Classism, racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, urbanormativity. Educators face challenges and opportunities most teachers weren't even conscious of a generation or two ago. In music education scholarship, we look at each of these issues. Sometimes these concerns are lumped together under the umbrella phrase "social justice." But are all of these concerns "social" at their core? I suspect that depends on how we define "social." I take an ecofeminist approach to music education scholarship. In ecofeminism we can find a way each of those issues is truly linked. What does ecofeminism mean, and why is it so radical in critical music education scholarship?
Jessica Schmonsky writes, "The central tenet of ecofeminism is that social and environmental issues are not separate, that the causes for the mistreatment of women, people of color and the environment stem from the same place. Therefore, from an ecofeminist perspective, it is best to view all of these issues collectively." Does our field's social justice research take seriously the interconnected nature of social and environmental issues? If not, why not? I want more of our social justice oriented scholars to reach out and make those connections, like hyphae in the soil. Just because your last research study separated gender from race, class, place, and climate change doesn't mean your next study needs to be so narrowly focused. This isn't to take anything away from the value to our profession of deep studies, looking at a single issue narrowly. There are distinctive aspects to each of these: ecology, gender, race, ability, and class. But we must also get beyond the distinctive, to the deeper interconnected roots of injustice. I think the problem is philosophical.
Schmonsky continues that, in nature, relationships, care, and love are central to survival. This is true, regardless of species. Geoscientist Lynn Margulis's body of research has long recognized that biological evolution depends on symbiosis, at least as much as it does the more well-known evolutionary concept, competition. Novel species (diversity) emerge due to the close, symbiotic relationships with specific other species. This isn't always for the better (the more diverse), such as is the case with invasive species. But, even small local places are highly diverse. There are no monocultures in wild nature. There are no monocultures in human communities either, urban, suburban, or rural. What can we understand about the place of music education scholarship with this evolutionary philosophy? How might we cultivate locally diverse relationships, care, and love? How might we teach symbiotically?
Many philosophical systems have been developed, to horrible ends, from an understanding of evolution as competition: specially, Herbert Spencer's ghastly idea, "survival of the fittest." In education survival of the fittest emerged as Recapitulation Theory, which is evident in the scholarship of G. Stanley Hall and, in music education, Satis Coleman (who I research). Today, those who hold to that old tenet can argue against the old racist excesses of previous generations in the name of survival of the fittest, but they cannot argue against the conclusions those theorists held. Philosophically, wholesale acceptance of survival of the fittest leads logically to racism, sexism, classism, and eugenics. Spencer was one of the best known proponent of laissez-faire capitalism, which has caused uncountable horror for most of the planet. Some competition evolutionists today long for a better eugenics, such as expressed in the movie Idiocracy. Famously, survival of the fittest prophet Sam Harris pushes the idea that certain races are less intelligent. Anyone with a little understanding of history sees how Harris's evolutionary argument parallels those arguments made a century and more ago by Herbert Spencer, Charles Davenport, and Otmar Von Verschuer. Perhaps more problematic is that much of our scholarship, even in social justice areas, still looks like survival of the fittest evolution, philosophically. I mean, it dissects what exists as interlinked. It puts poor people in competition with Black people, in competition with women and LGBTQ+ people, in competition with rural people. In contrast, for me, ecofeminism opens space for a social philosophy that captures Margulis's biological insight into evolution as symbiosis in a way previous philosophies of evolution have not.
One of ecofeminism's founding mothers, Vandana Shiva talks about evolution within seeds: "The seed in its essence is all of the past evolution of the Earth, the evolution of human history, and the potential for future evolution. The seed is the embodiment of culture because culture shaped the seed with careful selection—women picked the best, diversified." Here we see the importance of ecofeminist insight, that nature and culture are not different. We can dissect the children of a culture, move them to the suburbs and to university tenure-streams, but we cannot really bring the culture itself to the university to be preserved museum-like. Because cultures are linked to seeds. To soil and place. Nature, in all of its evolutionary glory, is interconnected with culture, with human doings. Using Shiva and Margulis together, I want to say that our understanding of evolution improves or degrades our philosophy as music teachers, depending on if we take Margulis's symbiotic evolution seriously or not. Perhaps, music education scholarship can use symbiotic evolution as a model for understanding all of the social justice crises we face. Maybe. But, we certainly need to do better than just talking about each issue in isolation, which is what survival of the fittest evolution theorizes. Or giving lip service to intersectionality without working to understand how our research projects actually intersect with seemingly unrelated injustices. We can start by not allowing any scholars use the word intersectionality without them giving specific examples. Else-wise, intersectionality becomes another meaningless jargon-term of an ineffective institution.