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From the Trenches: My Annual Holiday Gift List for Santa

Mike Lawson • Commentary • December 14, 2012

Ho ho ho, everybody! Yes, indeed, it is that time of year. It is time to find out who has been naughty (and you know who you are!) and who has been nice, who will find a lump of coal in their stocking, and who will find something a little more pleasant. So, with the marching band season and the holiday chorus and band concerts behind you, it is time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the parade of presents!

Dear Santa,

 

It’s me again, Bob Morrison. How’ve you been? How’s the missus? Loved you in the new Chevy TV ads. I didn’t know you freelanced as a car salesman on the side!

Yes, I know, it has been almost 10 years of me writing to you requesting goodies and not-so-goodies for unsuspecting, yet deserving, individuals and organizations. And this year is no exception! You know how much I love to give presents in an election year!

Anyway, please pack your sleigh with the following items for some deserving folks this year:

For President Obama – A Ginormous Bottle of Tums (Tum ta-Tum-Tum)! 

After winning re-election, here is what you receive as the victor: a divided congress and American population, fiscal cliffs, declining bond ratings, a sluggish economy, and widely suspect education policy. On the best of days this is going to give anyone an upset stomach. At least you get what many people do not… a second chance! But if this is what awaits the winner I would hate to see what the loser gets…

For Mitt Romney – A Brand New Career! 

That’s right! For losing your second campaign for president, after spending eight years of your life and millions and millions of dollars of your own money, what do you get to show for it? Nothing!

For Bill Clinton – Four More Years! 

Okay, I know this is constitutionally impossible but you have to admit… love him or hate him, Bill Clinton has been one of the greatest politicians in our history and he has certainly set the bar high for being an effective past-president with his work on the various causes housed inside the Clinton Global Initiative. And hey, wasn’t it cool to have a sax playing bando in the White House?

 For Governor Christie (Yes, I am a homer) – Four More Years!

I can give more than one, right? Yes, a lot of people want you to run for president and everything, but we could still use some of your “Jersey Style” around… Jersey. With a gubernatorial campaign coming up in 2013 and years of rebuilding after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I believe our state needs you more now than any place else. Beside, all the Republicans are mad at you… which brings me to…

For the Republican Party – An Anti-Reality Distortion Field! 

Do you really think Christie cost Romney the election? Really? Are you sure the reason for Romney’s loss doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that he ran one of weakest campaigns in American history and offended 50 percent of the population along the way while taking on a sitting President overseeing a very weak economy? You do? Yeah, Romney lost the election when Chris Christie hugged the president. “Oh, waiter, I’ll have whatever it is they are drinking!”

In the spirit of treating both parties unfairly, equally…

And for the Democratic Party – An Agenda. 

Yes, your guy won the election, but I am not sure there was a clearly articulated agenda other than, “The other guy is worse than me.” And co-opting Republican education strategies and packaging it as your own does not count as a strategy. It is sad to think we could have elected either parties standard bearer as president and the impact on education would be exactly the same. This, in and of itself, is sad!

For Education Officials in Oregon – A Clue! 

Sadly, Oregon will begin testing all five-year-olds next fall to assess their “readiness” for kindergarten. Some people believe it is never too soon to test children. These people should be shot (metaphorically, of course). Have we just gone off the deep end of the pool? Sir Ken Robinson has it right: the big challenge for our students is not getting through school; it is getting through school without the system beating the creativity out of them. Putting kindergarten and pre-K students through standardized testing is clearly a step in the wrong direction. But where are all the education researchers? Why are they silent?

For UK Education Secretary Michael Gove – Truth Serum! 

In early 2012, the secretary cut funding for music programs by 43 percent but told the public his plan would actually lead to more music education – maybe he failed math. This great slight of hand act was followed up by proposing a new “English baccalaureate” for graduation from school (think common core) which would focus on fewer subjects (can you guess what they left out?). UK celebrities and citizens have been rightfully outraged at the threat to creativity in the schools. Secretary Gove says this will help increase creativity. Somebody is not telling the truth… any guesses?

For the STEM Education Reformers (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) – A Vowel! 

That’s right, you cannot talk seriously about creativity and education reform and forget to include the subjects that are based on creativity!  So with your “Buy a Vowel” card, go out and get an “A” for “Arts.” Now your acronym will be STEAM… maybe by including the arts you can get a head of STEAM going for education reform. Otherwise it becomes nothing more than a bunch of hot air.

For West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jorea Marple – A New Job as US Secretary of Education! 

First, she instructed her department to conduct research on the impact of arts instruction on students across the state.  The office of research confirmed an association between arts participation and progressively higher levels of academic proficiency and performance and finding that participating in arts programs beyond the one credit minimum improved academic proficiency. Then she went on a tour of the state to promote the findings. Finally a policy maker who really does believe in research based education reform!

For the Education Policies in the Cities of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland – Cloning Machines! 

All three cities have instituted major education initiatives to bring music and the arts back to more students. In Boston, superintendent Carol Johnson has been methodically working her multi-year plan to restore music and arts programs. Chicago just announced a plan to expand arts offerings in all schools as part of a citywide arts blueprint. Los Angeles just elevated the arts to equal status with other subjects ensuring there could be no more funding cut and is developing a plan to deploy arts across the district. In Portland, a new tax levy was approved by voters explicitly to fund arts education in schools. We need to clone these programs and take them to others!

For All Other Major Cities – A Trip to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Portland. 

Four cities is a good start, but if we really want some traction, we will need more and more cities to follow the bold lead of these education innovators so the lessons they have learned may be transported to other communities.

For the Clark Atlanta University, Texas Southern University, North Carolina Central University and Florida A&M University Marching Band members – A FULL YEAR SUSPENSION. 

Come on folks! A year after the tragic hazing death of the Florida A&M Drum major and we have to read about… four more hazing incidents? This is marching band, not some street gang or fraternity or even Congress. Enough already. One death is one too many. These absurd rituals must come to a stop. If you can’t stop then it is time to kill the programs. Period.

For Carmel High School (IN) – Grand Nationals Champion Emeritus Status! 

Under the leadership of director Richard Saucedo, the school has won a boatload of Grand National Championships. If we make Carmel the Grand National Champion Emeritus it will give some other schools a fighting chance. Richard has been arguably the best director of this era overseeing one of the great programs of our time. Congratulations to you and the entire Carmel Band family! And while we are at it, if Carmel is one of the great public school programs…

For Immaculata High School (NJ) – National Recognition! 

Immaculata has one of the great instrumental music programs in the country (housed in a small private school). With the 2012 USBANDS national title and an undefeated season in hand for their marching band, along with a consistently great instrumental program year in and year out, this small private school deserves some national props! The music program, led by department chair Sister Dolores Margaret, band director Ed Weber, and assistant director Frank Amato, is one of the best kept secrets outside of the East Coast and is one school that others could certainly learn from.

For the Ohio State Marching Band – A Standing Ovation! 

I have seen a lot of creative shows in the course of my career but the video game half time show on October 6, 2012 was one for the record books. The show, featuring the music from Mario Bros., Pac-Man, and Zelda has been viewed more than 14 million times on YouTube and will be talked about for generations to come. Kudos to first year director Jonathan Waters and his staff for building on TBDBITL’s traditions and creating a show for the ages!

And lastly, to all our readers, who bring the wonderful gift of music to students across this nation everyday – may you receive as much joy this holiday season as you give to your students and have a very happy, healthy, and prosperous new year!

Robert B. Morrison is the founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, an arts education research and intelligence organization. In addition to other related pursuits in the field of arts education advocacy, Mr. Morrison has helped create, found, and run Music for All, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation, and, along with Richard Dreyfuss and the late Michael Kaman, the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.

He may be reached directly at bobm@artsedresearch.org.

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