Race, Ethnicity, and Gender

Week 5 of my Psychology and Sociology in Music Education class focused on issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in music education. Similar to my thoughts on motivation and identity limiting participation in music in secondary schools from last week, there are issues related to race, ethnicity, and gender that prevent students from participating in music. Our readings were divided into two groups: race & ethnicity and gender. We also had a Live Classroom in addition to our weekly Reading Response.


  • Race and Ethnicity

  • Gender

    • Abramo, J. (2015). Negotiating gender, popular culture, and social justice in music education. In C. Benedict, P. Schmidt, G. Spruce, & P. Woodford (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of social justice in music education (pp. 582–597). https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199356157.001.0001

    • Bergonzi, L. S. (2015). Gender and sexual diversity challenges (for socially just) music education. In C. Benedict, P. Schmidt, G. Spruce, & P. Woodford (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of social justice in music education (pp. 221–227). https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199356157.001.0001

    • Lamb, R. (2014). Where are the women? And other questions, asked within an historical analysis of sociology of music education research publications: Being a self-reflective ethnographic path. Action, Criticism, & Theory for Music Education, 13(1), 188–222. Retrieved from http://act.maydaygroup.org/articles/Lamb13_1.pdf

    • Tobias, E. S. (2014). Flipping the misogynist script: Gender, agency, hip hop, and music education. Action, Criticism, & Theory for Music Education, 13(2), 48–83. Retrieved from http://act.maydaygroup.org/articles/Tobias13_2.pdf

My Reading Response below really captures what I drew from this week’s readings, although the prompt feels like a bit of an easy pitch. The big piece I wrestled with were these quotes from Bradley (2015):

Thus curriculum has the potential to emancipate or to colonize. As Apple (2004) writes, the knowledge deemed worth knowing—that which becomes part of the curriculum—is not random, but represents the “economic and social interests” of the dominant group, those who hold power in curricular decision-making. The interests of those living in society’s margins may be overlooked in making curriculum decisions. Some theorists argue that the oversights are not accidental; for example, see Gillborn (2008), who suggests that those making curricular and educational policy decisions are not acting blindly, but with a realization of the negative outcomes that may result for marginalized students.

With the understanding that colonialism is a “distinctive kind of political ideology” operating through cultural exploitation that “marks people of color and indigenous peoples as inherently inferior” (Goodwin, 2010, p. 3114), we can begin to look at the music curriculum as one that colonizes as often as it emancipates. Particularly within the traditional paradigms of choir, band, and orchestra, repertoire heavily focused on European classical and the Euro-American canon represents the curriculum, with little if any allowance for exploration of other musical practices. The choice of what music in such settings may be understood clearly as a choice of whose music, with the implication that only the music of some people is worthy of inclusion in the curriculum; the rest is unworthy of being taught in schools.

… In reality, this colonizing may extend beyond curricular materials, infusing pedagogical environments with colonial attitudes about cultural superiority… (pp. 198–199)

It reaffirms my thoughts from last week: the way we do music education (hell, school!) limits participation, motivation, and engagement.

Reading Response

Prompt: Should factors such as gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity, be a factor in teaching practices?

Response: Gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity should be factors in teaching practices because they are factors in constructing identity. When these factors are not considered, classrooms can be exclusionary to students who are not in the assumed majority and privileged class. Lamb (2014) noted a lack of female and non-heterosexual researchers in music due to factors like gender and sexual orientation not being considered (pp. 212–213). Bradley (2015) cautioned against subtle racism that is inherent in white culture (p. 201). Elpus and Abril found a participation gap in high school music programs between white students and their peers of other ethnicities (as cited in Kelly-McHale & Abril, 2015). Abramo (2015) and Tobias (2014) discussed issues of racism, misogyny, sexism, and heteronormativity in music classrooms because educators did not incorporate them into their teaching practices. Ladson-Billings (1995) posited that students' individual identities should influence pedagogy (pp. 478–480).

There are many methods by which a teacher could consider these factors in their teaching practice. By being a culturally responsive teacher, educators view students as individuals that are products of their own culture and communities (Kelly-McHale & Abril, 2015, p. 160; Gay, as cited in Schmidt & Smith, 2017, p. 72). Another method of factoring identity into pedagogy is Kumashiro's activist theory of anti-oppressive education—creating safe spaces for and educating students about those considered as "Other" (as cited in Bergonzi, 2015, pp. 225–229). Lamb (2014) and Bradley (2015) urged educators and researchers to reconstruct their views of life conditions and social interactions to better research and education. By being aware of how students construct identity using factors like gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity, teachers can adjust practices to provide a culturally responsive and socially just classroom.

Live Classroom

Our Live Classroom was a smaller group this past Saturday night, likely meaning the majority of our class would attend the Monday night option. The session began with some thoughts from our professor, Dr. Ronald Kos, on the readings for this week. We followed up with our thoughts on readings from the previous two weeks, specifically what spoke to us the most and why. Next he broke us into a few different small groups to discuss 1) any critiques from this week with which we disagreed or felt uncomfortable, and 2) how in any of our K-12 experiences (as a teacher, student, or parent) we think students may be marginalized. Finally, the discussion concluded with asking us to reimagine K-12 music education in a way that would address the problems and concerns we had been discussing. Here are a few highlights from my notes:

  • Initial Thoughts from Dr. Kos

    • There are traditional assumptions that individuals/society have about gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. that are ingrained in music (particularly choral). It is sometimes difficult to see it if we aren’t looking out for it, but once we do, it seems to be all over the place. We can’t unsee it once we are aware of it.

    • On the other hand, some things are really obvious. We might feel we are working to combat those particular problems. For example, the Western canon is at the core of school music, but we believe we should incorporate other music as well. I wonder if by focusing on ways “other kinds of music” are different, we are further marginalizing them. This is true of so-called “world music,” popular music, focusing on a particular population (ex. Black History Month, or programming a concert of all women composers. What if we were, instead, more inclusive all the time?

    • One of the biggest issues for music education today is ensuring that we are serving the needs of all of our students, which we can only do by recognizing those differences and normalizing diversity.

    • From an online conversation about color-blindness: “Seeing race is not a problem. It is what we do after seeing race that is the problem.” The same could be said for gender, sexual orientation, politics, etc.

    • From a previous year’s notes of class: “It would truly be a perverse outcome of music if music education led to a diminished love of music.”

  • Which reading from the past 2 weeks spoke to you the most and why?

    • The Hargreaves & Marshall article from Week 4 on developing identities in music education spoke the most to me. I wrote most of my thoughts about identity last week.

    • Two classmates brought up the Schmidt & Smith article from this week on culturally responsive ensemble instruction. One really enjoyed the writing style, and discussed how the authors disliked method books. This classmate raised the questions: How are we teaching students? Is it the most effective, both in terms of the methods we are using and the content we are representing? Another classmate pointed out from this article that culturally representative teaching is an ideal we would like to have, but the realities of the institutions in which we teach may prevent it.

    • One classmate was struck by the lack of definitions of gender in Bergonzi’s article on gender and sexual diversity. This same classmate brought up a conversation our cohort had in our Facebook group about Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, Gordon, and Feierabend being “Western” and potentially “irrelevant and isolating.”

    • Another classmate found all of the articles to have an impact, but saw a major challenge in developing curriculum with the hopes of addressing students’ cultural exposures and backgrounds. He believes it may be better to build upon what students are missing in their musical knowledge.

    • The last student to speak discussed the issue of authenticity in Bradley’s article on race and racism in music education. The author raised the point that educators shy away from certain topics because they believe if you can’t teach authentically, then you shouldn’t be approaching them at all.

    • Josh. Bradley. Hidden in Plain Sight. The issue of authenticity—if you can’t teach authentically, then you shouldn’t be approaching it at all. I shy away from topics for that very reason.

  • Discuss the critiques from this past week you disagreed with. Small Group #1.

    • Our small group spent most of our time discussing the Tobias article on hip hop in music education to teach about gender, agency, and misogyny. While we believe the conversations Tobias discusses in his article are important, we find it difficult to incorporate those types of conversations into our ensemble-based classes that have a traditional canon. We also discussed that several of the articles espoused the idea that music education should be teaching social justice, and how that can be difficult or uncomfortable to incorporate as well. I shared that perhaps some of these expectations are looking at music education through the systems lens, asking individual music educators to incorporate some aspects of social justice but not needing to deal with all the issues we have been discussing.

    • In response to sharing our small group discussion back to the large group, Dr. Kos shared a presenter’s thoughts from the Policy Commission Seminar for International Society on Music Education discussing teaching hip hop. The presenter’s first point was we just need to get over it. We need to get over the idea of school appropriateness, especially because we know students are listening to this type of music. School could be an excellent place to critique and unpack the things that make it inappropriate. Why are we so hung up on school appropriateness? There was some push back from the class in terms of parents or administrators that may think differently about incorporating music that is potentially “inappropriate.”

    • It turns out that the other small group also discussed the Tobias article, but their discussion raised more questions. How do we decide when to “infuse more culture” into our curriculum? When it is convenient? When it makes us look better? By whose standards are we making those decisions? Curriculum is deciding how to represent those different cultures. It would be impossible to try and bring up every ethnic culture from the students within our ensembles. How do we make those decisions? One classmate shared, “theory does not always meet reality.”

  • Think about your K-12 experiences (as teachers/students/parents). Based on those, what are some ways in which we (music educators) might be disadvantaging our students? Think about how we might not be serving the needs of particular populations (ethnicity, race, social class, gender identity, religion, etc.). Small Group #2

    • I shared about experiences with arts requirements and limited offerings that either potentially force students into learning a type of music in which they are not interested or do not offer any experiences in the types of music in which students are interested.

    • A classmate said their programs have difficulty integrating and acknowledging the “other,” people who are outside what is considered “normal.” There are lots of dominant viewpoints without any questioning of how those viewpoints may be marginalizing.

    • Another classmate shared that from a societal point of view, we are focusing more on specialization, but as educators we are required to teach more broadly.

    • I brought back my point from the previous small group discussion about perhaps some of these expectations are looking at music education through the systems lens, asking individual music educators to incorporate some aspects of social justice but not needing to deal with all the issues we have been discussing.

    • The discussion brought up John Seabrook’s book, The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, which discusses how popular music is made.

  • How might we reimagine K-12 music education in a way that would address the problems and concerns we’ve been discussing? Large Group Discussion.

    • One classmate said teachers need to buy-in to reimagining and rethinking, and people are all in very different places. Her district is looking at the National Core Arts Standards, and she thinks they are broad enough to encompass these ways of getting at music education. Teachers need to acknowledge their role as guide/facilitator rather than knowledge dispenser. We can also go an inch wide and a mile deep. We need to be covering less, discovering more. This idea of teacher buy-in and input bounced around as we discussed district initiatives and tenure.

    • I shared about Nick Covington’s experience with cutting content in his economics classroom to open the door for more student voice. I tied this to his recognition about what students wanted and needed and how this should be reflective in our reimagining: what do our students and communities need? This question relates to the zero-based thinking concept in Timeless Learning:

      What might it look like if we’d never seen a school, but needed to bring our children from age 4 to age 18, or age 22? What would we do? What would we ask? What should the childhood experience be? What should the adolescent experience be? What do we want our students to understand as they grow? (p. 248)

    • Dr. Kos shared that part of the early vision of BU’s online doctoral program was that they were reaching teachers who were actually in the classroom who could, in many cases, decide just to change things on their own. There needs to be, perhaps as part of this, a willingness on the part of teachers to learn. Thinking back to our undergraduate programs, we were being prepared to teach in schools with a certain expectation for what we were going to be doing. Because there was an expectation, that certainly influenced what we learned to do. We as teachers need to be more willing to see the other possibilities. How does that even happen? If we were not in this program, would we be learning about these other possibilities?


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.