Dr Miguel Cardona, the new US Secretary of Education, has outlined the value he places on music and the arts within both the education system and in a wider social context.
In an interview to be published in August 2021 in Teaching Music, the US National Association for Music Education’s magazine, Dr Cardona says, ‘Music is a way for students to find themselves and learn critical thinking skills. Often, the systems we have set up are geared toward some academic areas more than others.
‘Sometimes music and the arts are not looked at as part of the primary experience that students should have – it is thought of as an ancillary experience. But music and the arts are a very big part of the education experience for me. In fact, music probably does more to develop critical thinking skills and analytical thinking and improvisation more than many of the other topics we spend time on in school.’
Social impact is another key factor, according to Dr Cardona. ‘We are underestimating the power of music and the arts to provide what our country needs right now, which is healing. This country didn’t only just face the pandemic, but also, we’ve had a racial reckoning over the past year. When I started here, I recognised the importance of bringing our country together through education. The divisiveness in our country is something that’s palpable, and we have to address it. I can’t think of anything better than music to bring a community together.’
Dr Cardona recognises the need for practical support through music and arts education funding (such as the US$1.2bn available through the American Rescue Plan for summer enrichment programmes) as well as maintaining a high degree of personal visibility.
‘I visit music programs and make it a goal to make sure my social media page and the visits I have include an arts classroom where possible.
‘For example, I went to New Jersey, and I walked into an orchestra classroom with the governor. They were performing indoors with the appropriate safety equipment and mitigation strategies because that was important to the students. I visited a school in New York where I was greeted by a mariachi band because my staff knows how important music is to me. And then a rock band from the school also performed. It’s about visibility. It’s about ensuring that my messaging encourages music and the arts education – not only after we get everything else done – but as one of the things that we should focus on first, because that is what our students need and that’s what helps build community in our schools.’