Where is My Chair?

November 6, 2017


What do you do when the chair you are working to occupy is no longer there? I mean gone, not missing.

The disappearing liberal arts curriculum is a bit unsettling. STEM disciplines are being heralded as the be-all end-all, as this is where the jobs are. We need to be training students for the job market, right? This over-specialization, or narrowing of educational focus, might not prepare students for a market that is as strong as we think it is.

Does job growth really lie within STEM disciplines? By 2022, for example, software engineers will only contribute 3% to overall job growth (Anders, 2015). Many of these STEM jobs will be taken over by AI, reducing the number of humans needed in this field. These jobs will not disappear, but they will greatly reduce in number.

So, is the ever-narrowing concept of education helping or hurting students?

Example: two of the major contributors to our “tech” world are Reid Hoffman and Peter Theil, both of whom hold degrees in philosophy, not degrees in the STEM fields. Maybe having the ability to pull from a wide range of thought is more useful than being able to do one thing well (I think you can see where I’m going here).

So why am I writing about this? I see this narrowing of educational focus to be widely present in the field of music education. Music education, it could be argued, has never been better. We have faculty teaching that are in many cases more than highly qualified. But what does this excellently, narrowly focused music education accomplish? Most of the jobs music students are prepared for do not exist, think symphonic musicians. The job market is over-saturated with specialists, performers that are conversant in only one “language”.

Over the next few weeks, I want to unpack some thoughts I have on “liberalizing” music education, focusing specifically on guitar pedagogy. I think we have to pull back from the narrow view of music education we are currently in, specifically at the bachelor’s level, and bring students to a point where they are conversant in a number of musical styles and contexts.

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