Philosophy of Music Education Review 13.1 (2005) 111-114
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Response to Elvira Panaiotidi, "The Nature of Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts in Music Education"
Elvira Panaiotidi makes a strong case that MEAE and praxialism represent, respectively, the poesis and praxis strands of the Aristotelian conception of art and that, consequently, one cannot conclude that the two accounts are ontologically incompatible. At this point I wish only to respond to an implication which I believe may be present and discuss its relevance. That is that the search for ontological explanations has historically preceded (or at least should precede) the development of music education theory. A brief look at the historical record indicates that the development of music education theory seems to have been dominated by the search for axiological more than ontological explanations. Panaiotidi lists both aspects as integral parts of the theoretical kernel, however, the need to justify music education in terms of value has, at least in the United States, apparently preceded any search for meaning.
Michael Mark recounts a report of the Boston School Committee in 1837, at which certain arguments of Aristotle were invoked in order to persuade the commitee of the value of music instruction.1 The entire transcript of that meeting amounts to a polemic about the value of music, resulting from its supposed effects on the spirit, character, or health, yet the record is devoid of any discussion of what might actually constitute music.2 Marie McCarthy describes how the search for aesthetic foundations over a century later was fostered by a need to "explain [music education's] importance in the curriculum."3 Of the scholars of this period, Abraham Schwadron in particular was quite explicit in articulating how his theory of aesthetics was motivated by what he considered an appalling inability for music educators to validate their field's existence.4
This is not to imply that the authors of our current philosophies were not searching for or failed to provide strong ontological arguments for music education or to insist that they have always framed the question: What is valuable about music? as the question: What is music? in order to address these ideological [End Page 111] and political pressures. I am merely suggesting that the search for ontological explanations has generally followed the search for value. The historical pattern is one of reaction to various pressures, followed by the eventual development of an aesthetic philosophical framework which was intended, directly or indirectly, to respond to those pressures. The magnitude of such pressures to justify the place of music in the curriculum would seem to differentiate music education paradigms from those of the social sciences and humanities, of which, the author asserts, they are hybrids. Combined with the marked differences in social and political pressures which are found in various times and places in America, it would also account for the emotional tone of the debate, to which the author also alludes. Presumably, such emotion results not only from various scholars' attachments to their ontological beliefs, but from the practical consequences which occur when a theory is ultimately rejected or implemented at the classroom level, based on its perceived ability to define what is valuable in music education.
Although this differentiation is subtle and does not detract from the strength of Panaiotidi's central argument, it has implications for the eventual implementation of any unitary theory. Specifically, if we accept that, ontologically speaking, praxialism and aestheticism are two sides of the same coin, it is likely that the argument will simply transform into an axiological question concerning which side is more valuable, a fact to which the author also alludes. Considering past evidence, the overriding concern for value justification may make implementing any unitary theory difficult, regardless of the benefits that could potentially be gained through such a "balanced music education." Consider, for example, that a unitary theory would be less susceptible to ideological use because of its breadth. In other fields such as literature or science, this would be a...