn't make you smarter? Certainly not! If it doesn't, than I am not doing my job, which is the same job that all of my colleagues have within their subjects. We all do what we do to "make kids smarter". If I were a Social Studies teacher, and I parked my car next to the music teacher's car sporting a bumper sticker that distinguished music from my discipline as one that improves kids intellects, I might be justifiably insulted, and certainly dismissive. Maybe you disagree with everything I've said here, and that the conclusions of all of this research are irrefutable and ironclad. I still suggest that we are not doing ourselves a service in the long run by suggesting to administrators and colleagues that what makes music special or unique is that we make kids smarter.

That brings me to another point. We often build a case for music education by pointing out why it is not unique...not special. We outline all of the math, the language, the history, and the physical fitness aspects of music. We crow about how it is all these subjects, wrapped into one.

For me, it is this simple. Music is important because it is music. That's how it should be sold.

How do we do that? We accomplish this by letting music do what it can do. By bringing it into the soul of our students. In short, the best advocacy we can provide for our craft is to work toward being incredible at it. Discretely store all the free stuff you got at the convention this year and spend your energy teaching music as well as you can do it. Nothing will speak louder than this. Be a member of the faculty, a team player, value what each of them do as you expect them to do for you. Enjoy interdisciplinary opportunities, carry out your duties with a smile, see your role at the school as the music part of the whole, and be awesome at what you do. You will be valued, even without a bumper sticker or hoodie, begging to be valued.