As I watch the education world move to an all online learning, I’m struck positively by several things. First, I love how people are embracing this opportunity to explore new learning platforms! I find it amazing that so many companies have made materials free for teachers during this hard transition. In the face of many deflated and concerned collegiate student comments on social media, I admire the leadership of colleagues across the Nation who rally together to remind students that learning can and should continue, even if in unconventional ways. I find inspiration in reading the posts my colleagues write giving tips and resources for online learning, and I too find myself motivated to come up with ideas for learning content in the online methods classroom such as creating an asynchronous choir, podcasts on pedagogy, or youtube concert programs. However, as I began working on these projects, I also started feeling like something was amiss.

The real problem is not how to deliver our content to students in a new fashion, the real problem is that we are a Nation in crisis, and the needs around us have changed.

As universities switch to online learning to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, officials have tasked professors to solve the problem of moving their content out of the classroom and onto the internet. We want instruction to remain constant and consistent. We want to make sure students get their lessons, their ensembles, and that they learn all the important concepts. I believe this is partly in response to student questions such as “what education am I going to receive for the money I’ve paid” and “What are you going to do for me during this time?”   I also think it’s because the content we teach is important, and part of what students should know in order to be good teachers. But, I believe we might be slightly misguided in solely trying to continue teaching normal syllabus content online, and I think we’ve mislabeled the problem. The real problem is not how to deliver our content to students in a new fashion, the real problem is that we are a Nation in crisis, and the needs around us have changed. In crisis situations music becomes one of the last concerns, as people begin figuring out basic procedures such as being able to work while their young children are at home.

One major take-away from my Israel Fellowship Program was that people need to fall in love with the problem, not the solution. And while online learning might be the solution to keep music education students on track with some of their curriculum during this time, I truly believe the bigger solution I’m seeking answers the question ‘how will the arts play a role in aiding society during this crisis?’ Will we want to look back at this situation and claim, “Our music education students never missed a lesson,” or will we want to claim, “We showed how music is a valuable tool to engage, unite, help, and heal people during a time of crisis.”?

…people need to fall in love with the problem, not the solution

In addition to our content, we try to teach our music education students to live in a growth mindset, be flexible leaders, and critical thinkers. We could ask for no better opportunity for our students to experience service-learning, to creatively solve problems, and to be part of a bigger picture. As leaders of education, we must remind our college students that they are no longer empty vessels needing constant filling. They can take charge of their own learning and can become contributing and valuable members of society. Society needs us now, and with the guidance of their professors, our students must give back. There is real need in the world around us, and we should feel called to help solve these problems.

Music advocacy calls for us to show the value and importance of music. There are nursing homes on lockdown with people that need hope and human interaction. There are music and non-music teachers who have never taught on the internet before who are overwhelmed by the generous materials and need lesson plans and tutorials. There are children’s hearts breaking as musicals and concerts get canceled. There are students being sent home with learning packets that contain nothing in the arts. There are people who are going to feel isolated and alone while trying to keep up with their course work. There are problems we don’t even know yet. How can we not only use music to help, but also serve as a learning opportunity to the communities around us?

I think people worry that if we make an exception to our curriculum now that we send the wrong message. Fears such as revealing flaws in our current educational system, devaluing subjects such as ensembles that don’t translate well to online learning, or not sending out teachers with enough qualifications, have come across conversations I’ve had. But I say we need to take risks, and as professors, we too need to model our ability to grow and change. We need to guide our students through this process, and then help them reflect on what they accomplished. We need to take advantage of lessons that we can only teach through experience. Perhaps our students will come back in the fall with a new thirst to learn content and concepts once challenging as they work to continue achieving goals.

How can we not only use music to help, but also serve as a learning opportunity to the communities around us?

What better advocacy for music education could we provide? An argument that shows the role of music education as vital in ALL situations. It is my hope that we can look back and say with pride that we contributed in meaningful ways.

Today, the music education faculty at West Chester University are launching a partnership with F-flat Books to put these ideas into action through music service learning. Our goal is to partner university music students with people and organizations who have musical needs to provide important service learning opportunities and to meet the needs of our community. This is FREE and open to all people needing help through and with music including teachers, community program directors, parents, public service employees, etc. No problem is too big or too small!

If you have need for help, please fill out this form. And, if you’re an undergraduate or graduate music student and want to help, put in your information here and we will be in touch soon.

And, use #musicservicelearning to show how you’re helping the community through music.