Event Title

Music Education and Social Justice: Toward a Radical Political History and Vision

Start Date

30-5-2011 4:30 PM

End Date

30-5-2011 5:00 PM

Description

Music educators in North America have a history of political avoidance. In this age of political and economic uncertainty, many music teachers are justifiably worried about the survival of their programs in the face of the continuing neoliberal assault on education, yet many remain curiously reluctant to become politically engaged (Jorgensen, 2004). Even those expressing an interest in social justice often avoid explicit talk of politics, which is strange considering that it is a political goal. This chapter attempts to provide the beginnings of a radical history and context for understanding the politics of social justice in American music education by revealing how much of the profession’s thinking during the past half century, and including a tendency toward political avoidance, was shaped by Cold War politics and the growth of neoliberalism. The Oxford Dictionary of English (2006) defines the word “radical” as involving fundamental change, which I am in fact proposing as an alternative to current practice, but it also refers to the roots of things. As readers will learn, the roots of many of our current problems and political dilemmas are in the Great Depression and Cold War when John Dewey’s socially progressive ideas were deliberately undermined by democratic capitalists seeking to stifle political dissent, in part through education reform, so that America could better flex its military, economic, and cultural muscles worldwide. Thereafter, and continuing more or less to the present day, music had to be taught for its own sake divorced from politics. In consequence, music teachers have a distorted sense of their own history as apolitical and unproblematic and consequently may fail to realize when their professional energies are being “harnessed to the services of power” (Phenix, 1959, p. 270). Today, and while the Cold War is a thing of the past, there are many interesting parallels with the 1940s and 1950s, and if music educators are to further social justice through their programs they will have to expose and confront the vested political interests that have long opposed social progress in their own field and in education as a whole.

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May 30th, 4:30 PM May 30th, 5:00 PM

Music Education and Social Justice: Toward a Radical Political History and Vision

Music educators in North America have a history of political avoidance. In this age of political and economic uncertainty, many music teachers are justifiably worried about the survival of their programs in the face of the continuing neoliberal assault on education, yet many remain curiously reluctant to become politically engaged (Jorgensen, 2004). Even those expressing an interest in social justice often avoid explicit talk of politics, which is strange considering that it is a political goal. This chapter attempts to provide the beginnings of a radical history and context for understanding the politics of social justice in American music education by revealing how much of the profession’s thinking during the past half century, and including a tendency toward political avoidance, was shaped by Cold War politics and the growth of neoliberalism. The Oxford Dictionary of English (2006) defines the word “radical” as involving fundamental change, which I am in fact proposing as an alternative to current practice, but it also refers to the roots of things. As readers will learn, the roots of many of our current problems and political dilemmas are in the Great Depression and Cold War when John Dewey’s socially progressive ideas were deliberately undermined by democratic capitalists seeking to stifle political dissent, in part through education reform, so that America could better flex its military, economic, and cultural muscles worldwide. Thereafter, and continuing more or less to the present day, music had to be taught for its own sake divorced from politics. In consequence, music teachers have a distorted sense of their own history as apolitical and unproblematic and consequently may fail to realize when their professional energies are being “harnessed to the services of power” (Phenix, 1959, p. 270). Today, and while the Cold War is a thing of the past, there are many interesting parallels with the 1940s and 1950s, and if music educators are to further social justice through their programs they will have to expose and confront the vested political interests that have long opposed social progress in their own field and in education as a whole.