Music Professor Merryl Goldberg Advocates for Arts Education

A professor's daring past underscores her advocacy for arts education.

by Nouman Rasool
Music Professor Merryl Goldberg Advocates for Arts Education
© CISA/YouTube

Merryl Goldberg, a distinguished professor at Cal State San Marcos and a former saxophonist with Boston’s renowned Klezmer Conservatory Band, is no ordinary academic. In her storied past, Goldberg risked her life as an underground operative in 1980s Russia.

She creatively encrypted confidential information into musical notations, pulling the wool over the eyes of the formidable KGB. Her lifelong fascination with the arts extends beyond performance and espionage. According to colleagues like Tom DeCaigny, former head of Create CA, Goldberg's approach to education is a fusion of intellectual depth and boundless creativity.

Her course, Learning Through the Arts, teaches future educators how to integrate music, theater, and visual arts into conventional subjects like math and science. “Arts are not frivolous; they change lives,” insists Goldberg.

Raised in a musically inclined Boston family, Goldberg's audacity is legendary, whether she's teaching or working on an initiative like California's groundbreaking Proposition 28 for arts education. Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, executive director of the UC/CSU Collaborative for Neuroscience, Diversity, and Learning, describes Goldberg as a visionary.

“Her joyous approach to teaching empowers educators to embrace arts for holistic student development,” she said.

Bridging Academic Silos

What sets Goldberg apart is her ability to connect different academic disciplines.

Jessica Mele, formerly with the Hewlett Foundation, highlights her knack for uniting undergraduate programs and teacher preparation initiatives—a rarity in the often siloed academic world. "She has an invaluable network that makes her initiatives impactful," Mele added.

Goldberg's blend of passion and practicality also has unexpected applications. She sees a connection between the complex patterns in music and those in high-tech coding. This, she believes, could open doors for her students in sectors like cybersecurity.

Despite her storied past and elite education, including a graduate degree from Harvard, Goldberg remains approachably down-to-earth. She’s also a dedicated Red Sox fan and an amateur boxer. According to Eric Engdahl, professor emeritus at CSU East Bay, “What impresses me most is her genuine curiosity and her humility in learning from others”.

Goldberg believes the arts are not a luxury but a fundamental aspect of education, especially for her first-generation college students at CSU San Marcos. “Arts are essential for human development and should be part of the educational bedrock, just like literacy and math,” she emphasizes.

Through her innovative courses, advocacy, and even her past life of musical subterfuge, Merryl Goldberg stands as a vigorous champion for the indispensable role of arts in education.