Equity and diversity in music education



When students are enrolled in schools, the guardians expect that teachers will equip them with knowledge and skills to make them responsible future leaders. Over the years, the government and educators have done everything possible to ensure that education evolves together with societal needs. Contrary to what many people think, American students are hard working but are let down by institutional and cultural barriers. In the last few decades, the federal government had done its best to ensure that students are nurtured and fostered in readiness for adulthood. Today, many schools in the country run different programs aimed to foster the emotional, social, and intellectual development of learners. Such programs include sports, clubs and support groups.

Discrimination in Schools

Despite the efforts made by stakeholders to ensure that schools are conducive to learners, they have become wastelands for students in sexual-orientation minorities like lesbian, transgender, bisexual, and gays. A recent report on school climate in the United States made some worrying discoveries. First, the study found 9/10 gay students were verbally harassed at least once because of their sexual orientation (Banks, 2004). Additionally, the study found that 60% of LGBT students did not feel safe in schools because of inherent characteristics like sexual orientation, ethnicity, and race. These behaviors towards gay students are discriminatory and contaminate the school environment. If not addressed on time, these experiences can result in emotional pain and internalized self-hatred, therefore, putting students at risk of substance abuse. This is worrying keeping in mind that schools are mandated with ensuring the safety of students (Cochran-Smith, 2004). Although school districts around the country have adopted a measure to curtail any form of harassment in schools, very little effort is put towards education them on sexual diversity.

Privileges Enjoyed by Heterosexual Music Students

As a subject, music is not neutral when it comes to matters concerning sexual orientation. Heterosexual teachers and students enjoy privileges over their gay counterparts when it comes to the classroom experience, professional development, and presence in teaching materials. When it comes to music education, heterosexual students are somehow advantaged unless the music teacher is openly gay. According to the paraxial principles music and music education, music elicits emotions by speaking to the inner self (Banks, 2004). For example, heterosexual music teacher easily understands what a heterosexual student is going through when they narrate their first romantic encounter. Additionally, heterosexual students are also advantaged when it comes to the content taught in music classes. Throughout America, the school curricular is openly heterosexual. Teachers in seven states are forbidden from portraying LGBT issues positively (Emmanuel, 2003). A study conducted around the country in 2007 showed that heterosexual students were not taught anything regarding LGBT. This means that the information fed to heterosexual students in music classes reinforce prejudice against LGBTs.

Privileges Enjoyed By Heterosexual Teachers Compared To Gay Ones

The same with straight students, heterosexual teachers, enjoy some advantages over their gay counterparts. For example, straight teachers can freely share their personal life with students whereas gay teachers cannot do so because of the risk of revealing their sexual orientation (Cochran-Smith, 2004). Additionally, it is hard for gay teachers to use stories from their personal life without editing them to suit the occasion. For example, when matching with a student band, a heterosexual teacher can about the rhythmic precession required by relating it to his experience seeing a French military parade during a trip he or she took with his spouse to Paris in the summer. These examples show LGBT music teachers and students can have a different experience of a music classroom compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Despite the fact that some of these differences in classroom experience mirror common societal attitudes towards sexual orientation, heterosexuality is advantaged when it comes to how teachers decide to teach in classrooms.

National Music Standard 9

The National Music standard 9 is largely heterogenic, therefore promoting discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to the National Music Standard 9, one of the main reasons for teaching music in schools is to help students understand music regarding history and culture (Emmanuel, 2003). With this in mind, there are some ways in which teachers can embed heterosexuality in their music classes. For example, music teachers provide students with a composer’s biographical information. In a heterosexual environment, students may be requested to play a composer’s piece more expressively to reflect its content and emotional message (Banks, 2004). A teacher may, for example, attribute the emotional appeal in Wagner’s compositions to his relationships with his heterosexual lovers. However, this may pose a dilemma to a homosexual teacher. For example, how would a homosexual music teacher explain the third-year relationship between Benjamin Britten and Peter Bears? It would be difficult to ignore this relationship because Benjamin dedicated all his operas to his gay lover (Cochran-Smith, 2004). The point here is that there is systematic bias against heterosexuals in the American education system, especially in music.

It is wrong to ignore the contributions of gay performers, composers, educators, and conductors in shaping American musical history. However, the mainstream media has recently started to appreciate the contributions to the music profession by gay and lesbians (Emmanuel, 2003). Gay artists are part of the American music history most because of their glittering careers but also because of musical genres they created. To ensure equity in learning music, teachers should adopt a hetero-exclusive approach in teaching music. For example, imagine what it would mean to a gay student to hear his music teacher, for the first time, openly talking about Tchaikovsky’s struggles with homosexuality, including fearing how his parents would react to his sexual orientation.

For centuries, music teachers are known for working towards providing musical education that relates to students. For example, the government has worked hard in recent years to accommodate the learning needs of students with physical and cognitive challenges. Thanks to these efforts, special-needs children are no longer seen as strangers in music classes. Sexual orientation is not a new phenomenon in music education. Therefore, this is the opportune time for music teachers to consider the benefits of incorporating students and composers whose romantic, emotional, and physical attractions are homosexual. This will not be new because music teachers have for many years borrowed music and experiences from different groups and places to enrich their understanding of music. Additionally, America is known for embracing diversity and therefore, if music teachers embrace views of the members of the LGBT community, it will prove beneficial to the society, students, and the overall development of music in the country.

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  1. Banks, J. & Banks, C. (2004). Handbook of research on multicultural education (eds). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Cochran-Smith, M. (2004). Walking the road: Race, diversity, and social justice in teacher education. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  3. Emmanuel, D. T. (2003). An immersion field experience: an undergraduate music education course in intercultural competence. Journal of Music Teacher Education, 13(1), pp. 33-41.
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