Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Working with Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and the Transgendered

As I continue to pursue my PhD in Educational Psychology, I am required to examine ethics within the profession. This week, we were asked to look at the current state of ethics guidelines when dealing with lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and the transgendered. Here are a few of my thoughts from the essay I submitted this morning ...

On Monday night, I was in New York City and saw a preview of the revival of “The Normal Heart”. It is a historical play, written by Larry Kramer in 1985 that addressed the issues surrounding the HIV-AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s. Because the Broadway production is a revival, it highlights the fact that the problems currently existing within the gay community are the same problems that existed 30 years ago. It speaks to the political issues surrounding the gay population, as well as the continued need for ethical guidelines for professionals working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered populations today.

According to the American Psychological Association Task Force Report (2009), the concerns of transgender/gender variant populations revolve around social justice issues. Historically social justice issues (for every population) have always been important to the APA, so it is not surprising that the APA recognizes that stigmatization and discrimination occur in almost every aspect of a transgender/gender variant person’s life: threats to their physical safety, their psychological well-being, access to services and basic human rights.

Discrimination and prejudice often occur when a person’s sexual/gender orientation is known. Those who do not share the same sexual/gender orientation, or accept the sexual/gender orientation differences, pass moral judgments against them, so it is important to incorporate guidelines that extend to include this consideration.

Based on the two articles of Standard 3 of the APA guidelines, the role of the psychologist is to create a welcoming, friendly/educational environment that is free of sexual solicitation, physical advances or sexually suggestive verbal/nonverbal conduct. Shouldn’t this extend to all professions?  Also, ethical psychologists do not harass or demean a person who is seeking their help. While the Standard does not specify transgender/gay-lesbian or bi-sexual populations, the standard can act as the umbrella for all sexual/gender orientation issues until the APA can revise it to be more inclusive.

Because much of my professional life is in the Arts, I often encounter gay/lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people. In knowing them, a theme keeps repeating:  No matter who a person is or what sexual/gender orientation a person has, everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated as a person. Everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated for who they are and what they do with their talents and abilities. And ... as far as I can see, projects and collaborative processes succeed when people concentrate on the goal of the collaborative process and not who the person is “sexually” or "culturally".

For an educational psychologist specializing in the arts and music, the most important guideline I can recommend is to educate others to focus on the abilities and talents of what people can “do” instead of how people express themselves sexually and culturally. In creating art or educating people in the arts, the focus should be “the art”. New respect and understanding for others is a natural by-product that results from the process of successful creation.

In my opinion, appreciation and respect for others will always be a natural by-product of collaboration because the act of creating transcends race, religious views and sexual/gender orientation. When people unite in a common goal and succeed together, they develop an arena that promotes appreciation and respect; it creates a place where love can emerge, and people develop an ability to “like” the people with whom they are working.  When we "like" each other, we create an environment where social change can occur and a society can become a just one.

For the psychology profession, it all comes back to the same three-word mantra adopted by the American Psychological Association: “Do no harm". If those in psychology (or anyone else for that matter) are diligent in their attempt to suspend the tendency to project a moral judgment on those with different sexual/gender orientation from their own, they will “do no harm”; they will expand their own world-view, make friends, develop new understanding ... and truly help them.

American Psychological Association (2010). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association, Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance. (2009). Report of the Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance. Washington, DC: Author.

The Normal Heart. (2011). Retrieved from

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When Children Sing ...

When children sing, we need to listen. They are showing us a way to make our world a better place. When their voices join together in song, the sound creates joy and beauty in the world. Since sound is vibration, the children are creating harmony beyond the music itself, and therefore creating a happy vibe in collaboration!

People who attend a children’s choir performance probably only see children having fun and enjoy the experience of listening to them, but research and science prove that the act of singing does much more. When children sing, not only does it improve their musical skills set, but it also provides children with enhanced language-based instruction that simultaneously enhances their speech and reading skills (Moore, 2009).

Music, and particularly singing, stimulates the cerebellum and aids in auditory processing of words (Callan, Kawato, Parsons & Turner, 2007). Through Functional imaging, Callan et al. showed that children with language learning impairment who receive musical training improved their language skills and increased their auditory processing abilities. This discovery could have great implication for children with dyslexia because it has been argued that cerebellar deficits are factors in this language learning impairment. If these deficits can be improved through singing, then music is a door that opens the world to a population that struggles to learn how to read and write.

Even if a person dismisses that fact that singing and music is stimulating a child’s brain, there are other HUGE benefits. Well-crafted lyrics expose a child to a new subject or culture, or the lyrics invite the exploration of history. Songs teach vocabulary and when combined with the emotional expression from musical harmonies and melodies, children learn the deeper subtleties of meanings and how to use vocabulary correctly. The repetition of songs improves pronunciation, reinforces the innate understanding of inflection, language patterns and sentence formation. It is a heightened form of speech therapy that is enjoyable to the child … especially when the melodies, rhythms and harmonies are fun to sing.

As a composer who writes children’s songs, it is my responsibility and *joy* to create songs that attempt to enhance what children’s voices do best and to pick appropriate subject matters to sing about. The only way I know when I am successful is when an artistic or choral director chooses my work for their choir to sing.

This happened yesterday when I received an email from Gina Lupini, the director of Vivace! in Archbald, Pennsylvania, requesting permission to buy/license copies of “When I Go Fishin’” for her choir. It was a delightful exchange and in the process of our correspondence, I discovered an amazingly talented woman who is doing amazingly talented things with amazingly talented children.

What Ms. Lupini is doing is delivering first-class arts-based instruction that is fostering creativity and enhancing literacy instruction. Not only is she making great music, but she is transforming her rehearsals and performances into positive learning environments that help every child in her chorus gain academic, social and emotional skills for success in later life—the kind of success that Paquette and Reig (2008) describe in their recent article about literacy and music. Successful children’s choruses happen because a choral director creates an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect between chorus members, the director and the accompanist.

Here is a little of the bio she sent when I asked her if I could write something about her group:

"Vivace! is an auditioned treble choir of sixty-five seventh through twelfth grade students from the Valley View School District. Since 2004, the choir has attended the Music in the Parks and Music Showcase Festivals and has consistently achieved excellent and superior ratings. In May 2010, the group achieved Music Showcase Festival's most distinguished honor, Grand Champion. The award is given to the highest scoring ensemble from all of the festivals held at the location in which they attended. In recent years Vivace! has performed at the Lackawanna County Health Care Center, The Laurels Assisted Living Facility, the Gino Merli Veteran’s Center, PNC Stadium and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

In April 2010, Vivace! traveled to Pittsburgh to perform at the Pennsylvania Music Educator’s (PMEA) annual conference. PMEA’s mission is to advance music education by encouraging excellence in the study, teaching and making of music. Vivace! was one of 140 ensembles throughout the Commonwealth who applied to perform and are one of only thirty selected to perform at the three day convention.
In June 2011, the choir will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio to participate in the Queen City Children's Choir Festival. In 2009, they participated in the same festival and were one of five choirs throughout the United States who worked directly with international composer Jim Papoulis and the American Choral Director's Association's National Chair of Children's Choirs and director of the Cincinnati Children's Choir, Robyn Reeves Lana.

The group released its first CD in April 2009 and their second CD (The Spirit of Christmas, recorded at St. Peter's Cathedral) is on sale now. Vivace! is under the direction of Gina Lupini and accompanied by Michael O'Malley."

When children sing, they are doing something important for themselves and for their world. They really are making a difference!

So … Sing, children! Sing!

Callan, D. E., Kawato, M., Parsons, L., & Turner, R. (2007). Speech and song: The role of the cerebellum. Cerebellum, 6(4), 321-327. doi:10.1080/14734220601187733

Moore, P. (2009). Singing Forges a Link Between Music and Language. Teaching Music, 17(2), 57. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Paquette, K., & Rieg, S. (2008). Using Music to Support the Literacy Development of Young English Language Learners. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(3), 227-232. doi:10.1007/s10643-008-0277-9