Why Teach Music? Reflections On A Serious Question
Students of music education are invariably asked to provide a "philosophy statement," in which they are told to extoll their beliefs of the "why" for music education. As a part of my coursework, I ask my students (both undergraduate and graduate) to consistently revisit the questions: Why teach music? and What is the nature and value(s) of music education? I engage daily in this exercise myself. As such, I thought it was appropriate to share my answers to these serious questions. Know that what follows will be altered again and again. But, this is how it should be. A "philosophy statement" should not be a static, once-and-for-all document that hangs on the wall to be dusted and admired. It needs to be reformulated often. Though, despite this indeterminacy, it is valuable to share such thinking, as doing so helps to promote further thinking. Here lies the purpose of what follows. If after reading this (very) brief "philosophy statement" you find yourself thinking about your own answers to these questions, then I consider my thinking useful. And, if after reading these thoughts, you find yourself challenging my thinking, then that, too, is useful.
Why teach music? I find when I ask this question, I begin by answering it from a personal perspective. I teach because I must; I know no other way of creating a meaningful professional and personal life. Why? Because, teaching is much more than the orderly transmission of knowledge and skills, it is a creative and transformative process - for my students and me. On one hand, I work to insure that my students learn by approaching music from a variety of critical perspectives; on the other hand, I work to insure that I learn from my students by welcoming their ideas, reflections, and criticisms in our classes. Teaching in this mutually constructive, respectful, and empathic way is the basis of my transformative teaching philosophy.
As an educator and musician, I believe I have a responsibility to nurture each student's emotional, social, cultural, personal, and artistic health and well-being. To paraphrase philosopher Clive Beck, education is for life, not just for "job getting;" education is for my students' lives in the present and future. I aim to give my students' lives meaning, purpose, joy, and direction.
Following philosopher Richard Pring (2001)i, I believe teaching is "an activity in which the teacher is sharing in a moral enterprise:" namely, the initiation of people into an ethical and empathetic way of seeing and being in the world . . . "of relating to others in a more human and understanding way" (p. 106). From this perspective, I center my professional focus on the lives of people-learning-music and on people growing through musical participation. Another term useful in this connection is "artistic citizenship" (see Elliott, 2012ii). Permit me to explain this concept a little further.
I teach music and music educators because I believe it is in our society's best interests that we enable our students to conceive themselves as creative individuals, and artistic citizens. Indeed, we must not overlook the importance of enabling our music students to develop musical replies to social, moral, and political dilemmas by enabling them to create musical expressions that serve the needs of citizens in their schools and communities. Becoming a musical artist for citizenship requires all the myriad skills and understandings that make up musicianship. But it also requires the disposition to act with a deep awareness of music's power to move, bond, and heal others, and to motivate people to act for social justice.
I am a teacher of future musicians and music educators because, in part, I want to help future generations to reclaim a democratic purpose for music. How? We need to be the kinds of artist-educators who can enable students to create beautiful music in a wide variety of styles and, simultaneously, to enable them to express their social ideas and commitments via musical performances and compositions. In fact, many classical, jazz, rock, and folk musicians have done the same for decades (e.g., Rostropovich, Barenboim, Marsalis, Bono, Seeger, and so forth). So, why not music students as well? Indeed, our students should not see the world as it is, but as it could be. And music is the perfect tool that can empower people to be community-minded artistic citizens.
Because education and music are social-cultural practices, they are always in flux. That said, there are several basic life-goals that people across time and cultures have always sought and that teachers should seek to achieve in education and music: self-growth, fellowship, happiness, health, wisdom, identity, and community. Across all times and cultures, countless people have sought and satisfied these life-goals in and through musical participation. As a music educator, I am proud to be one small part of this noble endeavor.
i Pring, R. 2001. Education as Moral Practice. Journal of Moral Education, 30:2, 101-112.
ii Elliott, D.J. 2012. Music Education as/for Artistic Citizenship. Music Educators Journal. 99:1, 21-27.
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