Monday, January 24, 2011

Pop goes the Weasel

It’s time to stand up and let the world know, at least in Australia, that if we are to be a truly creative nation then we need to nurture creativity from the start of a child’s life and we need to do it properly.

Music education, the prime mover in nurturing children’s creativity, is often maltreated by people, let’s call them teachers, who think that children should have a diet of only popular music, because, AND WAIT FOR THIS...THE CHILDREN LIKE IT!

What fabulous reasoning; children tend to like sugar: should they therefore have only a diet of sugar?

By giving children ONLY popular music you say to them in an oblique but very forceful way: ‘ Children, you are too dumb to understand any music other than popular music.

Your brains will never understand Jazz; you will never get any European folk music or world music or fusion or crossover jazz/classical/ethnic music because you are not capable of listening to anything other than pop music.

‘So children’, says the music teacher of limited imagination, and even more limited ability, ‘let’s play the latest pop song and see how it’s just like every other pop song.’

The real tragedy is that there is some crackerjack pop music out there which, in conjunction with a wide range of all sorts of other music, could really have a profound impact on children’s musical development. Comparing, contrasting, examining a broad range of styles and genres is the life-blood of a music program. Music education is not about entertainment.

Would History be taught with the view that we will only study Australian history from 1900 -1905? That could be fun and entertaining!

Would Geography be taught with the view that we will only study mountains in Victoria? We love mountains and hate seas and plains and valleys!

Would arithmetic be taught with the view that we only really need to do addition up to ten? My children don’t like any numbers above ten!

If this Federal Government is really serious about creative Australia, really serious about education and genuinely interested in literacy and numeracy then it would put its money where its mouth was and fund music and arts education as a priority, taught properly by teachers who know something about music, teachers who are serious about music as a subject and not disc jockeys.

Parents need to know that children, who receive only pop music and nothing else, are being short-changed in a significant way.

How is it that in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Argentina, for example, where music is studied and taught sequentially as a serious subject that there has been no deleterious impact on the literacy and numeracy results of students? In fact just the opposite: these countries excel in all fields of educational endeavour precisely because of their arts and music programs, in which pop music, by the way, plays a very minor role

Wake up Australia; we are behind the eight ball big time-but we can change it; you can change it-you can show concern-you can write to education ministers and politicians, even when they seem not to be understanding the problem they still need to hear that there is a problem and it can be fixed. Watch this space.


  1. We can change it together, with people like me, and you, and those one in a million special teachers out there in the burbs like John and Karen Hibbard and a whole bunch of silent people taking part in community education who get it, we can do it. What is the plan of action besides educating our own?

  2. I totally agree with everything you say. I think the same can be said for a lot of areas of education in general. There is a lot of entertaining and time-filling going on in our schools. I think one of the biggest problems is that very few teachers and school principals are truly passionate about education. Put simply, they just don't care.

  3. Yes, second that Anonymous, the entire onus for a student's education has been put upon the solitary teacher. The present day student is afforded virtually no real (although it's often stated otherwise in Writing) responsibilty to learn and challenge themselves. If they are not entertained, they are not learning, and it is entirely the teachers fault, 'you need to be more "engaging"', teachers are (literally!) told. Anonymous education policy chiefs in this country have their heads deliberately in the sand! But it is everyone else who is suffocating.

  4. You're not going to change a thing. Australians are philistines and you know it. It is a cultural wasteland here, and that's not ever going to change.

  5. Part of the trouble are these quick fix masterclasses or professional developments, where tips, tricks or apparent secrets are shown to poorly trained and ignorant teachers, usually by limited educationalist junkies who have never acquired any knowledge or skills of music making. These teachers then, with feined enthusiasm try to teach the "trick", and always end up doing everything so badly the students not only have to relearn the basics properly, but also have their interest in music destroyed, possibly forever. One only has to look at how uniformly bad rhythm is taught in the classroom to understand the dangers here. We need to instil a genuine love of real music in all humans, and it must start with classroom teachers. It must be possible. Please keep helping us develop a civilised humanity Richard!

    David Farrands

  6. I had the misfortune of teaching at an outer suburban school where there was no curriculum or sense of musical integrity. The majority of music students were encouraged by (amateur) staff to mimic the pathetic and purile antics of Australian idol, the voice and the x factor ad nauseum. Music? No. Cheap tarty crap. This is but one instance of my experience - I could write reams of complaint. How pathetic to witness as a music educator the corridors of schools resounding with fake American accents and young men holding electric guitars but not actually playing them. We will be branded as "out of touch" and insignificant. The people who continue to "dumb down" our musical integrity will become the dinosaurs.

  7. Dear Richard, I quoted you on FaceBook and a robust discussion has appeared. Bravo , Maestro!

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  12. Really a good way to describe your post...loved to see this...Pop Goes the Weasel