This post is part of a series that takes a closer look at the scholarship behind IU Press Journals. Primarily written by journal editors and contributors, posts may respond to articles, provide background, document the development process, or explain why scholars are excited about the journal, theme, or article.
Juliet Hess’s article, “Critiquing the Critical: The Casualties and Paradoxes of Critical Pedagogy in Music Education,” from the Philosophy of Music Education Review newest issue, is now available on JSTOR & Project MUSE. Below, Juliet elaborates on who can and cannot engage social justice work in the classroom.
As a public school elementary and middle school music teacher, I worked to engage issues of social justice in my classroom. Because I did not have a car, I lacked the ability to engage in professional development with other music teachers and felt relatively isolated as the only music teacher in my school. As such, I wondered how other music teachers took up social justice work in their classrooms.
Compelled by this question, in my doctoral work, I made my own professional development. I had the privilege of sitting in the classrooms of four exceptional teachers who purposefully engaged in anti-racist and social justice work in their classrooms. Their students performed, wrote, listened to, and improvised music. Teachers also guided students to grapple meaningfully with the sociohistorical and sociopolitical contexts of all music studied. They learned a wide range of music across multiple styles, cultures, and geographies. All four teachers limited their use of Western standard notation, preferring to offer some notational literacy as a “key to the door” alongside constant aural learning.
I observed in each classroom two days a week for an eight-week period. I found the teachers’ pedagogy impressive and watched as the students wrestled with privilege and asked and responded to hard questions about context. As I observed, I began to wonder if there were limits on who could engage in critical pedagogy in the classroom. All four teachers were white women and they faced little resistance in work that one could easily consider as radical. Would people of color implementing similar pedagogy face greater resistance or be perceived as “having an agenda”? I also wondered whether there were any “casualties” of engaging in critical pedagogy in the classroom. Would the students who only received an introduction to notation, for example, be limited later in their choices for continuing in music based on this earlier anti-racist focus? I wrote this article to engage with these issues and to explore what I refer to as the paradoxes and casualties of critical pedagogy.
Juliet Hess is an assistant professor of music education at Michigan State University’s College of Music. Her research interests include anti-oppression education, activism in music and music education, music education for social justice, and the question of ethics in world music study.
Estelle R. Jorgensen
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Hanna M. Nikkanen and Heidi Westerlund
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June Countryman and Leslie Stewart Rose
The Phantasmagoria of Competition in School Ensembles
Joseph Michael Abramo
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Critiquing the Critical: The Casualties and Paradoxes of Critical Pedagogy in Music Education
Bauchman v. West High School Revisited: Text and Context in Music Education
William Michael Perrine
Communities of Musical Practice by Ailbhe Kenny
Review by: Frank Heuser