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  • In the Space Between the Rock and the Hard Place: State Teacher Certification Guidelines and Music Education for Social Justice
  • Deborah Bradley (bio)

Différend: A case of conflict between (at least) two parties, that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgment applicable to both arguments. . . . A wrong results from the fact that the rules of the genre of discourse by which one judges are not those of the judged genre or genres of discourse.


This paper looks at the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Guidelines for Music Teacher Education, a governmentally defined technology of accountability for preservice teacher education.1 In this investigation I draw upon Jean-François Lyotard’s2 analysis of différends to frame the conflict between the state-authorized technologies for accountability (DPI Guidelines) and discourses of education supporting ideals of social justice. Drawing from Lyotard’s arguments, I posit that the language of the guidelines constitutes a unique “phrase universe” that defines what (and thus whose) knowledge students need to enter the classroom as state-certified music teachers. This particular phrase universe contributes to ongoing exclusionary practices within music education. The DPI guidelines are drawn from the Eurocentric phrase universe of aesthetic education, a phrase universe that locates “music” as an object for analysis, reduces acts of music making to behavioral descriptions sometimes far removed from real life music-making experiences, and in the process creates a hierarchy of “music [End Page 79] worthy for education” that prioritizes European and North American classical composers’ output. Using critical race theory and antiracism education as lenses for analysis, I interrogate the différend created between the DPI guidelines and music-teacher education as-for social justice—the space between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.”

My purpose in this interrogation is twofold. I first want to tease out a space between the rock of the state guidelines and the hard place of undergraduate music-teacher education as-for social justice through an analysis of selected assessment guidelines for music-teacher education, which serve not only to reproduce but also valorize a white supremacist status quo. While the term white supremacist may shock those who assert music education to be an apolitical endeavor, or if it invokes, for some, images of men in white sheets or burning crosses, my choice to use it here emerges from tenets of both critical race theory and antiracism education. Critical race theory (CRT) begins with the notion that racism is normal, not aberrant in American society. CRT posits that racism has become so enmeshed in the social order of the United States that it is a permanent fixture in American life.3 Whiteness, or what hooks calls white-supremacist thinking,4 functions as the invisible norm of social structures, including education. In such usage, white-supremacist thinking is not about overt racial prejudice but the systems and structures that subtly produce and reproduce advantage and the invisible norm for whites within the social order. In order to disrupt such systems, hooks argues that we need continual antiracism activism.5 Although the term antiracism appears to suggest a focus solely on inequities of skin color or ethnicity, antiracism in education seeks to disrupt power relations inherent in all forms of inequity. Antiracism is defined as “an action-oriented, educational and political strategy for institutional and systemic change that addresses the issues of racism and the interlocking systems of social oppression (sexism, classism, heterosexism, ableism).”6

My second purpose for the paper emerges from newly chiseled space between the state’s teacher-education guidelines and discourses of critical race theory and antiracism education. I seek to reopen dialogue about governmentally defined technologies of accountability as they relate to issues of equity and social justice in music education. This purpose frames the différend, not as incommensurable, but as a dialectic creating possibilities for other voices to be heard.7 Following this line of thought, I conclude by discussing antiracism pedagogy as an ethical and epistemological space from which to contest and work through the incommensurable.

Framing the Discussion

For those unfamiliar with Lyotard’s (1988) book, The Différend: Phrases in Dispute, I...


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pp. 79-96
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