Engaging with ‘near and far’ change: promoting activist music education professionalism

Year: 2019

Author: Barrett, Margaret, Westerlund, Heidi

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Professions are characterised by a body of knowledge and set of skills developed through specialised education and training, and informed by research. Professions, from the earliest days of the Guilds have established codes of practice and standards of moral and ethical behaviour that ensure the continuity of the profession and the maintenance at a high level of the beliefs, practices, and values that are central to that profession. This specialisation grounded in expert knowledge and skills has in general lead to a narrowed perspective, often described as a “silo mentality”. Within education, such professional silo mentalities can become structures that mitigate against engaging with the larger world beyond that of the child, the school, and the dominant educational paradigm.

Following the progressivist turn educational discourse has tended to focus on a student-centred approach that prioritises activities that interrogate who students are, what they bring to school, and how these elements shape learning and learning environments. Whilst acknowledging the welcome turn to recognising the student in the classroom, student-centred approaches may also be viewed as ‘near-focused’, limiting the horizons of thought and action and strengthening the boundaries between the school and the complex issues of the wider world. In an increasingly globalised, albeit fractured world, societies and scientists are concerned with the wider perspective, the world of wicked problems that are ”malignant”, “vicious”, “tricky” or “aggressive”. In recent literature a key element of the very idea of professionalism is an understanding of the social responsibility of a profession. Such responsibility asks all professions to navigate between the ‘near and far’, to engage in a morally-informed professional praxis that recognises individual and collective responsibilities in working towards resolution of global wicked problems.

In this paper we present an analysis of the historical positioning of music in general education and the music education profession to illustrate the ways in which the societal relationship of the school subject has been constructed. The implications of this positioning for music teachers’ identity and professionalisation are discussed. We then draw on critical systems thinking to explore the possibilities of a music education theory and practice that foregrounds teacher-led activist professionalism. Music teachers are re-envisaged as autonomous reflexive agents promoting both near and complex far change for a socially just, more sustainable world.