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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Now What? Steps to Anti-Oppressive Music Teaching

So like me, you've come to recognize the many ways that society, our education system, and your own teaching practices are biased against certain people groups and perspectives. You want to do something to create a more just classroom. But what can you do? Today I want to share some of the steps I am committing to take as I continue on this journey of working against systems of oppression and towards greater equity in my own teaching practices.


1. Listen

I cannot emphasize this enough, particularly for my fellow white US-American teachers: we need to listen to those voices that have been silenced and/or misconstrued. I speak from experience when I acknowledge how difficult it can be, especially in the beginning, to find those voices. We have to seek them out and then listen. Listen long, and listen hard. I've given several specific examples in each of my posts on specific people groups (see them all here), but here are some key people from whom I am learning more generally about anti-oppressive practices and who have introduced me to many of those marginalized voices that would be difficult for me to find on my own- these are Instagram accounts because I have found the most current and frequent content there but you can search for several of these names to find their other resources online:

Teach and Transform
Britt Hawthorne
Teaching Tolerance
Little Upbeat Class
Chris Emdin

2. Sit with discomfort

Listening should lead to a lot of self-reflection, and if we're doing it right, will lead to a lot of discomfort. We need to resist the urge to run away from that discomfort and instead give ourselves the time and space to live with it and process it. People from marginalized groups live with much worse every day whether they like it or not- those of us in positions of power and privilege need to keep that reality in mind.

3. Make changes

It's sometimes overwhelming to think about the monumental task of re-examining everything I do as a teacher and erasing all traces of oppression and bias. It seems like the more I learn the more things I find that I've been doing "wrong"! All I can do is keep moving forward, which means acting on things as much as I can: replacing songs I discover have racist histories with other musical material, rethinking how I approach discipline and classroom management, finding ways to have more intentional conversations with my students about systemic issues in society, replacing all of those images of dead white composers with ones that better reflect the broader musical world... Pick something and work on it. Then pick another thing. If you know something you've been doing is wrong but you don't know yet how to do it better, put it off if you can until you have time to learn and process. Like anything else, we can't change everything in one day, but we can't let the pervasiveness of the issues prevent us from doing anything at all- we need to take action.

4. Share with others

We can make changes in our own classrooms, but real, transformative change will come when we share what we're learning with others. We'll improve our own practices when we talk to others about what we're doing, but most importantly we'll give others the opportunity to learn alongside us and make changes in their own classrooms. As a white teacher one of the main ways I can most effectively share is by pointing people towards marginalized voices- encouraging others to listen to the people from whom I am learning. I can also be honest about my own journey to encourage other teachers in theirs. Whether it's through social media, staff lounge conversations, raising issues with committees or administrators, or casual conversations with friends and family, it's important that we share what we're learning as much as we can.

Thank you for coming alongside me on this journey, and I hope you'll stick with me as we continue to tackle these important topics to help us not only teach our students more effectively but create a better world for them to live in as well. If you need to catch up on what I've shared so far, click here to get started. Stay connected to the conversation by signing up here for the Organized Chaos Newsletter, and share your thoughts in the comments below!

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