Monday, March 15, 2004

Music teachers campaign to restore singing in school

Education Q&A

Click here to e-mail Denise Smith Amos
The numbers confirm what anyone at a sports stadium can hear: Most Americans don't know the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner."

In a recent poll of 2,204 randomly selected American adults, 61 percent flubbed the lyrics to the national anthem. Even worse, 14 percent didn't know the name of the anthem.

That's a sign that school systems are neglecting music education, says the National Association for Music Education, in Reston, Va. The survey "shows a shocking lack of knowledge of American historic songs and reveals the role school music programs play in promoting our heritage," the group states.

More than 70 percent of those surveyed said they learned the anthem in school; 5 percent admitted to learning it at sporting events.

"For years, school music classes have been the first to be cut, and we are now seeing the ramifications firsthand," said John Mahlmann, the association's executive director, in a statement.

"If we can't sing our own national anthem, we can't voice pride in our country and what it stands for."

One of the clincher questions: What follows "Whose broad stripes and bright stars..." ?

Thirty-nine percent answered correctly, "through the perilous fight." More than a third picked "were so gallantly streaming," while 19 percent thought it was "gave proof through the night."

Anthem ad-libbing isn't just for adults. An ABC News poll shows 38 percent of teenagers blanked on the name of the anthem; only 15 percent could sing it.

Local school boards are cutting music to close ongoing budget gaps, the association says. Nationwide, 4 percent of the $450 billion spent on education goes to music.

But some teachers say "high-stakes testing," mandated by No Child Left Behind, is the bigger culprit.

When schools are judged by test scores in math, language arts, science and social studies, school time shrinks for subjects such as art and phys. ed., said Janet Gorman, director of elementary curricula at Lakota Schools.

Melody Dacey, principal at McKinley Elementary in Columbia Tusculum, put it bluntly: "You know the old saying: What gets rewarded gets done."

So while the association recommends at least 90 minutes of music a week in grade schools, many schools barely manage 60 minutes.

Since the 9-11 terrorist attacks, patriotic music in schools is making a comeback. Dacey said McKinley students sing the songs daily.

"Each day a different class would choose the song, so we've learned all the words," Dacey says.

For the rest of us, the music education association is launching a campaign this fall to re-teach the national anthem. Log on to



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