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Loyola effort uses jazz to teach social studies concepts to New Orleans school children

May 17, 2013

New Orleans-style jazz is well on its way to making social studies classes cool again. A team of educators, musicians and advocates led by Loyola University New Orleans College of Social Sciences Dean Luis Mirón, Ph.D., are adapting a special curriculum that uses elements of jazz to teach the concept of democracy. More than 30 teachers from New Orleans public schools will learn the curriculum in an interactive professional development workshop May 21 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the University of New Orleans in the Performing Arts Center Band Room.

The effort is funded through a $10,000 gift to Loyola from the Higher Ground Foundation, supported by nine-time Grammy-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, the son of jazz musician and Loyola alumnus Ellis Marsalis M.M.E. ’86, H '07. Loyola is partnering on the project with the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, the New Orleans Parish School District and Jazz at Lincoln Center, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the continued development of jazz.

The workshop adapts a curriculum developed through the National Endowment for the Arts and Jazz at Lincoln Center. Featured speakers include those involved with Jazz at Lincoln Center, including Todd Stoll, vice president of education, and jazz pianist Eli Yamin. Loyola College of Music and Fine Arts Dean Donald Boomgaarden, Ph.D., will also speak at the event. Jazz drummer Herlin Riley and his band will play during the demonstrations.

More than 30 social studies and language arts teachers from Eleanor McMain Secondary School and McDonogh 35 High School are participating in the training event.

Mirón said the effort aims to bring the jazz tradition slowly back into New Orleans schools, and at the same time leave a curriculum in place linking jazz with the concepts of democracy. That lasting legacy will live on whether or not there’s funding for music, according to Mirón.

“The whole vision of this is really linking the art form with the practice of democracy,” Mirón said. “Jazz as an art form—in the mechanics and in the actual practice—includes these people who are really individualistic, they are soloists. But then the solos eventually fit into a larger piece and come together for the good of the whole. And that’s what jazz musicians do all the time.”

Jazz not only holds the power to teach social studies classroom topics such as the fundamentals of democracy in an interesting way, it also gives New Orleans school children an outlet, according to Mirón.

“This curriculum will give minority youth—whether they are aspiring jazz musicians or not—some way to deal with harsh urban living in a positive, creative way,” he said.

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