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Unformatted text preview: A Mathematicians Lament by Paul Lockhart musician wakes from a terrible nightmare. In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory. We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world. Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project. Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer. Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the language of music. It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory. Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very advanced topics and are generally put off until college, and more often graduate school. As for the primary and secondary schools, their mission is to train students to use this language to jiggle symbols around according to a fixed set of rules: Music class is where we take out our staff paper, our teacher puts some notes on the board, and we copy them or transpose them into a different key. We have to make sure to get the clefs and key signatures right, and our teacher is very picky about making sure we fill in our quarter-notes completely. One time we had a chromatic scale problem and I did it right, but the teacher gave me no credit because I had the stems pointing the wrong way. In their wisdom, educators soon realize that even very young children can be given this kind of musical instruction. In fact it is considered quite shameful if ones third-grader hasnt completely memorized his circle of fifths. Ill have to get my son a music tutor. He simply wont apply himself to his music homework. He says its boring. He just sits there staring out the window, humming tunes to himself and making up silly songs. In the higher grades the pressure is really on. After all, the students must be prepared for the standardized tests and college admissions exams. Students must take courses in Scales and Modes, Meter, Harmony, and Counterpoint. Its a lot for them to learn, but later in college when they finally get to hear all this stuff, theyll really appreciate all the work they did in high school. Of course, not many students actually go on to concentrate in music, so only a few will ever get to hear the sounds that the black dots represent. Nevertheless, it is important that every member of society be able to recognize a modulation or a fugal passage, regardless of the fact that they will never hear one. To tell you the truth, most students just arent very good at music....
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- Spring '11