Ontario Music Programs In Decline:
Are We Forgetting The Value Of Music?
Over the past twenty years there’s been a slow decline in the number of schools in Ontario that employ specialist music teachers. In 1997, roughly 60 percent of all public schools employed music teachers, down to 40 percent at present. The reasons for this are myriad, and yet there’s a strong case to be made that these reasons are founded on flawed logic.
The lack of support for music programs recently is linked to the proliferation of the idea that the arts in general are superfluous. Middle class families who came through the brutal recession of the mid aughts, which extended into our current decade, may have come to view music class as something of a needless luxury, especially if they are expecting their children to take up a practical craft or career.
In Toronto, where the population density is very high, many schools are stilled blessed with significant funding that covers music programs. If, on the other hand, you want your child to learn a new instrument in Waterloo or any other city that lies outside of a dense, urban area, the only effective route may be to engage the services of a private music instructor. While private music lessons are great, the advantage of playing in a classroom setting is that it inspires values related to team work and social skills.
The misconception that the arts are purely a luxury is dangerous – it puts the next generation’s future at risk. The reality is that the arts, even as a supplement to a well-rounded education, promote emotional growth, problem solving skills and a wide variety of benefits that will generally enrich a young person’s life and motivate them to be disciplined and open minded. As education expert Gaztambide-Fernandez suggests, the education system is trending towards a double standard that is based in shaky logic. Most grown-ups don’t do long division, most grown-ups don’t play the French horn, but either way, gaining mastery over these skills has the potential to be an important formative experience; furthermore, they have the potential to complement each other so that young students can broaden their understanding of the world.
Unfortunately, the students who will miss out on these opportunities the most are typically from more rural communities where – to re-iterate – there is less arts funding. This widens the sense of a class divide, of a sense that city dwellers are effete, opera-loving art snobs who look down their noses at the lower middle class. In a perfect world, the arts could be a middle ground to help open up a dialogue and a shared experience that brings people together rather than dividing them.
If the Ontario government is really committed to fostering a progressive culture that champions multicultural values, equal rights and equal opportunity, ensuring that public schools outside of large urban centres are receiving more funding for music programs would be an excellent investment.
Music is an integral part of a child’s education. Music learning does not have to be on a $5000 cello. A shoe box makes an excellent drum. A recorder can be purchased at a music store for $7. Part of the issue in school is having a teacher who is confident/qualified to teach the basics of music.
We had music classes when I went to school (England) and a cousin was a music teacher until her retirement. However my kids went to school in Germany and I think they only had music for a year and that was terrible – they learnt how much room to leave at the top, bottom and sides of the page they were writing on. They had to write essays on various musicians but that was about it – a sheer waste of time because the kids were all disgruntled at having these music classes.
I’m fortunate enough that our son’s school has a music program as it is something we all value highly – he loves dance most of all. But it is very expensive – both in school and out.
The arts are important for all. It is true that there is a rural-urban divide. It is also true that when arts programs are not available in schools, more affluent families are better able to bridge the gap. Those students whose families have less money are the ones who miss out.
Throughout elementary and middle school, we always had music class with great music teachers. Those classes were some of the most influential of my developing years and can’t imagine not having had the experiences. The value of music really can’t be understated in school.
You’re so right. Music really brings people together. I agree schools should get more funding for it.