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March 30, 2017

The Disadvantages of Competitive Learning

I told my students I had assessed their prowess as musicians, and tried to divide the groups evenly, so nobody would be in the "top" band--or left behind. Our job was to play well all the time, to live up to our potential as performers--not to be better than the other band. It took a while, but this policy eventually led to greater achievement, especially from students who did not start out at the top of the skills spectrum.

March 01, 2017

4 Reasons the Arts Are the Most Important Academic Discipline

For arts teachers, this is the ongoing, contentious, core issue in their pedagogical practice: What is the value of what I do? How do I share my conviction that the arts are essential in the lives of children? Why does artistic expression typically carry less weight than other fields and specialties?

October 21, 2016

Reflections from a Nasty Woman: What's at Risk for Women Who "Come Forward"?

It is undeniable that character matters greatly in public leadership. Women who recognize and call out sexism and the sometimes-subtle aspects of rape culture are correct. And it isn't until the moral rot is laid bare and understood that we have any chance of living in a better, safer, more equitable world. We're not there yet, as this election illustrates.

July 31, 2016

The Glass Ceiling in Education

Women are role models for each other in all fields, including those that are supposed to be open to females. We've got nobody else. It was downright heartening to see a woman my age who successfully made it all the way through a grueling presidential nomination, the ultimate glass ceiling in America, because she was just that stubborn--no matter what you think of her politics.

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Instead of providing the programs that students find most compelling, we're on a path to strip public education clean of richness, culture and (yes, I'm going to say it) fun. Over 125 people participated in our local Memorial Day service today-- and virtually all of them learned the essential skills of making music, public speaking and patriotic customs in a public school someplace. They still use these capacities to make their lives more enjoyable and meaningful, to take a day away from work, to think about honoring those who died to preserve democracy.

April 30, 2016

Does Everyone Get to Be on Stage in Student Performances?

Teachers are not always good at deciding who gets the spotlight and who is benched (or forced to stay home) when trying to present their best face to the public. Often, students rise to a special occasion. Can what's best for a difficult child also be good for his classmates, as they learn about getting along, performing and making music--a community activity? Could this be a teachable moment?

April 05, 2016

In Praise of the Field Trip

What is a field trip's ultimate purpose? How will the students apply what they have learned? What are their takeaways? And--because these are the questions we hear most often in national policy discussion--was this content standards-based? Could it be delivered (and measured) more efficiently and effectively? Say, in a video or interactive computer game? I'm going to go ahead and answer that question: No.

September 21, 2015

Four Questions for New Teachers

Wherever you are tonight-- aspiring educator, in the field teaching, studying the field as researcher or teacher educator--it's really easy to push big philosophical questions away. There are hundreds of other things to worry about. But-- if you don't get in the habit of keeping Big Questions like these bubbling on the back burners of your mind, the magic and moral purpose of teaching will fade or even be lost. Here are four questions for you to consider.

July 03, 2015

Whiplash: Worst Teacher Movie Ever

Here's the thing: you can be a superb, meticulous, demanding music teacher without being a hostile jerk. You can also be a driven, determined, even obsessed music student, bent on creative brilliance and perfection, without being inhuman or ruthless. In a movie supposedly about "what it takes" to achieve true excellence in performance, we never saw Fletcher teach, or drummer Miles Teller's ambitious character, Nieman, learn anything about music via guidance, example or instruction. Everything that was accomplished happened via psychological manipulation: Terror. Lies. Tricks. Bodily abuse. Even, God help us, suicide.

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The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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