Why no aesthetic education to age 16?

  • Michael Fordham @mfordhamhistory

Music, art, drama and dance are all crucial parts of a child’s cultural heritage. All children should be doing at least one at GCSE.

Giles Fullard‏ @rgfullard 20h20 hours ago

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A broad education and one that attempts to enrich students’ cultural capital. We narrow the curriculum far too early.

 

John finney‏ @Johnfinney8

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Replying to @rgfullard @MrHistoire

It’s the aesthetic dimension of human existence seeking meaning through artistic expression and which is culturally significant for all.

 

 

This was part of a twitter discussion set in motion by Michael Fordham advocating and no doubt elsewhere justifying the place of the arts in a broad and balanced curriculum to age 16.

 

I recall, somewhen about 1985 in my Basingstoke comprehensive school, the question being asked by a parent at a year 9 options evening: why don’t pupils continue their study of all subjects in years 10 and 11?

 

This question was asked in the public forum and alongside other parents who questioned the compulsory ‘aesthetic option’ requiring all pupils to study an arts subject post age 14. The next day teachers of art, ceramics, music, film and drama were called to a meeting with the head and deputy. We sensed that our highly prized aesthetics option was under threat. We went to the meeting armed with chapter and verse on the value of the arts. At the time There was no shortage of philosophical enquiry into aesthetic and artistic knowing and the uniqueness of this way of understanding the world. We presented the head and deputy with reasoned arguments supporting our place in the curriculum. We deployed the weight of intellectual authority with confidence and conviction.

 

The aesthetic option lived on and in end of course evaluations pupils expressed great satisfaction with the ways in which the uniqueness of the arts had enriched their lives. It was part of a comprehensive comprehensive school education, a result of progressive 1970s thinking reviving a liberal education and saving education from a lazy traditionalism.

 

Now, some thirty years later there is the EBacc and the arts are excluded and only a few enlightened liberal educators feel confident enough to sustain an argument for a post 14 aesthetic education. Some point to the compulsory nature of English and English Literature and all that is offered there in the cause of an aesthetic education. But many will have noticed a general shift in discourse towards a certain view of rigour, competence and functionality. The idea of an aesthetic dimension to education is now unheard of and long silenced to be replaced by myopic reductionist notions of knowledge.

 

You will notice that I am talking of the aesthetic dimension of human existence in preference to Michael Fordham’s focus on cultural heritage and Giles Fullard’s cultural capital.

 

I do this not to deny these things but to remind us that there is an existential component to education that challenges dominant ways of thinking about knowledge and the prevailing limited ways in which culture is construed.

 

Pupils between the age of 14 and 16 will be wanting to give meaning to their lives through artistic expression and aesthetic experience and there should be a broad range of options available across a school’s aesthetic offering.

 

Did you know that the first proposal from the DfE in respect to the formation of the new GCSE examination in music was that 80% of the marks should be allocated to a written paper and that the ABRSM graded theory exams were considered as a model?

 

Interestingly, in the final reckoning there is a component of the exam referred to as ‘knowledge’, not aesthetic knowledge, not the wonder of occurrent knowledge. personal knowledge or embodied knowledge but, you’ve got it, propositional knowledge.

 

Alas, our current political masters have a poor grasp of the order of things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just imagine the music

This morning I went to a local supermarket and headed for the newspaper stand. As I approached, a song came into my head, from where, I don’t know. It was so strong that I found myself singing it, albeit quietly, as I found my newspapers. The song – See the conquering hero comes by Handel. I was feeling upbeat for some reason. But where did the song come from? I hadn’t consciously willed it and it wasn’t an ear worm. Once it had come I was in full control of it and once I got to the end there was no involuntary return.

The poet Stephen Spender writes:

‘There is nothing we imagine which we do not already know. And our ability to imagine is our ability to remember what has already once been experienced and to apply it to some different situation’ [1]

I assume that we all have an unconscious life of fantasy feeding our imaginations, including our musical imagination. Well, there it was in my long-term musical memory and awoken by my mood of the moment and being applied to a specific situation.

There’s a lot of talk about musical creativity less about the musical imagination.

John Paynter had something to say about it.

‘Every conscious involvement with music in performing, composing ”and” in listening is the result of an independent imaginative response. It can not be quantified or reproduced exactly a second time. It is personal and individual. No matter how much we analyse the mechanic of a piece of music, or pay attention to what other people tell us about it, music will not ”happen” for us unless we ourselves enter into the particular sound world it inhabits.’ [2]

Yesterday I enjoyed very much the compositions of the year 7s of the City of London School for Girls performed in the Museum of London where they had been working all day and responding to ‘The City is Ours’  (see http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/the-city-is-ours).

There were eight newly created works, none of which I or the girls could possibly have imagined at the beginning of the day. Their teachers I imagine entered into the day without giving much thought to ‘learning’, rather more thought to the subtleties of their teaching and being sensitive to the personhood of their pupils. (I like the idea of teaching without learning. [3])

What seemed important about the girls’ musical work was its uniqueness, and this means that it is irreplaceable.

Perhaps it’s time to stop, think and cherish the human imagination and its capacity to remake the world. I wonder if today the girls will be experiencing involuntary visits of their Museum Music. I am going to have a silent sing of that song.

Notes:

[1] Spender, S. (1982) The Making of a Poem in Creativity (ed) P. E. Vernon, Penguin Books.

[2] Painter, J. (1982) Music in the Secondary School Curriculum. Cambridge University Press.

[3] See Gert Biesta’s ‘The Rediscovery of Teaching’, Routledge for the significance of this proposition.

Creating a music curriculum

In my recent blog The year 9 class and their changing musical behaviour (see https://wordpress.com/post/jfin107.wordpress.com/6949) I cited the thought of Carolyn Cooke, one of the editors of Learning to teach music in the secondary school (3rd edition). In the recent symposium reflecting on that book at the Research in Music Education Conference at Bath Spa University Carolyn also spoke about Chapter 5 in the book, What is a music curriculum? written with Gary Spruce. Carolyn explains how her two chapters are linked:

‘It is this overriding principle of young people’s agency which tie together the Behaviour for Musical Learning chapter and the What is a Music Curriculum?’

And:

‘This chapter was conceptualised as a provocation – asking music student teachers to consider their own views, images, and experiences of the term ‘curriculum’ and then providing the resources and ideas with which to critique, and conceptualise curriculum in different ways. This ‘opening up’ comes in two forms in the chapter. In the first half, the term curriculum is itself scrutinised introducing the concepts of ‘curriculum as content’ and ‘curriculum as product’, arguing that both are reified forms of curriculum in which the document, content, objects within it become seen as concrete, fixed, unmoving and one in which young people have little to no agency. This is then contrasted with the concept of ”curriculum as a lived experience”, where young people become the curriculum makers. Cornbleth defines curriculum in this view as ‘an ongoing social process comprised of the interactions of students, teachers, knowledge and milieu’ (Cornbleth 1990). It is within this interactional, or ‘dialogic space’ that the curriculum isn’t just enacted, but is created.

The second half of the chapter explores this notion of curriculum creation by starting out with a metaphor used by Doll of the ‘Dancing curriculum’ – where nothing is fixed, or static (Doll in Fenwick et al. 2011). Where everything (resources, materials, environment, knowing, meanings, experiencing) are moving and dynamic and therefore where the curriculum is always evolving or emerging in response. It is here that complexity theory helps us to conceptualise what this means for re-conceptualising what a music curriculum is.’

The chapter sets out eight tasks for the reader and by the end they should have quite a lot to say about ‘what is a music curriculum?’ I think many of us would be a little tongue tied in answering this question or perhaps have only a summary phrase or two,

It seems to me that at the present time we need Carolyn’s chapter to sort out quite a bit of muddled thinking about our music education. I hope you will read the chapter.