Ethics and Music Education

When I first read the title for this week, I thought we would be continuing down the path of Week 4 and Week 5 with social justice issues. Instead, we looked more at the “why” of music education. Why do we teach the things we do? Why do we teach in the ways that we do? How might the what and how we teach be excluding other students? There were points raised in some of our early readings this week (Jorgensen and Mantie & Tucker) that really resonated with me, but left me with some unresolved internal conflicts about my own philosophies of music education. Both of Regelski’s articles helped to clarify some of my thinking around those points, which you can read about below.

Jorgensen’s article provides, in my opinion, an excellent history of the development of philosophies of music education. She traces it from William Channing Woodbridge’s rationale for music instruction in the American common school (On Vocal Music as a Branch of Common Education, 1830) through the aesthetic and praxial philosophies we discussed in Week 3 of this course. I wish we had read this article earlier as an introduction to different philosophies of music education, rather than as an introduction to how ethics are involved in music education. Jorgensen draws out a point using Peter Kivy’s writing that I agree and struggle with:

“To be sure, there are an array of interesting arguments for music’s inclusion in liberal education in the academy. They range from asserting that music can produce better citizens, or the idea that music constitutes an important aspect of culture that should be understood if one is to have a comprehensive understanding of human culture. But, asked Kivy, are any of these justifications for musical study sufficient for one to conclude that music constitutes an essential part of the liberal arts curriculum?”

Kivy, P. (1991). Music and the liberal education. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 25(3), 79-93.

Kivy and Jorgensen both struggle to answer the question. Kivy leaves it at the only possible reason music should be a compulsory subject in schools is its role in what he calls “tribal rituals,” but he leaves the audience to define this concept. Jorgensen suggests we need to develop political philosophies of music education that justify pragmatic means that music contributes to the community. She uses John Dewey (experience is a central element of the educational process, and artistic experience is crucial to coming to know self and world) and Maxine Greene (education is about achieving community with personal and corporate freedom) as potential philosophical arguments to support a political philosophy that she says “speaks to ideas of freedom, democracy, community, and the importance of social values of music.” However, I worry that a political philosophy of music education doesn’t solve the issue she identifies:

Unwittingly, the profession finds itself caught in somewhat of a bind: it is convicted of music’s intrinsic value, and yet, for political reasons at least, it must appeal to music’s utilitarian contributions to society and education, and its extrinsic as opposed to intrinsic value.

Mantie and Tucker’s article discusses how the current paradigm of large ensemble music education (choir, orchestra, and band) is potentially providing unjust practices by limiting students’ music education to Western European heritage. They make the argument that “If one endorses the view that freedom (as autonomy) is not just freedom from but freedom to, then students must be given some knowledge of musical alternatives from which they might choose” (2012, p. 268). My take is that they, essentially, want us to provide more diverse options that better reflects the community in which we teach, but they also do not want us to assume that students of a particular cultural background would necessarily want to study music of their culture. While I agree, to some extent, with the premise of the article, my three concerns are:

  • How is this feasible in the context of the public school? What would a 7 or 8 period day look like that provided a diverse offering of music education that reflected the cultural background of my student population?

  • What if you teach somewhere where the cultural background of your student population is decidedly Western European? What diverse offerings should be made available to those students?

  • The authors do not provide concrete examples of what this could or should look like. Both teach (or taught) in the Toronto area and used their experiences, students, and community members to paint a picture of the lack of diversity in their ensembles as compared to the diverse community in Toronto. They did not, however, provide an alternative in their teaching situation that would provide more diverse offerings for their community of students.

SIDEBAR. I understand that not all of the scholarly articles we read for our courses will be in the APA formatting in which we are required to write. However, I loathe when authors will use superscript numbers to reference a footnote that is at the end of an article that are critical to their argument and not just a reference. Put them in the footer of the same page so I don’t have to flip through twenty pages for you to continue your argument! I also understand that this is not entirely up to the authors and may be required formatting from the journal in which they are published, but seriously?

Regelski’s article on ‘methodolatry’ makes the argument that music education (and education in general, I believe) does not meet the criteria for a true profession because we merely implement methods or standards with the goal of creating a good sounding ensemble. While this is a gross oversimplification of his argument, I see some of his point. Our experiences, first as music students, then as music students learning to be music educators, were likely based on “tried and true” methods of instruction (what Regelski calls techne) for producing the desired result (good tone, correct articulation, etc.). What Regelski wants is a more critical and reflective view of the way we teach, something he calls an action-based curriculum. This begins with identifying action ideals or end goals for our students. To paraphrase a broad action ideal Regelski identifies, we want students to be able to enjoy and participate in music their entire life. If this is our action ideal, how do we ensure (or teach toward) making this happen? He believes these ideas have three dimensions:

  • praxial dimension - How do we ensure (or teach toward) the ideal happens? Regelski uses an example of an action ideal for “amateur participation in chamber groups.” The praxial dimension would “include instructional time providing and promoting various types of chamber participation and literatures” (pp. 114-115)

  • musicianship dimension - What skills are needed to accomplish this ideal?

  • attitude dimension - “identifying and… eliciting the attitudes, values, and rewards that promote the likelihood that students will typically want to take part in one or more such forms of musicing outside of and after graduation from school” (p. 115)

He also encourages us to participate in what he calls action research - studying, in the context of our own teaching, methods to improve the pragmatism of our teaching. These aren’t formal experiments, but rather, testing means of improving the effectiveness of our teaching. Action research goes further by sharing these results with other teachers, and as educators identify strategies that work in broader situations, these results become “widely agreed upon curricular ideals that become part of the professional standards by which teaching practice can be evaluated” (p. 117).

Langbien’s study applies a mathematical model to determine if public school music is considered a public good (as in something that is publicly consumed). Specifically, it uses data from the 1987 Schools and Staffing Survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statists to see if parents of non-music students appreciate their public schools providing music classes, even though their students are not taking those courses. Much of the article discusses the math involved in determining the outcome, but she draws several conclusions:

  • There are more music classes where there are more music students (duh), but there are also more music classes where there are more non-music students.

  • “[P]arents of non-music students appear to be willing supporters of current (1987) levels of school music, valuing it as a public good. They do not appear to value it as “forced” riders who privately bear the costs of a collectively provided good that they do not value. Nor do they value music classes as private benefits from a quid- pro-quo exchange of music classes for other special classes in which their children enroll.” (p. 96)

  • Why would any district provide music classes at a public expense?

    • Music classes are provided “when there is a sufficient number of (parents of) music students to be heard – but they are still a small, vocal group” (p. 96)

    • Music classes “are provided because (parents of) non-music students enjoy the prestige and pageantry of a school

      music program, collectively valuing music education, once it is provided to the music students, as a public good” (p. 96)

Regelski’s article on ‘Musicianism’ first takes a look at Aristotle’s views on ethics and virtue. He is using these definitions to further reinforce his argument from his article on ‘Methodolatry,’ that music education does not (yet) meet the criteria for a true profession. He then lays out the case for what we can do to make it a true profession. His five recommendations are:

  1. “First, as professionals, an ethical duty or obligation exists for music educators to provide a notable service that has a consequential impact on students’ lives.”

  2. “Secondly, professional service should observe the action ontology criterion: it needs to provide clear (i.e., observable) consequences that give evidence of their actual pragmatic value and, hence, of their ethical virtue.”

  3. “Thirdly, following Aristotle’s virtue ethics, the benefits—the ‘right results’—said to be at stake should be judged in terms of the constituency a music teacher’s professional actions are supposed to serve: individual students and, by extension, society.”

  4. “Fourthly, virtue ethics stresses an ethic of care: ‘right’ or ‘virtuous [excellent] action’ cares for students and their musical needs above musicianist values and is care-full in meeting those needs while doing no harm in the process. The criteria for ‘right action,’ for the ‘right reasons’, in the service of ‘right results’ are the basic elements in regarding teaching as professional praxis, rather than as simply a specialized occupation or technicist craft.”

  5. “Finally, when the ‘right action’ criterion (#4) is combined with the action ontology criterion (#2) and the criterion of ‘right results’ (#3), the tangible consequences of teaching facilitates reflection on results that promotes teaching improvement. Such reflective praxis acknowledges teaching weaknesses and works to correct and overcome them. Teaching thus becomes an informal kind of ongoing action research where curriculum and methods are regarded as hypotheses, the effectiveness of which—judged according to relevant musical, pragmatic, and ethical criteria—is ‘tested’ in action and, when needed, modified or changed and alternate methods “practiced” with a view to needed improvement.”

He goes on to say:

““Good teaching,” then, is not a matter of using prescribed ‘good means’ but of starting from an informed and unambiguous vision of ‘good ends’; those ‘right reasons’ that, following Aristotle, discernibly advance the good life through music. Curriculum, then, is significantly a philosophical matter. With ‘good’ curricular ends (‘right reasons’) decided first, methods and materials are then chosen and employed with care (phronesis), and the criterion of ‘right results’ (i.e., tangible consequences) determines the adequacy of learning and teaching” (p. 28)

In other words, what is your end goal as a music educator? If you are teaching well, you should see tangible results towards those goals. I’ll leave you with two other quotes from his article:

“music education in schools is predicated on the function of promoting the future musical wellbeing of students to a degree or in directions that would not otherwise be the case.” (p. 25)

“Thus, the five ethical principles addressed above all depend on pragmatic consequences; on introducing into students’ musical lives the choices, attitudes, dispositions, values, and musicianship skills that empower a life well-lived in part through music, and in ways and to a consequential degree that would not have been likely without school music.” (p. 28)

If you could call what Regelski is advocating an ethical philosophy of music education, I think it, to some extent, addresses the concerns I raised with Jorgensen’s political philosophy of music education and with Mantie & Tucker’s desire for more diverse opportunities for music students. While a dense read, this was an incredible learning experience for me, and it really clarified a lot of my thinking. I highly suggest reading it; it is one of the few articles that is publicly available!

Discussion Prompt

In week six we consider the matters of why, what, and how we teach. More importantly, ethics of teaching and learning are addressed. The readings and this module focus on advocacy issues, ensembles, methods, funding, and ethics. As you think about these readings, consider your own music teaching practices. Do you teach (or teach about) musical works? Why or why not? Are you a proponent of one method or another? Why or why not? Is large ensemble instruction just another kind of method? Where or how do ethics enter the picture for you in your teaching and learning situation; in your community? Be sure to link your ideas logically by choosing only the most salient issues, the ones that touch you deeply.

Discussion Responses

In recent years, I have become concerned with our “reach” as music educators. Last week, I shared a desire for broadening beyond our large ensemble paradigm, similar to Mantie & Tucker (2012). This week, I was further struck by Kivy’s (1991) question in Jorgensen (1994): “are are any of these justifications for musical study sufficient for one to conclude that music constitutes an essential part of the liberal arts curriculum?” (p. 23). I still struggle to see how a political philosophy of education could really help answer that question (Jorgensen, 1994), but Regelski’s (2012) advocacy for what I will call an ethical philosophy might be the answer.

In trying to distill both of Regelski’s articles for my own understanding, I tried to follow the questions he raised:

  • What is my desired ‘good ends’ for my students? What notable service can I provide that has a consequential impact on students’ lives? I really resonated with Regelski’s (2012) statement about “promoting the future musical wellbeing of students to a degree or in directions that would not otherwise be the case” (p. 25)

  • What clear, observable consequences will provide evidence that my students have achieved these ends? I would want to see student exploration of music outside the context of my classroom. If they are well equipped to ‘music,’ as defined by Elliott (1995), my students would not be limited by the literature covered in the classroom.

  • What forces are preventing us from reaching these ends (Regelski, 2002, p. 112)? By limiting our offerings to the large ensembles, I am not reaching a broad public, and the narrow group of students I am reaching, I am limiting to traditional band instruments and repertoire that can be played on those instruments (Langbein, 2003; Mantie & Tucker, 2012). Broadening music offerings will allow me to reach more of the student body with more diverse instruments and repertoire.

The act of thinking through my aims and working to implement change in my classroom is demonstrating the action research for which Regelski calls (2002; 2012). The kind of change I would like to see will require what Regelski (2002) calls communicative competence in working to argue for broadening our music offerings (p. 113).

After a conversation with my friend, Nick Covington (social studies teacher in Ankeny), I rephrased the questions to better align with the four essential questions of a professional learning community and tying back to Regelski’s (2012) quote on “good teaching”:

  • What do I ultimately want students to have when they leave? (Good Ends) Why? (Right Reasons)

  • How am I going to ensure we meet those ends? (Methods and materials)

  • How will I know we have met those ends? (Right Results)

One of my classmates referenced our professor saying to call him if we had an “ethics emergency.” I shared my classmate’s first experience of laughter at this idea, but then I found myself struggling with the questions she and the readings raised: “what to teach, how to teach, and how to allocate budget are serving students first. Does the program at my school fall into the trap of serving music or the school music program first and students second? (Regeleski, 2012)” The same classmate ended up responding to my first post with some of her goals for her program, and I shared some quotes from Regelski, highlighting the one below from the Live Classroom, as well the following:

My two biggest take-aways come from the (a) and (b) in Regelski's last quote: our students need to be musically literate in the world outside of our programs, and that literacy should have a positive impact on the world outside of our programs. Where the crisis continues for me is now attempting to answer the question, how?

I continued that same line of thinking with the classmate who shared the Regelski quote in the Live Classroom and her discussion post:

As I analyze my own program, I think I am doing a good job of producing measurable results in terms of musically literate students. However, I do not know in a measurable way that my students are using music to contribute to society. As Mary Ann mentions, that might be where my "ethics emergency" begins!

Another classmate shared two hypothetical teachers with different end goals in mind for their program. To respect his privacy, I’ll try and paraphrase:

Teacher #1 desires an excellent end-of-year performance of Hindemith’s Symphony in Bb. The teacher employs a highly technicist approach (Regelski, 2002) to polish the piece in full ensemble, small sectionals, and individual pass-offs. There are references to the teacher’s goals for success and recognition

Teacher #2 has a goal of students “musicing” well into their lives after school. While the large ensemble is still a big part of the course, students are equipped with skills to select solo literature, organize a chamber ensemble, compose music, and improvise.

And my response:

I love your description for Teacher #2! This gives a much more student-centered vision for an ensemble-based music class. It also follows along the lines of a description I heard recently: a high school ensemble director devoting two days per week to students working in chamber ensembles. I wish I could remember where I heard/read that to cite it here. I have been having similar conversations with a social studies colleague of mine about student agency in their own education, and I have been struggling to see how I can incorporate it into my own ensemble courses. Your description is an excellent way to envision student voice in the classroom. I think coupling that large ensemble time for our students already in our paradigms with "modern music" courses geared towards the students not currently involved in music classes is an excellent way to a) help more students become musically literate that would b) use music to make a difference in society.

Live Classroom #4

For our last Live Classroom of the course, the prompt was as follows:

In this LC, DMA students will discuss ethics in our "doing" of music education in our schools. Please be prepared to discuss the cost of music education, curricula and standards, and how to rethink music education with our students and communities.

Our facilitator called on each of us to respond to the prompt, and many of the comments revolved around curriculum:

  • Not allowing the methods of teaching (Regelski’s “methodolatry,” 2002) or the repertoire to be the curriculum. Both are tools for teaching the curriculum.

  • Choosing curriculum is an ethical decision. It is not algorithmic, but heuristic.

  • Insuring balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the ensemble.

  • Focusing curriculum on skill development that is reinforced by the repertoire.

  • Philosophies of music play out over time, not through immediate implementation.

  • An excellent quote from Regelski (2015): “the ethical virtue of school music is not a matter of simply claiming to have implemented a “good music program” (e.g., highly practiced select ensembles, a generous schedule of music classes, abundant resources) but is seen in (a) what that “program” actually does to enhance the musical functioning of the individual students for whom it exists and (b) its functional impact on the changing world of music in a rapidly changing society” (Ethical Dimensions of School-Based Education, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Music Education, p. 286)

    • What kind of impact? Student behavior, maturity, musicality, interaction with each other, community service

    • These impacts are similar to other activities. What does music provide that other activities do not?

  • You cannot teach the same thing the same way every year. Teachers have to reinvent themselves for students and ensembles.

  • We want to incorporate more musics and more cultures. How do we decide what to include?

  • Are we successful at providing the experience and impact we desire?

  • Do all teachers in a standardized curriculum need to teach the same things in the same way? Not if we are achieving the same ends.


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.