Music Education for Social Change
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Music Education for Social Change

Constructing an Activist Music Education

Juliet Hess

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eBook - ePub

Music Education for Social Change

Constructing an Activist Music Education

Juliet Hess

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About This Book

Music Education for Social Change: Constructing an Activist Music Education develops an activist music education rooted in principles of social justice and anti-oppression. Based on the interviews of 20 activist-musicians across the United States and Canada, the book explores the common themes, perceptions, and philosophies among them, positioning these activist-musicians as catalysts for change in music education while raising the question: amidst racism and violence targeted at people who embody difference, how can music education contribute to changing the social climate?

Music has long played a role in activism and resistance. By drawing upon this rich tradition, educators can position activist music education as part of a long-term response to events, as a crucial initiative to respond to ongoing oppression, and as an opportunity for youth to develop collective, expressive, and critical thinking skills. This emergent activist music educationā€”like activism pushing toward social changeā€”focuses on bringing people together, expressing experiences, and identifying (and challenging) oppressions. Grounded in practice with examples integrated throughout the text, Music Education for Social Change is an imperative and urgent consideration of what may be possible through music and music education.

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1 A Critical Pedagogy for Music Education

Many of the ideas activist-musicians expressed about both music and music education align with critical pedagogy. While I did not approach this research with critical pedagogy in mind, the striking resonance of activist-musiciansā€™ ideas with the tenets of critical pedagogy led me to draw upon these tenets to underpin their perspectives. Indeed, activist-musiciansā€™ ideas provide a way to re-envision critical pedagogy in a manner that positions music and music education to purposefully address oppressive systems in the 21st century.
Like many active learner-centered approaches, critical pedagogy encourages youth to construct their knowledge through rigorous assessment of the material they encounter. Active-learning theorists including Dewey (1966), Vygotsky (1978), Piaget (1972), and Bruner (2006) consider the social context for learning while eschewing passive approaches to education. In constructivist learning, educators and education theorists center processes of knowledge construction rather than acquisition and honor the experiences learners bring to the classroom. Critical pedagogy similarly embraces active learning and calls upon learners to dialogue with each other and with the teacher to co-construct knowledge while fully accounting for learnersā€™ social contexts. The emphasis on critical pedagogy in this volume emerged from activist-musiciansā€™ espousal of ideas consistent with Freireā€™s (2000/1970) work, making the use of critical pedagogy emergent rather than imposed. Gordon (2009) calls for a pragmatic discourse of constructivism that moves beyond abstract ideas about knowledge to focus on educational praxis for teachers. By focusing on critical pedagogy, activist-musiciansā€™ perspectives facilitate the elaboration of a deeply practical critical pedagogy for music education. Critical pedagogy is one approach among many to active learning and knowledge construction in education. As such, I invite educators to consider where critical pedagogy converges with and diverges from other constructivist approaches to learning.
In this chapter, I first examine the tenets of critical pedagogy, as envisioned by Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire, that resonate with ideas shared by activist-musicians. I explicate Freireā€™s (2000/1970) construct of praxis and its interrelated processes of reflection and action toward transformation, drawing on multiple critical pedagogues to extend Freireā€™s ideas. The subsequent section examines the proliferation of Freireā€™s work in North America, followed by an exploration of the ways in which music education scholars take up Freirian concepts. The fourth section of this chapter offers several critiques of critical pedagogy, including its potential to exacerbate power hierarchies between teachers and students, as well as to further reinscribe colonialism, patriarchy, and Whiteness. The penultimate component of this chapter re-actualizes Freireā€™s tenets in light of both the criticisms leveled against his work and the perspectives of the activist-musicians. Activist-musiciansā€™ ideas provide an important mechanism for reinventing critical pedagogy for music education. The final section identifies how these tenets underpin the chapters that follow.

Freire and Critical Pedagogy

Applied originally in Brazilian literacy contexts, Freireā€™s early work challenged students to ā€œname the word and the world.ā€1 He argued that when students learn to read, they become literate more quickly if the words they learn directly address issues, ideas, and objects in their lived experience. In encouraging students to name the world, Freire urged them to identify the conditions that shaped their lives. He challenged students to be critical of the political powers that influenced their lives locally and shaped their labor conditions in Brazil.
Born in 1921, Freire came of age during the Great Depression, which greatly influenced both his perspective on education and his concern for the socioeconomic challenges different groups encountered in Brazil (Gadotti & Torres, 2009). His early work in literacy in the 1950s and 1960s connected education to citizenship and development (Gadotti & Torres, 2009). The ā€œcoming-to-consciousnessā€ or conscientization Freire aimed to provoke in the people with whom he worked resonated with ideas emerging from the Frankfurt School (Freire, 1998b; Giroux, 2009), as well as from Gramsci and Marx (Darder, Baltodano, & Torres, 2009; Freire, 1998b). In my interviews with activist-musicians, many pedagogical tenets they discussed aligned with critical pedagogy, leading me to engage critical pedagogy or Freirian praxis as a framework to construct activist music education. Freireā€™s (2000/1970) construct of praxis and its interrelated processes of reflection, action, and transformation provide a helpful framework to actualize activist-musiciansā€™ ideas for pedagogy.

Freirian Praxis

Praxis, as defined by Freire (2000/1970), is the integration of thoughtful reflection and action. Freire argues that the word is the essence of dialogue and must contain reflection and action. Noting that reflection without action is verbalism, while action without reflection is activism, he instead advocates for both reflection and action as praxis (pp. 87ā€“88).2 Freire (2000/1970) reminds us: ā€œArriving at this [critical] awareness cannot be purely intellectual; it must involve action as well as reflection, for only then will it be praxisā€ (p. 77). Praxis remains fundamental to transformation. It has no particular destination; rather, praxis aims to ever-improve the human condition through measures of social justice, equality, and humanization (Dale & Hyslop-Margison, 2010, p. 98).
Freirian praxis, interwoven with reflection, action, and transformation, involves several interconnected components. The very basis for enacting praxis requires honoring the lived experiences of all individuals within a classroom community, as well as working to develop mutual relationships between students and teachers. Once all participants in the education community establish this environment of mutual respect, the focus becomes reflection. Integrated approaches to reflection include the Freirian practices of conscientization and problem-posing education. Having reflected, processes of naming the world, dialogue, and dreaming connect that reflection to action leading to transformation. Ultimately, Freirian praxis may lead to what Freire calls liberation, empowerment, and ā€œcoming to voice.ā€ Praxisā€™ demand for both ongoing reflection and action creates the foundation for activist endeavors. The activism for which I advocate in this book refuses Freireā€™s assertion that activism lacks reflection. Rather, activist-musicians put forward a deeply reflective activism, with the embedded critique Freire so richly values. Moreover, examining Freirian ideas as originally conceptualized provides a foundation for reimagining these concepts based on critiques as well as activist-musiciansā€™ perspectives.

Creating the Conditions for Critical Pedagogy: Honoring Lived Experiences and Fostering Mutuality between Students and Teachers

Praxis requires a pedagogy of respect among members of the classroom community, creating an environment that both honors the lived experiences of all classroom constituents and fosters mutuality between students and teachers. This practice of honoring studentsā€™ realities and striving for mutuality creates the conditions necessary for critical pedagogy to occur.
Freirian pedagogy places lived experiences at the center of education. Rooted in Freireā€™s early literacy work, Freire and Macedo (1987) argue that any literacy practice should draw directly upon peopleā€™s own experiences. Lankshear and McLaren (1993) identify six learning principles from Freireā€™s work and include among them the necessity for learners to connect to their lived experiences when teachers engage critical pedagogy (pp. 43ā€“44). Dale and Hyslop-Margison (2010) argue that
Every personā€™s epistemic perspective is affected by her/his lived experiences. We live, we love, we laugh, we work, and we cry. Human actions and interactions within their respective historical and social contexts shape their consciousness and moral judgments.
(p. 22)
When facilitators honor studentsā€™ diverse epistemic perspectives and lived experiences, they work alongside participants in education to grow together. Critical pedagogues intentionally draw upon students-teachersā€™ lived experiences in shaping a curriculum rooted in the needs of educational participants.
When . . . learning is grounded in the personal experience and interests of students, it also goes a long way to responding to the pedagogical imperative of building upon the existing experience of the learner in the way that Myles Horton speaks of when he writes, ā€œyou have to start where people [students] are, because their growth is going to be from there, not from some abstraction or where you are or someone else is.ā€
(Mulcahy, 2011, p. 83, citing Horton, 1998, p. 131)
Critical pedagogy privileges participantsā€™ lived experiences over imposed ideas and centers individualsā€™ distinct locations.
Critical pedagogy also emphasizes mutuality between teachers and students. Freire (2000/1970) reframes the hierarchical ā€œteacher-studentā€ relationship, redefining the role of the teacher as ā€œteacher-studentā€ and the role of the students as ā€œstudents-teachersā€ (p. 83), highlighting the reciprocal relations between educational participants and underscoring that teachers have much to learn from students. For Freire, both teachers and students play a key role in education. Freire (2000/1970) explicates the horizontality:
Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist, and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself [sic] taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.
(p. 80)
The emphasis on mutuality and horizontal relationships communicates to students the value of the knowledge they bring to the classroom. Practices of both honoring the lived experiences of classroom community members and striving toward mutuality create the foundation upon which critical pedagogy becomes possible.

Processes of Reflection: Conscientization and Problem-Posing Education

As a fundamental element of praxis, processes of reflection ideally lead to action and ongoing transformation. Freirian concepts of conscientization and problem-posing education provide possible mechanisms through which students may come to reflect on their experiences and develop their abilities to critique the world around them. Moving to any kind of meaningful action requires a practice of deep reflection.
Conscientization, or ā€œcoming to consciousness,ā€ describes a process through which people become aware and reflect upon the conditions that shape their lives. Bergman Ramos, the translator for Freireā€™s (2000/1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, notes that the ā€œterm conscientizaĆ§Ć£o refers to learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of realityā€ (p. 35). Freire extends the term conscientizaĆ§Ć£o, or conscientization, to differentiate this fluid and inquisitive learning process from learning concerned with acquiring facts and information (Ryan, 2011, p. 86). The contextual process of conscientization, then, occurs in stark opposition to the type of learning that takes place in what Freire (2000/1970) terms banking educationā€”a process of education that positions students as objects waiting to be filled with knowledge, rather than active participants in their own learning.
Banking education directly contrasts with Freireā€™s (2000/1970) problem-posing education:
In contrast with the antidialogical and non-communicative ā€œdepositsā€ of the banking method of education, the program content of the problem-posing methodā€”dialogical par excellenceā€”is constituted and organized by the studentsā€™ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found.
(p. 109)
These generative themes emerge directly from studentsā€™ experiences. The teacher then presents these themes back to students as ā€œproblemsā€ in order to collectively address them. In the banking model of education, the teacher offers a narrative through which students receive a set of facts or ā€œdepositsā€; a problem-posing education operates dialogically, respectfully acknowledging all participants in education and encouraging them to consider the conditions that shape their realities. The banking model puts forward the teacher as subject and positions students as objects waiting to be filled with knowledge. Problem-posing education, conversely, recognizes all participants in education as subjects. In representing studentsā€™ realities as ā€œproblems,ā€ problem-posing education challenges students to reflect upon such representations critically, with an eye toward transforming these conditions. Freire (2000/1970) argues that educators committed to liberation ā€œmust abandon the educational goal of deposit-making and replace it with the posing of the problems of human beings in their relations with the worldā€ (p. 79). Intrinsically dialogical, problem-posing education values relationships between teachers and students; it works to unsettle the power dynamics in such relationships, as teachers work alongside students to address the challenges or problems students face. Both conscientization and problem-posing education serve as means to reflect critically on the world before moving to action to transform the issues identified as problems.

Reflection toward Action and Transformation: Naming the World, Dialogue, and the Imperative of Dreaming

Moving from reflection to action toward transformation involves the interrelated processes of what Freire (2000/1970) calls naming the world and dialogue. Both concepts involve action and integrate reflection. Dreaming, moreover, becomes imperative for any movement toward transformation. As a society, having a vision for the future will help inform our present actions.
In Freirian critical pedagogy, problem-posing education invites participants to pursue conscientization and name the worldā€”that is, they identify the conditions that influence their lives. Together, teacher-student and students-teachers collaborate to name oppressive conditions and work to transform them. Naming the world within critical pedagogy necessarily involves transformation. If problem-posing education calls upon students to address the challenges they face, naming the world involves identifying the problems, conditions, and ideologies that shape studentsā€™ experiences and collaboratively considering them.
Naming the world with clarity also necessitates coming to terms with any internalized oppression (Fanon, 1963; Oā€™Brien, 2011).3 This process thus also involves attending to the self, focusing on both internalized oppression and imposed oppression. For Freire, identifying oppressive conditions facilitates educational participantsā€™ agency to transform their lives and continually strive for improved conditions.
Upon naming and subsequently acting to transform conditions, this process repeats through Freirian dialogue (Freire, 2000/1970). Dialogue within critical pedagogy includes reflection, naming the world, action, reflection, and renaming, explicitly recognizing transformation as an ongoing, meaningful process (Darder, 2017). In enacting change, participants in education can address oppressions or problems previously beyond reach, always striving for improved conditions. As a means of continual human transformation, dialogue, then, is dynamic and ā€œassumes a constant state of becomingā€ (Dale & Hyslop-Margison, 2010, p. 98). ā€œ[T]he agents in the dialogue not only retain their identity, but actively defend it, and thus grow together. Precisely on this account, dialogue does not level them, does not ā€˜even them out,ā€™ reduce them to each otherā€ (Freire, 1998b, p. 107). Dialogue within critical pedagogy further underscores the emphasis Freire placed on mutuality and horizontal relationships.
Freire (1998b) also explicitly emphasizes the importance of dreaming. He argues: ā€œDreaming is not only a necessary political act, it is an integral part of the historico-social manner of being a person. It is part of human nature, which, within history, is in permanent process of becomingā€ (p. 81). Dreaming, he asserts, fosters change. When we imagine a possible future that moves beyond the ā€œmechanical repetition of the presentā€ (p. 82), something more becomes possible in our refusal of automatic reinscription. Freire (1998b) centers the agency inherent in dreamingā€”the ability to make change and create a different possible future. He grounds this notion firmly in reality; rather than pointing naively to some kind of causal relationship between dreaming and change, he notes that without dreaming, change remains impossible. He contends that
The understanding of history as an opportunity and not determinism, the conception of history operative in this book, would be ...

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