So, I’ve been thinking about our new NYC chancellor Cathleen Black and her opportunity to create change in the NYC schools. What might be the fastest and easiest way? What are our goals in educating the next generation? The press has been endlessly discussing our education system, our competition with China and our need for a creative, innovative flexible future work force to enable us to compete nimbly with the rest of the inter-connected world. In addition we hear about the death of classical music and in particular the struggle that our symphony orchestra’s and other performing arts organizations are going through. You might wonder what is the connection between these subjects, why would I juxtapose them? Well I think they are related and important as representing what is going wrong in our world view. We have spent the last 30 years de-valuing so-called elitist culture and cutting and denying our children access to some of the great genius of the last 500 years by de-emphasizing the study of classical music and art. We teach to the test now and in our rush to overhaul the education system we cut out the very subjects that might contribute to the much vaunted creative and innovative work force. Meanwhile the Chinese and other countries are working hard to create a more creative work force. Several weeks ago we read about the city of Shanghai coming in number one on the PISA test and that the Chinese students do not participate in extra-curricular activities, and instead spend much more time studying in school and doing homework, the same week the Times had an article about how so many Chinese students are studying music- 60 million piano students and 40 million violin students. And studying classical music at that! So here comes the crux of my argument- research begins to show that the study of a musical instrument actually alters a persons brain – it improves their overall ability to make connections and think creatively. Maybe because of the number of brain centers that are activated and needed to play an instrument as well as the physical coordination required. In addition practicing an instrument requires discipline and concentration and can help students learn how to do that. It also helps them learn how to listen, which is a requirement for learning well in school. Here’s an interesting story that I’ve heard for years- Business schools often accept former music majors (without the usual degree’s) because they know that music majors know how to be disciplined, study and work with others, they make very successful business people since they understand and have learned how to work.
So here we have the Chinese with their huge pool of talent, studying hard and at least 100 million of them studying music. Combine those two things and you get a well educated AND creative work force.
So what would I tell our new Chancellor to try in NYC (or any where else in the country) – What’s the fastest most cost effective way to create that innovative, creative work force? How about give all NYC kids music lessons – one-on-one lessons for five years? There is a ready and able work force in NYC to take on the task of teaching these students. (See the NY Times article about free-lance work in NYC dying out and how the music schools in NYC alone are graduating upwards of 500 music students a year) Take on this grand experiment – the Chinese are doing it!! Let’s try something that will help with our new vision of a flexible work force and in addition address the important subject of keeping our cultural flame glowing.