As of tomorrow, it will be 10 days left until my retirement as a NJ public school teacher. While my career has been pretty rewarding, it is time for me to go. Most of what I have come to believe about education is in direct conflict with what we currently do in NJ and all over for that matter.
I will consider the next ten days as days of transition. I will pack away all that was once the music educator in NJ and begin to put in place my life and focus on my new passion. Right now, that new passion is still coming into focus. but it is also very exciting.
So, when you watch the same news broadcast day in and day out, you get to feel like the people on the TV are like family. Any why not? They are in my living room almost as much as me. I talk back to them a lot. So, when they decided to go on location to the Wawa in nearby Galaway Township, I had to go and see them.
I began by talking to the traffic girl, Jessica Boyington who has a birthday coming up as well, and she told me where I could find Bill Henley the weatherman. After a brief discussion about my weather concerns, he asked me to wait ten minutes and meet him outside.
There I joined Bill and Jessica with some friendly banter about my upcoming retirement and went on to do an interview. Here it is.
When it was performed for her and the assistant principal, it was received with a great deal of enthusiasm. The students, as well, warmed to this song and adopted it almost immediately.
Prior to 2015, there was no school song for Buena Regional High School. Technically, there still isn’t. When the Senior Class Advisor asked to have the choir sing for graduation in 2015, I said that only songs that are appropriate should be sung. When she asked what this may be, I said that I have seen both the Star Spangled Banner and the Alma Mater should be sung. Since the Star Spangled Banner was being played by the band, I suggested that we would sing the Alma Mater. I knew that no Alma Mater existed.
I offered to write an appropriate school related song to be sung at the graduation. When it was performed for her and the assistant principal, it was received with a great deal of enthusiasm. The students, as well, warmed to this song and adopted it almost immediately.
Over the past two years, there seems to be a resistance to having the choir perform for the graduation. Last year, a special second song was reluctantly allowed. The year before, a second song was asked for, so we performed God Bless America. This year, “a request was made to shorten the ceremony”. Wow!!!
In 2001, when I arrived, the school included 1000 students which meant that there was about 250 graduates. Today, we have just over 500 students which means the graduating class is half that large. Diploma awarding is the longest section for graduation and is half of what it used to be…so…what’s the hurry? Is tradition and ceremony just an annoyance now at the high school level. In a world where we celebrate kindergarten and even preschool graduation…do we dare minimize the ceremonial importance of the culmination of 12 years of academic work?
Having seen the movie, Amadeus, I was confident that I knew all that there is to know about this work. I did not. I learned much and was excited to be seeing this production.
Several weeks ago, I attended the opera. It was my first opera in awhile. I saw The Marriage of Figaroin Philadelphia’s historic Academy of Music. Prior to the Opera, I went to a lecture on the story of this opera’s creation. Having seen the movie, Amadeus, I was confident that I knew all that there is to know about this work. I did not. I learned much and was excited to be seeing this production.
My seats cost $20 and were low cost due to the obstructed view seats that are common at this venue as it was once a concert hall only location. Since getting it’s Broadway makeover, it has many seats that are behind columns. My column was not a huge distraction and with some courtesy on the part of all attendees, there wasn’t going to be a problem. I brought my opera glasses…aka…tiny little binoculars…and turned my $20 seats into a significantly better deal. I could see all of the little facial expressions that actors have become known for thanks to the movie industry.
During the 3rd act, after the intermission, a man in the row immediately behind me decided that being silent was a choice that he didn’t have to live with. He proceeded to talk at full voice to his increasingly irritated date and when he was corrected by her, the girl next to me, and finally me…his response was to mock me in response. He then proceeded to play YouTube videos on his phone with no headset. After 10 minutes of this behavior, he and his date left. The whole incident left me bitter about how a person could exhibit this behavior in public.
Yesterday, I took my high school choir on their final trip to Broadway. We saw The Phantom of the Operaat an unusual Thursday Matinee. Our seating was upper mezzanine, but in the front row for the most part. A section of about one dozen front row seats were unoccupied at the start of the Overture. If you know this show, the overture includes the coming to life of a dead chandelier and a riveting orchestration as the stage is automatically transformed in time. It was at this moment that the theater staff attempted to seat a group of students late without first ascertaining the order that they should sit in their seats. The moment was stolen from me. This is one that I anticipated and for my first time attenders, I was extremely disappointed that they lost this experience. There is no late seating at the opera!!! Why is this tolerated at the Phantom of the Opera?
When the show ended, I was separated from my entire group as we made our way to the bus. I had my students board the bus that was double parked on 8th avenue and once again was told that it was my fault that they got separated. I later found out that the group that was late had a person that was irritated by the behavior of the students in my group. The person took issue with one of my teachers who took issue with the late arrival of the group. Later still, I found out that a person from my group yelled toward the stage an inappropriate remark. It makes it hard for me to write to the theater to take a position on their bad choice of seating those late arrivals and the poor execution as well.
I believe that we all have to take responsibility to teach those who “don’t know” what they “should know” and why. If they choose not to “learn” the skill necessary to appreciate the art, then they should not be around those who do know how to act. It all boils down to manners. There’s a reason for it and I’m not going to “let it go”.
What I have just mentioned contains an awful lot of hot button issues in our current system, but our current system was created for an industrial society that was the state of the art over 100 years ago. Tragically, it hasn’t been relevant to our own students and our own country’s needs even since I went to high school.
About a year ago, I went to see a movie at Cairn University, formerly Philadelphia College of the Bible. If you will grab a pen and paper, I will give you a website where you can go to get more information. You see, I had to travel to Langhorne, PA to see this film because you couldn’t find it anywhere online. Thankfully, this has changed. It is available on iTunes. The website is mltsfilm.org. This stands for Most Likely to Succeed and it is a film about education. This film includes experts like Ken Robinson, who has the most viewed TED talk online entitled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” It also includes Sal Khan, the creator of the Khan Academy. Additionally Ken Jennings, arguably the smartest man in the world according to Jeopardy. Also present are leaders in industry that all have a problem with our current educational model.
This is a film for everyone…all stakeholders because it doesn’t talk about reform in the sense that we tweak our current system of education, but instead start all over. For students…imagine a school without homework, or grades, or even subjects. For teachers imagine complete academic freedom, no supervisors, no lesson plans. For the board imagine no tenure or collective bargaining contracts etc…
What I have just mentioned contains an awful lot of hot button issues in our current system, but our current system was created for an industrial society that was the state of the art over 100 years ago. Tragically, it hasn’t been relevant to our own students and our own country’s needs even since I went to high school. More and more our success in the future relies on a skill that has weakened for lack of use over the years and that is the skill of creativity. Everyone possesses this skill but it has lied dormant in a world of standards, accountability, and fairness.
Every day this year, I have been teaching a class of Digital Music Composition. The students create everyday, individually or sometimes in groups. Sometimes original pieces or derivative work. When a subject or concept comes up it is part of the creative process and we learn about it, just in time. Sadly, this course will be going away with my retirement. This is sad. Sadder still that when teachers who obviously recognize this need for creativity in the school and have been trying desperately to get funding have resorted to a Pie in the Face fundraising activity to get just the minimum financial consideration.
On April 12 our music students had an opportunity to hear from a guest speaker. His name was Dawson Coyle. Dawson is a young man with Tourette syndrome. He attends my church, was a participant in season 12 of The Voice, and is home schooled. I was curious about how he would respond to the statement made by one of his Voice panelists just before he was knocked out. She accused him of being a singer/songwriter. His answer to me was that he has been singing all his life and writing about what he likes and sharing it with the world for free…and the world paid him back! He never auditioned for The Voice…The Voice found him. It shouldn’t just be homeschooling where this is the case.
Everyone tonight is encouraged to view the 2 minute trailer at the web address I gave you and the entirety of this message can be read again on a blog entitled uncommonsense at michaelmccausland.com In the meantime, I leave you with some comments that some of my students have regarding their experiences in their music classes.
It is hoped by me that in spite of all of the challenges that you currently face, or perhaps because of those challenges, that Buena emerges as the best place for learning in the 21st Century. I thank you.