“Master Race To The Top???” – Guest Post by Don Castellow

My first guest blogger is a music educator I admire, Don Castellow. ( Full disclosure: he’s also my husband.)   Originally written in response to my last blog, “End of Term Report Card – Arne Duncan: NOT Promoted.”  I asked him if he’d mind my featuring it as its own post.  He’s cool with this. Herewith, his musings:

From Don Castellow:   I’m looking for education leaders who will give us better education metaphors. Race to the Top… really? Races have winners and losers, actually a race, singular, has a winner, singular, and everyone else? Losers. Is this the best inspiration we can muster? The problem with this metaphor is that it represents vertical thinking. A race is a preconceived finish line at the end of a known course. Jacques Cousteau said all great discoveries as far as he knew, were made through horizontal thinking. In other words, not knowing precisely what you are looking for or exactly where it may be, but being willing to let go of your preconceived ideas in order to recognize a new discovery when it comes into view.

There are plenty of vertical thinkers around. You may see one tonight, on your way home. He may be standing in the middle of it all, in the way or in the road. Be kind, shine your bright lights and slowly drive around him. He will not see you, you are not in his field of view. He is looking straight up, eyes on where the prize should be. When he sees it he may win, achieving the highest status of the status quo, a victory of vertical thinking.

Horizontal thinkers don’t win, they discover. They discover together or alone, and share discoveries. One discovery can lead to another. The horizontal thinker looks forward, around, and behind. The horizontal thinker is aware of his position 360 degrees around and out to the horizon or beyond and sees the things coming at him, he is aware. There can be no standardized test. You can’t measure the horizontal with a vertical ruler.

W.B. Yeats said, “education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” Now there’s an education metaphor! To build a proper fire you need diverse pieces of wood. You need kindling and pieces a little bigger than kindling but not too big, and dry. You need bigger, substantial pieces that, once encouraged to burn by the kindling, will hold the fire and burn for a long time. You need matches, more than one, and keep them dry.

Let’s carry the metaphor a little farther. The big logs of our education fire can be math and science and English language arts. They need the kindling of Music, Art, Dance, Drama, and Phys Ed. To light this educational fire, you need a good match in the form of a teacher.

There should be no Master Race of subjects. No math, English, or science that is so almighty special that it can downgrade, degrade and eliminate other subjects and claim to be the key to education, no, claim to be education itself – the Master Race at the top.

Our Master Race of education fire has a few problems. One, the kindling is in poor shape or missing all together. Two, it is continually being dowsed from the pail of standardized test prep and testing.

An education should be a fine and generous balance. Yes it includes quality math, science, and ELA learning. But these are tools, important tools, but only equally important among all the tools in the big toolbox an education should fill. Everyone does not have to carry around the exact same tool box either, because everyone should not be building the same preconceived prize. As teachers and students, we should each prepare to make our own discoveries and lead the world into the future as a great collective of individuals.

Don Castellow taught band at PS/MS 29 in the South Bronx, NYC, for eleven years until the band program was eliminated from the schedule in September 2012.  During his tenure, this program received numerous grants.  These grants provided instruments, repair,  small group and individual lessons at no charge to students. One of them, a VH-1 “Save The Music” grant brought new band instruments to the school.  In addition, the band program developed a thriving partnership with The Middle School Jazz Academy at Lincoln Center.  He is the director of a new nonprofit, The South Bronx After-School Band Project, which has its home at PS/MS 29, thanks to the support of the school’s administration.  For more information, you may contact Don at don.castellow@gmail.com.


10 thoughts on ““Master Race To The Top???” – Guest Post by Don Castellow

  1. Jan

    So beautifully written, Don!
    You speak with passion and conviction…all the best to you in your new pursuit!
    You are a treasure, indeed!!

  2. Terry Petruzzelli

    Way to go Don!!!! Education today doesn’t seem to value treasures like you and your program. What joy you brought to PS 29 during your time there. Love the fact that you started an after school music program in the South Bronx. Thanks Elizabeth for your sharing Don’s thoughts and philosophy.

    1. Elizabeth Rose Post author

      Don says, “Thanks for the kind words, Terry. Great to hear from you. I remember how tolerant you and your third grass class were our first year in PS/MS 29, when the band room was next to your classroom and the music drifted into your room through the vent.”
      Elizabeth says, “Amen! Hope you are enjoying yourself.”

  3. 3D Eye

    Great post. Music should be a key component of everyone’s life – and everyone should be given instruments and opportunities to learn how to play them, supported by professional tutors and also their more advanced peers. As for thinking – education systems based on high-stakes tests and exams don’t even require real or creative thinking, let alone original thinking. They demand memorisation and regurgitation. There are vertical thinkers and there are horizontal thinkers, but there are three dimensions of intelligence! G

      1. 3D Eye

        Like you, we’re blogging away like crazy! In the UK, groups of tweeters are getting together to form pressure groups. More and more teachers and school principals are also turning to blogging to share their views. Truth will out! Since all of our political parties in the US and the UK have swallowed the neo-con ‘targets’, ‘results’ and ‘accountability’ playbook it seems we have to do things for ourselves at grass roots level to promote real education. We can also point to places in the world where the education revolution has already taken place and whose schools produce the highest-achieving students – Finland, Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Shanghai. I also believe that when our students start to understand how much better schools are in those places, and how much they themselves are missing out, they will also join an irresistable movement for change. Our next post about Singapore will explain in more detail. G

  4. Elizabeth Rose Post author

    Hi G – I love your energy and commitment. I also want to add that I’ve just learned from reading Diane Ravitch’s blog (dianerav: “The New Yorker Profile”) that the neo cons have been wailing about the decline of our public schools when the data shows that they have been steadily improving!!! Turns out, the graduation rate for people ages 18-24 is 90% – the highest in American history. Also, on national tests, the scores of black and Hispanic students have increased in reading and mathematics have increased significantly (in reading) and dramatically (in mathematics) over the last 20 years. This means we have been doing something right in public education. This data is available from the NAEP: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard – go to “long term trends.” This just AMAZES me. They (the bad guys) are creating a crisis that they can then profit from through privatization of our schools. They fuel the crisis by pulling the resources out of the schools (enrichment programs, the arts, tutoring, yada yada) that have helped our most underserved students achieve these long term improvements.
    So maybe….considering our size and great diversity, we DO compare positively to Finland et al. Why aren’t these positive trends being reported in the main stream press???

    Do you have the racial/ethnic disparity in public ed like us or is it more of a division by “class” in the UK?


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