As many music teachers- white music teachers in particular- do some serious learning, unlearning, and soul-searching this summer to work against systems of oppression and racism in our society, schools, and classrooms, one of the most important steps we can take is to listen. Listen to the voices of Black and other marginalized communities. Here are some ways to do that.

Music

There are too many amazing musicians of color to mention them all here, of course, but you’ll find kid-friendly material you can incorporate into your lessons with any grade level from That Girl Lay LayThe Griot BDennis DesmondResound, and Andrew Huang, to name a few. And any time you want to feature an instrument, or incorporate some instrumental music, here is a whole list of instrumentalists you can use!

One of the most underrepresented genres in the American music classroom is hip-hop, despite being one of the most popular genres in the world. If you’re new to the genre (as with most other styles), it can take a long time to really learn to truly appreciate and understand it. Find one of your local hip-hop radio stations and save it on your car radio. If you’re looking for school-appropriate songs to use, lesson ideas, and resources for learning more about hip-hop, here is a blog post with more information.

Any music that we bring into our music classrooms from non-Western cultures tends to be traditional folk music from long ago, which gives students the impression that other cultures are not as advanced or modern. It’s so important to include current music from around the world in our classrooms! You can listen to radio stations from almost any country you can think of on Online Radio Box. Save a few favorites on your browser and you’re sure to discover new music and artists to love.

Social Media

Like it or not, we get so much of our news, commentary on current events, and influence on what to buy and how to live, from the accounts we follow on social media. And outside of our real life relationships, social media is one of the best ways to connect with and learn from all different types of people. Here are some places to connect and accounts to follow within the field of music education:

Instagram: littleupbeatclassfwillismusickeithkmusichiphopmusicedmusicwithmrsdunc

Facebook groups: Decolonizing the Music RoomHip-Hop Music Ed

Books

There are so many amazing books out there on the topic of race that are important reads for all teachers: For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, So You Want to Talk About Race, and Why Are All the White Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria are just a few of many great places to start.

There are also lots of great children’s books you can add to your elementary music classroom library that feature non-white characters! A few favorites that you can find complete lessons for in this Organized Chaos blog post: Niko Draws a Feeling, My Family Plays Music, Allie All Along, Max Found Two Sticks, Another, and Nine-In-One, Grr! Grr!

Next Steps

Of course the recommendations in this post just barely scratch the surface of the work that needs to be done towards justice in music education. As we all face the mountain of work in front of us, a few points to keep in mind:

  • Don’t let the enormity of the task overwhelm you. Take one step, then the next.
  • Don’t let the fear of “doing it wrong” stop you from doing something. The worst that can happen is that you mess up, learn, and do better the next time. We may be risking failure or embarrassment, but remember the cost of doing nothing is far worse.
  • Impact is more important than intention. Sometimes we will do something with the absolute best of intentions and we will be told that it was hurtful instead of helpful. Resist the urge to get defensive- just because you meant well doesn’t mean it wasn’t harmful. Apologize, learn, and do better next time.

These are all points that most, if not all of us, emphasize to our students regularly in their learning. We need to remind ourselves of these same concepts as we embrace this difficult but essential work! For more resources and ideas, head to this blog post on Anti-Racism in Music Education.

Elizabeth Caldwell

Elizabeth Caldwell is the creator behind Organized Chaos. Her passion is to give music teachers the freedom to embrace the chaos of creativity through purposeful organization and simple ideas. Her primary focuses are curriculum development, world music, composition, and character development in the elementary music setting.