I spent four years in the Northern Michigan University music program, practicing many hours a day, sleeping in my practice room on a hard tile floor, directly underneath the piano. I played Bach Fugues repetitively, obsessively, and sometimes it lead to the annoyances of others. Donald Grant, the highly conservative traditionalist even told me himself “If anyone has made progress here, it’s been you.” And then I spent 6 months with Dane Bays and Alex Brooks. “If you want to learn how to play Jazz, just come to my house twice a week.” -Dane
Within 6 months these two elders guided me down the path towards a wonderful form of honest expression, and yes, my Sound changed. My sound, groove, everything. It all was starting to come together. In 6 months, they could use what’s considered “unorthodox” methods in teaching, and be highly successful. But what I believe, is that academia is unorthodox, only because it’s highly resistant to change.
Now lets talk about learning a new language. In Spain, children are taught how to speak English by the means spending endless hours with their noses in grammar books. This rule for this, this rule for that. They’re not working on speaking, and their listening capabilities also suffer. But they’re often asking questions like “Can we use a modal auxiliary with the second conditional using the past participle?” As if thinking this way has some form of real-world application. “Can you just give me one rule for prepositions?” Absolutely not. English doesn’t work that way, music doesn’t work that way, and why should we assume that any form of communication works that way?
How do we learn to speak our first language? Through listening first, mimicking what we hear second, through correction we learn to speak appropriately, and then we learn to communicate. After this we learn how to read and write. The same as with music, but for some asinine reason academia takes the reverse route, and pins its chest with a badge of prestige.
Needless to say, feeling like this helped me leave the education department at the university and guided me towards studying sociology. For whatever reason, my zany sense of humor and sometimes vulgar passion for social justice was appreciated. I was even told it helped with the classes. If it wasn’t for experiencing these two polarized atmospheres, I wouldn’t be fit to teach with confidence in foreign countries. However the U.S. is much more resistant to change than say, 20 or so countries in Europe.
“A good student and a good teacher is one who knows how to follow rules.” Said Donald Grant while walking through the hallway of the Thomas Fine Arts center. I will never forget that. The head of the music department said that. Not Gandhi, not Edison, nor the Dali Lama. They said the opposite. This mentality is the reason why my countries education system is failing. This mentality doesn’t support creative thinking, critical thinking, or any form of innovation. And only from this position at a prestigious university will it trickle down through the rest of the echelons of academia.