Sunday, March 4, 2012

What does advocacy look like?

As parents, we see the word advocacy all the time.  But sometimes it is difficult to know what a parent can do.  Perhaps more importantly, it's tough to know what we should do!  How do we know when it's time to advocate for school music programs?

The easiest answer is . . . It is ALWAYS time to advocate for our school music programs.  Why?  Because we live in a culture that places the arts on the fringe.  We know that when it's time for budget cuts, the arts are almost universally identified as a place for potential reductions.  We also know that if we are proactive in our support for the arts, we can dramatically decrease the likelihood that music will be targeted for cuts.  We can stand prepared to speak against such cuts at the earliest stages of the discussion, rather than when it is almost too late.

Being proactive as an advocate means . . .

1. Speaking positively about music with our friends, neighbors, students and teachers.  Negative comments and criticisms don't build strong music programs.  In fact, they usually undermine the efforts of even the best teachers.  Be a cheerleader for music.  If you have a legitimate concern, try to work through it with the teacher.

2. Paying attention to the decision-making processes in our school district.  Most Boards of Education post their meeting agendas and minutes online.  It only takes a minute to check the agenda and see whether there are issues under discussion that will affect music.

3. Asking your student's music teacher if there are areas that need advocacy.  Parents don't always know all the behind-the-scenes policies that affect their child's music education.  Sometimes the music teacher's hands are tied by the budget, the attitude of administrators or a fellow teacher's unwillingness to "share" students. Many times a parent can say something to an administrator that a teacher cannot.  But it is important to ask the music teacher first in order to gain a clear, complete picture of what is happening at the school and how you can help.

4. Attending concerts, testifying at board of education meetings, gathering like-minded supporters on a facebook group, etc.  The decision-makers in the school district are less likely to cut music if they know that there is already strong community support for keeping it in the curriculum.

5. Including advocacy materials in concert programs or as slide presentations while people are waiting for concerts to begin.  There is a captive audience of fellow parents who are waiting to hear their kids make music.  They probably arrived early to get a good seat.  Why not use the time to educate them?

Here's a great example, created by Mr. Andrew Spang, a member of the Music Advocates of Carroll County (MACC) and a very accomplished band director.  Andy created this video to be shown at a MACC meeting of teachers and parents, but he also shows it before concerts as a way to get parents thinking and talking about the value of arts education.  Click the link to view it.

MACC Keynote Video

Is there more we can do as advocates?  Of course!  But hopefully this is a good start.