Important Concepts for Inclusion and Equity in Music Education
Karen Salvador, PhD
University of Michigan, Flint
Editor's Note: This article was originally written specifically for the State of Michigan. State statistics, when not specified, refer to Michigan.
Recently, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) revised their position statement on Inclusivity and Diversity in Music Education (NAfME, 2017b), created a new position statement on Equity and Access in Music Education (NAfME, 2017a), and issued a statement “On Affirming All Students” (NAfME, 2017c). These statements indicate increasing attention toward achieving our shared goal of music education for all students. However, statements and attention are not sufficient. Action toward inclusive, equitable, and just music education will need to come from the grassroots--from state MEAs and from members who are in schools teaching music every day.
Many music teachers are already working to create more inclusive and responsive music teaching and learning environments. Other teachers are interested in becoming more inclusive and responsive but unsure how to begin or proceed. Still other teachers reject the notion that self-examination and change are necessary for individual teachers or for music education as a whole, believing that we are already inclusive and responsive, and/or that increasing our focus on diversity, inclusion, equity, and access is too political.
In this article, I will address questions I am frequently asked about inclusion, equity, and justice in music education. As you read, please note that words like “inclusion,” “equity,” and “justice” each refer to a process rather than defining an object or endpoint. Furthermore, these processes are highly contextual, so there is not one right way or best practice for the process toward equity and justice in music education. Instead, I will provide information, ask questions, and give specific examples of more inclusive, equitable, and responsive practices that I hope that you can relate to your context. I will conclude the article with a list of resources.
What is “diversity,” anyway?
Student diversity is intersectional, and includes but is not limited to race, ethnicity, country/place of origin, home language, religion, socioeconomic status, location, (dis)ability, gender, and sexual orientation. The following table presents US enrollment data from 1970-71 (Orfield, Kuscera, & Siegel-Hawley, 2012) and 2014-15 (Kena, et. al., 2016), alongside enrollment data for MI (Michigan Department of Education [MDE], n.d.) and 2026 projections for US enrollment (Kena, et. al., 2016).
Race/Ethnicity. The federal categories utilized for reporting race/ethnicity do not adequately describe student diversity. For example, what category describes a student who identifies as Chaldean(-American) or as Persian(-American)? Ethnicity encompasses but does not necessarily predict cultural distinctions such as religion, home language, and country/place of origin. How recently a family immigrated to the US can also affect a child’s educational experience. In 2008, nearly 1 of every 4 children under the age of 8 had an immigrant parent (Fortuny, Hernandez, & Chaudry, 2010). Although 43% of US immigrant parents are from Mexico, the rest come from all over the world. Thus, children and families speak an increasing number of languages at home, and 9.4% of US students are English Language Learners (ELLs; Kena et al., 2016). Children and families also practice a variety of religions (in culture-specific ways), and have other cultural norms, including dispositions toward and expectations regarding education, schools, and authority. Nearly 7% of MI residents are immigrants, and an additional 7.7% of MI residents are native-born US citizens with at least one immigrant parent (American Immigration Council, 2017). The most common countries of origin for MI immigrants are Mexico (11.5% of immigrants), India (10.1%), Iraq (8.1%), China (5.9%) and Canada (5.4%). In 2016-17, 6.2% of students in MI were ELLs (MDE, n.d.).
Socioeconomic Status (SES) and Location. SES indicators include factors such as family income, family structure, and parental educational attainment. According to federal criteria, in 2015, 20% of US children lived in poverty, including 22% of MI children (Kena et al., 2016). In 2016, 45.9% of students met MI criteria for “economic disadvantage” (MDE, n.d.). SES is complex and complicated, because our nation’s history of segregation and racism (Orfield, Kuscera, & Siegel-Hawley, 2012) and some immigration trends (Kena et al., 2016) mean that Black and Hispanic students disproportionately come from families with low income and/or educational attainment. Moreover, location is important, as poverty is concentrated both among inner city and rural schools, and both concentrated and generational poverty are particularly challenging for students, families, and schools. In MI, 48.7% of Black students attend schools in which 90-100% of student enrollment is non-White (Orfield, Ee, Frankenberg, & Siegel-Hawley, 2016). Such highly racially segregated schools have disproportionately high rates of student poverty, leading to “double segregation.” This matters
"…because of massive and growing research evidence that (1) segregation creates unequal opportunities and helps perpetuate stratification in the society and (2) diverse schools have significant advantages, not only for learning and attainment but for the creation of better preparation for all groups to live and work successfully in a complex society which will have no racial majority (p. 1) …[and] When students are socialized in schools in which few students have benefited from the advantages and power that middle class families possess and exercise on behalf of their children, they are poorly prepared for a society where colleges/universities and good jobs are strongly white and middle class institutions" (Orfield, Ee, Frankenberg, & Siegel-Hawley, 2016, p. 6).
Michigan’s 20.8% of students who are served in rural districts are also disproportionately low SES (Kena et al., 2016).
(Dis)Ability. In 2014-15, 13% of all public school students in the US (6.6 million children ages 3-21) received special education services (Kena et al., 2016). In the same year, 12.9% of MI students received special education services, most frequently for Specific Learning Disability (30.8%), Speech or Language Impairment (25%), Other Health Impairment (12%), Cognitive Impairment (9.6%), or Austism Spectrum Disorder (8.7%) (MDE, n.d.).
Gender and Sexuality. While it is difficult to conjecture about trends, it is fair to say that students are increasingly open about their gender expression and sexuality diversity. In addition, girls and boys are treated differently in schools and have different outcomes as a result (e.g., Freudenthaler, Spinath,& Neubauer, 2008; Myhill & Jones, 2006; Sadker & Sadker, 2010). Moreover, pressure to conform to gendered ideals for appearance and behavior is associated with bullying, eating disorders, depression, and suicide, particularly (although not solely) among LGBTQ youth (e.g., Griffiths, Murray, & Touyz, 2015; Good & Sanchez, 2010; Mustanski & Liu, 2013).
Intersectionality. Intersectionality refers to the way that social identities (such as those listed above) are not separate, but instead coexist and even co-construct one another. That means that when we describe people in terms of membership in social groups (whether or not these are things they can change), the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. For example, my notions about being female (and your perceptions of me as female) are informed and created in part by my ethnicity and my socioeconomic status. Moreover, as I navigate the systems and structures of our world, some parts of my intersectional identity are associated with dominant culture and some parts are not. Successful efforts to increase inclusion, equity, and justice in music education must consider intersectionality in addition to understanding individual aspects of social identity.
What does it mean to have “access” to music education?
In their position on Inclusiveness and Diversity, NAfME wrote,
A well-rounded and comprehensive music education program should exist in every American school; should be built on a curricular framework that promotes awareness of, respect for, and responsiveness to the variety and diversity of cultures; and should be delivered by teachers whose culturally responsive pedagogy enable[s] them to successfully design and implement such an inclusive curricular framework (2017b).
This statement addresses two aspects of access: (1) the presence of a program in every school and (2) the sociocultural and practical accessibility of that program. Although we must continue to fight for the presence of music education in every school, this article is primarily written for practicing teachers, so I will focus on the second type of access.
In US high schools that offer music, about 21% of students participate in ensembles (Elpus & Abril, 2011). Within these programs, “male[s], English language learners, Hispanic[s], children of parents holding a high school diploma or less, and [students] in the lowest SES quartile were significantly underrepresented” (p. 1)[i]. Students who have Individual Education Programs (IEPs) are also significantly underrepresented in secondary music classes (Hoffman, 2011). Considering sociological and practical access to music courses leads to questions such as: Are there additional expenses or extracurricular requirements that might be preventing lower-income students from participating? Do scheduling and communication with other educators facilitate participation for ELLs and students with IEPs? Are there options for students at all levels of ability to join in music education at any time in their education? Does the music program reflect the needs, desires, and cultures of the school and community? What would make a student and/or family believe “this class is for me/my child?”[ii]
Inclusion: In special education, inclusion is when students with exceptionalities learn alongside their age peers, engaging as full participants in a range of activities with individual supports and curricular modifications when needed. In a broader sense, inclusion implies making space for the “other” within already existing structures. Examples include when a student with physical impairments uses an adaptive instrument in wind band, or a student who is blind pairs with a sighted student to facilitate participation in marching band. According to Stewart (2017), a person or system with a diversity/inclusion mindset seeks incremental growth toward representation of all populations, but with minimal or no changes to the ways things are done.
Equity: In contrast, equity in education involves changing systems and structures to create conditions in which all children can achieve their educational potential. An equity or justice mindset “celebrates reductions in harm, revisions to abusive systems, and increases in supports …[including] getting rid of practices and policies that were having disparate impacts on minoritized groups” (Stewart, 2017). Elpus and Abril (2011) demonstrated that our current practices and policies result in underrepresentation of minoritized groups in secondary ensembles. Are we ready to examine and change our systems and practices?
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Culturally responsive pedagogies reject deficit mindsets about minoritized communities, “…acknowledg[ing] the value of the cultural heritages of differing groups, both in terms of curriculum content and in terms of how these respective cultural legacies influence students’ attitudes, dispositions, and ways of learning” (Lind & McCoy, 2016, p. 18). Thus, culturally responsive pedagogies emerge from teachers learning about--and developing strategies for connecting music education to--the cultures present in their school and community. Culturally responsive teaching is validating, comprehensive, multidimensional, empowering, transformative, and emancipatory (Gay, 2010, in Lind & McCoy, 2016, p. 17).
There is very little diversity at my school… do I really need to think about this?
Although MI has fairly diverse overall student enrollment, much of the racial/ethnic diversity is concentrated in suburban and urban places. Nevertheless, I must answer this question with a resounding “YES,” for three reasons. (1) Race and ethnicity are only two of the many ways that students are diverse. For example, your school has students who are male, female, LGBTQ. Furthermore, diversity is often invisible: your school has students who have exceptionalities, students with varied SES, students who practice different religions (or no religion), etc. (2) Equity- and justice-oriented mindsets celebrate reductions in harm. Even if you teach nearly all White, nearly all middle/upper middle class suburban kids, a failure to recognize the identities of the “few” students is potentially harmful. (3) If somehow you teach in a setting made up entirely of the dominant culture (which is not really possible, see #1 and #2), your students are heading out for life in our very diverse country. There is very little potential harm in creating music education that reflects and embraces human diversity, and very much for students to gain.
I was taught to treat everyone the same—that ignoring difference was polite and fair. Aren’t we creating divisions by labeling people? Well, first, we know that teachers/schools do not treat everyone the same. For reasons ranging from unconscious bias to cultural norms to systemic oppression, most aspects of school life, including discipline referrals, rates of diagnosis for special education, and achievement are highly correlated with gender and race. Moreover, children are already learning about human diversity… they are inundated with negative and harmful messages about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and ability (etc.) every day. When we as teachers do not explicitly model and discuss respect for and valuing of cultures, genders, and musics, we are allowing these messages to remain unchallenged. While we certainly should not single out or tokenize a child on the basis of a difference, our instruction should reflect awareness and valuing of all students in the room as well as cultures in our school community and the broader contexts of our state and country. The way we talk, the materials we choose, the behavior we expect, and our relationships with families and the community should reflect our commitment to understanding and valuing our students as whole people.
This is so complex… Where do I even start? Sometimes a “diversity/inclusion” mindset is a good place to start. Find out how the demographics of your classes compare to the school as a whole (gender, race/ethnicity, students with IEPs, students who receive free/reduced lunch, etc.). If you notice a group is underrepresented in a class or your program, try to find out why. For more equity/justice-oriented changes, in addition to implementing culturally responsive pedagogy, you could try to:
- Restore and/or bring in voices silenced by the traditional canon of music education literature and pedagogy. Seek out musics from MI, the US and around the world, created by diverse peoples and composers[iii].
- Value oral/aural traditions and learning styles alongside written forms, e.g., by teaching musics from aural traditions aurally.
- Blur the line between school and community by partnering with local musicians and dancers—invite them as guests, collaborate with them for performances, etc.
- Adapt instructional practices and materials to meet individual music learning needs of all students, including not only students with IEPs, but also students with religious differences. Sitting out of music making is likely an acceptable adaptation only if a student’s IEP specifies it is necessary due to sensory or emotional/behavioral needs.
- Offer entry points to music classes for all students at all levels.
- Ameliorate the effects of SES by considering: transportation (to concerts, before and after school events, etc.), cost of instruments, cost of uniforms, etc. How many of these things are so essential to music education that they should hold someone out of participation?
- Interrogate gender practices in your school/classroom. Can you avoid the use of gender in classroom management (e.g., pairing or choosing based on “boys” or “girls”)? What can you do when you see gender-related teasing or bullying? Think through the names of classes/ensembles. Could you have a “treble choir” instead of a “women’s choir”? Consider your uniforms and uniform policy. How can you make sure that all students are comfortable on stage?
- Consider adding to (or breaking out of) our current focus on band, orchestra, choir and sometimes jazz, by foregrounding high-status creative projects. How can you create experiences that focus on individual musicianship, individual creative voice, and/or musics that our students (and their families) enjoy? Are there music classes available that focus on collaborative and creative musicianship? Can students study instruments that are more common outside of Western Classical music, such as guitars, keyboards, drums, and voices?
What does this mean for our Music Education Association (MEA)?
MEAs have reputations as “old boys clubs.” In interacting with state and national leadership, I have observed that we do have some of those characteristics… and also that our “old boys” love music, and care deeply about students. Further, many want to create more inclusive and equitable school music programs and MEAs, even if they do not always know what to do or where to start. Michigan’s MEA is different because the music education structures in our state include the Michigan chapter of the American String Teachers’ Association (MASTA), Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA) and Michigan School Vocal Music Association (MSVMA), so some of the following suggestions are more applicable to MSBOA and MSVMA than to MMEA or MASTA:
- Examine required lists for festival. Purge racist material such as minstrel songs. Add new pieces so that the composers and styles reflect more of the diversity in our country (and the world).
- Showcase music programs for reasons other than their achievement of a particular set of performance practices on a narrow selection of music. How could we recognize programs for exemplary (a) Student creativity? (b) Quality of inclusion for students with exceptionalities? (c) Fusion of school music with community musics? What else?
- Offer professional development that helps practicing teachers learn about inclusion, equity, and justice in practical and applicable ways, perhaps reflecting the list above.
- Find out what students and teachers who are underrepresented in your current programming want and need, and commit to creating it.
- Create participatory music making (Turino, 2008) opportunities as a part of state and regional MEA activities.
- Partner with teacher education programs—they (we) are also interested in increasing the diversity of the music teacher workforce, and working toward inclusion, equity, and justice in music education.
- Recruit students from a variety of backgrounds to become music teachers, and recruit teachers from a variety of backgrounds (and who teach in a variety of places) to be on your MEA’s board(s) and committees.
Many teachers find the above arguments for inclusion, equity and justice in music education convincing, but nevertheless do not make changes in their practices. The reasons I hear essentially amount to: this is outside of my comfort zone. Teachers say:
- I am teaching the things I know, in the best ways that I know how to teach.
- I am terrified that I will do or say the wrong thing, and someone will be upset.
- I am afraid of poor scores at festival or on my teacher evaluations if I change my practices, especially when I am on a learning curve toward something I have never tried.
Each of these are understandable, but not sufficient reasons to continue our erasure of “other” musics and “other people’s children” (see Delpit, 2006). We must acknowledge, value, and respond to human differences, if not because it matches our country’s ideals about liberty and justice, then because research and experience indicate that social identities affect the educational experiences of our students. Teaching—especially teaching music--is an act of vulnerability.
Music is personal; it is a part of who we are, and it is a part of who our students are. We teach in a subject area that is integrated into the human psyche, a subject area that is a rich and vibrant reflection of our humanness (Lind & McCoy, 2016, p. 131).
Therefore, as you head back to your classroom, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Remember that inclusion, equity, and justice are processes. Just as our students make progress toward their music learning goals, we can make progress toward more inclusive, responsive, and equitable music education for all students. We are only truly stuck if we never begin.
Teaching Tolerance www.tolerance.org
This website (and free magazine) has resources, materials, and information for creating inclusive learning environments and teaching students about difference, focusing on Ability, Bullying and Bias, Class, Gender and Sexual Identity, Immigration, Race and Ethnicity, Religion, and Rights and Activism. Although the materials are not music-specific, the information is excellent, and some activities and ideas fit well with/in music teaching and learning, particularly the social justice standards https://www.tolerance.org/frameworks/social-justice-standards and critical practices frameworks https://www.tolerance.org/frameworks/critical-practices
Race and Ethnicity
Lind V. R., McKoy C. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching in music education: From understanding to application. London, England: Routledge.
Delpit, L. (2006). Other people's children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. The New Press.
Coates, T. N. (2015). Between the world and me. Text publishing.
Turino, T. (2008). Music as social life: The politics of participation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
SES and Location
Fitzpatrick-Harnish, K. (2015). Urban music education: A practical guide for teachers. Oxford University Press.
Kozol, Jonathan. (2012) Savage inequalities: Children in America's schools. Broadway Books.
Isbell, D. (2005). Music education in rural areas: A few keys to success. Music Educators Journal, 92(2), 30-34.
www.wrightslaw.org offers parents, educators, advocates, and attorneys accurate, reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities. They also offer a free, weekly newsletter: Special Ed Advocate.
Ademek, M. S. & Darrow, A.A. (2010). Music in Special Education. (2nd Edition). American
Music Therapy Association.
Hammel, A. M. & Hourigan, R. M. (2011). Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A
Label-Free Approach. (2nd Edition). Oxford University Press.
Hammel, A. M. (2017). Teaching Music to Students with Special Needs: A Practical Resource. Oxford University Press.
Gender and Sexuality
Bryan, J. (2017). Embracing gender and sexuality diversity. Independent School. Downloaded from: https://www.nais.org/magazine/independent-school/winter-2017/embracing-gender-and-sexuality-diversity/ This article presents a good overview of gender and sexuality in school, and gives ideas for examining policies and practices such as how gender inclusive practices align with existing school missions.
Gender Spectrum https://www.genderspectrum.org has resources, information, trainings, and opportunities to interact with others who are learning about gender, including: https://www.genderspectrum.org/CommonQuestions/ which is a great set of FAQs about teaching children about gender and https://genderspectrum.org/lounge/ a space with facilitated online activities and groups.
Palkki, J. (2015). Choral music’s Gender Trouble: Males, adolescence, and masculinity. Choral
Journal. 56(4), 24-35.
O’Toole, P. (1998). A missing chapter from choral methods books: How choirs neglect girls.
Choral Journal, 39(5), 9–32.
Nichols, J. (2013). Rie’s story, Ryan’s journey: Music in the life of a transgender student.
Journal of Research in Music Education, 61(3), 262–279. doi:10.1177/0022429413498259
American Immigration Council. (2017). Fact Sheet: Immigrants in Michigan. Downloaded from: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrants-in-michigan
Elpus, K., & Abril, C. R. (2011). High school music ensemble students in the United States: A demographic profile. Journal of Research in Music Education, 59(2), 128-145.
Fortuny, K., Hernandez, D. J., & Chaudry, A. (2010). Young Children of Immigrants: The Leading Edge of America's Future. Brief No. 3. Urban Institute (NJ1). Downloaded from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED511771.pdf
Freudenthaler, H. H., Spinath, B. and Neubauer, A. C. (2008), Predicting school achievement in boys and girls. European Journal of Personality, 22: 231–245. doi:10.1002/per.678
Good, J. J., & Sanchez, D. T. (2010). Doing gender for different reasons: Why gender conformity positively and negatively predicts self-esteem. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34(2), 203-214.
Griffiths, S., Murray, S. B., & Touyz, S. (2015). Extending the masculinity hypothesis: An investigation of gender role conformity, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating in young heterosexual men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 16(1), 108.
Hoffman, E. C., III (2011). The status of students with special needs in the instrumental musical ensemble and the effect of selected educator and institutional variables on rates of inclusion (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Kena, G., Hussar W., McFarland J., de Brey C., Musu-Gillette, L., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Rathbun, A., Wilkinson- Flicker, S., Diliberti M., Barmer, A., Bullock Mann, F., and Dunlop Velez, E. (2016). The Condition of Education 2016 (NCES 2016-144). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. Downloaded from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cge.asp (race/ethnicity)
https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp (Special Education)
Michigan Department of Education. (n.d.). Michgian school data: data sheets. Downloaded from: https://www.mischooldata.org/SpecialEducationEarlyOn/DataPortraits/DataPortraitsDisability.aspx (special education)
https://www.mischooldata.org/DistrictSchoolProfiles/StudentInformation/StudentSummary.aspx (other demographic data)
Mustanski, B., & Liu, R. T. (2013). A longitudinal study of predictors of suicide attempts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Archives of sexual behavior, 42(3), 437-448.
Myhill, D., & Jones, S. (2006). ‘She doesn't shout at no girls’: pupils' perceptions of gender equity in the classroom. Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(1), 99-113.
National Association for Music Education. (2017a). Equity and Access in Music Education. Downloaded from: https://nafme.org/about/position-statements/equity-access/
National Association for Music Education. (2017b). Inclusiveness and Diversity in Music Education. Downloaded from: https://nafme.org/about/position-statements/inclusivity-diversity/
National Association for Music Education. (2017c). On affirming all students. Downloaded from: https://nafme.org/on-affirming-all-students/
Orfield, G., Ee, J., Frankenberg, E., & Siegel-Hawley, G. (2016). " Brown" at 62: School Segregation by Race, Poverty and State. Civil Rights Project-Proyecto Derechos Civiles. Downloaded from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED565900.pdf
Orfield, G., Kuscera, J., & Siegel-Hawley, G. (2012). E Pluribus… separation: Deepening double segregation for more students. Los Angeles: Civil Rights Project UCLA. Downloaded from http://escholarship.org/uc/item/8g58m2v9
Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (2010). Failing at fairness: How America's schools cheat girls. Simon and Schuster.
Stewart, D. L. (2017). Language of Appeasement. Inside Higher Ed. Downloaded from: https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2017/03/30/colleges-need-language-shift-not-one-you-think-essay
[i] Black students may not be on this list because the study was of schools with music programs; school segregation means that Black students are disproportionately served in schools that may not offer music (Orfield, Kuscera, & Siegel-Hawley, 2012; Salvador & Allegood, 2014).
[ii] By virtue of teaching all students in a given school building, elementary general music is more inclusive. However, elementary general music teachers might consider equity-oriented questions (see “…where do I start” below).
[iii] Conversely, perhaps it is time to stop performing music associated with oppression, such as minstrel songs, songs with lyrics that reinforce gender stereotypes, etc, unless it is very sensitively and explicitly taught for the purpose of engaging students in empowering, emancipatory transformation of these messages.