The Dangers of Activist Music Education
Facilitating activist music education as suggested by activist-musicians involves connecting to Others, sharing lived experiences, and fostering critical thinking. These same pedagogical moves, however, pose a number of risks. Connecting musically to unfamiliar Others may create possibilities of hierarchization, cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and exoticization. Situating musics historically may also produce potential for re-experiencing trauma when the musics studied emerge from oppression. Centering lived experiences may create further difficulties—perhaps fostering empathy for the realities of Others in a way that prevents action or change or that enables audiences to perform themselves as tolerant through the consumption of stories. Sharing stories may also generate potential for cultural appropriation. Encouraging youth to express their experiences through music may further pose risks to youth resisting both personal and systemic injustices. Avoiding the dogmatic or microfascistic implementation of a politicized activist curriculum requires educators to account for context thoughtfully and foster dissent in classroom practice. The discourse of empowerment, moreover, may not serve youth well, as it centers the teacher rather than encouraging youth agency. While activist music education offers great potential, keeping these possible dangers in mind will help educators implement a thoughtful, connective, and political music education that honors youth’s lived experiences.