No advocate has had a greater impact on advancing music and arts education over the past decade than Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. No one. He has used his leadership posts as Governor, his chairmanship of both the Education Commission of the States and the National Governors Association as his own “bully pulpit” to promote the value and importance of music and arts for our children. He has used his pen to craft education legislation to provide the force of law to protect our programs. He walks the walk and talks the talk. His efforts have really brought our cause from hope to higher ground.
Governor Huckabee has finished his term as Governor of Arkansas and is turning the page on a new chapter in his life as an author, public speaker, and who knows what else.
Now he has written a book! FROM HOPE TO HIGHER GROUND: 12 STOPs to Restoring America’s Greatness.
He has been kind enough to share with all of us an excerpt from his book that focuses on his passion for our cause and the deep personal meaning music has in his life.
I think you will enjoy it!
Stop Cheating Our Children: Move the Potential
Ninety percent of CEOs surveyed said that attracting and retaining talented people is their top priority and their greatest challenge. Job seekers need to have more than an education—they need critical thinking and the ability to come up with creative solutions. The development of such skills is connected to a glaring error being committed by many practitioners of public policy in education.
We will never move the potential of our students to its full capacity if we cheat them out of a complete education, which includes art and music. The economy of the future is likely to be based on different models than past ones like physical strength and a strong back. It won’t even be based on mere intellectual capacity. The key is creative capacity. Richard Florida’s landmark book The Rise of the Creative Class creates a portrait of the American workforce as one in which creativity rules not only the marketplace of jobs but also has a dramatic impact on where people choose to live.
Unlike my baby boomer generation, the Gen X generation is not driven as much by money and materialism and individuals often make career decisions based on opportunities for personal lifestyle choices such as availability of local theater, art, music, or recreation. People choose careers and communities with a focus on quality of life as much as quantity of salary.
From an educational standpoint, numerous studies have shown a direct correlation between music education and math scores. This makes perfect sense in that the study of music helps develop both the left and right sides of the brain and improves spatial reasoning and the capacity to think in the abstract. In other words, the basic fundamental values one employs to learn music can be applied to learning any other discipline.
A person learns how to learn, and that skill is transferable in learning foreign languages, algebra, or history. The younger the age at which one is exposed to and learns music, the more impact the study of music will have on his or her academic capacity and achievement.
Music is a part of who we are from our very creation. It is in our God-given nature to be musically inclined. The first rhythm we are exposed to is the heartbeat in our mother’s womb. From almost the moment we are born and throughout infancy we are exposed to parents and caregivers who instinctively sing to us and communicate their affection and information such as the alphabet through music. Children are soothed by music, and the familiar refrains of a lullaby are as comforting to a child as food.
Sadly, as the child grows older, decisions are made for him or her by school budget officers who often determine that a music program is too expensive. I argue that it is too expensive to the future of the child to not have music! Although there are clear academic benefits, we need to be cautious in assuming that the purpose of music and arts curriculum is as some associated or secondary value in other academic disciplines. There is value in music and the arts on their own merits, and not everything we study has to have a finite result of some type of productivity to have intrinsic value and worth.
One of the pieces of legislation of which I am most proud requires every student in Arkansas schools to receive established time in both music and the arts taught by a certified teacher. I still remember the battle not only over the subject matter but the necessity of having music and art taught by competent teachers who are actually trained and fully certified in their fields. I was stunned when a legislator arguing against the need for certified teachers in these fields said, “Anybody can teach music; all you have to do is play a recording.” I replied, “That attitude is exactly why we need the certified teachers!”
Because of tight budgeting, some school districts make the tragic mistake of believing that music and arts programs are simply too expensive. I would argue that music and art are not expendable, they are not extracurricular, and they are not extraneous. They are essential!
Despite the determination of some to exclude a music and arts curriculum on the basis of it not being a vital part of a student’s preparation, some 1.7 million people called themselves artists in 1990 as opposed to 400,000 in 1950. The growing number of people who consider them- selves artists is an affirmation that even when some supposed educational experts put it on the chopping block, there is still a yearning deep within the hearts and souls of human beings to express themselves and to carry the message of a culture from one generation to the next through the vital, necessary, and treasured forms of art and music.
I would contend that the attempt to cut the arts in a school system is about the dumbest move a school board or superintendent could make. Political officials might be interested to know that nine of ten parents oppose cuts in an arts program. Not only is it right — but it is politically smart to insist on continuing, if not expanding, music and arts programs for every student in America!
We must ensure that “no child is left behind.” But many children will be left behind if the only talents we touch are those of the mathematicians or the athletes. The talents of the actor, the musician, the singer, the painter, or the dancer are as important as the talent of the young aspiring scientist. Beyond the intrinsic value of music and art is the tremendous inspiration and motivation they provide to many students.
The arts have value in teaching patience, perseverance, and the power of practice toward personal performance. One learns that for every minute on stage, there are hours and hours behind the scenes in rehearsal. The power of cooperation and teamwork also is a benefit to music and the arts, and students learn that without the set designers, stagehands, sound and lighting technicians, and makeup artists, the actors would have a dark, empty, lifeless stage and the curtain would never open. Both direct and indirect benefits make the arts a necessity for a total education.
In 1966 an eleven-year-old kid begged his parents for an electric guitar for Christmas. The eleven-year-old was absorbed in the music of the era — the Beatles and other rock bands — and wanted to play the electric guitar. He promised to faithfully practice and learn to play if he were to get the guitar for Christmas. The cost of an electric guitar, even one purchased through the J. C. Penney catalog, was well beyond the budget of a family struggling to make the rent payment by the first of each month. Somehow those parents made sacrifices and arrangements to make monthly payments over a year for the guitar and a small amplifier, which cost a total of $99.
The boy practiced for hours on end, often playing until his fingers were near bleeding. Like many other kids of his generation, he formed a rock band while still in junior high school and continued to play throughout his student days in various venues ranging from high school dances to small shows in school auditoriums.
As you read this you probably think that this is the story of a young, aspiring guitarist who would go on to a lucrative career as a famous musician and entertainer, but it didn’t work out quite that way. He never made it as a professional rock and roll musician, but while turning to other endeavors he never quite got music out of his system either. He is now past the age of fifty, but he claims to enjoy it more than ever. He plays in a rock band made up of people who all have other day jobs but now play for the fun of it. His band opened for Willie Nelson in a soldout nine-thousand-seat arena, as well as the Charlie Daniels Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Dionne Warwick, 38 Special, and Percy Sledge. He has played in venues ranging from presidential inauguration parties to the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver, and a concert at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
By the way, that eleven-year-old kid who begged for the guitar is the author of this book who still loves music and whose band Capitol Offense has helped keep him sane through many challenges of raising a family and swimming in political waters!
Every student should have the opportunity to explore their creative abilities, whether it’s by joining a band, acting in a play, or singing in a church choir. While most people cannot play tackle football at my age, there is never an age in which we will outgrow the ability to appreciate as well as to participate in music and the arts. They are truly endeavors that can be enjoyed for a lifetime.
My special thanks to Governor Huckabee for sharing this with us. Terri Hardy and the Governor’s staff for helping pull this together, and the fine folks at Hachette Book Group for being so responsive.
From the book FROM HOPE TO HIGHER GROUND: 12 STOPs to Restoring America’s Greatness by Mike Huckabee. Copyright © 2007 by Mike Huckabee. Reprinted by permission of Warner Books, Inc, New York, NY. All rights reserved.