In Memoriam: A Triple Obituary

In lieu of Supporting Friends Friday, I’ve decided to dedicate this Friday’s post to the memories of three great men that left us in the past week.  One was a beloved funnyman; the second an influential public intellectual; the third a former colleague’s husband.

That order is not indicative of a ranking by significance or importance, to be clear.  As I noted, I consider all three of these gentleman to be great men.  Each contributed something to the world in their own way.

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Virtual Learning Day Review

After a glorious Labor Day weekend and a scenic drive, my school opted to hold a virtual learning rehearsal day, intoning the usual incantation of “out of an abundance of caution” due to the possibility of holiday-related viral spread.  The decision to do a day of virtual learning also came with the insistent emphasis that we are not planning on going to virtual or distance learning on a long-term basis, but merely wanted to practice in order to prepare for the worst.

Thank goodness!  While I very much appreciated the more relaxed pace of the day—and by extension the cancellation of Back-to-School Night—I was also reminded of the shortcomings of distance learning.

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SubscribeStar Saturday: Educational Tyranny

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

Apologies to readers for the delayed post.  After a long but productive week and a drive to Athens—not to mention a late-night dose of NyQuil—I’m getting a late start on this post.

Education is a field that tends towards authoritarianism and centralization, especially when faced with a major problem outside of its usual scope.  The field’s emphasis on safety—understandable given that teachers and administrators work with children—can become, in certain circumstances, pathological.

Schools, especially public schools, sit at the uncomfortable nexus of politics, liability, and conformity.  Various political schemes to improve education often backfire, instead creating onerous additional tasks that rank-and-file faculty shoulder.  Centralization of control at the State and federal levels, rather than aid classroom teaching, often merely force conformity on the profession, while creating unrealistic “benchmarks” that don’t align with local conditions or needs.

The ever-present fear of lawsuits reduces administrators to whimpering toadies, themselves often filled with silly pedagogical theories from bogus education programs.  Educational dogma is fully onboard with social justice foolishness, and education programs are excellent at producing dedicated Cultural Marxists and “activists,” all eager to indoctrinate students into the prevailing cult of groupthink.

Within this milieu is the tendency for professional educators to possess a bit of an authoritarian streak.  There are plenty of good teachers with an authoritative approach to both their subject matter and classroom management (the buzzword for “discipline” or control of the classroom), but some teachers and administrators relish control over their tiny little domains.  Small people ruling small fiefdoms tend to possess rather inflated senses of their own rightness and righteousness.

The Age of The Virus, then, provided the perfect conditions for justifying all manner of policies and procedures that do little to help children learn, but do a great deal to empower administrators, district offices, and the like with the pretexts for depriving students, employees, and parents of any modicum of personal and academic freedom.  The very same forces that would hawk abortions with the rallying cry of “my body, my choice” also gleefully mandate experimental mRNA vaccination regimens and literal muzzles—even for vaccinated employees!

Locally, the Darlington County School District has tied vaccination to COVID leave, an invention of the federal government that allows teachers quarantined or sick due to The Virus to receive paid COVID leave in lieu of their regular sick leave.  Per the article at the News & Press (emphasis added), “‘Some people may think this is controversial,’ Education Superintendent Tim Newman said. ‘Sometimes, you just have to take a stand for what you think is right.'”

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TBT: Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”

The new year school year is back into full swing, with this week being the first full week of classes.  Needless to say, yours portly is tired, but very much enjoying the academic year so far.

I’m teaching Pre-AP Music Appreciation again this year, so I’m excited to dive back into some of the works we discussed last year—and some new ones!  Of course, we’ve kicked the year off with a listening to “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” a favorite for introducing orchestral instruments.

My Pre-AP Music class this year is quite small—just five students—which makes for a more relaxed classroom environment.  We’re able to explore tangents as they arise (and, based on my frequent use of em dashes and parentheses, you can imagine I go off on them frequently), and generally take the time to enjoy the music, which the students seem to be doing.

I don’t have much more to add that I didn’t write a year ago.  Britten ingeniously weaves a whopping thirteen variations on a Henry Purcell theme, featuring nearly every instrument in the orchestra—including the percussion section!—in solo or soli.  Even the neglected double basses get some love with a melody of their own.

With that, here is 31 August 2020’s “Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’“:

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TBT: First Week of School in The Age of The Virus

School is back, and while I’d like to think The Age of The Virus is in its twilight death throes, the powers-that-be seem intent on foisting fearmongering variants upon us, no doubt as a pretext to strip us of more of our civil liberties.

Regardless, we’re starting back normally this year—as normally as possible—with a whopping 408 (and counting) students.  Considering we had fewer than 100 students a decade ago, that’s a pretty huge change.

Hopefully we won’t have any major outbreaks this year, as we largely avoided last school year.  We managed to get through with only a few isolated cases among students and faculty, and finished up with life largely back to normal in the final two months of the year.

It’s interesting looking back to the beginning of last school year and seeing how the year progressed.  The fiasco of using Loom lasted about two weeks for yours portly; I quickly reverted to using the desktop version of Google Meet to record my lectures.

I’m also relieved that I won’t be livestreaming classes anymore.  I don’t have anything to hide; it’s just a huge hassle getting online kids logged in, much less engaged.  There’d frequently be times when I was ten minutes into class and a student would log in after being marked absent; sometimes I wouldn’t catch that the student had entered class, and the student would then complain about the absence.

More frequently, students would log in the moment I’d sent the attendance e-mail to the registrar, so I’d have to resend the e-mail.  Sometimes the registrar wouldn’t see that second e-mail, and I’d get a call in the middle of class asking if the “missing” student had logged into class.

Those were minor issues when compared to bigger problems with the online platform—students suddenly switching to distance learning on test days, for example—but still headaches.  It probably cost a good five-to-ten minutes of class time just to take attendance.

Well, here’s to the normal amount of craziness and bureaucratic overreach of the typical school year.  With that, here is 28 August 2020’s “First Week of School in The Age of The Virus“:

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Back to School 2021

Well, after starting back to work Monday a week ago, we’re finally back at school today.  We’re one of the latest schools to start back in our area—my county’s school district started back classes last Monday, and Florence County schools resumed on 2 August 2021—but it still seems too soon.  The Florence start date seems insanely early as far as I am concerned, but they’re transitioning to a semi-year-round model, in which the students will get a week off in October and February, as well as some other juicy breaks.

Of course, any time off is never quite enough, is it?  I often find myself thinking, “if I only had one more weekend to finish this up” or “I really need another week of break so I can work on writing.”  That said, during the peak of The Age of The Virus in 2020, when I had virtually limitless free time, I didn’t complete any of the big projects I had set aside for myself.  That puts to the lie the idea that more time necessarily means getting more done.

Indeed, I often find that I am more productive when working against a deadline.  As I’ve gotten older and more experienced—albeit not much wiser—I’ve learned to plan ahead, and to churn out a great deal of work in long stretches of focus, in order to save me some time later.  That’s a necessity with my crazy schedule, and helps keep me from getting caught flat-footed by some unanticipated deadline or task too often.

Regardless, school is starting back today, and things are (mostly) back to normal—no more remote learning, no students tuning in from their cars or bedrooms to class, no more mandatory masks (again, mostly) [update:  we have received word that we are starting the year with masks—nooooo!].  I’m hoping it’s going to be a normal-ish academic year.

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End-of-the-School-Year Reflections: Returning to Normal

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.

We began this school year with a mix of online and in-person students, with most students attending in-person.  We had a plethora of new policies to enforce, such as one-way traffic in hallways (that quickly collapsed), mask-wearing, and social distancing.  Of those three, mask-wearing was pretty much the only one that really stuck the entire year, until Governor McMaster blessedly issued his executive order last week allowing students to opt-out of wearing masks.

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.

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Learning by Doing: Teaching Guitar

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.

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Brief Monday Morning Update

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.

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