In 2014, I participated in a workshop with one of Australia’s most renowned music educators. The workshop was on Music education and the National Curriculum. Before I continue, let me be clear, this person has contributed more to Music education in this country than anyone I know, and I have nothing but complete respect for what he has achieved and contributed to education and music in Australia.
The workshop began with a brief, and I mean very brief, discussion on how music was positioned within the (then new) National Curriculum. This was one of the main reasons I was there; to be updated on how I could adapt my pedagogy to meet the new outcomes and requirements of the Music curriculum.
The discussion on Music in the National Curriculum, went along the lines of: “nothing has changed; music hasn’t suddenly changed as a subject; you all know what you are doing, so keep doing what your doing” (my words).
But I hate to say it, things have changed!
The issues facing music education, are NOT in the curriculum document itself, they are in the high-stakes testing that NAPLAN has brought to education in Australia. If the subject has no obvious links to numeracy or literacy, it is being pushed aside to allow more time to focus on what is auditable and accountable as ‘good teaching’, for mock tests to prepare students for NAPLAN, and a greater emphasis of teacher directed learning. This is in contrast to the student centred pedagogy that good music education promotes. Now before you say, hang on, good music pedagogy caters to both teacher directed and student centred learning environments; I’m not disagreeing with you. But quality Music education always moves from concrete to abstract concepts and thinking. From teacher direct, often but not always, providing the expectation and skills of the lesson outcome, then moving to facilitator as students take control of their learning.
For artists as teachers, those who come to the profession as a musician, the tensions between external policy and internal classroom pedagogy are fierce. The argument that adapting to an integrated music education devalues the skills and significance of what they are so passionate about, is filled with fear and trepidation. But this position will no longer stand strong. The tide of global neoliberal policy and the auditing of ‘good’ teaching is narrowing the curriculum and as a consequence, music is slowly being positioned out of daily learning in schools. Unfortunately, for all the benefits music education brings to students lives and learning, teachers are doing what it takes to survive. Their student results are being publically displayed for all to see through My School, and the principals of schools are being faced with issues of funding and accountability that these results underpin.
One way for artists as teachers to empower their subject area, is to consider integrated arts as music analysis. Through this lens, music educators can implement quality literacy and numeracy outcomes as ways of investigating music theory, composition and musicology. For example, patterns in Maths and Music; units of measurement in Maths and instrument range in Music, the identification and/or modification of adjectives in English through the analysis and performance of song lyrics in Music; performance diaries in Music marked for student’s use of correct spelling, and conventions of literacy.
If we work together to meet the outcomes of high-stakes testing in education, Music can find a place at the table with Maths and English and bring all the varied and important benefits that come with Music education, that are being lost in our education system.