In the waning years of the Obama Administration, a strident new form of race hustling emerged. Combining elements of identity politics, Foucaultean power dynamics, Cultural Marxism, and Nineties-style corporate diversity training, Critical Race Theory (CRT) emerged as a powerful ideological bludgeon with which to batter anyone with the audacity to be white.
At its core, CRT proposes a simple thesis: any person of color, in any material or spiritual condition, is automatically oppressed compared to white people, because white people benefit from inherent privilege due to their whiteness. Alternatively, black and brown people face systemic racism—racism present in the very structure of the West’s various institutions—so even when not facing overt acts of racism, they are still suffering from racism nonetheless. The source of white people’s “privilege” is that systemic racism benefits them at the expense of black people.
The problem is easy to spot: any personal accountability is jettisoned in favor of group identities, so any personal setbacks for a darker-skinned individual are not the result of that individual’s agency, but rather the outcome of sinister, invisible forces at play within society’s institutions themselves. Similarly, any success on the part of a lighter-skinned individual is due to the privilege that individual enjoys.
About fourteen months ago The Before Times ended, ushering in The Age of The Virus. On 16 March 2021, my little school transitioned to distance learning, and like other schools in South Carolina, we finished the year online.
With Awards Day today and graduation just eight days away (next week is Exam Week, so it will be a much lighter week than most for yours portly), it seemed appropriate to review this highly unusual school year, and to reflect upon how it went, and what the long-term implications of it will be.
One of the truest statements I’ve ever heard is “if you want to learn something, teach it.” Much of my teaching career has been built upon that premise, and it’s stretched my mind and talents far beyond what I thought I was capable of achieving.
A young education major at the local liberal arts college once told me that it’s unethical to learn on the job when teaching. As I recall, I laughed in his face, and said, “Kid, the only way to learn how to teach is by learning on the job.” No one knows everything, especially educators (why do you think we became teachers?).
That’s certainly been the case with teaching guitar. I’d always struggled to wrap my mind (and hands) around string instruments, and while I picked up bass (one note at a time is much easier than six), I assumed I’d never be able to play guitar. Indeed, I’m still not very good at playing guitar, and would not consider myself a “guitar player.”
What I discovered is that as I taught guitar lessons—often fumblingly so initially—I was learning to play guitar.
Every spring my school sponsors a big fine arts festival, a weekend dedicated to celebrating and showcasing our talented students. The weekend includes two nights of our drama students performing whatever play or musical they’re presenting that season, as well as an exhibit of student artwork.
The first night, however, is the big Spring Concert. After the dance students share some pieces, my student-musicians take the stage for their one big night of the semester.
The Spring Concert is like the Super Bowl for these kids: it’s the biggest stage most of them will take during the academic year (though several of my students gig with bands and ensembles outside of school), and the one time they really get to soak up the spotlight. The goal of my music classes is to put on good performances, not to seek fame, but the kids deserve some accolades and kudos. Besides, a big part of music is being able to share it with other people.
With the Spring Concert about six weeks away, my students and I sat down this week to begin programming the concert. Programming a concert is part science, but also an art; it requires a certain “feel” for the pieces, and how those disparate pieces link together to create a cohesive, exciting whole.
Well, here it is—the week of Christmas, and the beginning of my glorious, two-week Christmas break. If this blog post feels a bit like I’m rubbing in readers’ faces the bloated excess of education’s vacation time, my apologies. I will note, though, that if you spent hours everyday as a surrogate parent to other people’s children, you, too, would want two weeks off at Christmas.
Indeed, I would argue that more professions deserve more time off at Christmastime. Naturally, I realize that many folks save up their hard-earned vacation days to do just that: enjoy a week or so with their families by the yule log, sipping eggnog and hot cocoa in their festive Cosby sweaters. What I’m advocating for, though, is a widespread cultural movement—maybe even to the point of declaring some federal holidays—in the days leading up to and/or immediately after Christmas. It always blows my mind when people work a full day—even a measly half-day—on Christmas Eve.
It’s that time of year when Christmas music dominates the airwaves and our collective consciousness. It’s always a tad irksome to me how folks will complain about Christmas music during the Christmas season. Of course you’re going to hear Mariah Carey every fifteen minutes—it comes with the territory. Naturally, let’s at least get through Halloween (and, preferably, Thanksgiving Day), but at least make an attempt at getting into the Christmas spirit.
Last year I wrote extensively about Christmas carols. Indeed, one of my many unfinished projects is to compile a small book containing the stories of some of our most cherished carols (I want to write a similar book about hymns, too). I play and sing a lot of carols this time of year: I’m a music teacher. Perennial favorites—and the selections my classes are currently playing—are “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” and “O Holy Night.”
We’re back to distance learning today after a positive case of The Virus, and since it’s the day before Thanksgiving Break—historically the biggest blow-off day of the school year—my administration decided to play it safe and declare today a distance learning day. As such, I took the assignment derived from The Story of 100 Great Composers and ported it to my high school music classes. Those classes will share about their composers today.