Though my workshop teaching continues to offer fun activities, logical sequences of development, quality material and sound pedagogy, more and more I find myself talking on behalf of children, the child in the adult and music as a means to awaken soul and spirit. While teaching here in Brisbane, I saw a short Youtube about lobsters and lunching with one of the participants, was reminded of a story about butterflies. Both are perfect little parables and metaphors that illuminate the kinds of things I talk about in-between the activities.
How do lobsters grow? Apparently, the young lobster has a hard, rigid shell to protect it. But as its soft body grows, the hard shell stays the same. So the lobster reaches a point of noticeable discomfort and finds a safe place to hide. There is sheds its shell and stays hidden until it grows a new one. After a time, the new one is too small for the growing body and it repeats the process—retreating, shedding, growing a new one.
I often talk about the Orff workshop asking folks to grow comfortable with discomfort, to feel the discomfort as the growing pain that announces you have outgrown your shell. New Age Californians (are they still around?) would look down on the idea of the shell and just ask you to tell a stranger what you feel, but those of us who tried it soon learned that the shells of persona we wear are vital for the protection of our tender psyches. I constantly trumpet the glories of the open heart, but recognize that it’s a dangerous proposition if not done carefully.
So let us learn from the lobster. Feel the discomfort, don’t rush to mask it with prescription or outlaw drugs, don’t rush to fix it. Instead, find a safe haven to retreat to where one can shed the shell and start to grow the next one that fits our changing self. I think the Orff workshop, along with some time in nature, a Zen retreat or in company with trusted friends, can be the place to slough off the too-small covering, feel safe while the new one develops, away from the jeers and laughter and taunting of the cruel world. And shouldn’t school be the same for the children?
Then the butterfly. A compassionate person comes upon a butterfly struggling to break out of its chrysalis and thinking he’s performed a good Samaritan act, opens the casing to let the butterfly out. In so doing, he robs the butterfly of the struggle needed to gain the proper wing strength to fly and the butterfly cannot fly.
So do we do the same when we think we’re helping kids by interfering too soon while they’re trying to figure something out. Teachers are notorious micro-managers, eager to do things for children to be nice or jumping in out of frustration with the child’s stumbling efforts. But turns out that’s indeed how kids learn anything worthwhile, through the difficult encounter with things that are hard and building their muscles of perseverance. So I encourage teachers to leave kids alone for a while, as long as they’re genuinely engaged trying to figure out, in their own way, how to master a given activity. Regardless of how good your teaching material, how much you like the kids, you will need to understand when to interfere and when to let them figure things out and all the shades of grey in-between.
The lobster and the butterfly. Good reminders for us all.