On October 20, 2011, after five months as an unemployed college graduate with a music degree, I read the news about Congress rejecting a bill that would have supported education. Republican Mitch McConnell, one of the main advocates for the bank bailouts, called this bill supporting public education a ‘bailout.’

When I had left Chicago for the Cleveland Institute of Music four years before, I was idealistic and confident, with plans to help other young people learn about music and the arts. As I studied, I also listened to my dad, my coauthor here, and followed the news about the state of education in the United States. With regard to funding, the stories became increasingly disturbing. Music programs seemed to be dying a slow death. It struck me, finally, on that otherwise quiet day in October, that Congress cared more about avoiding a .1% tax on millionaires than keeping music programs in schools around the country.

Since that day in October, I’ve learned more about the political disregard for education. While the full impact of the neglect for vital learning skills has yet to be uncovered, it is frightening to consider the implications for our nation. And it is personally devastating for those of us trying to build a career in music and the arts.

These are some of the facts:

  • A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that “Elementary and high schools are receiving less state funding than last year in at least 37 states.”
  • Nearly 300,000 jobs in our education system have been lost since 2008.
  • In the last 5 years the percentage of young students with access to music has been cut in half.

Because of these cuts, schoolteachers are losing their jobs, class sizes are increasing, and school weeks have been shortened. Conservative groups call for a cut in federal funding while their chosen alternatives still rely on federal funding, or on states strapped for funds because corporate state taxes remain unpaid.

It is simply not fair for us, as a nation, to deprive young students of opportunities in music and the arts. It is well understood that such pursuits play a role in the developmental process of a young person. But now we have factual evidence:

  • A College Entrance Examination Board study found that students participating in public school music programs scored 107 points higher on average on the SAT.
  • According to a 2007 study by the Journal for Research in Music Education, students in high quality music programs scored 19% higher in English and 17% higher in mathematics than those without a music program.
  • In 2007, a Northwestern University study found that music training may enhance verbal communication skills more than learning phonics.

If you prefer cultural evidence for the value of music training, consider what Bill Clinton, Adam Sandler, Condoleeza Rice, Meryl Streep, Albert Einstein, and Freddie Mercury have in common. They all have formal music training in their backgrounds. This is not to say that music has been the key to their success, but surely it has played a role.

Our political and business leaders, advocates for individual initiative and independent choices for education, don’t want to pay for it. Tax rates for corporations and wealthy individuals are at their lowest point in half a century. A .1% tax on millionaires on behalf of education is apparently too much for them.

Our country’s economic survival in a globalized world depends on improved skills in technology, math, and science. In the long run, it also depends on the ability of our young people to communicate with the developing world, and to grow as well-rounded individuals.

We need to bring the music back to life.

About the author(s):

  • Paul Buchheit is a college teacher and the Founder of several social justice and educational websites such as Us Against Greed, Pay Up Now and Rapping History. He is also the Editor and main author of American Wars: Illusions and Realities’ (Clarity Press).
  • Marisa Buchheit is a Chicago native and a recent graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music. She is currently pursuing her career goal of becoming a professional opera singer in Chicago while serving as Director of Public Relations with Verismo Opera Theater. While in Cleveland, she founded the “Dream, Believe, Achieve!” program to help promote music in the public schools.