Love Trumps Hate

In the midst of today’s tragic social, political, racial, gendered, and other conflicts, can amateur and professional music makers and school and community music programs contribute to positive social and community transformations?

Yes. To demonstrate our solidarity with and support for all those who are suffering, we’ll post one example of active music making for positive social transformations every day from today (08/16/2017) until the American Labor Day Holiday (09/04/2017), at which point we’ll resume our regular schedule of posts on related topics.

If social betterment includes exposing all forms of injustice and preparing future music makers to “put their music to work” for positive social transformations—as many classical, pop, rock, and hip-hop performers and composers (and others) are doing and have done for decades—then we begin to see the potential of what we call “artistic citizenship education.”

Artistic citizenship goes beyond academic talking and writing about social justice because it emphasizes actions for transformation. “Intellectualizing”—reading, writing, and discussing—do not by themselves move people to take meaningful actions for change. To motivate people to join a social movement of any kind, small or large, it’s essential that they engage actively.

For example, in addition to learning to make and understand music, students in school and university music programs might—should?—learn to compose, arrange, perform, and record songs that expose and challenge a wide range of injustices. These are concrete, reflective-musical “doings” that have the potential to develop students’ lifelong dispositions to act positively for change.

Engaging in some kind of action is essential because people’s identities “transform as they become socially active, and actions for social justice create new categories of participants, and political groups: identities modify in the course of social interaction” (McAdam, Tarrow, & Tilly, 126). As Jean Anyon (2005) says, “One develops a political identity and commitment … from walking, marching, singing, attempting to vote, sitting in, or otherwise demonstrating with others” (142).

Musical actions of all kinds, small and large, often rise to the level of what Stephen Duncombe calls “ethical spectacles.”

An ethical spectacle is a “dream” imagined (“I have a dream,” said Martin Luther King) that’s made concrete when members/supporters of socially just movements—for example, is there an action-group called “Music(k)ing Educators for Freedom and Justice”?—participate democratically in creating the spectacle. Their actions express their resistance. (171).

Duncombe cites the example of the American civil rights movement in which leaders often modeled their interracial “beloved community” in the ways they organized and carried out their protests, which included singing and playing music in local, regional, and national situations. In these cases, music making and listening were not only emotional escapes and sanctuaries; performances were not usually “staged”; instead, music making, listening, and moving were participatory. The music and social meanings of ethical spectacles are embodied and expressed in the actions of transforming the oppressors and the oppressed.

An ethical spectacle “demonstrates” against oppressions. Ethical spectacles help to disrupt cultural hierarchies, support and build safe communities, promote diversity, and engage with reality while asking what new realities might be possible (Duncombe, 126).

Our school students and future music educators can—we believe they should—learn to think critically about and be prepared to create small and large ethical-musical spectacles in/for their schools and communities.

Crucially, if we conceive “music” not as a noun with rigidly encoded power relationships but, instead, as a process of mutual music making, shared musical-ethical responsibilities, and reciprocal musical power sharing toward social projects involving sympathy and empathy, then we might find major pathways to social reconciliations.

Stand Up for Public School Music

Today the US Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education. Many educational experts, teachers, and parents believe, with good reasons, that DeVos represents a serious threat to the future of American public education, and, therefore, a threat to American public school music.

Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s lead education blogger, asks: “Now, the question is: How much will actually change for the nation’s 50 million public school students and 20 million college students? Perhaps her opponents should take a deep breath. The federal role in education policy is limited. Less than 10 percent of funding for K-12 schools comes from the feds, for example.” Then again, says Kamenetz, “DeVos’ department may take a leaf from Arne Duncan‘s book and set up a competitive grant program that encourages states to expand school choice. If so, we’ll likely be hearing more about the benefits of private, virtual, religious and for-profit schools.”

Dr. David E. Kirkland, professor of education at NYU-Steinhardt, says that he fears “she could badly hurt public education across the country and pull resources out of schools in need of federal funding. Her extensive conflicts of interest and record of diverting money away from vulnerable students and into the pockets of the rich make DeVos completely unfit for the position she was just confirmed to.”

What can music educators do? As Diane Ravitch says: “We are many. They are few. We will organize, mobilize and fight their attacks on our children, our educators, and our public schools. Together, we are powerful.” We’re not alone. Note this well: “The senators who opposed DeVos represent 36 million more people than her supporters.

Indeed, anyone who is afraid for the future of music education should do everything possible to RESIST. Public education is a matter of fundamental human and civil rights. We must find the energy to protest and be more proactive than ever! We must keep hope alive for our students, colleagues, and our profession.

Additionally, we must become more informed about daily and long-term efforts on behalf of public education. For example, subscribe to Diane Ravitch’s blog. Join and follow the Badass Teachers Association on Facebook. Join forces with The Network for Public Education (NPE). Follow Truthout for penetrating discussions of why and what is happening. We’re not alone!

Again: As Carol Burris of NPE said today

the opposition that the American public helped generate was so intense, that the Vice President had to step in to break the tie in order for her to be confirmed. Forty-eight senators held the floor throughout the afternoon and night, delaying the vote as long as they could. Your opposition to what DeVos stands for was nothing short of remarkable. Because of you, NPE generated a half million emails to senators. Over 100,000 also accessed our Toolkit and HELP committee lists—making phone calls, sending faxes, and visiting offices. You contacted our office by mail and by phone asking, “What more can I do?”

See and follow the NPE site for answers. Don’t let DeVos win this fight. Protest her agenda.

As music educators, we need to think about our short-term and long-term aims. In the short-term, securing the place of music in public education depends on being able to understand, articulate, and affirm to ourselves and others that MUSICS matter. Many national sources exist to help us. One international source, which may be unfamiliar to US music educators, is here.

The future depends on making music education more musical, socially relevant, inclusive, welcoming, caring, ethical, creative, and “respecting and valuing multiple styles of learning and multiple ways of knowing.” We must continue to explore ways to make all forms of music making and listening, at all levels, more achievable, accessible, and applicable to all students.

In the long-term, we need to mobilize everyone—students, parents, colleagues, administrators, community members, politicians…EVERYONE—to support the many ways public schooling can contribute to the full human flourishing of every student.

Take Away Message

Today, Hannah Arendt’s wisdom takes on new meaning:

Public education is “where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them [via DeVos’ vouchers and charter schools] from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.” ~Hannah Arendt, The Crisis of Education (1954)

9 important questions every music teacher should ask

While I was browsing my bookshelf yesterday, I found my old copy of Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, 1969). Before becoming professors in New York City, both men had been elementary and secondary schoolteachers for many years.

I’d read the book about 15 years ago. As soon as I saw the big red apple on the cover, I was reminded of the book’s impact on me in 2000, and the many reasons why it was so influential in the 1970s, 1980s, and thereafter.

When I mentioned Subversive Activity to David, he told me he’d read it in 1975, just after he started teaching in the music education department at the University of Toronto. He said:

It made me question all the ways I was teaching my music education students way back  then. Some things I remember clearly are how it emphasizes democratic teaching and learning, the reasons why teachers and students need to develop critical thinking, good “crap detectors,” and a healthy skepticism about assumptions. It was especially important because it explains “ecological classrooms,” and “mind-ing.” Am I right? I remember thinking at the time that, even though these ideas go back to Plato, Aristotle, and all the way up to Dewey and others, the way they [Postman and Weingartner] explained these “new” ideas so clearly meant a lot to many teachers, including me and my students, in the ‘70s.

As I revisited Teaching as a Subversive Activity, I arrived at Chapter 5: “What’s Worth Knowing?” Even though I’d asked myself the same question many times in the past—and even though David and I ask this question on page 1 of MM2, and many other times in our book—I knew immediately that I had to redouble my efforts to help my music education majors think carefully about and practice “minding” two questions: “What’s worth knowing?” and “What’s worth knowing musically?” These questions go right to the heart of the nature(s) and values of music education, community music, and lifelong musical participation.

Postman and Weingartner suggest that to decide whether any question should be asked and answered—by ourselves and/or our students—we should begin by asking questions of the question itself, and continue doing this before and after we teach.

For example, teachers in every subject area would be wise to ask themselves:

1. Will my questions increase learners’ passion for learning?

2. Will they increase their capacity to learn?

3. Will they boost their confidence in their ability to learn?

4. Will they motivate them to ask deeper follow-up questions that require alternative modes of inquiry?

5. Will they inspire learners to search for alternative interpretations of the material they’re learning?

6. Are my questions likely to increase students’ feelings of self-worth, persistence, and resilience?

7. Are they likely to produce different answers if/when learners ask them again at different stages of their educational development? Are they likely to develop students’ critical thinking, “crap detection” abilities, and a healthy skepticism about common sense assumptions?

8. Will students’ participation in “minding” empower them to develop thoughtful answers, and become more collaborative and creative?

These questions are extremely important to ask and think about, because to ask them is to take major steps toward achieving a central aim of all forms of education: developing students’ abilities to find meaning in the world:

There is no learning without a learner. And there is no meaning without a meaning maker. In order to survive in a world of rapid change there is nothing more worth knowing, for any of us, than the continuing process of how to make viable meanings. (Postman and Weingartner, 1969)

How can we connect these questions to music teaching and learning? If we tweak these eight questions in relation to some (but certainly not all) issues involved in teaching music in some localities, regions, and/or nations, we might ask:

1. Will this style of music and/or this type of musicing (e.g., singing, playing instruments, composing with new music technologies) increase learners’ joy in and passion for learning?

2. Will this style of music and/or musicing increase their capacity to learn how to make music and listen to music and find personal and musical meaning in the world now and in the future?

3. Will this form of musicing boost their confidence in their ability to learn how to perform, improvise, compose (etc.) more expressively?

4. Will this kind of musicing motivate them to ask important questions about how to make music more effectively and creatively, which will require alternative modes of thinking and feeling?

5. Will this type of music and musicing inspire learners to develop alternative interpretations of the music they’re performing, improvising, composing, etc?

6. Is it likely that my music teaching strategies will increase learners’ sense of self-worth?

7. Will my ways of teaching music motivate learners to continue making music after their elementary or secondary school years are over?

8. Will my ways of teaching music and musicing enable students to become more thoughtful, sensitive, collaborative, and creative music makers now and in the future?

And there’s one more very important question:

9. Will my ways of teaching music motivate my students to pursue the lifelong goal of full human flourishing, which includes happiness for themselves and others, fellowship, health and well-being, a sense of personal significance, and other “arts of personhood, which include individual and shared capacities and dispositions to act justly toward others” (MM2, p. 52).

To train or educate, that is the question

Why should we care about distinctions between “education” and “training”? Philosopher Peter Rickman gives important reasons: “A father is supposed to have said: ‘If my daughter told me she was getting sex education in school I’d be pleased. If she told me she got sex training I’d go straight to the police.’” Rickman continues by explaining the difference inherent in these concepts: “Training is about practice, about skill, about learning how to do things. Education is about fostering the mind, by encouraging it to think independently and introducing it to knowledge of the physical and cultural world. It’s about theory, understanding, and a sense of values. There is, of course, some overlap. Practice may require some theory and education may require some skills.” Consider all the fields where training is important: medicine, law, library sciences, all fields of research, biochemical engineering, the fine and performing arts, and teaching. Without skill-development, where would the do-ers of these fields be? But, consider the opposite: Can these fields move forward, advance in creative ways, or be ethical endeavors without education?

Rickman gives us a practical example: the study of history should be understood “not just as a listing of dates but of how things happen in time and why things turned out as they did and produced our present. One of the questions underlying a historical approach is whether there is any pattern in history, any meaning to be discerned, or just one damned thing after another, a tale told by an idiot … What is significant; what is causally effective in the passage of events. The answers divide idealists and materialists, religious believers and skeptics. We further need to sharpen our critical tools. What constitutes good evidence and how can it be tested? Can value judgments be avoided and if not how are they to be used?” So, yes, the skills of doing historical analysis are crucial, but critical reflection, thoughtfulness, understanding the past from multiple perspectives or, better stated, having an education in/with/through history, is equally if not more important that the skills needed for historical inquiry.

So, how might we understand the difference between music education and music training?

In MM2, we make the distinction this way. When a music teacher overemphasizes musical skill development at the expense of educational matters, then music “learning” is reduced to training students’ technical, notational, and aural skills, or stuffing learners’ heads with abstract concepts about music. In such cases, music training becomes purely subject-centered, rather than a continuous and harmonious process of integrating learner-and -subject experiences, which is what education includes, and much, much more besides. Training, says Peter Abbs, “invariably involves a narrowing down of consciousness to master certain techniques or skills.” Such skills, according to Abbs, “are known in advance and can be unambiguously imparted by the trainer and assimilated by the learner. What is transmitted is functional and predetermined, a set of skills matching a set of operations.”

Training, says Wayne Bowman, transmits skills related tightly to perpetuating the status quo: “it seeks to shape behaviors to pre-specified ends. Education, on the other hand, involves ‘an opening out of the mind that transcends detail and skill and whose movement cannot be predicted.’” What education should do is take the student “beyond the status quo into what is not fully known, fully comprehended, fully formalized.”

Returning to Rickman, “educational establishments are rightly and necessarily engaged in training, but it is not enough to pour information into receptive minds to meet the ideals of education. Of course we need skills and information but we also need – and this is of paramount importance – human beings who have learned to think, make judgments, appreciate the beautiful and the good. We need not only experts in choosing means, but people educated to decide on their goals. So to replace education by training is to threaten the human future.”

How do we balance the distinction between education and training within music teaching-and-learning? We might begin by developing and advocating a concept of music education that bridges the gap between pure idealism and pure functionalism. Although “music education” has come to mean many things (see MM2), the essence of it suggests that our efforts ought to focus on the full development of people in/with/through musics. Music education seeks to develop students as persons rather than music “producers,” as we explain more fully in our article, “Music, personhood, and eudaimonia: Implications for educative and ethical music education.”  As we described in detail in MM2, and as Clive Beck reiterates, education is for life: education ought to be conceived for life as a whole, not just for one aspect of life such as work, or schooling. These thoughts point us toward more realistic perspectives on and the potentially transformative purposes of music education.



Destroying Public Education

Thank you to Diane Ravitch who quotes Ira Shor on the Senate Revision of NCLB:

“The private war on public education is not about education, not about good teaching or deep learning, or about what kids need to become strong students, or what families need from their local schools to nurture them and their communities. It’s about theft, period, the private commercial seizure of the vast budgets and assets of public schools, transferring them to private hands, enriching private entrepreneurs and religious schools with the tax monies once set aside for public units. Hollowing out the public sector so that public schools lose capacity, morale, and appeal is absolutely essential to the success of this theft. We are the targets of crime initiated by the private sector and enabled by their cronies in government.”

Empathy and Music Education

The emotional significance of music has been a topic of scholarship for centuries. For example, Plato and Aristotle believed that happy-sounding music has the power to make people feel happy; sad-sounding music tends to make people sad.

But is this plausible? Yes. Research in the last 15 to 20 years by today’s top music psychologists—including David Huron, Patrik Juslin, and many others—affirm that musical sounds can arouse and express a wide range of emotions. Indeed, today’s top neuroscientists, sociologists, and music philosophers make the same arguments—but with broader and deeper explanations—about many kinds of musical emotions and relationships (see MM2, Chapters 5 and 9).

Skeptics (who tend to ignore current research) usually argue that when people listen to the sounds of instrumental music, there’s nothing to be happy or sad about, because nothing of human consequence has happened in the musical sounds that would cause listeners to feel happy or sad, or any emotion. But skeptics are wrong, because old, simplistic stimulus-response theories and abstract cognitive notions of the nature of emotions and emotional arousal have been replaced by more sophisticated understandings of the relationships between music, emotion, and personhood (see MM2, Chapter 5).

Part of what’s going on is related to the importance of empathy. Empathy is not the same as sympathy, pity, or feeling sorry for another person, or agreeing with someone to make them feel good. Empathy implies that we adopt (consciously or non-consciously) the perspectives or emotional dispositions of another person in an effort to understand and respond compassionately, responsibly, and ethically. Without empathy, people would be strongly inclined to act selfishly, and group cohesion and collaborations would be unlikely, if not impossible; and, at worst, psychopathologies would be common. Thus, many neuroscientists argue that human beings are hard-wired for empathy.

Experts in developmental affective neuroscience tell us that there’s increasing evidence that human infants are born with unified body-brain-mind systems that underpin our ability to develop naturally, informally, and formally the dispositions and abilities to respond empathetically to and for the benefit of others. So, empathy seems to be an innate human propensity. Why else would most parents automatically love and care for their babies, or bond together in families and groups?

In MM2, we discuss the importance of empathy in music teaching and learning. Why? Because in the big picture, music can make huge positive transformations in people’s lives and communities. “Senseless” violence (e.g., the recent mass murder of nine people in a South Carolina church), racism, and other inhuman acts are not “causeless.” These acts can be prevented partly, if not largely, through education. So, we should pause and consider whether we’re “doing fully and rightly by/for” our students and their worlds. Is it enough for kids to learn how to perform accurately, play iPad music, or improvise jazz? We suggest that all of us can and should being doing more.

Education(s) of all kinds, rightly understood, is the constant consideration of the persons in our care. If we truly care about our students and their worlds, if we educate our students towards respect and understanding, then we’d be better situated to help them develop and sustain a socially just commitment to others (see MM2, Chapter 4 and, for example, pp. 268-270).

What does this mean for music education? Being an educative and ethical music teacher includes engaging our students—though all forms of musical engagement—in situations where they can learn and feel reciprocal processes of self-other growth, and the ways their emotions are affected positively and negatively by specific performers, composers, (etc).

Sometimes musical emotions and memories ignite students’ energy, and/or make them feel sad, embarrassed, alienated, or disrespected. In the processes of music making and listening, students and teachers should discuss—from time to time, but never moving music from the center of music education—their musical emotions and the possible causes. The point—which is absolutely NOT about reaching a consensus about what emotions a specific piece of music may arouse or express—is partly about learning how and why musicing environments should be conceived as musical-ethical communities where everyone receives and enjoys respect, acceptance, and personal fulfillment in and through music making.

To build and maintain sustainable and resilient learning environments—to support and enhance students’ confidence, intrinsic motivation, and persistence—an understanding of holistic personhood (MM2, Chapter 5) is an essential part of knowing how, when, where, and how much to teach at any given time. And the key to unlocking these sustainable and resilient learning environments is compassion and empathy through musicing and listening (MM2, Chapter 9).

How? Listeners can, and often do, empathize (consciously and/or nonconsciously) with musical sounds. This occurs because individual listeners mirror, respond to, and simulate internally what they feel a composer and/or performer(s) might be attempting to express emotionally, visually, and so on (MM2, Chapter 9). Through empathizing, listeners may/can feel “as if” they are experiencing the same feelings as the composer/performer(s) themselves. Feeling “as if” may be bodily: for example, synchronizing to/with musical rhythms/feels propels this phenomenon. Sometimes, listeners imagine via empathy what the performer feels when performing and moving with the music (e.g., audiences at a jazz, hip hop, or Taylor Swift concert); sometimes a listener imagines via empathy what a composer in Western classical music or jazz seems to have felt when composing. Performers often experience the same musical emotions for the same reasons. These emotions may be real or imagined; such connections may be felt while we listen or after. In short, affective connections between self and music (whether as a listener or performer) are relational and are imbued with empathy.

In line with contemporary care ethics, empathy is receptive; it’s a non-cognitive assessment of another’s feelings, a state of being and feeling what another may be feeling.

Understanding empathy as an integrated response process of body-brain-mind, cognition, and emotion (and more) is important for education generally and music education specifically. Helping students reflect on why and how they empathize, or not, with various examples of music is a way of helping them to understand their emotional selves. Musically, self-other reflection helps students learn to “read” each other’s expressive musical actions (phrasing, slight deviations in tempi, etc.) in order to collaboratively interpret a piece of music. In jazz, for example, this would be called feeling and creating the “groove” together. When students are alert to each other’s musical contributions through empathy, this often leads to expressive and joyful music making.

Our concept of empathy in music education is a transactional concept of musical emotions, and music teaching-learning, that socially situates students’ efforts to “construct” their awareness (emotional, intuitive, bodily, reflective), as well as numerous musical skills, understandings, dispositions of compassion and empathy, habits of mind and heart, and ethical behavior in and through ecological relationships with their environmental circumstances—personal, familial, historical, social, cultural, technological, racial, gendered, economic, political, spiritual, and many other dimensions of life, whether inside or outside schools.

Because music has enormous powers and potencies for “capturing” us physically, psychologically, socially, cooperatively, and more, shouldn’t music educators teach-for these potentials by teaching empathy in and through musicing and listening?

Music education, accountability, and responsibility? Words matter

If we don’t think about it much, there’s nothing wrong with being held “accountable” for what we do as music educators. But what happens when we think carefully about the meanings and implications of the word “accountable”?

When music educators have a moment to think about it—while being pressured by Common Core Standards to spend less time teaching music and more time prepping their music students for math and reading tests—they understand clearly that being accountable means being “answerable” for what their students achieve musically, but more and more importantly today, what their students achieve on high-stakes tests. Like all other teachers, they understand that “account-able” is related to “computare,” meaning “calculate.”……. Which brings us to the obvious but frequently overlooked fact that accountability entered the educational lexicon largely by way of business.

Over the last several decades—especially in the US—education has been reconceived as a business, so much so that educational policymakers and administrators today focus on the educational “bottom line(s)” (i.e., Federal, State, and district spending), as determined almost exclusively by simplistic, high-pressure standardized tests. As the eminent education scholar Michael Apple says: “For all too many of the pundits, politicians, corporate leaders, and others, education is a business and should be treated no differently than any other business.” Framed more largely, the notion that education = business is a major element (victim) of the American neoliberal economic and political agenda. Not surprisingly, then, wealthy investors who own shares in (for example) Charter School companies are reaping huge returns, and education publishing corporations (e.g., Pearson Education North America) “earn” billions of dollars a year selling Common Core curriculum and testing hardware and software. Once consequence of education = business is that, just as Wall Street banks and fund managers committed fraud during the years leading up to the 2007-2008 Global Financial Crisis, Charter School fraud has become more and more frequent and blatant, as (for example) the Ohio State Auditor recently declared…

So when today’s so-called reformers scream about the need to hold teachers accountable, they don’t mean that teachers are “responsible” for enabling students to achieve genuine intellectual, creative, ethical, and artistic growth over time. They mean students’ and teachers’ personal and educational “worth” are reducible to numerical data, to bottom-line test calculations. Today, American “children are tracked, analyzed and evaluated from birth—not only by corporations, but now, by the school system.”

Here’s one more way that words matter. Notice that calling a policy change a “reform” movement effectively hides “a wolf in a sheep’s clothing” and, thereby, dupes the public into thinking that so-called “Common” Core Standards are a good thing for children—”Hey folks, Common Core is just common sense!” As Launce Rake explains, “if you want to take apart the teachers unions and make it easier to fire teachers, don’t say ‘make it easier to fire teachers.'” Call it “education reform.” If you want to make music a serious school subject, “reform” music education—that is, force music teachers to spend more time on academic test prep and less time on music.

But what happens when we change the rhetoric of “market place education” by replacing accountability with “responsibility,” which Nel Noddings, a former Stanford University Dean of Education, urges us to do. When we’re responsible for others, we care about them, we care for them. When we’re being responsible music educators, we do so for our students, and for the numerous values that music and music education can provide—not for corporate concepts of education, and not under pressure to succumb to the Common Core Music Standards published by the National Association of Music Educators (NAfME). When we’re acting responsibly, it’s because we’re teaching our students in relation to thoughtful answers we’ve developed about questions such as “What kind of music educator is it good to be?” “What is best— musically, personally, and ethically—for music students in our democratic music classrooms?”

“Responsibility” has some things in common with “accountability.” Responsibility also asks people to be “answerable,” but in the very different sense of being “reliable and trustworthy.” “Response-ability” is a personal and ethical disposition, it’s a matter of personal and ethical integrity, it’s a quality of mind and heart. As opposed to account-ability—i.e., knowing how to test and calculate students and teachers according to top-down Standards and tests imposed by policymakers and education publishing corporations—responsibility goes to the heart of what teaching and learning are all about: human relationships in situ.

When we’re held accountable, we’re unable to empower our students to achieve the values at the heart of musical participation: communal joy, intersubjective fellowship, collaborative artistic expression, creative musical generation and selection, deep and transformative musical-emotional experiences, and all other dimensions of what Aristotle—who emphasized the necessity of music education—called eudaimonia, or a life well lived. When we’re responsible music teachers, we’re concerned with providing our students with the musical skills and understandings they desire and need for life-long musical particip-action. When we’re responsible music teachers, we aim to foster understanding and respect for others and others’ musics and, thus, mutual respect among the students in our care. When we’re responsible music teachers, we provide instruction that’s intimately tied to the formative assessments we make during, after, and beyond musical instruction.

Let’s end with the words of Wittgenstein—”The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”—and Einstein—”Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

The Activity Gap

Kudos and congratulations go to The Atlantic writer Alia Wong. In her article “The Activity Gap,” Wong rightly analyzes many of the issues we find in public schooling today, particularly social inequalities that disrupt students’ equity and access to a quality education. Wong writes: “Income-based differences in extracurricular participation are on the rise, and these differences greatly affect later outcomes. This disparity exacerbates the already-growing income achievement gap that has kept poor children behind in school and later in life. While upper- and middle-class students have become more active in school clubs and sports teams over the past four decades, their working-class peers ‘have become increasingly disengaged and disconnected’…”

While we agree with this author in many ways, may we respectfully suggest that the arts, physical education, etc, should not merely be “extracurricular.” They should be a regular part of daily school life for all children. This was the case until NCLB and Common Core were born and enforced. Because of their narrow concern for testing math and literacy, schools, through misguided polices, have made the arts and other “soft” programs inaccessible for millions of students. And they have led to the termination of hundreds of school music, visual arts, and physical education teachers. Cost-cutting is what these policies are really about, not education.

If we’re supposed to be living in a democracy, which includes equal educational opportunities–through public education–for all children, then the idea of “extracurricular” programs for a limited number of kids is fundamentally undemocratic, no?

It astonishes us that United States policymakers fail to grasp the obvious: ALL students in this democracy deserve and would benefit in many ways from equal access to balanced school curricula for the whole child, which includes equal access to physical education, arts education (etc.) during school hours (not simply after school). And here’s a related issue. Try learning to play or sing music expressively, or learning the techniques and strategies of basketball. We’re not talking about becoming a pro. We’re talking about becoming a competent music maker, etc. If administrators and policymakers actually did these things, they’d quickly realize that learning to make music or play basketball reasonably well requires much more than simple, “soft” skills and understandings. Such pursuits are appropriately challenging, creative, rewarding, and provide significant “life vales.” There’s a growing body of research that supports the conclusion that learning so-called extracurricular subjects is very effective in empowering kids to make a life as well as a living. And now ask yourself this: Does it make sense to assume or assert that education means doing little more in school all day, every day, than study math and reading in preparation for standardized tests? The surprising thing about U.S. schooling today is not that so many kids leave school as soon as possible; the very surprising thing is that more kids don’t leave the highly restricted and humanistically impoverished environments of many schools.

What Schools Are For?

The renowned educational researcher and theorist John Goodlad investigated the processes needed for renewing schools and teacher preparation. In MM2, we oftentimes refer to Goodlad’s meaningful ideas about curriculum, education and schooling, and more.

For example, in What Schools Are For, Goodlad (1979) examined the purposes of schools. His thinking paved the way for understanding the need for public school in and for a democracy.

Sadly, Goodlad passed away November 29, 2014. He was 94. He lived a long and meaningful life. His ideals and dreams for education will hopefully continue to inspire us to do better.

We leave Goodlad’s ideals here in outline form only. Consider whether or not we meet some of these goals in/for our schools:

Major Goals of American Schools

  1. Mastery of basic skills or fundamental process. In our technological civilization, an individual’s ability to participate in the activities of society depends on mastery of these fundamental skills.
  2. Career and vocational education. An individual’s satisfaction in life will be significantly related to satisfaction with her or his job. Intelligent career decisions will require knowledge of personal aptitudes and interests in relation to career possibilities.
  3. Intellectual development. As civilization has become more complex, people have had to rely more heavily on their rational abilities. Full intellectual development of each member of society is necessary.
  4. Enculturation. Studies that illuminate our relationship with the past yield insights into our society and its values; further, these strengthen an individual’s sense of belonging, identity, and direction for his or her own life.
  5. Interpersonal relations. Schools should help every child understand, appreciate, and value persons belonging to social, cultural, and ethnic groups different from his or her own.
  6. Autonomy. Unless schools produce self-directed citizens, they have failed both society and the individual. As society becomes more complex, demands on individuals multiply. Schools help prepare children for a world of rapid change by developing in them the capacity to assume responsibility for their own needs.
  7. Citizenship. To counteract the present ability to destroy humanity and the environment requires citizen involvement in the political and social life of this country. A democracy can survive only through the participation of its members.
  8. Creativity and aesthetic perception. Abilities for creating new and meaningful things and appreciating the creations of other human beings are essential both for personal self-realization and for the benefit of society.
  9. Self-concept. The self concept of an individual serves as a reference point and feedback mechanism for personal goals and aspirations. Facilitating factors for a healthy self-concept can be provided in the school environment.
  10. Emotional and physical well-being. Emotional stability and physical fitness are perceived as necessary conditions for attaining the other goals, but they are also worthy ends in themselves.
  11. Moral and ethical character. Individuals need to develop the judgment that allows us to evaluate behavior as right or wrong. Schools can foster the growth of such judgment as well as commitment to truth, moral integrity, and moral conduct.
  12. Self-realization. Efforts to develop a better self contribute to the development of a better society.