Professor, Brandon University, Brandon, Manitoba Canada
What are we doing when we advance advocacy arguments for music?
1. We need to remember that advocacy is a political undertaking, not a philosophical one. That means, among other things, that answers to questions about music's nature and value may not necessarily serve the ends of advocacy: it is entirely possible, in fact, for philosophical truths to undermine what advocacy seeks to achieve. The advocate has clear ends in mind and is primarily concerned to persuade others to his/her point of view. These ends thus restrict and proscribe at the outset the means to be deployed and the range of conclusions deemed admissible. They rule out from the beginning questions, procedures, and observations that may be at odds with the advocate's purposes. In advocacy, what counts is persuasion. In philosophical endeavours, on the other hand, the point is validity or truth, quite apart from any preordained end. A potential danger with the anything-goes strategies of advocacy is that we make promises on which we cannot deliver. Another is that we commit ourselves to things on which we may be able to deliver but should not. These dangers are all the more worrisome if we turn over responsibility to professional persuaders, whose interest in the aims of our instructional efforts is subsidiary to their interest in winning resources, time, recognition, or whatever else is perceived to be at stake.
2. Claims to musical value are not claims to educational value. Therefore, establishing that music is important or valued is at most half the argument that is required when attempting to justify its place in school curricula. Establishing that music is a ubiquitous phenomenon, and involved in all manner of human endeavours only states the obvious. It is music education, not music, that faces a legitimation crisis.
3. Every single one of our claims to music's educational value is contingent. Music's capacity to achieve educational ends, indeed music's power itself, always depends: upon (a) how, (b) by whom, (c) for whom, and (d) under what circumstances we engage in the processes of (e) musicking and (f) teaching. All our ambitious claims for music depend upon extenuating circumstances and contextual variables, circumstances and variables our bold claims must acknowledge because they are things over which we often have relatively little control. Music education may, under certain circumstances, indeed affect desirable educational ends. In the wrong hands, or under the different circumstances, its power might affect precisely the opposite. In short, neither music nor music instruction is unconditionally good. It all depends.
4. The need to advocate strenuously for music education it is frequently due to musical or educational failings. Conversely, where the power and value of music and of educational endeavours are evident to people, it is seldom necessary to mount advocacy campaigns. Music's meaning and potency in people's lives is what drives support for educational endeavours, not noble sounding promises.
5. Advocacy is typically conservative, in that it takes as its object the defense or justification of "what is." Put differently, advocacy efforts generally focus on convincing people of the need to support (or support more adequately) the status quo. Where change is needed, this is not necessarily a desirable state of affairs.
What are music's values?
6. Music's values are radically diverse and multiple, perhaps innumerable. They cannot be ranked hierarchically except with regard to that for which they are valuable. Nor can they be separated into categories "musical" and "extra-musical," good and bad, except in relation to human ends. Meaning and value are functions of use, which is to say they are always constituted by and relative to use. The value question, then, is a question about how music works in the human world, and how those potential "workings" relate to ends desired by people concerned. This means that such issues are always socio-political, always potentially contested.
7. To say music's value is intrinsic or inherent is to claim it is self evident: that it somehow exists without any connections to anything else. But all value is human value, and human value is value-for something. The appeal to a musical value that JUST IS, is a kind of sleight of hand – an attempt to pre-empt other kinds of value claims by establishing a value that precedes human use. Music has no value unless we confer it, just as is true of all other values. This observation need not compromise music advocacy, but it does indeed ground it in human action and in the uses to which music lends itself.
8. The preceding two claims follow from the fact that music, and therefore its meaning and value, is constructed anew by each musicking person. It follows that these are inextricably grounded in and emergent from experience. Such experience, furthermore, is always socioculturally situated – which is to say it is socially constructed. These facts both suggest important qualifications upon any claim we might wish to mount on music's behalf and point to a range of significant claims that are often neglected.
9. To say musical experience, meaning, and value are socially constructed is not, please note, to say these are socially determined. The relationship between the individual and culture is dialectical and reflexive in nature.
10. To say musical experience, meaning, and value are socially constructed is not to deny that these do not have a biological basis as well. But human bodies are minded bodies, and embodied minds are always also sociocultural phenomena.
11. These preceding observations surely point toward understandings of music as a phenomenon that is unique and uniquely important, in virtue of its location at the nexus of mind and body, individual and social, action and understanding. Music's status as intelligent action and our richest potential source of participatory consciousness (Keil, 1994) should comprise the core of efforts to explain and justify music's presence in the context of education.
To what educational ends are music's meanings and values suited?
12. Again, that depends: upon one's understanding of "education" and the kind of ends it properly implicates; upon the music in question; upon the range of sociocultural values it potentially invokes; and so on. In no way does this negate the process of advocacy. However, it does alter and qualify in important ways what we understand advocacy to be and how we go about it.
13. Among the educational ends we might wish to consider are the following: transmission of cultural heritage; the creation and maintenance of cultural vitality; enabling access to experiences and understandings that are not commonly accessible through informal means; imparting critical awareness that gives people more power and control over their lives; imparting appreciation for embodied and emergent cognition, and the severe limitations of disembodied knowledge; creating personal and collective identities; the development of tolerance, cooperation, and ethical frames for action; rendering the familiar unfamiliar; developing expertise and fluency in valued realms of human endeavour; and so on. This list, it should be clear, is potentially endless: if music's values are radically diverse and multiple, the aims of education are no less so.
14. The point to be borne in mind is that each such educational claim carries with it a broad range of personal and professional obligations: for none of these things happen necessarily or automatically, just because students have been involved in activities we regard as musical and educational. Deciding what courses of action are appropriate in light of local circumstances, present needs and resources, and the unpredictability of educational outcomes lies at the heart of what it means to be a professional music educator.
15. Because of all that has been said here, the best source of valid and reliable advocacy arguments is the qualified professional whose charge it is to deliver "the goods."