I thought I was done with my thoughts on London but I have been encouraged by Geoff Baker’s comments on my last entry to return to the issue one last time. I don’t presume this will be the final word, but I’m not the type who has to have it.
It took me well over a month to write the last entry, and as is usual it went through many iterations, many drafts before I finally hit the “Publish” button. I’m neither the most prolific nor fluid of writers, and if I were to make a general criticism of my own publications, both electronic and print, it would be “olet lucernam.” Much perspiration, not much inspiration (or illumination, to continue the Latin metaphor.)
Compared to the alternative, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My editing of drafts usually involves the reduction or elimination of what is often a rather caustic inspiration. This process isn’t what some would describe as self-censorship, but simply a much more pragmatic perspective on discourse. Sometimes (okay, fine, often) I choose to be polemic, but other times I’d rather try to bridge the gap to my readership.
But in the interests of making my point about the practitioner/researcher dichotomy to which Geoff Baker objected so strenuously in my last entry, I’d like to offer here some paralipomena I cut from the final draft. I’ve since changed my mind as to its relevance. It originally appeared after the following text:
Just because you’re doing hip hop music with your black students doesn’t mean you’re culturally appropriate. Just because you’re teaching folk music doesn’t mean you’re anti-colonial. Just because you’re leading facilitated improvisation with an ensemble doesn’t mean you’re empowering its membership.
And just because you’ve written a paper critiquing an educational system does not make you a progressive educator. At the conference, a recurring meta-issue of which I think most attendees were blissfully unaware was the enormous gulf between their ivory tower theories and real world exigencies of practice. Academics seem to think that having identified a problem, and provided some context and enough quotes from other like-minded academics in support of their position, that they have discharged their duty (see this note about the drummer at the ISME Conference in Porto Alegre in 2014, for instance.) But the disconnection was driven home by the near-universal belief amongst those presenting that it was enough to hold up a stack of A4 and read an academic essay line by line to present their thinking.
We’re supposed to be educators, people. So what if this is the norm or the tradition in academia, where “reading a paper” means literally reading the paper? The starting point of all research and innovation is the thoughtful challenging of assumptions. Whatever I’m doing, can it be done better? Must I use these particular tools, or are there others that would produce the desired result better and faster? Is the desired result in fact desirable, or is that outcome being pursued only because of a failure to envision something more? Academia demands this be applied to everything. Everything except itself, apparently. It was bizarre, if not surreal, to watch speakers decry the controlling, conforming qualities of the orchestra and classical music while in the same instance demanding those precise same traits of their audience. In the context of a conference devoted to “the better ways” this wasn’t just irony, but hypocrisy: not of the malicious ilk but the even more disturbing clueless variety.
The underlying rationale behind all academic formats, print or spoken, is to place the emphasis on content. Delivery has trumped substance all too often in the Sistema sphere, but to deny it any role is a tacit acceptance of the worst failures and abuses of our own education systems. Venezuela’s el Sistema by its own explicit admission looks to the emblems of Western Europe culture, like the Berlin Philharmonic, for its pedagogical and artistic direction. If we change our own practice, we may well change theirs. And before I go telling the Berlin Philharmonic to change their practice, I’m going to change my own.
I researched my materials for London quite carefully, as is my wont. But I also spent a significant amount of time developing and rehearsing a presentation that I hoped would be engaging to both ear and eye even if it still fell into the model of talker/listener. There are limits to what can be achieved in any space and within any context, I’ll be the first to admit. But one month later in Rotterdam, at the Classical:NEXT industry event, I was able to put my money precisely where my mouth is and facilitate a session on social learning that was built around social learning. It can be done, and if I ever catch up on this blog I’ll tell you about it in detail. But the point remains: if you have a vision for education, music or otherwise, live it first.