Friday, April 13, 2012

Ready for the downbeat?

As is happening all around this county teachers are being laid off because of budget restraints.  The classes keep getting larger and larger.  In one city the entire high school faculty were let go for not having improved student scores.  It turned out that this high school had only eighty-six students--but it was an alternative school for kids who couldn't exist in a regular high school.  "Okay, send in the next squad of teachers."  Sad.

However, there was a local story in the news of a teacher who alleged choked a student and hit him in the face.  Please note the word "alleged" in that previous sentence.  But I found it interesting that all the news outlets had headlines saying 'teacher chokes student'.  However, when reading further into the some find that the students who observed this altercation didn't see it as a choking, rather a pushing to get two students apart that had been disrupting the class.  And once again, this happening happened in an alternative high school for students who have difficulty working in our society.  Interesting story--I wonder how it will come out and exactly what is the real story here.

So while I mused (I like the word, 'muse'.  It has a nice sound and covers a lot of ground like thinking, contemplating, meditating and reflecting--if you go back to the old English definitions it also includes 'time wasting.'  Yes, I like muse and I did a lot of musing about this story.  I thought about students who disrupt class and care not a wig for the rest of the people in the class.  I've had some of these types of students both in the grade school and in college.  And then a thought stuck me--I've never had a disruptive student in band or choir.  Interesting.

Okay, some philosophic garble for a moment.  One of the most fundamental questions you can ask yourself in philosophy is......Are we an individual or are we a member of a group, society?  Can individuals get along by themselves or do we have to work with others to succeed?  This question of individual or group is basic to how we think.  It directs our basic behavior and thought.   So what do you believe?  Are we individuals or are we a social animal?

I struggled with this question for many years looking for evidence on both sides of the question.  However, I finally came to the conclusion which is satisfactory for me only that we are a social animal.  We need each other to survive. But once again I caution you--this is my answer, not yours.

You can see the struggle in our society almost every day.  At the moment it is clear to see republicans are in the individual camp while democrats are in the sociality camp.  While I taught grade school it was interesting to see how my parents responded to comments about their child.  I had some parents who liked what I was doing and would reinforce the same values at home as I was doing in the classroom.  We (the parents and I) worked more like a team to help the kids.  But there were other parents who thought otherwise about working as a team.  I know I wrote already about the father who came to pick up his son (one of my students) to go get a haircut in the middle of the day.  Different set of values.

So I suspect you will not be at all surprised that I have been musing about people in our society that shoot other people, who are mad because someone cut them off on the freeway, who refuse to pay taxes for various reasons and some in my own neighborhood that post 'no trespassing' signs.  

Now as a teacher I have to respect those that see themselves as individuals.  But I also have to teach them how to get along with others so they can be themselves.  Does this make sense?  Regardless of what we think we have to get along.  I have to stop at a stop light, pull over for emergency vehicles, and park between the white lines even if I feel that I am unique and am not dependent upon others.  So as a teacher I still have to teach cooperation.

And this is the root of my thinking today.  Because of the major emphasis on No Child Left Behind, we (us teachers) have been working hard to improve kids scores on these tests.  Not a major problem in the rich and successful communities but a major problem in the low rent districts.  But this type of teaching is a bit of a problem.  I have to get my kids to learn this material and EACH kid has to know it to score higher on the test.  And... the kids can't work together to learn this material because they will be tested individually.  Where or what can I teach that will promote working together even for those in the individual camp?  And it struck me--this is why we have to teach music in the schools.  

When I was teaching Band, I never had a discipline problem.  It is rather hard to talk to your neighbor (which was happening that got the teacher accused of choking a student), pass a note, make faces when you are blowing a trumpet..or a clarinet.  If the kids that day were being disruptive in band, all I had to do was say, "Okay now, upper left, ready for the downbeat?" and then I'd wave my arms and they would all start playing.  Each student is playing his/her part in the music but also listening to the others as to speed, volume, attack (on the notes).  

"French Horns, you need to play that part together, same volume with the bells up, you need for your horns to sing.  You've got the most beautiful melody at this point--let me hear you sing!"   

"Okay, band, once again from the top and listen for the horns." I remember something like this last go around once with a beginners band and to have the kids play the selection properly was not only fun but to listen to the kids when THEY knew they had done it right.  The horn players were delighted with themselves but the whole band was happy to have put together something that sounded good.  It was a group effort but it took individuals to do it.  Music is one subject that we can teach in our schools that provides much more then just learning notes and sounds.  

There will be those that say that the same thing can be said about sports.  Everyone has to work together to form a team.  Yes, I can agree but the problem with sports is that it is competitive. The end result is wining.  Work together to win.  And I may be rather biased at this point but not all students like to compete.  I see too many girls sitting watching the game.  

Whereas in bands, choirs, glee clubs students are learning a subject (music) while  also learning to work together as a unit.  It is a value that is valuable in our society whether you be in the individual camp or the social animal camp.

I'm also delighted to see two shows on television that are honoring music--Glee and Smash.  I haven't seen this in a long while--most have been action shows or mystery shows.  Nice to see Glee and Smash being popular.  

So that is my point--we need to teach music, both instrumental and choral in our schools.  Perhaps if we did there would be less violence, less disruptive behavior and more cooperation and understanding of the 'other' whoever they may be.  

This is my idea, my theory.  Someone needs to do some research and see if those schools who teach music have less negative problems in the schools.  Too many other factors that might influence the results but it would be a start.

And to all those music teachers who are still teaching in special school districts, my thanks.  You do an amazing job getting beautiful music from kids and teaching them something also valuable.  Getting along.

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