Help! I need a rationale for Key Stage 3

In the previous blog I used a year 7 project ‘The life and work of John Cage’ as an example of

1. Project work as distinct from a unit of work
2. How a project can be thick in content and skills
3. How an enquiry question can help to structure work and build a line of enquiry
4. How the work develops through a dialogue between teacher and pupils
5. How criteria for assessment are emergent rather than pre-determined

In the years following 2000, when the project in question was taught, the music of John Cage along with the work of other so called ‘experimentalist’ composers has featured in GCSE syllabuses with great potential for educating musically.

John Cage’s 4′ 33” of silence is sometimes seen as a watershed moment in cultural history, the point of break with modernism and the move into the postmodern. (1) Charcteristics of artistic postmodernism includes the disolving of the high-low art distinction shown well in the hugely influential work of Reich and Glass, for example, as well as in the contemporary practice of mashing where categories and boundaries are ignored and where surface qualities are more regarded than depth or provenence. Postmodernism as an artisitc movement is a part of the bigger idea of postmodern times, where a globalised culture, with time and space contracted through the advance of techological resources, change the way we think, live and understand ourselves, eachother and the future. This also changes the relationship we have with the past and with music as a global resource.

All this calls for the selecting of what we teach and the making of decisions about how we teach it into an ethical challenge. (2) It calls for something more than teacher enthusiasm and passion. Why select this? Why allow it to be learnt like this?

Anna Gower, that dynamic spirit of music educational adventure, cries – ‘Help! I need a rationale for my Key Stage 3’.

Yes, music teachers do need a well thought through rationale and they do need to be able to articulate this, able to justify what they do in terms that go beyond the familiar slogans. Finding a rationale unfortunately is not easy work. Taking one off the shelf wont do. It will require some thinking and likely some reading. Perhaps it is something we can do together with our pupils. The first step might be to create some questions about the music-making that is before us here and now.

(1) The Cultural turn: selected writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1998, Frederick Jameson, Verso, 1998.
(2) The Ethical Significance of Music-making, Wayne Bowman, Music Mark magazine, Winter 2014.

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