The recently released IPCC report on climate change and the forthcoming COP26 summit are both stark reminders of what we’ve already known for years about humanity’s role in bringing about global warming.
When I listen to the commentary from the experts, it strikes the same feeling in me as when you see a car broken down in the middle of a busy road. Most people immediately rush to help push the car to the side of the road and into safety. People do this act for complete strangers without thinking, so as to avert the danger and avoid an accident.
It feels like this with the climate emergency. It’s time for all of us to put our shoulders to the bonnet and steer the world back to safety.
Instinctively the focus is now about shining a light on all aspects of our lives to bring them in line with the climate targets. It also focuses our efforts on holding companies and those in power responsible for achieving these goals to ensure the earth’s protection for future generations.
Heavy stuff, right?
After the car analogy flashed through my brain, the next thought that occurred to me was what we can do as music educators at DabbledooMusic to help improve our own activities. There are certainly ways we can think about our office and operational energy usage. For starters, we're an online program and try to minimise the amount of printing required for the program.
Also, before the pandemic, we used to travel to schools around the country by car to run training sessions. Now Zoom has replaced that and it seems to be working better for teachers and it's certainly much better for the environment.
But what about what we do? Our own reason for existence? Could teaching children music really have an impact on the environment?
Before I get into the answer (spoiler alert - the answer is yes!) an important thing to consider is what we need to do to reverse climate change.
The first part in stopping it is acting now to make the changes we need to get the world back on track. The second part is then sustaining the track that we’re on so that we never slip back into this mess.
It's this second part where we and anyone reading this involved in educating children comes in.
It’s our job to prepare the next generation to give a damn about the world they live in. Otherwise, all the colossal work in achieving part 1 (and it could still go either way at this point) will all count for nothing if the next generation continues with the same climate-destroying tendencies as the ones before them.
So with all that said, here are a few ideas as to how I think we can use music and arts education to help children grow up to care about the environment.
1.) Art as a Prism to View the Beauty of the World
The first thing I think about is how learning music and the arts helps us to understand the beauty in the natural world. The idea that musical melodies and harmonies are naturally occurring sequences of frequencies, to me, is mind-blowing! How is it that our ears and brains, which have evolved over millions of years, can listen to specific tones in particular combinations and that activity can evoke the response of making the hairs on the back of our neck stand on end?!?!
That’s basically sorcery!
Realising and experiencing these feelings through music seems to be (and I don’t understand how exactly) translatable to seeing the beauty in trees, rivers, oceans and everything else around us. It’s this feeling of awe at how amazing the natural world is that would make me want to protect it.
2.) Collective Thinking
One of the big problems contributing to the climate issue is individual needs being served at the expense of community and environment. We can see this in the decades of polluting and acting environmentally irresponsible by big corporations in the pursuit of economic gains. Even today, with the current green wave, it still feels like many organisations are just paying lip service to their care for the environment for PR purposes.
By 2040 the children in primary school today will be entering the workforce and so what we teach them now will have an impact on how those people and those organisations will live and function. An important thing to focus on is ensuring children develop a collective mindset so that they can build empathy toward the circumstances of their fellow humans. Now is the time to develop a society of stewardship rather than this culture of consumption that so often grips mindsets today.
When a group of people perform a piece of music together, everyone has their role which all contribute in different ways to the overall sound of the piece. There’s nuance to this as well. Sometimes you have to be louder when you have the melody and sometimes you have to be quieter when you’re supporting others who have the main line. All the time you have to be listening and reacting to those in the group. In the end, if it’s done well, you get to create something beautiful that’s greater than the sum of its parts. That’s what we need from people now and in the next generation to help solve this global challenge.
3.) Creative Thinking
As well as the importance of performing with others, music and the arts also encourage creative thinking. It’s fair to say, as we navigate through the next century of uncertainty, there will continue to be new and unforeseen challenges that will need innovative ideas and creativity to overcome them.
Our goal as educators should be to prepare children to nurture this creative thinking so young people are equipped to develop solutions to the challenges they'll face. Activities such as composing music, writing short plays or inventing imagery to draw can all help with this and are all example activities already included in the school arts curricula.
While arts education is not a silver bullet for guaranteeing future generations will think creatively, it is one of the best ways we have of preparing children for this increasingly uncertain world.
To conclude, the difficulty in promoting music and the arts has always been its inability to be quantifiable. Whether it’s the improvement of cultural centres, funding for musicians or investment in arts education, trying to justify these things based on their economic benefits has always felt like a square peg in a round hole.
So my suggestion is, let’s not.
What I would suggest instead is to simply accept that investment in the arts is an inherently good thing that enriches our lives and makes societies better places to live. By engaging with art, it helps people feel happier and part of something bigger than themselves. It also helps them become more empathetic to their fellow human beings and more caring of the natural world.
While that might all seem nice and fluffy and not evidence-based, if we all thought about it long enough, I bet most people would agree. This is the mindset we need to have now as a country facing the challenges of the future which start today with climate change. Preparing our young people to care deeply about this world is the most important thing for educators right now, and arts education is the place to start.
Thanks for reading. Please let me know any comments you have below.
To find more ideas for engaging children in music, check our 'Complete Guide to Music Making for Kids' for links to additional resources.