I begin this post with a question: Do teachers have a moral obligation to isolated indigenous people?
This question follows the drone video, published this week on NBC, identifying an indigenous tribe near Brazil's border with Peru with no contact with the "outside" world. Of course, both Brazil and Peru are globalized names, not the names of the land of the many indigenous peoples that live in these places. In traditional ways, borders emerge naturally rather than being drawn by professional cartographers and computer programs. Today though, as the article points out, this group of people is threatened by farming on protected land, and other global market-driven, expansive industry (e.g., oil industry, logging interests). Our global industrial society is a threat to cultural diversity, that is, any culture that does not subsume itself to one single mobile, wasteful, destructive, capitalist way of life. What concerns me most, as a music teacher who hopes to teach for ecological literacy, is the global industrial system being such a dominant force, and as someone sitting in Pennsylvania, USA, more and more of what I do, as a music teacher, is part of the global industrial system. What obligations do I have for preserving or sustaining this culture's culture, its way of life, however its people wish to conserve it? Or can I just let it alone and ignore the news?
Perhaps its important to start with the fact that we are, through our practices, responsible for incursions into indigenous land on our economic behalf. In an important article, Attilio Lafontant Di Niscia connects indigenous concerns to the industrial harvesting of tonewoods for instrument making, and El Sistema. Lafontant opens up important space for music education to begin talking about the material of our teaching practices, the marketplace that underpins our practices, and to have "a discussion on environmental controversies within Latin American music education." So, because music educators in the Global North are linked into a capitalist system that exploits actual places in the Global South, it would seem that we have some sort of moral obligation. Let me take a strike at what this duty might be with two commonsense rules.
In normative ethics, specifically in duty ethics, "the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action." In this approach to thinking about ethical issues, we might ask ourselves what sort of rule, or duty do we have toward another. A general rule of thumb for this sort of situation might be based on the golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you): Rule 1: "Do not do anything that would destroy a culture, a way of life/language/music/food, etc.; unless that other culture is leading to planetary destruction or excessive expansion." This is a broad, and improvised/tentative deontological rule, and I'll be happy to hear others' rules by which we can act. What are this rule's weaknesses and strengths? It is, first of all, conservative. Action happens (that is, trying to destroy or change a destructive culture) only when that culture is leading to planetary destruction or excessive expansion. Its quite obvious that none of these little groups of people living their traditional ways of life are destroying the planet. There is a small degree of expansion in any culture, or any organism, but at some point that expansion becomes excessive (think the cell expansion involved in your body healing, vs. a cancer). Its certainly not clear about our global, industrial culture. Like I say, homo sapiens lived on planet earth for 150,000 years, and in 150 short years, the industrial revolution has brought Mother Earth to her knees.
Rule 2: "We have a duty to act when we see cultural and/or ecological destruction." Even if we don't identify ourselves with the global, industrial society, we still have a duty to act. Even after we use instrument construction, and student- community-composition to replace our sheet music purchase, we have a duty beyond. I think this duty begins with teaching for conscientization (I wouldn't be tentative about Freire's word if he had understood the ecological crises even a little), and what I have come to call ecological conscientization (I draw on eco-feminists and deep ecologists as well as David Orr for this). Rule 2 goes beyond Rule 1, though Rule 1 sets up the basic framework for thinking about this.
It may easily be noted that in the diversity of cultures around the globe, duty ethics is not how people think about ethical issues. As a next step, lets infuse a bit of humility: we have to recognize that there will be limitations to any way of thinking about ethical issues. The ultimate importance is, though, that we music teachers begin to think about ecological crises in our music classes, decide how to act, and ultimately to do something. Do we bring these news articles into our high school general music classes, and have students begin a songwriting campaign to raise awareness? Do we combine this with a letter-writing campaign to get our government to act? Do we make contact with music teachers and learners in the Global South to try to form cross-boundary forms of solidarity? I think that's a start. Any other ideas, add them to the comments!