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I’ve always believed diversity was a good thing. I’m not ready to assume that anymore. This article from the Boston Globe describes the work of Robert Putnam, a Harvard political scientist who discovered through his research that more diverse communities are less trustful.
“In more diverse communities,” he says, “there were neither great bonds formed across group lines nor heightened ethnic tensions, but a general civic malaise. And in perhaps the most surprising result of all, levels of trust were not only lower between groups in more diverse settings, but even among members of the same group.” These results were not what he was hoping to find, but he published them anyway.
As an educator in a Title I school I am disheartened by these findings. And yet here is another article that touts the significant advantages of integrated schools on student life and achievement. How do we make sense of this contradiction?
Schools that are diverse, where kids of one kind are all in these classes and kids of another are all in those, may just bump different circles of kids against one another without ever allowing them to interact. But when the groups are integrated in a variety of ways, where kids of different viewpoints and backgrounds are given the opportunity to form meaningful bonds and exchange ideas, you may begin to see the kinds of benefits outlined in the second article. How can musicians contribute to this kind of meaningful integration?
When someone listens to three different kinds of music and then creates something that has inseparable elements of all three, you might say they have integrated the music. When musicians from different backgrounds come together to create a unified product, they will only reach their goal if they integrate their talents so that it is difficult or impossible to determine which talent is responsible for what success. Even in the body, musicians are not merely using two hands, or a lip and hands, or the various muscles of the vocal tract, but have instead integrated the entire apparatus in order to achieve the goal of playing the instrument.
If you have an accident or a stroke and lose the ability to use your left side, it will not simply be enough to regain function on that side, because that’s not the way you were before. You will have to use your nervous system (assisted perhaps by a somatic approach like the Feldenkrais Method) to integrate the functioning of the two halves as they are now. Music instruction, well taught, often provides the same kind of integration of parts of a person, only without the crisis beforehand.
Music, then, is one means of creating the difference between diversity and integration. It can integrate the body, so that one has a personal model for bridging gaps (my left hand and my right hand). It can integrate individuals who may or may not realize what they share and where they can intersect.
Most importantly, it can integrate communities by creating shared experiences and opportunities for interaction. It has already done so, in R&B (an integration of Gospel and Blues), in Soul (Gospel and R&B), and Rock and Roll (Country and R&B), among others, and we have seen the social effects of this integration on the country, much to the chagrin of those who would prefer we remain simply diverse or even homogenous. As a music teacher, I have the ability, and a duty, to better the world by taking what is diverse and integrating it.