In The Trenches: My Annual Gift List for Santa

Mike Lawson • Commentary • December 11, 2015

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Dear Santa

Yes… it’s me again. I hope you and the missus have had a fabulous year. It has been busy in these parts and I have a long list of gift suggestions for you so… if you could check with the elves and make sure these gifts are packed on your sleigh I would really appreciate it:

For President Obama – A Way Back Machine. Recently, President Obama announced his concerns regarding the amount of standardized testing being administered to our students in schools. But wait… wasn’t it President Obama and his trusted secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who were the ones who doubled down on more testing? Didn’t they tie the tests to the Common Core then linked these to teacher evaluations and then forced this all on the states through economic coercion? The best way to fix this is to get him into the way back machine to 2010 to tell that version of President Obama what the 2015 version wants done.

For the PARCC/Smarter Balanced Consortiums – An Exit Strategy. The whole idea of having states use common assessments to measure a common set of standards so we will know that the 3rd grade language arts education in Mississippi is the same as the one in Massachusetts. Now states are running as fast as they can from Common Core, the number of states involved in either of the testing consortiums has declined from 44 to 22 (with PARCC going from 24 to 7!). The remaining states are now making up their own individual cut scores to determine what is a passing grade so the data is not comparable even between states using the same test! Looks like we just spent a whole lot of time and hundreds of billions of dollars on a wild goose chase with nothing to show for it (Well… we do have lots of shiny new technology!). Put a fork in it!

For the Critics of the Kanas State University Marching Band – A Course in Drill Design 101. In September, the Kanas State Marching Band was performing a halftime show including the Star Trek theme. The band created a battle between good (Starship Enterprise formation) and evil (University of Kansas Jayhawk formation). The Star Ship formation did not quite come together as planned and when attacking the Jayhawk. This led some people, with way more creative imaginations than I, to interpret the formation as some sort of X-rated performance (you can Google it). How many times have any of us been in the stands or on top of a truck to see the design on paper not always show up as planned on the field? Daily right? So everyone gets all excited and Kansas State suspends the band director and ever yone feels better… all because a few students MISSED THIER SPOTS! Come on people… get a grip.

For all High School Football Coaches – Field Etiquette Training. The Pittsburg (CA) Marching Band was rudely interrupted during their pregame performance because the Deer Valley football team would not relinquish the field… even though the band was playing the “Star Spangled Banner.” At least once a year I read a story about this happening. So here’s the deal. Please cut out the following statement and paste it on the office door of all football coaches:

A Public Service Announcement on Coaches Proper Field Etiquette

“Dear Coach, when the visiting band enters the field for a pregame performance …


When our band is in the middle of a halftime performance


You’re welcome!

For the Louisiana State University Marching Band – A Sharing Stone #1. When the University of South Carolina home game against LSU had to be moved to Louisiana because of the devastating storms the LSU marching band learned the USC fight song and played it at the beginning and end of the game. This demonstration of respect, class, good sportsmanship, and empathy toward the people of South Carolina is something that should be shared with everyone. And while we are handing out accolades…

For the University of Wisconsin Marching Band – A Sharing Stone #2. Those who have read my column in the past know I have had my issues with the Badger Band. Not this time. When Ann Trachtenberg, a cancer patient undergoing treatment at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, requested that a marching band serenade her as she left after her final chemotherapy session, she didn’t think her niece would take the request seriously. But she did. Her niece persuaded the University of Wisconsin marching band to greet Trachtenberg as she exited her final session. She was moved to tears by the band’s playing of the school fight song. “This is great! This is great!” Trachtenberg said, hugging the band’s cymbalist. Well-done Badgers… well done.

For NAMM”s Mary Luehrsen – A Vacation! This year Mary has been the Energizer Bunny on steroids carrying the music education advocacy message around the globe, through the halls of Congress, to local communities, and to anyone who would lend her an ear. She has been everywhere… making Dr. Tim look like a slacker (and we all know he is not)! Thanks for all you do in the fight for music education Mary… now take a well-earned break!

For Music for All – Forty More Years of Positively Life-Changing Experiences. This year Music for All/ Bands of America celebrated their 40th Anniversary. Over the course of that time millions of students have passed through their programs. As the founder and chairman emeritus of Music for All – I am very proud of what they continue to accomplish and can’t wait to see what the next forty years holds and how their new Advocacy in Action campaign helps bring music education to more students.

For the Pride of Broken Arrow (OK) Marching Band – A Bigger Band Room and a Longer Day. Not only did the Broken Arrow High School Marching Band win their THIRD Bands of America Grand National Championship (which is why they need a bigger band room for all the new hardware), they did so while also preparing to perform at the Midwest Clinic (and thus the need for more time). Congratulations to Darrin Davis and his entire team for demonstrating how excellence across the entire music program can lead to success both on the field and in the concert hall.

For the late Dorothy Straub – Peace by a Thousand Angelic String Students. Many of you may not be familiar with Dorothy or her work. She was a fabulous string educator and music administrator in Connecticut. She was also the President of MENC (now NAfME) between 1992 and 1994 during the pivotal years of the fight to make music and the arts a core subject, create the National Standards for Arts Education and to help launch the modern era of music education advocacy in the United States. She was a small, gentle person with a quiet voice. She had a large and unshakably strong conviction about the important role of music in the lives of all people. Dorothy left us this past summer. Thank you for all you’ve done for us Dorothy and enjoy the music… and tell George Parks I said hi!

And for all our readers and music educators everywhere… Peace, Joy, and a Fantastic 2016!

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, 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

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