I do a fair bit of speaking about the importance of music education. In the last little while I’ve had to do two speeches in very quick succession, and it got me thinking.
I find the speaking quite thought-provoking. Often draining. And it often makes me upset. You see, most of my speeches follow the same pattern. I talk about the type of kids I see and how music education affects them. I also have a few statistics about young people in Australia. I’ve found this helps – particularly with men. In the past, it’s men who have told me that what I’m not speaking is the truth, so I simply now cite my sources, and that stops them in their tracks.
Here’s something I’ve found out that I don’t really like. ONE IN SEVEN kids of primary school age in this country experience serious mental health issues. That means that they are anxious, or worried, or fearful MOST of the time. And this is just an average. In my experience, these things happen in clusters. But even without clusters, 1 in 7 isn’t a good thing. And kids as young as 4 are being diagnosed with anxiety. Also not good. In fact, both of these things are very bad.
Now, I know that mental health is far more in the public eye than it used to be. In fact, sometimes I get a bit sick of hearing about it. A cricketer making a whopping salary tampers with a ball? There are all sorts of people that start talking about his mental health, and how we should all be concerned with it. I roll my eyes at that and sigh. But a kid who is 8 dealing with arguments and violence at home and possibly doesn’t have a space of their own to retreat to? This now gets my attention. I will worry about their mental health, thank you.
I know that society at large can’t stop things like this domestic violence happening. But I think that we can help kids be better equipped to help themselves. We can make them more resilient. We can give them more self-belief. And how do I propose to do this? Me, the expert? Well, I think it’s quite easy actually. Give kids more creative outlets IN THEIR SCHOOL DAY. A good chunk of music, or art, or drama. Every day. Free time to play and negotiate problems. And less time on numeracy and literacy.
Here’s why… I know it’s really important to be able to read, and do maths. But every child I know knows where they sit in their class ‘ladder’. They will say things like ‘Oh, Josh is best at maths.’ or ‘Hannah is the best reader.’ Which is all well and good for Josh and Hannah, but for kids who need their self-esteem boosted, this is not helpful. And Josh and Hannah may not want to know they they could be toppled off their throne at any time. It’s things like art and music that kids who aren’t necessarily good working within the school academic system can shine. You never know who’ll be the amazing person in the school musical or play. And yet it’s these things that are left out of a weekly timetable. I see the effects on kids – and it’s really powerful.
Kids also need time to have free time in the classroom. To sort out their own spats. To talk to the person next to them – maybe about school work. Maybe about a game, or a book. Maybe about nothing much. Because that’s what grown-ups do at work – and yet class time is managed so much now that this doesn’t often happen.
I am not criticising teachers. By no means. Because they are told what to do by the Education system. Every teacher I see (well, nearly all of them) are doing their absolute best. But they are severely hampered. By NAPLAN. By huge emphasis or reading and numeracy stuff. There’s huge pressure on them.
And I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that it’s not serving our kids very well. In fact, not well at all.