A polysemy of meanings: music education for critical pedagogy.
Critical pedagogy has been explored with increasing frequency in the music education literature in recent years (e.g., Abrahams, 2005a, 2005b; Abramo, 2015; Shor, 1993; Smyth, 1990; Spruce, 2012). This pedagogy is centred on the belief that schools play a role in maintaining the social formation of society when they should instead be redressing inequities and social injustices. Critical pedagogy, as conceived by Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire and, more historically, Karl Marx (Morrow, 2002), involves questioning and otherwise challenging traditional practices and programs with a view of changing school programs and, ultimately, society, for the better. A key idea underlying Freirean critical pedagogy is the concept of conscientization, or the ability to distinguish social, economic and political contradictions, and to recognize and resist the oppressive elements of reality (Freire, 1998; Spruce, 2012). A growing number of researchers and educators in the field of music education have explored the potential relationship and significance of critical pedagogy for music teaching and learning. Recently, however, this exploration has fallen back into old patterns, leading certain educators to ask what critical pedagogy can do for music education (Abrahams, 2005a, 2005b) instead of how music education, through critical pedagogy, can reclaim its moral purpose of fostering needed changes. With the goal of legitimizing and validating the status quo or existing practices of music education within the current school culture, those scholars have arguably abandoned or distorted the very spirit behind critical pedagogy in order to defend themselves and their programs from marginalization or elimination as educational "frills" (Schmidt, 1996).
The Ontario government recognizes that all educators have the obligation to maintain and promote the ideals of equity (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 2) and [social] justice (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010, p. 77) in all that they do. Music educators are thus also required to relate those ideals to their own practices and programs, and critical pedagogy can help them achieve this political goal. Critical pedagogy--along with critical theory and critical thinking--seeks to ensure that people develop the skills and knowledge necessary to question and to discern "inaccuracies, distortions, and even falsehoods" (Burbules & Berk, 1996, p. 46). Its specific focus insists on the examination of uncritical acceptance of and obedience to ideology with a specific focus on educational institutions and how they "perpetuate an unjust status quo that leads to inequalities" (Shaw, 2014, p. 66).
As Apple (2000) asserts, our schools are not immune from politics (see also Spruce, 2001; Woodford, 2015). Society is changed in and through education as children are produced and reproduced according to the dominant priorities of larger political structures. Schools play a role in the social and cultural reproduction of gender roles, social classes, and racial and ethnic prejudices. Educational venues, including music classrooms, are therefore inevitably political, and are thus implicated in those and other social problems and practices (Benedict, Schmidt, Spruce, & Woodford, 2015). As is explained next, a method that uses only elements of critical pedagogy to legitimize the status quo in music education within current educational power structures is a bastardized version, as it is stripped of its political content. Employing only aspects of critical pedagogy in order to justify music education within current societal power structures does a disservice to the underpinning philosophy of this Freirean ideal. This paper defines and explains critical pedagogy, and examines and illustrates its implementation by music educators, in order to critique its uses in the classroom. It admonishes music teachers to avoid hypocrisy with respect to the misrepresentation of Freirean critical pedagogy (or others that reflect similar purposes including libertory education, problem-posing, critical education, or Freirean education) with little else of significance to reflect the central philosophies that support this movement. In essence, my thesis is that those choosing to apply those or similar labels must be more self-critical lest they misrepresent Freire or other critical pedagogues or theorists. As explained next, critical pedagogy seeks to promote critical awareness that will lead to emancipation.
Critical Pedagogy as Emancipation
As already suggested, critical pedagogues believe that schools play a role in maintaining the social formation of society, when they should instead challenge it. Critical pedagogy is a means of considering and critically examining the power relationships involved in teaching and learning within the larger institutional structures of the school as they pertain to the production of knowledge, and relations among the wider community and society. It is grounded in the understanding of the origins of power within society and in the schooling framework, and acknowledges that the education system is far from the "great equalizer" it is touted to be. Peter McLaren (1998), one of the leading architects of critical pedagogy, saw that democracies in the western world insist upon equal opportunity, but often ignore ways in which "our schools operate unconsciously and unknowingly to guarantee that there will be no real equality. Despite intentions to the contrary, schools reproduce and perpetuate the inequalities and injustices of society-atlarge" (p. 151). It is also these dominant discourses that determine practices such as the choice of books, teaching strategies, and the values considered acceptable to deliver to students. As McLaren (1998) asks,
How have certain pedagogical practices become so habitual or natural in school settings
that teachers accept them as normal, unproblematic, and expected? How often, for instance, do teachers question school practices such as tracking, ability grouping, competitive grading, teacher-centred pedagogical approaches, and the use of rewards and punishments as control devices? The point here is to understand that these practices are not carved in stone, but are in reality, socially constructed. (p. 179)
Critical pedagogy is an approach that attempts to eliminate inequities. Critical educators focus on the ways in which dominant cultures exercise domination wherein the dominated (or oppressed) become unconsciously implicated in consenting to their own domination, where the goals of the dominant classes become theirs as well, thus concealing "unequal relations of power and privilege" (Smyth, 1990, p. 274). Critical pedagogues such as McLaren believe that teachers, schools, and communities have a responsibility to confront broader social forces and the "oppressive relations of power and privilege" (Smyth, 1990, p. 268). For teachers, this means developing and employing a pedagogy that requires them to acknowledge their own involvement in the reproduction of an inequitable social order. In critical pedagogy, teachers must self-reflect while striving to understand their own assumptions. Critical pedagogy is concerned not only with students and the changes they undergo as a result of their learning; it also involves the change that occurs in the teacher. In a classroom engaged in critical pedagogy, teaching and learning are reciprocal.
In his research, McLaren (1998) notes a lack of any dialogue that recognizes the importance of considering schools as sites for transformation and emancipation. Schools, in his view, are ideally places where students are taught not only to be critical thinkers, but also to view the world as a place where their actions make a difference. When knowledge is emancipatory in intent, it helps students realize that relations of power and privilege are what distort and manipulate social relationships. It also acknowledges the benefit of acting collectively in order to overcome oppression. What makes critical pedagogy so potentially powerful (and threatening to some) is that central to its very definition is the task of educating students to become "critical agents who actively question and negotiate the relationships between theory and practice, critical analysis and common sense, and learning and social change" (Giroux, 2007, p. 1).
The goal of critical pedagogy is for students and teachers to become aware of oppressive and political power structures in which they are involved. This goal is, indeed, a lofty one when considering the commonality and comfort felt through the 'banking' model of education. The "banking concept," as termed by Freire, involves the depositing of information by teachers into their students' heads. Students become receptacles for information that has no real connection to their lives. This, therefore, hinders their intellectual growth by denying them the opportunity to synthesize information learned in the classroom with knowledge from their worlds outside it. Banking education objectifies students and teachers by preventing them from rationalizing knowledge at a personal level. Because of this dehumanization, the banking model of education--a model that we as educators have no doubt encountered as students or teachers--is oppressive. In the banking model of education, teachers are considered all knowing and students are regarded as empty vessels ready to receive knowledge. This model domesticates students and dehumanizes all involved by stimulating oppressive attitudes and practices in wider society, projecting ignorance onto others and viewing students as objects in need of assistance. After years in these classrooms, students lose the ability see themselves as people who can transform knowledge and society. This environment conditions its participants to conform; it convinces students to accept their places in the existing state of affairs, and students and teachers to follow authority. Schools construct people, developing the ways they view and act in the world.
Freire's solution to this approach was problem-posing education, in which the roles of teachers and students become less structured, and where both engage in dialogue surrounding topical and subject-specific problems in order to achieve and negotiate knowledge and meanings. A liberating pedagogy--critical pedagogy realized through posing problems--negates the passivity fostered within the banking model. These skills of questioning, inquiry, and negotiation would undoubtedly transcend the classroom and lead students to rethink previously "deposited" knowledge and understandings. Through this method, students and teachers can begin to achieve conscientization.
Freirean critical education calls for students to question the systems in which they exist as well as the knowledge presented to them in these systems. They are encouraged to consider and discuss what kind of future they want. Teachers must be active participants within this system as well. Freire (1971) maintains that to be a liberating educator, one must believe that "the fundamental effort of education is to help with the liberation of people, never their domestication. [One] must be convinced that when people reflect on their domination they begin a first step in changing their relationship to the world" (p. 62).
Instead of a banking model of education, problem posing involves a quest for knowledge. In this quest, teacher and students develop mutual intentions that make the exploration collectively owned, and not the exclusive property of the teacher. This partnership supports students and teacher in overcoming "the alienation from each other developed year by year in traditional classrooms, where a one-way monologue of teacher-talk silences students" (Shor, 1993, p. 25). Problem posing instead involves the teacher presenting a problem that is related to a significant aspect of student experience, so that students see their thought and language in the study. It involves dialogue, and leads to the cultivation of new relationships of teacher-student, and students-teachers (Freire, 1970a). In addition to students being represented within their classroom cultures, "through problem-posing, students learn to question answers rather than merely to answer questions" (Shor, 1993, p. 25). This model involves problems that relate to students' lives in the world and within the world that facilitate critical thinking wherein students may begin to examine the world and their roles within it.
Critical Pedagogy for Music Education: A Critique
In all the excitement surrounding a relatively new pedagogy with its emphasis on student-centred learning, experiential learning, and problem-posing education, there is always a danger that educators may become selective regarding the methods and practices that this pedagogy espouses, choosing aspects of it that are easy to implement, or those that will gain admiration from parents or administrators. Music educators specifically may be more at-risk of committing these oversights than others, due to the already activity-based leanings of our programs coupled with a felt need to constantly validate themselves and their programs.
For example, Abrahams (2005a) proposes a critical pedagogy for music education and demonstrates how the principles of this pedagogy enhance music teaching and music learning. He attempts to apply critical pedagogy to music education very practically --perhaps too practically, as this application devalues and contradicts the very philosophy upon which critical pedagogy is conceptualized. The underlying philosophy of critical pedagogy is applied too narrowly, focusing only on students as musicians instead of students as democratic citizens. He echoes these sentiments in another article, stating that, "[c]ritical pedagogy has much to offer the classroom music instructor" (Abrahams, 2005b, p. 66).
Abrahams claims that his critical pedagogy for music education (or CPME) is linked to the writings and teachings of Freire, particularly to his concepts of conscientization and transformation that yield liberation. For example, as Abrahams (2005a) states, Freire's critical pedagogy involves posing problems to students, causing them to bring what they already know and understand from their lives outside the classroom, and use this knowledge as a "bridge to new learning" (p. 3). Freire's theory, however, maintains that inequalities can be overcome once the oppressed become aware of the hegemony of which they are captive. The oppressed can then question their realities and determine the possible actions required to effect change and their own liberation. As already suggested, Freire (1970) defined conscientization as "learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality" (p. 17). Abrahams maintains that conscientization is achieved through CPME, and he frequently returns to this idea as the goal for his pedagogy. However, addressing this concept in terms of assessment and evaluation, an element of an institution that is easily co-opted and oftentimes oppressive, as Abrahams does in his articles, contradicts the very nature of what it means to liberate oneself.
Sample lessons Abrahams offers follow an "expanded sonata form" (Abrahams, 2005a, p. 12). Lessons begin with children calling upon their own life experiences (a strategy aligned with a problem-posing approach) to work through particular music problems in the exposition. An example of a problem that Abrahams offers is as follows: "Their problem was to defend Beethoven's choices against imaginary music critics who argued that the fugue should come at the very end [of his Ode to Joy] " (Abrahams, 2005a, p. 12). Using technology, students could easily re-order sections and hear various combinations. In the end, students concluded that Beethoven "made the best choices" (Abrahams, 2005a, p. 12). One wonders if there was any disagreement in collectively solving this problem. If not, the closed nature of this problem implies an anti-pluralistic and thus nondemocratic view of possible answers or meanings. True problem posing does not involve predetermined answers. This problem also subscribes to the belief in the masterworks of the Western classical tradition, and the all-knowing composers who created them--a very uncritical mentality for a musical take on critical pedagogy. Critical education and transformation would better reflect its underpinning philosophies if these works were "demythologized," rather than used to lead students to the conclusion that the expert composer did it best (Louth, 2012, p. 121).
To continue Abrahams' lesson, in the development section, the teacher presents information that children need in order to be successful in the lesson. Students are then engaged in some type of creative challenge, such as composing or improvising. In the recapitulation, students and their teacher assess together through dialogue "to discover how the new musical learning connect[s] to their world and the world beyond the classroom" (Abrahams, 2005a, p. 13). Abrahams concludes from this lesson plan and study that that both students and teachers involved in this type of learning considered this model to be a changing and enriching agent in their interactions with each other. Detailed examples of these interactions are not discussed. This too may run counter to Freire's critical pedagogy in which conflict and friction are encouraged, in order to facilitate individuals' negotiation of meanings. Though these lessons involve many important strategies in facilitating student learning--from the use of technology to performance to discussion--several key tenets of critical pedagogy are absent from Abrahams' CPME model. Nowhere is it mentioned that students are encouraged to seriously question. Discovery implies that there is a specific learning goal in mind, that answers already exist and are waiting to be revealed, and that the questions posed are closed.
Abrahams' interpretation of critical pedagogy involves, essentially, respecting students by using their musical "worlds" to bridge connections to what music educators deem as necessary to learn. In his view, this typically involves classical works from the western canon. He gives the example of using rap to help students understand Gregorian chant. In this lesson, children discover that "music has form and expresses emotion," which can be interpreted in the context of particular historical, or cultural settings (Abrahams, 2005a, p. 11). Further issues could be easily explored and discussed in this lesson. For example, the significance of rap to urban youth culture would have been a rich topic from which to investigate deeper extramusical implications, including inequality, racism, sexism, oppression, and heteronormativity. Instead, only the characteristics of this genre that could be compared to Gregorian chant--a genre deemed by the teacher as worthy of study--were explored. Music from the students' world is used only as a vehicle in order to arrive at the destination of canonized classical works.
According to Abrahams, "educational initiatives mandated by the federal government have marginalized music education as priorities shift away from music and the other arts toward the improvement of mathematics and language literacy" and have thus placed music programs in schools, in jeopardy (Abrahams, 2005a, p. 2). His article acknowledges "the political nature" of teaching and learning and the significance of engaging children in critical thinking. The primary motivation for his article, however, is arts advocacy. Attempts to merge critical pedagogy and music education are made in order to achieve "traditional outcomes" (Abrahams, 2005a, p. 13), while critical pedagogy itself implies a critical questioning of traditional outcomes and other assumed realities. The employment of the title critical pedagogy contradicts its underlying philosophy if it is used to support music education in the current political structure of the education system without acknowledgement, questioning, or mindful resistance.
In this same article, Abrahams explores how aspects of critical pedagogy can inform and enhance music education. He provides examples of how to use certain approaches in the classroom, which would lead to classrooms being more active (through dialogue, problem posing, music-making, etc.), ultimately leading to more enjoyment for the students. While these are admirable goals that any teacher would wish for their students, Abrahams uses these select discoveries and benefits of critical pedagogy to legitimize music education in the current school system. Abrahams (2005b) is more direct in this mentality, stating that
Applying [critical] pedagogy to American music education helps connect music teaching to the mainstream goals of improved literacy so important in schools today and moves music education in schools from the fringe to a more prominent position in the curriculum. (p. 62)
He reassures readers that, throughout his proposed lessons, students are active through exploration, listening, describing, analyzing, and evaluating throughout the learning process. "As a result, all nine of the national content standards for music education are addressed" (Abrahams, 2005b, p. 64). He further ignores the very foundation of true critical pedagogy at the conclusion of this article by stating, "By using ideas from critical pedagogy, teachers and students can meet the goals set forth by the National Standards for Music Education" (Abrahams, 2005b, p. 67). Abrahams acknowledges how various educational initiatives marginalize music education as an institution, yet he fails to articulate how this institution has the power to marginalize and oppress its teachers and students on a scale that is larger and even more severe.
Popular Music and Generative Meanings
In A Pedagogy for Liberation, Shor and Freire (1987) challenge educators to ask themselves the question: "How [can I] be consistent in my teaching practice with my political choice? I cannot proclaim my liberating dream and in the next day be authoritarian in my relationships with the students" (p. 46). Similarly, one cannot proclaim a subscription to critical pedagogy if the goal is to achieve greater success within the educational framework that this pedagogy resists. Freire suggests an empowering education that is not a new data bank or doctrine--or the same doctrine simply dressed up differently. It is, instead, "a democratic and transformative relationship between students and teacher, students and learning...students and society" (quoted in Shor, 1993, p. 26). Critical pedagogy attempts to cultivate student critical consciousness through student-centred dialogue that problematizes generative themes from everyday life as well as topical issues from the wider world. In Freire's liberating classroom, the teacher presents problems drawn from academic subjects, as well as from student life and social issues, through a mutually created dialogue (Shor, 1993).
Music educators have obligations beyond those held by others, because our subject has special characteristics that involve the many ways that music is created, experienced, and reflected in society. In the name of liberation, Freire would argue for a more comprehensive view of how we interact with music in education, and for more opportunities for students to participate fully in the musical life of their cultures, which includes many connections to social and political issues inherent in various musical roles.
A tenet of Freire's work is the idea of bridging what the individual knows and is familiar to him, with the domain outside of his experience. By using popular music as a way to reach students, teachers can help students make connections between "their" music and the music of other times and cultures. Their world of popular music may then radiate outward in concentric circles to different music, and thus different challenges and potential dialogues. This first comes from honouring the student voice: the inclusion of popular music in the classroom is a good place to start. While we cannot assume that all students listen to popular music, this inclusion would give students more of a voice as well as agency by offering ways to incorporate student interests into the classroom. This celebratory position, however, often does not account for power within the construction of popular music. Critical pedagogues, therefore, may use the students' culture--popular culture--to raise the consciousness of students about socially unjust practices, and to confront these practices. The critical pedagogue, in this case, must not only view students as oppressed by hegemony, but also see how they have the potential to positively interpret popular culture for social justice (Abramo, 2015).
Abramo (2015) describes a strategy to negotiate the tension between the manipulative and libertory roles of popular culture. This strategy involves sharing interpretations of popular culture texts, imagining alternative interpretations, and situating these interpretations within power relations and privilege. This strategy embraces polysemy, or the idea that texts do not contain one true meaning, but are, in fact, open to many valid interpretations and meanings. The exploration of what Abramo calls dominant, oppositional, and negotiated readings of texts offers a democratic element to music classroom dialogue, where debate and conflict are encouraged, and where students purposively seek out voices that do not fit into their individual world views. This model acknowledges that some interpretations become privileged in society. Abramo (2015) offers the example of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land," which is often understood as uncritical patriotism: this is the privileged position--the dominant reading--because it is more widely propagated. Contrarily, Guthrie's intent was for this song to serve as a populist and socialist critique of individual land rights. This would serve as the oppositional reading of the text because it is based in fact and reflects a critical awareness of the political fabrication exemplified in the dominant reading. Teachers who encourage students to negotiate their interpretations of texts along the spectrum of dominant and oppositional help students to see multiple perspectives and question how these multiple meanings are shaped by one's position in society. Students learn that their own interpretations are not, in fact, a matter of choice, but sit "within a nexus of power" (Abramo, 2015, p. 593).
By offering students a broad range of musical practices and ideas explored through critical dialogue and problem posing, music teachers can enable students to mitigate socially destructive beliefs--such as racism and genderism--within their musical traditions. In this sense, music teachers may improve the lives of individuals, families, and societies through the musical alternatives, initiatives, and choices made available and enhanced through the school music curriculum (Goble, 2010).
When teachers acknowledge students' music as being important and generative of deep dialogue, students are empowered by their knowledge and become cognizant of the abundant opportunities for meaningful musical experience, both in and out of the classroom. Empowerment also becomes a process through which students "learn to critically appropriate knowledge existing outside their immediate experience in order to broaden their understanding of themselves, the world, and the possibilities for transforming the taken-for-granted assumptions about the way we live" (McLaren, 1998, p. 186, quoted in Smyth, 1990, p. 276).
A music educator who aligns her beliefs with those reflected in critical pedagogy must not subscribe to the limited goal of elevating her program within current power structures and educational frameworks. In fact, music education and critical pedagogy roles should be realigned: music education should be a vehicle in which one may employ critical pedagogy in order to cultivate more critically aware, inclusive, caring, and democratic citizens. The alternative is a music education that uses critical pedagogy as a means to succeed within current power structures, undermining the very philosophical basis on which it rests. If critical pedagogy is used to help elevate music in our current educational systems, its use will be antithetical to its original aims of negating the reproduction of current oppressive power structures present in our educational institutions. Issues of equity and social justice are contained within all things political, such as our school systems. Consequently, equity and social justice should be the primary goals of our work, while music and the teaching of it are means to those ends.
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Une polysemie des sens: L'education musicale pour la pedagogie critique
La pedagogie critique a ete exploree avec une frequence croissante dans la documentation de l'education musicale pendant les derniers annees (ex., Abrahams, 2005a, 2005b; Abramo, 2015; Shor, 1993; Smyth, 1990; Spruce, 2012). Cette pedagogie est centree sure la croissance que les ecoles jouent un role en maintenir la formation sociale de la societe quand ils doivent plutot redresser les iniquites et les injustices sociales. Une idee cle et sousjacent de la pedagogie critique (concu par Paulo Freire) c'est l'idee de conscientizacao, ou la possibilite de distinguer des contradictions sociales, economiques, et politiques, et de reconnaitre et resister les elements oppressives de la realite (Freire, 1998; Spruce, 2012). Un nombre croissant de chercheurs/chercheuses et educateurs/educatrices dans le domaine de l'education musicale sont parti en exploration le lien possible et l'importance de la pedagogie critique pour l'enseignement et la connaissance de la musique. Recemment, en revanche, cette exploration a contracte les vieilles habitudes, ou certaines educateurs/educatrices demandent comment la pedagogie critique peut servir l'education musicale (Abrahams, 2005a, 2005b) plutot que comment l'education musicale, par la pedagogie critique, peut recuperer sa raison d'etre morale d'encourager des changements necessaires. Avec le but de legitimer et valider le statu quo ou des pratiques actuels de l'education musicale dans la culture d'ecole courante, ces specialistes ont probablement abandonnee ou deforme la seule esprit derriere la pedagogie critique pour defendre euxmemes et leur programmes de la marginalisation ou l'elimination comme l'education " extra " (Schmidt, 1996).
La pedagogie critique--avec la theorie critique et l'esprit critique--cherche a garantir que les gens developpent des dons et de la connaissance necessaire de remettre en cause des " inexactitudes, deformations, et meme des mensonges " (Burbules & Berk, 1996, p. 46). Son centre specifique reclame l'examen de l'approbation inconditionnelle de--et la docilite a--l'ideologie, avec un centre specifique sur les etablissements scolaires et comment ils " perpetuent un statu quo injuste qui mene aux inegalites" (Shaw, 2014, p. 66). Une methode qui utilise seulement certaines elements de la pedagogie critique pour legitimer le statu quo dans l'education musicale dans la construction de l'education courant est une version abatardi, parce qu'elle est prive de son contenu politique. L'emploi de seulement certaines aspects de la pedagogie critique pour justifier l'education musicale dans les constructions de la societe courant ne pas rendre service a la philosophie de ce ideal de Freire.
Cet article definit et explique la pedagogie critique, et examine et illustre sa mise en reuvre par des educateurs de musique, pour critique son usage dans la salle de classe. Il conseille vivement aux educateurs de musique d'eviter l'hypocrisie en ce qui concerne un portrait tendancieux de la pedagogie critique de Freire (ou des autres qui refletent des objectifs similaires y compris l'education " libertory, " " problem-posing, " l'education critique, ou l'education de Freire) avec rien d'autre qui reflet les philosophies centrales qui soutient ce mouvement. En substance, ma these c'est ce qui choisit d'appliquer celles-ci ou des etiquettes similaires doivent etre plus critique a l'egard de soi-meme au cas ou elles denatureraient Freire ou des autres pedagogues ou theoriciens/theoriciennes critiques.
Traduit par Jennifer Gowan
Jennifer Gowan is currently completing her Master of Music Education degree at The University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, Her research interests involve Aboriginal education, critical discourse analysis, culturally relevant pedagogy, and music and social justice, She holds a B.Ed, from Nipissing University in North Bay, and a B.Mus, (Honours) in Music Education from The University of Western Ontario, Jenn ifer taught secondary school music on a fly-in First Nation reserve in Northwestern Ontario for two years before beginning her career as a graduate student.
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|Title Annotation:||principal themes / themes principaux: 2015 Dr. Franklin Churchley Graduate Essay Competition--2nd Place|
|Publication:||Canadian Music Educator|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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