Sunday, July 10, 2016

An i-Pad for Carl Orff

Today was Carl Orff’s 121st birthday and the last day of the Orff Symposium with the theme of Elemental Music and Dance Education in the Changing World of Media. It could have been a stimulating series of conversations about what’s going on and what our role is in it, but instead I found most of it to be “How can we do something creative with these machines?” I felt a slight tremor in the ground and I think it was Orff rolling over in his grave.

For me, it’s the wrong question. I sat listening to all the usual blah blah about the kids as digital natives and us as digital immigrants and we should let them lead us into the future that can’t be avoided. Maybe. But here’s the question I would ask that would lead us into the part of the discussion we keep not having:

What is broken about us human beings that an i-Pad can fix?

Does it help us be more mindful, more aware, more wholly present in the fullness of moment? Does it connect us more deeply with the living breathing human beings in the same room as us? Does it help open conversations with strangers that lead to unexpected delights? Does it solve the complexities of our broken and difficult relationships?

Does it connect us to the dirt under our feet and the stars above us? Does it help us attend to birds singing in the morning, to feel the wonder of plants growing, to note the insects at work, to feel the bark of a tree? Does it keep alive a child’s sense of wonder in the small miracles of creation or retrieve the adults fading sense of gratitude and mystery? 

Does it root out racism? Does it move us away from war? Does it help stop us from killing each other or hating each other or ignoring each other? Does it incite us to devote ourselves to social justice? Does it help solve the massive ecological crisis facing us? (And by the way, if everyone on the planet has an i-Pad and they’re obsolete in two or three years, where do we put those 7 billion discarded machines?)

And what about helping us learn how to grieve? Helping us bear up under life’s sorrows? Helping us come face to face with our own mortality?

“Nonsense!” you say. “Why do you expect a machine to solve all these human problems?”

Exactly my point. It can’t and won’t and yet we treat it like it will. How often do you hear, “You can find everything you want on an i-Pad!” Why do we throw the machines at kids in schools and ignore the deep education they really need and equally ignore some new problems too much screen-time are starting to create?

Can an i-Pad (or Smartphone or computer etc.) help? Of course it can. As the saying goes, it’s just a tool and we need to learn how to use it. We can look up the information and share the stories that aid our fight for social justice, find a poem that offers comfort in times of sorrow, network with people engaged in a common cause, Skype with loved ones far away to maintain connection and etc. and etc. But to reap the gifts of this technology, we first have to experience the world directly in our own skin, with our senses, with touching the face we saw on Facebook and smelling a familiar smell, with a practiced disciplined habit of thought and feeling and technical mastery. That takes vision and time, lots of it, time robbed from children at crucial developmental stages when they start to become addicted to machines.  

The world offers itself to us every day with the same possibilities it has for 40,000 years— a cool breeze in summer, a warm fire in winter, the music of morning birds and evening crickets and a chance to co-participate in the wonder of it all. An institution like a library offers the human experience of both how to survive and how to thrive from those high up the food chain of human intelligence and potential. An i-Pad also holds much of the world’s libraries, the books and films and recordings and that is in itself a wonder. But the world the machine’s makers mostly offers is the one designed to sell the product, the one that hits us in the lower regions of the brain with food, sex and power. Our technologies are designed for addiction and designed for obsolescence and designed to make the makers rich and all these are worthy of our suspicion and critical thought.

Well, I’ve written of this before: the right tool for the right job at the right time for the right amount of time at the right age at the right cost for the right reason and so on. But we need help. We need the Surgeon General’s Warning flashing on the screen every time we turn it on:


I think Carl Orff would have agreed that the most important contribution his work can make is not to figure out how to create new works with electronic technology, but to create an unplugged environment where children can learn and develop the mysteries of their own bodies, minds, hearts and imagination in a living community.

Happy birthday, Carl Orff. Would you like an i-Pad for a present?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Mr. Goodkin. This is the best blog post I have ever read. I love the Schulwerk. I love that it is elemental and organic. Humans need organic, not machines. Thank you.


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