Jeez...that was a close shave...!

There was a lot at stake in the standoff between the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, and New Zealand parents regarding the proposed increase in Intermediate classroom numbers. It had a touch of the Cuban missile crisis about it. Who was going to blink first?

While much of the commentary last week focused on kids possibly missing out on food technology classes my concern was about the arts. The bundle of specialists about to be de-commissioned included some of our most undervalued teachers: music specialists.

The situation is a far cry from a decade ago when Saint Helen was waving her cheque book around throwing much needed money at the arts and delivering an inspired new Arts Curriculum document to schools. Stuff not to be messed with.

As a parent and an educator I am a big fan of the work that Intermediate teachers do. Year 7 and 8 is a time when kids have the most fertile minds. Watching them arriving on scooters at school on these cold winter mornings is like watching swarms of Ninjas. Typically they have a hockey stick, a flute and a Crusaders’ flag protruding at all angles from their back packs. And they probably have a mobile phone at the bottom of the bag crammed with music downloads and movie trailers. One Direction, Beiber, The Hunger; if it’s hot they are onto it. At Intermediate age they are hungry to learn all right. About everything.

In the panorama of possibilities music is pivotal for them. Yet even in the best resourced Intermediates our kids are likely to receive only 6 to 8 hours of specialist music lessons each year. Music specialists work hard. I’ve done it and it’s mad.  Between classroom teaching and running assemblies, directing orchestras, bands and choirs one music teacher can interact with hundreds of kids in any one school day. But music teachers will bite the bullet, keep calm and carry on, because they know how much music opens kids up.

Students who take up music are our best mathematicians and they are our most literate. They learn creative and critical thinking through being exposed to culture and history, technology and media. Music gives them a life-long tool with which to go down into the moist and explore the skills of storytelling and fantasy. It gives them self esteem and teaches them how to collaborate and negotiate with others. And how to embrace solitude. It also leads, by the way, to jobs in the bourgeoning Creative Industries.

The Key government’s capitulation is a relief but has led us to an uneasy Cold War.

Right now Parata should be banished to the naughty corner in her Black Widow costume for disrupting the class.  And we should all be alert. The possibility that we were going to lose specialist teachers was a warning: when the Right Wing gets cracking the first casualty is the arts.

White board markers, violin bows and ukuleles at the ready. We wait in the trenches for the next salvo.

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