Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Learning from the Masters

I was watching the video of this year's YouTube Symphony Orchestra performance (Outstanding, by the way) when I heard one featured performer talk about his violin training. This is what he said:

"I never went to music school.
I just learned from my mother
But all teachers have their limits
You can't learn more than the teacher knows
So who could I study with?
I put my entire career in the hands of the Internet.
These are my teachers.
Musicians who are no longer alive
But who left their work behind, recorded in black and white.
I learned from them.

I incorporated their movements into mine
When I play a new piece I upload it
I want people to know who I am
… what I do…
..and to appreciate it…"

So, here's a boy who studies violin with the masters in the field by watching them on youtube. I looked back through this blog at the number of times I said that we're risking having our schools become irrelevant to kids and their education. I found one post dated in 2006 that mentioned that. And where are we FIVE YEARS later? Are we much further ahead? Are we winning the fight against becoming irrelevant? In some schools, yes. Perhaps. But, certainly not as a nation.

Kids don't need school to be successful. They've got all the answers they need right in their pockets. But, when they come to school they can't use their cell phone. They can't access youtube. In some schools they can't even see wikipedia because it's blocked. Some are still blocking all wikis and even Google Docs! And that school isn't irrelevant? Are they really THAT ignorant of what's going on in the world that they think their school has meaning to their students? Not in ANY real sense.

I'm beginning to wonder if maybe this family doesn't have the right idea. Not only were they not schooled in a public or private school, and not even home schooled in the typical sense. They were "unschooled."

I don't know. Schools seem to be in business for the benefit of the school, not the students. Schools make decisions based on what will get the kids to score higher so that the school makes AYP. It's not about the students and what they need, is it? If it were, then a great many decisions would be made differently. At SOME point schools will HAVE to come to terms with the fact that it's not about filling in a blank or choosing A, B, C, or D, or True or False. Start listing questions that can't be answered from a browser. So, it's not about that any more. Let's start with a different 'Given.'

Given: Students have access to ALL the world's knowledge.

Now what? Build from there. Make decisions based on that. Make education meaningful in that context.

Here's the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. Make sure you watch it around the 1:47:00 mark to hear some beautiful music and see some amazing sand art being created live. What incredible talent.


Scott McLeod said...

Do all children and all families have the ability to be effective learners from the Internet? If not, how do we decide who does and doesn't? If so, how will we ensure that they come away from their unschool experience with the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and experiences that we want them to have to be effective citizens, employees, and contributors to society?

As you know, Jim, I'm highly empathetic to this idea but these are just some of the thorny questions...

Jim Gates said...


I wasn't really pushing the idea of unschooling. I was more just frustrated with the fact that most schools are ignoring the fact that it can't be business as usual any more. I am SO VERY frustrated with schools that are blocking the very tools that the rest of the world uses daily to conduct business and to learn on its own. When I presented at the Maryland conference one lady told the group that her school blocks ALL SEARCH ENGINES!! I challenged her on that and she was firm - they block Google, Yahoo, Bing - ALL search engines. Teachers have to build lists of sites that they want the middle schoolers to use. Can you believe that?

I know another school that is a one to one Mac school and they block all wikis, all blogs, AND Google Docs. It seems like they're trying to block EVERYTHING that has the potential to modernize teaching and learning. They want to remain in the '50s.

You're right that not everyone can handle home schooling or unschooling. I know one family who home schooled and the mother was illiterate. The boys "graduated" with 4th grade reading levels. They did a terrible disservice to those kids. I just wish public schools would somehow feel a sense of intense urgency for the need to be more than just the mediums for passing a state mandated test.

It's about the kids and giving them the skills to be successful in THIS world. It's NOT about the PSSA or other state test. We're in business for THEM, not US.

But, of course, you know that. ;)