Place-conscious educational theory made its way into music education scholarship through the work of Sandy Stauffer and Vince Bates. Both draw extensively form Gruenewald’s critical place-conscious scholarship, but both have meaningful differences from one another. These differences might emerge in what is emphasized by each, and what is de-emphasized or even ignored. Stauffer’s place-conscious theory focuses the social, highlighting especially aspects of human narrative. Places become places through storytelling. This is true.
In contrast, Bates’s place theory emphasizes land. Places are both social and geographical. This also is true. This line of thinking has opened space for more ecological discourse in music education scholarship, including my own—listening for not just human stories, but also the experiences of non-human animals, as well as non-biogenic elements of place, such as weather, land-formations, and waterways.
Gruenewald’s seminal theory isn’t the first word on place-conscious education. It drew on a large body of scholarship emerging in various fields; scholars that were already analyzing “place,” including those identifying with various scholarly fields: democratic education, outdoor education, indigenous knowledge systems, environmental education, and critical pedagogy. It is easy to see how Stauffer’s emphasis on storytelling synchronizes well with the traditions of democratic education, indigenous knowledge systems, and critical pedagogy. In comparison, Bates’s emphasis on land synchronizes well with outdoor education, indigenous knowledge system, and environmental education. Some fields, like critical pedagogy, have historically been resistant to ecological elements; but have done better in recent years. For instance, “A People’s Curriculum for the Earth” draws on indigenous knowledge system scholars like Vandana Shiva and others to present a ecological-critical pedagogy. These fields aren’t naturally separated into boxes. Disciplines are social constructions, made for our ease of use. Not natural. But in the 1980s, 90s (and early 2000s) when indigenous scholars called on Paulo Friere to recognize the ecological elements of oppression, he may not have done so, but some of his disciplines, students and students’ students have.
So, what does this mean for music educators and music education scholars? For me, it means that both storytelling and land need to emphasized in critical place-conscious teaching and learning. For instance, both can be used as ways to cross the school-community border, inviting elders of local cultures into the classroom, inviting in the musics of non-human life, taking students to natural areas, and dealing with the real oppressions experienced today—many of which have ecological implications and roots.
Both/and, and not either/or.