Perspective: Advocacy Ammo Incoming

Mike Lawson • Commentary • September 17, 2014

So, how’s that national conversation about the impact of music education going?

If Internet search results are any indication, there may be sunny days ahead for music advocates, teachers, and directors, even those whose school programs are under siege by budget-focused administrators looking to wield the proverbial axe.

A recent search for “music education” in Google’s “News” search bar yielded the following headlines:

Study: Music Education Could Help Close The Achievement Gap … (Huffington Post-Sep 2, 2014)

Study: Music Training Boosts Brain Function in At-Risk Kids (Healthline-Sep 3, 2014)

Playing Music Helps Children Listen and Learn Better (Chinatopix-Sep 3, 2014)

Music lessons may boost poor kids’ brainpower, study suggests ( 2, 2014)

And following those results is a link that says: “Explore in depth (118 more articles).”

In summary, that’s more than 120 articles touting the benefits of music education in terms of boosting brain function, helping childhood development, bridging the achievement gap, and a number of other buzzword phrases that everyone in the education community should be promoting within their own schools.

Remarkably, most of these headlines are the result of a single landmark study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University in conjunction with the Harmony Project, a music education initiative in Southern California. (SBO’s coverage of this study can be found here.)

In the course of compiling content for the October 2012 issue of SBO, which was devoted to the topic of music and the brain, I spoke with Dr. Nina Kraus, the author of that same study which is currently making headlines across the web. During our conversation, it became clear that while the benefits of music education and its impacts on children may seem totally obvious, collecting solid scientific evidence that demonstrates those benefits is very challenging, and it can take an awful long time.

Furthermore, the technology used in these long-term studies is still very new, and constantly evolving.

In that same October 2012 music-and-the-brain-focussed issue of SBO, Dr. Ani Patel, author of Music, Language, and the Brain and a brilliant neuroscientist at Tufts University, explained, “We’re just beginning to understand the significance of music from a neuroscientific perspective.” And remember, this is already two years ago. He continued, “I think in the next 10 years it’s really going to become much clearer to us that this thing that we do [music making] has remarkable impact on many different brain functions.”

With a number of related studies about the impact of music education currently underway, soon enough – if the early returns are any indication – there just might be irrefutable evidence that music education is an irreplaceable asset to our public education curriculum.

Of course, we already knew how important music is, but an influx of peer-reviewed, science-based ammunition for music ed advocates will continue to help steer the conversation in the right direction.

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