Why Music Education Matters–Johnny

For years, Johnny went to school and floundered about.

Reading was an awful chore.  The symbols made sense to him but the words didn’t flow; they tripped and stumbled and jumbled themselves up in a blurry mess on the page and he stuttered when he read out loud.

Mathematics wasn’t much better.  Adding and subtracting were usually fine but anything more made his head turn and whirl and become nervous inside.  The teachers didn’t merely just offer him extra help, they forced instruction upon him every waking second of the school day.

Sometimes they asked him to stay inside during his recess, so they could sit him down in his corner of the resource room and he could learn to read, read, read, again and again and again until it wasn’t really learning but the same process repeated again and again, expected to yield better results from the day before.  Johnny went to school and floundered in insanity.

When Johnny started playing the flute, something changed.  Something he was learning—something he was being taught in school– was making sense to him.

When Johnny went home and practiced, every single day of the week, he improved at playing the flute.  The more he improved, the more music he let into his budding life.  The more music he discovered, the more of a world he was able to explore, a world that fascinated him to no end.  In music, he gathered success, and this success brought him joy he had never before known.

There was nothing Johnny loved more than the day of his pull-out group lessons and the day of band practice.  He looked forward to showing his teacher what he had learned.  He looked forward to playing with all the other students in band.  Putting a piece of music together with all his friends was as cool, as thrilling as riding a motorcycle or going to the beach.

It was something about the way everything else on his mind disappeared, the way time wavered in and out and went by too fast whenever he was in band, playing his flute.  Johnny knew only logical and relaxing flow and genuine happiness on Thursdays from 2 o’clock to 3.

Why, oh why, he thought, couldn’t he receive extra instruction and support at school for music?  There was nothing he wanted more than to become the best he could be at playing his flute and the best at everything music in general.  His band director helped him as much as she could, but as she sadly told him; there was only one of her.  There was only so much time and resources she could spare, he was one of her over 150 students.

When Johnny got to middle school, he entered deeper into a world of ruthless standardized testing.  It didn’t matter that for years, his teachers understood that he was not yet able to complete reading and math work at his grade level….it did not matter that even then he was only slightly behind where his teachers wanted him to be at years end.  Johnny scored in the 40th percentile on both reading and math on the state tests.  Not only did his school lose benefits because of his low performance, Johnny himself began to lose everything that he had come to love.

The school forced Johnny into more remedial reading, writing, and math, so much that it interfered with band.  They did not give Johnny a choice in the matter.

Johnny hasn’t brought his flute to school in months, but despite having gone through every song in his lesson book forwards and backwards, despite having already taught himself every major scale, he still plays every day.  The second he arrives home from the activity bus after a long day of school and a longer day of after school tutoring, he is in his room.  He plays until his father comes home from work and only stops once there is dinner on the table.

Johnny finds that he is becoming withdrawn at school.  He no longer eats with his friends at lunch, as he spends lunch in the resource room with an instructor who must make him decipher number properties or phonemes.  The school day is listless, unexciting, predictable.  Time scrapes by abrasively slow, like the shucking of a giant, stubborn ear of corn.

Anxiety stabs at him, in the hallways, where he cannot bring himself to look anyone in the eye, in the classroom, where he does not dare raise his hand for the answers he doesn’t know, on the bus, where he doesn’t believe he is special enough to raise his voice, his hands against the bullies who make his daily commutes a living hell.

Johnny has no reason at all to go to school anymore.  He is not learning.  He is floundering.


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