Last week, Hellene received an email from a teacher who suggested that Hellene not blame teachers for the state of music education (or it could have been bad experiences with music education - the email wasn't quite clear) as Hellene might be wrong. Hellene forwarded me the email and asked what I thought. "Ahh," I said to myself, "I see how this has happened. I would like to respond."
It is popular to blame you - the teacher. You are an easy punching bag and you get the blame for all the deficits of your students. We often place more blame on you than we do on parents.
I don’t blame you. That would be like blaming doctors for not being able to detect a minor fracture before x-rays were invented.
If I go to a dinner party and talk to adults, I will always hear someone in the group say, “Music, I’m not very good at it. I took piano as a kid and I wish my parents would have made me stick with it.”
I will also hear people say, “Math, I’m not very good at math. I don’t understand it at all.” In the United States, we’ve been wringing our hands about the way math is taught for over 100 years, and while some people blame teachers, it should be clear by now that teachers are not the main problem.
I am not a music teacher. I do, however, teach math. In 1952, Georges Cuisenaire invented Cuisenaire Rods which were made popular by Caleb Gattegno. These colored math sticks make it possible for every child to learn and understand math. Where Cuisenaire Rods or other base-ten blocks are used, all children are able to learn math because the blocks make it possible for the student to interact and engage with numbers without a lot of interference from a teacher.
I am talking about young students in kindergarten and first grade working with all four basic operations and using fractions as operators. The teacher is there as a guide but the student must do all the heavy lifting. Educator Caleb Gattegno calls this “The Subordination of Teaching to Learning” and "The Silent Way" which, as the name implies, is teaching without talking. If you have the RIGHT tools, students are able to discover for themselves.
Until recently, no one had invented a way for students to interact directly with the notes and the Grand Staff in a way that is self-correcting and provides independence to the children, let alone the youngest or those facing mental and physical challenges. There are some methods that work. There are methods that work better than others, but that always begs the question,
Works for what?
Most parents are not interested in driving our children to be “highly accomplished pianists”. Rather, we want our children to grow up to love music. We want our children to play because they enjoy it and it enriches their lives. I’m not convinced that standard music instruction creates children who love music. That is not the fault of the teacher, it is the nature of the available tools. Just as standard math education doesn't produce lovers of math. Math education isn't even capable of creating students who understand the meaning of the equal sign.
But, just as some teachers missed the boat on Caleb Gattegno, there are those who will miss the boat on Soft Mozart. However, research has shown that guided discovery produces the best results for learning. It works wherever it is tried. Caleb Gattegno would say that the least amount of intervention by a teacher the better. Children learn best what they discover for themselves.
Having said that, children learn the most when they have an astute teacher to guide them. It is always better to have a good teacher rather than no teacher. But, we’ve all met bad teachers. It has been my experience with both math and music, that it is better to have no teacher than a bad one. I earned that insight the hard way. I was once a bad teacher and I've talked to too many tutors, public school teachers, and homeschooling parents who were also bad teachers.
We, this group of recovering bad teachers. are acutely aware of horrible effects of bad teaching. We know what we did. For the homeschooling parent, we did this to our own children. That is hard to swallow. Therefore, my current rule of thumb is always: First do no harm. Being a bad teacher doesn't mean I'm a bad person. Good teachers are made not born. We can always become better teachers. Part of being a good teacher means recognizing superior tools when you see them.
Stay tuned, because I'm trying to convince Hellene to do a podcast with me in August on the subject of Math, Music and How We Learn. If you'd like to see that let her know here:
Don't wait, try out Soft Mozart here:
. Let your children discover the joy of music for themselves.