The Development of Music Education in an Ever-changing Society

Posted on

To understand the complexities sewn within the development, and ensuing transition, towards a musically enriched school system, one must first be able to identify the point upon which the appearance of music education in the school system first emerged. In order to fully comprehend this, we must first be able to locate its emergence within the proper context and time period, because by doing so, we have a better ability to appreciate the weight music has held toward the development of other American institutions outside the school system. In this light, I seek to question the point at which music education appeared as a method of schooling and the ways advocates have reasoned for music education’s change over time. To answer this question, the following paper will begin with a break-down of the time period surrounding it’s involvement in the school system, followed by a discussion of it’s involvement in the common school era, and finally with a reflection of its emergence into the school system. Within this exploration, I will be able to unveil the deeply rooted significance music holds as a symbol and expression of democratic ideals and the ways the curriculum always seems to evolve to facilitate and mirror the needs of society.

Background To The Rise of a Musically Enriched Education

Music, as an aid to educational development, was first introduced during the Progressive era of early 1900s, an after-effect of the common-school movement, introduced around the mid-1800s. Prior to this, musicianship was used as a means of entertainment among the genteel class and as a public demonstration of elite stature. However, upon the realization that music could be used as a tool to promote social reform within the poorer classes (and could thereby be used to ameliorate the economic status of the country as a whole), the purpose of music became transformed. Instead of its original purpose as a representation of elite’s priority and a form of their entertainment, music became a tool for promoting social, political, and economic reform, and as such, reflected the ideologies behind the turn of the century’s Progressive movement.

The Progressive Movement of the early 1900’s was a time period centered on American evolution and advancement.  Within this period of reform, many “shared in common the view that government at every level must be actively involved in these reforms”(West, et al.). This included the school system, and eventually resulted in the creation of a music-mandate in the curriculum. Before I dive into the details behind the Progressive Movement’s impact on music as a form of education, it is important to touch upon the transformations occurring in the urban and rural districts during the same time.

The cities of the early 1900s, areas usually comprised of social settlements (“centers for neighborhood social services and social reform activities”(Abrams)), which were built around music, as an aid to the poor and unskilled. It was believed among the majority of the upper-middle-class, that musical appreciation within the working class could be a powerful means of reform for them, and was one that could cause “social uplift and amelioration”(Lee, 307). This viewpoint continued following the adoption of musical instruction in rural areas nearer the 1920s, a transition that allowed the inclusion of the majority of American public, and most importantly, school children at the time. This inclusion of the masses reflected many of the democratic ideologies intrinsic to the Progressive era’s push for widespread class inclusion. By incorporating musical instruction (something I will touch on again later) into the curriculum of rural schools, this movement of progression was able to reach a broader audience. And subsequently, changed the approach to schooling, and in the eyes of many reformers both then and today, changed it for the better.

With the implementation and availability of music education, to more of the “common” folk in American society, music, as a tool of empowerment, became even more prevalent, and reflected the ideology of many Progressive Era reformers. Following this transition, music became a symbol that embodied democratic ideologies through it’s encouragement of the idea that everyone could appreciate and participate in music (and that it was not restricted to only the more elite social classes); something that created a further distinction between our conception of American versus European culture.  American reformers of this time believed that “a democratic revolution in music signaled the beginning of the disintegration of the genteel ideal in music, an ideal that had seen European cultural models as best for Americans. (Lee, 308). Music education, by in large, was crucial to not only the evolution of America’s social and economic structure, but allowed us to politically distance ourselves from the European, monarchial culture, furthering our pride in a democratic America.

At the same time that this adoption of music among the rural community was broadening, there was also a heavy migration from rural areas to cities, a consequence of the greater economic opportunities made available from the rise of factory work and considerable need for skilled laborers and arms manufacturing at the peak of the First World War. As a result, many elite-class members worried that their cities would become filled with the uneducated and unskilled people of the countryside, and what’s more, the rural economy those migrants left, will begin to deteriorate from lack of available workers. This worry among the elite class, yet ameliorated interest, surrounding rural life can be seen through President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1908 creation of the Country Life Commission, a group created to monitor economic rural life, especially within institutions like the church and the school. It was believed that music would play a fundamental role in uplifting and reinvigorating the rural masses.

Even though, following the end of World War I, many migrants returned back to their respective rural communities, the influence of music in those places never subsided. What was once a national method of reform, created to uplift the economic downfall of rural communities, transcended into those same rural areas becoming “fertile ground for music teaching”(Lee, 318). Upon the addition of rural involvement with musicianship, music was able to progress into a form of schooling and education.

The Significance of the Common School Era

Nearing the turn of the century, the common school reform era took full flight. It’s emergence around 1860 marked a key transition to a new approach of school-wide instruction, which stressed the significance that universal schooling and mass public education has on unifying American culture. This method of schooling not only elevated the level of instruction (as a result of the movement’s mandate for “systematic examinations and minimum training requirements for teachers”(Rury, 75)), but also caused a separation between schooling and religion, a distinction yet to be enforced within the school system. Prior to the common school era, school and religion were tremendously intertwined. This inevitably influenced the type of instruction the students were given, as it was something flooded with religious bias. Not surprisingly, intolerance and bigotry ran rapid amongst American society. It was believed that this type of hatred, a result from “religious sectarianism and cultural conflict, posed a big challenge to the future of American institutions, especially the principle of democratically elected government”(Rury, 75). The school system was viewed as both the cause and potential end to this problem, and was believed as “the solution to a host of social problems, and as a tool of economic and political development”(Rury, 74), as I had mentioned earlier.

A new-found emphasis on musical education arose upon the “common schooling” era, where offerings of music activity, like “listening lessons, instrumental performing groups, musical history, and theory – began to appear in isolated places near the turn of the century. These offerings were extracurricular at first, but later evolved into curricular subjects” (Mark, 256). This change reflected a shift in the discourse and the overall perception of the purpose of education within American society.  Not only did this shift reflect a greater appreciation for artistic ability on a vocational level, but also mirrored the notion that “democracy depended on universal [and one standard level of] education” (Marks, 141) for all children.

Music’s Progression and Involvement In The School Curriculum 

The transition of music into the school system before the turn of the century, began with a focus on vocal music education, where “music educators made four-part choral singing the music activity for high schools…it included one hour of music study four days each week in addition to the usual one hour per week of required choral music. That would have put the music program on par with other disciplines in the high school curriculum”(Gary, 256). However, it wasn’t until later that the focus on choral-based classes transitioned to incorporate instrumental classes as well. What’s more, this introduction to instrumental classes coincided with a shift in the approach of teaching music, where the traditional individualized-method of instruction converted into a form of class-based instruction. In this way, “group instruction for singing was the norm, and it fit easily into the structure of the American common schools; it was as yet unknown for instrumental music, however.”(Gary, 266). Instead, instrumental music teaching was previously “done on an individual basis, as had been the usual practice for centuries. The regular faculty of the public schools was hired initially to teach vocal music. Music theory and appreciation were added at the turn of the century”(Gary, 266). This appreciation, however, became more and more diluted approaching mid-century America. The following quote best summarizes the transition from music’s prominence around the turn of the century to its latter general dismissal among school boards towards the mid-twentieth century.

“Music had been an integral part of the school curriculum during the progressive education era. When progressive education ceased to be an organized movement in the 1950s, however, music, like the other curricular disciplines, lost a philosophical basis of support. Progressive education was not replaced by a new comprehensive philosophy, and so all of the disciplines found themselves with curricula partially suited to progressive education, whose philosophy was under question. Without the guidance of a comprehensive philosophy for American education, there was no new direction indicated for curriculum planners. Music education remained static, as did other disciplines”(Gary, 352).

In respect to the static nature the music curriculum now found itself in, music educators began to revolutionize their methods of instruction in an effort to mimic the modern nature of new social reforms.  As a result, the 1960s and 1970s proved to be a fundamental time for radical changes within music education. One most notable shift within these changes was the implementation of comprehensive musicianship.

Comprehensive musicianship was first introduced around 1965 in an effort to radicalize and reinvigorate the music curriculum within the American education system. This development, founded based off an incorporation of “music history and theory”(Gary, 361), has had a tremendous impact on elementary and secondary schools. Not only has it by allowed children with the necessary background information to be able to devise insight into the meaning and context of their songs and performances, but also has given way to a new era of music education that appreciates a broader understanding of music and its relation to its society. Comprehensive musicianship was also incorporated into collegiate curriculums as well, but this process was much more gradual. However, despite its more protracted implementation, comprehensive musicianship gave way to many of the collegiate music courses we are so familiar with today. In fact, Trinity College’s own music curriculum began in 1977, and today reflects much of the historical and theological content that was so embedded within comprehensive musicianship from its introduction in elementary schools in 1965.

The emergence of musical education in terms of a necessity to uphold the progressive and common school values of the early 1900s, evolved to accommodate the new philosophical movement of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.  Despite the inevitable variability within these different social reform movements of the past century and a half, music education has continued to reflect the ideologies of each of its respective eras. In this way, we can understand music’s role as being a facilitator for societal mobility and progression, the reason for its change over time.


Works Cited:

Abrams, Laura S. “Social Settlements.” Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. The Gale Group, Inc, 2008. Web. 22 April. 2014.

Keene, James A. A History of Music Education in the United States. Hanover, NH: U of New England, 1982. Print.

Lee, William R. “Music Education and Rural Reform, 1900-1925.” Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 306-326.

Mark, Michael L., and Charles L. Gary. A History of American Music Education. New York: Schirmer, 1992. Print.

Rury, John L. “Excerpt On The Common School Reform Movement (1830s-60s).” Education and Social Change: Contours in the History of American Schooling. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2009. 74-80. Print.

West, Thomas G., and William A. Schambra. “The Progressive Movement and the Transformation of American Politics.” The Heritage Foundation. 18 July 2007. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.

New/For Review Only: Research Proposal

Posted on

Research Question: When did music education appear in elementary/secondary schools, and how advocates’ reasons for music education change over time?

Why this topic deserves to be researched:

Throughout my childhood, instrumental music was something that always took great prominence in my life and in my household. When reflecting on this, I think about the reasons for this importance and why it was so stressed in my family. After attending Trinity for the past year and a half, I realize the importance of music after witnessing those who didn’t have the opportunity to immerse themselves within the musical world as a child. Seeing others not be able to read music or simply the idea that they just don’t know how to play an instrument in the first place, was quite startling for me when attending Trinity; especially when coming from a community in a suburb right out of D.C., where a focus on musicianship and the importance of musical-mental development was so broadly understood by parents, students, and teachers alike. From this perspective and realization, I am intrigued in learning more about where musicianship, as a school course, first developed, and why it did so in the first place.

Through the research I have done thus far, I have learned that the beginning of the 20th century did hold some “music appreciation classes,” where the focus was enjoying and admiring music, but not necessarily the act of performing music the way we do today. This lackadaisical approach is something I plan on exploring further and will help lead me to the shift from this Progressive Era approach of teaching a hands-off approach of musicianship to the more current understanding of music class and the prevalence it holds in today’s educational sphere.

Research Strategy:

When addressing my research question, I plan on using the techniques my professor, Jack Dougherty, indicated during our previous conversation/meeting earlier last week. As a result, I have found searching strategies like Google Scholar, America: History and Life, JSTOR, and Trinity’s WorldCat database to further examine the rationale behind the evolution of musicianship as a class taught wide amongst contemporary affluent society. I find it more difficult, however, to use our class readings and lectures for this topic because we haven’t studied it too closely in class. This said, based on the sites I have found so far, I doubt there to be much of an issue in finding applicable, scholarly sources for my project. Nonetheless, I have set up an appointment with a research librarian at Raether Library so that a professional can accentuate my current research strategies.


Hodges, Donald A., and Debra S. O’Connell. “The Impact of Music Education on Academic Achievement.” The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Web.

Kelstrom, J. M. “The Untapped Power of Music: Its Role in the Curriculum and Its Effect on Academic Achievement.” NASSP Bulletin 82.597 (1998): 34-43. Print.

Hardesty, Jacob. “Canonic Constructions In Early 20Th Century Music Appreciation Classes.” American Educational History Journal 38.1/2 (2011): 289-303. America: History & Life. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.

Lee, William R. “Music Education and Rural Reform, 1900-1925.” JSTOR. Sage Publications, Inc., 1997.

Research Proposal

Posted on

Research Question:

How has the U.S. education system adapted to accommodate the needs of foreign speaking students since the beginning of the 20th century and in what ways is it still being transformed today?

Why this topic deserves to be researched:

Attending a private institution, like Trinity College, has led me to a profound awakening, especially in regards to the importance of racial diversity. The racial diversity at Trinity (or lack thereof) is something I find to dominate the entire tone and nature of a college. It was only after attending Trinity that I realized how drastically the racial composition of one’s surroundings can influence a person’s perceptions and levels of acceptance.  Growing up in a very multi-ethnic and racially diverse area right outside Washington D.C., I am used to a high level of sensitivity towards the words and actions used when discussing or interacting with a different race or socio-economic class. It was only after attending Trinity that I realized that this sensitivity wasn’t as wide-spread as I once thought. Instead, there seems to be an entirely different language to the school, a language that, as derogative as it is, is accepted here as being standard. During my first few months at Trinity last year, I remember how taken aback I was when listening to the causal racial references and slang thrown out during every-day conversation around campus. Even more shocking to me, was that I was the only person asking people to stop making these comments, and when I would bring up the importance of respecting and appreciating another students ethnic and racial background, no one ever seemed to catch on and almost seemed to be a foreign concept. This was so appalling to me that it led me to write my freshman-year-seminar final paper surrounding the racial climate on Trinity’s campus. Now, a year and a half later as a sophomore, I find it even more difficult not to avoid using the phrases my peers use, and I almost find myself succumbing to Trinity’s racial language. It worries me to think that I am loosing the racial awareness that was once so expected. In a grander context, it interests me to see that the level of one’s academic intelligence doesn’t always mirror one’s social and cultural understandings, something I hope to explore further in my paper. Furthermore, I believe that the language one uses reflects their levels of acceptance as well, something demonstrated by the levels of acceptance I see here versus the greater levels of acceptance I witness during interactions in my home town. When choosing a paper topic and considering this background, I wanted to pick something that concerned racial and ethnic relations but also something that examined an area of study I haven’t exposed myself to in previous classes or in previous papers. This is why I decided I wanted to center my focus around a foreign students understanding of the U.S. education system, as I see it as a topic that could also expose the priorital assistance we give some ethnic groups and not others, as we see fit. I believe this could also shed light on the reasons why we see greater trends of acceptance in public school settings than we generally do in private school settings.


Research Strategy:

When addressing my research question, I plan on using google scholar and online studies to examine international relations within the public school system, a tool that has already worked well for me when beginning to conduct my research. I find it difficult to use our class readings and lectures for this topic because we haven’t studied it too closely in class.

I think it would be helpful to incorporate a good deal of case studies regarding ethnic integration in private high schools in comparison to that of public high schools, and would add greater credibility and tangibility to my research question.  I also plan to meet with a research librarian to help me conduct my research, especially since I currently don’t have much experience working with the tools and techniques offered by the library. Through further research, I hope to narrow down my research question so that it focuses more directly on the policies in place now in comparison to those of past decades. I also think it would be interesting to explore the success of the immersion programs in place, as they can be indicators of the quality of education provided in foreign speaking students classrooms as opposed to the quality of education American students experience at the same school.



Ruiz-de-Velasco, Jorge, and Michael Fix. Overlooked & Underserved: Immigrant Students in U.S. Secondary Schools. Publication. Web. <>.

Howard, Elizabeth R., Julie Sugarman, and Donna Christian. Trends in Two-Way Immersion Education: A Review of the Research. Publication., Aug. 2003. Web. <>.

The Editorial Board. “Why Other Countries Teach Better.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 06 Apr. 2014. <>.

Wilde, Marian. “Global Grade: How Do U.S. Students Compare?” GreatSchools. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. <>.

The Regression of Learning in A Race to Nowhere

Posted on

The past decade and a half has seen a wholesale reconstruction within the American education system. Documentary, Race to Nowhere, draws upon this shift to explain the recent decline of critical thinking among students across the United States, and as reasoning for the emotional crisis many are dealing with when attempting to meet the demands of new collegiate expectations.

Overworked students (1:05:31) Race to Nowhere
Overworked students (1:05:31) Race to Nowhere

Filmmaker and speaker, Vicki Abeles, introduces her documentary by explaining her personal ties to the recurrent schooling epidemic in America today. She introduces herself as a mother of three children, one of whom is a thirteen-year old girl named Jamie who is experiencing the psychological brunt of the stressors within the current educational system, primarily in its focus on testing performance. Through interviews and personal accounts, it becomes clear that it isn’t just the pursuit of academic success that produces the anxiety for Jamie, but arises from further expectations of success from a slew of extra-curricular activities as well. Abeles links her child’s emotional turmoil with that of other American teenagers’ by analyzing personal narratives from teenage students across the country. By doing this, she guides the viewers through the post-No Child Left Behind transgression of learning in the American school system.

George Bush's 2002 No Child Left Behind (0:28:14) Race to Nowhere
George Bush’s 2002 No Child Left Behind (0:28:14) Race to Nowhere

Abeles uses one teacher’s account to highlight the primary issue behind her argument. Teacher, Emma Batten-Bowman explains how “things that actually get our students to think are pushed aside” (Abeles et al, 0:00:53), so that the primary focus becomes testing performance. With a legislatively produced financial incentive in the back of the minds of many teachers, it becomes almost impossible to divert from the curriculum revolving around test taking. Teacher, Susan Kaplan, exposes a common trend among educators by commenting, “we’re told either you do it or you don’t have a job…we went along with it because our bonus money was based on test scores”(Abeles et al, 0:29:50). What we see arise from this are teachers who devote less time to outside imaginative learning experiences, like project-based learning, and more to performance-based instruction. The result, as Abeles explains it, is an “education system [that is] a mile wide and an edge deep”(Abeles et al, 0:48:45).

While trying to comply with the rising requirements and expectations among collegiate institutions, many students “push to do more” (Abeles et al, 0:09:50), causing the rise in both depression and anxiety in our children today.  Evidence of this internal “push” can be seen through the recent increases in cheating among students. Denise Pope, Ph.D. refers to one study, which found that “less than three percent of 5,000 students have never cheated”(Abeles, 0:41:50). This means that out of 5,000 students, a whopping 4,850 have cheated at some point during their schooling career. Our students’ recent reliance on cheats helps unveil, not only the tremendous pressure they are under today, but the lengths they will take to evoke the idea that they truly can balance it all. As Pope explains, “the pressure on them is so great that they feel they need to get the grade, by hook or by crook” (Abeles, 0:42:39), and in this way, are willing to compromise their moral standards in order to fulfill collegiate expectations.

Through filming student accounts, Abeles furthers her argument when explaining the emotional toll many experience in an effort to juggle it all. One student, Jacqueline explains that “now it is all about preparing yourself to look good for colleges” (Abeles et al, 0:08:05) and is much less about an interest in the actual experience of learning. Another student builds upon this by explaining, “I’m not thinking about the meaning of any of this. I’m just thinking about how to get it done” (Abeles et al, 0:48:30). Abeles explains that these stressors, associated with rising collegiate admission requirements, goes beyond the student and effects the emotional sanity of the parents as well. One parent expresses it as; “we want the best for [our children], but in the end were just putting pressure on them to be whatever we think they ought to be”(Abeles et al, 0:11:20). Abeles says that it is this focus on the need to do it all, especially in testing performance, that creates anxiety and pressure among our youth, and is reason for the rise in depression, cheating, and decline in critical thinking among students.

When focusing on the personal accounts of the students interviewed in this film, a great deal is revealed about the conditions of their mental state. One student, Ally, is

Ally remembers the pressure and struggle (1:01:05) Race to Nowhere
Ally remembers the pressure and struggle. (1:01:05) Race to Nowhere

concentrated on in particular during a scene that exemplifies the effect that academic pressure can cause adolescents. During this scene, filmmakers shot both Ally’s personal recollection of the events, in addition to flashback scenes, which helped guide the viewer and allow them to further connect to Ally’s experience. During her narrative, Ally recounts both her athletic and academic strength as a younger student during her developmental years, something that was going to win her an academic honors diploma by the time she graduated high school. With her honors diploma on the line, Ally spoke of the intensity with which she focused on her grades, something that eventually led to an emotional collapse. Ally retold the story of the bad test grade she received in her math class. With little help from her teacher, the grade could not be redeemed, and she ended up failing the class, loosing her candidacy for the academic honors diploma. This loss overwhelmed her to the point that she stopped trying, her reasoning being “if you don’t try, you can never fail” (Abeles et al, 1:00:50). She said that it became “hard for [her] to get up in the morning” (Abeles et al, 1:01:00), and when she stopped attending school, her mother checked her into a stress center. Ally, once a successfully thriving academic, became so entranced by performance, that one poor grade led her to a personal breakdown. The severity to Ally’s experience speaks volumes to the extremities children are facing today when trying to cope with all that is expected of them in their quest for success.

Abeles recommends that one resolution to the problems associated with mass knowledge-based testing (and its link to a decline in critical thinking) is a reduction in assigned homework. On the website for the campaign, entitled Race to Nowhere, Abeles furthers her stress on the limited “relationship between homework and school achievement.” In the film, Abeles expands on this idea when interviewing Sara Bennett, author of “The Case Against Homework”, who asserts that “homework is not going to make our kids any smarter”(Abeles et al, 0:26:55). This policy chain, however, is one that is difficult for many to get on board with. One critic of the film expressed his discontent with Abeles suggestion during one Washington Post newspaper review. Here, critic Jay Mathews responded to the no-homework proposal by stating “Abeles says she wants more authentic learning and imaginative teaching. That is the approach taken by imaginative urban educators like Deborah Meier, but it still requires significant homework”(Mathews). Here, Mathews brings up a crucial flaw in Abeles’ argument by explaining that even the most engaging of learning requires outside schoolwork as well.

Through use of direct narratives from students, parents, and education professionals alike, Abeles asserts the presence of an overpowering desire to succumb to the government-generated definition of intellect. This intellect, she explains, is measured through national standardized testing, a gauge that isn’t fully representative of the potential of an individual. Still though, we put so much emphasis on these types of tests that we become obsessive in our preparation for them. The result, she explains, is not only the deterioration of our student’s ability to think critically, but their emotional stability as well.

Works Cited:

““A Call to Mobilize Families, Educators and Policymakers to Help Disprove the Notion That the Educational System Is ‘one-size-fits-all.’”Race to Nowhere.Web. <>.

Mathews, Jay. “Why ‘Race to Nowhere’ Documentary Is Wrong.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 03 Apr. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <>.

Race to Nowhere. Dir. Jessica Congdon. Prod. Dir. Vicki Abeles. 2009. Documentary.


Avoiding Plagiarism

Posted on

Step One: The value-added scores also fluctuate between years. A teacher who gets a particular ranking in year one is likely to get a different ranking the next year.

Step Two: The added value of a teacher’s score fluctuates from year to year. This is why a teacher usually receives varying scores from year to year.

Step Three: From year to year, many teachers’ rankings fluctuate greatly (Ravitch, 270-271).

Step Four:  A common trend seems to emerge when comparing teacher standings from year to year. That is, the grave extent to its inconsistency (Ravitch, 270-271).

Step Five:  A common trend seems to emerge when comparing teacher standings from year to year. That is, the grave extent to its inconsistency. Diane Ravitch describes this pattern in her novel The Death and Life of the Great American School System by explaining how the “value-added scores also fluctuate between years. A teacher who gets a particular ranking in year one is likely to get a different ranking the next year” (Ravitch, 270-271).


Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York: Basic, 2010. Print.

Learning Goals for Ed 300

Posted on

While taking this class, I hope to further explore my interest in the American school system and the implications it has on the development of our society as a whole. With American Studies as one of my majors, I hope to use this knowledge to assist me when examining American culture in my future classes.