Pre-Service Music Teachers’ Perceptions of Social Justice and/or Social Consciousness as it Relates to Music Education
Recently, there appears to be growing interest in including aspects of social justice and/or social consciousness in education. Conferences on these topics include the Fourth International Conference on Teacher Education and Social Justice held at the University of Illinois in January 2007, the Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Conference on Math Education and Social Justice held in Brooklyn in April 2007, and the International Conference on Music Education, Equity, and Social Justice held at Teachers College, Columbia University in October 2006. In addition, the July 2007 issue of the journal Music Education Research was devoted entirely to papers presented at the latter conference, including those by leading thinkers in music education: Bennett Reimer, Estelle Jorgensen, Randall Allsup, Maud Hickey, and Betty Ann Yonker.
William Ayers states that the purpose of education is to open minds, doors, and possibilities.1 Some authors assert that regardless of the subject being studied, working toward a more just society must be included in this purpose.2 According to Bill Bigelow, schools and classrooms can become laboratories for the creation of a society that is more just.3
Andra Makler and Ruth Hubbard state that decisions made by teachers will redesign educational practice.4 The current research examines the perceptions of pre-service music teachers to determine their ideas regarding including aspects of social justice and/or social consciousness in their classrooms. If perceptions inform decisions, then this research may indicate to the profession the possibility of the inclusion of social justice and/or social consciousness in this redesigned practice.
Ayers writes that teachers create learning environments with a variety of doorways in and a variety of routes to success. He asserts that this environment must be rich with opportunities for addressing issues of social justice.5 Reimer appears to support the idea of including topics such as social justice in music classes:
In a very general sense it is reasonable to assume that whatever we do in life has some effect on us beyond its specificities, that we are not so compartmentalized that no cross-influences can occur along our many activities. So if being musically creative, and ethical in the ways that requires, may influence us to be creative and ethical in other ways, we should be pleased when and if that occurs.6
Diana Ryan and Susan Katz studied college students’ perceptions regarding the “value of particular pedagogical tools and strategies in promoting students’ critical thinking about social justice issues, problems and concerns.”7 The research was conducted in a small mid-western university in the context of courses entitled “Cultural Foundations of Diverse Communities in Educational Leadership” and “ProSeminar in Critical Skills.” The tools and strategies included exploration into issues of equity and diversity. They concluded that the preparation of persons to participate in a just society is partly the responsibility of university professors, and that courses must be designed to promote critical thinking about social justice issues.8
In a 1997 case study, Jim Cantor examined four beginning teachers’ development regarding their beliefs and practices related to the promotion of social justice issues in their teaching. The research was conducted within the context of a school-university partnership between UCLA and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California. Data included reflections gathered through interviews and journal writing. Cantor found that the issues of pedagogy and classroom management were far more important to the beginning teachers than social-justice education, and that the school community had a greater influence on these teachers than university influences.9
Marie Clarke and Sheelagh Drudy examined secondary school pre-service educators’ attitudes toward the challenges and problems of teaching for social justice, global awareness, and diversity. Professional identity and teaching goals and strategies were also studied. The research was conducted with graduate students in a variety of subject areas, enrolled in an initial teacher preparation program in the Republic of Ireland. A Likery-type survey was used to obtain the attitudes and practices of the participants. Clarke and Drudy reported a variety of attitudes toward diversity and social/global issues, and a mainly traditional and conservative approach to teaching goals and strategies.10
Sheila Baldwin, Alice Buchanan, and Mary Rudisill studied undergraduate students enrolled in elementary education and physical education teacher preparation programs at a rural university in the southeastern United States. Students’ views on diversity and social justice were studied as they participated in service learning projects. Data included reflection papers and interviews. Baldwin, Buchanan, and Rudisill found that the service learning experiences did have an impact on the participants attitudes toward diversity and social equity. They concluded that “service-learning has the potential for empowering [teacher candidates] to confront difficult issues of societal inequities and to begin the deconstruction of lifelong attitudes and the construction of socially just teachers.”11
Purpose and Methodology of Present Research
The purpose of this research is to explore the perceptions of pre-service music educators regarding teaching for social justice and/or social consciousness as it relates to music education. A survey was used to obtain the perceptions of pre-service music teachers. Participants (N=40) were students in three pre-existing sections of an introduction to music education course at an institution that specializes in music-teacher preparation. Participation was voluntary, and it was made clear that participation or non-participation would have no impact on grades in the “Introduction to Music Education” course, or in any other course. The survey was administered in class to students in each of the course sections during the spring semester of 2006. The researcher-developed survey questions were designed to determine the participants’ understanding of the meanings of social justice and social consciousness, and their ideas about the appropriateness and feasibility of including aspects of social justice/social consciousness in their future teaching. Survey questions were:
- (1) What do the terms “social justice” and “social consciousness” mean to you as a music education student at a small liberal arts college in a rural geographic location?
- (2) How do you think social justice and/or social consciousness could inform the field of music education?
- (3) Describe a project that could engage students in learning that combines music education and social justice and/or social consciousness.
- (4) What do you feel to be the educational benefits or drawbacks to a project that links music education and social justice and/or social consciousness?
- (5) Do you feel that your goals as a music educator would be compromised by engaging in such a project?
- (6) Would you be willing to work on a project that links music education and social justice and/or social consciousness with your future students?
The following statement appeared at the top of the survey form:
According to Wikipedia, (the on-line free encyclopedia), “social justice is a philosophical definition of justice, that is giving individuals or groups their due within society as a whole.”12 Also according to Wikipedia, “social consciousness brings moral implications into all aspects of science. It can also be defined as social awareness; to be aware of the problems that different societies and communities face on a day-to-day basis. To be conscious of the difficulties and hardships of society.”13
This researcher attempted to clarify the meaning of the definitions, and also described a project that she felt to be an example of teaching for social justice and/or social consciousness. The project involved a class of eighth-grade students enrolled in a general music course that videotaped scenes from a visit to a homeless shelter, composed music to accompany the videotape, presented the finished product to a class of sixth-grade children, collected non-perishable food from the sixth-grade class, and delivered the food to the homeless shelter.
Question 1, “What do the terms ‘social justice’ and ‘social consciousness’ mean to you as a music education student at a small liberal arts college in a rural geographic location?”The following quotations are a sampling of responses to this question:
- Social Justice means equality and fairness throughout all society; perhaps not each person having an equal amount of wealth/happiness, but certainly having an equal chance to achieve such things.
- Social consciousness means awareness of societal issues and problems, as well as tending to those problems in some way—be it donating money or simply offering moral support to the cause.
- It is important to be exposed to as many different ideas, people, and cultures as possible. This can be achieved through teaching about different ideas, instead of staying within a safe zone.
- Every teacher should make their students aware that they are not only concerned with their own subject matter, but also moral issues. No classroom is complete without being aware of social issues.
- Social justice implies a hierarchical view of what is right or just. Justice demands that things are a certain way—the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. Social consciousness is one’s awareness of oneself, the people one interacts with, and the relationships formed between individuals. This awareness sheds light on desires, feelings, intent, and thoughts of individuals. Consciousness also implies sensitivity, and understanding and accepting differences between individuals.
There were nineteen responses regarding awareness of issues, problems, and/or others who are different or less fortunate; eleven responses included statements about equity, equal opportunity and/or treatment, and fairness; eight responses referred to taking action to address societal problems and/or situations; five responses described the right of all people to non-discrimination; four responses included issues of diversity and exposure to other cultures; four responses referred to the scholastic community, calling for equal opportunity for education among all people; four responses were set in a school-music context, and referred to all people having the right to learn music; three responses regarded people having an open mind about social issues; and two responses referred to moral issues.
Question 2, “How do you think social justice and/or social consciousness could inform the field of music education?” The following quotations are a sampling of responses to this question:
- It can make music educators more aware of issues surrounding them. The field of music education would benefit from including something different in their curriculum so that it is not just music class but also a class that is connected to the outside world.
- By showing the students how they can change the world with music, and teaching that all kinds of music benefit us in many ways. Doing projects that take what the students learn and applying that to real world situations would help send the message home to them.
- I think that they add another level to music education—for instance tying in with events and causes of modern composers, such as John Corigliano’s 1st Symphony, which was written with regards to the AIDS epidemic. This adds another dimension to class, and also focuses more on the humanistic element of music.
There were seventeen responses stating that an awareness of societal issues beyond music class within the context of music class could help inform the field of music education; ten responses included equity, and the right of all students to have access to music learning; nine responses called for the teaching of all genres and styles of music, including music of other cultures; five responses regarded informing the field through addressing societal issues and problems by taking action in music-class projects. There were four responses stating that teaching for social justice would help give deeper meaning to music being studied; one response described how issues of social justice/consciousness could influence how we express ourselves in creating music, and thus inform the field; and one response indicating that issues of social justice/consciousness could help music educators to deal better with social situations/dilemmas in our music classrooms.
Question 3, “Describe a project that could engage students in learning that combines music education and social justice and/or social consciousness.” The following quotations are a sampling of responses to this question:
- One idea could be to have some sort of benefit concert. An example of whom it could benefit could be the Katrina victims. The students could raise money for a choir or school that lost supplies. This way, students might be able to empathize with those going through a crisis, because they would be helping students like themselves.
- Students could compose music about a social issue that is important to them, and the teacher could post the final results on a website along with the student commentaries on their pieces explaining the issue and what they suggest to solve the problem. This would allow students to express their feelings on the issue as well as inform Internet viewers all over the world about the problem.
- Students could be exposed to live music from different ethnicities that make up a part of the population in the United States. Students could attend different religious ceremonies, family events, or even just witness things that may be different in other cultures. Students would then be able to compose/perform a piece of music in the specific culture/lifestyle that they chose. They may have the opportunity to perform their piece in front of people from the culture they had studied. This would help students gain a better understanding through music of the world around them, therefore ultimately improving their part in maintaining social justice.
There were ten responses regarding benefit concerts with the proceeds going to the poor, or some other humanitarian cause. Three of these responses included students composing music to perform at the event(s). Eight additional responses described students composing/performing music to represent and/or address issues of societal importance. There were six responses including studying music of other cultures, and how awareness of cultural and/or musical differences could be beneficial to students and/or persons of that culture. Five responses described ideas regarding strictly school and/or community issues and/or projects. Three responses included students performing at children’s hospitals and/or homeless shelters. There were two responses regarding preparing music of another culture, and taking action to address issues of social injustice in that culture. Two responses detailed providing music instruction for persons in orphanages, special needs facilities, and/or nursing homes. Two responses included purchasing or collecting donated food to take to needy families. One response described studying music performed at past social justice/awareness events, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony being performed at the fall of the Berlin Wall; and creating a tribute concert for a current event, engaging students in expressing their feelings about the event through music. One participant indicated that he/she felt that such a project would not be feasible in a music-class context; and another that he/she felt that such a project would be inappropriate in a music-class setting.
Question 4, What do you feel to be the educational benefits or drawbacks to a project that links music education and social justice and/or social consciousness?” Many participants responded with a combination of one or more benefits and/or drawbacks. The following quotations are a sampling of responses to this question:
- Children will become more aware of the world they live in. They will be expanding their minds, and becoming more open to understanding others’ hardships.
- A social awareness project will expose children to different cultures and customs that they may not have otherwise come in contact with. They will learn how to interact with more kinds of people, and will grow in sensitivity and awareness of others’ feelings and problems.
- A social justice/consciousness project would link music education with the rest of the world, instead of keeping music as a separate subject.
Statements of benefits included eleven referring to students gaining knowledge and expanding their mind set; nine referring to greater awareness of societal issues; six regarding exposure to different cultures and/or styles and genres of music; five statements of the benefits of connecting music to the larger world; four regarding increasing sensitivity to others feelings and/or problems; two referring to problem solving benefits; two regarding understanding the hardships of others; two referring to providing different performance opportunities; and two regarding enhanced advocacy.
- Students would be losing precious music-learning time. Less time would be spent on music concepts and music education goals.
- Parents and community members may not find projects like this appropriate for music classes.
- The focus might be taken away from the music itself.
Statements of drawbacks included fourteen regarding time taken away from music concepts and/or goals; two asserting that teaching for social justice is not the responsibility of music educators; one referring to the possibility of political backlash; and one stating that it is not appropriate to teach for social justice in music classes.
Question 5, “Do you feel that your goals as a music educator would be compromised by engaging in such a project?” Responses to this question included the following quotations:
- My goals as a music educator might be set back a bit through such a project (the focus is taken away from the music, after all), but my goals as an educator would be furthered —students need to be given a well-rounded education, and social justice/consciousness are extremely important parts of being an individual in a free society. Without socially conscious individuals, society cannot advance and fix inequalities.
- Projects like this are not always on the list of things required by the state, so some other activities may have to be cut out.
- In addition, there were thirty-three “no” responses, four “yes” responses, and one “not sure” responses. “No” responses included the following quotations:
- Six participants simply responded, “no.”
- Engaging in such a project would help to fulfill my goals, not only as a music educator, but as an educator and human being as a whole.
- I do not have the single goal of teaching music—I want to teach students how to improve their lives as a whole, as well. If I were to perform a project like this with my class, I feel that they would gain more from it than even I expect. My goal is to improve and impact their lives, and incorporating social justice is a great way to do this.
- This is largely the point of why I am going into music—to share what I see as something that can change the world, and projects like this do exactly that.
- Music is about emotion and about humanity. Anything that reinforces this is succeeding in educating students about the power of music in life.
“Yes” responses included the following quotations:
- Taking time out of a rehearsal or lesson seems foolish. I consider talking about history and current world events a job for the history teacher. It is not a bad thing for a music educator to talk about such topics, but time is limited.
- Music educators would become too focused on the social needs of the community to do the job they were hired to do—teach music, not to improve the world one step at a time.
- An educator should not teach or enforce morals in a classroom, or any type of setting.
Question 6, “Would you be willing to work on a project that links music education and social justice and/or social consciousness with your future students?” Thirty-six participants responded “yes.” Four participants responded “no.”
An analysis of the data indicates several emergent themes. The vast majority of pre-service music teachers investigated in this study indicated interest in the areas of equity, fairness, and awareness of societal issues. Responses indicating positive perceptions included taking action in music classes to address these issues, and connecting music classes to the larger world, as well as providing all students with music-class experiences, expanding the range of music experiences to include social justice and/or consciousness issues, and teaching the musics of a variety of cultures, styles, and genres. Responses indicating negative perceptions included issues of time taken away from musical goals and concepts, and inappropriateness of including social justice and/or consciousness topics.
In defining “social justice” and/or “social consciousness,” four participants responded in regard to scholastic settings. These participants indicated that social justice/consciousness are important, but sometimes hard to realize within the busy schedule of college life. Four participants stated that some combination of social justice and/or equity are important, but feel isolated in their campus location and unaware of issues and problems facing the larger nation and/or world. These responses display parallels with the study by Cantor, in that these participants seem to be entirely engaged in their current undergraduate situation, and unable to relate these issues to future teaching situations. In the Cantor study, the participants were much more engaged in their current teaching situations, and much less influenced by their past university experiences. This finding differs from the current research in which the majority of participants indicated interest in the areas of equity, fairness, and awareness of societal issues.14
The current research is similar to that of Clarke and Drudy in that a variety of attitudes toward diversity and social/global issues were evident in both studies. However, in the current research a large majority of participants indicated that they would be willing to work on a project that links music education and social justice and/or social consciousness with their future students, and an emergent theme was participant willingness to take action to address these issues. This differs from the Clarke and Drudy study, in which participants indicated a mainly conservative approach to teaching goals and strategies.15
Baldwin, Buchanan, and Rudisill concluded that the service-learning experiences provided in their study could potentially empower the pre-service educators to become socially just teachers. This is similar to the current research, in which emergent themes included the pre-service teachers’ willingness to take action in music classes to address issues of social justice and/or consciousness, to connect music classes to the larger world, to provide all students with music-class experiences, to expand the range of music experiences to include social justice and/or consciousness issues, and to teach the musics of a variety of cultures, styles, and genres.16
Conclusions and Implications for Music Education
Based on the results of this research, it can be concluded that the perceptions of the pre-service music teachers investigated in this study regarding teaching for social justice and/or social consciousness as it relates to music education are positive. Thirty-six of the forty participants are willing to incorporate projects that include a social justice component into their future music classes. Most of the participants feel that their students would benefit from doing such projects, and that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Implications for music education appear to be that university-level music education programs should consider including course-work in their curricula that addresses how to teach for social justice and/or social consciousness in the context of music classrooms. This researcher realizes that curricula in teacher-preparation programs are very full, and is not suggesting that additional courses be offered, but rather that course-work within pre-existing courses could include topics, and address issues, of social justice and/or social consciousness.
Ayers, William, Jean Ann Hunt, and Therese Quinn, eds. Teaching for Social Justice. New York: Teachers College Press, 1998.
Baldwin, Sheila C, Alice M. Buchanan, and Mary E. Rudisill. “What Teacher Candidates Learned about Diversity, Social Justice, and Themselves from Service-LearningExperiences.” Journal of Teacher Education 58, no. 4 (2007): 315-27.
Barton, Angela Calabrese, Tanahia A. Burkett, Jason L. Ermer, and Margery D. Osborne. Teaching Science for Social Justice. New York: Teachers College Press, 2003.
Bigelow, Bill, ed. Rethinking our Classrooms: Teaching for Equity and Justice. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 1994.
Cantor, Jim. The Development of Beginning Teachers as Social Justice Educators in the Context of a School-University Partnership. Chicago: American Educational Research Association, 1997. Eric Document Reproduction Service, No. ED408207.
Clarke, Marie and Sheelagh Drudy. “Teaching for Diversity, Social Justice, and Global Awareness.” European Journal of Teacher Education 29, no. 3 (2006): 371-86.
Damico, James and Ruthie L. Riddle. “From Answers to Questions: A Beginning Teacher Learns to Teach for Social Justice.” Language Arts 82, no. 1 (2004): 36-46.
Makler, Andra and Ruth Shagoury Hubbard. Teaching for Justice in the Social Studies Classroom: Millions of Intricate Moves. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000.
Reimer, Bennett. A Philosophy of Music Education: Advancing the Vision. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2003.
Ryan, Diana F. and Susan J. Katz. Teaching for Social Justice: Searching for Pedagogy. Montreal: American Educational Research Association, 2005. Eric Document Reproduction Service, No. ED490532.
12Wikipedia, “Social Justice,” http://www.wikipedia.org.
13Wikipedia, “Social Consciousness,” http://www.wikipedia.org.
Patricia Riley, D.M.A. is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Music Education at the University of Vermont. Prior to this, Dr. Riley taught at The Crane School of Music, State University of New York at Potsdam. She holds a DMA in Music Education from Shenandoah Conservatory, a MA in Music from The College of New Jersey, and a BS in Music Education from West Chester University. Previously, Dr. Riley taught instrumental, general, and choral music for twenty years in the public schools of New Jersey and Vermont; and for five years maintained a woodwind and brass studio at Green Mountain College. She has published in Music Education Research, Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, Research and Issues in Music Education, Visions of Research in Music Education, The Vermont Music Educator, and Teaching Music. Dr. Riley is a frequent presenter of sessions at international, national, regional, and state conferences. Her research interests include student music composition, cultural studies, technology, and assessment.