To try and have a better understanding of the situation at my school, I wrote a survey on the topic for music educators. I distributed it to my district’s music staff (63 members of email list) and through my Twitter account, @LindsayLuft.
I received 18 responses to the survey, which came from educators of various grades and experience (click on the images to see in higher quality):
I believe the reason we have more elementary music teachers than other levels is because there are more of them. There are more elementary schools than high schools, so districts need more elementary music teachers than high school music teachers.
The educators surveyed have all taught Christian and Muslim students. All religions listed on the survey had some educators who had taught students of that faith. This graph may not be reflective of our national population because most of the responses have come from my district, which is one of the most diverse in the country.
Each of our music educators shared that they had experienced a student not being able to participate due to religious reasons. Some of those included:
- Singing, dancing, and playing instruments is forbidden by the family’s religion
- The family can perform music unless it is religious or patriotic
- Girls and women of this religion cannot perform music
- No Harry Potter (no magic) or Lady Gaga (sexual) music
Now what happens to those students who need to sit out of an activity or class? That answer varied, and I have listed some main themes of the responses (edited for clarity):
- They usually join one of the other classes and receive either an additional unit of library or PE.
- I give them an alternative activity or, in a case where students can’t be around music (generally strict Muslim students) they go to the office.
- District policy allows them to be exempt from music with permission from the principal. A letter with the reason must be given to the principal. This information must also be given to the music teacher and homeroom teacher to come up with an alternative placement. Then, the student will receive an “N” for “Not Assessed” for music, with the description included with the grade.
- I do try to be mindful if I know I have a student who would not be allowed to participate by choosing fewer religious/holiday based pieces.
There seems to be no set model for what students do when they are exempt from a musical activity, and this may be so that the educators can provide equitable solutions for each student. Now that we know our circumstances on a broader scale, how can we help our music educators work with these students and provide the best music education for all students?