Political Dimensions of Music Education

Music educators are rarely required through their own education to critically examine the political dimensions of their profession, or to fully develop a guiding philosophy for their teaching. Consequently, many music teachers enter their careers unprepared in this area, without the benefit of having reached conclusions regarding important questions that will inevitably be faced through their work in institutional settings.
Below are links to some important news stories that illustrate a few very interesting political developments in our field within the United States. These stories are from the leading newspapers in the greater Seattle area:

Such news stories - from the past few years - raise serious concerns in the areas of philosophy and policy to which the music education profession must respond. It should be clear that musical expression cannot be divorced from politics, as exemplified by the output of musicians ranging from Dmitri Shostakovitch to Cui Jian, Shirley Horn, Bob Marley, Maria Bethania, and Thomas Mapfumo (pictured above).

Rather than avoiding politics and religion in their music programs (and thereby eliminating the opportunity to learn from much of the most important music ever created), perhaps it is time for music teachers to encourage tolerant and democratic discussion regarding the meanings of repertoire chosen for - and created within - their school music programs. A choral music program that is unable to use any music with a sacred text is like a math program that is not permitted to teach decimals or fractions. It is just one other area in which American schools will continue to fall behind the rest of the world if based on misguided and ill-conceived policies. On the other hand, any public school music program that intentionally shoves American patriotism and fundamentalist religious beliefs down the throats of music students clearly provides neither a high quality nor well-rounded educational experience. Rather than oppressing students in passive and subservient roles, an effective music program will enable music students to be empowered to perform the greatest of musical selections from a diversity of traditions and to critically reflect upon the meanings of their musical experience.

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