Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) has been around a while, but it is now just starting to make its way into music education circles. In a literature review on CRT in music education Bond (2017) notes a narrative around CRT is rare in music education. When CRT is discussed with my music colleagues, there is a general assumption that since we regularly include multicultural music in our programs, or help organize our school’s multicultural night, we are being culturally responsive. But of course, this is a misunderstanding. “A cultural product does not equate a culturally relevant experience”. (Bond, 2017)
Here are my selected highlights from some of the resources I’ve read on CRT in Music Education:
“Culturally responsive teaching helps move the attention from the things we teach to the children we teach and the social learning environment where music experiences occur.” CRT is not only selected materials but the ways teachers handle questions, concerns, and dialogue; informal interactions with students (“…hallway discussion, end-of-class questions, or mumbled asides”).
The goal is to connect school music experiences with home music experiences. “Students viewed school music experiences as an isolated practice with no connection to how music is learned or experienced outside of Western classical contexts.”
“Currently, the music education field generally operates under the assumptions of the Western European tradition with acceptance of a monolithic canon, narrow definition of artistic beauty, a focus on notational literacy, and Eurocentric views of the roles of musicians (i.e., composer, performer, listener) and their place in a hierarchy of importance (i.e., composer is primary).”
There is a “…continued dominance of Western European art music in schools within the United States despite the changing demographics of student populations”.
(From the section, “Applications in the Classroom”.)
Strategies for getting to know your students:
Strategies for creating a classroom environment that welcomes, values diversity:
Strategies for acknowledging ethnic and cultural diversity in music instruction:
CRT means making informed curricular and programmatic choices based on what you know about your students. From a teacher interviewed by the authors: “I believe students tell you what they need to know… What I need to know from them is what do I need to teach you based on what you are bringing in here? We could start from there then as opposed to me … setting up my whole year with lesson plans without even meeting my classes… and saying, “This is what we are going to do because this is what I think you need to know.”
From another teacher: “CRT requires you to think outside the box. The easy answer lies right here in the box.” This really hits home, especially with the way I have been teaching recorder over the years. Teaching recorder was ‘easy’ since the materials are pretty much “in a box”. I viewed recorder as a “break” since the materials were already developed and all I need to do was pass them out.
Abril had some great points and clarified the most important features of a CRT music classroom.
He starts the article with a description of a music teacher’s in-depth unit on Peruvian music which included learning to sing a folk tune and listening to Peruvian artists perform it, building panpipes, performing an arrangement of Peruvian tune on classroom percussion as well as contextualizing the music culturally and historically.
But a cultural product is not CRT.
“The item missing from many conversations about multicultural music education and its practices was the culture of the students being taught. Culturally responsive teaching helps move the attention from the things we teach to the children we teach and the social learning environment where music experiences occur.” (Abril, 2013)
Abril describes the critical features in which CRT teachers should engage, including 1) see and know students; 2) create a social learning community; 3) recognize multiple perspectives; and 4) connect beyond the classroom.
Abril included several guiding questions for music and materials selection (once other important curricular topics are taken into account such as musical elements, concepts, or thematic units):
Every music selection studied in class does not have to be representative of students’ cultures and ethnic heritages, but teachers should avoid “contrived” songs or stereotypes which would be worse than not including cultural music at all! Again, as Bond (2017) succinctly points out, “a cultural product does not equate a culturally relevant experience”.
Bond, V. L. (2017). Culturally responsive education in music education: A literature review. Contributions to Music Education, 42, 153–180.