A teacher in my recent World Music Orff Course wrote about his prep days before school, lamenting his long meeting about computers. He sent me the slick presentation with its bubbles trumpeting how “tech allows for significant task redesign through modification, acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement through augmentation or with no functional change through substitution.” Huh? I dare you to explain that to a first grader!
I wrote him a letter to try to offer some comfort.
“This will be a condolence letter, as if you had lost a loved one. And in a way, you have. You signed up for teaching because of your love for children. Where are the children in these words about ‘direct tool substitutes?’ Where is the slightest inkling of understanding of how children live and think and learn? Where is anything that will help children master thought connected to feeling connected to body connected to earth connected to each other?
That the meeting left you feeling physically sick and dispirited is a good sign— it shows you still have a beating heart and a thinking brain. I’m sure the contrast with the week we just had was almost unbearable. To come from five days of joyful music-making in company with passionate teachers, immersed in a community of learners taking bold leaps into the imagination, slow steps towards awakening their rhythmic bodies, vulnerable forays into opening their hearts and thrilling descents into the depths of thought and ascents to the giddy heights, to go from that into the zombie-land of machine-minded people must have been quite a shock. It’s no wonder that you wanted to leave the room and scream. I had the same feeling just reading about it!
I feel your frustration trying to explain some of this to your colleagues, but it’s almost hopeless. They don’t even know what they don’t know, have no inkling as to what they’ve forgotten, mesmerized by the glitz and allure and ease of jiggling some buttons, hooking kids up to machines and pretending they're doing something fancy and sophisticated. And it’s not wholly their fault. They just haven’t come across something different from the old-style sitting in desks watching the clock with incalculable boredom or the new-style addiction to sensation and fast-moving electronic blips isolated from their classmates and their own marvelous bodies and minds. They haven’t been baptized in the well of genuine art taught artfully that awakens every human facility we know. But don’t give up— I’m sure some are just waiting for someone else to say out loud that the machined Emperor has no clothes.
How I wish they could at least witness the opening ceremony at our school today, where some parents and teachers were moved to tears simply observing eight kids pouring water into each other's classes. I repeat: eight kids, one from each grade, standing in front of 200 other kids and 200 parents. They were passing down the “water of knowledge” from 8th grade to 1st one glass at a time and then with the little water each left in their glass, emptying that into the 1st grader’s glass to hold the empty vessel of possibility, of curiosity, of beginner’s mind. The 400 plus people were pin-drop silent— and here I’m talking about young kids, as mesmerized as the adults by the power of this simple ritual, listening to each drop of water as if their lives depended on it. How I wish there were prep staff meetings considering this kind of opening to the year instead of the energy spent talking about the pinball-machined-bells-and-whistles of the latest and greatest screened technologies.
Before the water ceremony was the ringing in of the year by the oldest and youngest child and again, the room was bathed in an intense silence listening to the age-old technology of Balinese gong-making as the vibrations slowly dissolved in the bath of silence. Big gong, small gong, big gong, small gong, big gong, small gong and then the older child making such beautiful eye-contact with the younger one to time their simultaneous ring. And wasn’t it fun when the kids erupted into the rehearsed silent cheer, their bodies and faces showing the excitement of the winning goal in the World Cup, but without a sound coming out of those 200 mouths.
And before that was the school anthem, voices raised singing the old jazz standard “Side by Side” (more on that tomorrow). And after the water was the “Earth Day Rap” while the eight kids held up the giant Earth Ball. And then processing out to ”Siyahamba”— “we are marching in the name of peace.” Environmental caretaking, social justice, creating a community of learners— why didn’t these words enter the meeting about “tech’s qualities of augmentation and substitution and task redesign and functional change?”
All I can hope is that when the kids come, you can close the door and start the real work of meeting their deep needs using every ounce of your background, knowledge, intention, passion and love. Let me know if I can be of any further help.
All the best,