Life, Music, and Social Justice for All

Life, Music, and Social Justice for All

Music Education Is for All

 By NAfME Member Rachael Fleischaker

Do you believe that music education is truly for all children?


The average high school music program includes only 10% – 20% of the student body, and a large majority of those students are white, middle/upper class, and in districts with sustaining tax bases (Lind & McKoy, 2016). Student demographics have become more diverse, but most music teachers (90%) are white and middle class (Lind & McKoy, 2016). Lack of student diversity in music ensembles could be a result of instructional strategies tailored to the western European cultural context (DeLorenzo, 2012; Doyle, 2014; Fitzpatrick-Harnish, 2015; Mixon, 2009). The shifting demographics of students, low participation rates in traditional performing ensembles, and stasis of the music teaching population suggest a need for new or different approaches to teaching music in order to uphold the belief that music education is truly for all children.

social justice | FatCamera


What social justice themes will be explored this session?

Cultural Competence is a teacher’s ability to have awareness of assumptions, values, and biases in order to understand the worldview of themselves and their learners, and to develop appropriate instructional strategies and techniques to meet the needs of the students who are culturally different from themselves (Sue, et. al, 1992). Before we can attempt to meet the social justice needs of our students, we must examine our own beliefs, biases, and assumptions. Issues of cultural identity are not a typical part of our teaching training or development (O’Toole, 2005). Teachers tend to be culturally responsive to students within their own culture, but often struggle to meet the needs of those who are different (Benham, 2003). Recognizing and reflecting on cultural differences is an important component to successful teaching in diverse music settings (Fitzpatrick, 2011; Bates, 2016).

Culturally Responsive Caring is an “ethical, emotional, and academic partnership with ethnically diverse students, a partnership that is anchored in respect, honor, integrity, resource sharing, and a deep belief in the possibility of transcendence” (Gay, 2000, p. 52). Students flourish when teachers affirm and respect cultural differences (Villegas and Lucas, 2002). Too often students view school music programs as isolated experiences with no connection to their home lives or their personal identity as musicians (Hoffman & Carter 2013; Kelly-McHale, 2013; Fitpatrick, 2012; Lind & McKoy, 2016). Paying attention to the social interactions of students, knowing the psychological needs of learners who are culturally different, and respecting the context of learning environments is a moral imperative for music teachers (Fitzpatrick, 2011, 2012; Allsup & Shieh, 2012). Understanding that music is a part of a student’s cultural identity and respecting multiple genres and ways of participating adds to a welcoming and culturally caring environment. Connecting to the whole child involves more than teaching musical skills, it is a commitment to protecting a child’s well-being through musical connections (Lind & McKoy, 2016).

diversity | Rawpixel

Why attend this session?

In this session, participants will explore social justice through hands-on activities that challenge traditional styles of classroom management, interactions with colleagues, and involvement in community partnerships. Participants will identify and explore conceptions and misconceptions of social justice.

 This session is all about YOU!

The activities and information are appropriate for any music teacher, at any experience level, and in any school setting. You will have an opportunity to reflect on your cultural competence and culturally responsive caring. We all have a lens through which we view the world. Through stories, games, and metaphors we will examine how our perceptions interact with our teaching. Using poetry and props, we will define social justice terms and concepts and then begin to explore barriers that challenge us in the music room. The session concludes with small and large group discussion for exploring applications of social justice in classroom and community.

 What to bring?

An open mind, honesty, and respect for yourself, your colleagues, and your students.

About the author:


NAfME member Rachael Fleischaker is a doctoral candidate in music education at Kent State University and an adjunct professor of music education for the College of Wooster. She has taught elementary band and vocal music in public schools for 22 years with 20 of those years in the Canton City Schools. Rachael has also taught for Kent State University and The Ohio State University. She holds a BME from The College of Wooster and an ME in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on urban education from Kent.

Contact Rachael through: 

Rachael Fleischaker presented on her topic, “Life, Music, and Social Justice for All,” at the 2017 NAfME National Conference last November in Dallas, TX. Register today for the 2018 NAfME National Conference!


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Bates, V.C. (2016). Foreword: How can music educators address poverty and inequality? Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 15(1), 1-9.

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Kelly-McHale, J. (2013). The influence of music teacher beliefs and practices on the expression of musical identity in an elementary general music classroom. Journal of Research in Music Education, 61, 195-216.

Lind, V. R, & McKoy, C. L. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching in music education: From understanding to application. New York, NY: Routledge.

Mixon, K. (2009). Engaging and educating students with culturally responsive performing ensembles. Music Educators Journal, 95(4), 66-73.

O’Toole, P. (2005). Why don’t I feel included in these musics, or matters. In D. J. Elliott (Ed.), Praxial music education: Reflections and dialogues (pp. 297-307). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Sue, D., Arrendondo, P., & McDavis, R. (1992). Multicultural counseling competencies and standards: A call to the profession. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 20(2), 64-88.

Villegas, A.M., & Lucas, T. (2002). Preparing culturally responsive teachers: Rethinking the curriculum. Journal of Teacher Education, 53, 20-32.

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August 25, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (