I loved this year’s public high school Christmas concert. The jazz band and orchestra were energetic, talented and joyful — as you’d expect from teenaged musicians jamming at Christmas. (I almost forgot about Common Core.)
But meanwhile, my friend Laureen attended a very different kind of school Christmas concert.
And her story, (the guest post below) has little to do directly with the Common Core Standards. I’m posting it because it is a metaphor for the numbing-down of children who are viewed, even by the U.S. Secretary of Education, as “human capital” – a mass to wrangle, clump and process commonly. Not to expect to excel, individually.
EXCELLENT OR COMMON
Guest Post by Laureen Simper, Utah mother and piano teacher
I attended our elementary school’s “Christmas” program last night, because my piano student invited me to come hear her play her Christmas piano solo. She and her little sister – also my student – were singing in the “choir”.
I would estimate that less than a third of the kids knew the songs. It didn’t matter; they were singing to recordings. As in, singing WITH recordings. As in, SINGING WITH RECORDED VOICES. Ish.
It absolutely DID NOT MATTER that less than a third of the kids were prepared to perform after spending hours coming to school early to be in this choir.
Then there was the “choreography”: either running in a circle, shaking a stick with a streamer on the end of it, or shifting weight back and forth to shake those booties! And no need to practice or remember this either – either the teacher or a couple of the older students were doing the movements down in the front so the children could just copy them. The recordings, all with the same mind-numbing beats and instrumentals, just flowed over the top of this unorganized, unlearned trainwreck, making any effort inconsequential, making any non-effort inconsequential, dumbing down…dumbing down…dumbing down…numbing down…
The only bright spot was my piano student playing the Christmas piano solo she had spent weeks learning and mastering.
And where was the piano, where everyone could see her? No, no, no! Over at the side, like an afterthought.
Because HELLO! It –of course– wasn’t used to accompany any numbers! Who needs a live instrument when you’ve descended into sort-of-lip-syncing…..ish?
So maybe the first three rows were able to see her. And would you like to know why she was the ONE AND ONLY real musical number on the program? THEY DIDN’T HAVE TIME FOR THE CHOIR TO “LEARN” THAT PARTICULAR SONG. Excuse me, LEARN? Who learned ANYTHING?
And of course there wasn’t a single song about the Savior in the program – it was all mindless, secular drivel. I swear they did nothing but use the same CD for every single number.
I thought about all these families, a week before Christmas, rushing to get to this program after a busy day. Younger siblings were tired – babies and toddlers – many had probably been at day care all day, who still didn’t get to go home. I watched tired parents bouncing babies on their laps, walking with them in the back or in the hall, chasing toddlers – or not, getting phones ready to video the big moment.
WHAT BIG MOMENT?
I watched the children on stage – MOST of whom had no clue what was going on. I pictured the homes they lived in on any particular school morning as they had to get up early and shake up the families’ routines to get to school early to practice….. THIS? Families all through my neighborhood were sacrificing family time – weekly for the practices, and now, the final culmination of all that……was THIS? You could be home watching a secular movie like “A Christmas Story” and baking Christmas cookies and it would have been a more valuable use of your family’s time than THIS.
Then I thought about what we are teaching the children, the “participation trophy” mentality that rears its ugly head everywhere.
My student told her mother the day of the program that she shouldn’t even bother coming because it was so bad. She TOLD her mother that nobody knew the songs, that they didn’t know what they were doing, that it was bad.
So, in spite of the hype – she knew. ‘Cause HELLO! Kids are not dumb!
I imagined other kids with similar sensibilities, knowing in their hearts that this program was a mediocre mess, and then I imagined them being told what a great job they did, how cute it was, etc., etc. I thought, WOW.
What a great way to train a populace to not trust their instincts, to go along, because what’s the harm in it? – to believe the unbelievable. If, in your heart of hearts, you know the sky is blue, and you spend thirteen years of your life at a place that tells you in a million ways every day that it is green, what kind of discrimination skills do you end up developing?
How capable will you be of detecting lies when all you have ever heard are lies?
I feel so unbelievably sad for all the children sitting in schools across this country this morning. They are being taught that COMMON is good, because public school has become nothing – NOTHING – more than a giant bucket for all the little crabs.
Public education has become nothing more than a training program for all the common little crabs to yank any free-thinking crabs back down into the common swill.
They are all being taught that excellence is what we pay lip service to, but in subtle ways, you will be singled out – negatively – if you try to achieve it (Harrison Bergeron!)
All the while, the ever-lowering bar continues to be celebrated, photographed for a scrapbook page, and videotaped for Instagram and Facebook brags.
Worst of all, they are subtly being taught that even THIS is more important than time spent at home with your family. How subtly, subtly, subtly is the message being taught that home and family are absolutely, completely, at the bottom of your priorities.
So thanks for listening to the rant. I weep for so many well-meaning parents who do not see – maybe WILL not see.
Even though my job as a piano teacher is nearly dead because of this cultural shift, I feel like I need to point out the sign that hangs over my front door every week my students leave my house. I need to teach them more intentionally the reason I do what I do.
The plaque says: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle)
Excellence matters…BECAUSE it is UN COMMON.