SubscribeStar Saturday: The State of Education Update II

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Spring Break is drawing to a close, with a four-week-ish slog to the relative freedom of summer vacation, when I go from being a stressed-out ball of blubber persisting on processed foods and frozen pizza to living like a chubby retiree.  As such, it seemed like an opportune time to look at the state of education in the United States.

As I wrote this morning, lately I’ve been listening to quite a bit of the ideas of “unschooling” advocate John Taylor Gatto.  Some of his views on adolescence (he says there really isn’t one, and that childhood essentially ends around the age seven) are pretty radical, though they aren’t without historical precedent, but for the most part, I find myself in agreement with assessment of the modern educational-industrial complex.

The first JTG video I watched/listened to

In essence, Gatto (should I call him “JTG”?) argues—and supports, with ample primary source research—that the modern system of “warehouse” schooling is not a proper education at all, but rather a massive system for indoctrinating students into compliance and mass conformity.  He argues that little real “education” takes place inside of schools, and that a genuine education comes from within the student himself.  In other words, all of the world is a “classroom” and everyone in it a “teacher” to the open learner.  An elite, private or boarding school education is available to anyone, Gatto contends, for free.

Gatto famously quit after a long, celebrated career in New York City public schools in a letter to The Wall Street Journal entitled “I Quit, I Think” (note that the title has two possible meanings:  the first, obvious one is the note of uncertainty the added “I Think” carries; the second one is the subtle implication that because “I Think,” I (Gatto) must quit).  In short, Gatto came to believe that what he had been doing for years was actually harming students, rather than improving their lives.

Talk about a heavy epiphany.

To read the rest of this post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.

Concert Time!

Tonight my students have their big Spring Concert.  It’s one of the two busiest days of my year (the other being the Christmas Concert), as there is much to be done to prepare.

The students are well-rehearsed and ready to play.  Today will be spend putting instruments on stage, and making sure everything is mic’d up properly.  That’s not difficult to do, per se, but it is quite time-consuming.

There are also a million little details to get sorted:  making sure extra copies of music are run off; ensuring that cables are taped down or covered to prevent tripping; checking the sound levels; making sure students know how to get on and off the stage efficiently; etc.  It’s a lot to do, but the payoff is worth it.

Read More »

TBT: Memorable Monday II: Monday Steakhouse Blues

As I wrote yesterday, today I’m taking my students to a music festival, where they will play and sing solo selections for judges.  They get a score based on their performance, as well as useful feedback from the judges about tone, pitch, articulation, musicality, and the rest.  It’s a very fun day, but also a very busy one.

As I noted in yesterday’s post, it always seems to coincide with one of the busiest seasons of the year, when time constrains are at their most stringent and intense.  Almost everyone reading this blog understands there is an ebbing and flowing to life:  you might enjoy one (even two!) weeks of routine, maybe even a bit of a lighter schedule than usual.

Then—BAM!—everything comes due, breaks, and goes haywire at once.  As my friend and regular reader Barnard Fife once told me, “trouble is like grapes:  it comes in bunches.”  Amen, BF.

The original post behind this threat, “Monday Steakhouse Blues,” was written at a particularly tough time for yours portly.  I found myself without Internet and putting in very long hours (and this was well before I had twenty-ish students for private lessons).  I spent a weary Monday evening eating steak at Western Sizzlin’ and writing a blog post on my phone.  The steak was good, but everything else at the time was pretty miserable.

Thank God for better organization, a greater sense of perspective (this is just life, and it will pass), and for 10 milligrams of citalopram every morning.  Gotta be thankful for the little things.

The “Memorable Monday” version of this post, which I have also reblogged below, went live the week before everything in South Carolina shut down due to the dawning of The Age of The Virus.  In other words, it was the last week of The Before Times, in The Long, Long Ago.  There are many things I miss about The Before Times, but a silver-lining of The Age of The Virus was that it saved me from the intense burnout I was experiencing at the time.

With that, here is 9 March 2020’s “Memorable Monday II: Monday Steakhouse Blues” (on a Thursday!):

Read More »

Midweek March Update

Yep, Portly readers:  it’s one of those blog posts:  a general update on the latest with yours portly because I’m out of both ideas and energy.  Sure, I should be writing about the war in the Ukraine or something important like that (instead of silly paintings and piano pieces), but, again—I’m more low-energy than JEB! at the moment.  Or, at the very least, my pantheric intensity has to be focused towards more pressing matters than this humble blog.

Early March is always a time when everything comes to a head at once.  Last week was the final week of third quarter, and was chock-a-block with various school events.  That saw me scrambling around all over campus during my precious planning periods performing various feats of technical wizardry (but all of the standard hedge-mage variety; the really powerful audio/visual spells won’t be cast for another month).  Incredibly, I managed to record all of Péchés d’âge moyen last week (give it a listen if you haven’t already—it’s less then seven minutes to listen to the entire album!).

Naturally, that meant a backlog of grading and comment-writing for report cards, which had to be completed over the weekend.  I’m grateful to Pontiac Dream 39/Always a Kid for Today for his movie review Monday, because that saved me some valuable time Sunday (it’s also an excellent review—you should go read it!).

Read More »

TBT: Phone it in Friday VI: Valentine’s Day

Well, it’s not quite Valentine’s Day yet, but I thought it would be worth looking back to 2020’s Valentine’s Day post, which was mostly a collection of various blog posts and reflections on the holiday.

I’m still wondering how Jay Nordlinger gets to travel the world writing pithy little observations about violin concertos and the like.  How do I position myself to take his place when he finally retires or kicks the bucket?  Who else is going to critique all those free concerts in Vienna?

But I digress.  The Season of Love is upon us, and I suspect restaurants will be packed this weekend with lovers canoodling over their cannoli (or, in the case of the high number of breakups on Valentine’s Day than average, crying into their kishka).  Sounds like another weekend of frozen pizza and spaghetti for yours portly.

So, here’s some great stuff from better writers to celebrate your Valentine’s Day Weekend.  It’s 14 February 2020’s “Phone it in Friday VI: Valentine’s Day“:

Read More »

Christmas Concert Preparations

My apologies to readers who are used to waking up to a fresh Portly post in their inboxes, ready to enjoy over a hot cup of coffee at 6:30 AM.  Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been working pretty much nonstop.  Since probably 2009, when I started my two-year stint as the Cultural Coordinator at the Sumter Opera House in Sumter, South Carolina, the first half of December has been a brutal yuletide slog for yours portly.

Christmas 2010 was particularly grueling, with an event at the Opera House every night for the first two weeks of the month, including outdoor music on weekends for the City’s Festival of Lights.  I was so stressed that I developed a painful sore on the roof of my mouth, which made it unpleasant to eat anything but the softest of foods.  That was an unintentional blessing, as it kicked off my 2011 Weight Loss Odyssey, a journey during which I shed a whopping 110 pounds in about eleven months.  Even in extreme stress, there are hidden blessings.

Regardless, my Christmastimes for the past decade have been jam-packed with events.  That’s not always a bad thing:  I like keeping busy, and Christmas gigs can be very lucrative (about four years ago I played a bank Christmas party while suffering from a gnarly head cold, but a steady supply of cough drops and water got me through to the $300 reward on the other side).  There is one event that looms over all others this time every year, though, one that I paradoxically love and dread:  the annual school Christmas concert.

Read More »

TBT: Singing Christmas Carols with Kids

December is here, and that means it’s time for Christmas music!  My students and I are prepping for our annual Christmas concert—back after The Age of The Virus—and have been playing and singing quite a bit of Christmas music.

Indeed, my Music Club—a club designed to get students involved in playing and performing music who, for whatever reason, could not get a music class fit into their schedules—met Tuesday to sing some carols, with the idea being that we will spend lunch and break periods next week caroling for the student body.

As their voices came together in sparkling purity, it reminded me of this post from last year.  We started our short rehearsal with “Silent Night,” one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, and the sweetness and fullness of it with eight or so singers really swelled my heart.  We also sang “Joy to the World,” “Away in a Manger,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and one or two others that escape me.

I once heard that singing is good for you, both physically and mentally.  Christmas carols—songs about the Birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ—surely are good for you spiritually, too.  Sing some today.

With that, here is 4 December 2020’s “Singing Christmas Carols with Kids“:

Read More »

Retro Tuesday: Thanksgiving Week!

It’s Thanksgiving Week, which means I am really going to be phoning in some posts this week.  I love writing, but even I need a break from the constant output that my insatiable readers demand.

In the original post from this thread, I spelled out my argument in favor of an entire week off for Thanksgiving, in exchange for some lesser holidays.  With districts caving to reality and giving students the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off, families have just moved the start of their break back to Tuesday, with mass absenteeism the norm the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  Indeed, many families take the entire week off.

Well, my school—and many public schools in my area—took my sage advice:  we are off for the entire week.  It’s a Thanksgiving Miracle!

However, I also predicted that, with an entire week off, the siren song of leaving for an extended vacation even earlier would be hard to resist.  I was right:  last week, we had a few students leaving town as early as Wednesday—a full eight days before the bird faces the executioner.  Whoa!  The trend only intensified Thursday and Friday.

Of course, it strains credulity to argue for any more time off.  At this point, I think it makes far more sense to increase Christmas Break than to lengthen Thanksgiving any further.

One downside to this newer, longer break:  with losing some other days earlier in the semester, everyone is completely burned out.  We teachers are not a hardy breed:  we’ve grown soft with cushy vacations.  In all seriousness, though, we get pretty worn down, as anyone would corralling and attempting to mold young minds all day.

Well, enough of that.  Now I’m enjoying the sweet life.

With that, here is 23 November 2020’s “Memorable Monday: Thanksgiving Week!“:

Read More »