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International Journal of Arts & Sciences, CD-ROM. ISSN: 1944-6934 :: 5(5):517–525 (2012) c 2012 by Copyright 

MUSIC TEACHING AS CULTURAL STRUGGLE: IMPLICATIONS FOR MUSIC EDUCATION Leonid Sprikut University of Toronto, Canada During the past several years a variety of issues related to multiculturalism in music education have been extensively discussed in literature. Music educators, researchers and scholars have successfully convinced themselves that the musical sounds created by the planet’s human inhabitants have a right to exist in our classroom. However, many theorists tend to disregard the fact that multiculturalism suggests the multiplicity of the instructional approaches, as well. The diversity of music teaching practices, which constitutes a notable social and cultural phenomenon, has not been perceived as a multicultural issue, and has been excluded from the discussion (Sprikut & Bartel, 2010, 29th ISME World Conference, Beijing). Not infrequently, internationally trained music educators are culturally isolated from the music education mainstream in host societies around the world. While professional flexibility is commonly perceived as a necessary prerequisite for a successful pedagogical adaptation process, internationally educated music teachers often seek to preserve and reaffirm their pedagogical cultural identity. This discrepancy not infrequently results in their inability (and reluctance) to participate on an equal basis in both the educational discourse and educational process. In this paper, I discuss certain aspects of culture that pertain to the realm of music pedagogy, and explore some of the factors that further the process of cultural separation. In order to find a common ground for the discussion, I offer a working definition of music pedagogic culture. The aim is to facilitate meaningful democratic dialogue, which would assist in bridging the gap between diverse music pedagogic traditions and practices that coexist in a contemporary society. The paper concludes with the suggestion that deeper understanding of the cultural factors and processes that shape music pedagogic practices will greatly benefit not only music education profession but also a society as a whole. Keywords: culture, cultural struggle, music education, music pedagogy, internationally educated teachers.

Introduction: The Rise and Decline of Music Pedagogic Culture A while ago, my former student, who became Chair of a local Arts Council, invited me to adjudicate at one of the music contests organized by the council. The event took place at the Art Gallery that featured the works by emerging young artists, and having arrived early, I spent some time wandering around and glancing occasionally at the paintings, drawings, embroideries, and collages. While most of the works appeared to be unskilful and rather immature, one of the pictures was strikingly different. Remarkably expressive, oddly poignant, it seemed to emanate a mystifying power, energy and strength. The picture 



Leonid Sprikut

featured pairs of ears, eyes, hands, feet, and other vital human organs, blood-spattered and rather deformed, suspended from a long cord attached to two forked sticks stuck in the ground. Most of the organs were present, with the exception of a heart. Intrigued I draw nearer to read the artist’s note attached to the work. It appeared that the author was a young girl, who has recently immigrated to Canada. In her work, reflecting on this, extremely painful, and perhaps the most significant experience of her life, she has attempted to apprehend it and to convey her perturbed feelings and emotions. “My body is here,” she wrote, “I walk and I observe. I listen and I talk. I touch things, learn and think. I am looking forward to the future. But my heart is absent. It is still at home, in my country”. Bewildered and astonished I stood in front of this painting. The young artist’s sentiment articulated so vividly in her heartbreaking work has resonated powerfully with many of my colleagues’ (and certainly with my own) experiences as immigrants and music educators. While they teach, coach, instruct, and educate young people musically, many of them, culturally displaced, sometimes socially unsettled and, not infrequently, emotionally perplexed, ask themselves “Is my ‘pedagogical heart’ here? Is my pedagogy homeless?” As the product of a certain sociocultural formation, their pedagogical practices are deeply rooted in a local cultural context. As such, their pedagogic culture is an outcome (and an integral component) of an incessant, not infrequently centuries-old process. The formation and existence of these pedagogical practices have been made possible by the relentless efforts of the generations of thinkers, scholars, intellectuals, and educators. Heavily loaded ideologically, politically, and socially, this culture manifests itself powerfully in the teachers’ professional attitudes, judgements, requirements, and standards, in the ways they build their relationship with students. It manifests itself in the ways they look, talk, and dress. But most importantly, it manifests itself in the structures and patterns of their pedagogic communication (verbal and non-verbal) with their students, in other words, in hidden cultural messages that are straightforwardly recognized by the bearers of culture. Without its traditions, historical and social background, pedagogic culture in a new educational environment is rootless. Immigrants-music teachers in host societies around the world struggle with general and overt cultural adaptation but also with subtle, covert, and, for professional identity, more unsettling pedagogic culture. Previously unconscious “givens” within practice may now inexplicably be considered unsuitable or inapplicable. With musical content, this becomes evident. For instance, the Chinese immigrant is an erhu master, but finds little interest in its study in a new country, or a person may be a pan master in Trinidad, but finds this instrument marginalized when s/he relocates to another country. However, we are less aware of the cultural mismatch when someone emigrates from Moscow as a piano (clarinet, violin etc.) teacher and starts teaching at a conservatory in Toronto. The musical content is essentially the same and familiar. But the cultural context of the study – and therefore of the pedagogy as complex construct – is different. The teacher struggles with pedagogical adaptation. The process of pedagogical adaptation consists (at least, in part) of finding new ways of communicating “old” values in an unfamiliar educational environment. For instance, practicing is unquestionably universally acknowledged means of achieving high standards in music performance and as such is employed everywhere. However, while “push, criticize and demand” instructional approach constitutes an indispensable and culturally and socially accepted component of the music education process in one society, “encourage, reward and support” approach prevails in another. Obviously, the values (hard work, persistence, diligence, patience), and goals (a mastery over a musical instrument or voice) are essentially the same; however, the context, the means of achieving the goal, and consequently the means of communicating the values are different. Consider, for instance, the following statement by one of the participants (voice, piano and music theory teacher- recent immigrant) in our recent study, “What is expected from a music teacher here is a positive attitude and constant encouragement. But to me, if I cannot tell negative things to my students, or express my dissatisfaction, then it is not serious”. An immigrant guitar teacher notes, “The main policy in most private music schools here is the customer retention. So, it was hard for me to ask my students to practice four hours a day [as I used to ask in my country], so I had to switch to 20 minutes a day”. Another participant (piano teacher, a recent immigrant from one of the Eastern European countries) observes, “On the one hand, as a teacher you want them [the students] to achieve the highest level possible, but, on the

Music Teaching as Cultural Struggle...


other hand, you know that if it is too hard, they quit. I think most of the students here are looking for fun”. (For in depth discussion on various aspects of adaptation of music pedagogic culture in a new educational environment, see Bartel & Sprikut, 2010; Sprikut, 2012) This is not to imply that internationally educated music teachers (or anyone else, for that matter), question their professional qualities, relevance of their theoretical knowledge, applicability of the practical skills, or validity of their extensive international experience. This is not to imply that their teaching capabilities and enormous potential to contribute substantially to the educational practice have diminished considerably in a new cultural and social setting. However, obviously, these major life changes pose substantial new challenges to the internationally trained music educators. They face important and tough decisions related to (not infrequently, painful) transformation of their professional and cultural identity, as well as (sometimes major) revisions and modifications of their pedagogic culture. As this process of decision making is particularly complex and affected by a multitude of important factors, degrees of success may vary substantially. As a result, too frequently, educators (as well as music educators)-newcomers are perceived in host societies as culturally and professionally inferior to their colleagues, members of the local educational elite (Wang, 2002; Ryan, Pollock and Antonelli, 2010; Beynon, Ilieva and Dichupa, 2004; Cho, 2010; Peeler and Jane, 2005; Bartel and Sprikut, 2010). Among the most important factors that prevent the successful integration of the teachers-newcomers is the absence of a habitual cultural stratum within which their professional and educational preferences, assumptions, standards and values have been formed. The situation is rather paradoxical. Ironically, while seeking admittance into an existing educational venue, music educators-newcomers’ intellectual baggage attests as much to their capacity to work autonomously as it does to their cultural vulnerability thus preventing them from gaining the access to valuable employment opportunities that the new educational setting may provide. Quite often, mistrust and deep suspicion of the dominant pedagogic culture towards unfamiliar pedagogical practices brought by the strangers result in a reluctance of the establishment to grant the newcomers a desired access. Music making and music teaching and learning take place in a very specific cultural context, which render pedagogical distinctions more evident. However, the problem is much greater than just a simple juxtaposition of a variety of music teaching methods. The remarkable coexistence of diverse educational customs and norms or rather different (and not infrequently, discordant) educational systems (pedagogic cultures) within a single society is a dynamic universal process, the extent of which, impact on society and its educational practice could be deeper and more significant than educators and theorists today can foresee. Apparently, the possible cultural and social consequences of such a process cannot be predicted at present with a high degree of precision. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that its outcomes would deeply affect and perhaps alter our vision of culture, understanding of the educational norms, as well as our perception of the ways of transmitting and acquiring knowledge. Culture and Pedagogic Culture The famous sociologist Geert Hofstede in his highly influential book “Culture’s Consequences” offers an extensively quoted definition of culture as a “collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another” (Hofstede, 2003, p. 9). In other words, as a result of this complex “programming” process people develop certain identifiable characteristics and qualities that, on the one hand, unite them as a community, and on the other hand, culturally separate them from others. Therefore, it can be assumed that teachers (as well as music teachers), as members of a society, community, or a professional group, develop certain cultural characteristics. These characteristics are reflected in their pedagogic practices, and thus, teachers vary in their pedagogic culture. Then, the following questions arise, What does music pedagogic culture consist of? What are its main components and functions? What is the extent of culture’s influence on music pedagogic practice? Is it possible to identify unique cultural characteristics that make music pedagogy culture specific and differentiate one music pedagogic culture from another? Do teachers retain culturally identifiable traits of their pedagogy when relocating into a different cultural and educational environment?


Leonid Sprikut

Pedagogic culture could be generally described as a set of pedagogic “beliefs and values, and applied pedagogic repertoire” (Bartel, 2001), which includes pedagogical norms, assumptions, standards, requirements, practices, roles. This “set” is by no means fixed or static, but rather flexible and adjustable. However, it is always socially determined and culturally identifiable. Therefore, it appears that as a conceptual model “pedagogic culture” could be applied broadly in a variety of situations and at a variety of levels, including individual, family, group, school, society and so on- from micro interactions to macro structures (Cummins, 2000, 2001; Cameron, Carlisle, 2004). It implies the acknowledgement that pedagogical assumptions, such as the place of a child/student/learner in the culture, the roles and functions of teachers, the nature of knowledge and education, accepted modes of pedagogical approaches, including norms of pedagogical communication and interaction with students, (as well as many other ideas and suppositions) are all comparatively coherent within an “intact” culture. Therefore, while there is a possibility for a person to acquire some knowledge and learn some aspects of a new culture (pedagogical, as well), it is highly doubtful whether an individual can ever become a “cultural native”. It appears that the allusion to pedagogic culture is made today primarily in a context of teacherstudent relationship, (such as “student/child/learner-centered” pedagogic culture, “authoritarian/ teacher dominated”, or “centrally organized” pedagogic culture). Occasionally, the term is used to refer to teachers’ ethics, attitude/classroom etiquette, educational level, knowledge, professional skills, as well as other essential characteristics, including general intelligence. Not infrequently, it is employed to describe the administrative and organizational environment in a certain educational institution, or within an academic discipline. However, while the importance of these issues is undeniable, they constitute only few aspects of pedagogic culture as a social and cultural phenomenon. Pedagogic culture is not merely about a certain model of pedagogical behaviour, teaching style, teachers’ attitudes, or their professional capabilities. Moreover, it is not ultimately about who they are or what they do as teachers. Rather, it is about how they become who they are and how they do what they do as teachers. To understand and capture the essence of the complex, dynamic and multidimensional relationships between music pedagogy and culture it could be examined from a variety of perspectives. However, it appears that there are several main aspects of the problem, which are crucial for the understanding of pedagogic culture as a theoretical construct, as well as for the existence of music pedagogic culture as a multifaceted social phenomenon. First, from the “developmental” perspective, pedagogic culture should be viewed and examined as an intricate, lengthy and subtle process. Here, the emphasis should be put on contextuality, as this process inevitably occurs within a certain societal order. As noted by Trend (1991), the issues “of community and constituency are central to a view of pedagogic culture, for texts and institutions can only function within groupings of people” (p. 81). As a dynamic structure, dependent on and derivative of a sociocultural process pedagogic culture provides an overall framework, within which a multitude of “agents of education” (Merriam, 1964, p. 155) can function properly. Second, it is important to recognize that pedagogic culture (among other aspects of culture) represents a (temporary) product that emerges from the social practices of a given community. Third, pedagogic culture is characterized by its dual nature. In fact, the duality of pedagogic culture stems from the dual nature of culture that has long been recognized by theorists.1 While pedagogic culture is an essential and unalienable component of a society, it is simultaneously, an agent, a driving force of a social-cultural process. Therefore, it is important to trace and investigate the dynamics of the adjustment or adaption of a pedagogic culture in an unfamiliar educational context, as this analysis will assist in highlighting the main functions, role and place of a pedagogic culture in society. Pluta (1989) suggests that the concept of pedagogic culture should be constructed within the context of “the existing senses of the term culture” (p. 245). This view has two important implications. First, the attempt to address the notion of pedagogic culture would inevitably necessitate a closer examination of 


Bantz (1993) observes, “Culture is an outcome and a process that arises in the meaningful activity of people” (p. 25). Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952) argue that cultural systems “may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other, as conditioning elements of future action” (p. 181).

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the prevailing perceptions and present notions of culture and pedagogy as these ambiguous concepts are inextricably bound up with each other. Second, in order to narrow the bounds within which pedagogic culture is defined this discussion should be limited to the area and aspects of culture that are relevant to the notion of pedagogy. Music Pedagogic Culture: Towards a Working Definition While the conceptual roots of the term “culture” can be traced to the writings of Herodotus (5th century BC), however, with regards to a commonly agreed upon definition of what constitutes culture, the matter is far from being settled. As early as in 1924 Edward Sapir pointed out that the problem of defining culture stems from the multiplicity of connotations that the term conveys. Having referred to culture as “a label that seems to mean something particularly important” he observed, “… yet, when the question arises of just where to put the label, trouble begins…” (Sapir, 1924/2004, p. 23). Even a brief review of the literature on the subject highlights a remarkable history of the profound intellectual struggle for accuracy, clarity and precision of a cohesive definition. Today, it has become a commonplace among scholars to refer to the classic “Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions” by A. Kroeber and C. Kluckhohn (1952), where the authors assembled over 160 definitions of culture. However, since the first publication of the book, the number of such definitions has increased indefinitely. It appears that as a theoretical construct, pedagogic culture could be as elusive as a concept of culture itself (Baldwin, Faulkner, Hecht and Lindsley, 2006). Therefore, as mentioned above, prior to attempting a discussion on pedagogic culture within the context of the term culture, it is essential to delimit the bounds within which pedagogic culture (as well as music pedagogic culture) should be defined. Sapir argues, “…the concept of culture is relevant only if it takes its meaning in the present psychology of the people” (1924/2002, p. 239). In this context, the notion of human communication, its place and functions in culture is of major significance. According to Sapir (2008), “…every cultural pattern and every single act of social behaviour involve communication in either an explicit or an implicit sense”. (p. 494). Indeed, the view on communication as one of the central components of culture has been extensively discussed in literature. Moreover, as Littlejohn and Foss (2009) observe, some scholars even equate culture with communication. Perhaps, the best known and most widely quoted in this context is the famous statement by E. Hall, “Culture is communication and communication is culture”2. It appears that numerous scholars share the same point of view. For instance, Kress (1988) suggests, “Culture and communication are two sides of the same coin” (p. 10). Poyatos (2002) argues that “cultural manifestation is inconceivable without the personal communicative exchanges that express ideas and attitudes regarding what is done and thought” (p. 3). Therefore, he concludes, “culture is communication” (p. 3). Neuliep (2008) asserts that in many ways “the terms communication and culture can be used interchangeably” (p. 38). Stohl (2000) argues, “Communication is the essence of culture, inextricably and reciprocally bound together” (p. 326). Bruner (1996), discussing “culturalism” point of view that mind cannot exist without culture, observes that in this analysis culture is viewed as a set of symbolic and material tools, which assist individual in “organizing and understanding the world in communicable ways” (p. 3). Schirato and Yell (2000) define culture as “the totality of communication practices and systems of meaning” (p. 1). It appears that this view is particularly important in the context of the current discussion, for as Biesta (1995) observes “…educational relationship is a relationship between human beings” (p. 185). Further, he asserts that many educators, while discussing educational relationship, prefer to use such terms as “dialogue” or “communication”. Bartel (2001), addressing teachers’ beliefs, values, and practices notes that they are “all related to a pedagogic model that holds assumptions of who does what and how, knows what and how, controls what and how, and aims for what and how” (p.16). This “pedagogic model”  2

From his 1959 book “The Silent Language”


Leonid Sprikut

(or pedagogic culture, as well as music pedagogic culture) is essentially a means of communication and as such is always socially and culturally situated (Bruner, 1996)3. Some scholars (Pluta, 1989) argue that the notion of culture as it relates to pedagogy should be confined to the values, since the function of pedagogic culture is to facilitate “educational propagating of true values” (p. 245). However, it appears that this approach would fail to acknowledge the importance and complexity of communication between the participants in the educational process. While fundamental set of beliefs and core values exists in every culture, however, it is through the means of social communication that these values and beliefs are transmitted and reinforced. Consider, for instance, the following brilliant example of teachers-student communication provided by Zhang and McGrath (2009) in their comparative study of the teacher–student relationships of Chinese and non-Chinese teachers, in the International Baccalaureate school in China. Chinese teachers Don’t be complacent! Don’t show self-satisfaction! It is not a big deal! How come you asked such a question? What are you thinking about? You didn’t plagiarize, did you? Did you do it by yourself? (p. 172).

Non-Chinese teachers Nice job! You did a fantastic job! Well done! Brilliant! You rock! Absolutely wonderful! That is a good question! Surprisingly good! Much better than I had expected.

The diligence and hard work are valued everywhere; however, it is obvious that these values are communicated differently, as it is the means of communication that vary greatly across pedagogical traditions in different cultural and subcultural contexts. Therefore, music pedagogic culture could be defined as a pedagogic communication system (or a set of communication pedagogic practices) which assist students in the process of production of musical meaning and music related decision making. In this context, it would be easy to imagine how this pedagogic communication process can be situated in a vast variety of cultural as well as subcultural contexts (e.g. band/orchestra/choir/Orff pedagogic culture of a Canadian born, locally educated teacher who teaches in one of Toronto’s public school, or that of a Canadian born teacher who was educated in Germany and now teaches in one of Toronto’s private schools, or that of a teacher who was born in Hong Kong, received her education at a music conservatory in Beijing, completed her doctorate at one of the American universities, and currently teaches in Toronto’s Montessori/art school, or that of a Poland native string teacher who now teaches in catholic school in Toronto, and so on- the list of examples is endless). It appears that music pedagogic communication process in its complexity requires much greater attention from music education research. Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (2009) refer to communication as “your ability to share your beliefs, values, ideas, and feelings” (p. 14). Wood (2008) asserts that communication “is a mirror of a culture’s values and a primary means of keeping them woven into the fabric of everyday life” (p. 163). While music education research in this area is extremely limited, it appears that it is essential that music education theorists turn their attention to the investigation of the issues pertaining to the structures and patterns of a specific music pedagogic communication process, as well as to the representation and reflection of teachers’ beliefs and values in their communicative practices. There could be little doubt that the role of communication in music education process, specifically in relation to teachers’ cultural views and beliefs, is of major importance, for how music educators communicate their musical values and meanings that music conveys certainly affects and influences their students’ perception of and engagement with the art.  3

Scollon and Scollon (1995) mention teachers among specialists who find that “communication is at the heart of their professional activities” (p. 4)

Music Teaching as Cultural Struggle...


Cultural Struggle: Implications for Music Education As noted above, a new educational environment poses considerable challenges for internationally trained music educators. Inevitably, there is a vast range of significant decisions, modifications, and adjustments to be made, at a variety of levels: from relatively trivial, (such as repertoire selection) to major revisions which could potentially distort the boundaries of one’s cultural and professional self-identification. It is a cultural struggle. For, on the one hand, while a certain degree of professional flexibility is generally regarded as a necessary prerequisite for a successful pedagogical adaptation process, on the other hand, many internationally educated music teachers seek to preserve and reaffirm their pedagogical cultural identity in a new educational setting. Ironically, while professionally involved, internationally trained music educators often feel that they are culturally separated from the music education mainstream in host societies around the world. This discrepancy not infrequently results in their inability (and reluctance) to participate on an equal basis in both the educational discourse and educational process. Undoubtedly, this cultural alienation negatively impacts music education. Apparently, it is unrealistic to expect that dominant music pedagogic culture would willingly surrender its hegemonic position in education and society. However, it is becoming clear that both local and internationally trained music educators, as well as their students, and the society as a whole could potentially greatly benefit from the dynamic dialogue and active collaboration between diverse music teaching traditions, discourses and practices. Conclusion Within the framework of a popular discourse on multiculturalism in music education, the issues related to the multiplicity of world musics have been extensively discussed in literature. Music educators, researchers and scholars have successfully convinced themselves that the musical sounds created by the planet’s human inhabitants have a right to exist in our classroom. However, many theorists tend to disregard the fact that multiculturalism suggests the multiplicity of the instructional approaches, as well. The diversity of music teaching practices, which constitutes a notable social and cultural phenomenon, has not been perceived as a multicultural issue, and as a result has been excluded from the discussion. Bartel (2010) coined the term “pedagogical multiculturalism” to designate this unique phenomenon, which is rapidly becoming a new cultural, social, and educational reality not only in Canada, but also in many other parts of the global community deeply influenced by the contemporary social processes, as well. While multicultural pedagogy has become a favourite topic of an advanced theoretical discourse in education, pedagogical multiculturalism as a current social trend and an emergent conceptual model has received very little attention from our educators and theorists. Regrettably, it has not been a subject of a systematic investigation neither in music education nor in general education research. With regards to the internationally educated teachers’ experience while striving to incorporate into the existing educational structure, a variety of issues has been addressed in the literature. International scholars (Bascia, 1996; Beynon et al., 2004; Cho, 2010; Deters, 2006; Faez, 2010; Ng, 2006; Peeler and Jane, 2005; Bartel and Sprikut, 2010; Sprikut, 2012) have started gaining deeper insight into the struggle of these teachers in host societies around the world, and some of the issues that impede the newcomers’ successful integration were examined. However, while the existence of the problem is generally acknowledged, the paternalistic approach to the internationally educated teachers and their pedagogies still dominates the field. In contrast, while attempting to define music pedagogic culture I shift away from the “cultural superiority” approach and towards recognizing cultural pedagogic equality in the context of pedagogic multiculturalism Therefore, it appears that as a theoretical construct, music pedagogic culture would offer numerous possibilities for music education researchers, scholars, theorists, policy makers and practitioners striving to develop relevant contemporary curriculum to advance multiculturalism in music learning and teaching.


Leonid Sprikut

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Music Teaching as Cultural Struggle: Implications for Music Education  
Music Teaching as Cultural Struggle: Implications for Music Education  

Music pedagogy is approached from the cultural perspective. While professional flexibility is commonly perceived as a necessary prerequisite...