Music education as fulfilment and with ethical significance

The attentive reader of last week’s blog will be thinking, ‘so music education is good for something after all. If music education is for fulfilment music education can’t be ”good for nothing” or merely ”good for itself”.’ Yes, true, it has become good for something. As Wayne Bowman points out, making the distinction between intrinsic good and extrinsic good is mis-conceived. [1] Claiming music education to be an intrinsic good doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. However, arguing for music education as fulfilment is some distance from making a shopping list of benefits that fuel exaggerated claims for a music education and that are likely to mis-direct and distort practice.

In arguing for music education as fulfilment as set out in last week’s blog, I think we are better placed to justify the place of music in the school. We avoid what are likely to be distractions from multiple and lesser claims where a myriad of siren voices reduce music to serving too many things. Making a distinction between justification and advocacy may be helpful.

Those engaged in advocacy for music education have no interest in the possible limitations in what is claimed, neither look for ways of falsifying such claims. [2] Advocacy is politically motivated and concerned with gaining resources in an economically competetive world. While advocacy is necessary, it can all too easily draw too many into creating a comforting mystical aura around music and music education inducing waves of enthusiastic rhetoric about the value of music and an onward search for what becomes the holy grail.

Music education as fulfilment belongs to the school of thought that views education as contributing to human flourishing. The Greeks called this eudaominia, an ultimate good. If a music education is thought of in terms of human flourishing then as Wayne Bowman maintains, music and music education need to be thought of as a set of musical practices ‘…practices whose value depends upon whether and how they distinctively enable their practitioners to thrive, none of which follows automatically or necessarily from musical engagement. The values afforded by music-making depend on the kind of music at hand, the ways we engage in it, and the uses to which that experience is subsequently put’. [3]

Thus music-making and music education have ethical significance, and now we can see a great expanse of clear water, a whole ocean, between this kind of justification and the chatter of those who claim music to be good for this and that, including employability and economic productivity.

In the Purpose of Study statement introducing the National Curriculum for Music there is reference to increasing pupil’s self-confidence. No other subject in the curriculum has such a reference. Other subjects might well consider such a statement facile, even fatuous. Time for music education to have greater self-confidence.

Notes:

[1] ‘The ethical significance of music-making’, Wayne Bowman, Music Mark Magazine, Issue 3 – Winter 2013/14.
[2] This also applies to advocates of music teaching methods. Increasingly researchers oblige by carrying out what are inevitably positive evaluations of programmes.
[3] p. 4 ‘The ethical significance of music-making’, Wayne Bowman, Music Mark Magazine, Issue 3 – Winter 2013/14.

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3 thoughts on “Music education as fulfilment and with ethical significance

  1. Jason

    Hi

    What a great blog! Thankyou!!

    The Siren calls of intrinsic and extrinsic justifications!! Nice! The spectre of self fulfilling, political motivated research! how true!

    “…practices whose value depends upon whether and how they distinctively enable their practitioners to thrive, none of which follows automatically or necessarily from musical engagement. The values afforded by music-making depend on the kind of music at hand, the ways we engage in it, and the uses to which that experience is subsequently put’.

    What an intriguing quote. This Wayne Bowman seems interesting hmm £38.87 is a bit pricey to find out more!!

    Still music and ethical significance and fulfilment sound like very useful ideas to pursue so thank you for taking the time to raise this issues and ideas!!

    I have responded to the above quote in Martin’s blog – also interesting! How strange to snatch some time to think over the Easter Hols!

  2. Indeed, John. I’ve often thought if fulfilment is the goal, schools might as well teach fishing. After all, apparently hundreds of people go angling each week!

  3. But that’s why it is important to link ‘fulfilment’ to ‘musical practices’ in the way Wayne Bowman does. See Music Mark article. Linking it to angling is another thing and in itself interesting. It’s just that angling practices don’t seem to have as much cultural significance as music-making. If music-making is a signficant way of making self etc (see previous blog), and if education is for some notion of the good life lived well (Eudaimonia-Aristotle), and more than the two aims of the current National Curriculum (neo-conservative and neo-liberal imminence), then a music education as fulfilment with ethical significance is a valuable contribution to challenging the dominant ideology of the present.

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