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.