Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Music Education and Social Transformation: Building Social Capital through Music

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

Music Education and Social Transformation: Building Social Capital through Music

Article excerpt

Sociologist Max Weber warned that if we continued to prioritise transmission of information and technological skill building over elements of education such as the arts we risked losing the essence of our humanity. In his pioneering study, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001), Harvard political scientist David Putnam uses the example of changes in ten-pin bowling participation patterns away from group bowling parties to increasingly solitary activity to exemplify his theory explaining the collapse of American society. He draws on a vast amount of data to show how Americans have become increasingly disconnected from friends, family, neighbours and democratic structures and the damaging effect that this has had on society. Similar effects have been observed in many other countries around the world, including Canada. Putnam then goes on to suggest ways in which connections might be rebuilt, generating something he terms 'social capital'. In this article I will discuss the relationship between social capital and music education and the vital role music education might play in reviving community in contemporary society.

What is social capital?

Putnam defines social capital as 'connections among individuals - social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them' (2001, p. 19). Where social capital exists, it is said to develop neighbourhoods with lower crime rates, better health, higher educational achievement and improved economic development. Putnam outlines a number of reasons to explain why social capital is important. These include: allowing people to resolve collective problems more easily; improving everyday business and social transactions; widening awareness of the ways in which people's fates are linked to each other and providing channels for the flow of useful information that facilitates the achievement of common goals.

There is a symbiotic relationship between inclusion and social capital - one cannot be without the other. In other words, if one wishes to be included in society and to benefit from its goods - health, wealth and happiness to put it crudely - one needs to possess social capital. Those who do not are frequently found among the socially excluded. To be socially excluded is to be disengaged from mainstream society, suffering from isolation and social marginalisation and failing to receive the benefits of the majority. Frequently the socially excluded originate from ethnic minorities, from neighbourhoods of extreme poverty or are those suffering from long term physical or mental health problems. How does all of this relate to music education? Well, schools often struggle to meet the needs of students from such backgrounds and these students are often found among those who exclude themselves from the music programme in school. Moreover, the world of the private music studio is normally closed to them.

Music education, poverty and social exclusion

Social class, wealth, family culture and identity all play important roles in the extent to which young people may benefit from education in general. It might be easily contended that in the case of music education these inequalities are exaggerated to a degree found nowhere else. Our closest possible equivalent domain in these terms is probably sports but it is likely that even here the inequalities are not as extreme as in music. In most western countries, music education favours middle class children from families who can afford for their children to have additional tuition outside the school. Poverty may not be as obvious on Canadian streets as it is in developing countries but it is here. In the city where I now live (London, Ontario) for example, 17% of families, 46% of single parents and 51% of immigrants live below the Low Income Cut Off. One in five children lives in poverty. Issues of social exclusion are therefore written large across music education.

Rapid population movements have had a destabilising effect on solidarity within cities and neighbourhoods. …

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