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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Reflecting, Responding, Respecting: aren't we all the same?

Over the last few months I've been sharing my thoughts on ways we can better reflect, respond to, and respect traditionally marginalized people and perspectives in the music room. I've learned so much already through my research, experiences, and conversations and I want to continue to reflect on this topic in my professional and personal life as I continue to listen and learn. One general question that I have heard raised among music teachers that I'd like to look at today is the question of whether we should be taking specific steps to address specific people groups and perspectives, or simply treating everyone and everything with the same respect? Is this conversation even worth having?

Let's cut straight to the point:

Simply saying, "I treat everyone with the same respect" isn't enough, because that attitude completely ignores the systemic oppression that is deeply embedded in everything we do. 

I think as a general concept most teachers would agree that we cannot treat all students the same. We know that different people learn in different ways and so we can't teach all learners the same way. We know that we can't just teach one style of music exclusively and ignore all the others, or teach students that one type of music is inherently better.

The trouble comes when we start talking about people groups and perspectives that are structurally, in society at large, underprivileged- particularly if we ourselves are members of a more privileged people group. It's so much easier to keep teaching the way we were taught, or to use the first lesson idea that comes up in a quick internet search, than it is to examine the ways that our society and teaching practices privilege certain people groups and perspectives over others, and learn new ways to counteract those oppressive systems.

And yes, those oppressive systems do still exist and have profound effects on our students today. If you aren't aware of the ways our current education system, traditional music education frameworks, and society oppress and ignore people of color, women and girls, non-Western cultures, indigenous people, non-Christians, genres outside of Western art music, etc, then you aren't paying attention. The old adage, "fair is not equal", is abundantly true here- we have to be intentional about handing the microphone to people and perspectives who are silenced in our textbooks and mistreated in our society. As teachers we hold tremendous power. It is imperative that we use that power to do everything we can to balance the scales.

This means we are obligated to learn about and focus on our differences. No, we're not all the same, and we shouldn't teach like we are. Black students won't have the same opportunities for success as white students in the United States without changing the way we teach. Girls won't envision their musical futures the same way boys will. American children won't grow up to understand people from other countries as equally-valid human beings. There's another old adage that is abundantly unhelpful: "treat others as you would want them to treat you". This "golden rule" assumes that we all want and need the same things. We don't. We need to treat others as THEY want to be treated, and to do that, we have to listen to and learn what they need.

These are not easy conversations, and there are no easy answers. But as I tell my students, worthwhile endeavors are rarely easy! If you haven't already, I hope you will take the time to read through the rest of the posts in this series (click here to find links to all of them) for more concrete and specific thoughts and suggestions, and then join in the conversation! I am definitely still only beginning to learn myself, and I truly want to hear from you so we can all learn from each other- I hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments below.

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