In the news today, we see all too often stories of music programs being slashed, budgets being dissected, and even entire schools being shuttered. Learning this, many people shrug and conclude that there's nothing to be done about it. They may feel helpless, and hopeless. They may assume that people more knowledgable than they are are making the right decisions on their behalf, or that the powers that be have stacked the deck against them, or that it's too late and there's too much momentum to change anything now.
I believe that's just not true.
Especially if you're a parent.
Parents are in a unique position. They are the designated "spokesperson" for the school district's clients (their children). They see firsthand, in their own homes each evening, the end result of the school board's decisions.
Parents are also among the voters who elect the school board, who then hires the administration and teachers.
If music educators advocate for music education, opponents cry that they're just in it to save their own jobs, even though these teachers are the people with the deepest understanding of the benefits of music education.
Parents, however, are the ones who can perhaps most effectively speak out about how arts education has positively affected their children. They watch their children learn and grow, developing character in ways that can only be done in a music classroom
Most school boards, I would imagine, would not want to be on the wrong side of a group of "mama (and papa) grizzlies."
The challenge for parents is that they are busy. In many families, parents work full-time. In addition to supporting their families financially and caring for their children, there's not much time left for advocacy. Especially since none of us ever anticipated having to actively advocate to keep what most of us took for granted: a well-rounded public education that includes music and the arts.
We are living in a time, however, when each of us can be a broadcaster, at any hour of the day or night, in our pajamas. Anyone with Internet access can start a blog, a Facebook page, or a Twitter feed in support of their cause. From smartphones, they can email decision makers, Google telephone numbers and make calls.
With that in mind, here are eight ways you can make a difference by speaking out.
- Start a blog: "report" on the situation from a parent's perspective. Recruit other parents and students to write blog posts. WordPress and Tumblr are great for this, and easy to use.
- Start a Facebook Page in support of your movement. People read their Facebook feeds like they used to read the morning and evening papers. Make sure your cause makes their "headlines."
- Don't forget about other social media. Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn can all be valuable ways to communicate. Most journalists are now on Twitter, so it's a great way to catch their attention. Live-tweeting a school board meeting or rally is a great use! G+ is a great place to have more in-depth discussions, and do Hangouts (online get-togethers). LinkedIn is a smart way to rally support from professionals (respected thought leaders, influential alumni and potential donors).
- With all social media, slow, steady and authentic wins the race. Post regularly (at least weekly), and be ready to have friendly conversations.
- Visuals FTW: people are inundated with information everyday. Catch their eyes with pictures that help tell your story.
- In all of your communications, take the high road. Assume the best of those that you're communicating with. Keep interactions positive, and confrontations to a minimum. No one wants to lose face, and making that happen would be a good way to make an enemy: something your cause doesn't need.
- Get involved. Attend your local school board meeting. Go to a "regular" school board meeting, as opposed to one where the room is packed with angry citizens. Sit back and be a fly on the wall. Learn how they run their meetings. Learn who's who, and what their personalities are like.
- Local reporters may also be in attendance at the school board meeting. Wouldn't it be great to be friendly with local reporters? A quiet moment before or after the meeting is a great time to introduce yourself. They're always looking for the next big story; maybe it'll be yours! And remember, just like you don't want to make an enemy of a school board member, stay on the good side of reporters. They're doing their jobs. No matter how passionate you might be about your cause, they are NOT beholden to report the story YOU think should be reported. That's what your blog, social media, and press releases are for. Help them do their jobs well, and they'll think of you fondly—which is helpful when they're looking for a reaction quote for their next story.
Bonus points: do any or all of these under the name (with approval, of course!) of your existing advocacy or booster group!
You don't have to do all of these things, of course. Even one of them will help your cause! And if each of us does something, together we can make a big difference!