Mursell and the psychology of music education (1940s edition)

For those interested in the history of music education and psychology, here’s a real treasure from 70 years ago: the syllabus for ED 289I, “Psychological Foundations of Music Education” as taught by James Mursell at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Here’s the syllabus for the class in its entirety.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Mursell has a Wikipedia page, and a special issue of Visions of Research in Music Education covers the legacy of Dewey and Mursell. Scott Goble’s What’s So Important About Music Education also has a section on Mursell.

I came across this syllabus while doing archival work at the University of Southern Illinois Edwardsville campus, and have been able to narrow it to between 1943–6. Here are a few choice questions from the “study guide”:

Why can the application of psychology to teaching never yield one definite “best” method?
When a teacher simply puts pupils through many songs (a) on what view of learning is he operating (b) what vital psychological principle is he ignoring?
When a person acquires a new skill, more happens than the acquisition of the skill. State in a sentence what this is.
What effect on learning has aimless instruction?
If a subject cannot be defended as a mindtrainer on what grounds can it be defended?
Why is automatic transfer unlikely with high school pupils?

I am particularly drawn to the questions for Mursell’s second chapter of his book, especially the opening four:

1. What 2 reasons make debate about the minutiae of methodology seem of minor importance?
2. What are the 4 determining factors in authentic musical growth?
3. On what.basis must one differentiate between “good” and “poor” music?
4. With what primary emphasis should good music be used in school?

And here’s one that is dissonant with today’s push in our profession, from Mursell, chapter 5:

Why should music be retained as a special subject, and not absorbed in an “integrated” or “core” curriculum?

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About Matthew

Music education: media, technology, and participatory music.
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