For the last few days, I have been reading one depressing post after another from dedicated veteran teachers saying that every ounce of joy and creativity has been squeezed our of their classrooms by tests, assessments, micromanaging administrators and the scripted learning that come with adoption of the Common Core standards. 'In the discussion threads these posts have provoked, many people have commented that younger teachers don't feel the same despair, because carefully scripted teaching is all they have ever experienced. And the conversation made me wonder, could these young teachers be, in their own way, extremely effective with the methods they have been acclimated to. Can their be great teaching when people follow scripts given to them from the top down?
And the whole conversation made me think about music. I was about to say that great teaching, like great music, is incompatible with careful scripting. Imagine someone trying to script a great jazz musician like John Coltrane, or Charlie Parker, whose greatest music was improvised, or the Grateful Dead.
But then I started thinking of rock and roll and realized the picture was much more complicated. Some of the greatest rock and roll was scripted by dictatorial producers who basically took every ounce of freedom away from their artists. Phil Spector did this with the Crystals and the Ronettes, Berry Gordy did it with the Temptations, the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, and the early Marvin Gaye. And there was careful scripting in great songs that came out of the Brill Building with the Drifters, the Shirelles and other artists who performed the songs by writers like Carol King and Gerry Goffin and Leiber and Stoller. And all of those songs were heartwarming, beautiful,memorable, landmarks of my childhood.
But what if that was the only rock and roll that was every produced? Where would that leave Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, the Doors, the Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Sly and the Family Stone, the Beatles, the Stones, Aretha Franklin, Parliament Funkadelic, Santana, the post Vietnam Temptations and Marvin Gaye. Wouldn't we have gotten bored with what we had, however harmonic and beautiful it was? Wouldn't we have missed explosions of genius that changed our perceptions, expanded our minds, and changed the way people played their instruments and use their voices.
Under certain circumstances, scripting teaching, as well as scripting music, can produce interesting, occasionally inspiring results, but if all you do is script, you snuff out the creative impulse that allows us to reinvent ourselves and change the world. Creating a uniform world of scripted teaching and learning that imposes uniformity on a diverse nation, and children with diverse aptitudes is a prescription for educational and intellectual stagnation.
We need an education that not only inspires and instructs, but to paraphrase the words of Jimi Hendrix "Let children's freak flag fly, high!"