Initial Thoughts on NAfME’s new “broader minded” Campaign


Alternate title:
"Music advocacy that music teachers can finally be passionate about."

Let’s not beat around the bush here:

For me, NAfME’s Broader Minded campaign is shaping up to be the best advocacy message I’ve seen them put out in quite a while. Do I have some issues with it? Of course! (This wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t have some problems with a NAfME message.) But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that NAfME is finally putting forward a a message that music teachers can get behind.

The central focus on “Music makes you smarter” never appealed to music teachers. I know I’ve said this many times, but helping a student do better in their math class is not the reason that a musician devotes his or her life to teaching music. The “smart child” approach to advocacy lacked passion (something musicians have in spades) and the profession was never mobilized to action around it. 

However,  this message that music is good because it’s artistic, because it’s social, because it’s challenging, because it’s so many things… THIS is advocacy that can resonate with music educators. Only time will tell if the profession will jump on board (getting anybody to do anything is difficult), but just looking at the website lets me know that the organization is looking in the right direction.

Not to take away from the positives I’ve just shared with you, but I do think it’s important to include some of my concerns.

1) “Beyond the Bubbles” is great, but near the end of the video we get, “Math and Science matter. But music impacts and assesses students in other ways. Ways that a standardized test could never show.” (Emphasis mine.)

I just think that the inclusion of “and assesses” really undercuts a much more powerful message. It could have been written like this:

Math and Science matter. But music impacts students in other ways. Ways that a standardized test could never show.

BOOM. That’s EXACTLY what music teachers have been saying for YEARS. Let’s not mix up the message, NAfME. Keep pushing for music as a unique space where children get to explore their interests and talents; an endeavor that, hopefully, helps them find a voice - a means of expressing themselves. I know “assess” is a buzz word, but it confuses the point that you’re trying to make (or, at least, the point I want you to be making).


(This is the biggest version of the logo I could find on the website. I also had to invert it to make it visible. I hope they make this iconography available for others to use for school programs and other local things.)

2) Is it just me or does the “Think Beyond the Bubbles” logo pack more punch than the “Music on the brain” logo? To be honest, I really wish the entire campaign was titled, “Think beyond the bubbles” or, simply, “Beyond the Bubbles”. “Broader Minded” is directed towards both the child that a quality music education creates AND the way we perceive the value of music in our schools. That’s pretty cool. However, it just doesn’t feel as memorable to me. (The URL just lacks some oomph.) 

(Okay, so I just Googled it, and I see that Stanford has a program titled, “Beyond the Bubble”. Either way, some variation on that name would still be great.)

3) There are other ways of making music other than cello, piano, and marching band. That’s all we see in the short video. And, yes, I know time is limited. In the future, I sincerely hope that NAfME takes this opportunity to include all forms of making music rather than our more “traditional" offerings. In the future, it would be great to see someone singing a song on the guitar or using a turntable.

4) Is it “Broader-Minded” hyphenated or not? This probably won’t impact Google search results, but it appears with and without the hyphen in different places. (I would think it’s always hyphenated, but maybe a grammarian can explain to me why that’s not the case.)

Anyway, I think this is a great first step in helping to rethink some of the messaging that has been coming out of NAfME for a while. I look forward to what’s going to happen next! If anybody from NAfME wants some help, you know where to find me.

* * *

New Core Arts Standards?

I can’t help but wonder how this campaign interacts with the new Core Arts Standards that were announced last week. Standards, in our modern educational landscape, mean assessment, right? I asked some questions about this yesterday and I’m still looking for guidance from smart people. Let me know! 

"Change is Bad." (Or, "Hey! I was quoted in USA Today!")

During my first year of teaching, I found myself frustrated after a number of rehearsals with my Freshman Band. One day, my mentor at the school, Jan, looked at me and said:

"Remember: Change is Bad."

Right away, I knew what she meant.

Jan was pointing out that, often times, no matter how “good” or “bad” you are, the very fact that you represent “change” is seen as a bad thing. People often prefer the experiences they’ve had, flawed or not, than the ones that they haven’t - think about that old adage, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

Well, I was so appreciative of Jan’s comment that I wrote “Change is Bad” on a Post-It note and stuck it to my computer monitor. Every day after rehearsal, I would sit down at my desk and be reminded that things would get better. It was a great reminder to me that I should keep working as hard as I can to become a better teacher. As silly as it may sound, the mantra “Change is Bad” provided me with hope. I would often repeat it to myself throughout a particularly bad day.

About midway through the year, I came into my office and saw that someone had altered my Post-It note! As you can see in the picture above, this person had scratched out “BAD” and written “Good” with a little smiley face. 

It was a simple act - perpetrated by an unknown person - but it meant the world to me. And, it’s a great visual reminder that change, while scary, can be a good thing… it’s often just a combination of time and perspective. What is written in permanent marker is easily scratched out, after all. 

Today, my stick-figure cartoon titled, “What we get wrong: An illustrated guide to our music advocacy mistakes,” was quoted in a Letter to the Editor in USA Today. The article, written by David Sall from the Music Access Project of Portland, uses the principal’s quote (see below) to argue that we should be engaging with more students if we wish to make a coherent case for arts funding. Read the article HERE!

(Read below the break for the cartoon and my response to some of the USA Today readers.)

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Equalizing Secondary General Music: Our Primary Concern

Note: The article below was published in the Spring 2011 edition of the Illinois Music Educator Journal. Dr. Joseph Manfredo, my adviser during my undergraduate years at the University of Illinois, asked me to contribute a piece that would fit within the issue’s larger theme of 21st century skills. Some of the ideas are ones you’ve heard from me before, but in a slightly different format. As always, comment, tweet, “like”, share, and enjoy!


Equalizing Secondary General Music: Our Primary Concern

"You can’t teach what you can’t sell."

So goes a line from a song by Ted Leo and The Pharmacists called “Under the Hedge.”

Listening to the song on my iPod, on my way somewhere, with my mind racing in a thousand different directions, that line jumped out at me every time. The sentiment of the line felt right, but I didn’t know why. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this article that the lyric fully made sense to me as a music educator. 

If we have any interest in remaining relevant in the 21st century, then we need to take the words of Ted Leo seriously. We must expand our traditional offerings to include well-conceived and relevant general music courses that will energize our students. To put it simply: If we can’t sell our profession to our local community, then we won’t be in a position to share our passion for music with them. You quite literally cannot teach what hasn’t been bought. 

Expanding the brand of music education

Unfortunately, almost 80% of high school students aren’t buying what we’re selling, choosing not to participate in our traditional ensemble offerings. However, many children are actively engaged in music learning, often mediated through digital means. The fact is that 76% of children ages 8-18 own an mp3 player; and with sites like YouTube or services like iTunes, our youth can access an endless supply of music at any time. Not only do they seek out new music, but they also create their own. This generation has taken YouTube’s slogan, “Broadcast Yourself,” seriously – creating original songs, mashups, remixes, and covers that they then post to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or their own personal blogs.

If we truly want to ensure that music education has a place in the future of our schools, we need to capitalize on our students’ enthusiasm for both the consumption and creation of music. We can do this by expanding our course offerings to complement their interests. Simply put, we should offer courses that would allow students to engage with music—traditional and popular genres—by giving them the opportunity to compose, remix, and analyze the music that truly captures their imagination.

In an excellent article for Leading Notes, Rick Dammers uses the concept of brand diversification to effectively make this point. He writes: 

If [our profession was] Coca-Cola, we would need to look beyond trying to get everyone to drink cola. We would need to offer other types of drinks as well. This diversification strengthens the whole company without hurting the original brands. 

The “original brands” in this example are our traditional ensembles (band, choir, and orchestra) and the “other types of drinks” represent classes that seek to mobilize the 79% of students who simply don’t wish to drink what we have been offering. An increase in secondary general music courses would be the perfect tool to bring “brand diversification” to music education.

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What we get wrong: An illustrated guide to our music advocacy mistakes

Since I have a lot to do tonight, I want to get this post out quickly (while it’s on my mind). I’ve decided to try my hand at illustrating as many of these points as I can - they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, after all. (Note: This ended up taking a long time.) I’ll tackle this in a more “traditional” format sometime soon.

Disclaimer: This post is not an attempt to attack any individuals involved in advocating for music education. Instead, I want to take this opportunity to challenge the “best practice” assertions that people use to explain their advocacy strategies. As an elected official to my state MENC chapter, I DO believe that the efforts of groups like MENC are key if we are to continue to share our love of music with children. 

As always, enjoy, comment, and share!

If you like this post, consider checking out the rest of my blog. There are no stick figures, but plenty of articles and lesson ideas that support the central premise of the cartoons below. Click HERE for the front page and HERE for the Lessons page. Get updates on Facebook, Twitter, or into your RSS feed.

Also, visit the online magazine I co-edit, Leading Notes. We’ve got a lot of GREAT content for those interested in music education.

(Did I mention I can’t draw?)

(Read below the break for the exciting conclusion!)

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