Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Ethics in Music Education

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Ethics in Music Education

Article excerpt

The discussion of Ethics in music education has moved once again to the forefront with the announcement of the MayDay Colloquium 22 to be held at Montclair State University in June 2010.

Sociologists, as well as researchers in other human subject disciplines have met the challenges of an ever-increasingly complicated dictate for the ethical conduct of research. Many say that the constraints are now so onerous as to render some legitimate research models useless. The issues at the heart of the controversy are about informed consent. All granting organizations now require strict application of ethical standards practices before permitting grants to be approved. By way of example, most of these ethical reviews require that the questions asked of participants be identified in advance to screen questions which might violate ethical research standards. But many sociologists who base their research models on more naturalistic models where the researcher goes to a situation to witness the interaction of subjects such as students or teachers or administrators or parents cannot be expected to know what questions to ask before witnessing the social interaction of the subjects. The constraints of these new ethical standards seem to work reasonably well with the old style of research, particularly quantitative models, where researchers designed questionnaires in advance based on their guesses as to what was important. Qualitative researchers generally do not make the same assumption that they already know what is going on and only need to prove it. The new ethical standards have placed a debilitating burden on many forms of naturalistic research.

In practice, ethical questions abound in music education. Do we identify the poorest singers in our choir and ask them not to sing in a competition? If we do, the quality of the performance may be dramatically improved for the benefit of the remainder. Do the needs of the few poor singers out-weigh the benefits of the many? Do we ethically audition singers for entrance to our choir? Many teachers will say that if they have a large un-auditioned group that is open to all, then their ethical obligation is met and they are free to have an auditioned group exclusively for the best students. But surely the same argument made for the basketball team that simply does not play more than a handful of players at a time and is typically limited to the best few students in a school applies to a teacher who chooses to have an exclusive auditioned group for only the very best.

In fact, do we have the same ethical standards for performing groups that are "extra-curricular"? "Extra" implies "outside of" or "in addition to" the things that are required or available to all students in the curriculum. If teachers hold "extra-curricular" duties to be beyond contractual requirements then there should be no ethical impediment to a lone auditioned choir in a school.

On the other hand, many schools and music teachers have strongly maintained that their performing ensembles are, at the very least, "co-curricular" and many obligate students taking the music courses to participate in these ensembles as part of this "co-curricular" experience.

We are paid by the population in general and need to make whatever we offer available to all who support our enterprise. We have an ethical dilemma with respect to equal access versus equal opportunity. If, for example, we offer instrumental music to every student in the school we have equal opportunity. This would seem on the face of the argument to be a fair and equitable way to meet a mandate from all taxpayers. If we then ask those who express an interest to pay a fee to rent an instrument or ask students to purchase an instrument to allow participation we meet the demands of equal opportunity but not equal access. …

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