It’s All About the Music

It's All About the Music

Well, I was knee deep in editing about 150 college application essays for high school seniors for some weeks and finally can move on to other important things.  I have been wanting to talk with you about today’s topic ever since I read an article last summer about legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert.  (If you are too young to remember Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, go listen to Alpert’s signature style on YouTube.  Start with “Tijuana Taxi” and “This Guy’s In Love With You”—and stay for all the rest.)

Before we talk about Alpert, let’s say a word or two about the value of music in your child’s education.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have one son with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Berklee College of Music and another son who is an MC and on-the-rise performer of grime in the U.S.  (If you are too old to know what grime is, head back to YouTube and look for grime artists from London, where the genre originated.)  Clearly, as a parent, I think music is crucial to a child’s education.

When I co-founded a small Early College STEM high school in New York City, one of the first things we did was start a music program:  one required History of American Music course for all students, one elective music theory course, and an after-school performance group.  Why?  Because for some kids, music is the only reason to come to school.  Our student was Wilmer, and he is still playing music.  Parents, you might have a kid like Wilmer at home; but, even it you don’t, you have a kid who still needs a music education.

Jackie Zubrzycki reported on some recent research in the Education Week blog Curriculum Matters:

Studying music seems to have helped accelerate the cognitive development, and particularly the auditory- and speech and language-processing abilities, of a group of young children in Los Angeles.

That’s an early pair of findings from a five-year longitudinal study being conducted by researchers with the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and the Heart of Los Angeles, a community center. The study, published earlier this spring in Developmental Cognitive Neurosciencechecks in on a group of students two years into an experiment about the impact of music education on students’ cognitive, social, and emotional development.

And here is just a bit of the substantial research reported by Laura Lewis Brown at PBS Parents:

Research indicates the brain of a musician, even a young one, works differently than that of a nonmusician. “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain,” says Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of The Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches a specialized music curriculum for children aged two months to nine years.

In fact, a study led by Ellen Winner, professor of psychology at Boston College, and Gottfried Schlaug, professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, found changes in the brain images of children who underwent 15 months of weekly music instruction and practice. The students in the study who received music instruction had improved sound discrimination and fine motor tasks, and brain imaging showed changes to the networks in the brain associated with those abilities, according to the Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research.

So, for lots of reasons that are scientific and social and emotional and artistic and cultural more, music seems to be quite a gift for children.

And now, Alpert, musician extraordinaire and co-founder of A&M Records, has made music quite a gift for a group of talented college students.  His foundation—co-founded with his wife, singer Lani Hall—has made a $10.1 million gift to Los Angeles City College (LACC), a two-year public community college.  The money will create an endowment, which will be used to raise the number of music majors enrolled from 175 to 250 and to provide ALL of them with FREE tuition.

Yes, ALL of them with FREE tuition.  Talk about giving back…

As reported by Carolina A. Miranda in the Los Angeles Times, Alpert said this about his gift:

“LACC is a gem of an institution. . . . The biggest motivation was helping kids who don’t have the financial energy to go to a major college. At LACC, they’ve nurtured thousands of dedicated students every year. My brother went there. My ex-partner [record producer] Lou Adler went there. I’ve visited the school. It’s alive. It’s kickin’.”

Alpert noted that he was especially interested in supporting a public institution where students of all socioeconomic backgrounds could get a college education.  I hope that our newest leaders are watching and listening, as they continue to slash the budgets of public higher education institutions and make it harder and harder for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to get the college education they deserve.

And one last word from Alpert:

 “I was super-shy and the trumpet was speaking for me. . . . It made the noise I couldn’t get out of my mouth. It’s a way for kids to experience their own uniqueness and appreciate the uniqueness of others.”

No one doubts that you are unique, Mr. Alpert.  We just need a lot more like you.

Parents of kids of all ages:  How many more research articles do you need?  Get some music into your kid’s life.  If you can afford to pay for private music lessons, great.  But there is so much more that our public schools can do and must do for all of our students.

Lobby your Board of Education, your district administrators, and your school administrators to offer a well-rounded music program—both music performance and music appreciation/history.  As the inimitable music genius Quincy Jones has said, American kids are woefully ignorant of our country’s rich music heritage.  Parents, make sure that ends now.

Still Time To Give Thanks

Still Time to Give Thanks

If you haven’t been properly thankful this November (and there could be a lot of reasons for that), I can solve your problem.  My solution deftly combines November’s two important holidays:  Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.  My solution is a way to say thank-you to our nation’s military families, whose loved ones are serving away from home during this month when the rest of us can be together.

It will take you only a few minutes to go to the website for United Through Reading and see what I am talking about.  UTR is a nonprofit organization that has figured out a simple, but powerful, way to keep military families better connected during a mother’s or father’s long deployment.  At 262 locations around the world last year, UTR set up the technical facilities to record videos of military service members as they read books aloud to their kids at home.  Once recorded, the videos were emailed or mailed home.

What could make more sense and be any easier or cheaper to do?  While everyone knows intuitively that this idea would absolutely work, here are some statements about the program’s impact, as quoted from UTR’s website:

Children’s anxieties fade.
Service members become part of daily life at home.
Spouses are supported because parenting is shared.
Homecomings begin with children welcoming a familiar parent, not a stranger.
Children learn to love books and reading.

And, in case you were wondering, UTR is the recipient of the 2016 Community Service Hero Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the 2015 American Prize of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program.  So, UTR is doing something right.

Parents of kids of all ages:  If you are thankful that your family was together on Thanksgiving, if you are grateful that there are military service members following in a long tradition of protecting and preserving, if you are proud that you had a family member in the military, or if you believe that hearing a bedtime story from a faraway parent is something that all kids deserve, then go to UTR’s website.

First, watch a video or two of families telling about their own experiences with UTR, if you need any more persuading.  Then, donate.  I did—in honor of my mother and father, my father-in-law, my uncle, and my cousin, who served with honor.  This is one great way to give thanks before November ends.

10-Year-Olds Think About College

10-year-olds think about college

About two months ago, BBC News reported on a study, conducted by the U.K.-based Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), of 16,000 students who had applied for undergraduate admissions to universities and colleges across the U.K.  The article’s headline says it all:  “Early university ambitions pay off, survey suggests.”

The article began with a bang:

“Children who know at 10 that they want to go to university are twice as likely to go to a selective one than those who decide at 16, a survey says.”

Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive at UCAS, continued:

“This report is clear–the earlier children set their sights on university, the more likely they are to go.  We need to reset the barometer reading for progression to [higher education] to a much earlier age–10 or younger.”

Elementary school parents in the U.S., take heed.  Are you talking to your fourth and fifth graders about college right now?  If not, you should be, according to our friends across the Atlantic.

My colleague, Marie Segares, and I co-host USACollegeChat, a free weekly podcast for parents who think they could use a little help negotiating the complicated world of college admissions for their kids.  For two years, we have targeted high school parents as the likely audience for our episodes, but I am beginning to think we blew it.  Maybe we should be talking to middle school parents.  Maybe even elementary school parents!

Frankly, I have no doubt that the survey is right.  When our book came out last year (How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for High School Parents), an interviewer asked me when I started to talk to my own kids about college.  I said, “As soon as they could sit and talk at the dinner table–in their highchairs.”  I really wasn’t kidding.  Just ask them.

As Cook commented, “Having a focus on university helps provide the rationale for working hard.”  Have kids focus earlier than we might have thought, the study tells us.

What’s the downside?  I don’t see one.  Does it put more pressure on kids to do well in elementary school and middle school?  Maybe, but not as much pressure as they will feel later if they head into high school underprepared to take on rigorous academic work.

Parents of elementary school and middle school students, do this now:  Talk with your kids about all kinds of colleges all across the U.S. and abroad.  (If you need help, send them to Episodes 27-53 of our podcast for a virtual nationwide tour of colleges.)  Set expectations for going to college.  Have family members and friends talk about their colleges.  Visit college campuses informally.  Attend sports and cultural events at nearby colleges.

Parents, you can do these things, whether you attended college yourself or not.  If your kid is 10, the clock is ticking.

Does Your Kid Need a Topic for a Report?

Does Your Kid Need a Topic for a Report?

I will often give a children’s book I love to a friend’s child and say, “Someday, you are going to need to write a report on (fill in the blank), and you will find this book really helpful.”  I guess I have too many children’s books.  Or my own kids did.  Today, I would like to direct you to a resource that might be as good as having your own library of fascinating, informative, insightful books for students.  Maybe better.

It is The Learning Network, a blog published by The New York Times.  It provides great resources for kids and parents and teachers, “based on the articles, photographs, videos, illustrations, podcasts and graphics published in The New York Times – all for free.”  Let’s look at what The Learning Network offers that would be useful for parents, either when working with their kids on a project or when encouraging their kids to do an activity on their own:

Student Opinion — News-related questions that invite response from students age 13 and older.

Word of the Day — Vocabulary words in the context of recent Times articles.

Test Yourself — Questions based on Times content that aim to strengthen academic skills.

6 Q’s About the News — An activity in which students answer basic questions (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) about an article.

News Quiz — Interactive daily and weekly news quizzes on current top stories.

On This Day in History — Listings of historical events and more for each day of the year.

Student Crosswords — Topical puzzles geared toward teens.

Teenagers in The Times — Monthly collections of the latest Times news, features and multimedia about young people.

What’s Going On in This Picture? — A weekly feature done in collaboration with Visual Thinking Strategies in which we publish a Times image without a caption or any other clues about its origins, then invite students to write in to discuss what they see in it. Full information about the image is posted 24 hours later.

Poetry Pairings — A weekly collaboration with the Poetry Foundation in which we feature a work from its American Life in Poetry project alongside content from The Times that somehow echoes, extends or challenges the poem’s themes.

While any of these could prove truly educational, I love Poetry Pairings.  As I might say, “Someday, your kid is going to need to write something about a poem, maybe linking it to another text or to something in real life.”  Well, here is your answer.

My favorite entry is a Poetry Pairing from September, 2015 (I have saved it for a year, waiting to have an opportunity to praise it).  It is a pairing of William Wordsworth’s “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802” and the article “My London, and Welcome to It” by A. A. Gill.  It is perfect for anyone who loves poetry, especially Wordsworth (and who doesn’t?), and for anyone who loves London (and who doesn’t?).  But, in fact, this pairing is also perfect for people who are not too crazy about poetry.  The poem and the article are suitable for high school students and interested middle school students, too.  Fortunately, the poem and the article do not need over-interpretation; they are evocative, lyrical, and straightforward (in the best possible way).

Parents of middle school and high school students, do this now:  Check out The Learning Network to see what online resources it has to offer.  Someday, your kid will need to write about a great English poem…or something else.