John Zorn
John Cage
J-S Bach


Education and Ethics

[1] Books on postmodernism and education, such as Thinking Again (Blake, Smeyers, Smith, and Standish), Postmodernism and Education (Usher and Edwards) and Postmodern Education (Aronowitz and Giroux), increasingly touch on ethical questions. 'Education is always a moral matter' (Blake et al., p.153). For instance, talk about effectiveness - a major issue in late 20th century discourse on education -  is not as sceptical about ends as it pretends. It imports substantive ethical values of its own under the guise of ethical neutrality. 'There is no neutral or natural place in education', Derrida writes (Politiques de la philosophie, p.61). Another example. The authors of  Thinking Again warn us that giving a lesson is to teach, but it is also (idiomatically) to punish. Every teacher operates within a field that accommodates many undecidables: initiation (training or education, indoctrination or enlightenment), discipline (behavioral or academic), responsibility (conformity or freedom). Is education, this initiation into a culture, a step towards autonomy or, contrarily, a step away from autonomy? Both? Both at the same time? If not ethical, these questions at least contain an ethical component.
'Curricula must be defensible in terms of the relationship - ethical and political - that they establish between the institution and the needs, wants, aspirations, obligations or rights of students or pupils' (Blake et al., p.91). Education means being swung between the right to learn, to gain knowledge, to be free, and the wrong of being controlled, indoctrinated, being given biased knowledge, being denied freedom, etc.
Connecting education and ethics implies responsibility. In accepting responsibility for the other (the student) and the (lack of) freedom it entails, the teacher realizes herself or himself as an ethical subject. The real violence in education (and ethics) seems to be indifference toward the other.

[2] In Du droit à la philosophie in particular, Derrida thinks through the issue of education. And the subject of responsibility continually surfaces in these texts. He raises many questions on the ethical implications of education, questions that articulate the space uncovered by/through/in deconstruction. Questions such as: 'How to educate the Other as Other? In which space? How to let the other be and what then does 'to let' really mean? What direction can or must this relation from me to the Other follow? What to do? What 'letting be' [laissez-faire] would be of the order of latitude, not of laxity (laxness)? Which knowledge has to pass? What kind of knowledge do we engage in respect of a know-how to take inspiration from the other? Which guidelines to give? Listening? Letting be?' (Cahen, p.56-7, my translation).
These are not rhetorical questions; they are open, unanswered, perhaps unanswerable. Perhaps they can (only) form a horizon against which the teacher should look at his relationship to the student and the teaching material. Questions that keeps one alert, on the alert.

[3] Derrida's deconstruction opens up ethics that are sensitive to the demands not of identity, but of difference. 'Deconstruction is set in motion by the responsibility to the rights of the different. Unlike mainstream thinking, it does not heed the call of Being, presence, and the same, but keeps its ear alert to the call of the Other' (Blake et al, p.66). French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard expresses himself in similar words. He speaks of a responsibility to recognize and expose differends through the construction of frames of reference in which the claims of those who have been denied a voice may be heard. The alterity of another calls us to account for how we understand things. In a form of justice that is sensitive to diversity, the question of the just and the unjust must remain permanently open. Lyotard defines this as an attitude of respect. Affirming the obligation imposed by the advent of the other fractures the I, dispossesses it, and opens the I onto the other. Lyotard's assertion can be summarized as follows: Live together in difference, not indifferently, in respect for the irreducibly distinct other. But both Lyotard and Derrida emphasize that their rethinking of ethics makes no appeal to any essence of the human that might provide a paradigm for judgment, no description that might provide a rule for the formulation of prescriptions. There is no predictable content or form to act (teach) justly, no golden rule; ethics is context, specific and always singular. Both thinkers defend not the universal rights, but the rights of the particular, i.e., that which is excluded and marginalized by the rule of the same (cf. Blake et al., p.67-8).

[4] In the appeal of the other, the ends and goals of one's actions are called into question. What can the foregoing mean for education? That certain kinds of knowledge are marginalized (they are irrelevant or incompatible with socially required knowledge) seems intrinsic to education. (In Du droit à la philosophie, Derrida draws our attention to the dominance of a pedagogical discourse saturated with technocratic terms such as 'usefulness', 'output', 'cost-effectiveness', 'finalization', etc.) Ultimately, education is always an act of violence, as well; every selection of subjects to be taught automatically excludes other subjects. How can education ever be ethical; how can it ever be responsive to the other? How to listen to the voices of others? Without much elaboration, Aronowitz and Giroux, as well as Usher and Edwards, ask from postmodern education to listen to the other. Blake et al., fear that this post-structuralist ethical imperative leads to 'pedagogical paralysis'. They regard this kind of ethics as more procedural than content-oriented (cf. Blake et al., p.71). But despite their objections against some implications - in their eyes too far-reaching - of post-structuralist ethics, they try to think through the positive sides these ethics have for education. I will follow their arguments, but omit the paragraphs with which I do not agree, thereby letting my thoughts crawl in the sediments of their texts, to solicit new thoughts, new meanings from it.
The law of difference allows that any narrative constructions or stories we tell about ourselves, the world and others are always open to re-description, so the self is never bound within a single, or even necessarily coherent, narrative. It is important to always bear in mind that history, culture, community, etc. are in themselves not homogeneous concepts. Education should support a refusal to restrict ethico-political choices to the dictates of scientifically regulated norms, and should support the fostering of the courage, skill and patience in order to shape creativity and liberating alternatives. A post-structuralist education should constantly interrogate the games of truth, thereby allowing other narratives to enter pedagogical space; thus, for the person receiving education, there is not only more room, but there are also more rooms (cf. Blake et al., p.70, 72, 80).
Post-structuralist ethics should predispose us against the over-zealous teacher who tries to mold the student according to a preconceived form. No aspiration of masterful control, but a kind of humility; while making explicit what (s)he stands for, the teacher shows the weaknesses of her or his own position. Responsive openness. And this responsiveness is a dimension of responsibility. In Kritik der zynischen Vernunft [Critic of Cynical Reason], German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk calls this 'groping'. This kind of thinking wants to preserve the 'being different' of the subjects. Groping leads to the discovery of the unknown, the other(ness). Sloterdijk's thoughts seem to fit in quite well with post-structuralist and deconstructive ideas on education. They do not advocate dispensing with the pedagogical canon, but rather handling it in a creative and responsive way. For this, one also needs to be introduced to that which is outside of the dominant paradigm. A permanent openness to and a permanent search for the other; groping to discover the unknown.

[5] This is not the place to enter at length into the consequences of this for music and music education. With 'my composition', Intermezzo - to which I refer in several pages of this section on education -  I cautiously suggest some teaching material to transgress and transform the dominant paradigm in jazz education. Perhaps it is not so much specific teaching material (only) that can thus open an ethical dimension in music education. Perhaps it has much more to do with our attitude towards all music. (With 'our' I mean not only teachers and students, but also musicologists, music theorists, administrators in music institutions, music critics, etc.) Often, music is identified with patterns and structures which are quantifiable and available primarily through scores. Both musicology and music theory, in particular, have developed a whole repertory of concepts, frameworks, methods of analysis, etc., to map music. And only what is quantified, structured, mapped, and analyzed is teachable. A deconstructive (re)reading of music opens a space beyond positivistic knowledge. Deconstruction in music - a vocation, a response to the call of the other, as Derrida calls it - opens and breaks the closeness and oneness that characterize traditional thinking on music by putting forth the fundamental uncontrollability, ambiguity, heterogeneousness of music. Perhaps we do not have to search so much for unexpected, unforeseen music to question and transgress the boundaries of the institution music education. Perhaps pieces such as Intermezzo can be regarded as an introduction to a teaching material that deconstructs the common repertory used in jazz education. This is not meant to preclude a return to so-called jazz standards. The hope is to inspire playing and listening to these standards in another way, beyond conventional structures, improvisations, licks, etc. (An analogy can be drawn with the way in which John Cage could open his ears for the 'old sounds' again. In his 'Lecture on Nothing', Cage says: 'I begin to hear the old sounds - the ones I had thought worn out, worn out by intellectualization - I begin to hear the old sounds as though they are not worn out. Obviously, they are not worn out. They are just as audible as the new sounds. Thinking had worn them out. And if one stops thinking about them, suddenly they are fresh and new ( cf. Cage and Noise ).) It is certainly not the music 'itself' that prevents this. Perhaps - if we listen carefully, if we learn to listen carefully, if education can really open our ears - all music always already opens a space in which we can encounter the unforeseen, the unexpected, the (im)possible, the insecure, the heterogeneous, i.e., the other. Derrida and others show how deconstruction is - in many different ways - always already going on in every text (every music); is it our fear of insecurity that often closes our eyes and our minds to the advent of the other? Education and music could ensure the possibility of receiving the other.

[6] I would like to end with a thought of German composer Wolfgang Rihm. According to Rihm, music is a process that, by accepting the contingency and coincidence in the intuition of composing, unremittedly stays open for mutation. Sound as material for mutation implies contingency: sounds are subjected to an 'orientated process' that is both purposeless and open at the same time. Composing is a permanent mutation; it always liberates. Rihm is talking about composing as the infinite exploration of unforeseen possibilities. There is always another (possibility). There is always an other (music).