My school administrator told me he just came back from an Education Conference where they were discussing “the latest and greatest in education” and my unspoken response was “Uh-oh.” Because often that means one of three things:
1) The latest technological gizmo
2) The latest packaged deal filled with educational jargon and 26 steps to memorize (and then promptly forget).
3) The latest bandwagon on which we feel compelled to jump that changes schedules, programs, salaried employees, makes us distrust our own hard-earned wisdom of what we know actually works with children and then fades away until the next bandwagon drives by.
Meanwhile, in the glorious countryside of the Carmel Valley with Spring on the loose and wildflowers a-bloom, I went to our once-every-two-years Orff Mini-conference Retreat led by six strong, vibrant, musical, fun and loving women teachers presenting the music from their home cultures of Iceland, Norway and Finland. They’ve jumped into the 21stcentury with a book that’s entirely on a Website with free material complete with scores, videos, class plan suggestions. And yet, their actual workshops were not looking at the screen, but being wholly present in the body in a circle, making artistic, sensual, imaginative and musical connections with ourselves and with each other. They taught with the whole of their bodily musical presence, with eye-contact, movement and smiles and offered material born from the soil of their cultures so that you could feel their ancestors singing through them. The primary technologies were our speaking, singing voices, our clapping hands and stamping feet, our blended sounds and movements. The materials used included wood, metal and skin instruments, paints, paper, sticks, wildflowers. In short, the real deal.
The real “back to the basics” means back to the elemental, primary experience of this life on this living earth. Discovering the miracles the human body, voice and mind is capable of before extending it and transmitting it out further with electronic assistance. The real latest and greatest is simply remembering the miracles that lie at our feet and our vast, unbounded imaginative potential at our fingertips. And the reminder that you don’t have to go to Africa to repair our fragmented, broken, disconnected, alienated selves. It’s available equally with different colors and sounds and inflections in Scandinavia and indeed, in every spot on this wide and varied planet where people attend to the gifts their ancestors bequeathed them. That’s the kind of conference that indeed is worthy and can make a profound difference in the lives of young children.
Thanks to the teachers, the students, the organizers, the host setting, the wildflowers and the weather for the reminder. (Those curious about these women’s work can go to www.nordicsounds. But only after you’ve gone out and hugged a tree.)