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date: 05 April 2020

(p. xi) Preface: Why Social Justice and Music Education?

(p. xi) Preface

Why Social Justice and Music Education?

Social justice remains a critical challenge for any democratic space. It is a term that is often employed in the educational literature as a catch-all expression and a political call to action for those seeking the amelioration of any number of social problems relating to, for example, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, and cultural identity. The alleviation of inequity, powerlessness, and discrimination has long been the goal, although, as will become evident to readers of this Handbook, the pursuit of social justice in music education implies more than just recognition of difference and allowing for greater diversity and inclusivity in the classroom and other educational spaces. Social justice is a complicated endeavor involving, among other things, adjudication of conflicting values and interests, political action, and a concern for the welfare of the public, but especially of those who have been marginalized or oppressed.

If self-righteousness and oversimplification are to be avoided, speaking about and working toward social justice must start from the recognition of the complexity of lived and shared experience, coupled with a concern for humanity as a whole, and not just this or that group. Ultimately, as philosopher John Dewey (1921) expressed it, the goal should be the creation of more equitable environments where growth is feasible and the capacity for communicative acts can revitalize democratic communities; otherwise the pursuit of social justice might only benefit a fortunate few, possibly at the expense of others suffering equally compelling claims to injustices. One need only look around the world today to realize that justice for some can all too easily result in, or be perceived as, injustice for others.

Among the many problems with which researchers, teachers, and community practitioners must grapple if they are to be successful in creating more equitable educational environments is that the term “social justice” (as well as social injustice) is itself vague and conceptually fleeting. Its practical dynamics can also make effective implementation and sustainability remarkably challenging. Social justice can be pursued and (p. xii) experienced in many different ways and settings, and can be triggered by a range of factors. Nor for many of the same reasons is there much in the way of common understanding of the concept of social justice—it is often defined differently by particular individuals, groups, policies, and laws. Moreover, the social justice ideal is itself sometimes appropriated by hegemonic groups as a rhetorical device (including governments and religious factions), and unfortunately can be used to mask the perpetuation of social injustice and inequality. Such tensions, then, place a premium on defining social justice as a form of moral and ethical agency while locating it—as an ideal, a set of dispositions, and tangible practices—at the center of any educational endeavor. As the authors in this Handbook help to explain and illustrate, only through an understanding of social justice in all of its conceptual, political, ethical, practical, and pedagogical complexity can there be much hope of ensuring that educative action (be it scientific, vocational, or artistic) contributes to a more just and humane society.

This point bears some elaboration as it goes to the crux of why and how the pursuit of socially just musical and educational practices should matter to those engaged in educational enterprises. The fundamental issue is one of equity, particularly in this age of neoliberal globalization, when the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. A concern with and practices aimed at achieving social justice can help to mitigate some of the worst effects of social and educational Darwinism by taking student differences into account while ensuring what philosopher John Rawls (1999) calls “fair equality of opportunity.” Implied here is the framing of a more equitable and just distribution of educational resources according to students’ needs. We place this in contradistinction to the rather simplistic, and often pernicious, notion of equality of opportunity in order to draw attention to a process that tends to favor the talented and culturally privileged, who are thought to be most able to benefit from access to scarce educational resources. Thinking through issues of equity, rather than equality of opportunity, can potentially better help to dismantle the long dominant and persistent economic argument for the status quo that is premised on a deficit model of education, where resources are assumed to be permanently insufficient and certain individuals and communities are perceived as constantly lacking.

Indeed, as education philosopher Jane Roland Martin (1998) remonstrates, “The world has grown so accustomed to adopting a framework of thought whose fundamental premise is scarcity, we forget that in the case of culture the issue is one of superabundance” (p. 24). In formal music education, this deficit model of education is often epitomized by an overly narrow definition of what counts as legitimate musical knowledge, which intimidates children who lack the appropriate cultural capital while allowing teachers to ignore much of the wealth of music that exists in the world. As Roland Martin continues,

Were cultural wealth a concept devoid of practical import this might be of little consequence. However, the wealth of cultures constitutes the material out of which curricula are constructed: it is the source not only of curricular content and subject matter, but also of education’s goals and its methods of instruction. (p. 25)

(p. xiii) The focus here is not so much on the importance of inclusivity and diversity per se—although it is of course on that, too—as it is on critical engagement, empowerment, and creativity.

Central to this Handbook is the notion that diverse and inclusive curricula and educational practices that facilitate the critical examination of any musics and music education methods, and thereby also wider participation and communication, are more likely to enhance personal and collective agency and satisfaction, while also contributing to a more creative, equitable, and productive society (Freeland, 2012).

At the same time, and because the world is a complex place that is often characterized by conflict and ignorance, proponents of social justice need to be careful not to patronize or rush to judgment of cultural and educational workers who have successfully utilized traditional music or methods to address serious social problems in sometimes challenging circumstances and sociopolitical contexts. There are many encouraging pathways for music education action taking place both inside and outside the “normal” and traditional institutional parameters of schooling that can help us to make tangible Dewey’s notion of participatory democracy as an ethical ideal and communal way of life resulting in a releasing of human capacity. Alternative programs and instructional models can potentially challenge teachers and others to rethink their understandings of the democratic purposes and responsibilities of educational institutions and programs to contribute to a more equitable and just society.

Dewey, however, also warned that the kinds of authoritarian, hegemonic, and hierarchical educational practices implicit or embedded in, for example, Western classical music and its pedagogical traditions could potentially discourage creativity and growth by limiting opportunities for exploration and by discouraging individual interest and responsibility. This should give pause to teachers or social activists wishing to adopt programs, models, or “brands”—such as Venezuela’s renowned El Sistema program—for their own regional and national contexts without first taking into account important political and cultural differences and also determining whether their proposed programs are actually consistent in purpose, ideology, and pedagogical approach with the parent program and thus warrant the name.

This Handbook therefore underscores the fact that there are no facile answers to the complex enterprise of music and education. Put plainly, context and professional intent matter, and practices that are deemed to be hierarchical and hegemonic in one social context may in certain locations and situations be successfully employed as means of ameliorating social problems. Alternatively, some musics, programs, and methods may not travel well and might only exacerbate problems by, for example, diverting scarce government funding from existing social programs. Then, too, there is always the possibility of abuse or ethical lapse. As already suggested, governments or other organizations might use music programs or methods for their own ends and in ways their creators would never have condoned (e.g., as propaganda), just as individual instructors, owing to insufficient pedagogical knowledge or inattention to children’s needs, might fail to achieve or maintain equitable educational spaces. There are no panaceas or easy and formulaic programs and pedagogies for teachers or others seeking to identify appropriate (p. xiv) educational practices that can work safely and reliably within and across different social or cultural contexts to guarantee success in alleviating inequity, powerlessness, and discrimination for all. For all of these and other reasons, teachers wishing to promote social justice in and through their own programs and practices will need to exercise careful thought and professional self-reflection.

This recognition of the complexity and difficulty involved in pursuing a social justice agenda for music education brings us to another of the central themes of the Handbook, which is the importance of fostering critical awareness of music and pedagogy among researchers, teachers, and students alike. The call for a renewed educational emphasis on the development of critical thought and awareness of music among pre-service teachers and children is especially important in this age of casino-capitalism and hyper-commercialism. As corporate marketers seek to go beyond the schools and universities to “infiltrate the most intimate spaces of children and family life” and create “consuming subjects rather than civic minded and critical citizens” (Giroux, 2010, p. 415), vigilance, recognition, and responsibility must be part and parcel of the educative space. When lacking awareness of how major corporations seek to monopolize virtually all forms of communication, and the ways in which popular music and media “hold sway over the stories and narratives that shape children’s lives” (p. 415), the latter might not realize the processes of indoctrination to consumer culture and thus may be rendered silent “before the spectacle of commodities” (Attali, 1985, p. 112). And when that happens, and because music is “absorbed by children as entertainment and often escapes any critical or self-reflection,” they may have no authentic voices of their own, thereby failing to realize their creative potential (p. 415).

For many of the same concerns raised in the foregoing discussion, the pursuit of social justice as a political call to action should itself be critically examined, lest it exacerbate existing problems or result in other unintended negative social consequences. Music education has had a historically tense relationship with social justice. Educators concerned with music practices have long preoccupied themselves with ideas of open participation and the potentially transformative capacity that can be fostered within musical interaction. On the other hand—as already suggested, but which needs to be said more explicitly—they have often done so while privileging particular musical practices, traditions, forms of musical knowledge, or ideologies, resulting in the alienation or exclusion of many children, youth, and adults from music education opportunities. Multicultural practices, for example, have historically provided potentially useful pathways for music practices that are thought to be socially just. However, the intent behind these practices has sometimes been negated through the mapping of alien musical values onto other music(s) and has been grounded in simplistic politics of difference, wherein “recognition of our differences” limits the push that might take us from mere tolerance to respect and to renewed understanding and interaction.

Regardless of the historical challenges, music education as a field of inquiry, as a global community, and as a set of practices—within schools, in communities, and as part of nongovernmental organizations—is experiencing an awakening. Discussions linking music education to the challenges of urban education, gender and sexual inequality, (p. xv) class difference, cultural identity, racial segregation, and corporate intrusion into and control over music education have grown exponentially and are now widely seen in both scholarly work and as part of teacher education and professional development. At the levels of curriculum, pedagogy, and content development, many educators concerned with musical practices have focused more attention on the formation of democratic classroom environments, the development of agency-driven student participation, the support of critical pedagogies, and the expansion of interactive forms of multiculturalism, and less attention on “sampling exotic” musical cultures. But it remains unclear the extent to which the pursuit of social justice and socially just practices has moved beyond the rhetoric of, for instance, inclusion, literacy, creativity, educational access, and market equality in ways that would help us better envision and enact music as a formative element in how we see ourselves as “global citizens.” Discovering ways to engage in socially just music educational practices is a process deeply linked to discoveries of who we are and how we can better relate to and interact with others within and outside our communities and one that underscores the purpose of this Handbook.

Why This Book?

Regardless of the extraordinary importance of social justice as an educational outcome today, and despite the pervasive manner in which related issues are discussed among some quarters of the music teaching profession, no significant effort has been expended thus far to frame this theme as a widespread, artistically and educationally vital aim or goal within music education practices both within and beyond the school and university. This book is intended to meet this need by serving as a diverse and authoritative source for conceptual, research-based, and practically oriented guidance for how music educators can further define social justice’s purposes and forms, its goals and aims, and for revealing some of the many guises under which socially just musical and educational practices can be made manifest and explored in the home, school, and community. As we continue to consider social justice in our society and in music education, in our practices and in our daily lives, this book will serve as a source of insight and guidance for the field of music education as a whole.

This book, however—for the reasons identified earlier as to the importance of contextualizing social problems—is not intended as a prescriptive guide to daily teaching practice. Rather, its purpose is to facilitate the development of a complex but accessible understanding of social justice for the field of music education by addressing key themes that frame social justice action within music teaching and learning globally. It is intended as an idea book that will hopefully provoke and inspire teachers and scholars to rethink their understandings of their own practice and whether, to what extent, and in what ways it contributes to the creation of a better world.

Each section is prefaced with a brief introduction to the major themes addressed in the various chapters therein. The invited authors from around the world, many of whom (p. xvi) are the foremost experts in each of the areas selected, and themselves scholars and practitioners with national and international reputations, present a collection of ideas, models, concepts, and strategies for how best to solidify and expand our understanding of the relationship between music education and social justice as global concerns. Further, because the pursuit of social justice often implies recognition of common purposes and, if it is to succeed, collaboration, the editors have sought to go beyond merely aligning and coordinating themes to establish linkages with allied disciplines and fields of inquiry. To that end, several authors from outside the immediate field of music education were invited to write commentary chapters for the larger thematic sections of the book, helping to locate music education research and practice within broader social, educational, and political contexts and developments. A concluding synthetic chapter draws out and emphasizes shared strands of thought, common problems, and recommends potentially fruitful new directions for future research and practice. We hope that, by virtue of its scope, diversity of foci, and balanced approach, the book will be helpful to the uninitiated and inviting to experts.

Attali, J. (1985). Noise: The political economy of music (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Find this resource:

Dewey, J. (1921). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: MacMillan.Find this resource:

Freeland, C. (2012, May 19). Equality fosters strong economy. The London Free Press, p. E8.Find this resource:

Giroux, H. A. (2010). Stealing of childhood innocence—Disney and the politics of casino-capitalism. Cultural StudiesCritical Methodologies, 10(5), 413–416.Find this resource:

Rawls, J. (1999). A theory of social justice, rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press.Find this resource:

Roland Martin, J. (1998). The wealth of cultures and problems of generations. In S. Tozer (Ed.), Philosophy of Education Society yearbook (pp. 23–38). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.Find this resource: