Today was spent in a very sunny Walsall at an excellent event run by Musical Futures. It has been a very busy week travelling quite a bit so I very nearly didn't go but I am so glad I did.
I had never heard of Musical Futures before but after listening to an excellent and thought-provoking keynote address from its founder, David Price, was left reflecting on the way education, especially at secondary level, is constructed and how the traditional models of discrete curricular areas urgently needs to change.
David Price http://davidpriceblog.posterous.com/
(David mentioned having worked at one time with Sir Ken Robinson, the guru of the creative curriculum)
David asked a group of children to illustrate in pictures i) how they see their current experience of education ii) how they would like to experience it and they came up with this pictorial metaphor
How they would like to be taught
The pictures capture the sense that whilst in their every day lives new technology offers them ever greater freedom to make connections, build their own peer, social and learning networks, they are in a school system that still puts them into fairly tight curricular 'subject cages' to be processed and 'produce' those exam results.
It is an 'assembly-line' model of education inherited from our industrial past, where each labourer/teacher does their 'bit' with their own discrete subject expertise to get the final 'product'.
These 'subject cages' are hard, if not impossible, to break out of.
Why? WHY? WHY?
There is such a revolution going on in the way people's working lives are being shaped. The emphasis is on fluidity, ability to respond to change, being connected with others dynamically across traditional barriers of class, race, religion, nationality, time and distance in order collaborate and act. Yet we are stuck with a secondary school system to prepare children for this that is essentially still 'closed' in nature.
The traditional subject boundaries need to be challenged. As far as I can see they are there not for any rational educational reason but for 4 purely administrative conveniences
- buildings that don't allow for it
- timetabling conveniences
- an exam system that tests in discrete subjects - that old tail-wagging-dog!
- available teachers that are trained in discrete subjects thus perpetuating the structure.
If the latter is not changed, we will never free ourselves from this antequated and inappropriate curriculum model.
As I look back I wish I had been trained as a Music / Language teacher. Had the flexibility been in the system to do this, I truly believe the most productive years of my teaching career would have been infinitely more profitable for the children in my care. Because it wasn't, I and they were robbed.
I am not so naive as to think any of those four entrenched elements of our system are anything but difficult to shift but a different mindset and willingness to think differently are the first steps on that journey.
So, whilst at this event, I found myself being challenged to wonder just why there seems to be so little evidence across the UK school system of Music and Language teachers working together? All language is a composite of sound, rhythm and pitch. Music perfectly matches these and marries them to emotion, and emotion is the fundemental driver of human motivation and purpose.
I know there is some overlap between languages and music going on, though it is piecemeal and depends upon the visionary presence of a few individuals in particular schools.
I attended a wonderful event last year at the Guildford County School where the Head of Music, Caroline Gale, had organised a Eurovision singing event for all of their feeder primary schools.
The music department went to the primary schools (yr 6) to train the teachers and pupils in how to compose a song. They then created their own original songs with lyrics written in a wide variety of different languages. These were performed at the Guildford County School they were soon to be attending to an audience of parents, teachers, yr 7 - yr 9 pupils. It was a wonderfullly positive celebration of song, music, languages and pupil creativity and I'm certain that, in September, those yr 6 pupils quickly felt a very comfortable part of their new school. I think too I can guess which 2 subject departments they felt most connected to and motivated to do well in when they got there!
So my challenge to all of my MFL and Music colleagues out there is this: Why don't we start to make a difference? Why don't all of us who have a passion to see children blossom in our distinct subject areas come together and collaborate to build communities of creative celebration for languages and music?
If you are reading this and know of anyone who you think is either already doing this in primary or secondary education or would love to see it happen, could you please pass this blog post on, especially to anyone with the power or influence to bring about change.
You can contact me personally at souffler(dot)uk(at)gmail(dot)com
If colleagues in other countries reading this have experience of such collaboration they can share, please e-mail me any relevant links or an outline so that I can share it here.