Music educators are continually called to advocate for our programs. It is a skill, and even an expectation, we should be prepared to wield at a moment’s notice. Indeed, music education websites offer multiple resources including How-to Advocacy Guides (NAfME), advocacy concert speeches, examples of thank you notes for legislators, flyers to print out, even the policy cycle explained in diagrams all of which serve to prepare the 21st century music educator to do battle. Advocacy is, in essence, “a process of educating parents, administrators, board of education members, and the community about the importance and value of music for all students” (NAfME). This process presupposes a critical engagement with the purpose of an education in music, which also presupposes a critical engagement with the purpose of education in itself. This first is something most of us can do on an intuitive level; it also involves practical, organizational skills, both in which many a music educator excels. The second, coming to terms with the purpose of education, is much more challenging and in all actuality should inform the first. This process, in some ways practical, really moves us more into an existential field of philosophy.
Canadian educator, Wayne Bowman (2005), reminds us that “advocacy is a political undertaking…with a preordained end” (p. 126). Philosophy, on the other hand, is a continual search that moves us through contexts and contingencies, never aligning with or settling upon one concrete, or ‘one size fits all’ answer. Advocacy too often demands a mixture of supplicant posturing (we will do this if you give us that) and a reliance on the use-value of students, both of which are problematic and neither of which form the basis of thoughtful policy. Advocacy, rather than policy engagements, is more often than not an “after-the-fact” action, where one is called to argue for the continuance of one’s music program. Schmidt (2009) argues that policy should not be seen as “unidirectional,” nor should teachers abdicate responsibility for being policy makers. He suggests we should not interpret policy as compliance, but rather recognize policy as a “political dictum (which implies interaction and requires dialogue)” (p. 3). Underscoring the point that we too often respond in order to support that which already exists, he warns that
music education policy has often worked in reactive ways, focusing less on its ability to foreshadow new paradigms or challenge existing ones than on analyzing or solidifying those already in place (p. 3).
It seems then, that rather than simply rely on advocacy we must become more aware of policy processes. We must take on what Schmidt (2016) refers to as a “framing capacity,” or the “complex capacity for sense-making and re-making” (In press). He sees this capacity as a “creative disposition rather than a perceptual sorting skill;” a disposition as it were, that can and needs to be cultivated. I suspect many of us hold the belief that “others” make policy and that our job is to reproduce, implement and even account for our actions. Taking on a framing capacity would necessitate that we revisit much of what we take for granted so as “to not simply respond or react to policy, but also to pragmatically and conceptually imagine alternatives, provide analyses, and argue for adaptations and new directions” (Schmidt, 2012, p. 224). A disposition such as this would place music educators proactively in front of (rather than behind) advocacy efforts that are meant to save or fund existing programs. Of course, I am not suggesting that all advocacy efforts are abandoned. I am suggesting, however, that we become more mindful of the complexities, differences and interconnections between, advocacy, philosophy and policy so that we are better equipped for what will most certainly be challenging years ahead.
Bowman, W. (2005). To what question (s) is music education advocacy the answer?. International Journal of Music Education, 23(2), 125-129.
National Association for Music Education (NAfME). Advocacy Position Statement. http://www.nafme.org/take-action/advocacy-resources/general-resources-2/advocacy-position-statement/
National Association for Music Education (NAfME). How-to Advocacy Guides. http://www.nafme.org/take-action/advocacy-resources/how-to-advocacy-guides/
Schmidt, P. (2009). Can policy lead in music education? Global visions and local directions. Arts Education Policy Review, 110(4), 3-5.
Schmidt, P. K. (2012). Critical leadership and music educational practice. Theory Into Practice, 51(3), 221-228.
Schmidt, P. & Colwell, R. (Eds). (in press). Policy and the political life of music education. New York: Oxford University Press.