restricted access 3. Learning in Laboratories
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Learning in Laboratories We live, someone has said, in a haphazard mixture of a museum and laboratory. —John Dewey I know an English teacher in Brooklyn who was visited by her supervisor and evaluated on her performance, as required by law. Among other things, the supervisor documented that her children took twenty-two seconds to put their books away. “The next time I visit,” the supervisor warned, “I want you to cut this down to twelve.” I shared this story with a colleague some days later, trying to make a point about the bleak conditions of public schooling and the promise of efficiency that is driving the design of today’s instruction. “What would the teacher even do with those extra twelve seconds?” I wondered out loud. “Surely children need time to follow a thought or blow off a little steam.” Without missing a beat, my colleague, a band director from New Jersey, reminded me that instructional efficiency is what music teachers excel at. When it comes to using time effectively, the band director is the envy of every English teacher. I stopped walking. He was right. The renowned excellence of the North American large ensemble setting comes from the fact that director-educators squeeze every second from every rehearsal. Children don’t follow their own thoughts so much as they follow ours. A classroom divisible by seconds is a classroom of overwhelming control, I thought. And wouldn’t such a classroom put a premium on teacher knowledge and learner submission? It was a depressing conversation. This anecdote has something to do with the dominant discourses that have come to define teacher quality at this moment in history, as explored in chapter 2. But it also has something very particular to say about music teachers, the forms we study, and the ways in which these forms are conceived and put into practice. What does it mean that rights and wrongs can be dispatched with the speed of a stopwatch and that learners are kept stimulated every minute of every hour? What does this method say about curriculum and instruction, and about the ways in which classroom environments are created and maintained? I am thinking of my time as a high-school band director when I had to limit the amount of wrongs that I could communicate at any given moment, lest I overload  Learning in Laboratories | 67 my students. My own saxophone instructor probably thought the same about me: How many wrongs can I dispatch before I overwhelm this young player? I wonder about the differences between the experiences of the Master and the experiences of the apprentice. When I was a band director, why did time fly by so quickly? Because every second counted and there was so much to teach. When I was an apprentice, why did my university lessons go by so slowly? Because every second revealed my inadequacy and there was so much to learn. This chapter is concerned with school spaces and the ways in which music educators shape the formal environments in which music is made and explored. I continue my critique of the closed form by contrasting its educational principles with a concept of instruction that is purposefully open and unfinished, one in which learning takes place over large stretches of time, and inefficiency is its own “value-add.” I continue to seek out a larger vision of what is possible in public-school music classrooms and university music-teacher-education programs . Speaking to performance educators and music-teacher educators alike, I am insistent that the Master-apprentice model is not our profession’s only option . It remains our commonsense option for the simple reasons that musical instruments have always been difficult to play and that the “correct” way to sing has always been difficult to learn. This matters because most university-based music instruction takes place on instruments that were developed in the eighteenth century and do not lend themselves easily to self-mastery or peer learning. So-called “healthy” singing stems from the bel canto style of the eighteenth century , a “natural” technique that cannot be developed at home or with friends. Attached to a host of knowable rights and knowable wrongs is a form of functional literacy—also from the eighteenth century—that is highly structured, intricately coded, and standardized in such a way that effectively excludes novice input or learning through discovery. This is a vocational model of music education, with specialists teaching future specialists. Few would argue that...