Reflections on Advocacy as the SupportMusic Coalition Celebrates Five Years

June 1, 2008

Advocacy is one of those things that we in music education really shouldn’t have to deal with, because the benefits of music as a part of the education of every student are so obvious. Advocacy is also one of those things that nobody really has the time to deal with: music teachers are far too busy, our colleagues in the music business have to look after business, and our many, many supporters in the wider community have concerns and challenges of their own.

And when individuals stand up and do the work of advocates, they don’t often face real antagonism to the value of music education – just conflicting priorities. We don’t face unwillingness to allocate resources for music education – just an inability to understand how and why scarce funding can be spread across the entire curriculum and how to structure schools to educate the whole child.

So advocacy for music education is a task undertaken by people who don’t have time, and they are fighting a poorly defined enemy that is not really an enemy. That’s a prospect to make well-meaning activists turn away from advocacy and back to their daily tasks.

Why Advocate for Music Education?

But we still must advocate for music education. We must do so because we live and work in a time when those concerned with an issue must speak up, or the issue will die from lack of attention. And we must advocate for music education in the schools precisely because we know that our issue can’t be ignored. The benefits of music as a part of the education of every student are not only obvious – they are essential to our children.

The importance and the seriousness of advocacy efforts are one major reason why we have formed associations and coalitions to put muscle behind those efforts. After all, associations and coalitions grow up when groups of individuals face common challenges, share common goals, and determine their goals will be best achieved when they develop common strategies. From its beginnings in 1901, The International Music Products Association (NAMM) has worked both on issues of commerce and on explaining the importance of making music. For more than a century now, MENC: The National Association for Music Education, has worked on professional issues within the music education community and on making certain that the public and decision-makers understand the essential place of music in our schools.

These two associations, NAMM and MENC, have advocated for music education out of an understanding of the importance of this kind of outreach. Music teachers – MENC members – see it every day in the way that their work in reaching young students can rise or fall on the strength of support from the community. And music merchants – NAMM members – see it not only in their tracking of commerce but in their very real dedication to the importance of school music programs. After all, many NAMM members are at heart music educators themselves.

Celebrating the Achievements of the SupportMusic Coalition’s 1st Five Years

Because of this shared perception, MENC and NAMM have a long history of working together. In the early 1990s, along with our friends in the performance sector, NAMM and MENC reacted forcefully to the fiscally driven educational crisis with a public awareness campaign and development of an active grass-roots coalition for music education. And, just five years ago, we created the SupportMusic Coalition, our latest joint effort to bring new and constantly changing advocacy tools to an ever-broader coalition of groups from around the nation. These groups, now numbering more than 165, represent and defend every aspect of music education.

Through working together as the SupportMusic Coalition during these past five years, we have:

• developed and disseminated the latest information to support the status of music in our schools;

• facilitated access to demographic research associating music education with graduation and attendance rates;

• furthered the knowledge of more research connecting music education with educational attainment and with earning power;

• engaged with ideas and anecdotes from school board members and others on the best ways to advocate;

• provided a conduit for these new issues and ideas through SupportMusic.com, regular teleconference calls attended by our affiliates and invited guests, and Action Alerts to encourage contact with elected officials as appropriate;

• maintained and transmitted some of the best tried-and-true information and procedures for supporting school music to a new generation of advocates via an online “Make Your Case” database of information underscoring the importance of school music programs, facilities for rating those elementary, middle, and high school programs, CounterPoint articles and other resources such as the Community Action Toolkit, Keeping Music Education Strong brochures ;

• and finally, the coalition built around the centerpiece of SupportMusic.com has the built-in ability to interface and interact with other like-minded coalitions to have a positive impact on issues locally, nationally and even internationally.

Today, the SupportMusic Coalition serves the needs of advocates around the nation with communication, research and advocacy resources. This five-year old coalition is the latest in a history of such efforts, and while we pause to celebrate our accomplishments, we recognize that our work is far from completed. Through our ongoing efforts, the SupportMusic Coalition has one end in mind: to maintain and enhance music education in service to our students.

That goal is one of those things that we can’t ever forget.

If you are interested in joining the SupportMusic Coalition, please contact info@supportmusic.com

Michael Blakeslee is Senior Deputy Executive Director of MENC: The National Association for Music Education, where he has worked for the past twenty years. Before joining MENC, he taught music theory and composition both in the United States and abroad.