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Music Teachers Use 'American Idol' in Class
Updated 3:44 AM ET May 22, 2006
Thirty-five million people watch "American Idol" every week -- none more intently than Evan Tobias' fifth and sixth graders at Willow Grove Middle School in New York state.
Watched in living rooms across the country, the reality show that churns out new pop stars and sets ratings records is required viewing. And it turns out that "Idol" is also a smash hit in music class.
Tobias' students aren't watching to see who gets eliminated or whether Paula is speaking to Simon. They're learning how to analyze music.
"I don't think that I normally thought to include a reality TV show in the classroom," Tobias said. "But because this was directly related to music, and it was directly related to the issues that we'd been talking about, it made sense to bring it in."
In a recent survey done by the National Association for Music Education, 80 percent of music teachers said they are using the nation's number-one TV show to teach. At Plainfield Elementary School in Nazareth, Pa., the second graders take turns playing contestants and judges.
"It gets them excited about music," said Sarah Wallace, music teacher at Plainfield Elementary. "I had record numbers this year in the chorus, and I'm sure that that has something to do with it."
Inexpensive Teaching Tool
There's also a practical consideration at work. At a time when music education budgets across the country are shrinking, a television show makes for an inexpensive teaching tool.
Just this year, 22 percent of school districts reported cutbacks in art and music instruction to make more time for reading, language arts, and math, according to the Center on Educational Policy.
"I think the concept of No Child Left Behind is certainly a good one," said John Mahlmann, executive director of the National Association for Music Education. "But ... because of the greater emphasis on math and science, and the testing that is embodied in that, too many of our parents and school administrators make it an either/or situation."
Tobias said most parents don't mind him bringing "Idol" into the classroom -- because so many of them are following along at home.
ABC News' Nancy Weiner originally reported this story for "World News Tonight."
I can't begin to tell you what the music and art programs have done for my kids. Even myself -- my clearest memories of K-12 were my concerts, plays, projects....LASTING impressions, all of them. I recently wrote a quick note to one of my kid's music teachers after her first solo performance: "you know those 5 people you meet in heaven...well, you are certainly one of those 5 that my child, and many others, will meet". I'm pretty sure most music teachers are the same. I hope the teachers that have no choice but to resort to american idol as a means to get kids interested and exposed to music are doing it in a different style than the version that we watch week after week after week....
Yes, I will probably tune into the final episode (I actually picked the two finalists early on when I first heard them -- you can even ask my daughter!) It is exciting to see who wins. We would have the show on occasionally - but after the'Pickler' I said NO MORE!! and I could not stand the ridicule anymore. I could not stand what it represented. Do you remember those old 'star search' type shows we used to watch? I don't remember them being so obnoxious. This NYTimes Editorial speaks for me:
New York Times, January 23, 2005
At a time when the self-appointed guardians of family values have been denouncing television programming for everything from wardrobe malfunctions to SpongeBob's squishiness on gay tolerance, it's interesting that "American Idol" seems to be getting a pass. Fox's hugely popular search for the next singing sensation started its fourth season last week with a series of vicious encounters between hopeful but pathetically untalented young people and celebrity judges being paid to make fun of them. While the contests do not feature bare breasts or four-letter words, they send a truly dreadful message to millions of young viewers about the proper way to treat fellow human beings.
The high points of the early episodes of the show are the moments in which desperately clueless singers deliver unbearable versions of pop standards in front of judges who either burst into derisive laughter or helpfully advise the would-be idols that they are way too fat, badly dressed, funny looking or simply "honestly, excruciatingly awful." While some of the contestants have the sort of impenetrable self-obsession that seems to invite that kind of treatment, others react in ways that make it clear they are simply weak and vulnerable. The producers seem to feel it's funny to watch a trio of wealthy and famous adults making fun of a simple 16-year-old girl whose only sin was being "pretty sure I have a good voice" when she didn't.
About 100,000 contestants, all in their teens or 20's, auditioned for "American Idol," and the ones who wound up on national television survived at least two elimination rounds. While Fox said the survivors were chosen to be a good cross section, it is hard to imagine that any of the extremely naïve contestants understood that they were being moved along only because they showed promise for being ridiculous. In the ensuing battle for the "tickets to Hollywood," the viewers are invited to roar while young people who in many cases appear to be poor, of low intelligence or even mildly disturbed, sing enthusiastically and then stand gape-mouthed with shock while their heroes insult them on national television.
One of the points of any reality show is to allow the audience to watch as contestants humiliate themselves by screeching at their spouses on a race around the world, by being voted off the island first, or by failing to get a rose from the bachelor or bachelorette whom they have been desperately and publicly wooing. But there is a very wide gap between demonstrating that life is full of hard knocks and embarrassment, and glorying in the abasement of the utterly defenseless.