Joanne Lipman’s October 12 piece in The New York Times (“Is Music the Key to Success?“) may or may not have been a riposte to Mark Oppenheimer’s hotly debated New Republic piece (“Stop Forcing Your Kid to Learn a Musical Instrument“), but it certainly adds to a growing public conversation about the role of the arts in education.
While Oppenheimer points out that music lessons don’t often lead to lifelong playing, Lipman points to all kinds of career success among those who have studied an instrument seriously. Among her large circle of contacts, people who get to the top more likely than not have put in a lot of time in practice rooms and ensembles. Far from being a distraction, this experience has actually helped them advance. Lipman is looking for the habits of mind implicit in that sort of correlation.
Are we seeing a “moment” we’ve been waiting for? Is this a sign of student-centric thinking bucking the decades-long tidal wave of standards-based, institutional education reform? One more voice in a growing chorus pointing us back toward the obvious benefits of arts participation?
I certainly hope so. Although Lipman writes about a very specific sort of experience in just one discipline, there’s no question her advocacy applies broadly. Because the point is not how to advise a parent whose child’s practice routine is slacking off. (That’s both a smaller and a much, much bigger issue.) The point is that today in America, so few students have access to the programs, the teachers, the ensembles, the incentives, the social support systems that someone like Condoleeza Rice or Bruce Kovner or Paul Allen experienced as a child. The pure esthetic joy of making art and exceeding your own expectations is arguably just as important to lifetime success as are the habits of focus and teamwork and problem-solving and syncretic thinking inherent in all the arts. There’s unspeakable waste of talent in any educational system that fails to provide all children with avenues to make all this part of their lives.
Articles like Lipman’s may be helping bring these fairly obvious ideas back to the center of a conversation that still could, just possibly, guide educational policy toward a best-of-both-worlds scenario.