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early childhood education

From a Position of Strength Rick Townsend, WMEA State Chair, Early Childhood Education

If all the world is a stage, then the play has effectively changed very little in the past 70 years.

These words are written under the shadow of stupen- dous and fateful

happenings. The attack has fallen upon us. Our complacencies have vanished. What seemed to many our security has, in one blinding flash, been revealed for the delusion that it always was. In years gone by we had often been told that ours was a changing world, and that with this fact we must reckon. Yet to many of us such words had an academic ring, and it seemed that we might heed them or not as we pleased. No longer is this so. The real- ity of which we have been warned is now brought home to all of us with inescapable force. We are in the grip of a mighty tide, sweeping us onward towards unknown destinies. Now we know it.

Is this a time to write a book about the teachings of music? Yes it is! For it is a time to remind ourselves where true and lasting values lie.1

True and Lasting Values

In 1943, when James Mursell wrote these words America was engaged in a hor- rendous war with no guarantee for a suc- cessful, or even timely resolution. Further, America had recently experienced The Great Depression, an event that was finally easing – primarily as a result of the newly fired WWII economy. Immigration chal-

Practical Pointers 36

lenges, social change, educational reform, corruption, political unrest – it was all part of the daily culture then as it is now.

For many reasons, during my lifetime we have become skittish about the topic of values. Whether we call them ideals, ethics, morals, dispositions, principles, or whatever, the idea that the only safe position on values is a neutral position should be tossed away like an old, worn out shoe.

James Mursell was an intelligent, ar- ticulate music psychologist/researcher – an icon in music education history. He was also unflinching when discussing universal values. Music is… one of the most perfect of all expressions of what is best and purist in the human spirit. (W)e and our children supremely need its eloquent reminder that goodness also is mighty and enduring. In the midst of so much doubt, confusion, conflict and hate, we and our children need its testimony to eternal values.2

He spoke of hope… (W)e have a job to do and a part to play in the building of a better world – a world in which men and women, who are children now, shall perceive that this dark, appalling chaos is the troubled dawn of a fairer day3


The great values of life that he espoused are still solidly in play. Humankind will always value selfless love, joy, peace, kindness, self control and a host of other moral qualities that can be so effectively expressed and experienced through our music – with or without text.

True and Lasting Advocacy

With growing stacks of good information at our disposal, why does it sometimes seem that we are becoming less and less secure as a profession? Our research and rationale building are stronger than ever. We can articulate long lists of valuable outcomes for our music programs, with statistics to support many sides of most issues. If we do not advocate for music education, we ask, then who will? I will return to the article by James Mursell for an answer that may surprise us all.

…The complete making of a cur- riculum does not take place inside any committee room, but rather in and through a working adjustment be- tween the school and its constituency. And by far the strongest influence in determining what shall be taught and what shall not is public opinion oper- ating over long periods of time.

…For instance, science was not brought into the curriculum because educational authorities wanted it. Some indeed favored it, but others in positions of great influence bit- terly resisted its introduction for long enough. It arrived and gained support because the public became convinced that their children should not grow up lacking contact with it.

…So schedules and budgets were changed, and vested educational in- terests were overruled. Again, Greek has faded from the educational picture in America, and Latin shows signs of following in its train, not because experts have proved them useless, or

~ Rick Townsend

Try asking your administrators to describe their vision and rationale for your school’s music program. You may be surprised by their answer.

January 2011

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