What is Philosophy? What is History? What is Research?

This past week our topic was: What is Philosophy? What is History? What is Research?. I learned quite a bit from the online modules about the “tools” of being a philosopher, using different techniques to think and analyze. These modules drew from the works of George Knight (viewing philosophy as the intersection of content, attitudes, and activities), R.J. Hollingdale (philosophy is inquiry into logic, ontology, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics), and Fosl & Baggini (different tools to use in philosophy). Another piece that I learned is the following paragraph from one of our modules:

The PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy degree is the traditional academic doctoral degree, usually intended to be theoretical in nature. It is often distinguished from "professional" doctorates such as the Ed.D. (doctor of education), M.D. (doctor of medicine), or, in music, the D.M.A. (doctor of musical arts), which is supposed to represent of blend of theory and practice. [Boston University's DMA in music education is something of a hybrid; it is largely indistinguishable from a PhD in content, but the College of Fine Arts at BU is not authorized to grant PhD degrees.] In practice, there are PhD degrees that are more "practical" or professional in nature and professional degrees that are more theoretical in nature.

Our assigned readings included:

I was fascinated by Bowman’s editorial to open up Volume 8, Issue 1 of the journal Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education. Partially because of his description of an article included in the journal (redesigning a school music program to meet basic student needs), and partially because of his advocacy for doing research that has practical implications for music education. He says, "what matters most is improving the effectiveness of music education— gauged by the richness, diversity, frequency, and depth of people’s musical engagements, even (and perhaps especially) where they lie outside the practices with which musicians, educators, and researchers have conventionally concerned themselves” (Bowman, 2009, p. 6)

The remaining three readings discussed three different historical attempts to improve music education of which I had no prior knowledge. From 1928-1942, Walter Damrosch produced a weekly series of radio broadcasts meant to supplement music education in schools. Reading about the history of the program made me think about my own exposure to classical music through Carl Stalling’s work with the Looney Tunes cartoons. Following the Russian launch of Sputnik I in 1957, several different responses occurred in terms of review and development of new curricula across many subjects. The Manhattanville Music Curriculum Program and the Tanglewood Symposium were two such responses, resulting in new recommendations for furthering music education.

Live Classroom #1

Four times during this course, we meet in small groups for a Live Classroom using Zoom, an online video communication tool like Skype. There were six students plus a professor in our Live Classroom. The prompt we were asked to prepare was:

The primary purpose of this Live Classroom discussion is for you to think through and argue for the merits of various beliefs about the learning and teaching of music and the learning and teaching of music in schools. (Are these the same? If so, why not? If not, should they be?)

After introducing ourselves, as this was our first time meeting “face-to-face,” we each had about 5 minutes to respond to the prompt, and then we discussed each response. These responses prompted a lot of thinking on my part, so I will highlight some things from their responses:

  • “We use music to teach excellence every day.” These are extramusical reasons for teaching music, emphasizing character development and other soft skills.

  • Many students talked about teaching students “where they are” and “with what they have”

  • One student teaches music because they want to provide the opportunity for every person to learn about music, to make music, and to create music. To make music their own.

  • The teacher/facilitator is not the expert on everything. Everyone is contributing to the teaching.

  • Participation in music activities is not always for the purpose of learning, but may also be for recreational activities.

In my own response to the prompt, I highlighted my struggle with believing that learning and teaching of music and learning and teaching of music in schools are different, and I think they should be. The learning and teaching of music can supplement the learning and teaching of music in schools, just like Damrosch’s broadcasts or Looney Tunes. Where I struggle with is with how much we may need to broaden the learning and teaching of music in schools to reach more students. I also struggle with descriptions in some of our readings of regular classroom teachers teaching music in place of a dedicated music teacher.

A few things came to mind that, due to time and the flow of the conversation, I wasn’t able to include or contribute. The first was a tweet that I actually saw that morning:

Those are extramusical reasons for an arts education, but I absolutely agree! Another “philosophy” I agree with is from Samuel Fritz:

“My purpose for teaching music is to create independent free-thinking musicians who devote time in and outside class to making an emotional connection to the music they play.”

Discussion Prompt

Wayne Bowman’s editorial introduction to Volume 8 of Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education raises a number of issues related to the profession of music education. Specifically, Bowman addresses the bifurcation of music education into “researchers” and “practitioners.” Embedded in Bowman’s commentary is familiar theme in his work: the distinction between “having” a philosophy (philosophy as a noun) and “doing” philosophy (philosophy as a verb). Bowman has long been critical of the substitution of slogans for critical thinking.

The history readings this week examine three aspects of American music education’s past. What aims might the Damrosch music appreciation broadcasts, MMCP, and the Tanglewood Symposium exemplify? How appropriate are such aims today? Following Bowman, in what ways are deliberations on aims for music education a philosophical exercise? Do these have a role to play among practitioners (i.e., everyday music teachers), or are such questions best left to the “experts” (i.e., academics)?

My Post

Approaching this DMA program with the goal of being someone who teaches future music educators, I am concerned about becoming one of Bowman’s “researchers” that is disconnected from the practice of teaching in the K-12 realm (p. 2). However, the readings from Week 1, Bowman’s advocacy for “doing” philosophy (p. 6), Dr. Vu’s expression of philosophy as a form of critical thinking (2018), or Knight’s belief that philosophy is “the intersection of content, activity, and attitude” (2008), makes me hopeful that through my practice and own learning, I will not separate myself out solely as a researcher or a practitioner.

Damrosch’s music appreciation broadcasts were intended to supplement student’s music education (Howe, 2003, p. 67). The Manhattanville Music Curriculum Program and the Tanglewood Symposium both grew out of similar needs to redefine curricula across several subjects during the 1960s. Many of these reviews and developments of curricula occurred in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I in 1957 (Moon, 2006, p. 72). The aim of the MMCP “was to create a new curriculum and related materials (Moon, 2006, p. 77). The aim of the Tanglewood Symposium was to evaluate current philosophies of music education in a variety of spheres (Choate et. al, 1967 p. 2).

I believe that the aims of all three programs are appropriate even today. In what ways can we supplement (a la Damrosch) the music education received in schools? Can we broaden where and with whom music education is happening (aims of all three programs)? I also believe that deliberating about aims for music education are, in fact, a philosophical exercise, until we act upon them. Damrosch’s broadcasts were a means of practicing his aims. The MMCP and Tanglewood Declaration were more philosophical exercises until their aims were put into practice by music educators. In fact, as stated in the Tanglewood article: “Only a musician-teacher could hope to achieve the individualizations of instruction, the improved curriculum, the upgraded course content, and the utilization of more effective teaching methods and materials that the times prescribe.” (p. 25)

Other Responses

These are a bit more difficult to understand out of the context of the original post, and I do not want to violate the original authors’ privacy. I will do my best to provide the context in which they occur using parentheses and italics. First:

___, I share your personal view of researchers vs. practitioners that Bowman tends to criticize (researchers having very little action from their research and practitioners accepting whatever is new at face value). I have felt, prior to this program, that most of the music education research I read had little practical application, rather serving to inform. I would also agree with a comment ___ made in his post about music educators being set in their ways after a certain period of time. I find that your description of educators habits to go with what is new tends to happen in education as a whole, and I am just as guilty. My research interests are in effective teaching practices (like the research of Hattie, Marzano, or Danielson) implemented in a music classroom, but our work in this class so far has made me question that interest.

I think there is a need for the blurring for which you and Bowman advocate, as well as the separation that ___ mentions (educators fulfilling the role of researcher, practitioner, or a blurring of the two). Research as a practitioner, does not have to be as formal and methodological as Bowman describes and critiques (2009, p. 5). I think there is a time and place for that formal research and that it is difficult for practitioners to partake in that endeavor. I agree with___’s description of the practitioners role in that type of research as one of feedback. But practitioners can “research” by experimenting within their own classrooms. Like Bowman (2009) concludes: “what matters most is improving the effectiveness of music education— gauged by the richness, diversity, frequency, and depth of people’s musical engagements, even (and perhaps especially) where they lie outside the practices with which musicians, educators, and researchers have conventionally concerned themselves” (p. 6)

___, your highlighting Bowman’s question of “is music education doing what it believes it is?” (2009, p. 1) hits the nail on the head for me. How do we measure the successes of our aims? Priorities shifted with NBC which led to eventual end of Damrosch’s broadcasts, but Howe measured the program as “extremely successful in the 1930s” from the sales of student notebooks and instructor manuals, as well as accolades collected by Damrosch and the program (2003, p. 74). The articles on the MMCP and the Tanglewood Symposium do not provide analyses of the successes of the programs, but how would we begin to measure it? What would the successful implementation of the curriculum developed at the MMCP look like? What would the participants in the Tanglewood Symposium consider a successful implementation of their suggestions?

Different contributions from the past two weeks’ discussion posts as well as this week’s live classroom have frequently made me come back to DuFour’s four essential questions for a professional learning community:

  1. What do we want students to know and be able to do?

  2. How will we know they know it and are able to do it?

  3. How will we respond when they do not know it or are not able to do it?

  4. How will we respond when they do know it and are able to do it?


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.