Thinking Beyond Curriculum and Pedagogy

June 3, 2013

All of us who belong to CMS are intimately familiar with curriculum development.  This engagement varies on differing levels; many who teach in studios and lead ensembles may see the repertoire as the curriculum, some of us inherit curriculum and are in essence told not to veer from “what’s on the page,” many of us are encouraged to take these same courses and tweak them to make them our own, and some of us design courses from the ground up.  What follows is the collective engagement and reflection of the CMS Advisory Committee for Music Education as to the challenges and possibilities of thinking beyond curriculum and pedagogy.  The committee consists of representation spanning late career professors/administrators to undergraduate/doctorate candidates who come together to think in and through matters of most import from the space and time in which we each find ourselves. We offer our thinking not as a blueprint or a how to, but rather as a framing for consideration and action.

Where is Music?

One of the most neglected questions in music education is “Where is music?” and by extension, “Where is music learning and teaching in the lives of our students?” It is easy to think of music education as happening mostly within the walls of our studios, practice rooms, rehearsal halls, and classrooms. However, once we consider all of the spaces where music making, learning and teaching occur (at home, school, online and the hybrid spaces in between) we encounter the reality that the majority of young musicians are learning music on their own, mediated by streaming music, video, and text-based forums on the Internet. This broadened reality for music education challenges our long held traditions of curriculum and pedagogy, as well as our own roles as educators.

Music instruction in schools has long been "flipped." We spend hours in our classrooms and rehearsal halls "doing" music, but rarely acknowledge or provide students access to our class materials, broader contexts, and professional thinking beyond the physical and temporal bounds of our classrooms. One way to begin to rethink our roles is to consider pedagogy as a mutual set of relationships among teacher, student, music, and the various media for making and learning music. As educators, we need to find ways to understand and build upon our student’s intrinsic musical interests, be true to our own agency as musicians and educators, and design engaging musical experiences where we can be musical with our students.
With education (teaching and learning) conceived as processes that occur only when we engage each other on Peggy Phelan’s (1993/2005) “rackety bridge,” bereft of certainty and dependent on trust, categories of thinking, such as curriculum and pedagogy, provide no stability or safety. Indeed, processes of education occur only when we think beyond categories, and address each other as individuals historically situated in terms of power and knowledge in just this particular moment, for just this singular purpose. Rather than generalizing across categories, groups, or time, we speak only with each other.Pedagogy & Curriculum: Inextricably Bound

Pedagogy is something ever-changing and is formed and re-formed by the engagements we have with colleagues and students and our constant reflection of planning and practice. While traditionally pedagogy may be presented as a prescribed method of teaching something “successfully,” it is not finite. Through discussions and participation in the music making process, including listening and responding to (and for) we begin to become thinkers in musical, societal, political and cultural terms, thus learning how to grow to become responsible and active citizens of society.  As educators we choose to educate the whole person through the above factors, helping our students to become moral, ethical, and articulate thinkers inside and outside the musical realm, as well as helping them to establish themselves as agents of and for change in the future. Providing space for problem-posing and working through ‘real-life’ situations we may better prepare our pre- and in-service teachers to adopt a mindful approach to pedagogy, one of constant process.

Indeed one of the issues associated with conversations about curriculum and pedagogy is the tension between instrument-specific pedagogy and instructional pedagogy. In many situations the word "pedagogy" often holds multiple meanings when utilized in the context of an instrument-specific course. In those instances, many individuals are referring to a taxonomy of skills and abilities needed in order to develop technique, not necessarily how that information is shared in either a private or classroom setting. As a result, a crucial discussion related to pedagogy would be considering the multiple ways this term is interpreted, exploring how these interpretations intersect so as to think through strategies that can help future collegiate educators explore the value and context of interpretations.

Moreover, in pre-service teacher education programs, the term “pedagogy” refers to an entirely different set of tools depending more often than not on the concentration an undergraduate is seeking. Undergraduates concentrating on general music default (perhaps because of the focus of the program, district needs, available workshops, etc…) to pedagogy models such as Orff-Schulwerk, Kodály, or Dalcroze. These pedagogies, which outline methods in which to teach children or adults musical (and theoretically specific) concepts through movement, singing, and implementation of instruments may bear little resemblance to cultural and contextual settings teachers may find themselves.

Roles of Institutions and Leaders

One of the roles that institutions have assumed, whether the institution is a university or a state, is to provide structure.  To insure that when a state awards a license, to practice medicine or to teach, or a university awards a degree that indicates that certain “requirements have been met,” institutions perceive that there needs to be a structure (minimum requirements) of some sort in place, to ‘insure competence.’  Often the institution provides options for meeting the requirements, providing departments and individual instructors the flexibility to individualize learning.  In this context, in order to see that the institution’s expectations are met and yet providing flexibility so that faculty members can meet the needs of their students, the administration functions as a facilitator and negotiator.  This is particularly an interesting and challenging effort when disciplines like music include diverse skills and understandings, and when each music faculty member believes that the particular skill s/he teaches is the most important to develop and therefore must comprise the majority of a program’s requirements.

As such, the challenges of curriculum mapping and planning and even being able to communicate with other departmental faculty members in order to interrogate the status quo seems impossible. There is great difficulty in getting our colleagues together to discuss changes to the current degree plans so they can align with the state of music and music education in our world today while conforming to state and national standards. This is a long, intense, and difficult process that disrupts the current flow of things with regards to such areas as faculty load, available expertise, and time and space issues.  Often times an assessment from NASM or from state boards of education force our music programs to evaluate curriculum, but we would argue that a process set in place that facilitates music faculty to evaluate current curriculum could be agreed upon by the institution.  This process should also be supported by the administration.  This support might include a stipend for new course development and the addition of more full time faculty members.  Furthermore, if this process is consistently applied then the culture among the music faculty might change, which may make future change and collaboration across departments easier, thus benefiting the depth and breadth of curricular across disciplines.

Concluding Thoughts

We offer the practical and pragmatic bound and framed by the philosophical.  Both are intertwined as we think about curriculum and pedagogy, and yet both are so often falsely separated for reasons as varied as our above exploration. As a committee we bring our varied points of entry realizing that we represent both music education and differing views.  In doing so we make manifest our commitment to facilitating space for interrogation that challenges the false dichotomies that are often wielded in the name of “what works,” and even “what’s best for our students.”  We are reminded that the university setting is both physical and ideological, as Dewey (1900/1902/1990) writes:

Profound differences in theory are never gratuitous or invented. They grow out of conflicting elements in a genuine problem—a problem which is genuine just because the elements alone as they stand are conflicting. Any significant problem involves conditions that for the moment contradict each other. Solution comes only by getting away from the meaning of terms that is already fixed upon and coming to see the condition from another point of view, and hence in a fresh light. But this reconstruction means travail of thoughts. (181)

Being willing to interrogate assumptions and traditional givens of pedagogy and curriculum opens the path for larger conversations. On the other hand, we must also recognize that the search for “solutions” is more appropriate for scientific proofs rather than the “wicked problems” of educational policy in which “there are no ‘solutions’ in the sense of definitive and objective answers” (Rittel & Webber, 1973,155).  Giving up the notion that there may never be solutions and definitive answers is a place many of us will find discomfort.  It is, however, a space that CMS has fostered and brokered throughout the years.  As a committee we welcome the discussion and input through Symposium and look forward to any thoughts or comments we hopefully provoked.

Works Cited

Dewey, J. The school and society and The child and the curriculum. Chicago, IL:  The University of Chicago Press. 1900/1902/1990. Print.  

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London and New York: Routledge. 1993/2005. Print.

Rittel, H., & Webber, M. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” Policy Sciences, 4 1973: 155– 169. Print.

6087 Last modified on March 6, 2019
Login to post comments