Election Night Blues in the key of C

Dear Colorado,

I get it. Amendment 66 was perhaps an extreme approach to education funding. I don’t agree with your choice, but I do understand why you didn’t pass it.

But can we agree that we need to do something about school funding? Since I began teaching, we have always been told to do more with less. Every year there are a few more State-imposed mandates with no additional funding to make them happen.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I want my kids to learn from great teachers. Great teachers don’t get into education for the money. We do it because we love helping students learn. But it sometimes gets tough to love the job when teaching your kids doesn’t pay enough for me to adequately support my kids. When I leave teaching, it won’t be because I hated the job or performed poorly. It will be because I can’t afford to teach.

Colorado, your kids suffer because you can’t decide what you want. On the one hand, you want high-performing schools and teachers. You said so by passing Senate Bill 191, which raises the bar for how teachers are assessed. On the other hand, you fall behind most other states in funding education.

This isn’t a sob story about this one ballot initiative. This is a call to all of the reasonable people out there in Colorado: FIGURE IT OUT. If you want awesome schools, figure out how to pay for them. Colorado, tonight your answer was no. Figure out a solution you can accept, and say yes.

Hopefully you can figure it out before too many of our best and brightest teachers have moved on to other states or different professions.

A radical approach.

On the day when the Aurora theater shooting occurred, I posted a Facebook comment that got more feedback than anything else I’ve ever posted.  It went like this:

A terrible event. This reaffirms my belief that positive, lasting change will not come from external forces like new laws or new technologies. The “bad guys” will always innovate and adapt. No, true change must occur in the hearts of the people. If we can become a little more civil to each other, if we actually get to know our neighbors, if we genuinely care about those we meet, if we take time to listen to the lonely and empathize with the hurting — perhaps we can help some turn before they become “bad guys” in the first place.

It’s true.  The politicians will give long speeches on the types of controls that need to be put in place.  From gun control to birth control, they will give their answers to society’s problems.  But the only true control is self control.  If we can instill an intrinsic desire to work with love for the benefit of those around us, our society can turn around in just one generation.

Perhaps that will require shutting off the video game and talking to the people around us – a radical approach.

Google+, Control-

In case you’ve been completely disconnected for the past couple of weeks, Google+ is the next big social networking platform. Some people think it will kill Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other competitors.

Although I don’t think Facebook will be hurt enough to shut down, there is one aspect of G+ that makes it more enticing than any previous social networking tool: It’s embedded in Google.

Almost everybody who uses the internet also uses Google search. Calendar, Gmail, and other Google services are also quite popular. Now, as a Google+ user, your status updates appear in a bar at the top of most of the Google services everybody has come to rely upon.

I work in schools, and I’ve seen the evolution of content blocking. But can any corporate or school network admin really block Google? Blocking Google would handicap reasonable, everyday business or education tasks. They couldn’t get away with it.

But soon, Google+ and Google everything else will be inseparable. Google realized that social networking is largely seen as unproductive use of time, so it designed its social network to embed itself in places that we have come to see as necessary for productivity.

Don’t be evil…?

(Waste some time connecting with me on Google+)

Music Philosophy

As I was speaking with a fellow musician today (he is the teacher in whose classroom I am student teaching), we got onto the subject of jazz. I mentioned that I can’t stand to listen to a jazz station for long periods. This got us into a good conversation about modern music and what gives good music its “edge.” I have a few philosophical points to share on this:

  1. All music comes from somewhere. It may be an outgrowth of the culture from which it springs. It may be a facsimile of what the musicians have heard before. Music has origins, from a child playing chopsticks to the newest punk rock band. If you analyzed every musical influence which has brushed past my ears, you could probably identify where every good musical idea I’ve had was used by somebody before me. Real musicians steal. No, I take that back. Real musicians take existing elements and organize them into a recognizable, effective form. Isn’t that what God did when creating the world?
  2. The best music is organic. I don’t mean that it’s free from pesticides and genetic modification. I mean that the best music has a refined human element. Various software tries to emulate human musical performance, and some do a good job. But the best music is felt not only by the audience, but by the performer in the very act. It contains human characteristics (like trademark imperfections) that make it real. The best music is never played the same twice, because the right interpretation for the moment is determined by the venue and the audience and what the musicians had for dinner. Little things that seem inconsequential change the performance immensely for musicians who are willing to follow the natural unfolding of music.
  3. Good musicians are becoming fewer in the world. Why? Attention span, for one. How many children have the drive to practice an instrument daily? How many adults? I see a critical difference between this generation and the generation of our parents: mediocre music no longer requires musicians. Before the technology of the 90s and beyond put a studio within the grasp of any bozo with a synthesizer, making music required live musicians. There were, of course, recordings, but they were made with live musicians as well. Now, musicianship has become novel. It is one thing to play Guitar Hero and quite another to be a musician. But disturbingly, many of us under 30 devote significantly more time to video games than to any real skill-building activity.