I’ve really let things slide on this blog lately. I’m sorry, I’ve been getting all my traveling in before I have to go into hospital for some treatment. But in the past few weeks I was in Anaheim, California, and earlier this week, in Toronto – on both occasions I found myself saying more or less the same thing (though in slightly different contexts). I meant to write about it at the time, but this is the first chance I’ve had.
The Canadian trip was to work with some great people at the Canadian Education Association; the earlier trip was to appear on an advocacy panel, organised by the equally great people at the NAMM Foundation. Both organisations have been around for a long time, have a broad and strong membership to represent, and so have to think very carefully when considering the question of ‘advocacy’. Representative groups have to represent. And if you’ve got members who’ve been around for decades then the chances are some of them might be a little conservative in nature.My point though – and I used the example of Musical Futures to illustrate it – was that, especially when times get tough, the best strategy to protect your position, is to advocate for change. That might seem counter intuitive, and it certainly carries risks. But the rearguard action in music education in American schools, where music is in danger of being squeezed out of school programmes, inclines advocates to say the same things to the same people: ‘we do good things with your kids, let’s stick with what we’ve got’. The thing is, most people already know that, so you’re not going to make any new converts. To say that you’re going to change the way things are, either because the child’s experience isn’t good enough, or simply because there aren’t enough of them getting excited about learned is, in my view, more likely to get people on your side, and put their hands in their pockets. Of course this means getting your hands dirty, by talking about practice, and respectfully challenging educators to change their practice. Many representative groups avoid this – not least because it’s often biting the hands that are feeding them. With major public spending cuts looming on both sides of the Atlantic, however, education has to demonstrate radical efficiency – that it can do more for less. Whether that is attracting more than the 10% or so who choose music at school, or through more engaging pedagogy which will enable more kids to progress to college or further training (simply because they enjoy schooling more), the hard thing is to recognise that doing what you’ve always done, is going to get you what you’ve always got, and to view changing practice as the best form of advocacy. So fair play to both organisations for not simply trying to defend the status quo. (Incidentally, if you want to hear my position at greater length, there’s a video of the NAMM panel, featuring the ever-entertaining legend that is Quincy Jones, here)