When a music teacher steps into a classroom, she or he is immediately surrounded by various cultural influences and demands relating to the students, the curriculum, the school, and educational policy. In the midst of it all, the teacher also tries to stay true to her own personal and professional beliefs, values, and ethical principles of how to be a good teacher. If the students represent different religious beliefs and backgrounds, which is most likely the case given the cultural diversity and plurality of most contemporary societies, the teacher is also required to be aware of different—and at times conflicting—religious values in the daily work of teaching and learning music. Although religion plays an essential role in many musical traditions, it has seldom been addressed as a topic in music education research (Hoffman 2011; Jorgensen 1997, 2011). As regards professional teacher identity, earlier discussions on the relationship between musicianship and educatorship (e.g., Elliott 1995), as well as the more recent identification of the musical and the pedagogical as the dominant aspects of music educators’ identity formations (e.g., Ballantyne, Kerchner, and Aróstegui 2012; Bouij 1998; Hargreaves et al. 2007; Pellegrino 2009, 2014), have shed light on certain key aspects and mechanisms in music teachers’ identity work. In my view, however, the discussion should be opened up to include wider understandings of teachers’ identification processes in order to meet the complex educational needs of increasingly diverse societies. Thus, I suggest, along with other researchers, that if teachers are to navigate the personal and professional challenges and demands that arise from culturally and religiously diverse classroom settings, it is also necessary to attend to their personal experiences of “what it feels like to be a teacher in today’s schools, where many things are changing rapidly, and how teachers cope with these changes” (Beijaard, Meijer, and Verloop 2004, 109).
In this chapter, I explore the intersectionality of religious identities and higher music education through such a personal account, focusing on the role of religion in the professional identification processes of an Israeli music teacher educator working with ultra-Orthodox Jewish female teacher students in Israel. I examine more closely the identity work of one music teacher educator and the ways that religion, as belonging to the more personal aspects of identity, can play a part in the professional identification process and in the interplay between the teacher and her students in a religiously oriented teaching context. Here, intersectionality is understood as a crossing of different identities and perspectives that creates a potential space for new understandings and growth within music teacher education (Abril 2014). In the ultra-Orthodox Jewish educational context, religious values and norms define the starting points for what is taught and how and what is considered appropriate or inappropriate teaching content. The situation can require a considerable amount of work and self-reflection from a music teacher educator who is not ultra-Orthodox, in negotiating and reshaping her own ideals of what the content and purpose of music teacher education should be. There are two questions that guide my analysis and interpretation in this chapter: How does the music teacher educator describe her own position in the music education class in terms of her professional and religious identity? And how does she experience her relationship with students from this perspective? The data consist of two semistructured interviews carried out in 2014 and 2015, analyzed using the methodology of theoretical reading analysis (Kvale and Brinkman 2009). Following this method, I constructed an analytical lens through which to view the data using Zygmunt Bauman’s (2000; 2004) notion of identification, as discussed in his theory of Liquid Modernity, and Akkerman and Bakker’s (2011) theorization of boundary crossing (see also Suchman 1993). Looking at the data through these concepts, I aim to understand more thoroughly how the teacher is seeing herself as a professional and a person in relation to her students, how she identifies the boundaries between herself and the students, and what kind of shared space their interaction creates.
My own position as a researcher in the context of this study is that of a music teacher and educator. I am also a cultural outsider, in that I have no prior relationship with the community that I am investigating. As in any research, I am aware that my own preconceptions and assumptions on the topic and context might interfere with my interpretation of the research data. Thus, I am conscious of the requirement for reflexivity throughout the research process.
Meeting “Rina” and Her Views on the Ultra-Orthodox Community
Rina1 is an Orthodox Jewish music teacher educator who is teaching musicology and music education subjects in a special music teacher program for Jewish ultra-Orthodox female students in Israel. Rina tells me that she was brought up within a national religious Judaism that has “close affinity” to ultra-Orthodox Judaism in, for instance, dress code (especially women’s) and in the observant view on the interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah (e.g., keeping the Sabbath). As she grew up, however, she made a conscious choice to follow “a more liberal kind of Jewish religiousness—much more aligned with secular Judaism than with ultra-Orthodox [Judaism].” I asked her to describe from her point of view the ultra-Orthodox Jews as a community and the stereotypes that the surrounding Israeli society have of them. Rina explained that the ultra- Orthodox community segregates itself from Israeli society in various ways, for instance, by having its own educational system and being exempted from military service. In Rina’s experience, one of the reasons for the segregation is that the ultra-Orthodox want to protect their way of life by protecting themselves from the influences of the surrounding society. The ultra-Orthodox ideology consists of respecting and following the religious tradition and studying the holy Jewish scriptures. Rina sees the ultra-Orthodox as a community-oriented group within which the members of the community offer help to each other altruistically. These supportive practices also have a downside, as other members of Israeli society tend to see the ultra-Orthodox Jews as nonconformists and anti-Zionists (they do not recognize the state of Israel), which often results in conflicts between the ultra-Orthodox and other community groups.
Since many ultra-Orthodox men do not participate in the workforce, but are instead supported by the community so that they may pursue religious studies—which is regarded as the highest form of religious participation—Rina sees the role of women as crucial in “holding it all together.” The women simultaneously maintain the roles of wife, mother, and primary provider for the family. According to Rina, the ultra-Orthodox women have “a very strong ethos of perfectionism”; they are upholding the high moral standards of the community by following the rules of modesty and dress code. Ultra-Orthodox women’s work often takes them outside of their homes or immediate neighborhoods, sometimes even outside their community, and they seek vocational training in order to find gainful employment. In their community, teaching is seen as a traditionally female vocation, and thus many of the ultra-Orthodox women train to be teachers (see Blumen 2002). However, teaching and performing music presents many restrictions for the ultra-Orthodox. For instance, women are not allowed to sing in the presence of men. There are also strict rules on repertoire: listening to any kind of Western church music (or other religious, non-Jewish music) is forbidden. Vocal music (both religious and secular) is seen as suspicious because of the lyrics: if the text of the song has immodest content (e.g., love, desire, lust), it cannot be listened to or performed. In addition, the repertoire of Western popular music can also be restricted because of the immodesty of the lyrics and the “impure” atmosphere, influences, and contexts of its musical styles. Despite these musical restrictions, being a music teacher has become an accepted career choice for an increasing number of women within the ultra-Orthodox community.
Conflicts and Contradictions: Fluid Identification and Religious Restrictions
When I ask Rina to describe herself as a music teacher educator in relation to the ultra-Orthodox female students, she tells me that although she sees herself as an observant Orthodox Jew, she also thinks of herself as a feminist and a liberal. These seemingly contradicting qualities that she recognizes in her worldview sometimes create conflict, but at the same time the contradiction is her strength: being able to step in and out of the strictly traditional and conservative outlook of the ultra-Orthodox community gives her a broader perspective and makes her identification process fluid.
According to Bauman (2004), in the present liquid times, an individual possesses not only one monolithic, fixed identity that is unchangeable from birth, but is rather constantly reconstructing oneself through identification, a process that happens repeatedly over time. Bauman’s notions of liquid identity and identification refer to the crossing of different identity markers such as gender, age, class, nationality, ethnicity, and religion across time and place. This intersectionality of different identity markers creates a constant flow of identities; the individual’s adherence to particular identity markers at a particular time also depends on the prevailing circumstances and interaction with others. Such a fluid identification can be recognized in Rina’s account of how she sees herself as a teacher educator in relation to the ultra-Orthodox students. She also describes herself as a person who likes to challenge traditions, who is asking questions instead of providing answers, and who is able to admit that she is not always right as a teacher. These statements challenge the authoritarian status of a teacher often assumed by the ultra-Orthodox community. Here, Rina compares her own religious and moral outlook with the ultra-Orthodox doctrine:
I’m very postmodern in my Judaism, which means that I allow much of my religion to go through myself as authority and [I am] less dependent on structured society, authority. I—don’t have to ask a rabbi [about] everything that I do. I have my own kind of criteria and my own independent dialogue with God. Now these women who are in their society, where it’s about social roles, and women are not supposed to, [to] a certain extent, have a direct dialogue with God—it’s supposed to go through their husbands—I can be a threat to that kind of society. Their values are more black and white—so, even simple things, like pedagogy. My pedagogy is postmodern. I do not come with answers. They’ve never experienced that before. You know, the teacher has the answers.
The strict religious rules and norms of the ultra-Orthodox community influence its members’ everyday actions and interactions. Rina feels that she has to restrict aspects of or even change her identity in various ways in order to be able to teach the class. Her appearance and her way of speaking are the visible and audible ways of signaling assimilation: when entering the campus, she has to obey the modesty rules of ultra-Orthodox women by wearing a long skirt, a shirt that covers her arms and neckline, and a head covering. She tells me that this makes her very uncomfortable, and she does it very reluctantly. Despite the discomfort that the restrictions make her feel, she does not want to give up teaching in the ultra-Orthodox program. When I ask her why, she tells me that her motivation springs from the feelings of satisfaction and gratification:
First of all, it’s a lot of satisfaction—because I believe that I’m contributing something that they’re not getting from anywhere else. That’s from the feedback that I get from students—my musicianship is very much listening-based and I see myself very much as a kind of amplifier. That’s the metaphor I use for me—and I think one of the things I do best is getting everything ready for people who may be more talented than me to go on stage. That’s the main focus of my musicianship. So, being able to do this—with various populations—it’s gratifying to me.
Rina’s amplifier metaphor captures her way of seeing her educatorship as based more on being a facilitator or provider than a musician per se and explains how this identification gives her continuous pleasure and motivation in her work. Taking a certain position and making a statement, “This is who I am as a teacher,” helps Rina to identify the strengths of her personality and position herself in relation to her students and the official educational framework of the program. In their literature review of research conducted on teachers’ professional identities, Beijaard et al. (2004) argue that teachers construct their professional identities from different aspects, which can either be central or more peripheral to their sense of self. These sub-identities relate to the contexts and relationships that the teachers face, but it is most essential that the sub-identities do not conflict, because “the more central a sub-identity is, the more costly it is to change or lose that identity” (122). Balancing between her sub-identities and the demands of the program, Rina is in the middle of an ongoing identification process during which she tries to answer questions like “Who am I at this moment?” and “Who do I want to become?”—making the process fluid and constantly in flux. The fluid process of intersecting sub-identities, or, as Bauman (2000, 83) puts it, “the intrinsic volatility and unfixity of all or most identities,” creates a constant struggle within a person, whose desires for the future are based on the fleeting impressions of the present. As important as it is to concentrate on the teacher’s identification processes in order to obtain more information on what happens educationally in a religiously oriented and culturally diverse classroom, it is also necessary to take a closer look at the interaction between the students and the teacher, particularly where and in what ways this connection can be established.
Being a Boundary Worker
In the course of six years as a teacher in the program, Rina has learned sensitivity in recognizing the lines that cannot be crossed in terms of discussed topics, acceptable musical repertoire, and her own self-expression and behavior. She is able to move beyond the boundaries that the ultra-Orthodox doctrine sets up, partly because she herself has grown up in a similar religious context and thus has a deeper understanding of the cultural values that are immanent in the community. She is respectful of the boundaries but she personally feels that her task as a music teacher educator is to challenge the students to think differently, and even critically. In their literature review of boundary crossing in the field of educational learning theory, Akkerman and Bakker (2011) describe this as motion that takes place between two activity systems—in this case the cultural and religious backgrounds, values, and beliefs of the teacher and the students—that have potentially similar interests but that belong to different cultures (139). Rina and the ultra-Orthodox female students share an interest in teaching and learning music and music education, but they differ in their cultural and religious emphases and orientations.
According to Akkerman and Bakker, “[T]he boundary in the middle of two activity systems thus represents the cultural difference and the potential difficulty of action and interaction across these systems but also represents the potential value of establishing communication and collaboration” (2011, 139). Rina herself identifies the potential difficulty as a gray area or a borderline where she can be playful and experimental; at the same time she has to be very careful in recognizing the limits and in knowing where the red line is. She has to sense when she cannot go further without crossing the line and in that way visibly rebel against or contest the prevailing societal order. When I ask her whether she always knows where the lines should be drawn, she admits that it is not always easy to identify them. She says that she has an “inner commitment” to respect the limits of ultra-Orthodoxy, in part because of her own religious background, which is very close to ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Therefore, she also says she knows the cultural language of the ultra-Orthodox and has a more nuanced understanding of the ways of the community. She describes entering the gray area in her teaching as “playing with fire” and adds that she sometimes stumbles. For instance, one time in class she accidentally started playing a CD with a vocal version of Schubert’s Ave Maria instead of an instrumental version. After noticing the mix-up, she did not stop the CD. After the class, one student approached her and told her that listening to that vocal piece crossed the line for her and she said that she hoped Rina would not do it again. According to Rina, this crossing the line was caused by the lyrics in the vocal version, revealing that the piece was church music. Had she played the piece without the lyrics, it might have been easier for the student to ignore the immodest connotations of the piece. This story shows the ultra-Orthodoxy’s ambiguous attitude toward its musical restrictions and how contextual (and also personal) implementing them can be.
The preceding examples show the need to keep in mind that when we talk about religious identities (of the students and of the teacher) in a religiously governed context, a variance within the group will always play itself out in classroom situations. Although the degree of strict adherence to religious rules can vary among the ultra-Orthodox students, there is an authoritative frame, a complex matrix of religious and cultural influences and demands, within which both the teacher and the students have to navigate. According to Rina’s own descriptions of her teaching, her mechanisms for coping with the authoritative frame include good negotiation skills, using humor as a tool for creating a more relaxed and trustworthy atmosphere, and being open to new situations that may arise. In class, she navigates between what she feels is important to her as a music educator—for example, introducing popular music to the students—and what she recognizes as nonnegotiable on the religious authority’s side: the repertoire consists mostly of popular instrumental music pieces, and when she wants to introduce some important pop songs to the class, she makes sure to choose songs with lyrics that do not contain immodest content. Rina also finds peer-support from her ultra-Orthodox teacher colleagues very important in her ability to deal with the borderline issues that come up in class. She discusses her plans regularly with her superiors, with whom she feels close and whom she trusts and respects. Rina uses peer-support and guidance as a mirror that reflects how far she can go without damaging the trust that she feels the heads of the program and her ultra-Orthodox colleagues and students have granted her.
According to Rina, the ultra-Orthodox women who graduate from the program and who have trained to be musicians are not usually able to continue their careers professionally because of the community’s rules: women usually get married young and start families soon after, which means having as many children as is physically possible. Rina says that although some of her secular teacher colleagues might see this attrition as frustrating, she does not consider it to be a failure: “That’s the life that they have chosen, or the life they were born into. I think, anybody who invests as much time as they want in developing musicianship has a gift, for life, no matter what life they choose. So as much as I try to challenge them and open them and play with the boundaries, it’s very important to me not to be the kind of person saying, ‘I have a better life than you. Come, live my life.’”
In the light of her accounts and her own description of herself as a cultural insider-outsider, Rina can be described as a boundary worker, a person whom Akkerman and Bakker describe as someone who “not only act[s] as bridge between worlds but also simultaneously represent[s] the very division of related worlds” (2011, 140). This kind of positioning at the boundary calls for self-confidence and a willingness to engage in dialogue, both traits that Rina herself thinks she possesses. It can be argued that Rina’s representation of herself and the flexibility and negotiation skills that she claims to have are manifestations of identity work at the boundary constructed from intersecting identities that are constantly flowing. Thus, these intersecting identities can be seen as a source of boundary-crossing competence (Walker and Nocon 2007) or intercultural competence (e.g., Deardorff 2006), a set of skills and abilities that Rina needs when working at the boundary.
Creating a Third Space at the Boundary
In accordance with ultra-Orthodox mandates for segregation between the sexes, Rina’s classroom is reserved for women. She describes it as a “beautiful space—where so many things can happen—so that’s the space that I try to hold onto.” In the process of boundary crossing, the “space” can be perceived as a kind of third space (Bhabha 1994; in education, e.g. Gutiérrez 2008; Hulme, Cracknell, and Owens 2009; Klein et al. 2013; Otsuji and Kinoshita Thompson 2009; Stevenson and Deasy 2005), which is created between the two existing activity systems as they interact, thus revealing the ambiguous nature of boundaries: the boundary both divides and connects sides. The third space in between can also, however, be seen as a liminal zone, a space into which people at the boundary can step and where all the existing practices and conceptions from both sides can be left behind in order to come up with new understandings and ways of interacting. According to Akkerman and Bakker (2011), this stepping into the in-between space creates “a need for dialogue, in which meanings have to be negotiated and from which something new may emerge” (141).
Rina explains this third space and what it means to step into it with a powerful story about a class she had to teach after a massacre near the ultra-Orthodox school where the program operates. At first, she did not know how to face the situation and the students, but then she decided to bring in a familiar song, and they all started singing it together: “[F]or that moment—it’s like—we’re all in this together and we have a common language. And we can just be human together.” For Rina, that was one very powerful way of breaking the boundary between herself and the students in that shared space in spite of cultural and religious differences. Looking at this experience from Bhabha’s postcolonial perspective as an articulation of culture’s hybridity and “the cutting edge of translation and negotiation,” the in-between space can be explored as a place where “we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the other of our selves” (1994, 56). Thus, creating a third space at the boundary provides room for the mutual learning of how to negotiate between identities and understandings in a shared space. Ideally, this negotiation can lead to new in-between practice, a boundary practice (Akkerman and Bakker 2011, 144) where the principles of shared meanings and understandings can flourish, creating potential for true intercultural exchange within music education.
Co-constructing New Understandings of Being Human Together
Through analyzing the case, I have attempted to show that the notions of identification and the theorization of boundary crossing are applicable when examining an educational context from the perspective of identity formation. In this case, the perspective has been that of a teacher, thus showing only one side of the story. The analysis can still provide us with information and experiential knowledge on the kind of boundary work that is going on in a culturally complex situation. In the light of this research, creating and maintaining a third space in the classroom depends on the teacher’s abilities to interpret the situations accordingly and sense in what direction they could be developing. In this particular case, the interaction and willingness to be flexible rest heavily on the shoulders of the teacher, thus placing a great emphasis on her personality: identifying herself as liberal, open, and sensitive, but also respectful and reflective, helps Rina to open up pathways to her students that can lead to experiencing togetherness through processes in which music is very much involved. More research is needed in order to examine the mechanisms of how mutual interaction and power relations inform the process.
Adding to the previous discussion on music teacher education and identity (see Bernard 2005, 2007; Bouij 2007; Dolloff 2007; Roberts 2007; Stephens 2007) and in reflecting on the potential that this research could provide for higher music education and music teacher training, the emphasis is on two partially interrelated aspects of teacherhood: identification and interaction. In a classroom where the teacher and the students represent different cultural and religious backgrounds, it might be valuable to focus not primarily on the differences but rather on the shared experiences of being human together. Through critical reflection and self-examination, which should start already during their music teacher education studies, future music teachers might be able to pinpoint the strengths of their personalities and catch a glimpse of those sub-identities that resonate with them more strongly than others. As a result, the ongoing practice of reflexivity might inform the choices of the pedagogical approaches that the music teachers choose to employ in teaching. Also, since teacher educators are usually modeling the way they want their students to be as teachers, how the music teacher educator acts and behaves are powerful tools in advancing basic humanistic educational values such as human rights and equality in class. While in this chapter I have discussed how religious values can influence music teaching and learning, it is also necessary to bear in mind that although religion might constitute one of the fundamental aspects in shaping one’s sense of self, a person’s freedom to not adhere to a religious belief has to be recognized as a basic right as well and taken into account when designing culturally sensitive music teacher education.
As a result of the intersectionality of different identities and perspectives both in music teacher education and in music classrooms, a mindfully guided interaction can create a space where people can meet each other and become aware of their cultural and religious preconceptions. In this space, they can start to critically co-construct new understandings of themselves, each other, and the world. Allsup and Westerlund (2012) envision the shared spaces as laboratories where the music educator, in addition to being a musical expert, “is guided to exercise the wider educational and ethical considerations of his craft as well as given tools for experimenting, all in the service of his future students’ musical and personal growth” (144). Thus, the co-construction of new understandings and the “imaginative encounters between what is and what might be” are inherently ethical in nature (144). The process that begins in the shared space can also be described as the process of cultural hybridity, which “gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognizable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation” (Rutherford 1990, 211). Music making is one of the creative tools through which the connection between people can be realized in the process of cultural hybridity. This shared creative and reflective process can in turn advance culturally sensitive, ethically oriented learning wherein cultural differences can be recognized and contested, discussed, and embraced together.
LAURA MIETTINEN is Doctoral Researcher in Music Education at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts, in Helsinki, Finland. Her research focuses on music teacher educators’ intercultural competences and identity formation, cultural diversity in music education, and educational psychology.
This publication has been undertaken as part of the Global Visions through Mobilizing Networks project funded by the Academy of Finland (project no. 286162).
1. Rina (pseudonym) has given her consent for publishing the findings of the data in academic articles used for my doctoral dissertation. Furthermore, she and I discussed the fact that, despite every effort from my side to secure her anonymity, there is a possibility of someone identifying her in the text from her teacher position in the program. She does not consider this representation or possible recognition to be problematic.
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