What is music education for in the age of measurement?

In last week’s blog I took a step back from the world of music educational advocacy and the seemingly insatiable desire to name the benefits that engagement with music offers.

I attempted to move beyond an interest in the language of inputs, outputs and outcomes and instead asked the question: what are the purposes of a music education – what is a music education for? In finding a way forward I drew upon the three areas that Gert Biesta proposes through which educational purposes function.

I took the step of reinterpreting Biesta’s scheme for music education. This should really be seen as a Venn diagram.

  1. Qualification: the ways in which music education qualifies people to do things-equipping them with knowledge, skills and dispositions to make music well and to think about it critically.
  2. Socialisation: the induction of newcomers into existing practices, into the cultures of making-music.
  3. Subjectification: the person becoming a unique individual, subjectively enriched and able to feel a sense of personal freedom, even emancipation through music.

But before considering these further another step back is needed.

If the purposes of education function through qualification, socialisation and subjectification, is there not some greater qualifier, some overarching purpose or goal?

One such qualifier, and often deferred to, is the Greek concept of Eudemonia. Here a major source is Aristotle.

One commentator writes:

‘In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that eudemonia means ‘doing and living well and being content’. For Aristotle this implies that eudemonia involves activity and a striving for excellence. It is human nature to strive for self-development. Therefore the best form of eudemonia is gained by the proper development of one’s best powers and the most humane attitude. This identifies us as ‘rational animals’. It follows that eudemonia for a human being is the attainment of excellence (arête) through the use and application of reason.’ [1]

Eudemonia represents a life-long goal. There is no point of arrival and ‘happiness’, merely being a state of mind, is not what Aristotle is thinking of. And ‘well-being’ misses the mark too.

If music education’s greatest qualifier is eudemonia, that is, a music education for living well, flourishing as a human being and now further qualified through

  1. Qualification: the ways in which music education qualifies people to do things-equipping them with knowledge, skills and dispositions to make music well and to think about it critically.
  2. Socialisation: the induction of newcomers into existing practices, into the cultures of making-music.
  3. Subjectification: the person becoming a unique individual, subjectively enriched and able to feel a sense of personal freedom, even emancipation through music. [2]

Then we can concentrate on making music well, thinking about it critically as we encounter and master particular musical practices, while the dialogue that constitutes being educated continues.

Further still it enables highlighting and attending to the structures that prevent this from being the case, to inequalities and social injustices.

Seeking outcomes such as improved social skills, personal attributes such as resilience and self-confidence or a self-identity that says ‘I am a musician’ become a distraction.

If a music education is thought of in terms of human flourishing (eudemonia) as part of an education for 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 the music teacher is not so much one who is accountable but one who is ethically responsible for what they choose to teach and the questions that this gives rise to.

None of this is easy in an age of measurement where accountability rather than responsibility is called for. In the age of measurement the teacher’s not infrequent sense of virtuosity is likely to go unrecognised.

They ask ‘what is to be the future of music education?’

Not much future without asking ‘what is music education for?’

Notes:

[1] I apologise to the author who I can not name having lost the source in the worldwide web.

[2] Biesta recognises that the term ‘subjectification’ may invite in the negative idea of ‘being subjected to’. Sujectification is an awkward word but as I explained in footnote 6 of last week’s blog such potentially alienating concepts given sufficient context can become valuable resources for thought.

[3] p. 4 ‘The ethical significance of music-making’, Wayne Bowman, Music Mark Magazine, Issue 3 – Winter 2013/14.
In this highly significant article Bowman lays to rest the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic value.

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5 thoughts on “What is music education for in the age of measurement?

  1. Yes, eudaimonia would be a goal of education in general. But if music is a part of education in general then those music specific goals (the three kinds I set out, for example) can helpfully live under the umbrella of the general goal. In this way a music education can serve the common good of education while addressing more specific purposes.

  2. nigelmtaylor

    Would eudaimonia be “a” goal for education (i,e, one of a number of goals) or “the” goal for education?

    1. Good question. Eudaimonia is a very big idea and as such claims to be an ultimate purpose to human existence, the belief that ‘human flourishing’ (not to be read reductively) – a striving after and seeking to learn what the good life is, is a comprehensive and all embracing goal.
      So I think it would be ‘the’ goal of education while recognising many sub-goals.
      Of course, there are many other contenders for the position of ‘the goal of education’.
      Perhaps attempting to set out ‘the goal’ is over ambitious and unnecessary. In fact John Dewey was wary of setting out educational aims of any kind in advance of teaching allowing for these to emerge in the light of what was practical.

    2. You can hear Prof. White from @IOE_London answer the question, what are schools for here: http://bit.ly/1BrjNsA #aimsofeducation #askaprof

      This I think gives us a taste of how important it is to find the place to start in seeking out educational aims. By the way, count the times Prof. White mentions ‘fulfilment’ and ‘flourishing’. (Assuming eudaimonia perhaps.)

      So, do we want the purposes of a music education to defer to the purposes of an education in general?

      If we do then there is much thinking to do. Not all that popular unfortunately.

      Perhaps we needn’t waste the time and effort and jump to ‘music education contributes to a fulfiling life full stop’.

      However, I suggest that without some careful thinking about aims we will run into confusions about what we are doing and why, and think we have common purpose when we don’t have one at all.

      Much easier to stick to advocacy.

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