Recently on NPR there was an article about a 3rd Grade math class in San Bruno that was having great results in teaching fractions using music notes and rhythms. This article struck a chord (ha, ha) with me in two ways. Almost simultaneously I thought: “This is great!” and “Well Duh, I’ve been saying this for years.” A link to the article.
Before I continue with my thoughts (rant) on both the article and the state of our education system I’ll give a little background on myself. I grew up in Clemson, South Carolina in a town of about 8,000 permanent residents and 20,000 college students. My father was the Choir Director at Clemson University and my mother taught mostly middle and high school general music and chorus for over 35 years. Needless to say, music performance and education has always been a “normal” way to make a living in my family. I have been teaching and performing professionally for about 15 years now, 10 of them at CSMA. I’ve always been good at music theory and math, and since I was a child I’ve known that my math skills and my understanding of music went hand in hand.
With that said, let’s get back to the article. The gist is that the teacher is using rhythm to teach 3rd graders fractions with remarkable results. If you are not a musician, rhythm is basically fractions in symbols. By being able to relate a fraction to a symbol they are less confused by the age old problem of thinking 1/8 is bigger than ¼ because 8 is bigger than 4. Apparently the students have had incredible results, performing up to 50% better than their counterparts in the classes without the music approach. To this I say, “No kidding!!” Each semester I spend about 2 of the class periods on rhythm (totaling 80 minutes) to a room full of 2nd and 3rd graders (sometimes 1st graders) and by the end they have a working knowledge of fractions, including adding those with non-common denominators. That’s right, I said 80 minutes.
And this is just how music teaches math! In the words of my people: What music can do for the subjects of history, creative writing, and problem solving is a “whole nother” blog.
This brings me to the bigger questions. Why have so many politicians, school boards, and to some extent teachers and parents been so willing to let the arts be cut out of education all across the country? When did it become “acceptable” to do away with the very subjects that help children understand abstract concepts and develop critical thinking? Subjects that teach arithmetic and geometry, creative writing and history?
I do feel that at the very least parents are starting to get it. There are countless schools in California who’s PTAs raise the money every year to pay for art and music education in their child’s school. Countless parents who seek out organizations like CSMA to give their children what is lacking in their school education. But is this enough? Do we do our future a service by leaving a child’s education up to the circumstances of the parent, school district, or community alone? Or do we do our future a service by insisting that all children have access to everything that could possibly help them succeed?
The whole financial aspect of making this happen is also a “whole nother” blog. Hey! If this teaching music thing doesn’t pan out maybe I’ll become a lobbyist!! I’m sure my parents would be proud.