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  • Response to Elvira Panaiotidi, “The Nature of Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts in Music Education”
  • Wenyi W. Kurkul

At the beginning, I would like to congratulate Elvira Panaiotidi on her interesting paper and on her proposal to move beyond the long-running debates that began in the mid-1990s between Bennett Reimer and David Elliott and their respective supporters. I also applaud her affirmation that, beyond the numerous debates within the music-education philosophy community, the ultimate goal is to put the theories to work in schools or, in other words, to convert theories into operative paradigms.

Echoing her affirmation, I shared her article with a class of my graduate students after I received the invitation to respond to this paper. All of my graduate students are current schoolteachers in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area in the United States. Some of them are young teachers; others have decades [End Page 114] of teaching experience. As a university professor, I have always been thrilled by how much my thoughts are inspired by my students—by their stories, writing, discussions, dialogues, and sometimes very challenging questions in class. Their concern for their daily jobs and their students constantly remind me of our responsibilities to the children in the schools. However, with our schools and students in mind, I have to ask the music education philosophy community a question: Is "producing a unified concept of music," or "searching for a unified approach," or even aiming to "develop a unified approach in music education" as proposed by Panaiotidi what we truly need?

In her paper, Panaiotidi discusses the debate over the approaches in music education by Reimer and Elliott in the context of paradigm shifts. The term, "paradigm shift," was introduced by Thomas Kuhn in 1962 in his highly influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn proposes that almost every significant break-through in the field of scientific endeavor is first a break with tradition, with old ways of thinking, with old paradigms. For example, until the germ theory was developed, there was a high percentage of deaths during childbirth and scientists were not sure why. Likewise, in military settings, more people were dying from small wounds and diseases than from the major traumas experienced on the frontlines. But as soon as the germ theory was developed, a whole new paradigm—a better, improved way of understanding what was happening—made dramatic and significant improvements in the practice of medicine possible.

The United States today is the setting for another fruitful and powerful example of a dramatic paradigm shift. The traditional concept of government had been monarchical, based on the divine right of kings. It was not until centuries later that a significant break-through paradigm was developed: government of the people, by the people, and for the people. A constitutional democracy was born that unleashed tremendous human energy and ingenuity. This new paradigm, over time, generated personal empowerment, free enterprise, a higher standard of living, freedom and liberty, and influence and hope unequaled in the history of the world.

Stephen R. Covey, the author of a popular book in the late 1980s, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, cites Kuhn's conception of paradigm shift to illustrate his own ideas. He describes an experiment at the Harvard Business School in which an instructor passed out a picture of a young woman to half of the class and a picture of an old woman to the other half. The students were asked to look briefly at the picture and pass it back. The professor then asked the class to describe the woman as he projected on a screen a picture of a woman that was a combined image of the "old" and "young" women. Needless to say, the students debated the age of the woman. If they had seen the "young" version, [End Page 115] they could see only a young woman now, and vice-versa. Each student was adamant about his or her position. They did not see the image in another way until the lines were pointed out to demonstrate the features of the old and young woman. Covey cites this exercise to prove the powerful conditioning effects of one...


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pp. 114-117
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