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Response to Elvira Panaiotidi, "The Nature of Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts in Music Education"
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Response to Elvira Panaiotidi, “The Nature of Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts in Music Education”

Elvira Panaiotidi has delivered a very useful and appealing paper on the topic of how the music education community decides it is time to change the way it thinks and acts. Her primary focus is whether the concept of "paradigms" proposed by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions reasonably explains how change occurs in music education theory and practice and, if not, whether it can be modified so that it does. Following Peter Abbs' account of paradigm shifts in arts education, she proposes that paradigm shifts occur when methods of inquiry change even if what is being analyzed does not change. More specifically, paradigm shifts involve gradual transformations such that certain principles and terminology are carried over from the previous paradigm to the new one, and change at a slower rate than the methodologies adopted to make sense of them. Such discrepancy creates the kind of communicative discord she alludes to in her introduction: the aesthetic/praxial debate. Her further analysis of Abbs' argument leads her to conclude that the paradigm shifts he describes in arts education are different in kind from those intended by Kuhn. They apparently lack conceptual modification, or "conversion experience," and seem motivated by the need for increasingly comprehensive explanations of artistic behavior and thinking.

Panaiotidi's synopsis of Kuhn's original criteria for paradigms reminded me [End Page 108] that his Structure of Scientific Revolutions as my first college textbook, exerted a powerful influence on me by its power to explain how humans formulate and react to new and better ideas. Panaiotidi seems to share this feeling, and scrutinizes Kuhn's original intention to use paradigms as a way of delineating the natural sciences from the humanities. Kuhn himself cautioned that his characterization of change and progress in science is not readily applicable to the arts and, more importantly, that interpretive frameworks for understanding art are not paradigms because paradigms are not theories, a distinction he echoed throughout his career. I argue that Kuhn would not consider the aesthetic and praxial approaches to music education paradigms at all; rather they are more a search for "a more inclusive theory" as Panaiotidi states. However, the ready applicability of Kuhn's criteria for paradigms to the work of music education philosophers is apparent. Their writings have been "sufficiently unprecedented to attract an enduring group of adherents away from competing modes of scientific activity." They have become associated with new methodological strategies because their writings are "sufficiently open-ended to leave all sorts of problems for the redefined group of practitioners to solve."

There is, however, quite a difference in the way that science and art communities function. As Ted Gracyk writes in his book, I Wanna Be Me: Rock Music and the Politics of Identity:

Where a scientific community singles out one paradigm as the foundation for further research, artistic communities do not. Once Newtonian mechanics was accepted as a scientific paradigm, no other approach to mechanics counted as a rational basis for mechanics. "Unlike art," Kuhn observes, "science destroys its past." The artworld can admire multiple paradigms, representing different periods in art history, without risking incoherence: Picasso's success did not lead museums to put their Rembrandts into storage."1

Perhaps, then, the discord noted by Panaiotidi between "aestheticians" and "praxialists" arises not from a shortcoming of music education theory to provide what she calls "tenacious theoretical footing which could help settle the dispute," but from a too-literal interpretation of Kuhn's original criterion that applies to the natural sciences: new paradigms must necessarily refute those that have preceded them. Indeed, the music education research community has grappled with this very issue in its polarized views of acceptable research practice, which is perhaps more fundamentally a misunderstanding regarding the nature of the sciences versus the nature of the humanities. We in arts education have long admired scientific inquiry for its relative stability, what Kuhn calls a "normal" versus "revolutionary" mode of activity. However, as Panaiotidi explains, "Normal science [End Page 109] is characterized by a broad consensus of the specialists and is not by its nature...