This week we have been treated to some stellar performances of LAPS musicians at all age levels, from fourth graders to, well, our superintendent on trumpet with the fifth grade band, to our graduating seniors and we still have several concerts to go during the last week of school.
Try to make one of the performances if you can, even if, and particularly if, you don’t have a child or grandchild performing.
A few years back, a former Los Alamos band director asked me where I got my music education. I said, “Los Alamos Public Schools, K-12.” There was a quizzical look and a long slightly confused pause from the band teacher, then I said, “Think about it. What part of a bachelor’s in music does a musical kid in Los Alamos not know by the time they graduate from high school?” Okay, I would say they could stand to have a bit more music theory re-enforcement and a good dollop of music history and I would like to hear student compositions be played by the students, so there are some areas that we could bolster. But all-in-all they get a fairly good grounding in more than just the fundamentals and how to get notes out of their instrument.
While our musical kids are becoming musicians, they are also learning science and literature and history and various other academics as well as art and practical arts. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t worked that hard since I graduated from high school. In effect, they come out of their public school years prepared for anything, and darn near everything, which is what public education is really all about, a solid general education. You never know where in life a kid will go.
College is about just the opposite. Where K-12 emphasizes a general education, college is all about specialization, then specialization within the specialization, leading to more specialization within the specialization within the specialization. All of this may or may not pan out to become an occupation or profession.
Hey, I got the BA. Then I started on the MA. Then life intervened. As a result I never earned a dime from the specialized college stuff . I’ve made a living almost entirely on my LAPS general education. The really annoying thing was this. When I started at the University of New Mexico, I was asked to declare a major and minor, so I said I wanted a major in political science and a minor in music. They said no. Why not? Well, political science is the College of Arts and Sciences and music is the College of Fine Arts. Yeah so? You can’t get a cross-college degree. Why not? It’s the same campus and the same university getting the money into the same bank account. College gave me a bill, but LAPS gave me a means to pay the bills.
A professor of music told me that studies show (this is a phrase to always be wary of) that 50% of all music majors will never earn any money in music, 40% might work in music part-time and only maybe 10% will actually make a living in music. Happily, you don’t need a degree in music to be a musician. In fact, there are many professions that don’t require a degree, nor even trade school for that matter. A person can, with a little application, do quite well on a high school diploma from a good school system.
Most of what I know about music I learned at LAPS K-12. The rest I was able to learn on my own because of what I had been taught. Beyond that, I repair musical instruments. This doesn’t require a degree or any formal training. It does require that you be fairly good with tools and working materials. I learned tools and materials from LAPS K-12, literally starting in first grade (shop at Aspen, woodshop and drafting at Cumbres Middle School and metal shop in high school).
Actually, come to think of it, there isn’t much I learned from LAPS K-12 that I haven’t found useful, though about the only thing I do with the Pythagorean theorem is to help my wife with the triangles on her quilting projects. There isn’t much I learned at UNM that has been of any use whatsoever. Who knew?
It all comes down to this. Public education is America’s first, and most successful, social program. Certainly, it has expanded over the centuries and certainly it has been subjected to experiments in social engineering, largely due to its success, but public education remains the best we can offer to our kids and, through them, the future.
The purpose and strength of public education is a broad education designed to prepare kids for whatever adulthood has to offer. It is the only way we can prepare our kids for a world which, frankly, we will never truly know, for each generation devises its own milieu.
Music has been my life, but I did not intend or plan to become a musician. I wanted to be a writer like Michener. It turns out I run out of story at about 88 pages. But LAPS prepared me for that life, just in case. I did not intend to have a music store or do instrument repair, but LAPS gave me the foundation for that as well. Just in case.
This month we will be treated to the results of the year’s efforts by our students and teachers. This month as well, LAPS will be working up a budget and a new master plan. As I understand it, part of that plan is to broaden and deepen the education in non-academic areas while maintaining and expanding the excellence in academics.
The age of “do one thing only and eggs in one basket” specialization is drawing to a close. The certainties of the past are the uncertainties of the future, and we can no longer afford to try to grind people into little more than cogs in the great social machine. LAPS remains committed to preparing our children to tread paths which have not yet be laid, as they make a world and make their way through a world that no one today could possibly imagine. This is what LAPS does best.
Enjoy the concerts.