Keep music, sports strong in schools

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor



Nonmusicians often underestimate the impact that music has on other people’s lives. This is not just some part-time dalliance or hobby. For many people, music is a part of every waking moment.

Even if our jobs aren’t music-related, many of us have melodies running through our minds constantly. Some people hear voices; others of us hear songs. Which brings me to my next point: Some of you need to change your ring tones to something that sounds more like a telephone. Please, I’m beggin’ you. I know this sounds overly critical, but when some stupid song blares piercingly from your tiny phone speaker, it’ll run through a nearby musician’s mind for an hour or so. Don’t believe me? I’ll prove it with four words: dogs barking “Jingle Bells.” There. That oughta do it. Now try getting that insipid ditty out of your head.

As Americans intensify our focus on education — led by our president, not to mention an editorial to the left and three articles to the right on the Other Opinions page — it’s troubling that music remains largely missing in this national dialogue. Full disclosure: I’ve got a dog in this fight … or, perhaps in the post-Michael Vick era I should say I have a horse in this race. Our son is an assistant band director at a large high school near Dallas, and at three feeder middle schools. It’s hard to imagine what Billy’s world would be like without music education, or what life might be like for hundreds of fearful, fragile adolescents who are influenced by his teachings.

As a child, Billy needed no career counseling. He sang as soon as he could talk, and he broke more than one wooden spoon on an overturned pot. So, it seemed only natural that, the first time a band director’s baton descended in front of him, Billy was certain about his life’s work.

Fortunately for him, Texans elevate their music education almost as high as their Friday night lights. Public school bands, choirs and orchestras in that state are among the best in the country. But, unfortunately for many young Americans, music and other extracurricular activities are perched perilously on the chopping blocks by frantic school budget writers.

Hooray for science, math

Last Tuesday evening President Obama pledged that “over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.” I could not agree more. As our country falls further behind in the global race for technological superiority (and, hence, economic survival), these subjects must play a bigger role in our schools.

But it is a dereliction of part of our duty to our children when their public schools become so narrowly focused that music, sports and other activities lose leverage.

Many young people will choose to remain in school for years to come. For them, learning naturally evolves into teaching. Obama seemed to acknowledge as much: “… to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child – become a teacher. Your country needs you.”

He didn’t say anything about becoming a music teacher or a coach, but many of us couldn’t help but think about those forces in our kids’ lives.

Somewhere in Clark County, there is a girl whose only reason for dragging herself to school tomorrow morning is to play a sport. Yes, she’ll go to class, study and make decent grades. But for her, it’s not to learn. It’s to play a sport, perhaps later to coach. There’s also a boy whose only reason to attend school is to learn how to clumsily assemble a clarinet and clamp a reed upon it, later to play it and years later perhaps to teach others how to do the same. These two are not alone. Countless other kids are in the same situation.

There is more to life than math and science. Sports and music enrich our children’s lives. For some kids, these influences are powerful and permanent. Perhaps they’re powerful in your life, too. Don’t believe me? Let me prove it by ruining your next hour or so: “Don’t tell my heart, my achy breaky heart …” Sorry ’bout that.

John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at