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Education Opinion

Nietzsche takes the SAT

By Nancy Flanagan — June 16, 2010 1 min read
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Without music, life would be a mistake.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche was right, of course. Life would also be a mistake without poetry, dragonflies and daffodils--as well as democracy, thunderheads and Tiger baseball. There is nothing more breathtakingly elegant than Euclidean geometry, nothing more moving than standing in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy, guide map in hand and mouth open.

And don’t even get me started on Bach. Life without Bach would be unthinkable.

It’s an amazing world out there. Nobody can master even 5% of what there is to know, no one can see or hear enough to be completely educated. It’s an ongoing process. That’s why someone originated the expression “life-long learning"--a phrase that’s been brutally pummeled into meaninglessness.

Because it’s really all about the tests, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter what you eventually learn, or do with your life. It’s about figuring out who’s ahead, as early in the game as possible. Who gets the numbers, who gets the perks--and who crushes the competition.

We pre-test before kindergarten. We test and sort first graders into reading groups. We screen them for giftedness, verbal precocity and creativity. We introduce the Terra Nova. And then, the tests that really matter begin. The funny thing is--the test winners aren’t always the life winners.

We start devaluing things that can’t be tested--or promoting ideas or competencies in hopes that they’ll boost achievement data. It’s as if the grade or the score were a real thing, and the conceptual knowledge or skill merely a way to enhance the measurements.

As a lifelong music learner and teacher, reading this article gave me a headache:

Algebra "is frequently called the gatekeeper subject." It provides a solid foundation for later learning by teaching abstract reasoning skills. What's more, its lessons apply to an increasing number of jobs in our technologically sophisticated society. So how can you increase the chances your son or daughter will excel at algebra? A new study provides a surprising answer: Have them learn a musical instrument. The particularly robust results for African-American students suggests "offering music education in middle school might present an alternative strategy for narrowing the achievement gap" between students of different races.

No! While I certainly want all children to have rich experiences with music, including cello lessons and singing in the Glee Club, it’s not because music may have a salutary effect on their algebra grade, or raise their SAT scores. Music is its own worthy self. Study music because it’s culturally important, satisfying to perform, and places you in the stream of human expression.

Maybe we need articles with titles like: Taking Algebra Enhances All-Important Musical Skills and Understanding. Human beings were born to enjoy music. They were not born to take the SAT three times. Without music, life would be a mistake. Can’t say that about standardized tests.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.