Brent C. Talbot


Brent C. Talbot is Coordinator of Music Education at the Sunderman Conservatory of Music at Gettysburg College, where he teaches various courses in music education and supervises student teaching and research. Brent is artistic director of the Gettysburg Children’s Choir and founding director of Gamelan Gita Semara. Brent’s research examines power, discourse, and issues of social justice in varied settings for music learning around the globe. Brent is a member of the steering committee of the MayDay Group and is chair of the Social Science SRIG for the National Association for Music Education. Additionally, he serves on the research board for the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association. Brent is associate editor of Action, Criticism, and Theory in Music Education and is on the editorial board for the Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education.  For more, visit


Critically Assessing Forms of Resistance in Music Education

 Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

– Freire, 1970, 72.

In our classrooms we draw upon critical pedagogy (as described by Freire, Giroux, and hooks) for the expressed purpose of cultivating a climate for conscientização. Conscientização, according to Paulo Freire (2006),“refers to learning to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality” (35). This consciousness raising is a journey we pursue with our students, together interrogating injustices in our communities and the world in order to transform the conditions that inform them. Learning to perceive the social, political, and economic contradictions in our worlds often leads to multiple forms of resistance in and out of our music classrooms. In this presentation, we explore the following question: What do critical forms of assessment look like in music classrooms that use critical pedagogy and embrace resistance to foster conscientization?

We view assessment as conscientizational, that is, assessment is developed in conjunction with students to be participatory, problem-posing, reflexive and not overly prescriptive. To assess from a critical music pedagogical perspective means to consider and evaluate specific ways in which our knowledge has been transformed. As Giroux (2011) reminds us: Critical pedagogy becomes a project that stresses the need for teachers and students to actively transform knowledge rather than simply consume it . . . to connect classroom knowledge to the experiences, histories, and resources that students bring to the classroom . . . to link such knowledge to the goal of furthering their capacities to be critical agents who are responsive to moral and political problems of their time and recognize the importance of organized collective struggles. (p. 7) In short, students and teachers use music together to resist the injustices of the world. Resistance is at the heart of our praxis as critical music pedagogues. Resistance is to have voice, to have agency to “call people in,” to dialogue, to reflect and act in order to transform the conditions in which we live. Resistance is the manifestation of Freire’s notion of conscientização. Thus, at the heart of any critical music pedagogy must be an ability to evaluate forms of resistance. However, as Giroux (2011) reminds us, resistance must be viewed from a theoretical starting point that links the display of behavior to the interest it embodies, going beyond the immediacy of behavior to the interest that underlies its often hidden logic, a logic that also must be interpreted through the historical and cultural mediations that shape it. (p. 291)

Drawing upon tools presented by Blommaert (2005), Hymes (1996) and Rymes (2003), we see indexicality as a theoretical and methodological tool to both promote and measure resistance and pedagogic voice (Bernstein, 1990) among students (Arnot & Reay, 2003; Spruce, 2015) and teachers. As teachers and students co-construct knowledge through projects that challenge and shift our positionalities and perspectives, we use formative assessment (Fautley, 2015) throughout, placing the focus on the process rather than on the product. We create spaces within each project to reflect upon our growth as individuals and as a group, identifying and examining the indexes that point to our beliefs and the shifts of indexical meanings that display this growth and the transformation of knowledge.

Critical forms of assessment in music classrooms—those which embrace resistance and foster conscientization—are embedded into the very types of critically-minded, creative projects we use in our classrooms; projects with titles like: Found Object Ensemble, Musical for Social Change, and Constructive Controversy Music. In this presentation, we will describe and showcase these projects and demonstrate how we use indexicality as a way to assess resistance. These projects are not the easy forms of assessment that measure the so called, “objectively knowable material” presented in textbooks to be “transferred” to students through memorization teaching. Instead, they are dynamically-responsive and dialectically-constituted, problem-posing projects that engage students and teacher from a position of agency tied to the lived experiences and conditions of our communities. Through these musical projects we perceive the contradictions in the world, reflect on our participation in these contradictions and co-create ways to address these contradictions. In this way, critical assessment becomes our inquiry in the world, with the world, and with each other.