Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 26, 2007

It raises us up

We had looked forward to daughter Katie's participation in the Honor Choir last Saturday with some trepidation. Art had chauffeured her several times the previous week and we were concerned she'd catch his bad cold, possibly causing her voice to become as odd-sounding as his. The forecast of heavy snow was another cause for concern.

But, as often happens, those worries were unfounded. Katie didn't get sick, and by the time Mariya, Art, Mom and I arrived at Junction City High School in the early afternoon, only a light snow had fallen. Katie was already there, having gone early to practice with her classmates.

Having arrived an hour before the scheduled starting time, we enjoyed being able to leisurely read the program and chat with others we knew, all while being serenaded by the practicing Honor Band.

Once the program began, one of the organizers thanked the audience for being there and added, "What better way to spend a snowy afternoon than listening to these young musicians." I agreed wholeheartedly.

Throughout the program, I was amazed how middle-school students from nearly 30 schools could play together so well after only one day, albeit a long one, of practicing. I enjoyed the entire program, but the song, "You Raise Me Up," made popular by singer Josh Groban, was a favorite.

But after the show, when Art was piloting the van back to Manhattan on the then-slushy roads, it wasn't just the performances that were on my mind. Instead, I kept thinking about the pleas from the organizers about the importance of music in a student's education

Regardless of whether a person believes the federal No Child Left Behind program is a good one, I doubt few would fault its goal. Who would not want to have as many students as possible be sufficiently proficient in science, math and reading that they can effectively participate in our world? Yet the program has had the undesired effect of forcing some school systems with few resources to target music, art and sports programs as being expendable. This view has been justified by noting that only a small proportion of our children will grow up to be professionals in music, art or sports.

The music educators' response Saturday was that music involves math, history, reading and science - areas that are included in No Child Left Behind - and so, should be spared.

But I think it misses the main point.

Katie is set on a career as an archaeologist - an occupation that has little to do with music, art or sports. But she often mentions how much she enjoys chorus and basketball. Even her science teacher said how much he thought Katie had benefitted from participating in a sport. Administrators and faculty continually search for things that will increase a student's enjoyment of school so they will study harder and learn more in math and science and become better readers. These experiences from "expendable" music and sports have added that sought-after enthusiasm.

Getting parents involved in their children's activities sends a message - a powerful message that parents value their children's efforts. This, too, is an important motivating factor in learning. Helping a child in math or science is not always easy for parents, but attending sporting events, concerts and art shows is something most parents can do almost effortlessly.

There are also indicators that a strict emphasis on the essentials of life does not take us where we want to go. In 1991, Art and I traveled through the former East Germany and Poland. These were countries that had put all their resources into practical subjects like math and science. This functional approach was quite evident in their cities with mile upon mile of gray poured-concrete buildings. But in the end, people in those countries were less productive than we were. And, when given a chance, their citizens opted for cars, homes and clothes that were not just functional, but uplifting as well.

Even our exchange student Nadja told us many times last year that she really liked our school system, with its variety of classes and extra-curricular activities. This contrasted with her school in Germany, which stressed only the basics.

I believe we have been lucky to be in a district where, despite the pressure to channel funds to activities directly related to raising test scores in math, science and reading, administrators and board members have been willing to look more deeply. This has led to a new emphasis on art, a new band room and the addition of weight training and a fitness trail at the grade school.

It is nice to know that our faculty and staff see music, art and sports as important complementary aspects of our children's lives. These are not throw-in activities, destined to benefit only a few. Instead, they serve to raise all our children up.

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