Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Get It Right the First Time

"It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men & women..."
                                           -       Frederick Douglass

It’s the first day of school and I’m not there. A miscommunication with the starting date had me double-booked with my annual Orff Course in Toronto and I found out too late to change. Feels terrible to not be part of our glorious opening ceremony, but these things happen. I know my colleagues will carry on the festivities just fine without me and working with 30 Canadian, American and Australian teachers who will impact thousands of kids feels like the right choice given the circumstance.

But still it’s strange not to play my bagpipe while the kids gather and send them through the tunnel of singing teachers and help lead the gong ringing and water ritual and play Side by Side on the piano. I did get someone to cover for me at the end-of-the-first-day staff gathering and say my ritual toast: “1 down, 174 to go.”

I’m joking, of course. The school year had never been something to get through. It’s a privilege and a delight to get to spend my days with joyful and quirky children and inspired and dedicated colleagues, one of whom is my daughter. It will be my first year of my 42 at school with my wife permanently gone in her new retirement and that will be a change. I am now officially in front of the line as the school elder and though the little kids still call me “Dougie” and my voice has no more official weight than the new person just hired, I take it seriously that I am both a keeper of tradition and initiator of innovation.

Four new Interns from Finland, Spain, Australia and Chicago will be with Sofia, James and I to witness the daily miracles in the music class and that will be a pleasure. With two of my best years of teaching recently behind me, I’m hoping that I’ll still be standing on the surfboard riding the glorious wave formed from over four decades of cultivating a musical community. The talk all around me is of retirement and for the first time, I’m considering that I should just name a date and close the door while everything is working so well so that other doors might open. Went to a high-level jazz jam session last night here in Toronto and thought I held my own and wouldn’t that be an interesting world to explore more deeply.

Meanwhile, I’ve never been more convinced that education in the deepest sense of that word is our only hope on this fragile planet. We can’t control what happens in families nor the gene pool nor the political scene beyond our vote and concerned voice. But school, a place the children have to show up in by law, is an extraordinary opportunity to create the change we want to see in the world, a chance to get right what we keep on getting wrong. We mostly squander it with tests and tired routines and the next fly-by-night-latest-and-greatest educational gimmick, but with some inspired models, the motivation to try harder and the feedback of children who are getting what they need, at least some teachers and schools might take this opportunity seriously. I’ve often said that it’s easier to get it right the first time than try to fix it the second and third. And more economically sound—schools are cheaper than prisons. I recently discovered that Frederick Douglass already voiced that same thought before me.

So at the start of the school year, it’s worth voicing again. 

             "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men & women..."

Happy first day, San Francisco School! See you next Tuesday!

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