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.
My poor health recovered, I tested negative for The Virus, and the Spring Concert was a smashing success. I managed to get back to work Wednesday, giving me time to build—for the first time since the 2019 Christmas Concert—my Frankenstein’s Monster sound system, rehearse my students, and wire up a ton of microphones, amps, keyboards, and the like.
After every big concert, I spend part of a class period conducting a “concert postmortem,” my pet term for reviewing the highs and lows of the previous night. It’s a good opportunity to discuss elements that could be improved for the next concert, but also to allow the students to bask in the glory of their performance a little longer.
Not surprisingly, this process tends to work better with high school students, who have developed politeness filters and know how to phrase suggestions diplomatically. They’re also veterans, so they understand better the realities of live performance, and don’t have unrealistic expectations. Middle school students tend to either be over-awed by the experience (one student Thursday evening exclaimed, “That was awesome!”) or very critical of small errors. That’s why we frame these discussions as “constructive criticism,” which helps the students understand the purpose is to build each other up and point out areas where we can all improve.
Regardless, I’m letting readers in on that process a bit with a general “concert postmortem,” including our finalized set list.
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.
Last week was an exceptionally busy one for yours portly, with a number of duties and responsibilities intersecting at once. I’m sure many readers have noticed this phenomenon, but there is a decidedly cyclical nature to workflow; indeed, it’s almost tidal in the manner it ebbs and flows: I can go for two or three weeks enjoying a fairly placid schedule, only to have a couple of weeks of intense activity. Everything seems to come to a head at the same time.
That’s particularly true in education, a field that is structurally cyclical, with regular intervals of heightened activity baked into the calendar. The third quarter ended Friday, marking the beginning of the end of the school year (fourth quarter—that last, mad dash to summer vacation—starts today). That means last week was a flurry of finalizing grades and writing report card comments.
My school requires unique, individualized comments for every student, and though we teach (on average) fewer students than the typical public school teacher, we’re expected to go above and beyond. Because my colleagues and I were scolded as a group for comments deemed inadequate (for the record, I always write exceptional comments), I decided to double-down and write even more ridiculously detailed comments. Our registrar read through them Friday morning (after I worked furiously and late into the night Thursday to finish them before the weekend) and said, “I felt like I was reading a novella.” Mission accomplished.
That’s all to say that I’m very tired, so I thought this Monday would be a good opportunity to offer some brief updates.
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.