Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How To Define Marriage

When people ask me for marriage advice, or when I have to sign a guest book at a wedding, one of my favorite piece of marriage advice is: "Make your marriage what you want it to be."

 A lot of people these days are trying to define marriage. My issue with this is that people historically and even in our modern society have very different ideas of what a marriage means. I'm not even talking about the issue of gay marriage. You don't have to look to that deep into "traditional" heterosexual relationships to find wide variations in marriage.

My great grandfather had a concubine. This was an acceptable social practice at the time in Taiwan. While there are historical and literary accounts of wives having issues with concubines, my great grandmother had no issues with this issue. As she put it having a concubine meant that her husband "bothered her less." This was part of their marriage and they were fine with it.

A couple that I know who have been married for about four years has no intention to have kids. This is a position they both feel strongly about and discussed before they got married and they are fine with that fact.

Another one of my close friends spent the first year of their marriage living across the country from each other. And one of my uncles commuted from Tokyo to Texas leaving his family for months at a time for work. For these people, marriage was not something that meant they had to be physically in the same space all of the time.

My marriage to Diana doesn't involve a concubine, we are committed to having kids and it would take something pretty extraordinary for me to live apart from my wife. We've chosen to define our marriage a certain way that works for us. Who am I to say that a marriage that doesn't have children in the future is less legitimate?

Marriage means so many different things to different people. What's important is not that you subscribe to a type of marriage defined by other people but rather one that is defined by the spirituality, love and values that you share with your partner.

We've come such a long way accepting plurality in marriage. Last weekend I was in Nashville, at a cafe with my wife. Sixty years ago, if I walked into that same cafe holding hands with my wife, people would look at us with disapproval and today, no one even looked twice.

Divorce, wider age gaps, interracial relationships, interfaith unions, long distance relationships, changing gender roles, number of children, are all variations in marriage that our society have accepted in a wider definition of marriage.

Some of these things may not work in your marriage and you may disagree with some of these variations in marriage, but they are there and it's important we learn to not judge different definitions of marriage and accept them as reflections of the diversity in our culture.

So make your marriage what you want it to be. Don’t get bogged down by people telling you how their marriage works. Figure it out for yourselves and make it what you want it to be. As the priest said in the sermon I heard at my friends wedding I recently attended, marriage is a sacrament that is ordained by the people getting married, not the church. You are in control of your marriage.

The definition of marriage has evolved for thousands of years in different cultures all across the world and will continue to change. Everyone deserves to define marriage the way they want to, without prejudice and judgment.

The slippery slope is not "let gay people get married and then people will want to marry animals," it is "if you ban gay marriage, then you can ban marriage between people of different religions, and races." Providing more freedom for people begets happiness and more rights for all. And as we've seen in the darkest periods of human history, taking away rights leads to atrocities.

Let's stop trying to define marriage as a list of requirements, a cage.  Instead, let's define marriage with the fundamental framework of human companionship and build upon it with our own individual expression of who we are and what we believe.

Monday, May 28, 2012

This Is Country Music by Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley’s title track from his latest album This Is Country Music is a statement of pride and tradition. It’s not meant to put down genres of music or argue why country is better; it simply defines what makes country music great.

Growing up in Seattle, country music was the least popular genre of music and if you liked country music in my high school that was the least cool thing you could do. I carried this with me until college when I discovered Johnny Cash and then an entire world opened up to me and I became connected to one of the most important American traditions.  While some argue that Jazz is the only true original American genre of music, I argue that country music should hold that honor as well.

So what is country music to Brad Paisley? Well, from the first line it’s talking about cancer, religion, it’s representing and reflecting a culture in America that isn’t living in Manhattan and L.A.  It’s not abad thing to have a show set in New York but sometimes we forget that there’s a lot of people in this country who are more familiar with a seeing a tractor on the drive to work than a Mercedes.

The second verse starts with the simple joys in life and goes into the power that music has to speak when words fail. Whether it’s love or frustration music can be that expression, that vent, and that connection that lets you know that your feelings are shared with others.

Patriotism is often present in country music and it’s not always handled well or respectfully. Paisley gets to the heart of it in the third verse, holding the connection close to home and it’s this genuine sense of pride that is a powerful part of what country music is about.

The last section of this song is made up of quotes from famous country singers. It’s this respect and connection to tradition that breeds the greatest artists and reminds fans that music really is a conversation. Art is not created in a vacuum and like how meeting someone’s parents make her make more sense, understanding the history of a genre makes the appreciation of a song that much deeper.

Most people I encounter who don’t like a genre of music express a level of ignorance. Whether it’s rap, rock or country, people who dislike genres as a whole, rarely can even name a song they don’t like. They just decided one day they don’t like it for one reason or another.

So when people tell me they don’t like country music, I don’t get offended, I just try to explain what makes it special. It’s not that country does things or says things that other types of music don’t.  In the same way a disco song can get your beat moving better than a Beethoven symphony, the best country songs tells stories a whole lot better than most pop singles.

Paisley is one of the greatest ambassadors for country music because he elevates the music he loves without putting other music down.  There's no superiority complex in this song.  It's pride without prejudice and good feelings without cynicism and insecurity.

"So turn it on, turn it up, and sing a long.  This is real; this is your life in a song."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Year 2: Week 35 – How To End The Year

Teachers talk a lot about how to start the school year. Great care and time needs to be put into setting up procedures and standards for students early in the year. If you don’t do this as a teacher, you will end up paying for it for the rest of the  year. While I agree that this beginning of the year set-up for critical is students at all levels, I don’t feel there’s enough focus on how to best end the school year.

Growing up, the one thing I remember from the end of the school year was watching movies, A LOT of movies. Now as a kid that was fun but in reflection it kind of seems a little ridiculous. I guess some of that was part of a reward for earning something or having some good socialization time but is watching a movie really the best way to help make a school year meaningful?

If you think of the school year as a lesson plan, with the beginning being the hook, and the ending being a concluding activity that ties together what has happened in the class, how it will be extended in the future, and how this applies outside of life, then the end of the year holds incredible importance.

Look, I’m not saying that you can’t have fun at the end of the year and watch a movie. I watched the entirety of Start Wars: Episode IV with my seventh grade band last year.  Did it have a point? Well, it was partially a reward for a good concert and I did lecture about the leitmotifs while watching the film, so I don’t think it was a complete waste. Also I don’t feel so bad about that because we did spend time in class reflecting on the year and doing self-assessment exercises.

So what am I planning to do with my students for the coming last two weeks of school? A couple critical components:

Reflections – In my general music classes, I’m have students rate their favorite songs and activities to get them thinking about the scope of the year and give me some curricular feedback. I’m bringing back some older activities so that they can see how their skills have advanced. For all my students  are doing self-assessments rating them on how well they worked, what they learned and how well they accomplished goals they set earlier in the year.

Culminating Experiences – It’s important for students to have something that they are working towards, a special experience, a payoff.  For my band kids it was their Spring Concert. For my 3rd graders its, finally putting together the different parts of a song we’ve been working on for a couple weeks.  My 5th graders end the year with a sing along of their favorite songs from the year.

Having Some Fun – I will always argue that the most fun and satisfaction students can have in school are being actively engaged in meaningful educational experiences. Yes, watching a movie is fun, but that’s not merely as much fun as doing a folk dance as a class or learning a pop song by ear and creating an arrangement. Kids have the entire summer to watch a movie, so why not create a unique and exciting experience to end the year? In music class the most fun you can have is through creating great music. The kids will always vote for a movie, but trust me they will have more fun composing a song hitting playground equipment with drum sticks, which was my 8th grade bands final class project.

Look, I know you’re tired, you have grades to do, a classroom to clean and the kids are crazy this time of year. But keep at it, push through and give your kids something more than a movie to remember their last weeks with you. We work too hard for our kids the rest of the year to just throw it all away at the end.

Finish strong, have fun and make it meaningful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Come Apart Kid featuring Mr. Tang

Two of my third grade girls wrote a story using my name.  I'm not sure if this is suppose to be about me or whether they just like my name.  Anyways, here it is.  I preserved the typos and spacing so that you can get a full sense of this work.

            The come apart kid

            Chapter 1
One dark and stormy night a boy named kingsly tang was walking down the street.  He had just left school and was going home.  Then out of the corner of his eye he saw some one murdered.  HIs head was cut of and his arm was too.  He saw the murderder run into the shadows.  Kingsly tang ran rite into the dark shadow.
            Chapter 2 
The he felt a bonny arm grab him.  He knew he should have run away when he felt a knife reach his skin.  The next thing he knew he was dead.  He picked up his head and put it back on.  Next he tore off both of his arms with his teeth. 
            Chapter 3
Then he ran out side and started to murder people.  He killed everybody in sight.  Then he ran to his house and murderderd his family.  He took his          pets and made them come apart pets. 

            Chapter 4

Then he bommed there house and all the body parts when flighing! Then he ate all the body parts.  His favorit part was the hearts.  he thought to himself "yummy in my tummy!"  He killed    all his friends and ate then too.

            Chapter 5

Then he started throwing up all over the streets.  Then he tore off his legs and let his dogs eat them.

            Chapter 6

He opened his eye and realized he was in bed.  He realized it was all just dream and was very scared.  Then he looked at his pants they wer soaked with PEE and POO.  Then the door opened and kingsly screamed.  "Sweety are you OK.  I smell some stiky poppy in you bed."  Then his dad came in and said, "I smell some peepee in you bed.  Lets get cleaned up." And so they did.  Then they lived happily ever after.  

            The End

We hope you liked it! your the best music teacher ever!

Monday, May 21, 2012

You Gotta Be by Des’ree

As graduation season comes into full swing people start thinking about songs to address this transition in life. Often people think about “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) by Green Day or “Seasons Of Love” from the musical rent (which my 8th graders are singing for their graduation).

One of my favorite “advice” songs is Des’ree’s “You Gotta Be,” a beautiful song full of love and encouragement from 1994.

This is Des’ree’s most popular song. Other notable recordings she made include “Kissing You,” the love song from Baz Luhrman’s Romeo And Juliet.

The phrase “you gotta be,” seems to have a sense of urgency, but Des’ree sings it with such calm that its meaning changes. Usually this phrase is followed with an or statement, like “you gotta study for the test or you will fail.” So what is the consequence if you aren’t all these things?

Des’ree never says it straight out but what you begin to realize when listening to this song is that she is saying that you gotta take an active role in your life or else you will miss out on what life’s all about.

Des’ree sings about opening your eyes to the world, thinking about your parents and not getting bothered by other people’s lives. She talks about being “bad,” which goes beyond the 1980s slang to another meaning. This is more about speaking truth to power and being a little mischievous to accomplish great things in life.

While she encourages us to be strong, she also sings about embracing the pain in life and working through fears. It’s a viewpoint that accepts the dynamics of who we are but doesn’t accept the idea that we can’t do anything to change our position in life.

Des’ree sings this song with confidence and power. She’s not aggressive in her strength but rather cool and calm. Through her rich and soulful voice you believe that she truly is everything that she is singing about.

Songs that give this kind of message don’t seem to come around very often, but we need them so badly. Des’ree represents the best of what pop music can say to a wide audience. Yes, songs that have controversial lyrics get a lot of attention but it’s the ones that truly have soul and a life-affirming message that stay with us.  Des’ree reminds us of the great potential in pop music and what we should strive for every day in our lives.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Year 2: Week 34 - Four Magical Moments

1.  Sharing Day – This week I gave my third graders the opportunity to share songs they have been working on outside of music class. These performances ranged from learning a pop sing and singing it along with an iPod to playing a beginner song on the violin. I spent a lot of time preparing my class to be good audience members and instilling them how important it was to be supportive.

One of my students played “Long, Long Ago,” on his violin. He made a mistake, stopped playing and after a long pause, started back at the beginning. After he was done he was visibly sad about messing up but the whole class gave him a genuine round of applause. One girl in particular who often has issues being polite came up to him and told him how good she though he was and I saw him perk up just a little bit as she smiled at him.

2.  The Final 8th Grade Band Class – Wednesday was the last time my 8th grade met as a full band this school year. We had a performance the next day so I ran class just like how I usually did. We worked hard, got a lot done and at the end, I could not have been more proud. I started this group when they were seventh graders and after two years this group was coming to an end.

At the end of class I reminded them that sometimes things seem like they will last forever, but that everything is finite. I told them that I was proud of then, proud to have worked with them and to enjoy our last time playing together as a group. It’s hard to know what to do when things come to and end but I could not have imagined a better way to say goodbye then by sharing music together.

3.  The Dress Rehearsal – For the Spring Concert last Thursday we combined the 6th, 7th, 8th and high school bands. We rehearsed the day before Wednesday after school. We had been preparing the students for this rehearsal, going over what we were going to do during that time and what to expect.

Standing in front of almost ninety students, I was impressed with the attention and effort I felt. Getting settled and finding seats was a little rough but when we started playing it was truly amazing. My goal was to have the dress rehearsal be a valid, important and fun musical experience and it was just that. The great performance the next day was icing on the cake.  Having an amazing rehearsal reflecting months of great preparation: that is what is truly fun about music.

4.  I See The Light – The drama teacher and I hosted a charity event for our school, “Sing along Tangled.” We project Tangled on the screen on the back of the stage and students sat on stage participating with the film. At the moment when Rapunzel has her hair braided, we paused the film and the drama teacher instructed all the girls who wanted their hair to be braided to make a braiding chain.

Twenty girls, pre-school age to 8th grade, formed lines around the stage and as the song “I See The Light,” played they braided each others hair in the soft light provided by the screen.  Flashlights and cell phones illuminated the auditorium as our own lanterns.

Watching these girls across this wide age gap come together without hesitation to braid hair was one of the most heart-warming moments I’ve been part of at this school.  It was a beautiful moments of community and family.  The older students embraced the part of them that is still a little girl wanting to be a princess.  In this way they reminded the younger girls and myself that you are never too old to enjoy the simple acts of sharing. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Harmonize Our Uniqueness

I've been struggling to find a way to reconcile the idea of becoming one voice in my band classes while valuing the individuality and uniqueness of each of our students. Like with many of my questions in life Mister Rogers provided a great answer:
Music has given me a way of expressing my feelings and my thoughts, and it has also given me a way of understanding more about life. For example, as you play together in a symphony orchestra, you can appreciate that each musician has something fine to offer. Each one is different, though, and you each have a different "song to sing." When you sing together, you make one voice. That's true of all endeavors, not just musical ones. Finding ways to harmonize our uniqueness with the uniqueness of others can be the most fun--and the most rewarding--of all.
Creating music with others is not about everybody doing the same thing.  It's about blending what is unique and awesome about each person to make a unique and magical creation.

Monday, May 14, 2012

One by U2

Why do we have conflict as human beings? Why do we fight with each other?  These are questions that define the human experience as much as the search for meaning in life.

“One” by U2, one of the most famous songs in popular music, provides one answer. Like many of U2’s works, this is a complex song full of drama, tension, pessimism and hope.

There are two voices in this song, one that is bitter and one that responds in love. The opening lines question someone’s happiness now that they can blame someone else. The response to this is “one love,” and a warning that if he doesn’t care for this love it will go away.

The response in the second verse is even more angry, “you act like you never had love, and you want me to go without.” He states it’s too late to bring up the crimes of the past and while he acknowledges they are one, they are not the same.

The argument continues in the next verse as he pleads: “did I ask too much . . . you gave me nothing now that’s all I got.” After stating the pain they cause each other, the other person is allowed to respond saying, “love is a temple, love is a higher law.” This almost biblical viewpoint of love is immediately bashed down with the climactic lines:
You ask me to enter,
But then you make me crawl.
And I can't be holding on,
To what you got,
When all you got is hurt.
At the end the anger becomes acceptance, “one life, you got to do what you should.” And while they are different they are sisters and brothers who through their connections have to take care of each other.

As angry as we get with each other, it is impossible to ignore that we are connected. Wee as humanity share one blood, one life and are connected in more ways that we want to admit to ourselves. And yes, we can break-up with each other but it’s hard because in those moments we have to reconcile the bitterness with that deep and very real human connection we have with everybody on this planet.

If we weren’t connected as a human race, we wouldn’t fight with each other. It’s because we share so much with each other that can’t let things go. The conflict we have with others is a reflection of our own thoughts. In this way “One” is as much an argument between two people as a conflict within ourselves.

What is “one” saying? Is it arguing that we should be bitter about these ties that draw us into conflict or is it saying that we need to focus on what we share to look past our differences? Watching performances you get the sense that many people look to the chorus with a sense of hope. This is a valid interpretation but it doesn’t fully look at the depth of what U2 is expressing.

U2 created this song while they were on the verge of breaking up in 1991.  You hear that conflict in the words but you also here an expression of something that they share, that they are one.

This is the conflict of "With Or Without You" (I wrote about in this early post) broadened to all of our lives.  We can't live without each other because we are one but it's so hard to live with each other because those times draw us together in ways that put us at odds with each other.

This tension is a necessary part of life but it doesn't have to define our lives.  Even in the bitterness of the arguments, Bono sings, “we get to carry each other.” We get to take care of each other and maybe that is our salvation.  In our conflict, we express the love we share and through that the burden of being one becomes connections that define who we are as human beings.   

Friday, May 11, 2012

Year 2: Week 33 – Under Pressure

Yesterday my 5th graders had their Medieval Presentation. Next week my 6th and 8th graders have a performance in our middle school music concert. The following week is the orchestra concert and two weeks after that is the Chinese & Indian Story Theater.

Each of these events have a significant musical components and are culminating presentations. Am I feeling a little stress?

Yeah. . . kind of. But more than that I just feel a little confused.

Right before the 5th grade presentation I was kind of bored. Everything was set up and there wasn’t anything for me to do for ten minutes. I talked to a couple people who kept asking me I needed help with anything, but I didn’t. So I just showed them pictures of my new niece on my iPad.

This year I’ve de-emphasized the importance of these performances to my students. It’s not that I don’t want these things to be good, but I don’t feel the idea of focusing on a single moment, as an evaluation of all the work leading up a performance is educational. Also, it places less stress on the actual event, which I feel gets the best work out of my students.

Part of this approach has to do with my students and the community I teach in. I student taught in a very competitive high school where trophies were an important measure of success in the band room. At my current school, kids just don’t focus in that same way on competition.

A lot of this also has to do with my own level of stress and how I feel about work. The hardest thing about my job is balancing the needs of the four grades that I teach. Three of my grades are working on performances at the same time at different stages of preparation. As soon as one is done, I can’t let down. Also, it’s not like after a concert I no longer have to teach them. There’s still weeks of school to go and It’s not educationally responsible to just watch movies for the rest of the year (though I will do some of this, but I can’t do this for a whole week).

Maybe I could handle being stressed out about one of these events but three at the same time? I’d loose it. So I have to be chill. I’ve got to approach these events to me kids as times to celebrate what we are doing and have fun. I put a lot of focus on the rehearsals not only being productive but also being a good time to share music as a group though hard work.

Look, if you don’t take care of yourself, you are going to be useless to your students. Whatever you project is what you’re going to get back. If you express stress to kids, you will have stressed out kids. This is what is working for me right now and my 5th graders did an amazing job yesterday so hey, maybe it’s working.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Evovling With Obama's Views On Gay Marriage

After an evolving viewpoint, President Obama stated today that he believed that same-sex marriage should be legal. While some people are critical of the President’s use of the word “evolving,” it is an honest reflection of how many people come to understand this issue including myself.

My evolution in my support of gay-marriage started in high school. As I entered my teenage years I noticed like most people that some people seemed to not be as clearly display stereotypical gender roles. In high school I was one of those people. I enjoyed music, played violin and didn’t play sports. So other guys would call me “gay.” My response was to spit back gay jokes.

I am not proud of this fact but it happened. As harsh as the words were, I actually didn’t have a problem with people who were homosexual. However, no one I knew was openly gay, but plenty of celebrities were so I thought I understood this issue.

In college I finally had peers and friends who were openly gay. One of my best friends who I wrote about in this early blog post identified as a lesbian in college. I had fraternity brothers who were gay, as well as professors and classmates who were homosexual. I got to experience through them what it meant for them to have their sexuality be an issue in American culture and the struggles they went through.

This drew me closer to the side of fighting for gay rights but I didn’t fully appreciate other facets of this issue. I just knew I wanted my friends who were gay to have the same rights I did.

Years later I met a co-worked who is now a close friends who has a gay son. She didn’t hide this and was open to talking to me about this experience. For her it was very simple. He was her son, she loved him and she didn’t see why he deserved anything different in life than her other children.

Then I realized this wasn’t just about my friends, this was about my future children.

Most of my understanding about this issue came from connections with people in my life. It wasn’t until the arguments against Prop 8 came out that I comprehended this issue on a logical and legal basis. Check out this post about this case and really read the arguments. They will change the way you look at this issue.

My most recent step in my evolution in understanding the issue of gay marriage was teaching the children of gay parents. I have had the honor of teaching numerous children of gay parents but two of my students really stick out when I think about this issue.

These two siblings are the adopted children of a gay couple that has been together for seventeen years. They are wonderful children and if you spent only a small amount of time with them you would feel the love that can only come from a family of strong values and amazing parenting.

I feel so blessed to have had all these experiences, which have helped me evolve to support same-sex marriage and the rights of all people regardless of their sexuality. The majority of people who are against gay-marriage are not bad people. They are just evolving.

Share with them your own journey and bring them along with you. The issue of same-sex marriage is about a lot of things but at its center is love. And the best way for us to change people’s minds is through showing them that love.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Intergalactic by The Beastie Boys

Yo MCA, thanks for helping me teach my students about rap music. 

Rap music is a difficult thing to teach 5th graders. The vast majority of rap music contains lyrics that are not age-appropriate and is about subject matter that holds no place in a school classroom. I’m not complaining about the use of language in rap music. Some of the best rappers use language that reflects their experience and surroundings, which I appreciate on an artistic level. It’s just that I can’t bring those words into my classroom.

Last year I taught two rap songs, “Keep Ya Head Up” by Tupac Shakur to my 6th graders and “Intergalactic” by The Beastie Boys” to my 5th graders. Both units went well by the latter really connected with my students and taught my students many great things about the artistry and the depth of rap music.

The Beastie Boys have always been part of my musical life. I grew up watching these guys on MTV and marveled at the musical growth through the years. The album Hello Nasty really captured my imagination and their hit single “Intergalactic” is one of my favorite songs.

Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA do their thing. They boast and brag about their skills using references to other music, science fiction with clever rhymes. I have my students analyze the back up vocals, the rhyming scheme and teach about poetic devices like alliteration. The students analyze the lyrics and look up words they don’t know. Then we learn how to rap the verse.

Does this song have any deep meaning? No, but it does teach something very important about our culture and what rap music truly is all about. My 5th graders have more illusions about rap music than facts. Most of them don’t see the connection between poetry and rap, and the science of working in and around the beat.

Most of all they don’t see rap music as a genre filled with diversity. For many of them, rap music is simply about African-Americans raised in the ghetto talking about gangs violence and drugs. The Beastie Boys are something very different.

Here we have three Jewish boys who went to private schools. These are guys who are married and have kids. And the Late Adam Yauch (MCA) is more famous for fighting for the human rights and the freedom of the Tibetan people, than hanging out in a club.

Adam Yauch didn’t die from a gang-related shooting, he died of cancer.

Look, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that my students have a view of rap music that is African-American-centric that reflects life in the lower-class neighborhoods, but for them to think that it is only that does not accurately reflect the diversity in the wonderful world of rap music.

It’s going to be different teaching about the Beastie Boys speaking about the late MCA, Adam Yauch. I don’t really know how much I will go into his death, but I think I am going to spend more time on who the Beastie Boys were not so much as rappers but as men. Adam Yauch opened up my eyes not only to the possibilities of rap music but the injustices in Tibet and I think it’s time to pass that along to my students.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Year 2: Week 32 – Failure Is An Option

Everybody fails at some point in his or her life.

Sometimes it’s something big like not getting into college other times it’s something as simple as getting lost and showing up to a social event late. Failure is an inevitable part of life. So why are some teachers so afraid to let their kids fail?

Most people who work with kids do so because they like children. When you like kids you don’t enjoy seeing them be upset. Our nurture instinct is to protect kids and insulate them so that they are happy. There are certain times when this is necessary and appropriate. You should not let a three-year-old see a rated R film. A child that age can't process the content of this film in a healthy way. But if you never let that three-year-old step in a puddle, she’s never going to learn how not to get her feet wet.

I really dislike seeing my kids fail. But the thing is that the more they fail in small and safe ways the more opportunities they have to persevere and figure out how to recover from failure. That’s a beautiful thing to see happen and it really is one of the best ways for students to learn. Most of us are okay with this idea and as long as we tell kids in age-appropriate ways when they fail, things work out pretty well.

Things get complicated when you hit high school and the academic grades effect college admissions. There’s a sense that failure, getting a low grade simply is not an option because the consequence of not getting into a chosen college is too dire to comprehend. That’s just the thing, not getting into your top college choice will not determine the rest of your life. It's what you do with this failure that will.

If school prepares kids for life, it needs to prepare them to fail. They need to feel the sting of disappointment, regret and sadness of failure in school. In the classroom they will not loose their job if they make a mistake, and there are teachers around who are ready to help them learn to get out of that slump.

Fear of failure motivates people to work hard but it can also be petrifying. The “what if’s” can consume a young person trying to move ahead in life. If you only act out of fear of failure then each of your choices will constricted by fear. Fear stifles creativity, enjoyment and fun and if an endeavor lacks those things than any success is ultimately meaningless.

One of my favorite writers Neil Gaiman wrote in his story "Fear Of Falling" about a man having a dream in which he climbed a mountain. Early in the story he is presented with two options: climb to the top of the mountain or fall off. At the end of the story he learns a third alternative: sometimes when you fall, you fly.

Maybe our goal as educators is not to get kids to the top. Perhaps our goal should be to help our students fly so they can reach heights far beyond the summit to places beyond our imagination.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Gaslight Anthem Returns

After the amazing side project the Horrible Crows (which led to some incredible songs like "The Hurricane"), Brian Fallon is back with The Gaslight Anthem.  The first single off the album Handwritten is "45" was released this week.

Hey, hey, turn the record over.
Hey hey, and I'll see you on the flip side.
There you go, turn the key and engine over.
Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet.
This song is about a breakdown, failure and regret.  However somewhere in the driving beat, there's a voice of reassurance.  Within the complex emotions, there's a simplicity, a symphony of broken dreams that somehow evolves into a sense of hope.