Some thoughts on the Michael Butera situation and the future of NAfME…

An Opportunity Missed?

No one is feeling any joy or satisfaction from this incident, nor should they. NAfME leadership could have headed this off with strong action taken immediately upon learning of this incident—but they didn't. It seems clear that NAfME leadership was more worried about the potential of being sued than in doing the right thing. And the price for that indecision will be high. Our profession has taken a devastating hit in terms of reputation, and I’m not sure that firing Mr. Butera—which seems the only logical response at this point, given the multiple confirmation’s of Keryl McCord’s accounting of Mr. Butera’s actions at the NEA meeting—will be enough to repair this damage.


So far, NAfME’s response to this situation has been to hire a PR firm to manage the flow of information around this incident. My assumption is that this firm will be paid by NAfME, out of member dues. The parallels between this situation and the water poisoning in Flint, MI are striking—a chief executive displays stunningly poor judgment, and then instead of addressing the problems they have caused directly they hire a PR firm, without spending their own money in doing so, to “spin” the coverage of the incident.

As some of our colleagues (Joyce McCall, in particular) have pointed out, our outrage at the comments allegedly made by Mr. Butera means nothing if not accompanied by appropriate and corrective actions.


Lessons Learned?

One of the lessons here is that while social media allows us to communicate more easily and quickly, I am not sure it is effective as a vehicle for action. Even as social media may make us "feel" more connected, it doesn't really satisfy the need for an umbrella organization that can pull all of our disparate groups and constituencies together, and maximize our collective power as a profession.


I think we are seeing the result of this “Balkanization” of music education right now—for example, as “curriculum narrowing” squeezes music out of the schools, especially in urban and rural communities, there has been zero response from NAfME. In fact, NAfME has welcomed Pearson—an organization at the core of the corporate reform of education movement—as a "corporate partner," and has not responded to multiple attempts to begin a dialogue about the message being sent to our members by accepting Pearson into our association in this way. When asked for a reason why we couldn’t examine this relationship, the response was that the association was concerned about the possibility of being threatened with legal action if corporate membership was rescinded.


For the Love of Money...

Perhaps most disappointing is the news that when asked by the SMTE Cultural Diversity and Social Justice Area of Strategic Planning and Action to include matters of equity and inclusion in the Association’s 2011-16 strategic plan, the NAfME response was that these “important objectives and directions…did not make the cut”. This unfortunate and tone-deaf statement requires an immediate response from NAfME leadership.



It is also worth noting that even after several attempts to engage with NAfME leadership over the past few days, the only time I received a response was when I emailed to cancel my membership this morning. Within 5 minutes I found a reply in my inbox from the membership director asking me to reconsider my decision. This response just confirms my belief that the only way to get NAfME’s attention is with $$$.

NAfME at a Crossroads

NAfME is a 20th century organization that is finding itself unable to function in the 21st century. Their nationalized advocacy “machine” is unsuited to do the state-level work responding to the changes in ESSA, and no one in Reston has realized this or done anything to build capacity at the state level to do anything about it--even as the Association sit on millions of dollars in member dues. 



It is time for NAfME to take a proactive stand, and use this situation to begin a necessary and long-overdue conversation on the important issues of equity and diversity on music education. Our national association must finally address the issues around race and diversity which have festered in our profession for far too long, and begin to enter the current reality of music teaching and learning in our schools.

Write a comment

Comments: 24
  • #1

    Peter McCoy (Tuesday, 10 May 2016 15:58)

    I've read a lot of posts about this from NAfME members in higher ed but nothing from anyone in public school teaching. I wonder to what extent our public school colleagues are aware of these issues. I don't expect NAfME to be very responsive to higher ed folks given the extent to which we've already been marginalized within the organization. We will need to mobilize our colleagues in public school who are the real backbone of the organization before much meaningful change is likely to take place.

  • #2

    Julie Bounds (Tuesday, 10 May 2016 16:05)

    I would say as a public school teacher we are very aware. There is much chatter on our facebook groups, emails, and general conversation. Honestly, I don't know what to do. I'm feel that I'm not connected enough on a national level to know what best to do. What I do know is that I feel pressured into having a NAFME membership. Its the ONLY way for us to members of our state and local chapters. I feel stuck. I have members from other parts of our music community wanting to know what we will do. But I don't know what to do.....its all very very troubling. Especially as someone who teaches a diverse ethnic and socio-economic group of students.

  • #3

    Heather Eyerly (Wednesday, 11 May 2016 10:25)

    Yes, Julie, I have likened paying my NAfME dues, or whatever they are calling themselves this year, to paying dues to the Mafia for over a decade. We are forced to pay them. In NY state, if you want to be a clinician for an honor choir, they will take the dues out of your honorarium automatically. It is a racket! I personally lost all respect for the organization over a decade ago when they started selling out to large corporations for sponsorship. I don't reap any benefits of membership from my dues. Honestly, we need a redo! Let's get back to advocating for Music Education and supporting our teachers in the trenches with that endeavor.

  • #4

    J R Beckwith (Wednesday, 11 May 2016 15:44)

    An interesting read. While I believe a lot of the excitement may have been from opportunists blowing things out of proportion, there has been a problem for a long time. While NAfME(MENC) has always talked about the need to provide music opportunities for all children, the day-to-day reality for public school teachers has often been harsh. If you don't have kids in All-State, or at least District Honor groups, then you must not be doing your job. Or you're bad at it. NAfME says they hope this will start a substantive dialogue. I'm ready, let's talk.

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