An inner-city school in England was in trouble: funding problems, complaining parents, unhappy teachers. They reversed their situation, however.
- The school is in the top 10% nationally for pupil progress in reading, writing and maths.
- 74% of its kids met the nation’s reading standard, higher than the national average of 53%.
- 74% of its pupils achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared to a national average of 53%.
- Feversham students are 7.1 points above the national average for reading and 3.4 for writing.
- Feversham students are 6.5 points above the national average for math.
- The school’s results for disadvantaged pupils are well above average.
All it took was ‘one weird trick’: they incorporated 6 hours of music into the curriculum every week.
The school bases its method on the Kodály approach, which involves teaching children to learn, subconsciously at first, through playing musical games. Children learn rhythm, hand signs and movement, for example, in a way that will help their reading, writing and maths. Idrees says teachers have found that asking children to memorise passages of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, for example, improves reading and writing.
I don’t think music is the one magical element that makes this work, but it’s part of the recipe. Kids have to learn that applying oneself with discipline has rewards, and music is a good tool for that; I think also that the missing ingredient in education is inspiration and enthusiasm. Kids have to want to learn, and restricting the curriculum to some tiny few fragments of the range of human interest is a sure way to lock people out from learning that lesson.
In my own case, I was lucky: I was brought up with an enthusiasm for reading. Maybe soaking up trashy science fiction and fantasy novels wasn’t a direct path to educational success, but it did give me the skills I needed to do well in English and math and science. The local high school in Morris is not exactly exceptional, but one of the things that stood out about it when my kids were attending was their theater program — my son Connlann was very gung-ho about performing, and my nerdy daughter Skatje was focused on theater tech. It makes a difference when going to school to have something that makes you enthusiastic about participating. (The school made major cuts in the theater program about the time my kids graduated — a classic short-sighted bit of stupidity. I’m sure that their thinking was that since performing arts weren’t on the standardized exams, who needs it?)
I’m seeing it all the time in higher ed, too. In times of short budgets, who needs philosophy or foreign languages? Cut those disciplines so you can give more money to the STEM fields, where the money and the future lies. They never seem to realize that students are human beings with diverse interests, and our job is to expose them to the breadth of human knowledge, so they can choose how to apply themselves. Force-feeding our students through a funnel of one domain isn’t going to succeed; they’ll learn more with a smorgasbord that allows them to voluntarily stuff themselves with wisdom.