Support music in Toronto schools

I think I've mentioned before that I don't like online petitions. They're too easy to set up, and as we've seen all too often, especially online, we tend to jump on bandwagons for various causes before actually researching all the facts.

So when I started getting emails about the Toronto District School Board's (TDSB) proposal to drastically cut back on the budget for Itinerant Music Instructors, I was skeptical. "There must be more to this story," I thought. What are the facts? How is this being misrepresented or misinterpreted? (This skepticism at times drives my wife batty...) Unfortunately, the articles published in today's Globe and Mail and Toronto Star confirm it - the TDSB is in fact considering major cuts to the Itinerant Music program in an effort to balance their budget.

I don't know how to balance a $2 billion budget. I don't know the intimate inner workings of a major city's school board. But what I do know, first-hand, is how important the Itinerant Music program is to the students who benefit from it, and to the instructors who make it happen.

I was an itinerant music instructor for one year. I worked at five different schools, doing my best to teach music to children in grades 4 to 8 from across the downtown core. I was variably successful - each school was drastically different from the other, and my connection with the students varied accordingly. But more often than not, the students made substantial progress, and were so proud of the concerts they performed at the end of the year. Plus, it was an outstanding learning experience for me - how to manage a classroom, teach at various levels, communicate with administration, and more.

I was also lucky to call many itinerant music instructors colleagues when I taught on faculty first at Scarborough Music Camp and then at Music By The Lake - two week-long, end-of-the-year camps attended in large part by students benefitting from the itinerant music programs. I can say with complete confidence that those faculty members were some of the most dedicated music teachers I've met. Whether they had been itinerant instructors for just a few years or for several decades, they all cared passionately about the work they were doing in the schools. And the students responded with fantastic enthusiasm.

For many students, the Itinerant Music program is their only exposure to organized music classes in elementary school. And, given that most of the instructors are professionally trained performing musicians (and all are professionally trained teachers), students in the Itinerant Music program are getting an experience which may not be matched for the rest of their pre-University/College education.

I hope I don't need to re-state the benefits of music training to a child's overall development, and I hope I don't need to clarify why music is just as important as athletics or the various other programs not currently being considered for cutbacks. Teamwork, leadership, even physical fitness are not for the sports fields and arenas alone - these same skills are vital to success in music.

I understand (all too well) that bottom lines need to be met. But in this case, I feel strongly that the proposed cuts are not the way to go.

I signed the petition. And you can too: Stop the Itinerant Music Program cuts in the Toronto District School Board.


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