School Music Programs Going Corporate

According to a 2005 Harris poll regarding the importance of an arts education in American schools, 93 percent of the respondents agreed that arts programs were essential to a well-rounded education. Fifty-four percent of the respondents valued the arts a ’10’ in a 1-to-10 sliding scale in importance, putting the arts right up there with reading, science and math. Eighty-six percent believed studying music improved children’s attitude toward school. Eighty percent of respondents to a 2003 poll about arts education felt that studying music made children smarter.

This all seems fairly reasonable considering the research out there about the benefits of an arts education. Students with an arts education score an average 63 points higher in the verbal section and 44 points higher in the math sections than children with no arts programs according to the College Entrance Examination Board. Studies by researchers Frances Rauscher of the University of Wisconsin and Gordon Shaw of the University of California-Irvine point a marked 46 percent improvement in a child’s spatial IQ, skills essential in math, engineering and science problems, when there is an accompanying music education. Some educators and researchers go so far as to suggest a higher incident rate of discipline problems in a school setting with no or little arts programs.

Now imagine you are a school administrator armed with all the facts, figures and latest research on the benefits of a music education. Keep in mind the burden of the No Child Left Behind testing requirements that have your guts and your budget tied in knots. There’s the dozens of teachers you’ve been forced to let go, while you’ve got the rest of your teaching staff’s doing double duty as janitors. There’s the new requirement that each student bring a roll of toilet paper the first week so you can restock the school bathrooms. Meanwhile you did get your principals to help out by working as substitute teachers in between shooting incidents. Outside your window, you’ve got local news team coverage of the “no more taxes” crowd getting louder and louder, how are you, a lowly school administrator, going to get the money for an arts program? You’re going to go corporate, of course!

And you won’t be alone in the growing trend of corporate sponsorship of school programs. Take for instance the Hershey’s All-USA High School Band program that picks high school band students from around the country. There’s also the Yamaha 40th Anniversary Essay Contest offering monetary prizes and Yamaha wind instruments for their appreciation of the “educators and schools who have supported the company.” Catch that last phrase – “educators and schools who have supported the company.”

Slashing wages, doing away with non-essential positions and sacking teachers haven’t been enough for struggling school systems. The current trend forces school districts into making deals with the devil. “The devil?” you say, “That’s a bit strong.” Is it?

I’ve visited dozens of online music school sites and have noticed a disturbing number of logos attached to those sites – logos for companies such as JP Morgan Chase, MetLife, Bank of America, Pepsi Cola Company, General Electric, Jeep, Wells Fargo, Alltel and IBM. These are the more well-known, larger corporations, but there are others. The logos of small banks, local construction companies, automobile dealerships and many other types of businesses can also be found hidden along the bottom or outer edges of the sites or on the corporate sponsor pages of these music programs and schools.

So what the problem? If schools can’t afford to offer the music programs with their meager budgets, why shouldn’t they get the money from corporations?

I’ll tell you why. These businesses are selling something, and more likely than not, it’s not good will. Bank of America, Pepsi Cola, Wells Fargo and IBM want to sell you and your children a product or a program and it has little or nothing to do with charity, especially if they can sock their corporate logo on something like a website, a tuba, a band uniform or your kid’s forehead, while taking a tax writeoff at the same time. The money might be good, but it comes at a price. Do you really think that some school administrator has anything close to the experience of a passel of corporate lawyers to broker a deal that benefits the students more than it does for the corporate image? And what happens to the school that unwittingly fails to carry out the agreement between the school and the corporation? What if that corporation turns out to be a polluter, supports child labor in foreign countries or a campaign contributor to a “no publicly funded arts” candidate or worse?

Before you sell your kid’s education to McDonald’s, Microsoft or Benny’s House of Cheese, don’t you think you should ask yourself what you’re selling and what the corporation buying? Don’t forget it is great PR for the corporate newsletter when the company supports the local school’s music program, and those photo opportunities at Smallville High School’s annual musical revue are a priceless bit of business. Let’s face it, it’s a hell of a lot more glamorous wearing an evening dress and expensive jewelry to the latest charity benefit than it is to just pay your taxes.

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.