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Intersecting Social Justice and the Secondary Choral Classroom: A Phenomenological Study of Social Justice Teacher Perspectives




Dick, D. Kay

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Curriculum and Teaching


The American public-school student population has changed, yet school music remains much as it was at the turn of the twentieth century. The reality of today’s profound absence of students of color, equity gaps, and lack of opportunity for low SES students persists in school choirs, bands, and orchestras. Music ensemble enrollments continue to decline. Social issues continue to expand and effect students in profound ways. Today, many scholars and practitioners call for radical social transformation from within music education. They urge music educators to turn from Eurocentric exclusivity to a model which better reflects the current student demographic in public schools and is relevant in contemporary society. Using four key elements from Hess’ (2018a, 2019a) activist music education, I developed this phenomenological study to understand the varying beliefs, attitudes, and practices of sixteen secondary choral music teachers who self-identified as social justice educators. I investigated how they define teaching for social justice, why they teach for social justice, how they describe social justice in action within their classrooms, and how they think teaching for social justice affects their students, their school cultures, and the communities in which their schools are situated. Findings revealed participants’ definitions reflect student-centered pedagogy motivated from deep care for students. Life experiences, outside influences, and seeing students struggle with inequities and injustices caused them to adopt a social justice pedagogy. Participants reported teaching for social justice requires internal work and is a continual process which is fraught with challenges related to varying rates of students’ psychological development, societal issues, and their own human fallibility. Findings showed benefits of teaching for social justice were positive teacher and student social/emotional growth, developing and utilizing skills helpful in real life, and creating positive social change through music making. Implications from findings suggest music education is changing systemically and pedagogically to better reflect social justice issues and meet the needs of increasingly diverse students; however, a faster rate of development is needed. Systemic changes could begin with pre-service training. More programs need to offer classes to help pre-service teachers not only explore social justice issues but teach them how to incorporate social justice education. School administrators need to offer training (professional development) focused on helping in-service teachers gain confidence and skills with social justice pedagogy. Composers and arrangers could supply additional appropriate and accessible repertoire for middle and high school students devoted to social justice issues. More social justice choral music practitioners at all levels could publish literature describing their methods and curriculum helping bring awareness and practical support to the field.