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Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Recognizing Heritage Months in the Music Room

So you want to recognize Black History Month, Latine / Hispanic Heritage Month, AAPI Heritage Month, and other heritage months in your classroom, but it feels overwhelming to think about trying to do another thing on top of everything else you're juggling as a teacher with so little class time. You also don't want to do it wrong... how do you avoid being performative, or even disrespectful, especially if you are not a part of the culture you are wanting to celebrate? I certainly don't have all the answers, but here are some ideas that have helped me as I navigate this issue myself.

1. Pick something

I say this about a lot of things but it's important to remember that we don't have to do all the things for it to be worth doing. Don't worry that if you do something to recognize Black History Month, you'll be doing a disservice to every other heritage, and let that stop you from doing anything. Start with something, and as you learn more you'll be able to incorporate more in the future. 

This also applies to the ways we incorporate heritage months in our classrooms. We don't have to have an entire month completely dedicated to studying one heritage for it to be meaningful- pick one way to recognize the month, and then as you learn more you can find more ways to celebrate.

2. Learn from culture bearers

I can't stress this enough: check your sources! Don't pick out a song in Spanish written by a white American to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month, and don't be fooled by books, recordings, online posts, and other resources that are labeled as "from" a particular culture without checking to see who shared/ wrote/ published it. It may seem harmless, because the kids won't know the difference right? But using something that isn't from the culture it claims to celebrate, especially as a way to recognize a heritage month, is entirely contrary to the work of antibias antiracism because it takes away the culture bearers' voice and allows someone else to speak for them. Take the time to get to the real sources, even if they are less accessible or less convenient.

Along the same lines, listen to culture bearers about how they want their cultures to be recognized during these months. There are plenty of educators and other culture bearers who have taken the time to speak up about how those of us outside their culture can appropriately and respectfully recognize these months and celebrate their heritage- that is important perspective for us to seek out and heed.

3. Weave it in

Recognizing a heritage month shouldn't, in general, be a separate event that takes time away from scaffolded music learning. In fact in my view, teaching about a particular heritage as a separate lesson or activity outside of the "main lesson" makes it seem like a "special topic" and inherently less important. The better approach, in my view, is to weave it into the lessons you're teaching. If 1st graders are practicing reading rhythms in February, practice reading and playing the rhythms to the beat of music by Black Violin. If 5th graders are learning about bass clef in September, introduce them to Oscar Stagnaro. Weaving it into the curriculum will make it more natural, and lead to more meaningful learning. It will also make it much more possible to incorporate heritage months more frequently if you don't feel like you have to "stop learning" to do so!

4. Don't stop there

Of course there's no reason to confine opportunities to learn about music representing these cultures to their heritage months- it's so important for these opportunities for students to interact with different genres and cultures to be incorporated throughout the school year. Heritage months are a great chance to shine the spotlight and focus on one culture specifically, but don't wait until May to feature Yo-Yo Ma! 

Learning how to appropriately recognize heritage months in my classroom has been an ongoing learning process for me, and I continue to learn more every year. What are your thoughts on how to do this respectfully and meaningfully? What are your favorite ways to recognize heritage months in your music classroom? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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