Toward a Possible Future of Inclusion and Equity for Music Programs and the Music Teaching Workforce: The Necessity of Understanding Parental Expectations and Aspirations for Children


Susan Wharton Conkling, Boston University


Music educators have expressed concern about underrepresentation of some groups in secondary-level ensembles, including Latinx, lower-income, and nonnative English speaking students (Elpus & Abril, 2011). Furthermore, researchers have assumed that a pipeline exists between enrollment in secondary-level music and access to collegiate music teacher preparation programs (Elpus, 2015; Fitzpatrick, Henninger & Taylor, 2014). If we are to imagine a possible future of inclusion and equity, for both music programs and the music teaching workforce, a necessary area for investigation is parentsí (primary caregiversí) expectations and aspirations for their children, which influence enrollment in music.


Lareau ([2003]2011) was one of the first to investigate social class differences in the ways parents enrolled children in organized activities. She developed the concept of concerted cultivation to describe the ways in which middle-class families treated childrearing as a development project, aiming to advantage their children economically and socially. One prominent feature of concerted cultivation was childrenís enrollment in organized activities, including music ensembles and lessons. Lareau also observed that children of working class and poor parents tended to have more unstructured time, and they spent that time with kin.


Other researchers challenged Lareauís initial findings. Through secondary analysis of large-scale surveys they found that, even in the lowest socioeconomic quartile, about 60% of children were engaged in organized activities in and out of school (Covay & Carbonaro, 2010). Others suggested that schools were the first organization through which parents sought organized activities, but when schools did not have resources, or when parents sought even more individualized instruction, parents sought enrollment elsewhere (Bennett, Lutz, & Jayaram, 2012). In some studies, low-income parents reported seeking organized activities as a preventive or protective strategy (Bennett, Lutz, & Jayaram, 2012; Furstenberg et al., 1999).


I will report on interview research with 130 parents of students aged 8-18, enrolled in an after-school music program in a large, U.S. metropolitan area. The program population allowed for a purposeful sample where household income was evenly distributed between $25,000 and $250,000. Families identifying as black, white, and Latinx were evenly represented in the sample. Families identifying as Asian and multiracial also were included, although not in the same proportion. I sought to address a question of the extent to which there were discernable patterns of parental expectation and aspiration by race/ethnicity or social class.


Among the findings:

Although some discernable patterns were found, many variations among those patterns existed, suggesting that parental expectations and aspirations work with a high degree of intersectionality (Clarke & McCall, 2013).


Most parents expected enrollment to foster prosocial behavior, including respect for others and teamwork.


Many parents expected that enrollment would compensate for school music.


All parents expected that childrenís peer groups could be cultivated through enrollment.


Parents with histories of marginalization in schools sought protection for their children, especially from the effects of racism.


Implications for recruitment and retention of secondary music students and music educators will be discussed.




Bennett, P. R., Lutz, A. C., & Jayaram, L. (2012). Beyond the schoolyard: The role of parenting logics, financial resources, and social institutions in the social class gap in structured activity participation. Sociology of Education, 85, 131-157. doi:10.1177/0038040711431585

Clarke, A. Y., & McCall, L. (2013). Intersectionality and social explanation in social science research. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 10, 349-363. doi:10.1017/S1742058X13000325

Covay, E., & Carbonaro, W. (2010). After the bell: Participation in extracurricular activities, classroom behavior, and academic achievement. Sociology of Education, 83, 20-45. doi:.1177/0038040709356565

Elpus, K., & Abril, C. R. (2011). High school music ensemble students in the United States: A demographic profile. Journal of Research in Music Education, 59, 128-145. doi:10.1177/0022429411405207

Elpus, K. (2015). Music teacher licensure candidates in the United States: A demographic profile and analysis of licensure examination scores. Journal of Research in Music Education, 63, 314-335. doi:10.1177/0022429415602470

Fitzpatrick, K. R., Henninger, J. C., & Taylor, D. M. (2014). Access and retention of marginalized populations within undergraduate music education degree programs. Journal of Research in Music Education, 62, 105-127. doi:10.1177/0022429414530760

Furstenberg, F, Cook, T.D., Eccles J.S., Elder, G.H. Jr, Sameroff, A. (1999). Managing to make it: Urban families and adolescent success. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lareau. A. ([2003]2011). Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.