Monday, February 3, 2014

A 6/8 Vegan Meal

I’m simply astounded by the number of people who viewed my recent blog— “Do Good Work— Or Else!” On a good day, I have some 80 to 90 viewers. If I point people on Facebook towards a blog, I occasionally get 150-200. But this blog attracted over 800 page views!! I guess it hit a nerve.

The Irish have a saying: “After a full belly, it’s all poetry.” We are primed for survival first and leisurely pastimes second and it’s fine that I have the luxury of waxing poetic about “splendor in the grass,” but when folks can’t afford to fix their lawnmower, well, they’re less apt to care.

I think the nerve I hit lurks in the background of every music teacher’s mind—“Will I have a job next year?” People have reported that the article both bolstered their spirits and fired their determination to focus their energy on the children themselves, while still speaking up about political issues of what’s worthy of the taxpayer’s money.

Another part of the talk I gave at the GMEA Conference that I didn’t include in the article was a brief survey of how people felt about their current jobs. So while I perhaps have the attention of music teachers peeking into this blog, here are some of the questions I asked that you might answer for yourself:

“Who is content with…

• Their class size? (Number of kids in each class)
• Their schedule? (Number of classes per day)
• Their space? (Dedicated music room? Large enough for movement? Friendly space?)
• Their budget? (Enough money to buy needed instruments, books, etc?)
• Their support? (From admin? From fellow teachers? From parents? From students?)
• Their salary and benefits? (Salary or paid per hour? Same rate as classroom teacher?)

I’m happy to report that things are not so bad in Georgia music-education-wise, especially compared with California! Still though, many people had 30 to 35 kids in a class, saw them only once a week, had to move from class to class with a cart. In other words, far from an ideal set-up in which teachers can feel they truly can reach into all the corners of their craft with their kids, that they’re doing something more than making do or getting by, that they are given sufficient time, appropriate class size, excellent facilities  and an overall sense that their work is valued and supported. I suppose there are few things so frustrating as spending years training yourself to pass on the heights and depths of your chosen legacy and never getting to discover what you could actually accomplish if you only had what you needed.

In the American Orff scene these days, there seems to be a swing toward University-style research as the mode that will finally bring us a dignified recognition. I disagree. My philosophy is simple— first search and then re-search— and then search again with new information. The search takes place in a class with kids, often seated on a floor or dancing around a room (with a sprung-wood floor, please). All theories about what works mean nothing until they are forged in the fire of the real responses of real children and the observant, attentive teacher. 

So many research things I see (though certainly not all— no intention to offend here!) are long, convoluted paths to “prove” something my grandmother could have told them in five seconds. Some of it borders on the nerd side, long passionate arguments about whether children should be exposed to 6/8 before 3/4 time or vice-versa, questions that might be interesting in a fantasyland where all schools have music 5 times a week for at least an hour a day. But when someone is bleeding on the floor, you don’t ask them whether they think a gluten-free or vegan diet might better balance their biorhythms.

While we’re discussing the fine points of rhythmic development, the really important issues— “Will I have a job? Will my job allow me to really teach in way the children deserve? Will I finally be accorded some dignity in my chosen profession?”— get put on the backburner. If we want to do some really useful research, how about a nationwide survey asking music teachers of all ages and in all situations the questions I asked above? Get a real portrait of the state of music education and get serious about whether it deserves to be fixed. Anyone have the time or inclination? Talk to me and I’ll help put something together.

Then we’ll talk about the 6/8 issue. Over a vegan meal.

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