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  • The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical and Qualitative Assessment in Music Education ed. by David J. Elliott, Marissa Silverman, and Gary E. McPherson
  • Michael Gale
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical and Qualitative Assessment in Music Education. Edited By David J. Elliott, Marissa Silverman, and Gary E. McPherson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. [xx, 550 p. ISBN 978-0-190-26518-2. £110]

Of all the issues faced by music educators today, the question of assessment is perhaps the thorniest. Few topics provoke as much impassioned polemic, and this collection of twenty-seven essays by contributors from across the globe certainly makes no apology for that. This book is unashamedly ideological in tone, espousing the 'praxial philosophy' outlined by David J. Elliott in his influential Music Matters: A New Philosophy of Music Education (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). For Elliott, music education should be a fundamentally experiential (rather than theoretically grounded) world, and the meanings and values attached to musical activity are inescapably contextually and socially defined. This vision is incompatible with the standards-based assessment protocols that, according to Elliott and his co-editors here, have been imposed upon modern-day educators through an increasingly dominant state-led neoliberal agenda. As a result, the testing of students now frequently eclipses all other considerations, not least the nurturing of creativity and self-exploration.

This substantial volume is divided into four sections: the first ('Foundational Considerations') presents the editors' introduction and six further essays, followed by three sets of case studies gathered under rather loose headings ('Methodological Practices', 'Creativity', and 'International Perspectives') to form a set of lively and (mostly) engaging writings. Together, they offer a remarkably unified philosophical credo, providing contrasting snapshots of educational practice from areas as diverse as Australia, Iran, Nepal, Scandinavia, South Africa, and the U.S. A broad range of professional specialisms is explored, including classroom-based teaching, whole-class instrumental instruction, music therapy, special needs education, and beyond.

In their introductory essay, the editors immediately nail their ideological colours to the mast, revealing the three key premises that underpinned their conception of this volume:

  1. 1). 'musics are made by and for people', and all musical activities are 'social endeavors and encounters' (p. 15)—ideas which are both central to Elliott's praxial philosophy.

  2. 2). music is part of everyday human experience, so music education should emphasise the processes and activities of musicmaking rather than treating musical works themselves as objects for veneration (p. 16).

  3. 3). music encompasses a wide range of diverse values which are 'invariably grounded in social experience'; music is contextually defined, and these values are 'functions of its service to various human needs and interests' (p. 17).

[End Page 185] Following this, the remaining essays in Part 1 spell out a firm consensus, using a variety of philosophical and theoretical tools to echo and amplify the editors' distaste for prevailing models of testing and assessment. In Chapter 2, 'Institutional Music Education and Ranking as a Form of Subjectification: The Merits of Resistance and Resilience', Lise C. Vaugeois makes a powerful case for viewing ranking and grading as mechanisms for social division and control, while Kathryn Jourdan and John Finney (Chapter 3) fruitfully bring the philosophical ideas of Emmanuel Levinas to bear upon their rather exasperated observations on standard assessment practices in U.K. classrooms. Jourdan and Finney rightly challenge the narrowness of a mode of learning shaped primarily by exam board-defined questioning—but, like many of the chapters in this book, they stop short of offering far-reaching practical solutions to this pervasive problem.

In Chapter 4, 'The Primacy of Experience: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and Assessments in Music Education', Andrea Schiavio is also guilty of this same sleight of hand. After sharing a provocative vision of musical learning that embraces embodied knowledge (as well as cognitive), and intersubjective interactions of various kinds (pp. 74–75), Schiavio eventually retreats, stating simply that 'the development of such new music assessment approaches goes beyond the limitations of this chapter' (p. 76). Drawing this opening group of essays to a close, Lauren Kapalka Richerme's invocation of poststructuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze (Chapter 7), also squirms uncomfortably in this hinterland between theory and practice, outlining...


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