Foxes, hedgehogs, elephants & centripetal thinking in music education.
So the Animals Came Two by Two ...
In the article "Centripetal Thinking in Curriculum Studies," Hlebowitsh (2010) offers an insightful analogy that we as music educators can use to help visualize the binaries that exist within the field. The ever-curious fox and singular-minded hedgehog are two vivid metaphors employed to represent what the author sees as polar perspectives derived from modern curriculum theory. The opposition of the hedgehogs (who are seen as representing the first generation of curriculum thought characterized by a search for synthesis and harmony within their curriculum work) and the foxes (who represent future thinkers who were more eager to search for diversity and accept multiplicity) speaks to the types of discourse and ways of thinking that underlie the work that we do as educators.
The hedgehogs have been driven in their attempts to find meaning through proven practices including objective pre-prescription, as well as the techniques pioneered in the scientific curriculum with the "promise of precision and objectivity" (Kliebard 1975, p. 27), all while remaining within established schooling systems. Meanwhile the foxes came to reconceptualize the taken -for-granted paradigms of education by incorporating new discoveries from outside of the classroom (Hlebowitsh 2010, p. 504). The foxes were not interested in embracing the diversity that came when their ideas had to co-exist with the hedgehogs. Instead, the foxes have argued for divergence and abandonment of orthodoxies and the established process/systems, choosing to take an either-or approach to their ideas (Hlebowitsh 2010, p. 505). Now, why should we as music educators--the sultans of swing, leaders of brass bands and choristers--be concerned with the workings of these little mammals?
This metaphor of the fox and hedgehog, provided by Plato, describes the false-binaries that have become pervasive within our own practices and classrooms. The possibility of centripetal thinking within curriculum studies offers a new space where these different ideas can come together, argue, and yet still maintain independence of thought. Moving towards 'the centre' is a figurative move within centripetal thinking to help educators move away from the binaries located at the fringes and towards a medium in the centre of thought where binaries no longer impact one's thinking. This is to say that the centre will allow the fox to accept synthesis from the hedgehog, while the hedgehog learns to appreciate the beauty that comes from the divergence of the fox. The importance of this analogy to music educators is held in the knowledge that we must discuss how to find a central point where we can all come together and resist the temptations to create alienable divisions that inhibit growth. There may be methodological and practical diversity in the ways that we structure our learning to balance music curricula, but we as educators need to find a place within ourselves where we can accept the forces of the foxes and hedgehogs that continually pull us towards either direction. The fox and the hedgehog may share different perspectives but they must ultimately learn to cohabit within their ecosystem.
The centripetal movement towards creating harmonious spaces in music education can be viewed as the return to stasis in the field. Bowman (2001) argues that the Kantian critique of reason that the Enlightenment adopted resulted in the compartmentalization and separation of music's qualities into analytical sub-units. These compartmentalized units were then put into a hierarchy that placed aesthetics (insular, individualistic) at odds with praxis (external, communal), amongst others, resulting in rigid boundaries inhibiting music making as a holistic experience. The foxes and hedgehogs that have come to characterize music education can benefit from centripetal thinking to mitigate the polarity that exists as a result of our move away from the centre. A move towards the centre involves the re-cementing of music as a holistic experience that cannot be understood as being represented by one singular aspect of the process. This move away from a central, holistic point is a denial of the professional obligations that we have as educators to ensure the complete and unhindered growth of our students. Following centripetal thinking can break these horizontal lines that have permeated music education and result in understanding that binaries are no longer a concern to music education.
A move towards the centre of curriculum involves a discussion about what we need to know and how we utilize what we have learned. Regeleski (2014) explores the possibility of music moving towards a 'helping profession' (p. 82) where music education begins to balance the pull of 'elephants' that have imposed themselves on public music education. Centripetal thinking can bring the broader music education community towards a central place and initiate a truthful discussion with regards to what ethical actions should be taken to ensure music-making can benefit all members of society. The fox has long been driven to pursue communal activities that lack agency; likewise, the hedgehog has espoused individualistic studies that lacked scope and scale. This analogy transfers over to music education in terms of the challenge to determine if the best course of delivery is to focus on individual or group development of students. Hlebowitsh's (2010) illustration of the Platonic metaphor is telling of curriculum studies' search for a canon that will make the unifying links between the various representations of music education visible to everyone. This search is not so much a search for exacting answers as it is a state where we as educators must be content with constantly engaging in conversation with others to define our profession and help the needs of others. Centripetal thinking would have us approach this paradigm from the perspective that both pursuits are one in the same. A move towards music education as a 'helping profession' has to involve a communal discussion where both individual and community development of our musicians can occur without one position compromising the other along the process.
The Herd Comes Full Circle ...
Curriculum studies have undergone great transformation in the last century. As diverse a field as it is, curriculum studies continues to influence the dialogue between theory, practice and lived experience. The many theories of learning, instruction and analysis that have been offered to us are just a small cross-section of the ever expanding body of literature trying to explain human learning as it occurs in a variety of contexts and paradigms. The work of Hlebowitsh (2010) in trying to explain a centripetal movement in curriculum theory towards an unforeseen centre is of greatest value to both teachers and researchers. It is imperative that we try and move towards a position where we can share and accept the plethora of rich ideas that have been brought to curriculum studies without the need to discredit and alienate others. Buckingham (2003) argues for the application of "practical knowledge" (p. 324) in our curriculum building that stems from the interaction and discourse that occurs. I see the concept of practical knowledge as being the catalyst for giving form to the way in which music educators should be having discussions about how we form curriculum and how we incorporate our own biographical lives into the work that we do. Our knowledge derived from these authentic experiences and research should help guide our move towards the centre of curriculum.
Finding understanding and common ground does not mean that curriculum study must remain complacent and stagnate, but instead offer a canvas on which to construct and hybridize new meanings for future use. I would argue that we should be neither fox nor hedgehog, rather beavers, who bring together bits from their own environment to construct something new and innovative. The centripetal movement in music curriculum has implications on our media use, organization, as well as our embodied experiences in and outside of the classroom. I hope that music education as a larger body begins the important discussion about bringing together and creating, in lieu of forming boundaries that impede the movement of ideas and practices. The ideas discussed in this article are in no way an exhaustive list of ailments that exist in music education. Instead, they are starting-points to begin conversing about centripetal thinking and how we as music educators can take ownership of our thoughts and move towards a place of connectedness.
Bowman, W. (2001). Music as Ethical Encounter. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, (Winter) 151, 11-20.
Buckingham, D. (2003). Media Education and the End of the Critical Consumer. Harvard Educational Review, 73(3), 309-327.
Hlebowitsh, P. (2010). Centripetal Thinking in Curriculum Studies. Curriculum Inquiry, 40(4), 503-513.
Kliebard, H. (1975). The Rise of Scientific Curriculum Making and Its Aftermath. Curriculum Theory Network, 5(1), 27-38.
Regelski, T. (2014). Resisting Elephants Lurking in the Music Education Classroom. Music Educators Journal, 100(4), 77-86.
Matthew Moreno is a graduate of York University's concurrent music education program where he studied with Michael Marcuzzi and William Thomas. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Toronto/OISE in the department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning. His research interests include curriculum design systems, technology learning and arts education. He remains an active performer and studio teacher in the GTA.
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|Title Annotation:||principal themes|
|Publication:||Canadian Music Educator|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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