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date: 30 March 2020

(p. 1) Understanding Social Justice in Music Education Conceptually, Historically, and Politically (p. 2)

(p. 3) Introduction

From Pioneers to New Frameworks

Paul Woodford, Section Editor

What is social justice, and how might it apply to music education? These are the primary questions explored in this first section of this Handbook in which the authors work to explain and illustrate what social justice means and what it might imply for professional practice, while also contextualizing its pursuit in and through the field of music education with reference to history and contemporary politics. As historian Marie McCarthy explains in Chapter 2, the study of music education’s history can help us to better understand some of the roots and causes of social injustice in our own field, while also realizing why and how music education has always been inextricably linked with politics. Such study might expose long-term patterns of oppression that have gone unnoticed, and thus unchallenged, while revealing gaps in the historical record with respect to the untold stories of marginalized or persecuted groups. In short, historical research and study can inform our understanding of present circumstances by revealing how our beliefs, practices, and ways of thinking have to a significant extent been shaped by the past. It can also, of course, help individuals to realize that history is itself a politically charged and contested subject, the study of which involves—or should involve—adjudication of often conflicting interpretations of the historical record, because this record is inevitably incomplete and therefore only partial.

The pursuit of social justice, however, whether through historical or other research and study, presupposes an interest in creating or fostering a more humane society. This involves questioning or otherwise challenging the authority of the status quo; otherwise individuals, especially children, are not likely to notice or recognize oppression, let alone develop a sense of moral agency and social responsibility. Estelle Jorgensen, in Chapter 1, explains why music educators of all kinds should be interested in this task, while also warning against overly simplistic understandings both as to why social justice should matter to them and of the concept itself, which is in reality complex and difficult. Jorgensen carefully teases out a “multifaceted view of social justice” involving various overlapping, and sometimes conflicting, conceptions of social justice that provides a (p. 4) conceptual framework for virtually all that follows in these pages. For this reason, her chapter has accordingly been placed at the beginning of this Handbook and section, followed by McCarthy’s chapter on the need for historical perspective.

The next three chapters in this section are more directly concerned with issues relating to policy. Patrick Schmidt in Chapter 3 makes an ethical call to music teachers at all levels to attend to, and become more involved in, policymaking, lest they continue to be marginalized in policy discourses affecting them, their students, and society as a whole. If policy provides the political means for enacting some collective vision, policymaking is the realm wherein that vision is created and honed through discourse. Policy discourse, though, is inevitably biased because it is influenced by politics and power and thus is selective, privileging some people and their ideas and values, while excluding or devaluing others. Thus, if music teachers committed to fostering social justice in and through their own teaching and programs are to be realistic and effective in striving to accomplish their goals, they need to become more aware of, and savvy about, policy, while finding ways to lend their voices to that discourse so that they can be heard by government and others.

Whereas the chapters thus far in this section are relatively general in nature insomuch as they involve concerns about the concept(s) of social justice, the need for historical perspective, and greater and critical involvement in educational policymaking, the next two chapters are more specific in nature, albeit still related to policy issues. Stephanie Horsley in Chapter 4 summarizes and critiques the essential elements of the neoliberal ideology that is now so pervasive in our world, including policy discourse, while explaining that it is based in significant part on a conception of negative rights (e.g., equality of opportunity) that favors capitalist over democratic interests and that may in certain respects be inimical to the pursuit of social justice. She proffers several recommendations for how music teachers might work to counter some of the more Darwinian aspects of the neoliberal social and educational agenda so that they can better contribute to a more inclusive and humane society.

Gabriel Rusinek and José Luis Aróstegui, however, writing from a European perspective in Chapter 5, take a somewhat different tack in observing that some transnational institutions associated with neoliberal education reform contend that an “economy-based curriculum” can work to promote social justice by improving academic achievement among disadvantaged children, thereby reducing income inequality in the future. This might seem a contentious claim to some readers since, as just suggested, neoliberal education reform tends to favor the already privileged while reducing education for the masses of children to technocratic or vocational training. Rusinek and Aróstegui, however, argue that if music is to remain a part of the school curriculum, and thereby accessible to the majority of children, then teachers must be able to convince government of the relevance and efficacy of those programs in meeting the goals of compulsory education. As in other subject areas, music teachers will have to rely to a greater extent than before on standards and quantitative measures for purposes of accountability, but there is also a need for the development of evidence-based qualitative assessment tools that more accurately represent the kinds of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that (p. 5) children have traditionally learned in music classes that are important to their future economic success and personal fulfillment. The profession has not done an adequate job of explaining and demonstrating to government and the public how, in what ways, and to what extent the study of music and the arts exercises critical thinking, creativity, and imagination—qualities and habits of mind that are, or should be, of value as much to business elites as to the arts community (Winner, Goldstein, & Vincent-Lancrin, 2013). Hence there is a need for alternative forms of assessment that can show politicians what music teachers have always known: that music matters profoundly to society in ways that cannot be assessed by quantitative measures alone. Viewed thusly, the development of more and better qualitative assessment tools of the sort described by Rusinek and Aróstegui might arguably be seen as a form of political resistance, as a bulwark against those who would eliminate school music programs because they are perceived as educational frills and therefore are expendable.

The last two chapters in this section help to place the ideas presented in the foregoing chapters into broader context by linking music education more explicitly to citizenship education. In Chapter 6, Wai-Chung Ho and Wing-Wah Law explore how the Chinese government uses music and music education to help shape the public’s ideas of citizenship and national, regional, and ethnic identity in this age of globalization and free trade. There is a tension in Chinese education policy affecting music education as the government attempts to acknowledge, while tempering, the growing materialism and individualism among youth that are associated with globalization by also recognizing music education’s potential contribution to social stability, nation building, and the “Chinese Dream.” Thus far, the Chinese government has had little to say about democracy and social justice as they relate to education, but some music educators are attempting to engage the state in a broader conversation about social justice and the role of music education in an increasingly complex world.

It is fitting that we conclude this section of the Handbook with a commentary by Joel Westheimer, University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa and author of the book What Kind of Citizen? (Teachers College Press, 2015). His Chapter 7, entitled “What Did You Learn Today? Music Education, Democracy, and Social Justice,” engages with and builds on ideas presented by other authors in this section, with a view to relating music education to wider developments in education and other disciplines and fields. Clearly, as Westheimer realizes, music education is subject to the same social, political, and cultural forces that would reduce all education to technical or vocational training. Far from defeatist, however, he believes that music and arts teachers can inspire other educators who are opposed to what he describes as “myopic education reform goals.” Among the themes raised in the preface to this Handbook was that the pursuit of social justice, if it is to succeed, may require recognition of common purposes, leading to collaboration with individuals from allied fields and disciplines. As Westheimer notes, were music educators to form partnerships with other educators who conceive of education as a “profoundly human and liberatory endeavor,” then music education might be “as threatening as some neoliberal reformers perceive it to be.” John Dewey said almost the same thing eight decades ago when he enjoined teachers to ally (p. 6) themselves with “social forces which promote educational aims” (1933, p. 48). This was to better defend public educational institutions from those who would undermine their democratic purpose of creating a critically informed and engaged citizenry that could protect the public interest from domination by economic elites. We ignore Dewey’s and Westheimer’s calls to action at our peril!

Dewey, J., & Childs, J. L. (1933). The social and economic situation and education. In W. H. Kilpatrick (Ed.), The educational frontier (pp. 32–72). New York and London: Century Co. Re-printed in Dewey, J. (1989). The later works, Vol. 8: 1933, Essays and How we think (Rev. ed.), Jo Ann Boydston (Ed.) (pp. 43–76). Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press.Find this resource:

Winner, E., Goldstein, T. R., & Vincent-Lancrin, S. (2013). Art for art’s sake? The impact of arts education. Paris: Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing.Find this resource: