The current Finnish National Core Curriculum for Basic Education (Finnish National Board of Education 2014) emphasizes equal opportunities for all students and calls for inclusive practices. Below, we will address the understanding of diversities through two broad themes, namely, how the analyzed two curricula texts represent the students in terms of identity categories and their possible intersections and how culture and cultural diversity are constructed. Finally, we will reflect these understandings with respect to PME in Finnish schools.
4.1 Representing “The Student”: Identity Categories and Their Intersections
The general and overarching part of the Finnish 2014 curriculum considers a variety of social constructs on the part of the student, such as gender, culture, age, disability, ethnicity, sexuality, and religious affiliation, although the latter is only implicitly mentioned in relation to culture and cultural differences (see p. 30). Social class is not mentioned, the document refers to the varying socio-economic backgrounds of the students thus implying, yet not fully covering, the class difference. The multifaceted nature of gender is addressed, for example, by stating that one of the goals of schooling is to promote “information and understanding of the diversity of gender” (p. 18). In this respect, the 2014 curriculum clearly advances on the 2004 one, which mentions gender only twice throughout the whole document (see Finnish National Board of Education 2004, pp. 12 and 18).
Whereas the general part of the 2014 curriculum quite broadly recognizes a variety of identity categories, the music part of the curriculum employs a far narrower construction. This part of the text, extended to encompass three different grade spans (grades 1–2; grades 3–6; grades 7–9), centers on the music subject and its related practices and understandings, rather than employing a broad conception of who the student might be. Nevertheless, the music curriculum conveys an understanding of students as having their “own cultures” (p. 284), a “cultural heritage” (p. 152), and as belonging to “communities” (p. 284). Furthermore, age is mentioned once (p. 152), and the fact that students might have “different needs, abilities, and interests” (p. 152, see also p. 284 and p. 456) is noted, indicating an awareness of challenges related to social and ability differentiation. The student is only implicitly constructed as gendered, through recognizing that the teacher should aim to change “potentially gendered practices of the music culture and music instruction” (p. 456) and in using the expression of “his or her/him or her” to refer to the student. The latter strongly reinforces a binary gender system and limits other expressions of gender. Overall, however, the impression of the students as viewed through the 2014 music curriculum is that they, above all, are constructs of culture, in the sense that belonging to a culture, having a cultural heritage, and being connected to a community of some sort stand out as the primary markers of identification.
From the student’s point of view, having an ethnic minority background and living in an area with low economic income might manifest as an experience of intersecting inequality. Thus, awareness of how identity categories and their corresponding (dis)advantages merge, transform, and overlap is needed if schools and teachers are expected to cater to the needs of a diverse group of students. Also, such lenses and knowledge are necessary for fulfilling the curricular aims of, for example, incorporating students’ “musical interests” (p. 454), their “activities outside of school” (p. 454), and “expand[ing] their musical competence and worldview” (p. 454). In the music subject part, the complexity of students’ social positioning is not addressed, and cultural diversity and interaction are mentioned solely in positive terms, as a source of richness and as something to respect (see p. 16). Another layer of complexity is removed from the curriculum, one which could have aided the teacher in navigating the diversifying society. We will next move from the level of how the student is represented and look further into how understandings of culture and of cultural diversity are shaped through the Finnish curricular texts.
4.2 Representations of (Finnish) Culture and Cultural Diversity
In the 2004 National Core Curriculum, Finnish culture is articulated as a homogenous monolith, from which non-Finnish cultures are differentiated and separated. The document states that “the basis of instruction is Finnish culture” (Finnish National Board of Education 2004, p. 12) and that students should be guided to understand the “essence of the Finnish and European cultural identities” (p. 37). Instruction should promote “tolerance and intercultural understanding” (p. 12), and Finnish culture is seen to be diversified “through the arrival of people from other cultures” (p. 12). Overall, though, a picture of Finnish culture as a solid and unified entity appears, both through the consistent use of the singular form (“culture”), the belief in “cultural essence,” and the repeated distinctions between Finnish culture and “other cultures.” This bipartition is also visible in the part of the curriculum that specifically handles Sámi students and the education in the Indigenous Sámi areas in Northern Finland. Instruction should “reinforce the [Sámi] pupils’ indigenous identity and afford possibilities for learning their own language” (p. 32), and they should have knowledge of “their own culture and history” (p. 32). There is no mention of the need for all students to familiarize themselves with Sámi cultures. In an understanding where Finnish culture is seen to have “an essence,” Sámi students are positioned as being an “Other” to that essence and thus as outside of Finnish normality.
In contrast, the 2014 curriculum recognizes that Finnish culture has never existed as consistently coherent and that current societies are undergoing transformations. Finnish society is referred to as “culturally transforming and diverse” (Finnish National Board of Education 2014, p. 29) and also as a context “where the local and global overlap” (p. 29). Basic education should now be “built on a diverse Finnish heritage” (p. 16), and school should be a place for students to be “acquainted with cultural traditions, constructively discuss different ways of thinking and acting, and create new ways for acting together” (p. 29). The cultural diversity manifested in each and every student is underlined by pointing out that “[e)ach community and community member is multilingual” (p. 29) and that this multilingualism opens up different viewpoints and should be appreciated and encouraged. In the 2014 curriculum, the constructions of tradition, culture, and heritage no longer rely on the singular form but are plural to begin with, and any mentioning of essence with reference to culture is absent. The plurality is even acknowledged as existing within each student, which also means that no one in particular, or perhaps everyone within themselves, represents “the Other.” The school system has been given the task, explicitly, to bring “up the importance of the Sámi culture and various minorities in Finland” (p. 29), so the responsibility for intercultural negotiation and exchange is no longer exclusively the task of the minorities themselves. Thus, the general part of the National Core Curriculum both seeks and in many ways succeeds to respond to the current societal changes in Finland.
The same openness toward inherent plurality cannot, however, be seen to characterize the 2014 music part of the curriculum. Here, again, the understanding of cultural heritage as singularly homogeneous is the dominant one (see Finnish National Board of Education 2014, p. 152, p. 284 and p. 455), and differences arise mainly from outside sources, through the students being allowed to “familiarize themselves with a diverse range of musical cultures and genres” (p. 152). Although not made explicit in the curricular text, the singular “cultural heritage” could be interpreted as being similar or close to the essentialized “Finnish culture” articulated in the 2004 curriculum, since there is no further discussion of what this heritage might be or to whom it might belong. Moreover, the view of musical differences that come into the classroom from outside could be construed as a reinstating of the bipartition between Finnish music/culture and other musics/cultures. Still, the music curriculum does acknowledge the plurality of students’ cultures and communities (see p. 152) and conveys, as such, a limited recognition of complexity.
4.3 Intersectionalizing “The Youth” in PME
Whereas the general part of the 2014 curriculum manages to recognize multiple and varying identity categories, the music curriculum’s construction of plurality is far narrower. Next, we will move on to explore how the understandings of student identities in music education practice and in related PME research relate to the constructions of plurality presented in the curriculum.
Through the comparison presented above, a picture emerges that shows how the understandings of diversity and diverse student identities have evolved over time in the Finnish National Core Curriculum and have gradually become more complex. However, the analysis also shows how teachers must navigate a complex array of constructions within one and the same document and thereby also apply diverse ideological starting points in their teaching practices, which in Finnish school music education strongly rely on PME. It is clear though that students’ culture/cultures cannot be understood or essentialized as youth culture, or vice versa. To some extent this essentialization has, however, taken place in the earlier PME research when it has assumed popular music as teenagers’ “own” music (e.g., Bennett 2000; Green 2006; Väkevä 2006), thus treating both “youth” and “popular music” as unified categories.
Nevertheless, nothing supports the assumption that students’ own music should necessarily be equated with popular music. On the contrary, the latest research has shown that at its worst, PME policies can even work as instruments of social exclusion (Kallio and Väkevä 2017) and, thus, dissonances with regard to which (popular) music the teenagers call their “own.” In short, whereas within the general part of the curriculum intersectional ideas have developed between 2004 and 2014, PME’s premise of “youth” as a homogeneous category fails in acknowledging the plurality of teenagers. This premise is especially problematic now that the teaching contexts are diversifying rapidly thus including exponentially the varying musical worlds of the students. This is not to say that students’ musical preferences would not serve as a sufficient starting point for pedagogical action, such as the earlier PME research suggests (e.g., Green 2006; Väkevä 2006; Wright 2017). Instead, the growing diversity calls for changing understanding of what these preferences are and for theorization of popular music’s pedagogical implications (see also Väkevä 2006) with respect to changing pedagogical contexts. For this task, intersectionality might serve a useful tool, as intersectionalizing the category of “youth” reveals that treating teenagers as a homogeneous category may even lead to bypassing differences and inequalities. Moving toward a more complex understanding of diversity in PME and music education in general can also help the teachers to navigate their work within the changing teaching settings as well as to include students’ varying musical worlds more competently in their teaching.