Dear Friends and Music Colleagues,
I owe an apology to more people than I can imagine. My presentation on February 12, 2021 at TMEA on identifying beginning bassoon candidates was rooted in guidelines that exclude a diverse range of students. I now recognize the harm I have inflicted; I was wrong and I apologize.
Music is inclusive. Music is a place where people find safety, where people find their passions, where people find their heart and their community. I urge anyone defending my teachings to reconsider this practice and reflect on who our programs are designed to serve. How many students have been prevented from experiencing the bassoon—or any other instrument—in a misguided drive to build band programs?
As a music educator, I recommit to being proactive and researching best practices in diversity, equity, and inclusion to not only apply in my own teaching practice, but to share in the public forums I inhabit. I also vow to make space for diverse perspectives and use whatever platforms I have to lift up voices historically left out the conversations around music pedagogy. I have recognized the harms of white supremacy and classism and have historically thought of myself as an ally in the effort to dismantle these systems. The resounding and justified response to my presentation was a huge wake-up call that I have been an agent in perpetuating these harmful systems and have more reflection and work to do. I am humbled, but grateful for the feedback and opportunity to learn from my mistake. Most importantly, I vow to listen more and do better.
I humbly welcome additional feedback from anyone I hurt who is willing to share. I am not sure how this might progress, but at the very least, I would be grateful for the opportunity to apologize to you personally. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to connecting with you.
To TMEA: I strongly encourage you to use this opportunity to lead the way in directly challenging racial and socioeconomic exclusion which continue to persist in music education. Speaking out clearly and unequivocally against the very actions I promoted has the power to initiate critical conversations in our field and is the first step to beginning the healing process.
My hope is the dialogue and action that comes from this doesn’t seek to move on without effecting change—America has done this too often and too long—but works to actively reverse the harm and prevent future injury.
Once again, I am deeply sorry.
Problems Associated with the Guidelines
Regardless of my intention in presenting these guidelines as a means to identify bassoon candidates, the impact is that I’ve created a list that perpetuates systematic racism. Many who read the list saw themselves in some, if not all, of these categories, and felt that this list of guidelines effective canceled out their own musical experiences in public school and beyond.
Below are some reasons using these guidelines is problematic, reducing the opportunities for young people to experience any instrument like the bassoon. Hopefully, knowing this information will allow us to do better in the future.
– If you think additional information should be included here, please email me at email@example.com, as this list is certainly not exhaustive.
The are multiple problems with restricting student participation based on athletic abilities.
- First, this impacts students with disabilities who may not have had the opportunity to play sports. Excluding this population is an example of ableism.
- Second, excluding students participating in team sports more severely effects minority students who participate at higher percentages. Additionally, many of the individual sports referenced in the video are harder to find in lower income and higher minority areas. They tend to be more prevalent in white-majority communities. Using this guideline to restrict students is an example of covert racism.
Using the identifier of “strong in math and reading comprehension” is problematic on multiple levels.
- Grades and testing scores are not always good indicators of student intelligence. Student struggles in these areas can be the result of poor teaching earlier in their development, inconsistent support systems, or other factors out of the student’s control.
- Testing anxiety can limit a student’s ability to perform well, leading to a poor representation of their intelligence.
- This term is often misunderstood, and the way it was presented was faulty. Socioeconomic status encompasses more than just economic security, but also educational attainment, and perceptions of social class and standing. Using this as a guideline suggests excluding students who might be part of a certain class, or whose parents work certain jobs, or whose educational opportunities have been limited. As these factors describe minorities at a higher incidence, using this guideline increases the chances of limiting participation based on race.
- The economics of bassoon are that it is an expensive to purchase instrument with expensive reeds. If private lessons are available, they add an additional expense. Parents should always be made aware of the costs and band programs should do as much as they are able to mitigate those expenses. This can be through providing school-owned instruments, offering private lessons scholarships or additional sectionals, making reeds available at a reduced cost to the student if not outright free.
- The majority of intergenerational wealth building in the United States has come through home ownership. The practice of Redlining along with restricted access to the GI Bill following World War II, has kept home-ownership and wealth building for many non-white families a distant dream. The practices of the 20th century still resonate today as families still work to overcome the legacies of these systematic practices. As a result, many non-white families still struggle to access mortgage lending, meaning that any restrictions based on home ownership will disproportionally effect non-white students. Again, this guideline is another example of covert racism.
- In the same vein, non-white populations have historically had limited access to advanced educational opportunities compared to white populations, which are used to access homeownership. The result is the same as above.
- Additionally, there is nothing intrinsically better about a student living in a house than with a student living in an apartment. While there may be practice challenges, these can be overcome with band director intervention.