C M Rubin (“Cathy”) is a child and family health advocate, author of children’s books and non-fiction books, and a producer of factual film. She lives in New York City and Connecticut. She was born in Georgetown, Guyana, and was educated in various parts of the world including Africa, the Middle East and Europe.
For the Huffington Post, Rubin has written what at last count amounted to about 100 posts since May 2011, with a common title of “The Global Search for Education” plus a subtitle. The articles are based on interviews with prominent educationists and others, many of whom are on a panel of distinguished “thought leaders” she has built up from around the world to explore the key education issues faced by most nations.
Rubin's extensive education blog has a significant content on music and other arts education. This review captures what we hope is the essentials but lays no claim to providing complete coverage. The main point is that the emphasis on arts-related education is significant as the following sections demonstrate. It exposes the relative lack of attention to arts and music in school education policy in many countries, including Australia.
All articles quoted in this review can be downloaded through the Huffington Post website and will be simply referenced below by name and date published.
The Global Search for Education: More on Arts (21.11.11) begins:
“Thought leaders in The Global Search for Education series have consistently argued that an education without the arts is incomplete. The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities report, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future through Creative Schools, made a powerful case for why education in the arts has never been more important than now. The report showed the link between arts education and student achievement in other subject areas. Beyond empowering students to create art and appreciate all art forms, the study illustrates how arts education strategies play a significant role in closing the achievement gap, improving student engagement, and nurturing creativity and innovative thinking skills essential to the 21st century.
What do we mean when we say that beyond skills and knowledge, an arts education better prepares students for the 21st century?
If you have been through the complex, interactive, dedicated, soul searching process that comes from playing a role in a dance, musical or theatrical production; if you have embraced the discipline, resourcefulness, inventiveness, passion and persistence it takes to create an original manuscript or work of art — then you will know what it means to have used all of your brain and you will be better prepared to compete in the global economy.
So where are the model American schools that are doing this today?
Upon visiting the Educare Center in Oklahoma City (home to one of the 68 schools in Oklahoma's A+ schools network), US Education Secretary Arne Duncan commented, "Oklahoma's A+ school-network nurtures creativity in every student — and a recent evaluation shows not just that the program increases student achievement but boosts attendance and decreases discipline problems as well."
Sir Ken Robinson describes Oklahoma's A+ school network as "a ground-breaking program emphasising the arts as a way of teaching a wide variety of disciplines within the curriculum."< ref> Sir Kenneth Robinson is an English author, speaker, and international adviser on education in the arts, who is also on C M Rubin’s panel of thought leaders on the Global Search for Education.</ref>”
The A+ Schools initiative began in North Carolina in 1995 when the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts recruited 25 North Carolina schools into a study to determine what might happen in schools if the arts were a central component of school reform. Oklahoma’s A+ Schools began its first Five-Day Summer Institute training in 2002. Fourteen schools completed the initial year. The 68 schools that currently participate span the state and have students from early childhood through high school. They are rich and poor, urban, suburban, and rural, large and small, public, private, and charter. In short, they represent the demographics of the state, according to Jean Hendrickson, Executive Director of the Oklahoma A+ Schools Program.
Leon Botstein is the president of Bard College and a distinguished classical musician and educator. Bard College is a privileged private liberal arts college in New York State but Botstein is also a pioneer in linking American higher education with public secondary schools. Rubin asked him in her post subtitled If Music Be the Food… (26.7.11): “What kind of educational system will permit a country to have the human skills needed to compete globally?”
Botstein: “The educational skills that will enable a nation to compete in the economy of the 21st century include the capacity (1) to reason using the language of argument, analysis, and interpretation, (2) to observe and recall the visual and auditory experience of daily life and formulate it in unusual and perceptive ways, (3) to understand the character and conduct of science, including computation, (4) to perceive beauty independent of fashion and popular taste, and (5) to construct and critique historical claims so as to fashion a notion of history.
These skills can be developed in a nation's population fairly and throughout all social classes only through a public system that permits competition and diversity. The expectations of all children in a nation should be the same, as should the opportunities. In an equitable, democratic system of education that reconciles excellence with equity, the outcomes will, however, not be uniform. But all will benefit from high expectations.”
He added: “The current system of education fails most decisively in its inability to sustain the natural curiosity of children. This is most evident in the failure of the American system to teach science. Every child is curious about the natural world, but schooling dampens that enthusiasm by exposing children to teaching based in ignorance and the idea that science is about facts and formulas. Curiosity and love of learning fail to be nurtured in our system of formal schooling. Therefore, ambition and desire for individual achievement are inevitably thwarted.
One of the consequences frequently overlooked when we contemplate the failure of our education system is its effect on individuals whom the system has failed, which represents at least 50% of the population. Not only are their prospects for employment damaged, but they are also understandably and legitimately angry. Their anger is based in the correct inference that they have been short-changed.” …
“The overall ambition of the Obama administration has been entirely admirable. … But if there is one area in which American policy makers on both sides of the political divide have consistently failed to consider, it is the significance of the arts and the importance of cultivating in children and young adults not only aesthetic sensibilities but also skills in the arts.
The immense pressure in economic terms on all public services, including education, has led to the belief that the essentials in education do not include the arts. The arts have long been regarded as supplemental and discretionary to the rigorous study of mathematics, science, English, and history. It is ironic that in order to cultivate achievement and ambition in mathematics and science, for example, one has to find ways to develop a variety of skills and habits that correlate, with striking regularity, to the impact of serious education in the arts. This impact includes discipline, the capacity for sustained independent work, the cultivation of memory, the use of the imagination, and the ability to conceptualize and to take risks and intuitive leaps.
Last but not least, the arts sharpen one's powers of observation and perception. Far from being decorative, the arts are crucial to the development of the parallel cognitive abilities associated with doing science and becoming competitive in the workplace. This is the reason why so many of the nations with whom we compare poorly in the learning of mathematics and science — Japan, Korea, China, and Finland — all happen to have highly developed and effective programs of arts education that reach the entire population.”
One of Rubin’s recent posts subtitled With a Capital “A” (12.3.14) is an interview with three New York based musicians: Ashley Brown (“Broadway's Mary Poppins”}, Jazz Master Delfeayo Marsalis, and the Artistic Director of Young People's Chorus (YPC) of New York City, Francisco Nunez. “All three believe in the transformative powers of the Arts — With a Capital "A"!”
The three got together when Ashley Brown and Delfeayo Marsalis participated in the 25th anniversary concert of the YPC with its 350-strong chorus. Rubin asked: “A National Assessment of Educational Progress study highlighted the fact that only 57% of eight graders attend schools where music instruction is offered at least three or four times a week and only 47% attend schools where visual arts are offered that often. If you could, would you change our public schools to promote the Arts as a core academic subject?”
Nunez: “Arts as part of core academic subjects is something I firmly believe in, and since 2003 have been taking steps to address this. We have introduced a satellite arts program in 12 New York City public schools, which this year will reach over 900 children. The principals in these schools are strong advocates for STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), believing that the Arts, and particularly music, develop skills in children that enhance their academics, particularly in mathematics and literacy. They also observe that participation in the Arts positively affects many children socially, often raising the self-confidence of children who tend to be shy.”
Marsalis: “Students should be exposed to all Arts disciplines from an early age to cultivate their creative potential as well as develop their cognitive skills.”
Ashley Brown: “Arts education is so important, whether you grow up to be in the business or not. It teaches accountability and discipline and countless other skills — skills that can be used in any profession. It breaks my heart to think there are children out there who are not being exposed to Arts education. We have to change this!”
In 2011, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, selected YPC to receive America's highest honour: a National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award. “As national role models, we hope to create a greater awareness of the role of music and the Arts in general in academic excellence and achievement. Additionally, we want to continue to raise awareness among people everywhere of the importance of inclusiveness and diversity to the future of society, and to provide educational organizations both here and abroad with our YPC curriculum.”
The following excerpt is from C M Rubin’s The Global Search for Education: What Will Finland Do Next? (14.1.13). She interviews Finnish Professor Pasi Sahlberg, who is another member of her team of thought leaders.
Online learning stands a much better chance to improve over time and eventually become good enough to offer a competitive value proposition even for mainstream students. That's when the classroom system will really change. Parents will start demanding it. — Clayton Christensen 
C M Rubin: "What is your response to Clayton's argument?"
Sahlberg: “I think Clayton is a visionary and his view to how technology will change schools will probably be pretty close to his prediction. But there are different scenarios for how this will play out.
One scenario is that schools will race after technology and align core instructional operations to rely on digital and other technological solutions. This will certainly change classrooms and what goes on in them. Learning would still primarily take place in schools supported by homework as it is now.
A second scenario views schools merely as places for facilitation of study and checking of achievement. Learning could be from any place. Personalised digital learning would be the most common mode of study.
A third scenario would be to elevate schools as places for social learning and developmental skills. Cooperative learning, problem solving and cultivating the habits of mind would be at the heart of school life.
I am already seeing signs of the third scenario around the world. There are parents who have started to demand it because they think that their children spend too much time with technology and that schools should help them to learn to be with other people. I would like to see more schools educating children to feel empathy and as Sir Ken Robinson says, finding their talents through music, arts and physical education in tandem with traditional academic curriculum.”
Sahlberg concluded: “Finland will continue to work on the same mission it has had for over 40 years: to give access to high quality and safe schools for all children regardless of their family backgrounds, domiciles, mother tongues, or abilities.“
In a previous interview, The Global Search for Education: More Focus on Finland (1.6.11), he noted: “Reading, mathematical, and scientific literacy will remain important, but their role as 'core subjects' in competitive education systems will be challenged by creativity, networking skills, and imagination. An equitable education system makes sure that all students will perform well.” … “Educational excellence in Finland is a broad concept that spans far beyond academic achievement measured in standardized tests. Indeed, quality of life, overall well-being, and happiness are important criteria when teachers and schools decide whether their individuals or organizations have performed well or not. Artistic and cultural achievements are seen in most of our schools as the main indications of being an educated individual.”
The opinions that are expressed in this selection from The Global Search for Education are without exception by highly committed and knowledgeable people. They provide powerful support of the evidence that has emerged from brain science in the past decade or so, as evidenced in Knowledge Base articles such as Arts and Cognition: Findings Hint at Relationships, Music and Human Evolution, and The Benefits of Music for the Brain, and other contributions categorised under "Brain Science and Music".
The quality of primary music education is a key issue in the Australian context, as illustrated in many articles on the Knowledge Base, notably those based on Irina Petrova's PhD thesis in 2012 (including Major Research into School Music Education and Primary School Music Teaching ). Primary schools are not an explicit issue in the material quoted in this article, but the Finnish program is in fact comprehensive, as expressed by Professor Sahlberg's statement that "Finland will continue to work on the same mission it has had for over 40 years: to give access to high quality and safe schools for all children ... ."
According to an interview on the Knowledge Base with Professor Antti Juvonen (Primary School Music Education in Finland ), everyone studying to become a qualified classroom teacher must have a minimum of 162 hours of music, of which contact teaching amounts to 75 hours (the rest is the student's own work on piano practice etc.). Students on their way to become classroom teachers can elect music as a "short minor" subject by adding an extra 298 hours of contact music teaching to their qualifications, and a "long minor" subject adding 352 contact hours on top of that. Studying music as a "short minor" subject therefore requires 373 hours and as a "long minor" subject 725 hours. Even the mandatory 75 hours of contact teaching is way above the Australian average of 17 hours.
According to Professor Juvonen, following widespread consolidation into bigger schools since the 1990s, only 15% of year 1-6 (elementary school) students are taught by teachers who didn't go beyond the mandatory music minimum; an estimated 70% of students are taught by teachers who did music as a "short minor" subject; and 15% have higher qualifications..
My attempts to find more specific information about the role of primary school music teaching in Finland have been unsuccessful to date. In a commentary on why Finland slipped slightly backwards in the international Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores in 2013, Pasi Sahlberg returns to the importance of music and arts in the school curricula, noting: "In the US, there are advanced schools that are doing things that Finnish schools should be doing", and "there are pockets of excellent practice and innovation in some American schools in the area or integrating technology and new leading devices into the schools."
The US, in other words, remains a leader of innovation in the music and arts education area, even though the quality of these disciplines remains patchy in the general school system, as in Australia. The repeated emphasis on Finland in Rubin's blog, in contrast, reflects the general quality of its education system, including a high reputation for equity and lack of discrimination.
Hans Hoegh-Guldberg. Entered on Knowledge Base 29 April 2014.