For all of us who make a living teaching music, the pandemic brought with it a sudden shift into new virtual territory. And for the luckiest of us, this introduced us to new learners from all over the world!
I have been loving teaching students globally. In one week, I see students from Uganda, Malaysia, China, Australia, Jamaica, Europe, and all over the US. This newfound accessibility to the classroom has forced me to reflect very deeply on the accessibility of my curriculum itself. Yes, the kids are "here" but am I reaching each of them in the deep way necessary to foster a sense of musical agency in kids?
These are actually important questions to ask ourselves, not only for our virtual students scattered across the globe, but also for the American public school music room, for which I ultimately design most of my curriculum work.
Nationally, 30% of kids are from recently immigrated families. The music room at school, the one classroom that typically stays the same over multiple years with the same educator, has the potential to become the place where immigrant students feel an immediate sense of belonging.
The music room is a place where we educators have the rare privilege of knowing who our students are musically and culturally. Alexandra Lamont, professor of music psychology at Keele University posits that musical identity emerges in children around 7 years of age, and is primarily impacted by musical activities they have access to, and the attitudes of adults in their lives surrounding music. Macdonald, Hargreaves & Miell, in their book Musical Identities (2002) present the scary data that children's self-ratings of musical ability has the biggest impact of all on whether or not they will pursue further activities in music.
It is a threat to a child's spirit if we do not make it clear that musicians and musical traditions of all kinds, from all over the globe are not only "valid" but contain their own genius that inspires deep study.
I have begun involving my international and national students in assessing the accessibility of my curriculum. There is no part of it that is perfect, and it will not save the world. But I hope that this step (which I am not the only one taking) will help more of our students find their unique musical voice, and know without question that it belongs here and everywhere.
Below are 5 Reasons I believe music class is strengthened by being more globally inclusive.
1. Globally-Accessible Music Curriculum Invites Participation
Prioritizing a foundation of culturally ubiquitous, expression-based music skills, such as songwriting and improvisation, creates inviting access points for a diverse group of students.
When improvising and participating in aural approaches to music learning, students are developing skills that will help them to connect with others from anywhere on the globe. There is no way for a student to do this "wrong" and as such there is less of a risk of students internalizing attitudes that they are not a musician.
2. Supports healthy identity formation
Global Representation in music class communicates to our students that their own cultural identities are welcome, celebrated, respected, and recognized as having value. This allows students to fully show up as themselves, empowering agency in their own music education. This is especially crucial for teens, who WILL disconnect if they know that their identities are not taken seriously.
3. All students benefit musically and socially
Different time signatures, scales and modes, rhythms, harmonic movements, vocal styles, melodies and more exist around the globe. The more young learners are exposed to diverse musical elements while their brains are forming, the better a grasp they will have on them for the rest of their lives.
4. Reinforces the notion that music is a language
With a strong foundation in culturally ubiquitous music skills, students can collaborate with anyone, regardless of whether or not they speak the same language. This is significant for students who are new to the country and who may not speak English yet.
5. Does not impose schemas
Composers are not all old dead white men! Yes we must teach our learners about the genius of Beethoven, but also Miles Davis, and Esperanza Spalding, and Akira Ifukube! Our curriculum should look like our globe!