Education, Paulo Freire

When I started college back in the year 2000, I entered as a double major in music education and violin performance. I dived in, was overwhelmed, but did find college immensely enjoyable. Due to my education major I joined the OCMEA student chapter at school. OCMEA stands for the Ohio collegiate Music Educators Association if I remember correctly. In my second semester I went to the OMEA (the “C” just gave me a discounted rate!) conference and left really enthusiastic about what I was doing and came back to run for vice president of the organization for the following fall and won! However when I came back to school, somehow I was less enthusiastic, my desires to practice violin more conflicted with my education courses and I couldn’t help feeling I was being trained to indoctrinate rather than to teach freedom and artistry. In a previous class I had learned of a school in the U.K. called “The Summerhill school,” a school where students did whatever they wanted and explored! This just seemed fantastic, but also conflicted with the strictness of the program around me. To be fair, I am certain that the strictness of my music education program was due to the limited time we had to study and the vast amount of material to cover, but more and more I seemed to run into dangerous group think, and was uncomfortable with it – heck I am still uncomfortable with it in any group situations, even in classical music situations.

I could go on and on about this experience as it was a turning point in my life. I chose to drop my education major and focus on violin playing and musicianship as a performance major a quarter of the way through my sophomore year.

This morning I picked up a book from my stack of books and read the introduction. The book I picked up was “pedagogy of the oppressed,” by Paulo Freire. As I read the introduction it brought to mind the situation in my own education that I described above, speaking about empowering students and people in general, showing them their own power to create their lives and their world. Something that stuck out was the idea of regaining the power of words, naming your own reality instead of living under the oppression of having to first learn the proper names for things before doing anything with those names. This excited me and reminded me of two interesting things, actually three. First, growing up I played with legos, created with legos. In doing so I created my own consistent language in relation to the legos. When I played with my brothers, I shared that language and they also seemed to pick up on it or share it rather easily, so perhaps it was a group effort rather than just me creating and sharing….I made language, they made language, it moved about, it made sense. In the world of legos we were empowered, we were in charge and I think it had a lot to do with our use of language.

Ok, now the second thing is this, that growing up I also made music, wrote songs, figured out tunes on my violin. I did not expand this as much as legos because I became intimidated by the existing system of music making and its languages and started to believe that I needed to learn that language really well in order to play with others more. The more I focused on learning the language, the society, the tradition of classical music, or jazz, the more I seemed to lose my ability to be creative. I had started out as a singer songwriter as a 5 or 6 year old, but being in Buffalo I didn’t know that that was something special – didn’t even know people developed that much until I finally moved to Nashville for graduate study in classical music and jazz. Living here, it is amazing to see the creativity of folks who have not abandoned their creativity, who have created their own language in music as I did in legos. I wonder then, how helpful formal music education is, how empowering it really is, especially when you look at the cost-benefit analysis… would be interesting to do it over again and create my own language…..

Ok, now the third thing is the whole English teacher around the world stuff going on right now. There is demand for and there are organizations that pay native English speakers to teach and share English in countries all over the world in which it is not the dominant language. Yes, it is the language of business, and this is empowering, but I wonder if instead of getting everyone to speak English, we should perhaps just learn to speak their languages and not butt in so much, be more respectful and have boundaries that respect other cultures and populations and don’t interfere and destroy non-English speaking cultures by our profit at all costs mentality….The prime directive of Star Trek comes to mind – don’t interfere in developing cultures, not because we are superior, but because the universe might lose what they could create if left alone and not given all sorts of tech which we hardly know how to use ourselves!


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