Friday, June 03, 2005

Can Esteem or Rocking be Taught?

Should I be worried that every current news story reminds me of a rock-n-roll comedy?

1) If you haven't yet seen it, here's the USA Today article surveying the excess of esteem accomodations in modern education from "tugs of peace" to disallowing recess tag since some "victim" has to be "It." The natural, important lessons of maturation are undermined by people who would bubble-wrap childhood, despite the fact that the adult world, where lucky people will spend the vast majority of their lives, is full of sharp corners that grown-ups need to have learned to navigate. Here's a corker:

Purple is replacing red as the color of choice for teachers. Why, you may ask? It seems that educators worry that emphatic red corrections on a homework assignment or test can be stressful, demeaning — even "frightening" for a young person.

This recalled to me a conversation from Spinal Tap about the amp knobs that dialed up to 11, or as Nigel Tufnel pointed out, "One louder." Marty DiBergi asked, "Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?" Reply: "These go to eleven."

What if we make purple the new red and then purple becomes the new frightening color?

I always thought red grading marks were historically used for visibility. In early days of Xeroxing, when it turned out red pen didn't photocopy well, some teachers switched to green which did. At the time, we students didn't get confused even though "green means go" and is the color of springtime and currency. We didn't misunderstand that answers marked in green were not being singled out for celebration, although now I feel my schoolmates and I may have been adaptable in ways considered inconceivable today. Our unique resilience aside, I'm suprised that experts haven't advocated lavender scenting to accompany the ink's color for the aromatherapy benefits to students' jangled nerves.

2) There is a documentary called Rock School. The site lauches with annoying music (bad design) which you can stifle by clicking the Dude with Amp icon in the lower right corner. Apparently there's a real place in Philly where Paul Green aims to cultivate rock's future heroes as graded by inches of coverage Rolling Stone, a crummy way to judge music in my view. Maybe this is all a great idea, but I'm not sure you can force lightning into a bottle that way.

I laughed like a loon during Jack Black's comedy, School of Rock. But part of what was so funny was the absurdity of turning rock into study modules, flow charts, and Venn diagrams. Jimi Hendrix ergo Lenny Kravitz carpe Joplin sum Zeppelin. The kids in that movie were carefully selected musicians with rock backgrounds, except for the classical keyboardist (playing a classical keyboardist) who had to learn off-screen how not to simply follow the score, but to internalize and emulate the rhythmic rolls of the Doors' Ray Manzarek.

Not all, but most rock is composed of simple forms, like blues, country, and gospel are. There are musical wizards who elevate the complexity and technicality, but it isn't necessary in order to make heart-wrenchingly wonderful music. Nuances of expression within simplicity are what either rock your socks off or fall flat. Far from being the result of polished calculation, new sounds and techniques often come from the ignorant work-arounds of self-taught and/or impoverished musicians. Putting together rock bands like choreographed pop horrors can't guarantee a rockin' product even if it helps the kids' musicianship, which is a worthwhile goal on its own merit. But far more elusive than mere catchiness is the rock song that hauls a$$ to Boot Stompintown.

I prefer the classic model of youths in garages and basements. Soundproofing, paying too much for lousy equipment, having fun, writing songs, fighting over band names and logos, breaking up, changing members, getting better, and figuring out what your unique contribution is as you ride Mother Nature's own rock band continuum.

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