(p. 549) Social Justice in Practice: Examples of Educational Projects from Beyond the Schools and Around the World (p. 550)
(p. 551) Introduction
Description, Questions, and Challenges for Researchers
Paul Woodford, Section Editor
The chapters in the previous sections on this Handbook were more often than not about conceptualizing social justice and ideas relating to history, policy, citizenship, racism, ableism, sexual diversity, informal music learning, creativity, pedagogy, youth empowerment, elitism, technology, and inclusiveness. The authors of this concluding section of this Handbook, by contrast, were asked to take a more practice-based approach in which some of these and other ideas were applied to pedagogy and real-life teaching situations or contexts. Two chapters (Chapter 35 by Mary Cohen and Stuart Paul Duncan and Chapter 38 by Maud Hickey) address social justice in the very challenging contexts of prisons or youth detention centers, respectively. Cohen and Duncan first define two conceptions of social justice that are particularly relevant to those contexts (i.e., restorative and transformative justice), which they believe can inform and enrich music programs operating in those facilities in ways that are new and exciting, and that might also be relevant to school-based music programs. Hickey shares the same research interest as Cohen and Duncan, albeit in relation to incarcerated youth more so than to adults, while also exploring some of the questions and implications arising therein for music in schools and other venues. Motivating all three of these authors is a shared interest in empowering individuals, regardless of age, and whether in prisons, youth detention centers, schools, or other venues, to transform their lives through musical participation.
Joseph Abramo outlines in Chapter 37 a strategic pedagogical approach for challenging high school students to think more critically about the social themes embedded in the popular music they consume, so that they become more critically aware of, and thoughtful about, problems relating to power and privilege in its production and reception. Abramo’s strategy involves inviting students to generate and discuss their own evidence-based interpretations of popular music videos, which begs the question of how this might work to promote social justice. Several convincing answers to this (p. 552) question are provided by him. Among the challenges that this strategic pedagogy presents, of course, is how teachers can ensure that students remember to also focus on the musical sounds themselves, rather than on just the video or lyrics.
This idea of promoting critical awareness of the effects of power and privilege in shaping individual and societal consciousness in and through music—and also music education—underscores many, if not all, of the chapters in this Handbook. In Chapter 36, Eric Shieh models what this critical thinking might look like as he struggles to gauge the success of the renowned Venezuelan El Sistema orchestral program in furthering the cause of social justice. There is a strong tendency among many people both within and outside El Sistema to glamorize the program, even though, as Shieh wryly observes, its structure remains something of a mystery. Others take a more cynical stance, viewing the program as yet another instance of colonialism because it is based on the model of the European orchestra and the so-called “great” music of the classical and romantic traditions. Shieh takes a welcome balanced approach in attempting to reveal the program’s sometimes murky purposes, structure, and pedagogical practices while troubling them, asking difficult questions about power, politics, race, and privilege—including ones about the program’s reliance on the music of the European orchestral tradition—not to denigrate or disprove, but to obtain a better understanding of why, despite whatever problems it might have, the El Sistema program continues to enrich the lives of many Venezuelan children.
Sheila Woodward (Chapter 39) and Amanda Soto (Chapter 40) propose pedagogical practices involving music as a means of combating racism and colonialism encountered in educational and public spaces. Soto complains that, although Mexican American children represent a significant and growing proportion of the school population in the United States, there continues to be a gap between the music of their own culture and that represented in the music they listen to, study, and perform in schools. A socially just music education for those children must recognize and validate their cultural identity by ensuring that their music is adequately represented in the curriculum. Woodward’s chapter is radical in comparison, documenting and illustrating some of the history of resistance and rebellion against apartheid in her native South Africa in which music and song played important roles, and revealing some of the many ways that music in education can be used to further the cause of social justice, including as a tool for resisting oppressive authority. Among the questions that music teachers should ask their pupils, Woodward proposes, is “What part will they play, as musicians, in impacting change in the world?”
The remaining two chapters in this section (Chapter 41 by Australians Julie Ballantyne and Carmen Mills and Chapter 42 by Janet Barrett) allow for varying degrees of synthesis of the ideas and practices discussed and illuminated in this book. Ballantyne and Mills provide a helpful overview of the empirical research literature in music teacher education relating to social justice, presenting evidence of the research that has already been accomplished and recommending areas in which further work is required. Barrett’s chapter, it must be noted, was commissioned by the editors as an epilogue and frames much of the discussion in this Handbook, while offering commentary on (p. 553) the success of music teacher educators in accomplishing what many believe should be their primary goal. Like Joel Westheimer and other authors throughout this Handbook, Barrett emphasizes music teacher education’s potential for furthering the cause of social justice by contributing to the recognition among politicians and others of the essential dignity and worth of persons, in contradistinction to those who would reduce education to technocratic or vocational training. This, of course, will be no easy task, requiring courage, perseverance, imagination, and critical thinking, coupled with a concern for professional ethics and the welfare of the less fortunate and marginalized. Hopefully, as Barrett says, the contents of this Handbook will inform, challenge, and inspire, while prompting and guiding future action. Her chapter thus provides a fitting conclusion to this Handbook.