Lessons from Manheim Township

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Article posted online here

Manheim Township’s music lesson

is one that we all can learn

Much has been said and written recently regarding the Manheim Township School District Board of Directors, particularly about its fiscal transparency but also about its provision of music and art education.

The music programs offered to township students have been steadily reduced or eliminated in the past several years. This has occurred despite growing evidence of music’s value as an educational tool.

Seemingly every week another study is released documenting how music education not only teaches character skills — teamwork, discipline, personal responsibility, innovation and creativity — but also improves performance in math, reading, language and logic. These are precisely the characteristics and skills young people need to succeed in the rapidly changing global economy and world community of the 21st century. My purpose here is not to extol the value of music education, but rather to highlight an important lesson in community and educational activism.

Several weeks ago, the school board announced that some music education programs that had been cut would be restored. Some people claim the restoration is being made because the board is about to be audited by the state. While that indeed may be one reason, another important factor is the pressure on the board from parents and concerned citizens. For a long time, they have been active and vocal in drawing attention to the cuts and in pushing the board to restore them.

So this column is less about the value of music education and more about how individual citizens and communities can directly influence educational priorities, programming and funding, particularly in the area of extracurricular activities.

We live in a time of rising standards and expectations for our schools to provide students with an education that will prepare them for the future. Complicating that challenge is the fact that we also live in a time of increasingly scarce educational resources. Virtually every school district in the country is being forced to make hard choices concerning which programs and activities to sponsor and which to cut.

Federal and state mandates dictate most program priorities and funding. But in the area of extracurricular activities, local authorities have the most freedom to prioritize and fund programs. That said, it seems that music and art most often end up being scaled back or eliminated.

Yet parents and citizens of Manheim Township — through hard work and the persistence needed to keep the issue alive — made the public aware of the value of music education to the point where the school board felt compelled to reconsider many of its cuts.

If you believe in the value of music education — not only for current students but also for developing a well-rounded, intelligent and creative populace — Manheim Township’s music lesson is this: Individual citizens, by banding together in a strategic, direct advocacy effort, can influence and even demand that our schools and communities invest more in music education.

Here’s what you can do: Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper. Call a board member, or attend a board meeting and voice your concerns. Ask questions and demand answers.

Attend a school concert, regardless of whether you have a child performing. It is wonderfully fulfilling and inspiring entertainment.

Start a Facebook page as a way to network with friends who share similar concerns and dreams.

Ultimately, what is occurring in Manheim Township has less to do with appreciation for the value of musical education and more to do with community and educational activism. Manheim Township has shown us that, in the area of educational priorities and funding, individual citizens can make a difference.

Those who believe in the power of music as an educational tool must stop bemoaning cuts to programs and start fighting to restore them. The citizens of Manheim Township have provided a wonderful lesson in how to do so.

Justin Rule

Coolidge Project, 110 Gamber Lane, Lancaster, PA, 17603