How Do We Get Decision-Makers Directly Involved?

Posted by Michael R. Gagliardo, Mar 01, 2010 3 comments

I am now a little over four days removed from attendance at an event that reinforced my belief in my profession.  Not that I really needed any reinforcement – I have always believed in the work that we do – but every once in a while it’s nice to experience a moment that solidifies all of the thoughts and reasons we have for our work.

I spent last week in Santa Clara, California, with 120 high school students from 32 states.  The event was the National High School Honors Orchestra, and I had the honor of serving as the chair for the event.  With the help of a hand-picked staff of eleven of the best music educators (and dear friends) from all over the country, the guidance of the phenomenal Maestro Raymond Harvey, and lots of administrative assistance from the talented ASTA staff, we brought these 120 individuals together on Tuesday afternoon for a week that one student would later refer to as “one of the best experiences of my life.”

On Friday night, as we listened in wonder to these students performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, the “Titan,” in a concert that would be described by parents as “amazing,” “wonderful,” and more, I could not help but feel a renewed spark of energy and a bit of enlightenment.  “This,” I thought to myself,” is the future of strings, and of music education as a whole.”

Of course, at some point the afterglow fades away, and you are snapped back into reality, sometimes rather violently.  I received a message from a long-time friend of mine last night, a fellow trumpet player who works in the Chicago suburbs as a systems analyst for a large high school.  He needed my help – specifically, he needed data that reinforced the long-proven facts that students who participate in the arts perform better on standardized tests and in core curriculum classes.  His words – “stop me if you’ve heard this before.”  His daughter’s school system plans on cutting the fine arts curriculum to save money.  Here we go again.

So my question for today is this – after witnessing something like the performance of the National High School Honors Orchestra on Friday night, how could anyone justify cutting the fine arts from our schools?  Is the problem that not enough of our school administrators and school board members are witness to the positive impact that the fine arts are having on our students?  Perhaps the studies aren’t enough – maybe what we need to be doing as educators is ensuring that those who make these decisions have first-hand experiences as to the power and impact of the arts.  If you were in the audience on Friday night, there would be no way you could deny this.

So, how can we get our decision-makers directly involved in the experiences of our students?  Do we show up with instruments on doorsteps?  Any thoughts or ideas here?  Let’s hear about the things that work for you, so we can all share your success!

3 responses for How Do We Get Decision-Makers Directly Involved?


March 21, 2010 at 11:12 pm

I have to passionately disagree with you. Have you heard about "reverse economics?" If not, please go to and look it up. Because many music classes are large performance groups (bands, choirs and orchestras) those teachers teach more students than a classroom English or math teacher does. So if you remove one of these programs all those extra kids have to go into other classes and the school system ends up having to spend more money.
I don't think visiting artists can ever take the place of a full-time arts teacher. Also, once you move a music class to after school - it becomes a program only for the elite. Too many kids can't get transportation home after hours. Also, by moving it out of the daily schedule - you are removing it from the curriculum and turning it into an extra-curricular subject. We have to work to protect these programs!

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March 02, 2010 at 9:32 am

We are learning that the arts are extremely important to cognitive development. Scientific evidence is available. Research shows that children trained in music possess increased memory skills, for example. Putting the researched facts in front of decision makers will pose the perfect argument in favor of retaining music programs in schools. See example article:
Oxford University Press (2006, September 20). First Evidence That Musical Training Affects Brain Development in Young Children

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Jen Bero says
March 05, 2010 at 1:05 am

After watching the school district where I live struggle with balancing a budget, I believe assuming that the decision makers are not aware of the benefits of arts education is incorrect. In my city, they are.
I after reading about the proposed cuts to the the elementary band and strings programs, I attended a school board meeting fully prepared to protest the proposed cuts. After listening, for more than five hours, to the fiscal challenges the district faces, I had a better understanding of the issues. The decision makers will not deny the benefits of arts education, they will agree music, dance, and the visual arts enrich the education experience and the community-but when faced with cutting reading support teachers, counselors or not funding a boiler for schools (in Wisconsin), then I am sorry, there are programs and projects more important than the arts.
Just as a side note: the reason for the budget difficulties is not due to fiscal mismanagement, but rather to reductions in state funding of local school districts due to fiscal mismanagement at the state level and a union who voted to retain full-time benefits for staff who work only eight hours per week, which incidentally, would have saved the district $200,000 or exactly the cost savings the district would realize for cutting strings and moving band to an after school activity.
I am a leisure musician and I did get my start in school. I also work in a regional art museum. I believe we have to look at the situation differently. The funding cuts in the arts at schools creates a stellar opportunity for community arts organizations to fill in where the schools are cutting. Create after school programming, visiting arts experiences, offer music lessons....I guarantee if you offer solutions instead of worn arguments, then we will show decision makers the power of the arts to affect positive change.

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