From Discord to Harmony: How Canadian Music Educators Can Support Young Syrian Refugees through Culturally Responsive Teaching

By Skidmore, Jenny | The Canadian Music Educator, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

From Discord to Harmony: How Canadian Music Educators Can Support Young Syrian Refugees through Culturally Responsive Teaching


Skidmore, Jenny, The Canadian Music Educator


According to writer Aldous Huxley, "after silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." For young children exposed to war, trauma, and crisis, music may provide the ultimate vehicle for expressing their inexpressible struggles and Canadian music educators may have a role to play in this process. Since December 2015, nearly 25,000 Syrian refugees have boarded planes bound for Toronto and Montreal, Canada. As newly arrived Syrian families attempt to develop a sense of daily normalcy, teachers will be among the first frontline workers who help them integrate into Canadian society. Due in part to their ability to help students express themselves non-verbally, Canadian music educators in particular may have specialized skills that will help Syrian children and their families feel welcome in their new country.

Current Situation and Background

For the last year, it has been virtually impossible to open a newspaper, read an online news site, or view a televised news program without hearing about the European migrant and refugee crisis. The images and video footage posted by online news providers document the dangerous, and sometimes fatal, journeys faced by the refugees making their way to safer countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Though they come from a variety of homelands across the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Asia, all are looking for better life, free from poverty, war, abuse, discrimination, and famine. Until the October 2015 federal elections, Canadians had been mainly spectators of the crisis, watching from their living rooms as bodies of refugee children washed up on foreign shores and refugee families huddled shivering under space blankets. However Canadians will soon have an opportunity help welcome and support refugees as they begin new lives in Canada.

While there are many asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees currently searching for new homes, the Canadian government has decided to focus its humanitarian efforts on welcoming refugees fleeing the long civil war in Syria, particularly women, children, families, and individuals from the LBGTQ community ("LGBT settlement group prepares", 2015). The situation in Syria, a country that has already endured five years of violence, shows no signs of improvement. Families and individuals who escaped to neighboring countries hoping for safety soon found life in United Nations (UN) refugee camps untenable. Many Syrians living in neighboring countries have found their rights and freedoms restricted; they are unable to work legally, their children are unable to access consistent education, and their families have limited access to water, food, and medical aid. For the 4-million displaced Syrians living in UN refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey (Levitz, 2015), there is simply not enough International aid to go around (Fleming, 2015). During the 2015 election campaign, the recently elected Liberal government made a pledge to bring thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada before year's end; now, they are following through with that promise ("Syrian Refugees," 2015). By the end of February 2016, the Liberal government plans to have resetded. 25,000 private and government sponsored Syrian refugees, mainly in larger cities across the country such as Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver.

Immediate Challenges for Refugees

In December 2016, the first group of Syrians refugees arrived at Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Many made their way to nearby hotels to wait for relatives or sponsors to guide them through the process of finding housing, jobs, and schools for their children. When interviewed by the press, they expressed feelings of exhausted elation, hope, and excitement about their chances at a new life and "beautiful futures" for their children (Chowdhry, Andrew-Gee, & Galloway, 2015). These new arrivals, many of whom have already suffered greatly, will continue to face a variety of social, emotional, economic, and educational challenges over the next few months, and even years, as they attempt to adapt to Canadian society. …

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