The following article first appeared in the CTEVH Journal, Summer 2002. It has been re-edited for the MENVI News Journal.
Most parents and educators are aware of behind-the-scenes support that school resource teachers provide for our blind children. Among the many hats that they are required to wear, they maintain academic lifelines between students and their teachers, provide college counseling, transcription/translation services, tutoring arrangements, an understanding attentive ear, and a hand-to-hold when needed. They may even act as private tutors, including music. In many cases, they have provided this music teacher with priceless outside support - support that was not possible in the home or classroom environment - support without which certain students may not have succeeded. For these students, music has become a prime access to academics and literacy in general, not to mention a chance at equality with their sighted peers.
In a system of relentless pressure to mainstream all special learners, the resource teacher's role may become more critical than ever - and for a musical child and his or her music educator, virtually indispensable. When special learners tend to be collected in one "special" school, it becomes possible for an outreach such as the SCCM Braille Music Division to visit them together, and to contribute a collective program tailored to meet their special needs. Moreover, a special school can serve as a pool - a central place where musically gifted blind children can be discovered and offered scholarship support for the program, as well as an opportunity to study in a conservatory environment and realize artistic and academic potential.
Such was the situation with an SCCM Outreach at a special education school in Los Angeles. Without the support of the principal of the school, her dedication to quality of education and the arts, her concern for each child as a unique individual, and the professionalism and support of the music director, our contribution to the children of the school could not have succeeded. If the mainstream effort is successful, along with proposed advantages also lurks the possibility of shattered opportunities for many, especially for those who might benefit from the presence of outside specialists in the arts who bring such programs to them. For those of us in the field of music education, the proportion of musical blind children seems to far outweigh that of the sighted community. Will we then lose these children as they become scattered across the district in a vast sea of mainstream education?
As a teacher of music, and on behalf of those of us on the CTEVH Music Committee, we know that a child need not become a "musician" or even to perform very well to benefit from music. Many that we consider musically gifted do fall into that category, and their gifts have nothing to do with virtuosity or arts careers. More than 90% of our enrollment of blind children possess perfect pitch (tonal frequency recognition). Clearly, there should be no question about the importance of music as an academic edge for their growth! If resource teachers as we now know them become an endangered species, or perhaps too spread out over mainstream responsibilities, the possibilities for special learners receiving special help will become far more sparse.
As author of "An Introduction To Music For The Blind Student," Parts I and II, I could not have developed the course without help from one remarkable resource teacher in Napanee Illinois during the beta-test period. This teacher was not a music braille reader or music transcriber, and yet was resourceful enough to guide her student, by means of correspondence, through the essentials of the Part I course in braille music reading and music instruction in general. In another situation, one teacher was such a vigilant supporter for a young baritone horn player in middle school that she was appointed to our MENVI specialists committee as Resource Teacher Specialist. As with most VI resource educators, the efficiency and dedication to literacy on behalf of this young man were truly a model effort.
Clearly each school district is different, and each school has varying structure and needs. Yet musical needs and strong academic fundamentals are intrinsically similar. For example, a certain amount of individual instruction and attention is needed to balance a healthy classroom effort. Music students grow at a different pace, and some individual attention is essential for them to adjust to classroom progress. If we are going to meet the inevitable challenges ahead, we will need consistent goals and strategies. Based on what we have learned through example from a few creative and progressive resource teachers, we offer the following ideas for consideration:
- Richard Taesch, Ed.
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