Towards ecological professionalism: Re-positioning music education in the ‘middle-ground’

Year: 2019

Author: Westerlund, Heidi, Barrett, Margaret

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Much contemporary music education advocacy, policy and public discourse draws on neuroscience to position music education as an instrument for human development. This positioning has created a discourse in which the rationale and understanding of the profession’s responsibilities is less about knowing the musical masterworks or experiencing musical meanings of world cultures as articulated by 1990’s multicultural scholarship. Rather, this new discourse promotes music as an instrument that enhances learning in other domains, or prepares children for learning through using music as a means to promote self-regulation and school readiness. The neurofication of music has become a means to demonstrate the operations of the brain, specifically transferability in learning. This neurofication of music has become the singular narrative in public media, curriculum and pedagogy, and the professional discourse in music education.

In response to this instrumentalisation of music education, we reposition the professional field by exploring the implications of educational philosopher Gert Biesta’s World-centric proposal for arts education. Writing in 2018 Gert Biesta asks “What if?” we were to create a new rationale for arts education, a rationale which steered a course “between the Scylla of the high instrumentalisation of the arts in education...and the Charybdis of educational expressivism” (p. 12). Biesta identifies a shift from an ‘instruction paradigm’ to a ‘learning paradigm’ in research and policy language connected to schooling and education describing this shift as ‘learnification’; a shift which is manifest in the language of ‘learners’ instead of students or pupils, ‘learning environments’ instead of schools, and ‘facilitators’ instead of teachers. The World-centric frame re-positions questions about educational content and the necessity of teaching in education. Instead of merely aiming at skills and competences defined in learning outcomes, we may return to questions such as: what does it mean to be in dialogue with the world? what does it mean to exist as subject in and with the complex world, rather than occupying a hedonistic central position? and, - what does it mean to work in the ‘middle ground’ in music education that foregrounds sustainability, relationality and social justice? The paper explores the possibilities for such a transformative ecological frame for music education professionalism.

Biesta, G. (2018). What if? Art education beyond expression and creativity. In C. Naughton, G. Biesta, & D. Cole (Eds), Art, Artists, and Pedagogy: Philosophy and the Arts in Education (pps 11 - 20). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.