Theses Doctoral

Student Citizens: Whiteness, Inequality, and Social Reproduction in Marketized Music Education

Stoumbos, Mary Catherine

Music education policy and administration attempts to shape the musical sensibilities of young people. Yet the logics of music education from a socioeconomic standpoint are inadequately understood. This dissertation focuses on the relationship between music education nonprofits and public schools and on the public and private policies that have shaped the formation and perpetuation of these relationships. I analyze the logics of policy documents alongside the discourses and narratives of private organizations that support music education within the specific contexts of New Jersey, a state that mandates music education access for all students, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated societal inequalities, to illuminate how policy makers and administrators shape student experiences in the proto-democratic space of the classroom.

I use policy analysis and institutional ethnography, approaching data primarily through the lenses of neoliberal critiques of marketization, critical whiteness studies, and analyses of the intersection of class and race, which I outline in chapter one. I also consider the design of music education programs within the theoretical framework of culturally relevant pedagogy. Education systems are adapting to shifting racial discourses as schools continue to construct citizens within racialized and classed hierarchies. Music historically has been invoked in the construction of societal stratifications to mark ethnic and cultural boundaries.

In chapter two, I examine these narratives that have shaped the formation of music education in the United States as a culturally hegemonizing force and persist in debates around the purpose of music education in under-resourced schools that mainly serve students from minoritized communities. Music education remains a site at which policy makers, administrators, educators, and community members negotiate the role of culture in shaping new citizens. State music education policy in New Jersey specifically struggles to support the progressive vision it professes as it continues to suggest a strongly hegemonic curriculum and perpetually underfunds music programs in schools.

Within this context, the third chapter considers how funders and advocacy groups are so frequently focused on short-term funding needs that they persistently struggle to address systemic issues in music education, such as issues with administrations that do not represent the communities being served, colonial content and pedagogy, and unsustainable funding solutions. As such, the limited services and non-democratic leadership of privately funded music education programs in public schools reinforce the role of public schools as gate-keepers of exclusionary citizenship norms. At the same time, privatization has also opened opportunities for non-normative, anti-oppressive forms of music pedagogy to enter public schools. In the fourth chapter, I investigate how, though their very existence reinforces the marketizing trends that rank and exclude, some nonprofits do attempt to serve students in culturally relevant ways within this environment, and can even work in ways that support publicly funded programs.

Altogether, my research provides insight into the role that the privatization of public spaces within neoliberalism plays in the formation and reproduction of classed and raced citizens, as policy makers, funders, and program administrators determine which young people are given access to which forms of education.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Fox, Aaron Andrew
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 19, 2022