“So Now What?” with Leah Claiborne

We would like to thank Leah Claiborne for this insightful article on handling repertoire that is culturally insensitive. This excerpted article comes from our new course, Piano Teaching through the Lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The course is now available for presale purchase. Click here to learn more.

If you are taking this course, you are already demonstrating that you are dedicated and committed to creating inclusive and safe spaces for your students. Perhaps what I love most about inclusive pedagogy is that we all must be aware that creating a diverse studio will look different for every teacher, creating an equitable studio will look different for every teacher, and creating an inclusive studio will look different for every teacher. There is no one way to approach the best pedagogy practices through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but there are steps we all can take to make powerful changes in our music studios and communities. 

Oftentimes, teachers say that they are committed to learning more about DEI efforts, but feel “stuck” with how to address culturally insensitive materials that arise in the educational resources that they are using. Below are three ways to potentially address these problematic issues to help teachers navigate what solutions might be best for them to incorporate. 

Teach It? 

When we approach musical material that is culturally insensitive, teachers still have agency to continue to teach the material. This course does not serve to “police” educators with what to teach and what not to teach. Rather, we aim to broaden awareness of the impact that the resources we give our students can have, and we provide alternative solutions and a path to help the student navigate an approach that best resonates with their practices. 

One solution to consider is to continue to teach a piece even if there are insensitive materials found in the music. If this is the approach that a teacher wishes to take, there are still ways to create safe spaces around the teaching material if the teacher wants to continue to use the piece of music. The first steps for any approach is to take the opportunity to educate ourselves on the reasoning behind why the material could be offensive, racist, and/or culturally insensitive. By understanding the historical and social implications of these issues, we are better equipped to make an educated decision on how to handle these materials. 

After further understanding is gained and a teacher still chooses to teach the music, I would suggest that a conversation around the cultural issues still takes place. This conversation will look different depending on the age and understanding of the student, but a dialogue can (and should) still be had. An example of this could be as short as, 

“This is not a term we use anymore to refer to a group of people.” 

“The lyrics to this music are not appropriate to sing because…. Would you like to create your own words next week?”

“This picture suggests ___ which is inappropriate. Would you like to draw a picture next week of what the music means to you?” 

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Leah Claibornes’s article “So Now What?” from our new course, Piano Teaching through the Lens of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The course is now available for presale purchase. Click here to learn more.

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