Austina Lee | Gareth Dylan Smith – The Role of Love and Community in American Schools
About this episode
Capitalism and neoliberalism influence how children are schooled in the USA. American schools have standardised performance measures that teachers and students are expected to meet, which tend to prioritise: conformity, good grades and workforce readiness. They do not support students to develop identities, form good relationships, collaborate, or innovate. The result is an education system that undervalues care and community, which is at odds with the vision of raising compassionate young people. In a recent paper, teachers Austina Lee and Gareth Dylan Smith explore how this can be challenged through ‘punk’ pedagogy. They use the case study of a high-school choir to demonstrate how their ideas can be put into practice. Read More
While the narrative around music education tends to emphasise creativity, authenticity, and community, in reality it is often rooted in an intense environment of competitiveness and prestige. Studies show that intense competitiveness distances students from their teachers, and prevents them from building caring communities.
For Lee and Smith, a ‘punk’ pushback to our current schooling system is necessary. They look to philosophers such as bell hooks and Marissa Silverman, who advocate for approaches to teaching rooted in love. Schooling based on love and the punk ethic would challenge dominant, dehumanising culture, and enable students to develop empathy and resilience.
As the classroom experience is formative, this has the potential to transform students’ future communities into ‘places of love’. Music education, in which students play and create together, is ideally suited to fostering this.
As a teacher and the leader of a high-school choir, Lee engages with her students as compassionate, artistic citizens. She emphasises their part in the community rather than their role in a ‘capitalist economic machine’. She embraces equity, solidarity, rebellion, love and care, honouring students’ joy, humanity and individuality.
Lee and Smith used a collaborative ethnographic approach and three vignettes to explore their understanding of this student-focussed environment.
In the first vignette, the students worked on a compilation album of their own songs. They felt safe enough within the classroom to be vulnerable, leaning on one another for support, ideas and inspiration.
In the second, each student was given a bag to hang on the wall and were encouraged to write notes of affirmation to themselves and one other. Students made an extra effort to write notes to those who had received fewer affirmations.
In the third, children returning to school after lockdown made a video for their teacher, in which they had each recorded part of a song and edited it into a virtual ensemble. The teacher interpreted it as an expression of love because they knew how much it would mean to her.
Together, these stories show how some of the failures of the US education system can be resisted, and demonstrate the vital roles of love and care in the classroom.
Original Article Reference
Summary of the paper ‘Where is the Love, y’all? Punk Pedagogy in High School Choir’, in Research in Education, doi.org/10.1177/00345237231152605
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