Friday, September 1, 2017

Progressively Less Necessary


“The job of a teacher is to become progressively unnecessary.”

This quote from Orff’s colleague, Wilhelm Keller, speaks volumes about a kind of teaching that deserves the title “education.” When teachers understand how to give over the power of knowledge, they help create independent learners who know how to ask the next questions and know where to find possible answers. In spite of Trumplandia, where Ignorance is the new qualification to be given a job, Knowledge still wields power and kids who habitually feel powerless feel themselves grow with the muscles of knowing things and knowing how to do things and being able to do them without the teacher hovering over them.

Such was my 8th grade class today, as I gave them the tools to play a coherent jazz-style 12-bar blues in three 45-minute lessons (that process summarized in my book All Blues should anyone be interested.) Step-by-step I led them down the garden path of the blues as an expressive medium, complete with drums, bass, blues chords, blues scales, form, structure, orchestration and improvisation. Near the end of class, I walked to the door and proclaimed: “Well, I think I’ll take a break. You don’t really need me anymore.” I counted them in with a “1-2-You know what to do!” and left the room. And they did know what to do and they did it and I heard it from out in the hall and it sounded good enough that the Spanish teacher walking by stopped in his tracks to peer inside and was amazed to see the kids playing without me.

So Wilhelm Keller would be proud. But you may note I borrowed his phrase for the title, but changed it. Because once you are indebted to a teacher for teaching you what you needed to know and you now can continue in his or her absence, I don’t believe they become entirely unnecessary. Chances are they still have things to teach you because they’ve been further down the path and when that moment comes when you’re walking authentically side-by-side or even ahead of your teacher or down a side path they never explored, I believe you still should keep them in your heart and because they were necessary to who you are becoming or who you have become, they still are necessary in a different form. I have many teachers who have come to my workshops like the one I’m giving tomorrow over the years and a fair number stopped coming because they got what they got and that’s fine. And some keep coming because it just feels good to keep company with the person and situation that helped move them along many years back. And that’s fine too.

So September began with that 8th grade Declaration of Independence, one that I helped create and signed. And it was good.

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