Sunday, August 21, 2011

Vi Hart Is Amazing

Watch Vi Hart's newest video; it's about what sound is and what our ears and brains do to make us hear.  This is material that I've discussed in Music and the Brain: A Primer and Music and the Brain: A Phenomenon, so here's to hoping that the combination of the two of us will help you master the basics of sound.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Get Lectured by Robert Zatorre

I've blogged about some great research that, with others, Robert Zatorre of McGill was involved in. Rice University recorded a guest lecture by him and kindly put it on YouTube for the rest of the world. He begins to talk about the research that I discussed at 31:40 (and gets to the nitty gritty graphs and images at 37:53), but the whole talk is good.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Alternative Education and A Teaching Action You Should Want to Copy

By sheer serendipity, I've just met a teacher of the local [small] city's alternative school.  I have to share (paraphrased) one of his stories:
When these high school students act like little kids, I tell them, "If you're going to act like elementary schoolers, I'll treat you like elementary schoolers."  One day they were all throwing their pencils into the ceiling to get them stuck and I said that to them.  The next day I put a crayon on each of their desks instead of letting them use pencils.  "Remember yesterday?" I said, "If you want to act like a kid, you'll get treated like one."  They used crayons all day.  It worked.  No more pencils in ceilings.

Alternative education has an interesting title.  Alternative to what?  The useless answer is, "alternative to the mainstream school system," but what it ultimately means is, "alternative to a system that gives students inadequate feedback and personal focus."

You may have read my thoughts on individualized education (particularly on the prevalence of IEP's), but I haven't yet mentioned an idea that could improve things dramatically, "[Why] Alternative Education Needs to Go Mainstream."  Click that link to visit Liz Dwyer's discussion of the notion and what Sir Ken Robinson says about it.  An excerpt:
[Sir Robinson] also debunked [at a conference] the myth that students who drop out are reacting to the system as a whole: "For any student, the classroom they sit in is the education system and that's what they're dropping out of."  But the kids who get into quality alternative programs fall in love with learning because they're getting an individualized experience—and the support they need to address particular life challenges, like being a teen mom or being homeless.
(The end of that excerpt reminds me of a friend who conducted research on students who had dropped out of school and found that most of the girls who experienced both dropping out and becoming a teen mom were not pregnant until after they had already dropped out.  Hmm...perhaps a topic for another day.)

In the ideal world of modern educational philosophy, every student would have an IEP.  In my ideal world, every school would have a student-teacher ratio that enables proper individualized attention for every student, time built into the day for tutoring and schoolwork sessions, and an environment that encourages stronger student-teacher connections.  Funny, that's what good alternative education provides.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Religious Music in School

I hope people google the exact title I've given this post and then read this, because I have a simple idea that solves everything, and that not enough public school choral directors do.

Just like that.

The Problems

  • Teachers are obligated, by virtue of the Establishment Clause, to neither promote nor inhibit religion or spirituality.  In the particular case of [public school] choral music, communities have disagreements about whether religious music should be taught.  Is a teacher promoting religion if he/she compels students to sing the words, "in nomine Dei...Amen," to a captive audience?  Is a teacher inhibiting religion if she/he avoids all mentions or references to any god during a holiday concert?
  • Choral directors can easily develop a habit of overcorrection in response to complaints from parents if they cannot persuasively and swiftly quell unrest.  Some directors choose to never perform religious music.
  • Some directors do take the opportunity provided by their position to attempt to influence families toward their religion of choice by overemphasizing and predominantly selecting particular religious music.  I've seen this happen.

The Vital Information

  • Religious music, particularly that of Catholic nature, has had an undeniable impact on the development of western music.  Since performing music is a very effective way to learn about music, never performing religious music is akin to never viewing religious works of art in Art History class or never discussing the Protestant reformation in World History.
  • In accordance with the above reasoning, the National Association for Music Education states clearly, "The omission of sacred music from the school curriculum would result in an incomplete educational experience."
  • There is a robust legal guide that all teachers should be aware of: The Lemon Test.  This is a test established by the U.S. Supreme Court that, if met by a decision or situation, almost guarantees that no violation of the principle of separation of church and state has occurred.  According to this test, an action is acceptable if it (1) has a secular purpose, (2) has a primarily secular effect, and (3) avoids excessive entanglement with religion.

The Solution

Choral directors should always explicitly determine the academic and musical benefits of teaching a particular song.  They must do this for themselves when selecting the music, and they must explain it to students as well (especially if asked).  If the benefits do not meet the Lemon Test, or if they are redundant relative to another selection, the song should be put aside.

This simple habit does everything necessary.  It prevents the promotion or inhibition of religion, it prepares a director with explanations that meet community or administrative demands, and it guarantees the inclusion of educationally beneficial secular music.  Beyond that which is necessary, it also helps teachers meet curriculum guidelines, it helps to balance the educational emphases of a program, and it provides students with an awareness of what they are meant to be learning.

You're welcome.