Music in the Elementary Schools - A Supplement

NOTES DA CAPO - By Clifford Brown
October, 1986

In a prior column on the above subject it might be concluded that our forefathers of the early 1900s had little interest in music and education in general. But when information about the economic, social, and political circumstances is known, one becomes quite sympathetic. Similarly, when the history of education in West Virginia is written for the 1980s, the present generation might be accused of educational neglect. If it is reported that the economy was depressed, that the state had the highest unemployment in the nation, and that there were disastrous floods, our grandchildren would likewise be sympathetic. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to present the following information about the conditions that pertained to education in the early years of this century.

West Virginia has always been proud of its natural resources. The optimism of some of our early political leaders in predicting great wealth from our minerals and coal was gradually thwarted by the fact that industry substantially was owned and controlled by out-of-state interests. Educational development was of secondary concern to the non-resident owners; their primary objective was material gain. When the gravity of this situation was fully realized, a gradual apathy developed that was to persist for decades. Under these circumstances the quality of the teaching personnel and the educational leadership, with some exceptions, deteriorated. Thus, the "thorough and efficient system of free schools" authorized by the state constitution could not be inaugurated.

Moreover, World War I caused a major interruption and added to the struggle to provide a five or six-month school term along with unqualified teachers, poor salaries, agitation to teach agriculture, and other problems. In-fighting among educational factions and some politicians about the establishment of teacher- training instead of normal schools, whether knowledge should receive primary emphasis over method, control of teacher certification, attendance requirements, and numerous other problems kept education in a state of flux. A 1921 survey revealed that 4800 of 10,600 teachers had only an elementary education themselves! Except for the few affluent independent districts of the 389 in the state, an organized and sequential system of education was the exception. It was in the independent districts that music was introduced and ultimately accepted as an integral part of an elementary education.

Although teacher certification requirements adopted in 1929 included one or two college courses in music, rural school positions were filled by persons with only emergency or temporary certification. There were hundreds of one-room schools, some of which could be reached only by walking, where the limitations of some of the teachers were readily obvious. This writer visited a one-room school in the late 1940s that was being taught by a high school graduate of the previous spring who had completed only six hours of college courses during the summer. Why? No one else better qualified was available. Of course, there were some exceptional teachers in the rural schools, including some who loved music and taught it expertly. Of major significance to the teaching of music at this time was the publication of music series textbooks that provided graded songs, supplementary explanations, and teacher manuals.

The creation of the county unit plan by the legislature in 1933 obliterated the progress that had been made in the independent districts. Music supervisors and special teachers were eliminated overnight. With a salary cut of one-half or more to equalize salaries statewide, these highly qualified teachers sought positions in other states. Fortunately for music, the band movement in the towns and cities was generating a new interest that helped dispel some of the gloom of the great depression. After surviving World War If and a number of economic and environmental problems, the county unit plan began to operate effectively. Although much remains to be accomplished, music is now recognized as a basic component of the educational program.

Tacit - for now.