Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place.
John Dewey, (1925).  Experience and Nature, p. 172.

Mozambique: Guitar Hero

It’s not what you think….

A current concern among all stripes and types of educators is social justice and civility..Many music educators are also beginning to take notice and are now thinking seriously about the relationship between music and social justice and civility. 

Listen to Santos’ story—it is about a rock musician in Mozambique and his personal story of how music has moved him and how he uses music  to better his society.  His message resonates with his community. 

Why on earth would we music teachers here in New York State be interested in this? This is certainly nothing like the kind of music education experiences most of us growing up had?  What can we learn from this?  Could we have our students use, (perform and create) music to better our society?   Should we?  What can we learn from Santos’ story?


Far away from the modern world, in northern Mozambique, lies a vast expanse of land known as Niassa. It seems to stretch on forever under a broad African sky. Only one dirt road links it to the rest of the country. “It is a place the world forgot,” says FRONTLINE/World reporter Marjorie McAfee.

But in a poor, remote village, she finds a crowd gathering, as a band tunes their electric guitars. People have come from all around to see and hear Feliciano Dos Santos, one of Mozambique’s biggest Afro-pop stars.

When his band, Massukos, begins to play a lilting groove, kids start to dance, and a handsome, smiling Santos sings some unexpected lyrics in the local tribal language:

Let’s wash our hands
Let’s wash our hands
For the children to stay healthy
For the uncles to stay healthy
For the mothers to stay healthy
We build latrines

Most rock stars don’t sing about hygiene and sanitation. Then again, not many rock stars live and work in Niassa, one of the poorest places on earth, where people survive on subsistence farming and lack amenities such as indoor plumbing. Born and raised in Niassa, Santos writes and performs songs that literally save lives. His hit, “Wash Your Hands,” is part of a public health campaign organized by his non-profit group, Estamos, that promotes the installation of pumps to provide clean drinking water and “EcoSan” toilets to improve sanitation.

Santos shows McAfee that the brick-lined pits of the ecological latrines prevent water contamination. People are also taught to toss ash from cooking fires onto the waste and cover it with a lid to prevent odor and keep away disease-bearing flies.

But then, there’s another, unexpected benefit. After composting for six months or so, the waste and ash create a natural fertilizer, which can be used by farmers to increase the amount of corn and other crops they grow. Some farmers were perhaps understandably skeptical or squeamish, but as one says, when he saw the size of his neighbor’s cabbages, he requested an EcoSan toilet of his own. Santos’ group Estamos has so far installed over 300 of these low-cost latrines — helping to build a sustainable sanitation system in an area that never had one. 

Santos has a personal motivation for his work: He fell victim to polio as a child from contaminated water and lost part of his leg. “I don’t want to see children growing up with the same problem I have,” Santos tells McAfee. As a young boy, Santos made his first artificial leg out of cardboard and rubber bands. He is a survivor, not prone to giving up. But he still bears the emotional scars of the discrimination he faced because of his disability. He recalls the story of how his wife’s uncle rejected him, saying he was unfit to provide for a family. “He said this in front of my mother,” says Santos, as he is overcome with emotion and breaks off the interview.   
Santos has always used his music for healing – for himself and for his country, which was consumed by a long, catastrophic civil war after Mozambique won a war of independence from Portuguese colonial rule in 1975. When the fighting finally stopped in the mid-1990s, Santos started his band, Massukos, naming it after a local, nourishing fruit.

“I was inspired to name the band after that fruit,” explains Santos, “because we were just finishing a war, and after a war, many people need to fight spiritual hunger. So our music is intended to fight spiritual hunger.”

His message resonates in a place like Niassa, where life is tragically short: Life expectancy is only 42 years. One reason for that is AIDS. One in six people in this region are infected with HIV. So Santos’s NGO, Estamos, also does AIDS education and prevention, sponsoring plays in which villagers re-enact the traumas of infidelity and infection.

Back in the Estamos office in the town of Lichinga, McAfee sees a dynamic group that now employs over 40 people and has an operating budget of nearly a million dollars, most of it coming from Western aid organizations. Santos has become an icon for clean water and sanitation throughout the country, says Simao, his friend, co-worker and fellow band member. And others outside Mozambique are also recognizing his accomplishments. Santos recently received a $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco for his work.

His band, Massukos, has also caught on with critics and world music fans in Europe, and with his growing fame, Santos could have opted to leave Niassa for a more lucrative career abroad, but he is committed to working for his homeland.

In a song dedicated to Niassa, Santos and Simao deliver a simple, heartfelt message: Life is short, don’t forget where you come from, and try to do some good while you are here.    

Other people say,
I’ll never go back to Niassa.
Why go back?
But here we are.

Santos is Niassa.
Simao is Niassa.
Estamos is Niassa.
Massukos is Niassa.

Tony Wagner on 21st Century Skills

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“The Ounce” is an early intervention program for students in poverty. this program works a lot with parents as well, and educates them as much as it educates the children involved! this clip sure is a tear-jerker. be prepared!

Methodologies for Exploring Teaching and Learning
Key Concepts for Studying…
Curriculum Commonplaces
Criteria and Quality of Educational/Musical Experiences
Kinds of Curriculum and their Characteristics

Methodologies for Exploring Teaching and Learning

Key Concepts for Studying…

Curriculum Commonplaces

Criteria and Quality of Educational/Musical Experiences

Kinds of Curriculum and their Characteristics

The Influence of Teachers

Search around for additional stuff from John Merrow…sometimes he is right on, sometimes he is a bit off-target.  Overall, his positive message is about

teacher empowerment

project-based learning

learner-centered teaching

The interesting question he asks…is “How is that child intelligent?”  (and not…How intelligent is that child?”)

// Famous Education Quotes that relate to our recent work//

Three famous quotes about education and teaching and learning from Jerome Bruner…

We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development. (1960, p. 33)

To instruct someone… is not a matter of getting him to commit results to mind. Rather, it is to teach him to participate in the process that makes possible the establishment of knowledge. We teach a subject not to produce little living libraries on that subject, but rather to get a student to think mathematically for himself, to consider matters as an historian does, to take part in the process of knowledge-getting. Knowing is a process not a product. (1966, p. 72)

What has become increasingly clear… is that education is not just about conventional school matters like curriculum or standards or testing. What we resolve to do in school only makes sense when considered in the broader context of what the society intends to accomplish through its educational investment in the young. How one conceives of education, we have finally come to recognize, is a function of how one conceives of culture and its aims, professed and otherwise.(1996, pp. ix-x)


Bruner, J (1960) The process of education, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press.

Bruner, J. S. (1966) Toward a theory of instruction, Cambridge, MA.: Belkapp Press.

Bruner, J. (1996) The culture of education, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

// The importance of activism in education//

It has become increasingly important for music educators to look at the larger picture of education, especially when it comes to the policies that affect the lives of children, the  lives of teachers who work with them, and the programs that serve both.

Although we have touched briefly on the issues and problems associated with current arguments that advocate for the inclusion of music education in the the schools, I won’t touch upon them here.  Advocacy for music experiences in education should reflect deeply held values about what is good for people, what is good for society, and how music serves those goods.

My point here is to draw your attention to the current educational climate and the policies that have a direct (although we may not see the immediate connection) impact on our teaching lives and the educational lives of students in our schools.

As music teachers we need to be informed about and have a position on ideas / issues of curriculum, instruction, assessment, funding and most urgently issues defining the “idea of accountability.” 

Dianne Ravitch (a long time and well-respected “policy wonk” in education) lists a few things for us to be concerned about given the current climate. Basically her ideas deal with:

  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation
  • Equitable funding for all public school communities
  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

I encourage you to read her blog:


Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

In this poignant, funny follow-up to his fabled 2006 talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning — creating conditions where kids’ natural talents can flourish.  Also see Matt’s video on his blog from Ken Robinson as well on “Transforming Education.”

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