As we enter the field, we often take what we have learned in college and try to fit it within our only schema, our past experiences. We then begin to replicate our past (the good with, sometimes, the bad) and insert our accumulated teacher tricks and new activities into this web, even when they don’t seem to fit. We meet our students, seek to understand them for who they are personally and musically, all the while, creating music education experiences with our own pasts in mind (if even unintentionally). We chase the shadows of what once was. We cling to traditions that we were enculturated into valuing. With all of this, our students and their musical hopes, needs, and values can fall by the wayside. “We know what is best for them,” we say as we attempt to sew the shadows of our experiences upon them. From far away, we appear to be hurtling into the future with our eyes cast behind us. When do we stop and ask ourselves “are we relevant to our students?” Do we ask ourselves “how is music making meaningful in the lives of our students?” If and/or when we do, we approach a crisis of identity. How do we come to terms with the shadows of our past while beginning to fully see the luminosity of our students’ musical lives? Unfortunately, at precipice of such a crisis, many of us either become insularly obsessed with replicating the past or fall by the wayside, dropping out all together or latching onto methodological pathways that we are assured are good for our students and our traditions.
Where we come from is important, because we are our past. Yet, we should not let our past define who we will be. Perhaps our identities as music educators should be less tied to our “shadows” and, instead, be interwoven with whom our students can develop into. Everyday, we enter classrooms full of modern “in-the-world” students and we have the extraordinary fortune of being able to recreate ourselves and lead our students in constructing music anew. We work with our students, we work FOR our students. So, shouldn’t music education reflect that? We need to begin to ask ourselves whom our classrooms serve? Are they museums where we preserve our past? Or, are they workshops where our students play with sound (from past and modern sources) in order to understand their own existence in the way that only music provides?
For some amazing discussions that framed this post and potential next moves, check out:
– John Kratus’ “Music Education at the Tipping Point” in the November 2007 edition of the Music Educators Journal
– David A. Williams’ “The Elephant in the Room” in the September 2011 edition of the Music Educators Journal