Bill has been published in a number of periodicals over the years including newspapers and professional journals. Below is an example of a featured article Bill wrote for the BULLETIN, the journal of the California Band Directors Association published in 2008. Though it is not an example of his fictional prose, and its intent was to motivate and inform his fellow professionals, it is a good representation of his fine ability to express his ideas and arguments to an academic community without suffering the loss of his individual voice and personal down to earth character.
Two Way Approach
by Bill Betten
On March 11th a local paper printed an article(1) asserting that the school district I work in, the county’s largest school district, faced millions in budget cuts. The paper reported that, “money proposed to be cut . . . help(s) fund individual programs like band. . .” The district’s interim superintendent is quoted as saying, “The bottom line is that we will have to continue to make drastic cuts.”
In the weeks and months to come as individual music teachers and as an organization we will need to address many problems related to this, but the most important may be a philosophical question we face as an organization.
At the general meeting of the CBDA governing board at the state conference this last February there were a few moments where viewpoints were sparking emotions and the assemblage appeared divided into two basic camps. It is quite possible that devoting ourselves totally to one or the other may have negative ramifications. Recalling G. P. Morris’ words, “United we stand, divided we fall,” let’s consider these philosophical viewpoints. Both have merit, but to say that the one functions without the other is a fallacy. To understand this let’s see what they are.
The first philosophy, one we’ll call pragmatic essentialism, asserts a music-for-all approach. Some feel it is too utopian and unattainable. Arguments against this philosophy include statements like, “There aren’t enough minutes in the week, “There isn’t enough money, and “We must focus the effort on those who will truly appreciate the art and most reward us from the teaching.”
The second philosophy might be what Kneller refers to as a prescriptive philosophy; one that “seeks to establish standards for assessing values, judging conduct, and appraising art.”(2) We’ll call it preferential realism. It declares that the real goal of music education is to provide the highest quality musicians and music educators available to the world market place. Although laudable it is not the only target music teachers hit, though it would appear it is the only one many aim for. Achieving that end usually entails narrowing the field and focusing on the more exceptional student.
The many steps to any successful program under either philosophy includes early music experience not only in the regular classroom, but developmental band programs in sixth and younger grades, then on to strong middle school courses with a well defined plan of instrumental development, and finally to the broad and experiential high school program.
What might be overlooked by the Preferential Realist is that key to the success of each of the previously mentioned steps is a peer student base which provides the encompassing band team in which the gifted player can grow. This means that without the presence of the average player the very talented students are without the team support needed to realize a full performance. (Who would bother to play Mozart’s music if everyone were Mozart?) This means that a preferential program restricts the growth of the gifted. It also means the music program risks cuts if there is not a population base of both common and gifted to justify the expense of the program and its teacher.
What does that have to do with our philosophical approach as an organization? Precisely this, if our focus philosophically is directed more to providing a highly skilled end product of performers, composers, arrangers, etc. as opposed to giving all of our students throughout the state the opportunity of music, we disservice both the gifted and the average, and even the below average. Additionally, we jeopardize the historic position of instrumental music instructor as well.
Without doubt we need to take a music-for-all approach in the early grades by providing training to all youngsters. Without this philosophical approach there is no early recognition even of the naturally gifted child, but each year more and more districts have eliminated younger-grade music education with the expectation that the regular elementary class room teacher is going to take up the slack. That isn’t likely to happen too soon for three reasons.
Reason one: The Mindset in General Education
Instinctively parents of grade school aged children accept the need for music education for their kids. Unfortunately, this healthy conviction soon wanes. It weakens further in the elementary classroom.
Prior to becoming a band director I was a regular elementary classroom teacher for 26 years, and my experience is that due to federal funding, statewide testing and local board expectations music will be lost in the regular classroom. Even science, regularly takes a leave of absence to yield time to language and math till the student reaches the secondary grades. Foremost in the minds of elementary teachers is the amount of time put to subjects to improve test scores and they (and their supervisors) are not convinced music does that.
Additionally, school boards, administrators, and even teacher focus groups have dim prospects for teaching music. This attitude is disseminated to the parents and general community evidenced by the fact that most districts throughout the state, and country, have one of four approaches to primary and elementary grade music proven by their report cards. Specifically, the report cards either . . .
list music as an optional grade,
clump music in to a single grade with P.E., speech, etc.,
merely allow the teacher a line to include miscellaneous subjects like music on the card as OTHER,
or, the report cards do not provide for a music grade at all.
So, this means the community sees music education as either optional, amalgamated, something of an enigma, or not necessary at all.
Reason Two: Regular Teachers Are Not Trained
As Nancy Carr, of the California Department of Education, and the California Alliance for Arts Education stated in a General Session Address at this year’s CMEA conference in Sacramento, “There was a time when, to become a credentialed regular elementary classroom teacher, one was required to be proficient with either the piano, autoharp, or guitar.” But today, outside of the rare former music major or excited musician who decides to become an elementary classroom teacher the majority of elementary teachers are ill-equipped to teach music. Multiple-subject credentialing programs currently teach many things but, they do not train (nor expect) teachers to teach music, or even how to read music. As Ms. Carr pointed out this boils down to the fact that today we do not prepare regular elementary classroom teachers to teach a primary music curriculum. Though there is a state mandated curriculum the upshot is that few elementary teachers have the time, the materials, nor the skills to do so!
Reason Three: Standardized Tests
The sheer magnitude of importance that has been placed on standardized tests and the misguided emphasis being leveled upon test score improvement has dictated that time, money, and teacher resources are usually not devoted to music. The tests assess reading and appreciating words and numbers, not reading and appreciating music. As a result legislators, governing boards, and parents miss the value of music education and lay this misunderstanding at the doorstep of the classroom teacher.
These three reasons are the clear reality of why our elementary grade students are likely to continue to not get music education. The result is that the middle and high school music teacher finds he/she must fill the gap left even though budget cuts mean less personnel to do the job. It is a precursor to narrowing the student field served, and that further harms already weakened programs.
This condition for music education is likely to continue for a while. In fact, it is not likely to ever change without a revolutionary and dramatic revamping of the system. So, it stands to reason that till that time school band directors in the middle grades and higher must be ready to take a more remedial approach. That means either being prepared for basic instruction at an older age, which in turn means to recruit new players from the broad population, or a willingness to accommodate all students interested in instrumental learning at all levels. In essence, to reach the needed student musicians the director may need to adopt the philosophy of the elementary classroom teacher of music-for-all.
When our students reach college level the focus may validly change to serving first and foremost the gifted specialist (history shows that even doing so there dis-serves the needs of the unschooled genius the likes of Stephen Foster, W.C. Handy, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and George M. Cohan) but prior to acceptance to college we must certainly remain first, teachers whose duty it is to instruct whatever child enters our classroom door to the benefit of the entire ensemble and community.
My hope is that we do not degrade to the point of battling quality vs. quantity. Our individual students as well as our entire programs cannot afford that. We must remain vigilant to serve both the common and the brilliant. Today’s school band director must embrace a music-for-all philosophy.
Additionally, we must find ways of gathering support from the elementary classroom teacher. Keep Aesop’s moral from the story The Bundle of Sticks in mind, “Coming together gives strength.”
(1) The Tribune, San Luis Obispo – March 11, 2008 Lucia Mar Faces Millions in Budget Trims by AnnMarie Cornejo
(2) Introduction to the Philosophy of Education – George F. Kneller, UCLA – John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (1971)re.
© Bill Betten 2008 All rights reserved- Use of material from this article is prohibited without the express permission from the author.