Music Education and Social Justice: Equity and Diversity

This past week was tough, not only because we had family here for part of it and I got sick, but because of the reading. We were asked to read Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities and find two additional articles about music education that follow the same line of inquiry as Kozol. I read a dissertation on the California Music Project Teacher Training Program and an article from School Band & Orchestra about Dealing with Inequality in Your District. Most of this post will be focused on the content of those readings with a little bit of the weekly discussion at the end.

There are six chapters in Savage Inequalities, each one looking at the poverty occurring in a different city, and how that poverty is affecting education. We look at East St. Louis, Illinois; Chicago, Illinois; New York City, New York; Camden, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; and San Antonio, Texas. The prevailing themes in each of these stories seemed to be that poverty arose from industries abandoning these cities and that funding continues to be inequitable. It was heart-wrenching to read stories of children growing up in communities flooded with raw sewage, learning in buildings crammed with three times the students they were meant to hold, not receiving textbooks or other educational materials… It was difficult to read about San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez where U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote that education ““is not among the rights afforded explicit protection under our Federal Constitution.” Pulling from the book:

“The argument here,” he said, “is not that the children in districts having relatively low assessable property values are receiving no public education; rather, it is that they are receiving a poorer quality education than that available to children in districts having more assessable wealth.” In cases where wealth is involved, he said, “the Equal Protection Clause does not require absolute equality….”

Attorneys for Rodriguez and the other plaintiffs, Powell wrote, argue “that education is itself a fundamental personal right because it is essential to the exercise of First Amendment freedoms and to intelligent use of the right to vote. [They argue also] that the right to speak is meaningless unless the speaker is capable of articulating his thoughts intelligently and persuasively…. [A] similar line of reasoning is pursued with respect to the right to vote.”

“Yet we have never presumed to possess either the ability or the authority to guarantee … the most effective speech or the most informed electoral choice.” Even if it were conceded, he wrote, that “some identifiable quantum of education” is a prerequisite to exercise of speech and voting rights,” we have no indication… that the [Texas funding] system fails to provide each child with an opportunity to acquire the basic minimal skills necessary” to enjoy a “full participation in the political process.” (p. 215)

Discussion Question

I recently saw a meme on Facebook that said something like this: Maslow before Bloom. How appropriate for this week’s reading of Savage Inequalities (Kozol, 1991). In your discussion board posts, I am interested in how you view Kozol’s writing about some of America’s most impoverished schools and how you relate his work to music education or arts education in general. Where do you suppose, say, an arts education fits into the schemes of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs or Bloom’s taxonomy? How might the two be both mutually exclusive and tightly interwoven?

You might choose to address this from the standpoint of academic rigor (a word I dislike) or standardized tests. For example, a test normed in Iowa City may not be the best test to give to children in the Bronx; hence, a kind of structural violence (e.g., Farmer, 2003) is promulgated on children, their teachers, families, and whole communities. Alternatively, you may share out an anecdote from your own worlds that demonstrates empathy with Kozol’s stories remembering that reference(s) to scholarly materials will strengthen your post.

Discussion Response

In reading Savage Inequalities (1991) this week, I kept asking myself how did these communities end up in poverty? Kozol frequently brought up industry coming in and later leaving these cities. This was also reflected in D’Ambrosio’s (2015) review of the California Music Teacher Training Program. My first teaching job was in Waterloo, Iowa, where John Deere continues to have a large factory. However, in the 1980s, there was a large round of lay-offs, leaving many families jobless and unable to afford a move to another community. Even in 2011, the effects were obvious and still discussed. We provided many of our students with instruments, but did not have the budget to repair or replace much each year. We were lucky, in that every 6-12th grade student could elect to take band, orchestra, or choir daily.

To answer the question directly, I think an arts education fits into Maslow’s social belonging level and higher (though for some students, an arts education environment may also provide safety and security) and Bloom’s at all levels. Both are intertwined, but I don’t believe it is possible to achieve any of Bloom’s taxonomy without the physiological and safety levels of Maslow’s hierarchy being met. In Kozol (1991), D’Ambrosio (2015), and Johnson (2015), we see that a community’s poverty directly contributes to the physiological and safety needs of its members. Students cannot receive an equitable education when their communities and their schools cannot provide for these basic needs.

Articles Read

D’Ambrosio, K.E.I. (2015). The california music project teacher training program as an intervention in poverty and income inequality. Retrieved from

Johnson, D. L. (2015, 07). Dealing with inequality in your district. School Band & Orchestra, 18, 28-29. Retrieved from

Other Discussions Responses

Because a lot of my classmates responses were quite personal in nature, and my responses are to the personality of their posts, I am not going to share those this week.

Looking forward to a healthy week of reading (only journal articles), writing (discussion board AND paper #2), and discussing (Live Classroom #3)!


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.