What is a socially just approach to music education?

Spruce, Gary and Philpott, Chris (2015). What is a socially just approach to music education? In: El Sistema and the Alternatives: Social Action through Music in Critical Perspective, 24-25 Apr 2015, Senate House, University of London.


Contemporary music education exists in an age of privatisation, marketization and advocacy. As an increasing number of music education ‘providers’ compete for finite and often decreasing resources (both financial and time-bound), more and more ambitious and speculative claims are made for the benefits of music and music education which often reach to social justice dimensions or agendas as forms of legitimation or claims for privileging.

However can all models or approaches to music education be described as socially just and can all those that lay claim to a social justice agenda do so with equal legitimacy? We will argue that claims to further social justice agendas through particular approaches to music education need to be examined with healthy scepticism and interrogated in terms of the values, aims and pedagogical relationships that underpin them and following Bowman (2013) evaluated and valued in terms of the extent to which they contribute to ‘human thriving’ (4).

Working from a definition of social justice for music education which includes both democratic and emancipatory indicators, we examine the social and cultural processes that have confounded social justice in music education in spite of significant policy and curriculum change over the last five decades.

We conclude by arguing for an approach to music education which is concerned with the creation of dialogical spaces within which there is a ‘dynamic and continuous emergence

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