Category Archives: critical consciousness

Disruptions and Reflections: On Asking “Why?” Here and Now

Today I feel called to write. To go deeper into what I do not know. To question further what I am discovering.

We were around seven meetings into our music education-facilitation course, and I felt frustrated. Something was wrong. Part of that responsibility was my own as one of the educators of the group of Israelis and Palestinians learning facilitation skills with and through utilizing the expressive arts, and yet that was not just it. The other entity at fault was the reality enveloping us all: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on socialization and inflicted trauma. As I spoke with one student during an activity trying to reach him, to make him think beyond what has been forced into his mind as a form of submission, inside I felt desperate. Remain calm. Move slowly. Think deeper. Unfold carefully. Love truly. How deeply had this young man been socialized by the conflict, by trauma, and the education system to be functional, and yet with a sleeping consciousness. How could he begin to imagine and think beyond these forces, to think for himself on his own terms as a young person with already the knowledge and experiences to speak his own truths – to awaken. Sometimes I think I am not prepared to do this; sometimes I think maybe I am not supposed to do this at all. After all, am I not also part of the system? This is in the back of mind all the time – submission of another kind that must also be disrupted.  

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This is not my first encounter of this situation with both Israelis and Palestinians of all ages and sectors, but as I work with Palestinian and Israeli youth (and in the summers with Tunisian youth), this is where I encounter it the most. It is not just the loud and terrifying violent events that intrude our lives – for some occasionally and others daily, but rather the quiet and disturbing presence of the conflict in so many aspects of life here, stifling creativity, imagination, and critical thinking. The longer I am here, the more convinced I am of how incredibly deep its influence is in all sectors of society and everyday life from the mundane to the psychosocial. Though Israelis and Palestinians are both resilient “in defiance of and because of” (Gaye, 2014) the conflict, this then still does not leave much energy or room to confront the socialization of the conflict, trauma, and the conflict in general in ways that explore, as Greene says, beyond the dualities (1995) of what is. If the conflict and occupation relentlessly forces us into submission through its cyclical routine, domination, and impossibility as it oppresses both Palestinians and Israelis in differing ways, then we must be disruptive with equal force and possibility. Perhaps this is simply nonviolence, which can also be described as “positive force.” Perhaps in transformational educational spaces, this is where we can find and re-find,  see and hear our true selves, discovering our power to overcome and co-create beyond what is, as individuals and then maybe as a society. 

“All depends upon a breaking free, a leap, and then a question. I would like to claim that this is how learning happens and that the educative task is to create situations in which the young are moved to begin to ask, in all the tones of voice there are, “Why?” – Maxine Greene, p. 6, Releasing the Imagination 

Like Maxine Greene says, we must be moved to ask “why” in all of “the tones of voices there are” (Greene, p.6, 1995). In a protracted conflict, asking “why” can feel dangerous. Any part of life, whether nationalistic ambitions, religious understanding, methods of resistance, which cannot be questioned, simply become dogmatic – an “ism.” Suppressing and not teaching the act of questioning of society and oneself enables old, oppressive structures to remain in place. Often I tell my students, “If there is nothing to question, there is nothing to learn. And there is always more to learn, therefore there is always more to question.” Enabling these oppressive structures to stay in place by those who benefit from them is its own kind of “banking concept” (1970) as Paulo Freire speaks of, where there are “attempts to control thinking and action,” which then “inhibits their [women and men’s] creative power” (Freire, p.77, 1970). I ask my students questions, such as: “How do we break free, as Greene speaks of, from the given, the taken-for-granted, the ordinary? What feelings are involved in breaking away? What is “wide-awakeness” in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to you? If we are all “becoming,” then what are you “becoming?” Answering these questions requires critical thinking, self-reflection, and raising of critical consciousness. It requires the possibility to imagine what you are not yet. These questions are not only fitting to those involved in a place of protracted conflict. These questions are relevant for everyone, everywhere, while challenging Whiteness, patriarchy, colonialism, self-depreciation, education reform and capitalism in its many harmful forms, and the lack of youth voices in society. And yet this is not only an intellectual exercise, but also an emotional one. The heart is exposed when speaking of identity, narrative, and belonging. Israeli and Palestinian youth speak about how this can feel terrifying, frustrating, confusing, painful, and unsettling, and yet also gratifying, interesting, exciting, comforting, and freeing. To ignore the emotional needs, irregardless of whether Israeli or Palestinian, is equally irresponsible and negligent of the educator when seeking to do everything in her power to reach a young person while she is navigating the socialization of the conflict and trauma. We cannot shut down the heart, whether our own or our students. As hooks says, “When we love, we can let our hearts speak” (hooks, p. xi, 2000).

The call for transformative educational spaces with a critical pedagogy, anti-oppressive competences, and locations of possibility (hooks, 1994) sustained through an “ethic of care”  (Holloway & Krensky, 2001) and attention, from the origins of the word “to hold,” of the participants’ emotional needs could not be greater. In fact as socialization of the conflict is multifaceted, it must also be challenged through an intersectional (Crenshaw, 1989) approach by considering all of the mechanisms of power across class, race, ethnicity, ability, language, religion, and gender. There is so much marginalization of many different groups in this conflict, within and beyond just the two pillars of Israeli and Palestinian. Perhaps by including educational competences about feminism, human rights education, the language of feelings and compassionate communication, in addition to values-based education and learning about each others’ narratives and realities, solidarity can grow. As a musician, I strongly believe as well that we awaken when we experience the arts, musicking (Small, 1995), and co-creation, where we can therefore internalize and continuously renew these topics by actively examining, digesting, putting into practice, processing, self-reflecting, and questioning the many realities and truths co-created within an equalizing process and ultimately, equally a part of each of us. Seeking structural changes in the education systems here from formal to nonformal education are also desperately needed. Often these days I wonder (beyond curriculum and educational process) what this could look like on the level of student/participant, educator/facilitator, organization/NGO, and policy/school system.

Delving deeper into these questions is the responsibility of the educator, the student, the individual, and the society – both Palestinians and Israeli Jews. It is a matter of the heart, mind, and soul. It is a decision to not be complicit in the old, oppressive structures, while also activating possibilities of philosophical and emotional regeneration, of what could be – to ask why?

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APA Citation: Gottesman, S. (2017, June 7). Disruptions and Reflections: On Asking “Why?” Here and Now. Retrieved from: https://musicintervention.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/disruptions-and-reflections-on-asking-why-here-and-now/

REFERENCES

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. U. Chi. Legal F., 139.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York, NY: Continuum.

Gay, R. (2014). Bad feminist. Hachette UK.

Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Holloway, D. L., & Krensky, B. (2001). Introduction: The arts, urban education, and social change.

Hooks, B. (2014). Teaching to transgress. Routledge.

Hooks, B. (2000). All about love: New visions. William Morrow.

Small, C. (1995). Musicking: A ritual in social space. A lecture at the University of Melbourne June 6.

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An Invitation to Question: How Can Music Education Become a More Dialogical Space?

Is music an expression of our reality or the creation of our reality? Where does technique meet possibility and where does learning meet technique? How can multiple truths and multiple perspectives exist in the same co-created space, and how can we express these multiple truths and perspectives with and through music? These are a few of the questions that were explored in this year’s Improvisation Class during the Cultures in Harmony-Atlas Music Festival.   The festival, held in Tunisia in the small town of Beni Mtir near the mountainous border with Algeria, seeks to implement Track II Diplomacy in the form of cultural diplomacy between Americans and the West, and Tunisians and the MENA region.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

The name “Improvisation Class” is merely a label for the class to exist within the structure of a mainly classical music summer camp for Tunisian youth. When exploring and redefining the possibility of musical creation and interaction, no clear title seems to exist. Similar to the lack of label, the way in which the class co-created musically through a dialogical process of learning and sharing is generally unheard of in what is considered classical music education and pedagogy. I believe what we co-created challenges how music education is overwhelming taught and calls to question what could be. In the words of the late education philosopher Maxine Greene, “Imagination has to do with possibilities; never settle with what is!”

I suspect one of the greatest challenges music education faces today (or even yesterday as a violist myself who grew up completely immersed in a classical music education regimen) in our ever globalizing world is exactly what Maxine Greene speaks of: the imagination of possibilities. So often, we musicians are trained rather than taught. Our musical goals focus on digesting, and external benchmarks instead of creating. And so often, the flow of knowledge is merely from teacher to music student without even the consideration of how the music student can and should add to the flow of knowledge and understanding. This translates beyond the space of learning, but even to who is considered a musical creator versus a musical vessel. In the current music education environment in the classical music world, young musicians are often expected to follow this one-way hierarchy of teacher-knows-all and student-knows-none-until-told. This issue is not exclusive to the classical music world; its traces can be found in the teaching of other music genres, such as jazz, and inadvertently, continues to marginalize and undermine music genres, such as hip hop and rap, in music education. [1]

Now for those musicians and music educators getting ready to run for it after these last sentences, don’t go anywhere just yet! Join me for a moment in questioning not what music education is, but rather what it could be. I believe there are possibilities in which a youth musician achieves musical greatness, and musical creator. And in this process it is not only the responsibility of the musician or music educator, but as well the youth musician. How does a music educator create this type of dialogical space with her or his students? What are the benefits of doing so in the first place? And finally, why question our current system of musical learning by asking what could be? Elements of our Improvisation Class can perhaps shed light on these very questions. Of course, all learning should be contextual to each space of learning, which suggests adopted ideas and concepts from here must be contextualized to their new settings, too.

Our Improvisation Class consisted of around 25 youth musicians from the ages of nine to 19 all with various levels of experience, whether on the violin, piano, guitar, voice, sax, darbuka, and accordion. I sought to provide a certain structure that enabled a few key elements that could lead to the possibilities of musical greatness and musical creator through our dialogical space, where knowledge, understanding, and skills were transferable to outside musical and non-musical spaces. Whereas the process of sharing musical knowledge and understanding should be a two-way street, I believe musician and music educator is responsible for providing the initial structure in which creativity can thrive.

1. All ideas are welcome within our fundamental social agreement of listening, respect, and responsibility to our peers, our creations, and ourselves.

We all have a natural desire to feel appreciated. When we feel appreciated, we are more willing to confront vulnerability positively as moments of growth and self-transformation (see Brené Brown’s TED Talk: The Power of Vulnerability). In providing structure in which creativity can flourish, I wanted to welcome everyone into a setting where youth musicians felt safe or at least safer in sharing their ideas, feelings, and emotions musically and verbally. In our entire group we all agreed, including myself as a facilitator-participant, to listen, respect, and be responsible to each other, our creations, and ourselves.

2. Every youth musician has valid experiences, and has gained understanding and knowledge through these experiences, in which to teach and share with the group.

In harmony with challenging what education philosopher Paulo Freire termed the “banking concept” where students are looked upon as empty vessels awaiting for their teacher to fill their mind with knowledge, our Improvisation Class was a problem-posing (Freire, 2000) space in which peer learning flourished and youth musicians built upon previous musical and social experiences. Progressive education philosopher John Dewey speaks of experiences as a continuum of quality doing and undergoing (Dewey, 2007), which builds knowledge and understanding, ultimately leading to personal growth and openness to further growth through continuous doing and undergoing (Dewey, 2007). The first day of our class began with a spontaneous jam session that morphed from the original beats of my rhythm sticks on the chairs in our circle to saxophone solos flowing on top of violin, viola, percussion, guitar, and piano. In other words, youth musicians’ previous musical knowledge and experiences were acknowledged and respected straight from the beginning.

3. The invitation is there. I am not the absolute teacher; they are not the absolute students. We each have differing responsibilities and roles to play in the space we build together, which contributes in a unique way to the dialogue and music we co-create.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

In setting up the space where peer learning could flourish, I chose to implant opportunities of teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork amongst the youth musicians. I might have overseen the spark of certain conversations and musical ideas, though ultimately, each youth musician had the freedom to take the conversation and musical dialogue where she or he wanted. The most important factor in enabling this location of possibility was each youth musicians’ agreement to enter our social agreement where each person’s freedom was dependent on the other’s. As Alfred Schütz describes in Making Music Together: A Study in Social Relationships, “Each of them [musician] has, therefore, to take into account what the other has to execute in simultaneity. He/She has not only to interpret her/his own part, which as such remains necessarily fragmentary, but he/she has also to anticipate the other player’s interpretation of his/her – the other’s – part and, even more, the other’s anticipations of his/her own execution. Either’s freedom of interpreting composer’s thought is restrained by the freedom granted to the other.” (Schütz, 1951, p. 94-95)

These three elements of structure created the possibility for the youth musicians to be:

  1. Loyal to the local/known; Openness to the new/unknown (see education philosopher David Hansen’s Cosmopolitanism and Education)
  2. Self-express through multi-modal means, putting youth musicians constructively on-edge from the start
  3. Co-creating a space equally belonging to each one of us in “withness”

In planting the initial structure of the Improvisation Class, I was able to put our adventure on pathways to discover deeper societal issues, with and through musical co-creation, that were taboo in Tunisian society and across multiple societies. A big element of the class was the focus on certain social/environmental/political issues that were self chosen by each youth musician, and then grouping together youth musicians interested in overlapping issues, such as privilege and war, peace, and justice to work together to explore those topics further musically and with dialogue in their new, micro community. This also presented the opportunity for each community of youth musicians to establish their very own social agreement for their group, describing how they would create and share with each other. The results of each community’s focus on their various topics led to authentic music making with the purpose of learning, both musically and socially, all as equals with various responsibilities. To push this concept even further, each exercise surrounding these topics included elements of individual teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork, in addition to group teaching, learning, leadership, and teamwork. Here are a few of the exercises that combined all of these elements:

  • Musical Sensitivity Line, where youth musicians stood in a line in front of the rest of the class, and first created a number of free-flowing stories verbally as individuals and then as a team, and then musical compositions as individuals and then as a team.
Music Sensitivity Line

Credit: Ny No

  • Human DJ, the co-creation of a human soundtrack where one youth musician is the DJ and determines the sounds and rhythms of each youth musician in the group. Then, the DJ rejoins the circle and a new DJ from the group takes the stage.
Human DJ

Credit: Ny No

  • Teaching of a new musical idea by each member in each community, and then the entire community choosing at least two newly learned musical ideas to teach to the other two communities, and vice versa.
  • Choosing any two new musical ideas from any community, whether your own or another’s, to create a cumulative composition for the final concert

Some community’s cumulative musical co-creations were a reflection or statement based upon their specific issue, whereas others did not mirror their issue. However, every group nonetheless underwent a spherical, deepening process of building knowledge and understanding based upon past experiences and new experiences through multi-modal means to co-create what did not exist before. This process is on the pathway of musical creator and musical greatness.

In summation, it is crucial that we, musicians and music educators, question whether we are co-creating with our students spaces of learning and teaching that foster the imagination of possibilities. There is so much more to describe about our Improvisation Class’s six sessions together, yet not enough room or enough words. Each day could have it’s entirely own reflection. What is clear is how our Improvisation Class was youth-centered with horizontal learning, and inclusive and participatory practices supporting peer learning, authentic music making and learning, and critical thinking of deeper issues in our societies and the role we, and especially youth, can play in making music that impacts our world. I believe these transferable skills will translate beyond our Improvisation Class’s special space, and into less safe spaces in everyday life.

Credit: Ny No

Credit: Ny No

And finally, is this a negation or replacement of the current classical music structure? No, it’s not. Replacing one ideology with another never solves the root issues at hand. In John Dewey’s Experience and Education, he does not advocate for traditional education to be completed replaced by progressive education without thought and deep investigation of the meaning behind both. “For in spite of itself any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an ‘ism’ becomes so involved in reaction against other ‘isms’ that it is unwittingly controlled by them. For it then forms its principles by reaction against them instead of by a comprehensive, constructive survey of actual needs, problems, and possibilities.” (Dewey, 2007, p.6) I invite you all to be the stranger in the development of new educational spaces that constructively question what music education has been and what it could be, and finally, to invite our youth musicians to do the same.

[1] For more on this, please read David A. Williams and Randall Allsup.

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APA Citation: Gottesman, S. (2014, October 19). An Invitation to Question: How Can Music Education Become a More Dialogical Space?. Retrieved from: https://musicintervention.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/an-invitation-to-question-how-can-music-education-become-a-more-dialogical-space/

REFERENCES

1. Brown, B. (TED Talk). (2010, June). The Power of Vulnerability. Podcast retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability

2. Dewey, J. (2005).  Art as experience (pp.45-55). Penguin.

3. Dewey, J. (2007). Experience and education. Simon and Schuster. 

4. Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum.

5. Greene, Maxine. “Inaugural Maxine Greene Lecture.” 2013 Preemptive Education Conference. Teachers College, New York. 26 Sept. 2013. Speech.

6. Hansen, D. (2010). Cosmopolitanism and education: A view from the ground.The Teachers College Record, 112(1).

7. Schütz, Alfred. “Making music together: A study in social relationship.” Social Research (1951): 76-97.