As I explained in my last blog post, Freire (1970) discusses the problems faced by those that are oppressed in society and proposes a model of education (critical understanding of education) that inspires students to think critically and independently from teachers so that they can be active participants in the learning process. Freire (1997) particularly stresses the importance of encouraging students to reflect upon our society and its problems. This problem-posing education that fosters critical-thinking is, in Freire’s point of view, a counterpoint to the traditional models of education that he refers to as banking education.
In the banking education, the teacher is the only active participant in the educational process, therefore he/she deposits all their knowledge into students (empty) minds. There is no consciousness or questioning on the part of the student: her only job is to passively accept such knowledge, just like in a bank deposit. Now, the problem of such educational approach is that it is unquestionably oppressive and it limits students learning. In this blog post I argue that this is a fairly common approach to music education and that we can find a more critical and democratic approach outside of the formal teaching practices we are used to.
Since the development of the music conservatories in Europe and especially with the development of aesthetic education in the 20th Century, the idea of banking education has been accepted as the standard in music learning. This educational model is so blindly advocated for in this field that questioning it makes many “serious musicians” uncomfortable. In this oppressive vision, the objective of music education is to reach perfection in performance or composition based on Western aesthetic ideals. In order to be a “real musician” one has to comply with its standards; everyone else is either an amateur or educated audience.
As Small (1997) discussed, the praise of the western-tradition music has been deeply rooted in our society ever since the post-Renaissance humanist movement and it’s never-ending search for culminated in the objective, scientific world view [for more about my opinion on that topic, please check this blog post]. What was initially one musical culture became the standard for musical practice. Centuries later, when music was being integrated into the public system and when teachers saw the importance of advocating for music education, once again a western value system was used to qualify education and music education became aesthetic education. Well said, Anurandi.
The aesthetic education movement arose in the 1940s and 1950s and “dominated the music education philosophy for the next four decades” (Woodford, 2012, p. 86); said movement valued the “power” of music and its “beauty”. According to Woodford (2005), “with the rise of the civil rights and aesthetic education movements in the United States, music teachers passionately believed in, and publicly voiced the importance of music education for all children” (p. 57), but they erred in assuming that “all children everywhere should aspire to and attempt to uniformly replicate ‘definitive’ expert performances of the western ‘masterworks”” (p. 58). For that reason, “music teachers failed to develop philosophical understandings, teaching models, and pedagogical strategies that would help them accomplish their democratic goals. Instead, they reverted to traditional performance-based models, repertoires, and pedagogies divorced from the real musical world and its social problems” (p. 58).
This “salvation discourse” regarding the purpose of music education is deeply rooted in our profession and many of us truly believe that the role of music education should be to rescue students from their poor musical knowledge and unrefined musical taste. As Williams (2014) explains, “we continue to believe there is only a short list of real musical instruments and of high-quality musical styles. We have convinced ourselves that it is our job, our duty, to keep these instruments and musical styles alive so school students can find musical salvation…Come out of your mire of unmusical clutter, and I will help you understand real music!” (Williams, 2014, p. 95).
It is extremely hard for musicians and music teachers raised in the western tradition to understand that there is more to music education than technique and aesthetic pleasing performances of “the classics.” The conservatory-style training or even the traditional music classroom practices that we are used to—where the teacher is the decision-maker and the guardian of the knowledge and the students are the ones “receiving” said knowledge—is simply another example of the banking educational model criticized by Freire (1970). But then the question is: How can we as teachers promote non-oppressive music education practices?
A possible “solution” could be to look outside of the formal learning and bring non-formal and informal musical practices into the classroom. While there are those who believe that informal practices can’t happen in a formal setting, Folkestad (2006) explains that there is space in the formal-informal continuum for informal learning to happen in a formal setting such as the school classroom. While a school the setting will always be formal (since there is a teacher), the learning that the student will experience doesn’t have to be formal if the teacher can approach the learning in the same way the student experiences learning in his everyday life. Lucy Green provides a good example of how to balance both her project Musical Futures.
In this project she attempts to “close the gap between two musical worlds: that of pupils’ musical culture outside school and that of the classroom” (Green, 2005, p. 27) by promoting musical experiences where the teacher is the facilitator, but not the one shaping the learning. The process starts by encouraging students to bring their own music into the classroom and then talking about it, later the students are divided in groups of friends (in order to facilitate the collaborative work). Those groups choose their own instruments and have freedom to “explore” the chosen repertoire in any way they want. Students are not told they can or can’t do something; they are free to make their choices and guide their learning.
This model challenges the power relations that we are used to and promotes students’ critical thinking and autonomy as suggested by Freire’s (1970) critical education. While Green (2005) recognizes that not all students will necessarily benefit in the same way from this experience, I do believe it is a good example of how one can promote democracy rather then oppression in music education. As a result, we might have students that are engaged and interested in musical education rather then oppressed by it.
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MusicalFutures (2013) – An Introduction to Musical Futures. Retrieved from:
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