A well-intentioned George W. Bush mistakenly championed the No Child Left Behind Act. Teachers throughout the nation had to spend a lot of time preparing students for standardized tests in reading and math. These determined not only if students could be promoted but also which teachers could keep their jobs. Much to my dismay, classes in the arts, particularly music, were eliminated because of budget cuts and because so much time was being devoted to students practicing for the tests.
On that note, one of Valerie Strauss’s recent Washington Post columns (“The Answer Sheet”) was titled “Music education helps kids learn to read—study.” She quoted Professor Daniel Willing ham, a cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia. He pointed out that without training in music, “children are less likely to learn the association of certain written letter patterns and their corresponding rhythms in speech if they don’t perceive the rhythms of speech very well.”
Professor Willingham reminded me that I had seen how jazz rhythms can be beneficial to young children. About ten years ago a fourth-grade teacher at a New York City elementary school invited me to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: the joyous, early history of jazz in New Orleans. This musical genre ultimately spread around the world as a distinctive bounty of American culture.