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Good for What, Good for Whom?: Decolonizing Music Education Philosophies

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  • University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Toronto


This article examines philosophy's role in epistemological colonialism in music education. Western philosophy as a system of reasoning was one of the factors justifying European colonialism; the discursive traces of these supporting Enlightenment philosophies remain in today's educational thinking. Following World War II, the last groups of people living under colonial domination fought for and eventually won political independence, yet the complex relationships that developed under the colonial system remain in social structures and discourses. The article concludes with an effort to imagine philosophy as a tool for questioning and challenging the epistemological colonialism that too often lingers within music education's philosophical discourses.
Good for What, Good for Whom? Decolonizing Music Education Philosophies
Deborah Bradley
Who writes? For whom is the writing being done? In what circumstances?
These, it seems to me, are the questions whose answers provide us with the ingredients
making for a politics of interpretation
–Edward Said
This chapter interrogates philosophy’s role in what I characterize as epistemological colonialism
in music education. Western philosophy as a system of reasoning was one of the factors
justifying European colonialism; the discursive traces of these supporting Enlightenment
philosophies remain in today’s educational thinking. Following World War II, the last groups of
people living under colonial domination fought for and eventually won political independence,1
yet the historically, geographically, and psychologically complex relationships that developed
under the colonial system remain in social structures and discourses, including the stated and
unstated goals of formal education, and in market forces, communication methods, and
information networks as sites of informal education (Dei and Kempf 2006, 7). In North America,
the resulting damage to students marginalized by this vestigial, epistemological colonialism may
be seen in the overrepresentation of students of color among those identified as requiring special
education, in higher school dropout rates among Black and Latino students, and in the economic
stratification of societies along racial lines. In formal education, colonial residue continues to
define how knowledge is produced and what forms of knowledge are considered legitimate.
Indigenous forms of knowledge and knowledge production, including the diverse musical
practices of most of the world’s people, have long been dismissed, even denigrated, as a result of
lingering colonial attitudes. The recent trend toward greater inclusion of “world music” in
education often takes colonialist form through unauthorized appropriation and publication,
through multiple forms of misrepresentation, and through language suggesting such music, as
indigenous knowledge, is marginal or inferior to the Western musical canon.
The historical relations of colonialism and its effects, including its psychological
imprints, are rife with contradictions (Asher 2009). The colonizers brought with them not only
formal education but also new forms of work and production that continue to emerge under
globalization, with differentially distributed benefits and consequences. There is an immediate
need to understand the complex ways in which people were brought within this system, because
its impact is still being felt (Smith 1999, 23). For example, India’s rapid economic growth has
made it an emerging global power but also deepened stark inequalities in its society (Yardley
2009). While the landscape of opportunity has widened in choice, “the colonial shadow falls
across the successes of globalization” (Bhabha 2004, xii). Although the colonial system
produced complex, symbiotic relationships between colonizers and colonized from which both
sides benefitted, the benefits remain greatly unequal. The negative effects manifest as inferred
feelings of inferiority or deficiency, and in measurably inequitable outcomes.
My goal for this chapter is to illustrate some ways in which philosophy (as a Western
discipline) and philosophies of music education, influenced by colonialist thinking, reproduce
epistemological colonialism. Decolonizing texts typically reflect “both histories of
colonization/oppression and efforts of resistance, that engage both our similarities and our
differences across race, class, gender, culture, region, and nation” (Asher 2009, 4). As Asher
writes, decolonizing projects must negotiate the challenges of implied binary constructions:
colonizer/colonized, colonizing/decolonizing, the “West and the rest,” and so forth. Such
binaries obscure the ways the postcolonial world operates: through continuing entangled, hybrid,
and symbiotic relationships. This chapter will focus on colonialism’s negative influences on
thinking in music education, but the issues are complex, often contradictory, and difficult to
Although it has the potential to decolonize and liberate (to release us from limited ways
of thinking) philosophy has more often played a role supportive of epistemological
colonialism—by advancing or imposing Eurocentric ideologies of knowledge production (Dei
and Kempf 2006, 2). This chapter seeks to decolonize some of the dominant philosophies of
music education by promoting critical insight into the underlying assumptions, motivations, and
values that inform epistemological practices, and by interrogating “the age old dilemmas about
authenticity, originality, indigeneity and autonomy of cultural, scientific, literary values and
aesthetic creations” (ibid., 11). While performance-based disciplines like music education have
unique capacities to “contribute to radical social change, to economic justice, to a utopian
cultural politics” (Denzin, Lincoln, and Smith 2008, xi), music education philosophy often
hinders these possibilities by presenting answers in ways that foreclose dialogue rather than
exploring questions. Viewed as a set of answers rather than as a process of continually emerging
questions, philosophy may lead to dogmatic adherence to pedagogical beliefs and
methodological approaches. Philosophy colonizes when it intimidates those who might otherwise
engage in critical thinking. Where philosophy is conceptualized and presented as a product, it is
often assumed that only some people can think philosophically: that the majority requires
philosophy be done for them.
Throughout the chapter I speak of decolonizing philosophy, a phrase that can be taken at
least two ways. It may suggest a system of reasoning devoted to reversing colonialist influences
in society and education; or it may imply the act of exposing and addressing the problematic
aspirations of traditional philosophical practice— to do other people’s thinking for them, to
provide answers rather than provoke thinking, and to dispense universal truths. This potential for
dual meaning is part of the term’s appeal. Philosophy is both noun and verb—an action in which
everyone concerned with music education—academics, community musicians, students and
teachers in classrooms and community settings at all levels—can and should engage, and to the
benefit of all. Conceived of as a verb, as process rather than product, philosophy has the capacity
to revitalize and decolonize both thought and practice in music education.
I begin by examining the hegemony of Western concepts of philosophy. I then focus on
the presentation of philosophies as products for consumption, as fixed sets of ideas transmitted to
practitioners in ways that direct, even dictate, pedagogical action. I argue that philosophy should
be conceptualized not as a product for use by music educators, but as the “sustained, systematic,
and critical examination of belief” (Alperson 1991, 217). I take Alperson’s statement as a
reasonable starting point for music education philosophy in today’s diverse world, since it allows
for self-interrogation and reflection, key elements in decolonizing efforts. Reflexivity and critical
examination of belief are essential if philosophy is to escape its colonialist roots—and
allegations of colonialism have been directed both at philosophy (Ikuenobe 1997) and
sociological research methods (Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva 2008). To avoid the trap of
epistemological colonialism, philosophies should continually interrogate the assumptions upon
which they are built. Philosophy so conceived benefits not only those who engage in critical
examination of belief, but ultimately music education’s most important stakeholders: music
students at all levels. Philosophy as a way of thinking and being in the world ought not to claim
the academic ivory tower as its sole domain.
In what follows I will address what is commonly known as aesthetic education, since this
particular philosophy of education continues to operate as the sensible given (Lyotard 1988) in
many sites of music education worldwide. However, other philosophical approaches, including
praxial music education, critical pedagogy, and multiculturalism may also evince
epistemological colonialism and must also be interrogated. The chapter concludes with an effort
to imagine philosophy as a tool for questioning and challenging the epistemological colonialism
that too often lingers within music education’s philosophical discourses.
<1>What Does it Mean to be Educated?
The term education has developed commonsense meanings that vary historically and regionally
(Said 1994; 1978). To construe education as a universal notion thus reinforces colonizing
tendencies this chapter seeks to address, since both the question and its answer(s) are culturally
While, for many, education and schooling have become nearly synonymous terms, the
concept of education I put forth does not necessarily depend upon credentials gained through
formal schooling. Some of life’s most important lessons are learned not in schools but through
the process of living. Dewey (2004) describes a primary goal of education as “the recreation of
beliefs, ideals, hopes, happiness, misery, and practices” (2) that serve to renew the social group.
As he explains, schools are an important method for transmission of what members of a society
need to know, but in fact are a “relatively superficial means” (4) compared with other agencies.
Because the perpetuation of social life itself is dependent upon teaching and learning, the process
of living together, with other people, educates (6). Thus education’s significance, as human
association, “lies in the contribution which it makes to the improvement of the quality of
experience” (9). Anti-colonial scholars argue that education is for the entire community: parents,
children, guardians, caregivers, young and old. This view of education encompasses the options,
strategies, processes and structures through which individuals and groups come to know and
understand the world and how they act within it (Dei et al. 2000, 7).
The foregoing blurs the distinction between formal and informal education.
Acknowledging the importance of knowledge acquired through cultural immersion(s) creates a
space for what are sometimes referred to as indigenous knowledges (Dei, Hall, and Rosenberg
2000), which, under colonialist systems of education, are viewed as incongruent with formal
education. These authors assert, “all knowledges exist in relation to specific times and places.
Consequently, indigenous knowledges speak to questions about location, politics, identity, and
culture, and about the history of peoples and their lands” (4).
When indigenous beliefs conflicted with Western knowledge, colonial education
attempted to eradicate those beliefs in a misguided attempt to forge common understandings.
Such education functions imperialistically, allowing little room for anything but official,
institutionally sanctioned knowledge. For example, Kincheloe and Steinberg (2008) describe
Andean knowledge as an epistemological and ontological dynamic—a way of knowing that is
relational, a spiritual process. Andean beliefs hold that rivers, mountains, land, soil, lakes, rocks,
and animals are sentient, raising the question: At what point are oxygen, water, and food separate
from human organisms? Grande (2008) suggests that indigenous epistemologies are
characteristically comfortable “with a lack of certainty about the social world and the world of
nature” (151).
<2> What Does It Mean to be Musically Educated?
Like education, the concept of musical education is culturally situated. In North America, for
example, the notion of a musically educated individual typically describes a person who has
studied formally for years to learn to play an instrument or to sing. In Ghanaian Ewe culture,
learning to become a master drummer involves both childhood enculturation (informal
education) and years of practice with a master drummer (formal study). Many Ghanaians learn a
wealth of traditional music and dances entirely through enculturation and community
participation. Similarly, Native American flute players, singers, and drummers tend to be
immersed in their cultural practices from an early age through community events and
ceremonies, eventually feeling called to be a flute player, singer, or drummer. Although these
individuals devote significant time and effort to the development of their musicianship, the
concept of musical education as something acquired through schooling does not apply.
In North America, a more narrow understanding of music education has grown up around
school-based choirs, bands, and orchestras. In such circumstances this idea of music education is
more or less synonymous with large ensemble experience, and Western classical music is
privileged as the knowledge worth having. Indeed, it is the only recognized form of musical
knowledge considered valid for entry into many North American university music schools.
Residual colonial attitudes thus determine the cultural capital required for entry to university
music programs, through a process Koza (2008) calls “listening for Whiteness.” Within this
system, aural musical traditions, popular music, and even the venerated classical traditions of, for
instance, India or China have little currency.
While the repertoire of K–12 school music programs has become more diverse in recent
decades, prevailing Eurocentric values and assumptions often result in the imposition of western
analytical concepts onto musical practices better understood from indigenous perspectives. Like
the Andean concept of sentience described previously, Feld’s work with the Kaluli people in
Papua, New Guinea, points to the inseparability of music makers and their “musicking” (Small
1998) from their environment (Feld 1994). From the perspective of traditional Western
philosophical practice, however, Kaluli music and epistemology may appear naïve, even
primitive. And on a practical level, emphasis on traditional large performing groups makes such
broad concepts of musicking an awkward fit for most music education programs. This limits
students’ opportunities to discover their unique relationships with music (Kelly 2009, 64).
Discovering one’s unique relationship with music can develop in many ways outside
formal education. I think of the countless numbers of competent, self-taught guitarists,
percussionists, singers, and so forth, for whom music is an important part of who they are. There
are millions of discerning listeners who are deeply knowledgeable about diverse musical
practices—classical, jazz, popular, Javanese gamelan, Chinese opera, Indian carnatic music—
whose understandings go far beyond what they may have been taught and learned in formal
instructional settings, and far beyond the educational outcome called “music appreciation.”
Individuals often knowingly use music as a resource to regulate feeling, thinking, and acting in
their daily lives—as a resource for construction of identity (DeNora 2000, p. 62). Developing
students’ unique relationships with music ought to be a fundamental goal of musical education.
Unfortunately, this goal is frequently neglected, even ignored in favor of developing performing
groups that by their nature exclude those students whose interests in music lie elsewhere.
Encouraging students to develop their unique relationships with music takes as a starting
point what Ladson-Billings (1995) calls culturally relevant pedagogy, or the inclusion of
“student culture in the classroom as authorized or official knowledge” (483). Others have echoed
Ladson-Billings’ call for cultural relevance in their arguments for the inclusion of indigenous
knowledges (Dei, Hall, and Rosenberg 2000; Dei et al. 2000; Dei and Kempf 2006; Le Grange
2004), here taken to be “students’ own music.” Yet popular and world beat musics bring into
play the messy terrain of capitalism and cultural imperialism, influencing students’ identities in
ways that are not necessarily desirable. In order for students to avoid the colonizing thought and
practice of these discourses, music education philosophy must help students and their teachers
understand the power structures they involve.
If the role of education, whether formal or informal, is to prepare people to function as
productive members of society (Dewey 2004), to be effective it must be “life-long, community-
based, and oriented to the real-life experiences of the students” (Day 1998, 51). Day’s statement
implies that education is obliged not only to transmit officially sanctioned forms of knowledge,
but also to work with the knowledge students bring to the classroom from their lives outside
school. This is crucial if pedagogy is to be culturally relevant, and if students are to make
meaningful, important, and durable connections between and among school knowledge, family
life, community relationships, cultural practices, and personal interests.
Within music education, Regelski (1981, 1994, 2002b, 2002c,2004) has written
extensively and critically about the discipline’s failure to nurture life-long engagement with
music, a failure attributable to narrow curricular foci, unconnected to students’ musical lives
outside of school. The restrictive framework of “school music” not only fails to connect with
many students, it implies through omission that music existing outside of school is unworthy of
study and therefore inferior. Similarly, the skills and understandings essential to enjoyment of
musics excluded from the curriculum are undervalued, their practitioners’ musicianship deemed
of lesser quality. Where music education fails to help students make musical connections to their
lives outside school, many infer that they are simply “not musical,” or that their areas of musical
interest lack value. This psychological imprint of musical inferiority mirrors the internalized
sense of inferiority that results when indigenous cultures are denigrated in colonialist systems of
education. The message of musical inferiority goes hand in glove with emphasis on developing
“talent” through performing ensembles, and the attendant need to “weed out the untalented” in
the pursuit of “musical excellence.” These practices often scar students’ psyches, requiring in
effect that they “submit to the process of colonization, and participate in the realization of the
colonial relationship” (Asher 2009, 3). For those excluded from school performance groups, for
those who struggle to find relevance in school music curricula, and for those unable to hear
“their” music in school, music education operates as a colonizing discourse. The systems of
reasoning supporting these exclusionary practices function as “epistemological tyranny”
(Kincheloe and Steinberg 2008, 145), far too often resulting in students’ internalization of
messages, both implicit and overt, of musical inferiority.
<2> The Role of Philosophy in Music Education
Alperson’s description of philosophy as a “sustained, systematic, and critical examination of
belief” suggests an ongoing reflexivity about what one thinks and what one does as a result of
the reflection. In teacher education, significant efforts are often devoted to helping students
become “reflective practitioners.” Helping pre-service teachers develop reflective practice
implies learning to think philosophically, to understand how beliefs influence musical decision-
making , choices, and actions.
Students usually begin their journey toward becoming music educators without any
background in philosophical inquiry. Some think philosophy is beyond their ability to
understand; others believe it is merely “ivory-tower conjecture on the far side of an unbridgeable
gulf from classroom practice” (Elliott 1995, 9). Both of these perspectives point to
epistemological colonialism within music teacher education. Developing the ability to examine
critically one’s own beliefs and actions directly influences the nature of the encounters and
relationships that emerge within in teaching-learning contexts, and, ultimately, determines one’s
ability to enact culturally relevant, decolonizing music education practice.
<1> Philosophy as a Colonizing System of Reasoning
Smith (1999, 65) argues that academic knowledges, particularly the traditional disciplines
including philosophy, are grounded in cultural world views antagonistic to other belief systems.
While Smith acknowledges that some disciplines are more extensively implicated in colonialism
than others, she reminds us that during colonial expansion, theories generated from the
exploration and exploitation of colonies developed a philosophical structure that appropriated the
other as a form of knowledge: “The construction of knowledges which all operate through forms
of expropriation and incorporation of the other mimics at a conceptual level the geographical and
economic absorption of the non-European world by the West” (65–6). In other words, the
theories that emerged during colonial expansion took as a given Europe’s right to appropriate
and-or expropriate land and resources, absorbing these as European possessions, and to speak for
“the other” through universalist perspectives. Music education reproduces this epistemological
tyranny through the absorption of indigenous musical forms and the imposition of Western
musical concepts onto other musicking practices.
Ikuenobe’s (1997) examination of the differences between “philosophy” and “African
philosophy” illustrates concern about the incorporation of the “other,” while showing the
difficulties inherent in the idea of philosophy as the systematic, critical examination of belief. He
writes that efforts to articulate an “African philosophy” often construe philosophical discourse as
taking one of two forms: “universal” or parochial (“folk”). From a universalist perspective,
African philosophies are deemed “folk philosophies,” and are therefore parochial, regardless of
how well-considered, logical, or consistent they may be within their particular contexts. Implicit
in this analytical system are beliefs that equate valid philosophy with Western rational thinking;
such thought presumes to speak for all other forms of reasoning by appropriation and
Ikuenobe’s argument concludes provocatively: “To deny a people a philosophy is to deny
them any kind of intellectual activity, a system of thought, culture, and civilization” (196). In
accepting the philosophy/folk dichotomy, it appears he may have inadvertently bought into the
attendant notion that non-essentialist and non-universal forms of philosophy are not truly
philosophical. But the point I wish to emphasize emerges from his argument that both
universalist and parochial philosophies are “culture-relevant in various, subtle ways” (201). He
asserts, in effect, that if folk philosophies are parochial, the same must hold for universalist
philosophies grounded in Western systems of reasoning; these, too, are framed by their own
culturally-bound, and to that extent parochial, worldviews.
Both Ikuenobe and Smith suggest that Western concepts of rational thought have had
deleterious affects on knowledge production for all people. Ikuenobe suggests that to function as
a truly universal, meta-discipline, philosophy would need to be capable of synthesizing “features
of the thoughts” and ideas of people from all over the world, and from different historical periods
and epochs. Thus, philosophy should be seen “first as an activity, and second as a system of
beliefs, ideas, ways of seeing and thoughts that have been structured by culture, different
experiences, time, and history” (203–4). Ikuenobe’s proposal seeks to reframe commonly held
notions of what philosophy is, what it is good for, and who might benefit from “doing” it. At the
same time, however, Ikuenobe’s proposal risks reproducing what Agawu (2003) calls the
tendencies of dialogic representation: unless it results in concrete political action, Agawu argues,
the dialogic impulse validates “what is essentially a monologue by incorporating an image of
‘native discourse’ into the monologuer’s theory and on his or her own terms . . . It actually
substitutes a particularly virulent form of political violence for ‘mere’ epistemic violence” (69).
The preceding quotation points to a tension that is evident as I write this chapter. My
inclusion of the perspectives of postcolonial and anticolonial scholars seeks to bring into the
discussion voices uncommon in music education discourse. However, given my position of
privilege in the North American academy, this strategy may simply incorporate “native
discourse” into a monologue that reproduces colonialist power. As the sole author of this piece, I
decide what is quoted, who is quoted, and how those quotes are utilized. This points to a
difficulty in writing decolonizing texts, and reiterates the necessity for those of us so engaged to
interrogate our own implication in and responsibility “for resisting and transforming oppressive
structures and practices” (Asher 2009, 6).
<1>Music Education Philosophies As Colonizing
Probing the ideologies of practice makes us aware of the darker side of knowledge ordering.
Agawu 2003
A decolonizing text from the field of ethnomusicology provides an entry point for exploring
some of the ways philosophy may have colonized the thinking of music educators. In
Representing African Music (Agawu 2003) interrogates the categorizations and descriptions of
African musical characteristics found in ethnomusicology that contribute to the othering of
Africans and their music. Agawu argues against analyzing African musics from the perspective
of “difference,” challenging scholars to “remain vigilant in ensuring that no perceived hierarchy
is facilely interpreted as corresponding to a fixed reality” (22). A similar challenge exists for
music education philosophies when perceived hierarchies operate as fixed realities through
restrictive accounts of “good music,” framed, for instance, in questions like: What music is
appropriate to teach? What constitutes good repertoire? Whose musical cultures should be
In the chapter “African Music as Text,” Agawu’s argument resonates with Ikuenobe’s
concern about folk philosophies. He pleads for ethnomusicologists to dispense with the “facile
distribution of insights” in categories designated variously as Western or African because they
uphold a divisive approach to music understanding (115). Such acts of categorization create
monolithic concepts of African musics that ignore the musical diversity of the continent. While
acknowledging the import of Western ethnomusicological contributions to knowledge about
African musics, Agawu makes it clear that Africans have yet to benefit from the knowledge so
produced: “Their aim is not to empower African scholars and musicians but to reinforce certain
metropolitan privileges” (196). Within music education, the benefits of philosophical inquiry
tend to rebound to the academy, even when the intention is to empower music teachers and
<2>Aesthetic Music Education and Epistemological Colonialism
Aesthetic education, a system of reasoning that remains influential within the discipline of music
education, draws extensively upon the philosophy of aesthetics whose roots extend to Kant’s
Critique of Judgment (1790). Like all philosophers, Kant was influenced by his social and
political surroundings. His writings sought to flesh out how it is that we know what we know, in
part to subvert the Church as the sole source of moral authority. By positioning aesthetic
judgment as a common sense and beauty as a “symbol of the morally good,” (Zuidervaart 2004,
55), Kant held up European art works as exemplars of the good and moral in the world—
simultaneously devaluing the artistic expressions of (among others) the world’s indigenous
people. This argument served (however inadvertently) the colonial agenda by implying that
indigenous expressions could not be considered “art,” thus rendering its producers less than fully
human. This bias eventually found its way into music education philosophy to the detriment of
most forms of popular and folk music, which, to the extent they were incapable of sustaining the
sophisticated kind of experience regarded as purely or genuinely aesthetic, were considered
inferior forms of musical expression.
Aesthetic philosophy as a system of reasoning emerged in music education as aesthetic
education. One particular text, A Philosophy of Music Education (Reimer 1970, 1989, 2003),
gained widespread acceptance as an authoritative guide to “music education as aesthetic
education.” Written to provide answers rather than raise questions about the nature and value of
music and music education, A Philosophy, however unwittingly, served as a colonizing influence
on the thought and actions of many music educators.
As postmodern philosophies and related concerns for pluralities flourished in the social
sciences and education, the 1989 edition of A Philosophy of Music Education became the object
of vigorous critique (Bowman 1991; Elliott 1991 and 1995; Koza 1994) to which the first edition
had not been subjected. I will address the 2003 edition shortly, but would like first to revisit a
few key criticisms raised about the 1989 edition by way of background for a discussion of the
residual colonizing effects of this philosophy decades after its initial publication.
In 1991, the Quarterly Journal of Music Teaching and Learning published critical
reviews (Bowman 1991; Elliott 1991) of the 1989 version of A Philosophy of Music Education.
Both critiques focused on logical flaws in the arguments about music education as aesthetic
education. Details of those arguments warrant exploration and consideration that exceed the
scope of this chapter, but above the various arguments advanced, a common note sounds: the
philosophy of aesthetic education reads as the only valid way to view music and music
education—a “truth” to be accepted rather than a starting point for discussion or reflection.
Bowman (1991, 82) suggests that the arguments are constructed so as to require “acquiescence”
from students or those unfamiliar with (Western) philosophy and its style of logical argument.
Similarly, Elliott (1991, 51) states that A Philosophy could “give music educators the false
impression that there are no philosophical alternatives to the aesthetic view.” Another way of
expressing these concerns might be to say that the book’s arguments appeared designed to
proselytize (a tactic reminiscent of Christian missionaries under historical colonialism)—
proffering aesthetic education as the only legitimate way to think about music and music
In her review, Koza (1994) writes, “when we buy into traditional philosophical discourse,
we get its shortcomings in the bargain” (89), including the search for universal truths and
essentialisms. Her critique of A Philosophy provides a detailed analysis of the ways the text
serves, in her view, to perpetuate the oppression of women and marginalized groups through
“evasion of history, politics, and context” (75). Koza describes the text as a traditional
philosophical argument exhibiting a “relentless search for universal, essential ingredients in
people, art, and education” (76), and relying extensively on “inside/outside dichotomies to which
good/bad valuations often have been assigned” (79). Falling on the “bad side” of the virgule is
most popular music, evincing a latent elitism that insists only some music has educational value
Rather out of sync with other educational discourses of the time in their explorations of
multiculturalism, the 1989 version of A Philosophy made only fleeting reference to “the music of
various cultures,” and in language often based on a spices-in-the-stew analogy that exoticizes
and marginalizes: “. . . the joy of sharing the world’s multitudinous flavors” (Reimer 1989, 145).
Moreover, its overarching argument called for a centering of Euro-American music in the
curriculum: “But at the other extreme the program can get so ethnically focused as to forget that
the United States is part of a larger culture—the culture of Western music . . .” (145). As
Kincheloe and Steinberg (2008, 135) suggest, assertions like these imply, however subtly, that
multiculturalism is “a threat to Euro/Americentrism.”
Perhaps as a result of the concerns raised by Bowman, Elliott, Jorgensen (1997), Koza
and others, a revision of A Philosophy was published in 2003—with the subtitle, Advancing the
Vision.2 There is evidence that this edition attempts to address criticisms of the 1989 version and
to introduce contemporary changes in aesthetic theory. However, the arguments in Advancing the
Vision remain grounded in binary constructions designed to dismiss perspectives that trouble the
conceptual waters of aesthetic education. For example, in a section acknowledging tensions
between aesthetic theory and postmodernism, a discussion of the “postmodern mind-set” (16)
implicitly denies postmodernism’s status as philosophy. Indeed, the term mind-set appears to
imply that postmodern thought is rigid, resistant to new perspectives or arguments, and thus
unsuited to music education philosophy. Arguments favoring pluralistic approaches are
countered with rhetorical questions: “Should music education abandon its emphasis on the
classical music of the Western tradition? Are all musics equally good just because each music
has its own characteristics? If all music is equally valuable, how do we choose what is most
worth teaching?(20). As in the 1989 version, the questions suggest that multiculturalism
represents a threat to music education.
The proposed alternative to postmodern thinking—a “synergistic” approach—seeks to
“resolve” issues framed (ironically) as binaries: for example, contextualism/universalism. These
“synergistic resolutions” prescribe actions designed to unify the thinking of music educators
everywhere. The strategy of coercing perspectival pluralities into synergistic resolution seems to
foreclose debate, negating the possibility that genuine differences of perspective may coexist.
This, too, is a strategy of traditional philosophical approaches that frequently discourages others,
particularly students, from engaging in further discussion on a topic.
Advancing the Vision functions as a philosophical product (a text) whose proposed
process (synergistic resolution) may inadvertently colonize those who seek advice from its
pages. While Reimer’s intentions are undoubtedly altruistic, his discursive strategies implicitly
deny music educators active, creative roles in the development of their own philosophical ideas
about the nature and value of music or music education. Although synergistic resolution (“this-
with-that” arguments) acknowledges the complex nature of issues in music education, it extends
to music educators few if any alternative choices, and actually reduces the binary to a single
option. Static resolution rather than critical reflection appears its ideal.
Read as a source of answers, the unintended effect of Advancing the Vision may be to
foreclose inquiry rather than to encourage and nurture it. By presenting philosophy as a
(finished) product—a closed book if you will—elitist attitudes are encouraged, attitudes
reminiscent of modernist aesthetic philosophy, attitudes that were part and parcel of colonial
conquests and occupations. Such attitudes and arguments, even reframed for today’s world,
continue to colonize unless teachers and students engage them critically and reflectively,
determining for themselves whether and how philosophical inquiry informs musical and
educational problems.
<2> Praxial Music Education: Performance, Pedagogy, and Power
As interests in multicultural education gained momentum in the late 1980s, disenchantment with
the discourse of aesthetic education also began to publically emerge. Drawing from sociology
and other disciplines, some music educators began exploring “praxial” philosophies of music
education. Although they approached praxialism with individual nuances, they shared concerns
that philosophies of music and music education be grounded in musical action rather than
aesthetic reception. Alperson, for instance, urged that we “understand [music] in terms of the
variety of meaning and values evidenced in actual practice in particular cultures” (Alperson
1991, 233), while Bowman sought to make apparent “the crucial facts of music’s social
situatedness and practical nature” (Bowman 2002a, 28; also see Bowman 1994a; 1994b).
Regelski (1981, 1986, 2004) wrote of “action learning” to reinforce the concept that music is
best learned by doing within particular contexts, not through analysis of abstract concepts or
passive “music appreciation.”
An examination of the philosophical work of these authors reveals significant variations
in interpretations of praxial music education. My remarks here will focus predominantly on
Music Matters (Elliott 1995), whose subtitle, A New Philosophy of Music Education, suggests an
alternative to aesthetic music education philosophy. Music Matters argues strenuously against
many of the assumptions of aesthetic music education, and in that sense represents an effort to
decolonize music education philosophy by deposing a long dominant ideology. Even so, traces
of epistemological colonialism are evident in its pages. It, too, proffers philosophy as product
rather than process.
Music Matters argues that music is not merely a collection of works to be studied,
analyzed, or ‘appreciated’. It is, rather, a mode of action that can only be understood by active
involvement in making and listening to music. Describing music as a diverse human practice and
a shared human endeavor, the text acknowledges the various ways that humans engage in music
as social phenomenon. Drawing on the understanding that all humans are musical, Elliott argues
that all children deserve opportunities to come to know music by making music, a viewpoint that
differs significantly from the aesthetic rationale.
“Who writes? For whom is the writing being done? In what circumstances? These, it
seems to me, are the questions whose answers provide us with the ingredients making for a
politics of interpretation” (Said 1998, 155). Said’s questions are important to consider with
respect to Music Matters, which in addition to arguing against aesthetic education, also sought to
push back against the de-skilling (Apple 1995) of teachers that had occurred since the 1970s.3 As
Elliott argued, the de-skilling of music teachers resulted in part from the uncritical acceptance of
aesthetic education and associated “teacher-proof” texts that, in Elliott’s view, encouraged
students to be passive consumers of music rather than active participants (Elliott 1995, 32).
However, in the attempt to return decision-making responsibility to music teachers, Music
Matters may have placed too much power in their hands—power that undermined its promise for
decolonizing teacher-student relationships.
Music Matters calls for each music education site to be a reflective musical practicum,
arguing that music education, even in school settings, should be more like musical practices
outside the classroom. The argument for reflective musical practica draws upon the model of
apprenticeship, which assumes that the teacher knows most if not all of what students need to
learn. Indeed, the expertise required by teachers to conduct such reflective musical practica is
among the book’s recurring themes. This focus on teacher expertise neglects student knowledge,
implying (if through omission) that students lack the potential to contribute to collective
knowledge production. Combined with what has been criticized as a bias toward performance
(Lamb 1994; Reimer 1995), and characterized as a masculinist presentation (Lamb 1994), the
role of teacher within this philosophical orientation resembles that of a conductor who controls
decision-making within an ensemble.
Considering the importance granted to large ensembles in North America and elsewhere,4
this should not surprise. Although Elliott makes a strong case for other forms of music making in
education—including listening, composing and improvising—Music Matters may have provided
advocates of large ensembles with a renewed sense of purpose at a time when many were
beginning to question their relevance. Thus, while Elliott’s version of praxial philosophy for
music education potentially decolonizes (some) teachers by resisting de-skilling, for those
teachers comfortable being regarded as experts in their respective educational settings, the book
provides little incentive to share power with students, who remain colonized within traditional
authoritarian musical ensembles or classrooms.
Through one lens, this view of praxialism may be potentially decolonizing for music
education philosophy in that it values the diversity of human musical practices, and resists the
de-skilling of teachers. However, Music Matters’ style of argument also suggests an
epistemological colonialism: it reproduces the discursive patterns of the aesthetic education texts
against which it argues. The approach does little to discourage continued authoritarian,
colonialist approaches to teaching; neither does it encourage teachers and students to question its
underlying premises and philosophical assumptions.
It deserves mention that in Music Matters, Elliott discusses the role of reflection at
length. These discussions, however, tend to focus on reflection in the moment of teaching.
Missing is the ethical element of praxis for which both Regelski (2002c, 1994) and Bowman
(2002b, 2002a) have argued, the concern for phronesis, or “right action.” “Phronesis enables one
to discern what is significant and how to act rightly in diverse and fluid situations, fields of
action for whose demands one can never be fully prepared” (Bowman 2002b, p. 70–1). Phronesis
potentially steers action and reflection toward ethical concerns about students—the development
of their unique relationships with music and their construction of identities. It features centrally
in the practical knowledge music educators seek to develop in students alongside musicianship.
Phronesis suggests the type of reflective practice through which decolonizing approaches to both
music teaching and music education philosophy may emerge. Without this important
perspective, however, praxialism falls short of its full potential to decolonize music educators’
thinking and action.
<2>Can Critical Theory and Pedagogy “Save” Music Education Philosophy?
Decolonizing texts often draw upon critical theory for guidance. In education, the related concept
‘critical pedagogy’ often provides an approach to decolonizing educational theories and
practices. Although these are the theoretical perspectives with which I usually associate, it is
important to acknowledge that critical perspectives, like aesthetic and praxial music education
philosophies, may also involve problematic assumptions.
Critical theory typically perceives society as dysfunctional and problematic. Critical
theorists engage in ideology critique by which false consciousness can be analyzed and valid
knowledge rationally debated, justified, and communicated (Regelski 2002a, 4). Such critiques
typically reject economic determinism, directing attention to concerns like “media, culture,
language, power, desire, critical enlightenment and critical emancipation” (Denzin and Lincoln
2000, 160). Educators’ concerns the effects of false consciousness on marginalized peoples have
led them to develop critical pedagogies. The work of Paolo Freire (1970; 1994; Freire 1998) has
been especially influential here, emerging from his efforts to improve literacy among peasants in
Brazil. A significant feature of Freire’s work is his concern that education bring to consciousness
the conditions that create and perpetuate oppression. ‘Conscientization’ enables individuals to
understand the nature of oppression, and actively seeks to provide the skills to improve life
conditions. Within education, there are many variants or strains of critical pedagogy, including
critical multiculturalism, anti-racism education, feminist pedagogies, and others, each devoted to
the development of more effective forms of resistance to processes of oppression.
Critical theory and pedagogy have found their way into music education discourses rather
belatedly, largely through the work of the MayDay Group (see Regelski and Gates 2009).
However, these perspectives do appear to be gaining greater acceptance among music educators,
many of whom struggle with aesthetic education’s notions of music as an autonomous entity
disconnected from sociopolitical concerns, or with the neglect within performance-driven music
education of students’ engagement in their own learning. Critical pedagogues view learners as
active agents in their learning, and seek to redress the differential power relationships between
teachers and learners so widely reproduced by traditional instructional practices.
As music educators incorporate critical perspectives into their teaching, the need for
awareness of critical pedagogy’s potential to colonize becomes “critical.” Critical pedagogy can
easily lapse into a condescending stance whose response to patterns of domination paradoxically
replicates those patterns. Ellsworth (1989) argues that the key assumptions, goals, and
pedagogical practices in the literature of critical pedagogy—empowerment, student voice,
dialogue, and even the term critical— “are repressive myths that perpetuate relations of
domination” (298). She and others argue that critical pedagogy’s concepts of empowerment and
liberation uphold the power and privilege of those seeking to empower and liberate, reproducing
colonialist relationships between critical pedagogues and their students.
While the deep desire to help others often motivates those who teach, there are important
differences between helping and rescuing. Dei argues against salvific motivations: “Teachers
who regard themselves as on a mission to ‘save’ the underclass or disadvantaged only serve to
reproduce the perception of inherent privilege accorded to those from the dominant culture who
must ‘tend to the less fortunate’” (Dei et al. 2000, 246). He argues instead for emancipatory
pedagogy as an approach that divests power and acknowledges students’ contributions to
knowledge production.
Other concepts within critical pedagogy warrant interrogation as well. Recently, the
discourse has incorporated terms from the fields of cultural studies and postcolonialism: fluidity,
hybridity, mobility, and transgression, ideas that have begun to make their way into critical
approaches of music education. At first gloss they appear to counter the implied binaries of
colonization/decolonization or colonialism/anti-colonialism, adding complexity that tends to
elude dichotomous constructions. Such notions may be especially attractive for philosophers in
music education, since they seem to resonate with ways new musical forms emerge from cross-
cultural contact. However, like the language of empowerment, many indigenous people and anti-
colonial scholars see the purportedly “liberatory” constructs of fluidity, mobility, and
transgression as part of the fundamental lexicon of Western imperialism (Grande 2008, 240). As
Grande writes, such concepts often ignore the historic, economic, and material conditions of
difference, and divert attention away from issues of differential power (242). For example, where
is the line separating hybridity from appropriation in world beat musics? 5
The foregoing criticisms point to some of the difficulties that may attend the use of
critical theory and pedagogy as decolonizing perspectives for music education philosophy. The
language of critical theory, despite good intentions of theorists and pedagogues, may
paradoxically reproduce the epistemological colonialism it seeks to disrupt, while its
practitioners inadvertently assume roles as colonizers.
<2>The Politics of Inclusion: Multicultural Music Education’s Potential to Colonize
The fall of colonialism ushered in an era of heightened global migration. People of the former
European colonies, who had been taught through their colonial education that they were subjects
of the “motherland” (Hesse 2000), emigrated to those European “homes” in search of better jobs
and living conditions, and improved education for their children. One response to the changing
demographics of schools, both in North America and globally, has been multicultural education.
Multicultural education involves diverse paradigms ranging from liberal democratic to critical
perspectives. While well intended, most if not all such approaches have served to maintain
cultural separation instead of creating the kind of inclusion that lets students keep “their cultural
differences intact” (Szecsy 2010, 2).
While multicultural education continues to wrestle with unintended consequences of
many of its practices, such concerns have reached music education belatedly and slowly. While
many music educators have urged the inclusion of cultural context when teaching music (Koza
2001; Bradley 2006b, 2009b, 2008, 2009a; Morton 1994; Campbell 1994, 1996, 2002, 1995,
2004), too many of multicultural music education’s resources and practices simply continue to
follow aesthetic education’s lead, utilizing ‘common elements’ approaches to instruction. By
providing scant sociocultural contextualization, these approaches inadvertently portray music as
stand-alone works, as pieces to be learned for their own sake. Such approaches can be
profoundly reductive, resulting in the treatment of music as repertoire. This often leads in turn to
musical exoticism that leaves the European canon centered in the curriculum (Morton 1994;
Koza 2001; Bradley 2006a, 2006b, 2008; Bradley, Golner, and Hanson 2007; Campbell 1994).
Unfortunately, exoticism does little to promote cross-cultural understanding—the goal Campbell
(1994, 1995,1996, 2002, 2004) sees as primary, both in multicultural and world music education.
Making resources available to music educators worldwide is a great service to the
discipline, but too many of them serve to reproduce colonial issues of representation,
appropriation, and commodification. Campbell’s Global Music Series (Oxford) provides greater
cultural contextualization of regional musics and cultural groups, perhaps indicating her personal
dissatisfaction with the reductive approaches of many earlier publications. However, many of
these early publications remain staple resources for K–12 multicultural musical curricula,
continuing to trivialize and tokenize cultures, and reproducing colonial attitudes through
inadequate or distorted representations.
Since the first Tanglewood symposium in 1967, many music education scholars have
urged greater inclusion and musical diversity in music curricula. However, the continued
emphasis on the European canon (and the continued application of its values to music of other
cultures) suggests lingering colonial attitudes. Music outside the canon has been appropriated
and subsumed within existing curricula, leaving Western cultural hegemony intact. Agawu
(2003) writes, “It is easy to be enamored of diversity—indeed to promote and celebrate it—if
you are not required to yield a square inch of intellectual or cognitive territory” (223).
Kazmi (1997) cautions, similarly, that while multicultural education has the potential to
subvert dominant discourses, this rarely happens. As he explains, the refusal to recognize
multiculturalism’s subversive possibilities prevents its emergence as an alternative to the
dominant culture and acknowledgment of its legitimacy (331). He argues further that “alien
cultures . . . are allocated a space and a role in ‘the truth’ of the dominant culture . . . their
meaning controlled by the commentaries on them” (340). This criticism resonates deeply with
current circumstances in multicultural music education: European and North American music
educators have generated the vast majority of the discipline’s scholarship, to the exclusion of
those who might speak more knowledgeably about their music and culture.
Smith observes that colonialism “opened up new materials for exploitation” and that, “at
a cultural level, ideas, images, and experiences about the Other helped to shape and reinforce
notions of essential differences between the western world and the rest” (Smith 1999, 60).
Interest in presumed “essential” differences grew as indigenous Asian, American, Pacific, and
African forms of knowledge assumed the status of “new discoveries” by Western scientists and
scholars. Some scholars are therefore quite concerned about the ways indigenous knowledge has
been appropriated and incorporated into multicultural curricula, where it is treated variously as a
“a threat to Euro/Americentrism6 and-or as a commodity to be exploited” (Kincheloe and
Steinberg 2008, 135).
May (2009) claims that multicultural education “has been plagued by a naïve
preoccupation with culture at the expense of broader material and structural concerns” (34)—the
differential material benefits, for example, that result when musical materials are appropriated
for publication. This preoccupation with culture is particularly evident in efforts to locate new
and ever more “exotic” music for the curriculum. Under such circumstances, multicultural music
education becomes, in effect, its own “aesthetic”: pursued for its own sake rather than as a means
for promoting cross-cultural understanding. In order for multicultural music education to fulfill
its decolonizing potential, such concerns must remain central both to philosophy and pedagogy.
Within discourses supporting globalization, material and structural concerns sometimes
become secondary to the “postcolonial celebration of hybridity,” a discursive mindset from
which concerns about the politics of representation and cultural exchange are too often absent
(Grande 2008, 239). Such discourses invoke music’s natural hybridity to justify their neglect of
the power issues implicated in the appropriation of indigenous musics for choral publications
(Bradley 2006a, 2009a) and instrumental arrangements of world musics (Abramo 2007). Rather
than facilely embracing musical hybridity, a decolonizing approach recognizes that
“globalization theory . . . hides the fact that its ethics are those of the marketplace and not the
universal ethics of the human person” (Freire 1998, 114). A decolonizing education, therefore,
enables students “to see that there is no pure west and east, and that curricula, texts, and
identities, including their own, are shaped by history, geography, and economics” (Asher 2009,
11). Decolonizing music education requires that multicultural philosophies and pedagogies
explore musical hybridity not simply as the natural outcome of contact between cultures, but as
phenomenon implicating questions such as: Who presents the music for study and how? Who
receives credit for doing so? Whose voices are marginalized or erased in the process?
The processes outlined here—exoticism through token inclusion; superficial celebration of
diversity; fear of diversity combined with its exploitation as commodity; and the celebration of
hybridity—all speak to the potential for multiculturalism to fall prey to epistemological
colonialism supporting a Eurocentric musical norm. This leads some scholars to conclude that
“the current multicultural paradigm is mired in liberal ideology that offers no radical changes”
(Ladson-Billings and Tate 2009, 178). Multicultural music education is not a mode of practice or
curricular orientation to be pursued for its own sake, without regard for its consequences. It has
deep roots in philosophical assumptions about the nature and value of music, and about the aims
and objectives of education. To neglect these foundational philosophical concerns is to
compromise the decolonizing potential of multicultural music education.
<1>Where Do We Go from Here? Decolonizing Music Education Philosophy
The picture painted in this chapter may appear bleak. Having criticized aesthetic education
philosophy for it colonialist orientation, and having questioned praxial music education, critical
pedagogy, and multicultural education as potential forms of epistemological colonialism, it may
seem tempting to abandon philosophical inquiry altogether. This is not possible, however, since
actions are inseparable from beliefs and values. To embrace untheorized practice is to embrace
philosophical nihilism—an irresponsible perspective with damage far more severe than any we
have surveyed here. The question is not whether or not to engage in philosophy, but how to make
explicit the many subtle relationships among philosophical assumptions, pedagogical practice,
and social justice. Music educators have largely tended to accept philosophies articulated by
prominent scholars without much critical interrogation. Philosophy texts have become de facto
rules for what and how to think about music and pedagogy: substitutes for rather than incentives
to thought. While music education philosophers do not necessarily intend that their arguments
foreclose debate, when these are constructed as definitive answers rather than resources for
further inquiry, vital processes of thought are transformed into mere commodities.
It is difficult to avoid this dilemma. However, it is imperative that we find ways to help
music educators think more critically about their own ideologies and philosophical positions: the
processes by which they create and evaluate their pedagogical practices. Music education holds
the potential to be transformative, to create the conditions for social change that Dewey, DuBois,
Denzin and Lincoln, Freire and so many others have articulated. But to achieve such ends, music
teachers must engage with, rather than blindly accept, the philosophies of others, facilitating
counter narratives in an ongoing process of philosophical exploration (Stonebanks 2008, 313). In
this perspective, counter narratives (or personal “philosophies”) are not merely textual accounts
of beliefs or ideas. Counter narratives emerge at the level of practice, in the actions of those who
engage in philosophical thinking about their practices and reflect on those actions both in the
moment and afterwards. The goal of counter narrative is to improve practice both individually
and throughout the discipline.
What might decolonizing counter narratives for music education entail? They begin, I
believe, with phronesis, an ethical orientation with questions at its core, one that construes
philosophy as a process that directly informs action, and action as a process that directly informs
theory. Phronesis—the ethical concern to engage in right action rather than action that is simply
correct or expedient—is mindful of the wide range of influences instructional actions may
produce, and thus insists on an ongoing reflexivity regarding those actions. Teachers and
students are not just capable of this kind of action and reflection, they are pursuits in which all
responsible teachers and learners ought to engage. Philosophy as reflective practice is not simply
“ivory tower conjecture” (Elliott 1995, 9).
Music educators and students at all levels need to engage in reflective processes that
problematize potentially colonizing actions, to discern what constitute “right action” in a given
teaching and learning situation. Music education colonizes when it promotes unequal power
relations in the classroom; when it operates from presumptions that students are “empty vessels”
to be filled; when it proceeds as if only some students are deserving or truly capable of learning
music; or when it implies, however inadvertently, that only some musical genres have educative
A decolonizing perspective for music education philosophy considers power relations and
focuses concern for the ways music education is implicated in students’ identity construction.
For example, phronesis requires ethical deliberation in the use indigenous knowledges in
education. While Kincheloe and Steinberg (2008) acknowledge the potential for these
knowledges to be catalysts for political, epistemological, and ontological change, when brought
into the curriculum for their own sakes rather than as ways to build cultural connections,
appropriation and misrepresentation often follow. In music education, moving beyond ‘add-and-
stir’ approaches to multiculturalism to robust inclusion of multiple musical genres that decenter
(without eliminating) the Western canon, calls for a reconstituted, more broadly conceived vision
of what it means to be musically educated.
Decolonizing philosophy will not result in greater unity of practice, nor should it. It
should lead us to a stronger belief in the necessity for philosophical reflection on what we do as
music educators—a move away from philosophy as “epistemological tyranny” (Kincheloe and
Steinberg 2008, 145) and toward a fallibilistic epistemology that is comfortable with uncertainty.
Such philosophy is an ongoing, reflexive critique of beliefs, motives, and the outcomes of
practice. Decolonizing philosophies of music education should take into account questions of
cultural identity and music’s role in the construction of the self. As Freire (1998) writes,
education should make possible conditions in which learners interact with one another and their
teachers in a process of understanding themselves as “social, historical, thinking,
communicating, transformative, creative persons” (p. 45).
In place of the epistemological tyranny implicit in some philosophical approaches, Freire
argues for an “epistemological curiosity” that leads teachers and students alike to question,
know, act, ask again, and recognize that “open, curious questioning . . . is what grounds them
mutually” (81). As teachers, epistemological curiosity heightens our concerns for students: What
do they learn, and how? How do their musical doings over time help them produce themselves as
coherent beings? Such epistemological curiosity decolonizes through recognition of the
importance of musical experiences “in the street, in the square, in the work place, in the
classroom, in the playground” (Freire 1998, p. 47), all of which contribute substantially to
production of the self.
Decolonizing philosophy requires that we ask regularly: What aspects of the status quo
do our philosophical assumptions and actions in music education replicate? How instead might
those processes help students understand who they are in the world in ways that break down
barriers of race, gender, and class, resists heterosexism and ableism? How might we
acknowledge, value, build upon and challenge the varied knowledges students bring with them?
A decolonizing philosophy of music education demands “permanent, critical vigilance in regard
to the students” (Freire 1998, 63)—not just to “the music”—to ensure the creation of just and
inclusive educational practices. Philosophy so conceived will not only decolonize the practice of
philosophy in music education, but also the practice of music education.
Reframing what it means to educate musically requires that we approach all music, and
all philosophies of music education, with an understanding of their contextually situated nature.
Such understanding raises epistemological questions about the production and consumption of
music as a form of knowledge. In reflecting on these questions, our goal should be to understand
music’s importance to identity construction—individual; collective; gender; racial; cultural;
national and indeed, in the case of music education philosophy, even academic identity—and the
myriad of other ways people understand themselves. Such reflection will help us remain
conscious of the subtle connections between culture, philosophy, and what is considered
successful music education.
A decolonizing philosophy avoids presenting itself as a source of answers, or a substitute
for other’s philosophical engagements. Rather, it displays an ongoing and relentless curiosity
about all forms of knowledge production, including those within music education, and including
its own.
1. Edward Said argued that political colonialism is ongoing, since the Palestinian people remain
colonized under Israeli rule.
2. This subtitle appears to imply that the aesthetic rationale for music education is both adequate
and worthy of further advancement.
3. This, too, may be viewed as a decolonizing approach, or as resistance to perceived colonialism
in education.
4. The trend toward large orchestral ensembles in China, Korea, and other areas in Asia suggests
that this form of music education continues to gain popularity.
5. For an in-depth discussion of these issues and their complexity, see Feld 2000.
6. See the previous discussion on aesthetic music education, particularly Reimer 1989, 145;
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Supplementary resource (1)

... This can also be said of the music (teacher) education scholarship in general (e.g. Bradley, 2012). Moreover, Kertz-Welzel (2016) asserts that even within western contexts, there exists a hegemony of Anglo-American music education and research. ...
... 425). This can be seen, for instance, in university entrance requirements such as those in North America that still privilege western classical music (Bradley, 2012). ...
... The researcher-researched relationship has even been related to settler-slave relationships as it usually only serves to improve or solidify the researcher's status Recent music education research has explored coloniality and resistance to coloniality in music education practices and philosophy (e.g. Bradley, 2012;Dillon & Rosabal-Coto, 2014). Moreover, discussions of decolonizing music education research have begun to emerge (e.g. ...
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The intensifying diversity and rapid change characterizing contemporary societies challenges music teacher education globally to equip future teachers with the skills and understandings necessary for ethically engaging with uncertainty and difference. This doctoral research project, conducted in Nepal, addresses the idea that developing music teachers’ imaginations and capacities to envision the future may be of value in attending to such challenges. The project emerged following the 2010 introduction of music as a separate subject in the Nepali National Curriculum, and the subsequent collaboration initiated by representatives of the Nepal Music Center with representatives of the Sibelius Academy in order to develop music teacher education. The project directs the research interest to the perspectives of practitioners involved in music education in Kathmandu Valley schools, with particular attention to musician-teachers co-constructing visions. The overarching research question guiding the project was: How can musician-teachers’ co-constructing of visions contribute knowledge about the development of context-specific music teacher education in a situation of fast-paced social change and globalization? Three research sub-questions were constructed to address this overarching question: 1) What contextual issues frame practitioners’ envisioning of music education practices in Kathmandu Valley schools? 2) How might the process of co-constructing visions with musician-teachers in the Kathmandu Valley contribute to music teacher education in Nepal and beyond? and 3) How might the process of co-constructing visions with musician-teachers in the Kathmandu Valley contribute to understandings of cross-cultural music education research? The theoretical framework extends educational researcher Karen Hammerness’ concept of teachers’ visions through socio-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s theories of the imagination and the social and cultural capacity to aspire, also drawing on John Dewey’s theorisation of the continuum of ends-means. The methodology applies Appreciative Inquiry (AI) critically and reflexively, with ongoing consideration of issues of power, ethnocentrism and coloniality. The project took place in three stages from 2014 to 2019, and the empirical material was generated through observations in schools, interviews with school administrators and musician-teachers, and a series of seventeen workshops for musician-teachers guided by the Appreciative Inquiry 4D model of Discover, Dream, Design and Destiny. Beyond solely supporting the research project, the workshops were designed to facilitate collaborative professional learning. Over 50 musician-teachers in Nepal participated the project. The results are reported in five international peer-reviewed articles that include: an examination and reflexive interpretation of the school-specific song practice in Kathmandu Valley private schools and the tensions that arise between vision and context through the case of assessment; a reflection on facilitating the process of co-constructing visions for music education in Nepal with musician-teachers in the Kathmandu Valley; an exploration of how the politics of legitimation intersect with music education and schooling in such a diverse context; and a problematization of the notion of shared visions for music education. These publications are summarised in the synthesizing text with particular attention to how they contribute to answering the research sub-questions. They are presented in their entirety as appendices. The discussion offers a further layer of interpretation moving beyond the Nepali context. It argues that music education is not neutral, but entangled with various historical, political, economic and socio-cultural complexities. Moreover, it raises questions about how to develop music teacher professionalism in contexts lacking music teacher education, and emphasizes the need for music teachers to be able to ethically navigate past, present and future musical practices in changing societies. The discussion also highlights four interconnected capacities of importance when developing pre- and in-service music teacher education: envisioning, reflecting, inquiring, and learning collaboratively. In addition, four methodological and ethical complexities related to cross-cultural research are presented: the need to balance appreciative and critical approaches; to reflect on the ethics of inquiry as intervention; to navigate aspirations and obstacles to collaboration; and to reflect on being and becoming as a researcher.
... En el entramado que plantea la colonialidad, la música no permanece ajena a ser usada como objeto que contribuye a acentuar las diferencias entre lo que se pretende representar como forma más avanzada de cultura y el resto: las culturas no occidentales. En este sentido, la música de origen europeo, particularmente la música de arte, o clásica, es el modelo bajo el que habrán de ser observadas y analizadas el resto de la músicas, que son catalogadas como world music, categoría que congrega a todas las músicas que se analizan desde una visión eurocéntrica como diferentes a la música que representa a la cultura europea (Bradley 2012;Hess 2015Hess , 2017. Conceptos como la escritura de la música, que simboliza la capacidad de abstracción de los sonidos y ritmos en una partitura, así como la apreciación de la música a través de procesos cognitivos, donde el ejecutante y audiencia no tienen interacción alguna durante el acto musical, son fundamentales a las relaciones con una forma "superior" de arte (Emmerson 2000;Goble 2015;Shifres y Gonnet 2015). ...
... Lo anterior, conduce a cuestionar el papel de la educación musical como vía para la enseñanza de la música como un "objeto" digno de ser apreciado meramente desde un enfoque estético, informado por una visión eurocentrista-universalista. En cambio, es pertinente considerar la educación musical como oportunidad para relacionarse con la música más allá de una visión abstracta del saber, lo cual requiere el contacto directo con quienes producen dichas manifestaciones sonoras, entendiendo los contextos y cosmovisiones donde éstos se originan (Bradley 2012;Goble 2010Goble , 2015; de otra forma se corre el riesgo de que "en lugar de entender la música en sus propios términos, el alumnado pueda malinterpretar el significado de la letra de la canción o encontrar algo acerca de la música que pueda ser desagradable, objetable, aburrido, o incluso ridículo, porque representa algo contrario a sus propios valores" (Goble 2010, 5). ...
... Para Bradley (2012), considerar el aprecio de la música desde características meramente estéticas propicia una división entre la música occidental y el resto de las músicas, ya que la primera se considera superior y representa los valores estéticos y de sofisticación que son valorados desde una perspectiva eurocéntrica. Lo anterior urge a encontrar formas de romper un colonialismo ideológico que excluye formas de entender la música desde una perspectiva egocéntrica (Shifres y Gonnet 2015); este colonialismo ideológico discrimina y menosprecia formas específicas de relacionarse con y a través de la música. ...
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Los conocimientos de los grupos indígenas han sido marginados y excluidos por medio de un sistema basado en una visión de mundo que perpetúa el colonialismo. Los estados-nación, con el apoyo de cuerpos académicos, reconocen y avalan formas del saber asumidas como «superiores», que marginan los conocimientos de las culturas indígenas. Es apremiante considerar una filosofía educativa que ponga al centro los saberes y cosmovisiones de las culturas locales. En este escrito, discuto la implementación de la propuesta filosófica de Styres (2017) centrada en la Tierra (Land-centred), en la educación musical. Esta postura parte de la premisa de que los conocimientos indígenas tienen la misma valía que los promovidos desde los centros hegemónicos occidentales. Esta perspectiva busca descentrar el papel del eurocentrismo que avala o niega formas del saber, al mismo que (re)centra los conocimientos indígenas y sus cosmovisiones.
... In this way of thinking, music of European origin, particularly classical music, is the model under which all other musics should be observed and analyzed. These "other" musics are classified as world music, a category which gathers all musics that, from a Eurocentric perspective, are considered to be different from the music that represents European culture (Bradley 2012;Hess 2015Hess , 2017. Concepts like writing musicwhich symbolizes the capacity of abstraction of sounds and rhythms in a score-as well as the appreciation of music through cognitive processes where the player and the audience have no interaction during the musical act, are fundamental in being considered a "superior" form of art (Emmerson 2000;Goble 2015;Shifres and Gonnet 2015). ...
... The former situation leads to questioning the role of music education as a way to teach music as an "object" worthy of appreciation merely from an aesthetic approach informed by a Eurocentric-universalist view. Instead, there is an opportunity in music education to relate to music beyond an abstract view of knowledge, which requires direct contact with those who produce said music and understanding the contexts and worldviews where these originate (Bradley 2012;Goble 2010Goble , 2015; otherwise, it runs the risk that in classroom settings, "class members may misinterpret the meaning of a lyric or find something about the music to be objectionable, distasteful, boring, or even ridiculous because it seems contrary to their own values" (Goble 2010, 5). ...
... For Bradley (2012), appreciating music based only upon aesthetic characteristics fosters a division between Western music and the rest of musics, given that the first is considered superior and represents aesthetic values and sophistication that are valued in a Eurocentric perspective. This aforementioned state of affairs reflects the urgency of finding ways to break ideological colonialism that excludes ways of understanding music (Shifres and Gonnet 2015); this ideological colonialism discriminates against and undervalues specific ways of relating to and through music. ...
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Indigenous knowledge has been marginalized and excluded through a system based on a worldview that perpetuates colonialism. The actions and attitudes of nation-states and academic bodies deem, recognize, and value certain ways of knowing as "superior," which marginalizes knowledge from Indigenous cultures. Considering an educational philosophy that puts the knowledge and worldviews of local cultures at its heart is an urgent step towards changing this situation. In this text, I discuss the implementation of Styres's (2017) Land-centred philosophical proposal in music education. This approach is built on the understanding that Indigenous knowledge has the same value as knowledge that comes from hegemonic Western centres. This perspective proposes to disrupt the role of Eurocentrism that accepts or rejects different ways of knowing and (re)centers Indigenous knowledge and worldviews.
... Within the music education literature, many authors have pointed out how music education has been historically skewed towards the dissemination of elite bourgeois culture and the exclusion not only of women, but of racialized and LGBTQ people (Lamb 1994;Lamb and Dhokai 2015;Gould 2013;Bradley 2015;Koza 2010;O'Toole 2000). Moreover, the arts and particularly music have been central to European colonizing and evangelizing projects throughout history (Baker 2008;Bradley 2012;Vaugeois 2014). Thus, claims that the arts in education require no justification are buttressed by an assumed validity of a Eurocentric hierarchy of taste and contribute to the reproduction of social inequality. ...
... Other authors who have traced the historical origins of philosophical aesthetics have identified their common origins with racist and sexist discourses -in Kant's work, for example-and how they constituted each other (Roelofs 2009). Whether or not these entanglements invalidate aesthetics as a discipline, it is important to unearth this relationship and problematize it, as some music education scholars have already done (Bradley 2012;Kertz-Welzel 2008;Regelski 2011). For music educators in particular, it is crucial to acknowledge, as Deborah Wong (2014) does, that "the bedrock structures of music [institutions] rely on [an] interconstitutive relationship between music and aesthetics" (348). ...
... Deborah Bradley (2012) has provided some insight into how these issues may be negotiated in multimusical educational environments. She argues against what she describes as "epistemological tyranny"-the perpetuation of narratives of universalism and infallibility narratives-and advocates a "fallibilistic epistemology that is comfortable with uncertainty" (693): the acknowledgement that education is never complete and is always problematic. ...
... 19). Western classical music represents the values of the Western-European culture (Gatzambide-Fernández, 2010); hence, its production, reproduction and instruction are viewed as a good that higher classes will see as desirable (Bradley, 2012). ...
Conference Paper
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Mexico’s educational system introduced a new educational model for basic education (grades 1 to 12) in 2017. One of the innovations is the inclusion of Curricular Autonomy (CA), which promotes locally derived curriculum and encourages schools to implement such curriculum to benefit students according to their contexts. Documents that elaborate CA do mention music instruction, but, inexplicably and in contradiction to the purpose of CA, emphasize music instruction based on Western-European principles as the only tool to enhance students’ music skills. Music based on local cultures is not mentioned at all. In favouring music instruction based on Western-European principles rather than on the principles found in local knowledge and traditions, CA draws attention to the hierarchy of knowledge systems, each representing a distinct worldview that exists in Mexican society. This hierarchy reflects the systemic predisposition in Mexican culture to favour foreign ways of knowing over those that are rooted in local cultures, a predisposition that becomes even more evident when local knowledge contains Indigenous influences, since Indigenous knowledge is perceived as less valuable, and therefore not worthy of inclusion in mainstream education. Music education will continue to reinforce the prevalent hierarchical social structure that undermines local ways of knowledge in favour of those that are imported unless the reform includes diverse approaches to music making and paves the way for greater inclusion and equity for all.
... Dentro de los nuevos estados-nación que surgieron en Latinoamérica, la música que representa la cosmovisión europea se concibe como el conocimiento que es digno de ser poseído por las clases dominantes, en tanto la música de raíces africanas y autóctonas queda supeditada a un arte menor o artesanía (Bradley, 2012;Shifres y Gonnet, 2015;Rosabal-Coto, 2013). En el caso particular de México, la desvalorización que se ejerce hacia la música de raíces indígenas no es un caso aislado, sino producto de una serie de acciones cotidianas en la sociedad mexicana. ...
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La música como forma de expresión y comunicación ha sido parte fundamental del ser humano a lo largo de su existencia. Sin embargo, el desarrollo de habilidades musicales en espacios no académicos tiende a ser menospreciado, con el argumento de que éstas carecen de los fundamentos teóricos requeridos dentro del aprendizaje de la música clásica. Al transitar la educación musical de espacios sociales a institucionales, la estandarización del saber ha privilegiado el aprendizaje abstracto sobre aquel que se da en entornos prácticos. La música en su forma escrita se concibe como obra de arte en sí misma, creando división entre los que pueden interpretar la música ‘culta’ y quienes no. Por lo tanto, la música clásica se considera como objeto digno de ser consumido por las clases sociales dominantes a fin de reafirmar su posición. Lo anterior repercute en el valor que se da a la música de raíces indígenas. En este artículo se propone implementar, en el sistema educativo mexicano, un modelo pedagógico que contemple la forma de circulación de saberes desde la perspectiva de las culturas locales. En particular, se propone el aprendizaje del son huasteco como medio para la conocimiento, difusión y revalorización de la cultura huasteca y su cosmovisión.
... music education philosophies, among other aspects of the profession (e.g., Bradley, 2012;Herbst, Nzewi, & Agawu, 2003;Hess, 2018;Rosabal-Coto, 2014). Yet, what decolonization means in specific contexts, both conceptually and in practice, leaves many scholars and educators scratching their heads (e.g., Locke & Prentice, 2016). ...
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Whilst increasing attention is paid to decolonizing music education practice in the classroom, the research processes by which scholars identify, understand, and evaluate anti-colonial or decolonizing work are often entrenched in colonial logics themselves. The politics of knowledge and knowledge production between indigenous epistemes and the Academy thus raise questions as to the methodological responsibility of music education research in indigenous settings, particularly when conducted by non-indigenous researchers. Drawing upon a recent music education study conducted together with indigenous Sámi peoples in Finland, this article argues that despite the good intentions of music education scholars methodological responsibility may well be an unachievable goal. However, if we understand research ethics as more than the procedural accountability to institutional review boards or funding committees, methodological responsibility may better be understood as a condition of possibility found in relation with others. Thus, in order to decolonize music education practice, researchers are challenged to step outside of their epistemic and methodological comfort zones, and to consider how we may also decolonize music education research.
... Dynamic Attending Theory (DAT) (Jones and Boltz, 1989 [1]) proposes that greater attention is allocated to points in time at which future events are expected, thus maximising processing abilities at points of greater importance, while potentially reducing attention to times in which informative cues are unlikely to occur. In support of DAT, multiple studies have found facilitated processing of events that occur at expected times (Arnal and Giraud, 2012 [19]). This temporal facilitation even extends to the processing of non-auditory events. ...
This chapter problematises the current limitations of temporal consciousness in contemporary UK-based higher education that has manifested in an accelerated neoliberal present. This is firstly achieved through a phenomenological and pragmatist reading of meaning-formation, learning and temporal consciousness. Further to this, we adopt critical approaches from aesthetic theory and arts reception, and connect these to the positing of a suitable ‘aesthetic education’ that exposes and makes visible neoliberal narratives that are temporally and pedagogically suppressive, thereby linking the phenomenological with the political. We end by examining polylogical pedagogies, particularly in the arts, that are fundamental to ways of resisting and fracturing the foreclosure of potentiality in both learners and educators.
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The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
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Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Toronto Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Elizabeth Ellsworth finds that critical pedagogy, as represented in her review of the literature, has developed along a highly abstract and Utopian line which does not necessarily sustain the daily workings of the education its supporters advocate. The author maintains that the discourse of critical pedagogy is based on rationalist assumptions that give rise to repressive myths. Ellsworth argues that if these assumptions, goals, implicit power dynamics, and issues of who produces valid knowledge remain untheorized and untouched, critical pedagogues will continue to perpetuate relations of domination in their classrooms. The author paints a complex portrait of the practice of teaching for liberation. She reflects on her own role as a White middle-class woman and professor engaged with a diverse group of students developing an antiracist course. Grounded in a clearly articulated political agenda and her experience as a feminist teacher, Ellsworth provides a critique of "empowerment," "student voice," "dialogue," and "critical reflection" and raises provocative issues about the nature of action for social change and knowledge.