The Importance of Glee (And Extracurriculars, For That Matter) - The Jose Vilson

The Importance of Glee (And Extracurriculars, For That Matter)

May 20, 2010

Glee Cast

Four years ago, My friends and I walked through 14th St. and 6th Ave. when we ran into my former choir leader from high school. I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and gave her a warm hug, appreciative of the times we spent for a year and a half in high school. She asked me how I was doing, and I said great. She then asked me if I was using my “singing talent.”  I said, “Um, no, not really.” My friends laughed, and were probably a bit surprised. She was understandably upset to hear that. I said, “I don’t really get chances to use it anywhere.” Computer science majors don’t sing. She gave up and said, “Well, OK, but I’m glad to hear you’re doing well.” I said, “Thanks” and we went our separate ways.

While we kept in contact since then, I still look back to that moment and feel a little needle prick my side. Painfully shy back in the days she first knew me, I found my voice by the end of senior year. It was less about my talent or potential, but my self-confidence, a battle I had to fight on a consistent basis in my youth. She was critical in developing me as a person, whether it was choosing me as cantor and encouraging me to do both choir and the musical, or keeping me on as cantor while I struggled up at the pulpit, letting me find my way through songs. I can’t thank her enough.

When I picked up the habit of watching Glee, FOX Network’s popular geek show, I knew I’d love it from the start. It’s not so much that they do great remakes of popular songs, or have intriguing storylines, or even that it’s a school setting. It’s nostalgia in an hour-long episode. The choir I joined didn’t swing through as many moments of euphoria and turmoil as the Glee gang. Yet, I find myself in every character through their personal struggles for self-identity and voice.

For so many like me, Glee is that show.

I have no wish to go back to the time when I was 17 years old, facing a thousand classmates, hoping to hit that note. I’m definitely not that kid anymore either. I just see that Glee does the job that the music industry fails to do more often than not: promote genuine talent. Nevermind that the only singing I do these days is in the shower. And random poems. And in the streets with my iPod. My self-confidence is significantly improved, and much of that came from delving into extracurricular activities that explored the side of the brain current educrats would prefer our students not use. Whether they join the band, the art club, the drama club, or the hundreds of non-athletic possibilities, our students nationwide deserve that chance.

Glee shows a different type of schema, where what counts is your voice, more than anything else. The choir taught me that. She may not get the credit she fully deserves for the children whose lives changed after the club, but I’ll be first in that line when she does get that credit.

Mr. Vilson, who sees his students for the first time in a week …

This post was written by...

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

For more about me, read here.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Teach_J (Robert Courtemanche) May 20, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Thanks for adding your voice to those of us who teach and “extra” every day. I know that my days in junior high and high school were mainly successful because of extra-curricular classes like band, ROTC and journalism. Had I not found classes that I actually liked and excelled in, I may have not been very successful in high school and maybe never gone to college. There are many kids out there that only find their niche in the “extras.” Without us, they wouldn’t have much of a reason to bother passing math, science, social studies or language arts. They would fail or drop out. We need more support for the “extra” programs, especially in these tough economic times. Thanks.

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bivey May 21, 2010 at 1:24 am

I loved this entry, both for the memories of my own experiences in band, chorus and theatre back when I was a teenager, and for what it means to us performing arts teachers (yes, I teach 7th grade Humanities, but I also teach rock bands in our middle and upper schools). For me, the old movie and TV series “Fame” had a similar effect as “Glee” does for you. (“Out Here On My Own” by Irena Cara was iconic in my teenager years and still affects me deeply… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4mkRwkQRoQ ).

For me, though, there is nothing “extra” curricular about the arts. I view everything my school does – academically, aesthetically, athletically, and socially – as integral to our success and equally valuable and valid parts of our program. Earlier this evening, I photographed our Dance 8 class rehearsing a Bhangra dance, helped do tech work for the three one-act plays being performed by the Theatre 7 class (written in my Humanities 7 class), and finally ran the rock band through their three song set. They look and sound great, and I know people will be stunned at their talent at tomorrow night’s performance- and the work involved (two of the 7th graders will be on stage for over 90 minutes in different contexts).

By coincidence, I was visited today by two women from the 2001-2003 high school rock band. One of them was an amazing musician – she made songs her own in a way adults don’t always manage, and she actually did go on to music school. The other is a mom studying to be a dental hygienist. But both sought me out, both wanted to talk at length, and both also enjoyed talking to my current students, reminiscing for example about the time one of them played a solo on a Fisher Price saxophone in the song “Venus”; when they left they had borrowed the 2002 CD they had recorded to burn an extra copy. Clearly, what we had created together eight years ago still mattered to them. My school’s mission statement includes the development and promotion of women’s voices; it’s nice to know when we’ve been successful.

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Jose May 23, 2010 at 11:01 am

Teach_J, the arts are far too important to me. I can’t imagine a school without these pieces in hand. In my school, students thoroughly enjoy their talent periods, and the artistry is amazing. From the kids who make the murals on the walls to the kids who play in the band, there’s something awesome (in the truest sense of the word) about that much human energy coming out from the young people.

Bivey, your comment reminds me. I need to go back and tell my people how much I miss them. You know what you’re doing, and that’s obvious. Keep it up.

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