The number of students who enroll in school music offerings, traditional band, chorus, and orchestra, dropped drastically in recent decades, and this tendency has been developing apace since then. The situation reached the stage when concerns about the future of American musical education at schools have arisen. The most common form of music education in the USA, namely the traditional ensemble-based model, seems to be the issue here. This model has outlived its usefulness long ago and is justly called “The Elephant in the Room” by David A. Williams in his 2011 article. The author’s deep understanding of the problem does not leave room for disagreement.
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First of all, “The Elephant in the Room” appears to be the material that is straightforward and logically organized. The issue is examined to a full extent, and various reasons for it have been brought to light, one of which is that students of either excellent or poor achievements tend to opt for other academic courses rather than music. Scheduling conflicts, uncooperative counselors, students with many competing interests add to the picture.
Another reason revealed by Williams is of a psychological nature. He suggests that teachers are probably not willing to change the deep-rooted model in which they excelled during their own secondary-school years and due to their nostalgia for those years. All these obstacles are viewed as being difficult to deal with, but what is worse, the author states, the very model used for music education in schools by far is the main issue causing trouble.
Not only unmasks Williams the problem but also suggests alternatives and ways of their implementation. In the following sections, the author offers ten opportunities, as he calls them, to consider. Ten is more than enough for the beginning, and they are reviewed in detail. First of all, Williams suggests that class size should be reduced from eighty students to a more reasonable number. Next, he suggests entrusting students with control over the educational environment and allowing them to learn from their own creative decisions by letting them compose, arrange, and improvise. Furthermore, Williams insists that new models of music education should focus on individual student music learning, making use of newer technologies and instruments that could be of interest to students and are part of their culture.
To attract the interest of students, he recommends including a variety of musical styles and genres into curriculums as well as reducing rote learning in music, prioritizing aural development. Another set of characteristics recommended here includes enhancement of lifelong musical skills, encouraging students to take up music at any level, and help them reach a functional level of musicality within a shorter period of time.
Williams not only states the requirements and objectives for the new educational models, but he also gives examples of how they could be implemented in reality, asserting that the music education profession should deal with its challenges through change, scary as it seems. Unfortunately, the traditional attitudes to the organization of the educational process regarding music are so deeply ingrained that they have not really changed yet, notwithstanding the recent findings presented in the 2017 “Give a Note Foundation” report.
According to it, the outdated models of music education are still widespread across elementary, middle, and high schools. Williams remains realistic, if not pessimistic, by saying that perhaps the change would have been timely fifty years ago. However, since then, more innovative educational models have been developed and implemented though in an experimental way, for example, “the music clubhouse model,” “the school-based enrichment block model,” etc. (Greher, 2016, 33).
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Taking these points into consideration, it could be concluded that music education in America has yet improved to a certain extent. Many of the provisions given in Williams’ article were taken into account. However, while music standards were changed in 2014, it is deep-rooted opinion that are taking a long time to evolve. Needless to say, until all suggestions have been implemented, music education in the USA will remain in its infancy.
Give a Note Foundation. 2017. “The status of music education in United States public schools – 2017.” Reston, VA. Web.
Greher, Gena R. 2016. “Theme One: Educational Insights Teaching Outside the Box: Community Music Pathways as a Lens for Re-Imagining, Re-Defining, Re-Invigorating Music Teacher Education.” Innovation and Change in Community Music: no. 2016, 32-38.
Williams, D.A. 2011. “The Elephant in the Room.” Music Educators Journal, 8 (1): 51-57.