Recorded Music vs. Drawing Room Performances
The widespread availability of recorded music in the early 20th century had a profound effect on the quality of music that people heard. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the realm of classical music. For the first time in human history anyone could listen to almost any piece of music at any time. What’s more they could treat themselves to a flawless performance by one or another of the greatest artists in the world. Now, with the touch of a button (or drop of a needle) I can have Arthur Rubenstein play any of Chopin’s works for me. I can even bring in Horowitz and have him play the same piece so I can compare them to each other!
Previously, wealthy folks paid musicians to perform for them in their salons. Poor folks went to an occasional public performance or simply went without. However, if you were not the Archduke Ferdinand you were unlikely to ever hear the greatest performers of your day. Most music was performed by serviceable but not brilliant musicians who happened to be available and may or may not have delivered a good interpretation of the piece on offer.
Today, it is simply unnecessary for me to ever suffer through a second rate performance of a great work of music – unless I am at my son’s recital…
So why do we make teachers, good or bad, deliver on-the-fly renditions of what amount to the canon of works for the k-12 teacher? There are essentially several thousand works of performance that make up the entire body of k-12 educational lectures. Every topic from every course in each year of a student’s life are an endless series of hit-or-miss performances by less than world class performers. Why shouldn’t every student see an introduction to the solar system delivered by Neil DeGrasse-Tyson? Why does my son’s English teacher have to try to reproduce a lecture on the Hero in mythology that has been performed masterfully by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers for PBS? It simply doesn’t make sense.
Sal Khan of Khan Academy talks about “inverting the classroom”. That is, having the students watch the lectures at home and then do exercises, in school, under the watchful eyes and helpful tutelage of the teacher. The idea is that lectures are really not the highest and best use of a teachers time.
What’s more, having the lecture delivered at the exact same pace to each student may not work well either. It is a near certainty that one student in a room full of 9 year olds’ attention will wanders for a few minutes in the middle of a 20 minute lecture on past tense verbs. Should the teacher start over? No. Should that one student ask the teacher to recap the lecture after class? Not practical. What happens now? The student is left to figure it out on her own. Wouldn’t it be better if the student could just press pause and then go back 3 minutes without wasting anyone else’s time? Obviously.
There is no technological reasons holding this change up now. Delivery of simple video is within the capabilities of devices that cost far less than a standard textbook and are already in the pockets of the vast bulk of the students in our school. All that is left is for the educators and administrators in our schools to do the non-trivial work of changing the way they work. This isn’t simple, of course. Things have been done the same way for a very long time and the stakes – children’s education – is very high.
Still, I don’t know anyone who would choose my rendition of Chopin over Rubenstein’s. Why should our children have to do the same for their history lessons?