Music Education Topics that Need our Attention Now!

An alternate title for this week’s content could have been: Music Education and Social Justice: Equity and Diversity, as one of our modules was titled. Our readings centered around the intersection of music education and topics of social justice like sexual orientation and women in music. A particular quote from our professor really resonated with me, “Perhaps the fundamental question you must ask yourself is if the teaching of music is about music or about people.” I’ve had colleagues share similar sentiments about the extramusical effects of music education: teaching students “how to human.”

Our assigned readings this week were:

Bergonzi’s article, for me, highlighted privileges I have and had as a heterosexual music student and teacher. I have become more and more aware of my privileges as an upper middle class white male, but there were new revelations in his article. Livingston’s article took a look at five texts discussing the history of music education in the United States, looking for the women that were discussed. I was surprised at the number of names (all of them) I did not recognize! Jorgensen’s article calls for music educators to:

break out of the little boxes of restrictive thought and practice and reach across the real and imagined borders of narrow and rigid concepts, classifications, theories, and paradigms to embrace a broad and inclusive view of diverse music educational perspectives and practices (1997, p. 119)

Westheimer’s article is similar to Jorgensen’s, looking to change music education to improve society by making it more just.

Discussion Prompt

In your readings for this week, you are called to think broadly about change and how change is part of growth in music education. I argue, however, that change is not welcome in music education. Take, for instance, Louie Bergonzi's article on sexual orientation. Printed in 2009, the following issue of MEJ was replete with letters to the editor, Mitch Robinson at the time, decrying the fact that such a work was printed in the journal. A few years later, I had an opportunity to ask Dr. Robinson about the backlash of having printed Bergonzi's article: He noted that what letters he chose to print in the follow-up MEJ (March 2010, I think), were not even the brunt of the firestorm. Robinson said that teachers from across the country were really upset and downright angry with MENC. The point is that music educators in 2009 were not ready for such an article. I point out that 2016 is not much different given my interactions with schoolteachers all over the Northeast; change is not welcome.

Discussion Responses

Since hearing Dr. Scott Shuler, then president of NAfME, speak at the 2011 IAMEA Conference, I have been a (not very effective) advocate for broadening our reach within music education beyond our traditional offerings of band, orchestra, choir, and general music. I resonated with Jorgensen’s (2003) metaphor of breaking “out of the little boxes” (p.218) and her vision of “re-invisioning and “re-constituting” (p. 120). I say not very effective, because other than a few discussions here or there with colleagues, This is where I meet resistance; colleagues do not want to “give up” any of their paradigm to welcome this change. “How will I teach lessons?” “When will I have time to prep for that?” “Who will pay for it?” are questions that I, too, have asked and am not sure how to answer.

Our program has made an effort to program works composed by women and bring in female jazz artists to work with our students. However, prior to this week, I had not considered any of the privileges I have as a heterosexual music teacher (Bergonzi, 2009, pp. 67-68). I would like to think that we provide a safe environment for all of our students, regardless of sexual orientation, but Bergonzi’s article does make me think, “who am I excluding by ___?"

I struggled to write my first response for several reasons. I do really resonate with Dr. Shuler’s call for us to expand music education out beyond our traditional offerings, but I am equally guilty of raising the concerns my colleagues have had when discussing it. I also did not feel comfortable listing off things I do in my classroom that would be considered inclusive or diverse because it feels like ticking off requirement checkboxes for being a good teacher.

My classmates shared many different perspectives about the change they would like to see in music education: inclusion of students with diverse needs, rethinking pre-service music teacher education, incorporating composers of different races and genders… I responded to two that really resonated with me. First, a classmate shared from a 2013 task force appointed by the College Music Society to study relevant skills needed by twenty-first century musicians. Their findings were published in Redefining Music Studies in an Age of Change: Creativity, Diversity, and Integration.

I definitely see the three core deficiencies identified by the task force you mentioned (Sarath, Myers, Campbell; 2017). We have mentioned in previous discussions how the teacher-centered approach puts more focus on "interpretive performance of older works." Our readings from these past two weeks touch on the ethnocentrism deficiency and our conversation during the Live Classroom highlights the fragmentation of subjects and skills. I also think the Jorgensen article works to address those deficiencies when she calls us to "break out of the little boxes of restrictive thought and practice" (2003, p. 119). I think that not only means valuing new compositions but looking at new ways of defining creativity. She goes on in that same sentence to say, "to embrace a broad and inclusive view of diverse music educational perspectives and practices" (p. 119). Later in the article, she advocates for transformation from all societal institutions involved in music education, addressing the fragmentation deficiency. I most enjoyed our extrapolation of her sentient beings quote; our field should be in a constant state of flux!

Second, another classmate shared about the need for the re-examination of the pre-service music teacher education curriculum. I responded:

Yes! If we are products of our educational experiences, one of the first places we need to change is the pre-service music teacher education curriculum, a place where (hopefully) trickle-down actually works! Jorgensen echoes this when she says "educational transformation operates best through persuading rather than dictating to others" (2003, p. 133), asking us to exemplify that which we wish to see in musical instruction. If our pre-service music teachers have a better understanding of social justice issues and how they manifest in the classroom, they can be good examples of a transformed teaching in our professional communities. I especially liked your comment during our Live Classroom about the teacher-centeredness of music education and the implications of a needed transformation to a more student-centered environment.

Live Classroom #3

This was one of my favorite discussions that we had so far! To be honest, I have had a high level of anxiety going into each of these Live Classrooms because the prompts seem more difficult than the discussion actually ends up being. I also want to make sure I am adequately contributing to the conversation while not stifling others by dominating it. Add in the two facts that I am not currently teaching and that my previous teaching job was incredibly nice makes for some added stress. Anyways, the prompt:

The primary purpose of this Live Classroom discussion is for your section to establish 2-4 philosophical issues of pressing importance in music education today. Note that many issues can be approached from numerous angles, not all of which can rightly be considered "philosophical." To clarify: your issues should focus on "ought," not "is": What ought to be done in music education (and why)? Having identified 2-4 issues, your group should then use breakout groups in order to discuss further. The goal for each breakout group is to establish a set of questions (5-10, but 2 well-worded questions are better than 10 poor ones) which will then be shared with the larger group at the end of the session. Your questions should be carefully worded and prompt the need for further exploration. That is, they should open up rather than shut down. Your facilitator will compile these questions and forward them to the instructor, who will compile all the questions (from all sections) to be shared with everyone in the class.

Re-reading this prompt now, our facilitator did not have us establish a set of questions after identifying our issues. This might have been because out of our group of eleven doctoral students, only five of us were able to make this Live Classroom. I will list the “ought” statements we developed and share a little bit of the discussion we had for each.

“We ought to have more open lines of communication.” The classmate who shared this statement finds that in their community of music educators, there is not a safe place for communication and mentorship. Many of us shared experiences, both positive and negative, with our surrounding communities of music educators.

“Creativity ought to be taught for creativity’s sake” This classmate came across this idea while working on his paper on “pay-to-play” ensembles. The author of the article this classmate read advocated for creativity for creativity’s sake, finding that creativity is becoming valued as a product, not a process. Our discussion revolved around how creativity is viewed in the national standards (composition and improvisation, not interpretation) and how we incorporate creativity in our teaching.

“Undergraduate music education ought to incorporate learning to be a compassionate educator.” Provoked from our readings this week, this classmate advocated for change to start at the undergraduate level. We shared how our undergraduate programs focused on content and not necessarily preparing us to teach. Being prepared to teach included pedagogical aspects but was more focused around issues of social justice and being a compassionate teacher. One classmate shared two helpful texts for this: Compassionate Music Teaching by Karin Hendricks and Intelligent Music Teaching by Robert Duke. We also discussed how the current paradigm of music education is very teacher-centered and may require major changes to facilitate more student-centered classrooms.

“Grades in music classes ought to only reflect student’s knowledge and skills” This was my statement which came from my paper on standards-based grading as an important issue in education. It seemed from our discussion that only one other classmate had experience with standards-based practices.

“Music education ought to be collaborative and include appropriate trainings, appropriate differentiation instruction methods.” This classmate combined three different “ought” statements from her experiences teaching general music to students with special needs. She found that her pre-service program did not adequately train her to teach a class with students having a wide range of needs. She also shared, and many of us affirmed, that inservice trainings are not usually appropriate for music education. I can say that our trainings around standards-based practices in Ankeny were very helpful, but I have also been in trainings that were not very applicable to my teaching. Another classmate shared a helpful resource: Including Everyone by Judith Jellison.

Paper #2

We also have a paper due at the end of this week that I will share it in a separate post. We were asked to choose a contemporary and/or controversial topic that might be relevant to music education writ large, and I chose to discuss standards-based grading. Only two more weeks left!


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.