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A lot of solutions have been proposed, most of them, extremely ironically, arguing for increased spending! Of course increased spending benefits all the stakeholders in the system, teachers, administrators, textbook publishers, creators of educational software, food service companies and anyone else supplying goods and services. The only people left out, it seems, are the students. They are obviously not seeing any benefits here. For them, school remains, as Dawn so memorably averred in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a "big square building full of boredom and despair."
Therefore, it was with extreme interest that I read this story from Germany about how an underperforming school in a poor neighborhood was transformed due to the mere presence of classical musicians. Here is the story in a nutshell:
No, the orchestral members are not engaged in teaching the students, but they interact on a daily basis:
what makes the partnership unique is the sheer volume of interactions between musicians and pupils. Whenever they are not playing, the musicians are based in the school.
They sit with pupils over lunch and talk to them about their lives. Pupils are allowed to watch the orchestra rehearse, sitting between the musicians rather than in front of them as an audience.Stephan Schrader, a cellist, says:
"We do not try to be music teachers, but we let them see that we are normal people," says Mr Schrader. "I ask students about their families and tell them about mine.
"When they have a problem, I know about it. I am not the one who will find the solution, but I am one more adult person they have contact with."I imagine this story might be puzzling to many people, especially those involved with education. What exactly is going on here? Obviously the orchestral musicians have had a powerful positive influence on the school even though they are not professionally involved as teachers. So how does this work? I suspect that the best way to understand this is through the ancient concept of virtue. Virtue ethics, ultimately deriving from Aristotle, has seen a great revival in recent decades, but it is still far from being widely understood. The basic idea is that humans should lead a virtuous life which means to flourish according to their nature. Excelling at something, if it is a human good, is virtuous. Classical musicians then, with their combination of strict discipline and aesthetic sensitivity (all of which insulates them from shallow narcissism) are particularly good models of virtue. We learn virtue from people who exhibit it.
So it is entirely unsurprising to me that just being around orchestral musicians would exert a surprisingly large positive influence on schoolchildren. If they are constantly observing people working together in disciplined ways to achieve aesthetic goals, how can this not be positive? On the other hand, watching television, with its modeling of irrational, Dionysian excess will have the opposite effect, will it not? The classroom environment can also be positive or negative from a virtue ethics point of view.
Here is the orchestra in question, the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, conducted by Paavo Jarvi: