This post reviews Jeananne Nichols, “Music Education in Homeschooling: Jamie’s Story” in Margaret S. Barrett and Sandra L. Stauffer, Narrative Soundings: An Anthology of Narrative Inquiry in Music Education (2012), pp. 115-128.
Nichols, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Music, here uses the experiences of one Arizona homeschooler to get leverage on the options homeschoolers have for music education. Nichols’ test case is named Jamie. She and her sister started being homeschooled after a family move from New York to Arizona. Jamie was in third grade. Music was very important in the family’s life. The mother is organist and choir director at their church and teaches music for a living. When she started homeschooling Jamie was able to get through the traditional curriculum much faster than before, opening up more time for music. Since Arizona has a Tebow Law, Jamie has been able to take advantage of many public school music options as well as those provided by local homeschooling groups and adult community organizations.
Jamie, now a college student, looks back on her homeschool music experiences with mixed feelings. She loved homeschooling for the freedom it allowed her, but she found many of the music groups run by homeschoolers to be sub-standard. Her local public school was better. She found the marching band to be very engaging, but the high school orchestra was a bit novice. The best music opportunities she found were in the Phoenix Symphony Guild, a community organization with several levels of performance groups. By her senior year Jamie had earned a spot in Phoenix’ prestigious Youth Symphony.
Jamie had finished her high school coursework by the end of sophomore year, so junior and senior years were spent largely at a local community college. By her second year at the community college she had declared a music education major with a double concentration in voice and cello. This meant that she was participating in several college-level music groups along with the rest of her gigs. Nichols summarizes,
in her final year of “high school,” Jamie was singing with two homeschool vocal ensembles, one high school choir, and one college choir. She was playing percussion in the high school marching and concert bands, playing cello in the high school orchestra and the Phoenix Youth Symphony, and occasionally assisting her mother at church in various musical roles. Moreover, she was studying voice and cello privately while maintaining her other academic classes. (p. 121)
There’s more detail to Jamie’s story, but what I’ve presented here is enough to elaborate the interesting points Nichols makes in her discussion. She uses Jamie’s experiences to skewer Rob Reich’s complaint that homeschooling is an example of “the victory of the consumer mentality in education,” (p. 122) noting that this a la carte approach empowered Jamie with real agency. “The power to determine what to learn and how to go about it,” writes Nichols, “rested with Jamie.” (p. 123)
Nichols also notes that Jamie’s negative appraisal of the quality of music programming in her local homeschooling organization suggests an opportunity for professional music educators. Perhaps they might consider working with homeschoolers? I think she’s got a great idea here, but the key will be money. There’s a reason so many homeschooling music groups are run by volunteer moms. They work for free.
Finally, Nichols notes that for Jamie’s family at least, their critique of the quality of instruction in the local public school did not extend to the music programs, which they respected and recognized to be superior to what they could do on their own or only with other homeschoolers. Nichols clearly favors the laws many states have passed or are considering passing that would extend to homeschoolers the right to participate in public school extracurriculars without having to attend the school itself for classes. I’ve discussed these laws on many occasions in this blog, noting how they divide the homeschooling community, some of whom would love for their kids to have such access while others fear that this breeds compromise with the world and weakens the integrity of homeschooling. The dust has by no means settled on this issue, but Nichols is right that the trend is toward greater access.