Education, in general, is a tough business to be in these days. Across the country teachers are being laid off, school systems are folding, and test scores are doing a nose dive to the bottom. News companies like CNN and MSNBC are even reporting how far behind our country is in education world-wide. Yes, it’s a mess, but what are we to do about it? What are we doing wrong? This can be debated all day long, but if we can hone in on a few things I think we can help light the wild fire of change we need so much in our education systems. One of those things, in my opinion, is linking education with things we are familiar with, or things we like to do.
As a Music Education major in my undergrad, I spent a good amount of time studying Orff Schulwerk. What is Orff Schulwerk, you ask? Well, by definition it’s a way to teach and learn music, which is based on things children like to do, like sing, chant rhymes, clap, etc. The key phrase in that definition is “things children like to do”. I know, I know – everything in life isn’t fun and games, and we have to do and be involved in things we don’t enjoy sometimes, but Orff had it right when he took something fun and understandable for children and turned it into a teaching mechanism. In my elementary school years I was an Orff student, and I attribute those lessons to not only my love of music, but my critical thinking skills, and ability to function in society.
On my visit to Memphis last weekend I met a girl on the shuttle to the airport who noticed my bassoon. She is also a musician (violist). We got into a conversation about the music program at her undergraduate school (I’ll remain nameless, but it’s very prestigious) and she said that the focus was very “academic” and not “artful” or “performance-based”. Personally, I think the music at this school is good, but I’m not at all surprised by what she said. Music doesn’t exist in books or even on paper – it exists in time and space. Why wouldn’t we, as educators, want to focus more on the “stuff” of music, as opposed to the nuts and bolts, so to speak?
Now the next thing out of everyone’s mouth when I say things like this is “Garrett, Music Theory is actually very important”. I agree, it is very important, but even that can be taught and enjoyed in a way that focuses on the music and ties in with familiar territory. Yesterday my theory class had a sub, and he was SO good at applying the information. For example, if I tell you that in music, Bar Form is a form in which each stanza follows the pattern of AAB, you might understand, but you might not. If I tell you, as the teacher did yesterday, that our national anthem is in bar form because it has two identical phrases followed by a third, different phrase, you’d have a better shot at understanding, and remembering. He went on the play it on the piano and sang it drunkenly, as “the old British people who sang the song in their pubs would have done”, but that even added a level of comprehension, in a weird way. What this instructor did was involve the class – he didn’t just tell us, or even just show us. That’s important to note, because one of the phrases I learned from Orff Schulwerk is “Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand”.
If you’re someone who learns best by spitting out information from a book, recording, or the like, I say good for you! Unfortunately my mind doesn’t work that way, and neither do the minds of the millions of school children falling victim to poorly run schools in our country. With all that being said, don’t allow yourself to fall into the malaise – stimulate your learning by involving yourself in the subject you’re studying. Apply knowledge. Stimulate the minds of your students by applying knowledge to familiar ground. Don’t allow creativity to sit second place to a book.