Our Own Conductorless Orchestra

Jose Vilson Education

OrchestraFirst off, shout-outs to History is Elementary for the latest Carnival of Education, which I participated in. I need to get with the program and actually turn my blogs in on time and early.

Also, tomorrow, for those of you reading for my Penny Harvest escapades, I’ll have a whole blog or two on them in the next couple of days. That should be fun.

In any case, I went to Carnegie Hall last night with my girl and our friends. Yeah, that’s far from my favorite chill spot. I might have been the only dude of my demographic representing there.  The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, dubbed the most famous conducterless orchestra, had their opening night. The show itself was amazing; the sounds captivated me and really took me to another place, and that’s something music should do. I found myself tapping my feet trying to look for a drum or a dope bass line, but alas, I knew better in Carnegie.

It made me think about the purpose of having an inquiry-based class, where kids actually ask critical questions about what they’re being exposed to. The violinists and cello players come in when they need to. The flutes go off on time. The drums and horns come in time with everything else in the song. And it was all without someone telling them what to do. They just did it. When I thought about it, though, I said, “They’ve had this type of training for decades, and practice their rituals and routines almost every day. Even with a summer break, they’re ready to roll when they come in.”

Unfortunately, we don’t have a system in place where that can occur.

I’ve expounded on this before, but I think it’s worth noting: students in most urban schools are having a hard time with the workshop model, and it’s very simple. Studies have shown that student-centered models of education don’t work unless they’ve had a stable foundation of step-by-step direction and / or teacher-guided instruction, and that the latter tends to be more efficient through the primary years. In other words, many of them need to be shown what they’re supposed to be researching and how to do it before they go about it themselves.

Politically, this also means that, if indeed we have more teacher-guided instruction, that actually makes us more indispensable, and they can’t just treat teachers like cogs in the factory. I’m pretty sure people want the most effective and experienced teachers in there, but when we go to the other extreme of student-centered teaching, there’s a popular sentiment that you can put practically anyone up there and they’ll just moderate the kids’ work.

The most successful examples of the workshop model have been where the teacher incorporates a healthy dose of both. I agree that children should start learning concepts and abstractions at an early age, but if we think about the stage of their lives they’re in, it’s obvious that they often need direction. Why would it be any different in the classroom? They should at least be afforded the opportunity to know what are the more important questions, hence taking more and not less ownership over their own learning.

So I look at the orchestra again, and they’re kickin’ butt. All they do is look at each other and they’re off. Strings flying, horns blowing, and all sorts of other instruments playing their part, all without a conductor to let them know how loud or soft they’re supposed to be, or to remind them of when they’re supposed to join the music. They all just know.