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Friday, May 21, 2010
Breaking Frames
I've been blessed with good teachers all my life: my parents, my 2nd grade teacher, my middle school science teacher, my high school AP junior english teacher, and most recently my two mentors from FDP, Dharmonia and Coyotebanjo. I think many of the teachers surrounding me now will join that group of people.

This week was hard, in a lot of ways. The world is so full of truly awful things and it feels as if there's nothing substantial a single individual can do against that onslaught. What I'm learning is that we all have to find our little world-improving patch of ground and hope that others do the same, and teaching is proving to be at least part of my little patch of ground.

After 8 weeks of a Music and World Cultures class several of my kids turned in an assignment using pejorative, evaluative terms about a culture they "othered." What I've discovered this week is that my teaching priorities are threefold:
  1. Introduce my students to the music I love, and the music I don't love so much, because I truly believe in the power and beauty of music as a vehicle for positive change in the world.
  2. Advocate tolerance of difference through the study of music and culture, because kids need to learn that different [sound] doesn't automatically mean bad, or ugly.
  3. To help kids identify how their media is framed, and to break frames I find particularly destructive, because everything is spun and people need to realize the difference between spin and data.
How does that apply to this week in teaching?

I broke some damn frames. Particularly the Self/Other frame.

In case of emergency: BREAK FRAMES
  1. Ask students why we study music and culture (or why we study at all in the age of The Google).
  2. Tell students that knowledge/data/media is mediated through frameworks (very often in an entirely subversive way)
  3. Identify a major framework as the self/other dichotomy, particularly the notion of defining ourselves and our culture by what we're not
  4. Self: White American Middle-Class Straight Christian Male
  5. Other: Minority African Lower-Class LGBT Islamic Female
  6. Identify the evaluative terms that cause a positive gut-reaction often associated with Self: Cultured, Educated, Hard-Working, Pure, Moral, Civilized
  7. Identify the evaluative terms that cause a negative gut-reaction often associated with Other: Lazy, Immoral, Feminine, Dirty, Uneducated, Classless, Primitive, Hypersexual
  8. Show how these terms are used to describe certain groups of people, even though these evaluative terms have NOTHING to do with the actuality of the people represented: African/Primitive, Lower-class/Lazy, American/Moral, Islamic/Uneducated, LGBT/Hypersexual, etc.
  9. Ask again, why do we study?
  10. We study to break the frame (erase self/other and evaluative terms, leaving only people).
  11. Empower your students to question their frames.
Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 7:09 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 2 comments
Monday, May 17, 2010
Arcing towards Justice
Buddhism tells us that life is inherently painful. Not all of life is suffering, but life is inherently full of attachments and conditions that cause us to suffer. Really, I try to be optimistic about life and the world, and the change and progress I believe we're capable of, but it seems as if the news cycle is against me.

My home will probably not recover in my lifetime.

Nashville's gonna take a while to clean up.

Arizona's f***ed (see both Papers, Please legislation as well as the banning of ethnic studies).

Liebermann's introduced legislation that would strip people of their citizenship based on who they associate with.

And while we're fighting for LGBT rights, it doesn't seem as if we're gaining any ground does it?

Add that to the fact that I had three students tell me that certain people in Africa were primitive (no wonder we ignore any and all problems in Africa....we've othered them to the point of no return) in papers for class and the fact that I'm inputting cases for the ACLU where police are incredibly trigger happy with their tasers (including against 18yr old kids).

The sense of utter hopelessness is a bit overwhelming.

More than anything, I want my life to mean something (after all, we're all looking for our purpose in life, aren't we?). I also feel like I've been given things (an education, the ability to think and argue, an artistic voice that allows me to cross boundaries, mentors in a tradition of artists who use that power to create positive change in the world) that make my voice powerful, if I can just figure out how to use it. If I can just make sure it doesn't get squashed by hopelessness, hatred, or doubt.

I've recently been reminded of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery....or should I say marches. It took those marches three tries to get to Montgomery, and Bloody Sunday had to happen first. And when they finally got to Montgomery, Martin Luther King Jr. gave the "Arc of the Moral Universe" speech.

I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth. ... Our dreams will sometimes be shattered, and our ethereal hopes blasted...When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.

We're gonna build a better world. And when I doubt that, when my resolve fails, let me remember Selma. Because it took them three tries, but they made it.

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 1:47 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 0 comments
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Week 7
So for those of you keeping score, it's week 7 in the Spring term--end of my first year of my PhD program. If anyone's wandering, the quarter system is indeed BRUTAL. It probably doesn't help that for Spring term I'm carrying my heaviest load since starting the program here (2 seminars and a survey plus a pretty heavy teaching load).

Anyway, good things and not so good things happening out here.

The Good:

I'm learning a lot (although sometimes barely keeping my head above water).

I love my classes (except when I feel completely unprepared...I got back ahead of the curve this week): Women in Music in Medieval Germany, Medieval Survey, and Historiography of Black Music.

I love the final projects I'm working on: The Hirsau Reform in 12th c German-Speaking Women's Monastic communities, Medieval Sephardic Music, and Negotiation of the "Folk" in Black Music: A Case Study of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. It feels like good work, y'know?

I love my students (I hit the jackpot this term).

I have people willing to help me build a traditional music community here. Slow session has at least 4 regular attendees.

My blues class has 13 kids so far for this summer....this is the first year that I will be an employed musicologist for the entire year (ie no crappy summer job).

I am working on a folk music project with senior faculty at my university (it's grunt work, but again, it feels like good work, y'know?).

The Bad:

I am barely keeping my head above water. Seriously. This week is better, but I've taken on too much. Must figure out how to make sure this doesn't happen again.

That's most of the bad actually....except for:

I have my first bad seed (here after referred to as BS.....fitting don't you think?) in the slow session. BS is a beginner (very) fiddle player (retired ex-professor). After his second slow session, BS wrote me an email detailing his problems with what I was doing. First off....SLOW SESSION IS FREE...you don't like it, DON'T COME! As my former roomie said, "You're outta the herd!" His main complaint was that is wasn't as "satisfying" as the first time he attended (ie it wasn't catered entirely to his playing/learning level). His first slow session, he was the only melody player, so I taught the Kesh Jig (easy, basic tune). BS had come in, and wanted to play tunes he already knew. I explained what a slow session was, and wanted to teach him a new easy tune because he had a really hard time playing in time (he compresses the beat like crazy). His second slow session I taught a harder less well-known tune because there were other melody players. In his email complaint, he also complained that I wasn't sure about the name of the tune. He said, "a name is really important." What is it with people and their obsession with tune names here? He also told me the way I was leading slow session was impractical.

I waited a week and then replied to BS, basically telling him that this is the way I learned the tradition so that's the way I'm passing it on. In addition, I explained the fluid nature of tune names, and the idea that the pedagogy of the tradition developed this way for a (good) reason.

BS returned to slow session last week and was combative in his attitude. I'm giving him one more week, and then I'm going to flat out tell him that these are free group lessons taught in a very specific way for a very specific reason, and if he doesn't want that, he's free to leave and go learn somewhere else. Any advice?

Also, it feels completely insane to me that _I'm_ the one passing on the tradition. I feel inadequate, because I know how far I need to go to be the player I want to be (especially because I'm talking to people in both the melodic and accompanying parts of the tradition). I don't know how to stay in the shallow end do I?

Ah, the politics of community building....

Peace, Love, and Tunes,

posted by Mac Tíre at 12:59 PM ¤ Permalink ¤ 2 comments