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 firstname.lastname@example.org.