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Achieving Diversity and Equity in Music Education

Photo: Courtesy of NAFME

In the Fargo, North Dakota school district where I serve as Performing Arts Curriculum Specialist, one-fourth of our students are refugees from around the world and are active members in our music programs because our district administrators have made equity and access a priority. Any student in need who desires to learn music is given the equipment and support to participate. Music classes are also a place of acceptance and community to students who need positive support.

Each student brings a diversity of life experiences and backgrounds to our classroom, whether it be family structure, socio-economic status, sexual or gender identity, religion, physical ability, ethnicity or race, or academic proficiency level. It is the duty of educators to reach and support all students equitably in their classroom to ensure each has a well-rounded education, which includes a high-quality music program.

Music educators have a unique opportunity to celebrate diversity in their classrooms through a curriculum that is inclusive of a variety of music-making traditions. A well-rounded and comprehensive music education, taught by highly qualified music educators, should be available in all schools and be built upon a curricular framework that promotes awareness of, respect for and responsiveness to the variety and diversity of cultures in their community and the nation at large. All students in every school should have the opportunity to create, perform and respond to music in order to develop musical and artistic literacy.

BREAKING BARRIERS: By allowing students from all walks of life to participate, the collaborative spirit of music lives on while setting them up with the skills they need to succeed in all areas of life.

Neuroscientists indicate that playing music is the only activity that uses the whole brain firing neurons across both hemispheres. This research alone should be of paramount importance to educators and administrators to include music within the curriculum for all students. Studying music also enhances highly valued 21st-century skills such as the ability to be creative, to communicate effectively, to collaborate and to think critically, which are essential for success throughout life.

Removing the barriers to music education allows all students to create something of beauty to share with each other and the world. This collaborative bond breaks down the walls of being different and creates a positive environment where students accept one another and support each other to be their best. Music creates and enhances skills preparing students for life, changes the culture of a school, and brings people together, which makes our world a better place to live. 

Denese Odegaard, Immediate Past President, National Association for Music Education, [email protected]

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