(CNN) - When first-grade teacher Waynel Mayes saw that a tornado was approaching her Oklahoma elementary school, she began to move the desks around, told the kids they were playing "worms" who had to stay in their tunnels.
Then, she had another idea: She grabbed their musical instruments and asked them to play and sing as loud as they could. They could scream if they were scared, she said, but just don't stop singing.
"All our teachers were so brave," Mayes said, but the kids helped, too. "They were the bravest, they were the heroes because they listened to all the teachers."
By Andrew Schwartz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Tuba player Andrew Schwartz holds a bachelor’s of music from the University of Hartford. He did graduate work at The Manhattan School of Music and is working on an MBA at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, where he is president-elect of the Graduate Business Association. He is an intern at Atlanta-based music startup Tunefruit. Schwartz's story first appeared on CNN iReport.
(CNN) - It’s no secret that education in America is broken. We can’t define a good school, let alone figure out a way to measure success. Yet when money is tight, as it is right now because of the forced budget cuts, the first thing to be cut is always the arts. And that’s a tragedy.
I spent six years in music school before making a switch to business school. I was convinced that I was going to be a musician. I loved music. I was good at it, and I was willing to do anything to get to the top. But then I realized that, even at the top of the music game, the job security isn’t there. So I dropped out of grad school and am now earning an MBA.
But through that transition, I’ve realized why music needs to be a cornerstone of education. Music is an art and a science, and it's one of the best ways kids can learn creativity and those mythical critical thinking skills. The focus of the curriculum isn’t forcing everyone to learn about Bach or Mozart. It’s about learning how to think, rather than what to think.
That “how” is the holy grail of education. It’s exactly what makes a good scientist, a good entrepreneur or a productive member of society. I don’t play the tuba anymore, but I think the lessons I learned from it are actually more ingrained into me now that I have some distance from the actual medium I learned them in. Here is just a portion of the many life lessons I learned through music:
Work hard and it pays off
This one came early on in my short-lived musical career. I wasn’t a very good musician when I first started out. It was obvious why: I only practiced an hour a day. But Katie down the street practiced four hours a day. My solution was to kick it up to six hours a day until I was just as good as she was. I had to make up for lost time, and I soon overtook her.
Make it happen
An amazing musician once said to me: “Make it happen."
There will always be obstacles in your way. My junior year in college, my quartet was making a recording for an international tuba competition. (Seriously.) It seemed almost impossible for us to get together to record, but we found one time: 10:00 p.m. on a Thursday. We had all been in class since about 8 a.m., and I had a serious sinus infection. It might have been the coffee and more meds than a doctor would recommend, but I’m convinced that these simple words cleared my head and allowed me to power through the pain and exhaustion. We made the semifinals.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) – Think back to the age before GoldieBlox, before gender-neutral Easy-Bake ovens, before “My Princess Boy" or “It Gets Better.” Way before apps for infants, TV networks for toddlers or even "Schoolhouse Rock" on Saturday mornings.
That’d bring you to the early 1970s, when an album in a bright pink sleeve was passed among teachers, parents, librarians and kids. It was called “Free to Be … You and Me,” and record players around the country spun songs such as “William’s Doll,” “Parents are People” and “It’s All Right to Cry.”
When it debuted in 1972, there was nothing else like it – at least, nothing so popular. It was feminist and multicultural; an early childhood education in empathy; multimedia before anybody used the word. There was the gold record album, a best-selling book and in 1974, an Emmy- and Peabody-winning TV special that starred its creator, Marlo Thomas, “and friends” – literally, her formidable list of famous pals, including Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Roberta Flack, Carl Reiner, Rosey Grier and young Michael Jackson.
More than 40 years later, there's nostalgia in its opening chords and a legacy that still courses through classrooms.
“Children memorized every lyric and asked their parents and teacher to play the record over and over again,” Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a Ms. magazine co-founder, wrote in the 2012 book "When We Were Free to Be: Looking Back at a Children's Classic and the Difference It Made."
“It challenged teachers to face up to their entrenched, often unacknowledged, gender biases and to cast a more critical eye on the books they were assigning, whom they called on most often in class, whom they allowed to dominate the block corner or the dress-up box.”
(CNN) - With music and arts education budgets looking grim at schools around the country, some groups and artist are stepping in to fill the void. CNN's Soledad O'Brien spoke with hip-hop producer and artist Swizz Beats and Music Unites founder Michelle Edgar about their work with students in the Bronx - Swizz Beats' home.
"When they have that type of support and energy behind 'em, they're free to float like a butterfly," he said. "You can see them flourish."
By Peter Smagorinsky, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Peter Smagorinsky is a Distinguished Research Professor of English Education in the University of Georgia College of Education’s Department of Language and Literacy Education.
(CNN) - “Do you want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can’t get jobs in anthropology? I don’t.”
– Florida Gov. Rick Scott , October 2011
Scott, in this statement, articulates a belief held by many: that education is an entirely pragmatic experience. If a course of study does not produce a useful trade or skill, then it is of little value. What, after all, has anthropology ever done to improve the human condition, except to help us understand our past, perhaps so that we won’t repeat its errors?
Here’s an error you can dig into (if you’re an anthropologist, or perhaps a structural engineer): Dating back to at least the ancient era, when I was a schoolboy in Alexandria, Virginia, people have believed that school-based arts and music programs are frivolous extras that should be the first items on the financial chopping block when budgets are tight. Who actually becomes an artist or musician? Why support a curriculum that doesn’t directly lead to employment?
In Florida, this idea is now realized in a plan to charge engineering majors less for their tuition than English majors, because the technological revolution requires graduates in science, technology, engineering and math, not people who can read poems and write papers about them. I have not yet seen what the Florida plan provides for music majors, but I suspect that soon they’ll be paying a lot more for their courses than even those effete English majors. (Full disclosure: I was an English major at Kenyon College and got a master’s and doctorate in English education at the University of Chicago.)
Education in Rick Scott’s sense is entirely utilitarian. The arts has traditionally been defended on aesthetic grounds because of their contribution to truth, beauty, goodness, and the human spirit, as people like Howard Gardner of Harvard University have long asserted. The aesthetic argument has rarely successfully challenged the pragmatic argument because the premises follow from such different assumptions, and because utilitarian premises are impervious to appeals to beauty. If you don’t believe me, go to Moscow and gaze upon the Soviet-era architecture, which is all business and no pleasure. And it’s plug-ugly.
I contend, though, that music’s inclusion in the curriculum can be defended entirely on utilitarian grounds. Music has often provided the social updraft that gives young people a worthwhile activity through which they can find a way to succeed in mainstream life. School music programs in this sense are cost-effective and of great long-term value to society, rather than serving as a wasteful distraction to the real business of education, which is to produce today’s workforce. Or so Gov. Scott would have us believe.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Some 20 years ago, when Troy Gunter was a new band director, he had the crazy idea that his high school students should someday march in the Rose Parade.
It’s a lofty goal for any band. The annual march through Pasadena began in 1890 and evolved into a New Year’s Day spectacle of music, flowers and football watched by 700,000 along the route and 39 million more on TV.
Gunter's school, Valley Christian High School in San Jose, California, grew from a few hundred kids to more than a thousand. The private school's marching band ballooned to about 150 students and evolved into the school's Conservatory of the Arts. Over the years, the marching band took on more competitions, longer parades and overseas travel.
A few years ago, when Gunter and the band returned from a trip to Cambodia, an idea struck: Why not apply to the Rose Parade now, with an international partner?
Problem was, they didn’t really know any overseas bands. They weren’t sure how they could practice together, let alone organize for the grandest stage a high school marching band can reach.
With the 2013 parade deadline looming, they got in touch with Beijing’s No. 57 High School. The band’s director, Lu Jin, was familiar with the Rose Parade, and his band had played a few major events, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Through a contact of a contact of a contact, we got together,” Gunter said. “It was like a blind date.”
Without ever meeting, Gunter, who doesn’t speak Chinese, and Lu Jin, who doesn’t speak English, agreed to go for it.
By Jordan Bienstock, CNN
(CNN) – With students around the country anticipating – and then celebrating – that final bell before summer, there is one song that is absolutely inescapable this time of year.
“No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.” (All together now) “School’s out for summer!”
So it seems like the perfect opportunity to delve into some music appreciation, specifically songs about schools:
Here's what the editors of Schools of Thought are reading today:
22News WWLP.com: Teacher fired for Trayvon support?
A former Michigan teacher claims she was fired for organizing a fundraiser to support Trayvon Martin's family. The district's superintendent say she can't comment on the rationale behind the firing, but says that the teacher's claim isn't true.
SFGate: Demystifying math could ease anxiety
A Stanford study on brain activity suggests that the fear of math may be as real as other phobias. The researchers say phobias are treatable, so math teachers could incorporate techniques that help students understand the reasoning behind calculations to reduce anxiety.
Education Week: UConn's Academic Appeal Denied, Now Ineligible for 2013 Postseason
The NCAA's stricter graduation standards for teams to play in the postseason could leave the University of Connecticut, the 2011 men's basketball national champion, off of next year's March Madness brackets.
Sun Sentinel: Florida colleges fear boost in high-tech cheating
College officials in Florida are finding that students aren't just using new technologies to learn – they are using smartphones and the Internet to cheat.
AZFamily.com: Alice Cooper rocks Paradise Valley School Board meeting
Alice Cooper didn't appear in front of his local school board to explain the lyrics to his song "School's Out"; instead he announced a much-needed grant for musical instruments through the The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation.
by Todd Leopold, CNN
Atlanta (CNN) – Mark O’Connor is comfortable with mixing it up.
The Grammy-winning violinist - or “fiddler,” as he prefers - first gained fame as a teenage prodigy, learning at the elbows of Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson and French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. He’s played with rock groups, blues bands, symphony orchestras and bluegrass artists, jumping from genre to genre with assurance and joy.
Now he wants to add “educator” to his list of activities. His “O’Connor Method” of string playing builds on his interest in American music, deliberately veering away from the classical pieces emphasized in other programs.
“This kind of cross-cultural approach to music learning could have only happened here,” says O’Connor in an interview at CNN Center. “We, by nature, are curious about being Americans. We generally are interested in what other cultures and other ethnicities offer our country. And music is the perfect vehicle to express these positive attributes.”
Music teachers couldn’t agree more.
“Students are coming to us in American classrooms from around the world, and it makes sense that musical styles are going to reflect the students whom we’re teaching,” says Kirk D. Moss, president of the American String Teachers Association. He notes that the group celebrates a wide variety of music, even hosting an “eclectic styles” festival as part of its yearly conference.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of different kinds of music and music groups,” he adds. “That whole door is more open now than in the past.”
In this edition of Piers Morgan Tonight's "Only in America," P.S. 22 gives tribute to Whitney Houston by singing "The Greatest Love of All".