Wednesday, March 12, 2014


One particular Dave Barry column which has stayed with me is this one in which he describes Disney's rebranding of the heroines of their classic animated movies as "Disney Princesses." Like much of his work, it is both astute and hilarious. I came away with the feeling that, through rebranding, Disney hoped to get new generations of children (read:consumers) to buy into the Disney way of life.

I propose to you, with less hilarity, that the term "instrumental pull-out" needs to undergo a similar rebranding process. Not because you will be encouraged to buy products or see movies, but because 1. it in no way accurately describes what is going on, and 2. it may actually mislead or discourage the public.

Let's take the word "instrumental".

1a : serving as a crucial means, agent, or tool <was instrumental in organizing the strike>b : of, relating to, or done with an instrument or tool

Well, there's nothing wrong with that. These small group sessions are for students playing instruments. Also, participation in these classes is instrumental in the long-term success of the players. So, let's keep that.

"Pull-out." Okay, here's our problem. Nobody likes to be pulled. Pulling hair, pulling teeth, being pulled out of line. The connotation is negative, maybe a bit violent. And followed by "out", it becomes a process of removal, suggesting some is being subtracted, taken away. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Howard County invests in a large number of reading teachers, specialists and support staff at the elementary level, just so that young readers can receive small-group, differentiated instruction. We don't view that as a "pull-out" or an "extra". We understand it to be an appropriate way to teach reading and support academic growth. Teachers can monitor improvements, devise interventions, build relationships with students.

This is precisely the model used in hcpss music programs: school support, along with the free choice of students to participate and choose their instruments, and the flexibility of teachers and schools to affirm student choices. Student-centered, school supported.

Music teachers work cooperatively with classroom teachers to make sure that instrumental sectionals do not jeopardize student performance in other areas. Those who suggest that the "pull-out" system negatively imacts student progress are relying on Chicken Little arguments. The data does not bear this out. The system we have in place allows our teachers the flexibility to make sure that students don't fall through the cracks.

So data does not support claims of academic instruction being compromised. In fact, studies show that beginning instrumental lessons in the primary years improves what we think of as academic performance. Now think: many of our students will never have the financial means to pursue private lessons. Small-group, differentiated instruction in music is one of the biggest tools we have to bridge the opportunity gap. For many students this musical experience is the nourishment which allows them to persevere in other subjects which are more difficult for them.

All of this begins in the elementary years and the benefits to our students are lasting.

So, what do you think? What would be the best name for something that instructs, supports, and enhances our students? What words best personify the brand?

One thing I know without a doubt: it's not about pulling out. It's about helping up.


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