10 Ways To Check Your Musical Bias
When we talk about removing bias' and the broader idea of decolonisation, we are talking about a change of mindset. It's breaking down the ideas of tokenism, representation and diversity, and understanding how our thoughts and environments have impacted our teaching and learning behaviours. It's important to question the information that we take for granted on a daily basis, and seek to understand why we think the way we do, where it comes from and what we can do to change our processes.
1. Songs from non-white cultures
Ask yourself what the purpose of these songs are. Are they just warm-up songs? Do you understand the lyrics or know the origins of these songs? What are the specific elements of music they contain that you are trying to teach?
Are terms like 'World Music', 'Africa', 'African', 'Asian' parts of your everyday teaching and language? How can these terms be harmful to some students? How can these terms rob children of learning about themselves, their peers, and the world around them?
3. Music notation
How much of your teaching is centred around learning music by ear? How many of your students are alienated by having to read notation?
Who qualifies as one of the Great Composers? Are they all white? Are they all men? All cisgender? All born before 1920?
How aware are you of the historical and social contexts of the music you teach? Which composers were discriminated against? Which one's profited from slavery? Which one's held racist views? What was happening in the world when they were composing and performing?
6. What are your defaults?
Who are the default composers you teach or have taught? What are the default pieces you teach? Are they reflective of your own musical experiences? Are they reflective of your students' experiences?
7. Music Technology
Are black and brown students 'encouraged' to go down the music technology route, as opposed to the 'traditional' instrumentation route? Do you view music technology as less than?
Are your resources whitewashed? Do you have any drawings or posters of black or brown composers and musicians on your walls? How about in the books you teach from?
9. It's not really music...
Do you think the music your students listen to contains little relevant musical information? Where do those assumptions come from? Have you explored any of their music in your own time?
By the time students finish their music education with you, what do you want them to be able to do? What do you want them to be confident and comfortable doing? How much of what you want your students to become, is shaped by what your idea of what a good western music education looks like?