Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Aliens in the Music Classroom? Promoting Effective Knowledge Exchange

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Aliens in the Music Classroom? Promoting Effective Knowledge Exchange

Article excerpt

There is no shortage of discussion in education today about how dramatically different young people's learning experiences are compared to even a generation ago. Increasingly fast-paced and high-tech lives are associated with fragmented, fluid, diffuse, and noisy music learning experiences. Increased mobility, social networking, mass media, globalization, and multiculturalism have amplified music learners' social connections and their exposure to diverse music practices. Students have instantaneous access to varied music resources, an immeasurable amount of music choices, and an unprecedented amount of autonomy over their own learning decisions. In addition, there is a growing media convergence culture whereby unique combinations of old and new forms of music production and consumption have exploded boundaries surrounding what constitutes traditional musical knowledge.

Green and Bigum (1993) argue that because young people today have grown up in a computer-connected world that has altered their body of knowledge or know-how to such an extent, it is like having "aliens in the classroom". It might also be argued that in the current information era, teachers and researchers can also feel like aliens in the music classroom. This can occur on many levels and it is not always easy to unravel the layers of complexity that are embedded in these layers. Some of these layers may involve technology, personal experience, popular culture or other cultural understandings. There is a sense that our knowledge base exists in isolation from other knowledge bases and this can alienate students, teachers, and researchers from one another. Efforts to cross or bridge the gap can appear overwhelming and insurmountable at times.

There has been little progress beyond merely describing the changed and changing circumstances that contribute to this so-called "knowledge gap". What we need are research initiatives and pedagogical approaches that can actively and collaboratively address the challenges that are generated by various gaps between our different ways of knowing. We need to maximize learning opportunities across a diverse range of knowledge and find ways to assists students, teachers, and researchers to exchange their knowledge productively in a world where change is the norm and novelty is the status quo (Bigum & Rowan, 2009).

A key condition that exacerbates a sense of "aliens in the music classroom" is one where the exchange of different forms of knowledge or know-how is neither encouraged nor valued. Instead, learners, teachers, and researchers alike privilege certain forms of knowledge over others. This creates an authoritarian and/or prejudiced approach to knowledge that is deemed different from one's own. And in order for certain forms of knowledge to remain privileged, they must be actively policed. This is achieved through intolerant practices that ignore, thwart, or suppress other knowledge, potential, and possibilities. This inhibits learning opportunities that are capable of fostering the reflection necessary for a critical sense of the value of any musical knowledge -including knowledge that will form part of our undiscovered future musical world.

Increasingly, music learners are encountering uncertainties and contradictions over what constitutes valued and valuable forms of music knowledge in their everyday lives. Different sociopolitical agendas embedded in different music practices obfuscate music learners' worldviews and challenge them in personal and compelling ways. For many young music learners, what constitutes a musician is inextricably linked to famous people in the media and entertainment industry. In a study of 381 adolescents in England, we found that the most valued role models in music were famous musicians from popular culture. Musical aspects (e.g., whether or not he/she played an instrument; pitch accuracy or musical phrasing, etc.) was of little importance in the reasons young people gave for being inspired by their musician role model. …

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