Monday, April 06, 2009

Hail, hail rock'n'roll

I love rock'n'roll.

The first three albums I ever owned were Bruce Springsteen's 'Greetings from Asbury Park', the Rolling Stones' 'Hot Rocks', and the Velvet Underground's first recording.

It was a bit later that I came to understand the influence of Chuck Berry on so many of my favorite records and on music in general. And the song that always stuck in my mind when I thought of Chuck Berry was 'School Days' with its tale of classroom boredom, young love fun, and the anthemic 'Hail, hail, rock'n'roll'.

The lyric begins with a description of the common doldrums of first-period. History and math are studied, not out of any love of either subject, but rather because the students are just "hopin' to pass"; and all the while, some bored kid in the back of the class is ignoring exactly the moral that the teacher is trying to teach.
Up in the mornin' and out to school
The teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study' em hard and hopin' to pass
Workin' your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won't leave you alone


The next stanza hits on lunchroom life, books, and a teacher's mean looks.
Ring ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom's ready to sell
You're lucky if you can find a seat
You're fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open you books
Gee but the teacher don't know
How mean she looks


Finally, after a day of this:
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat


The rest of the song has to do with the good stuff of love and dancing and rock'n'roll. It's an amazing song and speaks in a universal way to the matter of 'the things one has to do' vs. 'the things one wants to do'.

And I'm struck, not just by the universality, but also by the description in the first half of the song about the school day itself.

1. High School starts first thing in the morning.
2. The teacher is moralizing.
3. The subjects are studied just for a grade.
4. The teacher is unable to control the class.
5. Circulation, facilities, and time-management are everyday burdens.
6. Students carry books around to classes.
7. The teacher is unaware of the psychology of young people.
8. School is a burden.
9. Education is what goes on hanging with friends after school.

This song was written in 1957. Yet, the description of the school environment looks an awful lot like what I think many of us are all too familiar with. It's as though for some reason despite the fact that we're a far way from 1957, we're still doing so many of the same things and fostering the same kind of environment in school. We might tell ourselves otherwise, but consider:

1. We still start high school earlier than psychologists suggest is beneficial to teenagers.
2. Teachers generally still are seen as hierarchically 'above' the students. The euphemism for this is 'authority'; in many a case, we can question whether this 'authority' is warranted.
3. We give standardized tests and force students into classes where they earn nothing more than a 'grade'.
4. Classroom management is often a concern and in many teachers' classrooms 'discipline' is mission #1 of the 'purpose' of education.
5. 'Use-of-time' as well as quality of facilities are often antiquated notions.
6. We still depend in the public school setting on state books and in the private school setting on parents buying books despite the free availability of so many of the texts (especially in English, History, Foreign Language) in free online formats.
7. While much research has been done on the psychology of teenagers, how many teachers really implement any of it in a scientific way in the classroom?
8. School is still a burden for many many students. We are often surprised to hear kids say that their school years were a waste, but we do little to address that from their point-of-view; instead we hire consultants to tell us what our kids feel like.
9. We still only have the students with us for a minuscule amount of time. So why waste so much of it with things that stifle creativity and turn students into the sorts of folks who got as little from high school as many of us did?

Kids are still kids, but in a really distinct way, there is a different sense of what a 'kid' is today. Kids are -- and have always been -- as much a product of their culture and social interactions as they are a product of anything that goes on in their head while doing our homework assignments; but the expectations being thrust upon them by within and without are something much different in context in this much more immediately public Digital Life. In other words: yes, kids have always been bored in school and kids have always danced and fallen in love; but now, those interactions which fifty years ago occurred on a local and semi-private level are know occurring in the active public yet relatively anonymous environment of cyberspace. So even though kids are kids, 'being a kid' really ain't what it used to be.

What is frustrating is that many folks in education are still in the '1957' mindset. Despite all of their own data and research, they still view schools fundamentally in the way that Chuck Berry described them. And so they treat cyberspace as a soda-pop shop, when in fact it is something very very different -- both in terms of education and social-life.

Just as a final thought, here are some of the other things that were going on in 1957. It's instructive, I think, to look closely at how we consider some things 'ancient' whilst continuing to prop up other things on crutches and canes...

January 3 - Hamilton Watch Company introduces the first electric watch.
January 6 - Elvis Presley appears on The Ed Sullivan Show for the 3rd and final time.
January 13 - Wham-O Company produces the first Frisbee.
January 20 - Dwight D. Eisenhower is inaugurated for a second term as President of the United States.
March 1 - Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat is published.
April - IBM sells the first compiler for the FORTRAN scientific programming language.
April 12 - Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl, printed in England, is seized by U.S. customs officials on the grounds of obscenity.
May 3 - Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley agrees to move the team from Brooklyn, New York, to Los Angeles, California.
June 25 - The United Church of Christ is formed.
July 6 - John Lennon and Paul McCartney meet for the very first time.
July 29 - The International Atomic Energy Agency is established.
August 5 - American Bandstand, a local dance show produced by WFIL-TV in Philadelphia, joins the ABC Television Network.
August 28 - United States Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC) sets the record for the longest filibuster with his 24-hour, 18-minute speech railing against a civil rights bill.
September 4 - American Civil Rights Movement - Little Rock Crisis: Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas calls out the US National Guard, to prevent African-American students from enrolling in Central High School in Little Rock.
September 4 - The Ford Motor Company introduces the Edsel.
September 5 - The first edition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road goes on sale.
October 4 - Space Age - Sputnik program: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth.
October 21 - The U.S. military sustains its first combat fatality in Vietnam, Army Capt. Hank Cramer of the 1st Special Forces Group.
October 31 - Toyota begins exporting vehicles to the U.S.
November 13 - Gordon Gould invents the "laser".
December 6 - First U.S. attempt to launch a satellite fails.
December 20 - The Boeing 707 airliner flies for the first time.

Thanks, Wikipedia.


Hail, hail, rock'n'roll...

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