Sometimes things align serendipitously, and one finds oneself needing to write. In this Presidential season in the United States and the media focus on political affairs, I think particularly of the aspirational State of the Union address in Congress by Barak Obama earlier this week replete with regret for what he has been unable to accomplish, with its background screen shot featuring Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, by his own admission, attempting to maintain an impassive demeanor as he dissented with the speech. I also think of the spectacle of recent Presidential debates with their parade of rudeness, pomposity, demagoguery, bigotry, fear-mongering, and ignorance, or worse, lack of concern for the truth. I asked myself a host of interrelated questions: When would politicians and the media—the fourth pillar of the American republic—and the public insist on articulating and unmasking what passes for truth, and critically navigating the terrain between angry outburst, persuasive rhetoric, and defensible position, in measured and generous ways? How have our public spaces shrunk, and how might we forge spaces that are inclusive of differences? Has public education in this country failed to transmit to the young humane values of intellectual acuity, sensitivity, care, and carefulness for all of those who call this country and this planet home, or are the sources of this pervasive incivility beyond the powers of education to solve? How might music educators more powerfully resist the economic, political, religious, cultural, and familial forces that foster hard-heartedness, exclusivity, anti-intellectualism, violence, and crassness in culture and society? Closer to home, what might I do to more strongly articulate and resist the darkness and lack of transparency too rampant in Western society and help to provide voice for music educators to lead the way toward a more transparent, humane, and decent society?
Yesterday, Iris Yob and I met with the presidents of the Sarasota Concert Association and Friends of the Sarasota Concert Association, a well-established, not-for-profit volunteer organization that sponsors performances of classical music in this Florida city. What might be done, we were asked, to foster a greater love of and participation in Western classical music among the rich tapestry of musical traditions in Sarasota and beyond? As we talked about the important role of music education in musical and civic life, I thought back to the early nineteenth century when musicians realized that for the good of the republic, a concerted and national program of music education was needed to inspire youngsters to sing and play the best of music artfully. Musicians and educators of that time realized that if the United States was to meet the mounting and rampant industrialization and inhumanity of that age, and if this country aspired to be a civilized and cultured nation, it needed to sponsor and preserve the arts. To these ends, musicians, educators, and the public at large mounted a grass-roots campaign with national reach to foster publicly supported education for all children, irrespective of their economic or social status, and to extol music as a means of humanizing society and offering artistic expression for all children. If we remain serious about these objectives as musicians, teachers, and policy makers, it is essential to mount another campaign to meet the incivility of our time, and in a differently mediated environment, to press, yet again, and with renewed effort, for a humane and art-filled education for young and old. As an educator, I cannot relinquish hope that we can and must improve not only music education, but education and society more generally. Our challenges may be different today, but the imperatives for a humane education remain just as compelling as they were in another time.
Support for the need to rethink the big educational questions of our day comes from different quarters. I think of last year’s UNESCO Report entitled, “Rethinking Education: Towards a Common Good?” (2015) as a call for dialogue and a starting point for thinking about what our present aims might be. The subtitle, “Towards a Common Good?” addresses the question of whether or how shared values might unite the world’s people and what this good or these goods might be? Among other things, the report stresses the need for reaffirming humanism and humane values. Some will doubtless lament the figure of the human tree on the cover of this report with its evocation of monolithic and arborescent thinking, and long, instead, for the pluralistic and rhizomatic possibilities that might include what Plato would think of, dialectically, as the “one and the many.” Still, the substance of the material between the report’s covers provides rich philosophical ground to mine and critique for music education.
Cultural commentators have also pointed to the importance of the arts in fostering humanity. For example, writing in the New York Times (Op Ed, Friday, January 15, 2016, A27), in a piece entitled, “When Beauty Strikes,” David Brooks describes the scene in a large empty space with floor-to-ceiling windows in a building across the street from his apartment that has been taken over by a ballet school. Caught by the beauty of the dancing he could now witness, he was moved to write about the power of the arts in evoking spiritual experience that is transformative toward the good, elevates the prosaic to the transcendent, and provides a vision of a better self. In music education, writers such as Deanne Bogdan, June Boyce-Tillman, David Carr, Anthony Palmer, and Iris Yob, and the Spirituality and Music Education group (SAME) have advocated for the spiritual values of music education in their published pieces in the Philosophy of Music Education Review, Music Educators Journal, and other music educational venues. Still, in all of the philosophical talk of technique, musical theory and practice, and unmasking of modernity in music education, it is easy to overlook the power that music education represents as a potential force for good in education and society.
In an effort to focus on the big philosophical questions relating to music education and its goods, an international call for papers has been issued on the PMER website at http://pmer.iu.edu. This special issue will take as its touchstone the UNESCO Report, Rethinking Education, and engage critically with the big questions of how music education needs to be rethought and what needs to be done to engender a humane music education that can contribute, in turn, to an education for the good of humanity.