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My Back to School Safari

Recently, I have been trying to raise a little side money to pay off a bribe that I made my kid to raise his Chemistry grade. I set the bar really high, and he immediately hurdled it. Even though I hadn't been in the classroom for about fifteen years, I pulled out my teaching license, found out it was reciprocal here, and signed up to substitute teach to raise the extra money I needed to make my kid whole. So, I put on my teacher clothes, and headed into the Fairfax Public School District.

Fairfax County, by the way, is one of the richest counties in the United States. That being said, you can assume that the schools are generously funded, and they send out plenty of press releases reminding the community that they are one of the best school districts anywhere. So, when I arrived to teach elementary music, I was set back a bit to realize that the music room was missing something which I considered to be a vital and standard piece of equipment: they didn't have a piano. The music room was also void of chairs, which meant that the kids had to sit uncomfortably on the Ikea rug which generally leads to huge amounts of distracted flopping around with hands and bodies everywhere except to yourselves, obviously causing major break downs in concentration every few minutes. So, what did the Fairfax County School District supply to teach music? There was a cart with a TV, DVD player, and a Ghetto Blaster. If you don't know what I mean by that last thing, it is a fairly large portable cd player with speakers attached. get to my point, the curriculum for elementary music was to play poorly made cds, while the kids danced like brain-washed robots. Each song had a set of "donkey ear" type gestures that the kids were supposed to do while the middle aged songstress barked out one "wheels on the bus" type song after another. Most of the songs dealt with falling things like leaves, rain, and my hopes for the future of music education. Considering this sort of activity, is there any reason to require a music teacher to take any courses in music education? Learn to play an instrument? Even show up for class? Couldn't this just be a computer program that kids work on at home? Obviously, the answer is that it is a wasted opportunity to give the students a real experience with music, but a great opportunity for a corporate publisher to mass produce consumable mediocracy.

Back when I was teaching full time, all I really needed was a piano, chairs, and students. We learned by singing, reading actual music at their level, and participating in movement that was appropriate for the music that was being performed. I honestly don't feel that anyone can make a real connection with music unless they are experiencing it through their own body. It doesn't cost anything either...everyone that can talk--can sing. If a school district is going to shell out fortunes buying programed courses on cds, with text books full of pictures of people performing...we are wasting the student's time and honestly, I don't think we should even bother having music in the schools...if that is how low the bar is going to be.

Tod Rainey

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