Black & Brown Face: How Representation Combats Eurocentrism in the Classroom

James Baldwin (1960), an American novelist, playwright, and activist, once said that children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.

It’s easy to see how this can relate to blatant racism, but how are we as educators contributing to our students of color feeling locked out of the environment we have created?

Our students are absorbing more from what they see and feel than what they are being taught; thus, the materials we choose to use and the scholars of the discourse we share can have a profound impact on our students.

I recall reading all these amazing stories for our required reading textbooks about young White men who go on adventures in the woods, often with their dogs, or I would learn about these brilliant mathematicians and scientists who changed the world with their theories and inventions.

None of them looked like me.

The people that students of color would learn about came from recycled lectures about ancient Chinese dynasties during Lunar New Year, Latinx warriors during colonialism, or oppressed Black Americans during Jim Crow.

Consuming that type of media can be traumatizing for students of color because we see ourselves in those limited stereotypical references.

To Baldwin’s point about imitation, how could children of color imitate their elders if they did not see themselves doing miraculous things in science, music, math, and art?

Before 2008, children of color, especially Black children, were told that they could become anyone they wanted to, even the president of the United States. It was just something parents of color said but never really believed until Barack Obama was elected.

The importance of representation is buttressed in view of the record number of people of color and women candidates running for the 2020 presidency. As educators, we can offer our students a diverse set of heroes by selecting materials that are more inclusive and less Eurocentric.

Having an Inclusive Environment

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is incomplete in my view and should be adjusted to, “It takes a diverse village to raise a child.” As part of this diverse village, keep in mind that every figure you choose to share with your students will become part of their village as well; therefore, choosing solely Eurocentric figures will suggest a White supremacist approach to your teaching that would taint the safe environment you worked so hard to establish. Once you get to know your students and establish an environment that is safe and productive, you can maintain this environment by making MUSIC in classroom.

Make them the experts. As you make room for discourse in your classroom, give your students the room to speak about the topic as it relates to their background or cultural upbringing.

Use your resources. We teach groups with anywhere from 18 to 30+ people, and each one of them have unique experiences, so it might be wise to pull from who you have in your class. Scholars come from every part of this world; bringing that culture into your classroom will make that student feel seen and heard.

Support your students’ unique perspectives. Every student is an important addition to the cohort, and their feelings should be validated. Your students may be speaking from cultural perspectives that might be foreign to you, and it is important not to mischaracterize their zeal.

Involve yourself as the learner. In a student-centered classroom, discovery should be at the forefront of your lessons. Allow space for posing questions to which you do not know the answers and collaborate ideas for solutions with your students.

Combat the overuse of Eurocentrism. Your students are listening and watching very closely to the things you say and choose to share. Even when teaching a predominantly White group of students, we have the capacity as educators to use resources that are not part of the Western canon. Reflect upon the hidden curriculum you might be imposing upon your students.

As we continue to create environments that are inclusive of other cultures, we will simultaneously deconstruct the limitations of the colonial mindset and rewrite more complete narratives.

Resource

Video: “Changing the Stories We Have Inherited From Colonialism,” with Priyamvada Gopal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOnBiHHPLm4&t=13s

Collin Edouard is currently a Gates Cambridge Scholar working on a Master’s of Music in Choral Studies. He earned a BFA in Vocal Performance at The City College of New York, and an MA in Music Education at Teachers College of Columbia University.

Reference

Baldwin, J. A. (1960, July). Fifth Avenue, uptown: A letter from Harlem. Esquire.

Music in Our Schools, A Music Educator Reflects on Her Career of Making Music in School

March is Music in Our Schools month so KDP is sharing a blog from Kara Barbee. Kara is a music educator in Cincinnati, Ohio, currently in her fourteenth year of teaching. She graduated magna cum laude from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and earned her master’s degree from VanderCook College of Music, in Chicago, Illinois. She taught for twelve years in the Winton Woods City School District and is now the Music Director at Aiken New Tech High School, part of Cincinnati Public Schools. Kara performs on clarinet with the Southwest Ohio Symphonic Band and sings with the Young Professionals Choral Collective.

aiken

I’ve always enjoyed reflecting on my teaching and learning experiences. Here are some of my reflections on how I’ve arrived at where I am today as an educator.

When I was in college, at Miami University, I was interested in being an undergraduate assistant for my favorite music theory professor. He accepted my request, but said he didn’t need any help with those classes. He wanted me to assist him with 20th Century Music, which was a 400 and master’s level course. I explained that I had just started my regular music history classes and really didn’t know anything in the curriculum, so I didn’t understand how I would be able to help with this class. He assured me that I would be fine.

We met a few times before the course start date, he gave me a huge binder full of information and a key to his office filled with an amazing vinyl collection. I felt like a regular student on the first day of class, except that I was the youngest and most were working on their master’s degrees. After class, my professor asked me how I thought it went and when I would like to start teaching. I told him that I thought it went well and that I would be willing to teach whenever he’d like me to. He handed me a record, Charles Ives “The Unanswered Question,” and said “you’re teaching on Wednesday.”

I studied harder and spent more time in the library preparing for this course than anything I’d ever worked on before. I wasn’t even getting actual credits for being an undergraduate assistant. What motivated me the most was that I was having to teach the material. And if I was going to be teaching it, I had to really know what I was talking about.

So this brings me to some of my favorite projects. I’ve been to a number of professional development workshops and conferences, most of which were based on core classes. I have always enjoyed learning and advocating for music being a connection to all other disciplines. When I first started teaching, about fourteen years ago, I remember attending a conference about project-based learning. As I was introduced to projects from core subjects, I began to brainstorm how I could bring projects into music classes.

The idea that I mulled around the most was having my beginning band students teach their parents how to play their instruments for their first concert. I had this thought on the back burner for a number of years until I was working on my master’s degree and needed an idea for my research project. I figured that if I was ever going to put this into practice, I should go for it as my master’s project in hopes that my gut instinct on the power of teaching as a learning tool could be supported by research.

Just as I had thought, I found a lot of supporting research and my data collection showed the impact that teaching others had on my students’ playing abilities, their attitudes toward learning, and their communication skills. It also had the added bonuses of involving the parents and educating them on how hard it is to play an instrument. Plus, I’ve never heard a beginning band sound better than after their parents squeak and squawk trying to play “Hot Cross Buns!”

At the core of project-based learning is making connections to the real world and having students show their learning through authentic assessments that adults in your discipline would face. Of the many projects we’ve done, my favorite would be traveling with my middle school band to Nashville, Tennessee, to record at Third Man Records. We had participated in Solo & Ensemble and Large Group Adjudicated Events every year, but knowing that what they performed on that day would be recorded forever (or as long as vinyl can be played) took their performance skills to another level and they felt like “real” musicians.

After twelve years in the same district, two years ago I decided to change schools and teach at a project-based school called Aiken New Tech, which is part of Cincinnati Public Schools.
Another reason that I decided to go to Aiken was because they had all but lost their music department. There were less than a handful of working instruments, a music library that could fit in a bread box, and very few students that could read music (my first year there were 3!). Needless to say, this was a huge challenge, but I also saw this as an amazing opportunity, not only for me, but for my students. Want to talk about real world problems in the music industry – this is a perfect example!

Since moving to Aiken New Tech, the students and I have found people willing to donate instruments, their time, food, and performance opportunities. Students have started figuring out songs that they would like to play and we work on being able to write them down so they can be played for years to come. We have brainstormed ways to raise funds to be able to purchase uniforms, instruments, music, and all of the things that go into growing a music program. We’ve had a lot of help along the way, too. We have an extremely supportive principal, two dedicated alumni assistants, and a business partnership with GE that has helped us raise money and collect used instruments. But isn’t that how things work in the adult world, too? You have to reach out to those that have an interest in what you’re doing and then see how those connections can help you accomplish the task at hand.

My first year at Aiken (last year), I had three students on drums, along with myself, for the first pep assembly. Now, I have over 40 students in the Pep Band and we perform at football and basketball games, and I just found out a few days ago that we will be marching in the Red’s Opening Day Parade. This year we will be hosting our first Talent Showcase, that was organized by the general music classes as one of their projects. It will feature all of the performing ensembles as well as any student or community member that makes the audition. We have started an after school choir and we have been selected to perform as part of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Project 38, where we are telling the story and themes of Macbeth through modern music. This Spring we’ll perform our adaptation at Memorial Hall, in downtown Cincinnati, and also at the CSC’s Revel and Feast celebration.

I had no idea that we would be this far along after such a short amount of time, but I think part of that is because the students are working right alongside me. We’re in this together and it is as much their program as it is mine. They know the work they are doing is authentic and the types of things that “real” musicians do.

When I decided to take the job at Aiken, I did some research and found out that the school was named after Charles Aiken and his two sons, all of which were music educators. There is a bust of Charles Aiken at Cincinnati’s Music Hall as he is thought to be the reason that music education became a part of our school system in Cincinnati. I feel more connected to my school and to my mission because of this history and I hope that we can continue the vision that the Aiken family established.