When all the kids in our neighborhood memorized the words to “Beat It” and “Thriller” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” I sat in front of the record player to hear “Sweet Baby James” (before James Taylor had become the staple music for grocery stores) or “It’s a Wild World” (before Cat Stevens had become a quasi-terrorist, when he was still imploring us to join peace trains). The eighties music felt too synthesized and smooth, like filtering out all the particles in a Hefeweizen. Aside from a few Police songs, I could never identify with such an artificial sound.
I once heard the back side of a Shakira cd. When her voice isn’t digitally modified, it’s shaky and unpredictable. It’s bad, really bad, but it’s also beautiful. I have an affinity for imperfect music, which is why I prefer the acoustic sound. I think Sufjan Stevens is best when he’s alone, singing a “Mistress Witch” with his banjo. It’s why I’ve always enjoyed Iron and Wine and why one of my greatest memories involved listening to Counting Crows play “Omaha” in an acoustic set. It’s why I still own Eric Clapton’s Unplugged cd.
Standardized education demands perfection. No glitches. No mistakes. No personality. In terms of classroom management, the idea is to ignore bad behavior and create an invisible system of control so that the room has the feel of a pop chart Top 40. It should feel smooth, organized, slightly boring but inoffensive. It should sound like the post-mixing Shakira. Everything from instruction to behavior should be uniform and standardized. The executive makes the ultimate decision, not on the merit of the art, but upon the science of the data.
When I think of leading a classroom, I want it all acoustic. I want to hear the glitches and mistakes and be authentic enough to apologize when I led us off on the wrong key. I want an honest dialogue, where I am not censoring the instruments, but rather learning to play a tune together in a relationship. Some kid might bring in the mandolin or the french horn and in the beginnign I’m thinking, “How’s this going to work?” Yet, in the end, we are changed because of it. From the initial songwriting to the final product, I need collaboration. It’s why I have a Student Leadership Team that helps plan lessons and I do surveys at the end of units.
When things are working best in my room, it feels real and open and harmonious without feeling mixed and dubbed and synethesized.
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