It's surprisingly difficult to reconcile work that engages every student's passions with work that leads to outcomes that are meaningful on a scale that goes beyond students and their families.
Here's what I mean by that: if students are doing a project that connects with what is meaningful to them personally, everyone will be doing their own project. I'm a big fan of this, and kids still work collaboratively when they do this, because they critique each other's work.
What this work lacks is scale - when everyone's doing their own thing, you can't so something like run a big science experiment. If you're doing meaningful, cutting-edge science, you need everyone working on what they're commissioned to work on. This means that you're going to be doing work that doesn't resonate with everybody - or rather, you might be able to find a piece of the project that resonates with everybody, but there will be a lot of work that people need to do that they don't find innately interesting. This applies equally to teacher-led and student-led projects: even if you are doing a large-scale science project that's student-driven, it will only work if it's driven by a few students, with everyone else getting on board to help realize their vision.
This means that you need to help individual students find their own “entry points” into a project that will make it meaningful to them.
There are moments (such as the project launch and the exhibition) where every student gets pumped up and joins in for pretty much the same reasons, and it feels good to be working as one big group. But full-group enthusiasm is ephemeral. It doesn't get you through a six-week project.
When you're talking about the project (as opposed to the project launch day), engagement is much more like trying to pass a bill through congress - every single person has their own particular interest that you need to appeal to. And the very fact that one group of people is excited about a project will be enough to make other people think "ehhh, this probably isn't my thing."
This isn't really surprising. Imagine going up to a group of fifty adults and saying "Hey, you all live in the same general vicinity, I'd like you all to work on a complex and important science experiment together, over the course of several months." It just wouldn't fly.
The extraordinary thing is the extent to which most students, most of the time, are ready to go out on a limb and give something a try, even it it's not the thing they would personally choose to do with their time.
School subjects do harm to educators' power to reason. Here's what I mean by that: imagine a school stops teaching history. There's just no class called "history" anymore. Let me guess what you're thinking about this school: its students will be intellectually malnourished. Depending on your ideological predilection, here are a few worries you might have:"they'll grow up unmoored from their heritage", "they won't learn from the mistakes of the past (for example, how can you understand the potential implications of this political moment without knowing about Germany in the 1930s? And how can you understand Black Lives Matter if you don't know about the Civil Rights movement?)", "without turning a critical lens on the stories we tell ourselves about the past, students won't be able to understand the power structures that undergird all contemporary discourse."
OK, I share all these concerns. But here's a thought experiment: let's say that in every school across the United States, all students took a class called Philosophy. In it, students learned about the fundamental principles of argument, and the various attempts across the millenia to create a coherent theory of justice, of judging right and wrong, and (more recently) of fundamental rights. They learned the mechanics of argument and logic. Now imagine that the schools decide to stop teaching philosophy, an replace it with history. Wouldn't that seem like a catastrophic loss to these fictional educators?
One explanation for our attachment to our current slate of school subjects is what behavior economists call the "endowment effect", by which people tend to overvalue what they own ("overvalue" in the sense that people tend to want more money for things they already own than other people are willing to pay).
In the case of school subjects, we fear what we would lose by getting rid of a subject. But this fear implies something totally inaccurate: it implies that there is a really good reason that we teach the set of subjects that we teach. But if you consider the skills and knowledge that you need as an adult right now (let alone what we might need in the future) it's obvious that English, History, Pure Math, Physics, Biology, and Chemistry are an odd set of categories to build an education around. And I'm not making an instrumentalist "we should be educating people for the careers of today" argument here. Rather, I think this is a weird list of subjects for ANY POSSIBLE desired educational outcome. The only outcome it fulfills is "to become an educated person according to the current definition" and arguing for the current list of subjects on that basis is (as we'd all know if we'd taken philosophy in school) circular reasoning.
Here's what I think: subjects are a weird way to organize school. If we were creating the concept of "school" now, there's no way we would use them as an organizing principle, because they aren't a good way to organize learning. They are, in fact, a "folder" system, and what we need is a "tag" system.
The "folder" system was, until recently, the only way to organize information: when I was growing up, information was mostly stored on paper, and sorted in folders. Because organizational structures tend to outlive their usefulness (sound familiar?), most computers still use folders to organize information.
This is not optimal - documents do not have only one characteristic and if I'm trying to file an interesting article that argues that you can learn a lot about the 2016 presidential election by studying the fight over Title Nine in universities, what folder should it go in? "Political Analysis?" "Current Events?" "Women's Rights?" "Sports?" "Higher Education?" "Argumentative Writing?" It depends on what I want to use it for - and what I want to use it for will vary from semester to semester.
Because of this, computers increasingly (though not as quickly as I would like) organize files by tagging rather than by folders. That article about Title 9 can only go into one folder, but I can give it as many tags as I want.
Education should have a tagging system. If students are learning through interdisciplinary projects, it's easy to identify what they are and aren't learning in each project - which means it would be easy to give it "tags". Over the course of the year, these tags would make it easy to see what skills and information a student had been taught, and what they hadn't (and if these tags connected to assessment - for example through portfolios and Presentations of Learning, you'd be able to see what the student had actually LEARNED which is a lot more important than what they've been "taught").
So let's ditch "subjects" as an organizing principle - they make us think in terms of what's taught rather than what's learned, and they reinforce the endowment effect in totally unhelpful ways.
For more on "subjects", check out "Changing the Subject" by Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan, which Andrew Gloag turned into an animation narrated by Larry.
Came up with these a couple of days ago.
We're approaching the final week of the Mad Props Project, students have recorded a lot of tape and are starting to record narration, and today most (but not all) of the computers stopped recognizing one of the yetis (those are mics, for the uninitiated) and at least one computer appeared to have stopped recognizing all of the yetis.
So I have some observations and thoughts about the technical aspects of recording with students.
1. The existential nightmare of the unrecognized device
Two different yetis are now in some state of non-functionality. One (donated, which means trying to claim warranty will be complicated) just stopped responding entirely. The light on the mute button that indicates that the Yeti is alive and communicating just doesn't come on. I've tried different cords, different USB ports, different laptops, and both mac and PC and I'm getting nothing. No idea what to do about that (and the internet hasn't been forthcoming either).
The second problem yeti plugs in, lights up, and then doesn't register with the computer, which (I eventually realized) acknowledges its existence on a not-immediately-obvious window as an "unrecognized USB device" (or something like that), but refuses to go any further. A former student checked it with all the PC laptops and found that it worked with exactly two laptops.
I'm hoping our IT guy will be able to solve this, but I sure can't, and it raises an interesting issue: updates get pushed out to our laptops from IT central, and even our IT guy doesn't know when they'll come or what exactly they'll do, so it's possible that an update led these laptops to lose whatever driver they need in order to recognize the Yeti (I don't really understand PCs). So what this means, I now realize, is that any hardware that plugs directly into a school laptop is at the mercy of whatever changes in the world of school IT. Now, I suspect that if, say, a new Mac operating system rendered the yeti non-functional, it would be the first thing you read about when you googled "Blue Yeti", and Yeti would be scrambling to tell us all how to fix it. But HTHCV upgrades don't get the same kind of press, so I'm adrift.
2. The delicate flower that is the mini-usb cable
The yeti is a USB mic. It has a mini-USB port in its base, and then plugs into the USB port on a computer. The mic itself is attached to the base in such a way that you can rock it back and forth - and, without much difficulty, guillotine the mini-USB cable, bending or even shearing off its head so it ends up looking like this:
This has happened A LOT to our students. To be honest, I've nearly done it myself. I'm going to go out on a limb and call it a design flaw.
3. Punk Rock PBL vs. Equipment
I want to share my favorite quote about education, which comes from the song "Try this at Home" by Frank Turner:
The only thing that punk rock should ever really mean
is not sitting 'round and waiting for the lights to go green.
What I love most about being a project-based teacher is when kids make a project their own, and start figuring out their own solutions and workarounds. So, for example, since this project started students have asked if they can go find a quiet room to record, left with a mic, got permission from another teacher to use an empty room, and recorded. Last week, two students who'd secured an interview with someone on the east coast interviewed her by huddling together outside the door of the school, using a telephone mic. The audio from that won't be pristine, but they looked around, decided outside was better for background noise than in, and got it done. I don't think there's any better sign that a project is "working" than students DIYing solutions like this.
The downside is that stuff gets broken. Now, had I declared that my makeshift office studio, with its one mic and "studio-in-a-box" sound insulator, was the only place anyone could do interviews or record narration, I could probably safeguard my equipment better. I also would have lost a huge amount of time, because only one group would ever have been recording at a time.
I was thinking about this a lot today, because throughout this project my feeling has been "students just need to treat the yetis really carefully, and every busted usb cable is a sign of their shortcomings (and therefore of mine, as a teacher, for failing to make them conscientious). But take a moment to consider the following: which do I want to cultivate more in my students - a punk-rock 'I can figure this out for myself' attitude, or a careful and tentative approach to using equipment? Obviously, I want them to be punk rock about this.*
4. Let's hear it for XLR
And once I realized this, something else occurred to me: I'd been laboring under the assumption that USBs were the default connector of microphones. This is insane. XLR is the default connector of microphones. And how many XLR mics have I seen get knocked over onstage? How many times have I dropped my sax mic? Sooooooooooo many. And they tend to do great. So there is a durable audio technology - the industry standard. Another great thing about XLR? It doesn't require any software for a mixing board to recognize that a mic has been plugged into it.
So next year I'm planning to get a couple of XLR mics, run them to a mixer and thence into a digital recorder, and then (I think - stop me if this seems dumb) transfer files from the recorder to the squad's laptop via SD card. I'm thinking that an mp3 on a SD card is more likely to be reliably recognized by computers than a yeti is.
*Just to be clear, I think there's a separate issue about using tools properly and treating them with respect - for example, practices like holding laptops by the monitor, or absent-mindedly whipping laptops up and down in your hands while conversing with a friend so the monitor swings open and shut, are to be discouraged.
In my first year of teaching I used to have groups assign someone the role of "sergeant", whose job was to "leave no-one behind", because "a good soldier never leaves a man behind."
In other words, the Sergeant makes sure everyone is contributing to the conversation, and draws out quieter voices.
This just occurred to me.
When, as happens in PBL schools, students inform you that they already did a project that, to them, sounds similar to your project, and you can hear their frustration that they're just going to be going over old ground, the correct response is "Thank God for that. If lots of you have experience in this, that means we can make this product to a professional standard."
This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog. This post was my big moment in the sun: someone had managed to get national coverage for starting a petition demanding that students at a school stop studying The Simpsons in their Media Studies class, and focus on Shakespeare instead. Stephen Fry weighed in, and at one point tweeted the words "Well exactly" with a link to this post. Over 25,000 people read it. And now you can too:
The BBC reported today that over 400 parents at Kingsmead Community School in Somerset have signed a petition demanding that
the school's Media module stop using class and homework time to analyse The
Simpsons, and devote the newly freed-up time to studying Shakespeare. On BBC
Radio 4's Today programme this morning, parent Joseph Reynolds particularly
recommended A Midsummer Night's Dream. 'There's a time and a place for The
Simpsons,' Reynolds said, 'but it doesn't belong in the classroom.' Reynolds appears
to have a particular understanding of pedagogy, based on two commonly-held but
erroneous premises: that the main function of education is to expose students to new
things, and that education that prepares students to negotiate the day-to-day world
they'll be living in is not 'real' education. I'll look at these assumptions in turn:
Exposure is not the same as understanding
People who don't understand education often think that a teacher's job is to introduce
students to unfamiliar things. Actually, the best teachers help their students to look at
familiar things with new eyes - so physics teaches students to look at suspension
bridges in a new way, biology completely alters their understanding of saliva, and
learning about the Holocaust completely transforms what they think when someone
calls somebody else 'queer' on the playground. It's wonderful when a teacher
introduces you to something that you've never encountered before, but it's just as
wonderful when teachers turn the everyday into something rich and strange. To their
great credit, Kingsmead are standing behind their Media teachers. Assistant Head
Andy Dunnett told the BBC that 'Students are encouraged to look at the text in a
critical way. Initially it's about building up their skills as critical thinkers. They also
learn about different aspects of the media audience, visual narrative, presentation
and stereotypes, and some quite high level thinking ideas like satire, irony and
parody.' This brings me to my response to Reynolds' second assumption...
Education should prepare students for living in the world
You might think everyone feels this way, but the curriculum suggests otherwise. To give one example, most schools take it for granted that 'there's a time and a place for economics, but it's not the mathematics classroom'. So, students graduate able to measure a triangle within an inch of its life, but not to compare interest rates on mortgage offers. And they graduate able to identify a sly reference to Spanish succession in an Elizabethan play, but not to critically engage with popular media - that is to say, the billboards, posters, magazines, TV programmes, and advertisements that tell them they should buy more, lose weight, plug their sweat glands, indulge in snack foods, despise those who come to this country looking for protection from tyranny, and get angrier at benefits cheats than at tax cheats.
There's some pretty dodgy stuff in a Midsummer Night's Dream (the play's first scene
explicitly argues that if a woman falls in love with the man who kidnapped her, it's a
good thing), but kids aren't going to be encountering it every day for the rest of their
lives. William Shakespeare himself suffered the slings and arrows of the dreary
snobbery that animates Reynolds' petition - Ben Jonson alluded to this when he
interrupted his memorial poem to
Shakespeare to point out that his subject 'hadst small Latin and less Greek.'
Shakespeare got his own back most effectively in Love's Labour Lost, with the latin-
spouting buffoon Holofernes, who analyses a
contemporary love poem as follows:
You find not the apostraphas, and so miss the accent: let me supervise the canzonet. Here are only numbers ratified but, for the elegancy, facility, and golden cadence of poesy, caret. Ovidius Naso was the man: and why, indeed, Naso, but for smelling out the odouriferous flowers of fancy, the jerks of invention? Imitari is nothing: so doth the hound his master, the ape his keeper, the tired horse his rider. But, damosella virgin, was this directed to you? (IV,2,1268)
It's easy to imagine a real-life Elizabethan Holofernes petitioning a school to stop teaching Shakespeare, and teach more Ovidius Naso. 'There's a time and place for Shakespeare,' he might have said, 'but he doesn't belong in the classroom.' Shakespeare, who in his time was a contemporary writer (a fact often-forgotten by crusaders like Reynolds) vividly understood how education calcifies when it neglects what is happening NOW.
This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog:
My High School, Sherwood,
had an annual event called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival, a revue of about fifty
songs, broken up by a single intermission – played, sung, and in many cases,
arranged, by students (just shy of 200 in total, not including the ones who build the
set, and run the sound and lighting). When I first auditioned in 1995, it had been
going for 25 years. I started out (like everyone) as a backup singer, then played
saxophone in the band, and sang the lead on ‘Money (That’s What I want)’ and the
Guess Who’s ‘Shakin’ All Over’. But my favourite moment was playing the tenor sax
solo on Louis Prima’s ‘Jump Jive and Wail’ – actually, that’s not quite true. My
favourite moment – or at least the one that most sticks in my mind, was at the
beginning of the show – standing in a row with the rest of the horn section, back to
the audience, hearing the drummer’s count-off, spinning around as one (you had to
have choreography) and kicking in with the horn line, greeted by a screaming, sold-
out crowd of 1000... but I’m getting bogged down in nostalgia. It’s only since my colleague Dave
Price started talking about High Tech High that I
realised how much I owe to Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival. The title of this post is no
exaggeration. I have a PhD in English literature (and I completed it on time), and the
reason I was able to do it has more to do with Rock ‘n’ Roll revival than with any of
my High School English classes.
This isn’t a slur on my English teachers, some of whom were great – but I already loved reading critically, and writing critically, when I arrived – and the curriculum felt like it was geared towards mastering concepts that could be demonstrated in exam conditions – not a skill that I ever drew on as a PhD student.*
On the other hand, these are the skills I learned from Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival:
1. Hitting deadlines: There is absolutely no deadline like a performance: you get no chance of an extension, and no partial credit for late completion.
2. Working consistently, year-round, with no visible reward: When I was practicing saxophone in June, I wasn’t preparing SPECIFICALLY for Rock ‘n’ Roll, which wouldn’t take place until March – but I wanted to keep my chops up, and I knew I would be set back if I took a break. So I practiced all the time, whether or not I had a gig coming up. This skill is key, because when you do a PhD in the UK, you’re only assessed twice: at your upgrade viva, which happens at the end of year one, and at the final viva – when you go into a room and defend your thesis against two examiners for a few hours, at the end of which they decide whether you get a PhD or not. So if you can’t work for long stretches with no imminent deadlines, you’ll never finish. Those are the skills that applied directly to my PhD, but there are others whose significance is much wider:
3. Working in a heterogenous group: It’s no secret that when you segregate according to academic attainment, you segregate, to a large extent, by social class. This is not the case with singing and dancing – and as a result Rock ‘n’ Roll was very nearly the only time in high school that I didn’t spend surrounded by other middle- class people.
4. Working towards a publicly-validated result: I’m going to get very High-tech High here. Rock ‘n’ Roll revival is a venerable institution in Sandy Spring, Maryland: lots of people now performing in it are the children of past performers – and tickets for the six annual shows (over two weekends) sell out so quickly that many people who get in line before the box office opens leave disappointed. The upshot of all this is that I spent rehearsals terrified that I wouldn’t live up to the standards that the community expected – and I think this was good, productive fear.
5. Developing secondary skills that were unrelated to my primary skill: I was in Rock ‘n’ Roll revival because I could play saxophone. I also had to learn to dance – which I was less good at – and I needed to procure a set of vintage costumes for myself – which I had absolutely no skills or experience in. But I got it done, because I had to. It’s an important characteristic of projects that they force you to acquire skills that you came to the project with no knowledge of, or indeed interest in.
6. Accomplishing something that seemed impossible: At thebeginning of rehearsals, it’s impossible to imagine that you will accomplish what was accomplished the year before – a seamless run of songs, on a great-looking set – and in fact, I’ve never known of another school that has pulled off what Sherwood pulls off ever year.
Now it’s always satisfying to achieve more than you thought yourself capable of, but what’s amazing about Rock ‘n’ Roll is that whatever role you have played in accomplishing it, almost all of the credit DOES NOT go to you. Everybody involved – musician, singer, dancer, lighting designer, carpenter, sound technician – has contributed only a fraction of the whole. There’s no question that playing music onstage to cheering crowds is good for the ego, but perhaps the most powerful lesson of Rock ‘n’ Roll revival is that it’s not all about you.
*I should note that editing the school literary magazine, under the endlessly serene and compassionate supervision of Mr. Deitchman, DID provide me with some of the skills I needed... a pattern is developing here.
This post got a bunch of comments:
Alec- I could not have said it better myself. It is amazing thinking back how much we would accomplish from the early December auditions to performances in March. These are some of my favorite memories in my life (so far). I got goose bumps thinking about that countoff at the beginning of the show- especially our very last one senior year- down on the corner. I'll add to the social aspect even more though- working alongside a dance partner for months on end, you grow to adore them! Some of my best memories from RnR were dancing with Afiba and Adam. I'll also always remember dancing with you during the bridge in "Money." It makes me smile just thinking about it! I also completely agree that RnR helped us with our skills for higher education. We all share such a special bond being alums of the show that no other high school students share. Thanks for sharing your perspective. Hope you are doing well, Dr. Patton! love- Dr. K.
Wow, well said. Thanks for sharing. I was in RRR from #19-22 and can say that doing that and the newspaper no doubt helped me gain skills to survive getting my PhD (especially when I lost an advisor to cancer and my co-advisor moved to another university at the same time). Sherwood was great to me.
This was a great blog post to read. I think back to those years fondly with vivid memories of
so many of us dedicating our time to hard work for many months in the pursuit of putting on a
great show. To paraphrase Jack Black - a great rock show can change the world. I'm not
sure if the experience was as much of an obvious impact on my path in life, but Rock 'n' Roll
Revival definitely shaped me on a personal level. The dedication that we all put in to this
show with our time and hard work was for me probably the first of many times that I started
on a path for what seemed to be an unobtainable goal. Standing on that stage in front of a
thousand people night after night to dance and sing allowed me to learn how to put aside
inhibitions and embrace a confidence in myself I never knew existed before, and that has
continued to serve me well in my current career. I will always cherish the time we spent
together working on the show, building friendships, building partnerships, making music,
entertaining each other as well as the audience, and having more fun in a school sanctioned
activity than most high school students will ever understand. Those 4 years went by quickly
and I miss being a part of the show, but I'm grateful for the time I had and the role RRR
played in my life. Alec - nice post, and Jump Jive and Wail was also one of my most
memorable moments, but from the dance perspective.
From David Horwitz:
Written on behalf of us ALL
-- thank you, Alec! It amazes my adult friends when I tell them that at MY high school, the
football players were also dancers in the annual rock and roll show, students who could sing
were given the chance to do so in front of seven sold out crowds of 1,300 people, and 15%
of the entire student body was actually involved in this amazing production, year after year!
Those of us who went to Sherwood definitely had a unique high school experience, one that
will stay with us forever. Thank you to Bill, Gene, Joe, and everyone else over the years who
made this time of our lives so special! - David Horwitz '85, RRR #12 and #14
Well done. English class is only part of what makes a great Dr. Of English. This paper
demonstrates that we are the sum of our experiences.
From Tony Jordan
I'm from your Dad's generation but we had Rock 'n' Roll too. I can't say it improved my school
work but it sure was a gas. I used to go to parties and dances envious of the guys that played
in bands. They had all the girls and seemed really cool. After all I played clarinet in high
school band, not terribly glamorous. Then one day I accompanied a friend who was
auditioning on tenor sax for a local rock band. He walked into the suburban church
basement where they rehearsed wearing shades and a beret. He said "Lay some chords on
me, man." and totally freaked out these suburban teens. Later after his audition, which hadn't
gone too well I asked if I could try his sax. Since clarinet and sax fingerings are similar I
cranked out a version of Night Train. The next day I was asked if I could get a hold of a tenor
sax and my Rock 'n' Roll career was launched. Since then I've played in dozens of Rock,
Blues and Jazz bands. After my having given your dad introductory sax lessons he and I
went to Berklee for a summer course where I began to play bari in their sight reading band. I
met your dad's teacher, the legendary Frank Foster from the Count Basie band. Well it's 40
years later and I'm still blowing horn in various big bands, combos, pit orchestras and my sax
ensemble. Playing music has been spiritually rewarding and enriched my life immeasurably.
Don't let your horn gather dust in the closet. You can always find a group to play with if you want to.
From C Madoo:
Thanks for the memories! I was in RnR #16-20 and there is nothing else like it. It prepared
me a lot for the real world. I actually went back a couple a years ago and it broght back alot of
From Jim Hofman:
Hey Alec thanks for your great post as well as other who wrote in with memories--cool to read! I am with your train of thought on R&RR under the direction of Bill Evan and Gene Orndorff. Its been 30 years since my first time on stage at the R&RR and they are both still there. Amazing! I heard today one person in the musical dept was let go because of the States budget but that it was Not Bill. I`m wondering was in Gene? Well Alec, when I was in The R&RR, that was 12 years before you set foot on stage there. So yeah the memories last a life time :) I always have said: "These kids have no clue how much they will treasure the fun experiences by being a part of Sherwood High School`s Annual Rock and Roll Revivals. You don`t know it when you are in H.S, but later on in life, you definitely realize how BIG of a chapter in life H.S. and the R&RR was as for fun memories. Alec, you hit it on the nail about how it puts all "classes" of students together to create something--nerds, jocks, pompom chicks, teachers, musicians- whatever Ha, it was all good, and that was that. There was no Bullshit at SHS. Everyone mixed well there. I was not aware of any clicks of kids with nasty attitudes, black white, jocks, freaks, nerds--there was not much of that crap thank goodness. If there was I ignored it. I hated trends except tight Jordash jeans on chicks :) And Definitely was no attitude crap of any type is Bill Evan`s music classes or in his R&RR`s. Bill Evans would kick your ass with his vocal chords alone. He started teaching at Sherwood in 1979 and in March of 1980, which was Rock and Roll Revival #9, Sherwood was blessed with Bills talents as the new musical director. He had mega classical and opera vocal chops but for some reason used it to teach after not gettin the right gig. So, H.S got him instead to all the kids advantage. He would demonstrate how to sing from the lower gut, and the damn walls would shake. He was the force that the R&RR show needed. He was unSTOPable--30 years later he is still there-Ha wow Jesus what a long career. I know Bill was impressed with the talent at Sherwood in my days there. Music was so incredible in the 80`s. Top 40 music was more fun then for sure. Ok I`m STILL stuck in the 80`s according to my wife. I play 80`s at work in Sirius daily. Its fun and easy tunes, the Cars, the Police. I don`t get Boyance and today’s hip-hop craze. Don`t need it personally. Some cool cats I remember going down memory lane during Sherwood’s early 80`s alumni readers might know like Sean Whalen, Bobby Brooks. I know allot of cats from Sherwood that went on to become full time musicians to this day. Its reminds me of a sports team that works hard together at something and wins. The R&RR was a bonding project. I`m 45 Alec, and when I see my old HS pal Kevin Yorke here and there, we have the memories with us still like it was not that long ago. When I did the Rock & Roll Revival #9 thru #12 in the early 80`s, it was all a group thing like you said. It was never about one person. I envy all the people who work hard on Broadway because all those actors and dancers and crew experience tons of fun and bonding with each show. I guess it` probably the same way on a movie set for 3-4 months, and then BOOM it`s over. Does anyone remember Kevin Yorke as the master of ceremonies as a DJ one year I think 1981 I think, or Tom Musgrove as Wolfman Jack in 1980 What great cats. I always loved the shows when they had a DJ weaving things together. You are who you are, and the R&RR brought some of that out in us. Arif Durrani with his keyboard tie on always smiling--he still plays today. He was the keyboard king in HS. I remember thinking I need a keyboard player for my top 40 bank Eclipse. I asked Arif the next day, and then for the next 5 years into college even we did top 40 dances everywhere Exactly 100 gigs. Going back even farther was ninth grade asking my neighbor Tommy Dobridge to join my band with Jamie Fornatora and Paul Betances on drums. Well Tommy, he was always playing my favorite slow song "Stairway to Heaven" PERFECTLT on his guitar, over at Pete and Chris Benoits house. I asked him to play lead for Eclipse and the rest was history. I still have Tapes of Tommy solos from a bunch of our gigs and some back yard Parties. As far back as the 8th grade party at Tim Maddens back field playing Beatles and Van Halen.
I was so jealous of all those who had the talent and nerve to perform. I was SHS class of
1984. Looking back, I wish i was on that stage. I still have no talent but it looked like such a
From Beth Miller Buckley:
Hi Alec... Beth Miller(Buckley) here :D I was in R&RR's 7-10!! and I remember when it all
started (w/ Sam Andleman and Roger Oliver).. thanks to 3 older sisters that were at SHS
before me...but I was the first in my family to be on the stage of the Ertzman...and I will never
stop being proud of what we all did together back there...and what a great experience it
was......I didn't go off to be anything major..just a mom and a Domestic Engineer..LOL BUT
once Bill Evans came in and took over as musical director...the show turned into one of the
most professionally done I had ever been in...the encouragement Bill gave to let our talents
flow was off the charts...something time can never take... Since my time there..this show has
touched more people than anyone can count..and I am so glad to see it is going as strong as
ever! SHS was a safe place where we were all very close and to this day remain so....R&RR
was an even safer haven...where when you think you're close with someone...you aren't until
you do this thing together with them...then you are close...and with as much time that passes
there has been no erosion at all....that's a good place to be.. Thanks for the great write up..I
am sure you are probably one of my very good friends son/nephew etc...Olney itself is a
great place to grow up.
This summer, I'm re-posting some of the blog posts I wrote while I was working at the Innovation Unit in London, which disappeared when the Innovation Unit discontinued its blog:
I’ve just finished reading Caitlin Flanagan’s deeply misguided article, ‘Cultivating Failure’, in the Atlantic. The article is one long warning against the evils of ‘The Edible Schoolyard’, a California project spearheaded by the chef and gardener Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse Foundation, which supports schools in developing gardens and connecting them to the curriculum. According to Flanagan, this is what happened in the pilot school: ‘In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations.’ The result of this nefarious scheme was, Flanagan explains, that ‘students’ grades quickly improved.’
Those trying to grasp what, exactly, Flanagan’s problem with ‘The Edible Schoolyard’ is will grasp in vain. Her evidence amounts to this: in California, there is a huge achievement gap between Black and Latino students and their white peers. And she reasons that if students spend 1.5 hours per week in a garden (yes, that’s the amount of time we’re talking about here), that’s 1.5 hours that the Black and Latino students are spending doing the sort of manual labour that their forbears have been trying to escape. There’s a deep vein of snobbery here, thinly disguised as concern for the underprivileged. Contrary to what Flanagan seems to think, agriculture is a complex, multidisciplinary business. It requires careful planning, complex calculation, precise implementation, and continuing observation. If she thinks working in a garden is a waste of time because she doesn’t see how it will help performance on standardised tests (which she regards as the only educational outcome worth anyone’s attention), she might as well demand to know why chemistry students are larking about with test tubes when their laboratory experience will never be reflected in their performance on paper-based exams. But Flanagan won’t ask this question, because mixing chemicals in a lab is ‘real’ learning, while measuring the PH of a soil sample in order to grow food is what farmers do. It’s tempting to laugh at an association this facile, and I recommend you do so. It’s utterly preposterous. The subject of laughter brings me to Flanagan’s vision for education – or rather, the vision that she hears when she speaks to Michael Piscal, founder and CEO of the Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools, the White Knight that she sets against the ‘dowager queen’ (her phrase) Alice Waters:
“Look,” he said, when pressed, “there’s nothing wrong with kids getting together after school and working on a garden that’s very nice. But when it becomes the center of everything—as it usually does—it’s absurd. The only question in education reform that’s worth anything is this: What are you doing to prepare these kids for college? If I can get a kid to read Shakespeare and laugh at the right places, I can get him to college. That’s all that matters to me.”
This is as intellectually impoverished a vision for education as I have ever encountered. It’s straight out of My Fair Lady: 'let’s not teach kids to engage critically with literature, just make sure they can blend in with high society by laughing at the right spots.' The idea that we must choose between a generation of graduates who can grow food and a generation who can recognise an Elizabethan double-entendre is a false dichotomy – but if I had to choose, I know which skill I'd want them to have.
This post received one comment, posted by my brother, Andrew:
Excellent analysis. Looking at it from an outside perspective, I am amazed that Flanagan could interview Piscal, get that quote ("laughing at Shakespeare in the right places"), and not have the critical capacity to give more than a cursory glance to his '25 words or less' vision of what pre-collegiate education should be. Did she just hear the name 'Shakespeare' and figure that's what learning really should be? I can barely begin to express my frustration with Flanagan's thesis. And it's hard to know where to begin in breaking it down. When the foundation is built of paint, bread sticks, and shellac (Fat Tony's construction material of choice for Springfield Elementary), is their any point in trying to look at what was piled on top? It all topples down regardless. Even so, let me just point to one example of her rhetorical slight of hand. She puts the "Edible Schoolyard" educational program into perspective thusly: "If this patronizing agenda were promulgated in the Jim Crow South by a white man who was espousing a sharecropping curriculum for African American students, we would see it for what it is: a way of bestowing field work and low expectations on a giant population of students who might become troublesome if they actually got an education." Maintaining a garden of your own, then, is roughly equivalent to sharecropping in the Jim Crow South (i.e., "an economic arrangement that largely maintained the status quo between black and white through legal means" following emancipation, according to Wikipedia). Is that a fair comparison? Because it is, in fact, the basis of her entire thesis. Namely, that engaging in all of the activities involved in maintaining a small food garden at school (including 1.5 hours of manual labor a week) is roughly equivalent to working as a low-paid immigrant picking fruits on an industrial farm. If anything, that assertion trivializes the back- breaking labour illegal immigrants are forced to engage in to survive. Mostly, however, it is simply a false analogy. Flanagan's lack of self-awareness is breathtaking. She purports to be attacking those who would patronize, while simultaneously taking this view on what comprises proper education: "hours...spent reading important books or learning higher math" are hours spent "attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt." We must 'lift' these immigrants (though of course 'lifting' them in a totally non-patronizing way) out of the desperate struggle of agriculture, because obviously everyone knows that the only worthwhile life is one of reading and letters or math and science. This is the goal we should all be striving for. Flanagan clearly knows what is best for you, but that is not because she is being patronizing or condescending. I am happy to see that the "Edible Schoolyard" program is still alive and strong, and delighted to think that the children at those schools, aside from the many educational benefits of that kind of a program often enumerated in this blog, are getting at least an extra hour or two a week outdoors, working with the earth, getting exercise, being in nature. I just hope Flanagan's attack doesn't threaten that.
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I performed a private ritual whenever I went to a show or movie, and found myself in a less-than-ideal seat: I would furtively look around until I found somebody in a seat that was unequivocally worse than my own. Then I would relax, knowing I didn't have the worst seat in the house.
I don't remember when I stopped doing this, but at some point it just didn't matter so much anymore. I also don't remember when it peaked, but I now suspect it was tenth grade. This phenomenon probably has a name already, but since I regard it as the defensive sibling of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), I'm calling it Fear of Getting Shafted (FOGS).
FOMO is a phenomenon that, at its best, drives discovery and adventure. At its worst, it leads people to take stupid risks ("If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump to?" is a question about FOMO). My favorite story about FOMO comes from cultural critic, university teacher and Vietnam Vet Henry Allen, who told me that he always felt like he missed out on the sixties because he was in Vietnam, but a friend of his who was a radical activist told him the thing about the sixties was that even in the midst of a riot, he'd be wondering if there was a better riot a few blocks away. Fundamentally, FOMO puts you on the offense - it sends you down the street searching for a better riot.
FOGS, on the other hand, is a protective instinct. Ponzi schemes are driven by FOMO, and FOGS is what tells you that they're probably too good to be true. But at its worst, it leads to a joyless life of endless suspicion of other people's motives.
My favorite illustration of FOGS is an economic exercise called the "ultimatum game". Here's how HowStuffWorks summarizes it:
You're standing on the sidewalk with a friend, minding your own business, when a man approaches with a proposition. He offers you $20 in one-dollar bills and says you can keep the money, under one condition: You have to share some of it with your friend. You can offer your friend as much or as little as you like, but if your friend rejects your offer, neither of you get to keep any of the money. What do you do?According to the "rational actor" assumptions of classical economics that no-one ever follows, you give your friend $1.00 and your friend grudgingly accepts it. But what tends to happen (at least according to HowStuffWorks, Wikipedia, and this article I found on Stanford's website) is that people tend to offer about $8.00 to their friends, and that offers below $3.00 tend to get rejected, leaving nobody with any money.