Archive | May, 2009

Spinning around and going nowhere…

Posted on 19 May 2009 by urbanmusiceducation.org

So here it is. The Washing Machine analogy. I came up with this after weeks of contemplating why my music students cannot perform at the level of a “normal” school. It’s because we are being compared to this washing machine :

washing-machineYou see, this is the music program  with the young, vibrant teacher in the new building- the one just built in the district to the north with fast-selling houses and pretty lawns. It has all the bells and whistles of a new washing machine, even multiple magnetic surfaces, and a ton of helpful settings to play with. The kids are the white, slightly soiled 100% cotton socks gently placed into this machine to “cleanse” them of their ignorance in a matter of just under an hour (50 minutes to be idealistic). They have lots of room to agitate and tumble around. The curriculum and materials given to help “clean” these students is the brand name detergent- mild and organic- never any harsh chemicals added to irritate their delicate fabric.  Set everything on Warm and give it a run and these unmentionables come out brilliant and sweet smelling, a thing any mother would be proud of folding and putting on the shelf.

oldwashing-machineThen there’s the Urban, Low-income washing machine like ours. Take twice as many semi-soiled “socks” and dunk them in motor oil since they start out with such “stained” home lives, even before they get stuffed into the lower-capacity machine. I don’t even want to get into a racial debate- but let’s just say the demographics of this load are 80% brown socks, 15% black socks, and 5% white socks, so it’s hard tell how much these socks really do need to be cleaned. Many have “special ed” holes in them, or are wearing thin due to emotional/behavioral problems. Let’s also say, the variety of fibers in these socks are as numerous as their variance in color. These socks need generally the same amount of time to wash as the others, but for some reason, someone decided that this load only will get 40 minutes and most of the time the person delivering the load is late getting them in so that time is even shorter. Add a minimal amount of detergent (curricular materials) that is generic and doesn’t “invigorate the fibers”. Then, since the thermostat is broken (and it seriously is in my music room right now!), these socks will have to be washed on the  FRIGID COLD setting for the duration of the cycle, and every so often, the cycle will be interrupted as one or two socks will be pulled out for testing. The washing machine itself is working hard, but it’s tired, over-used, and worn down-  nothing to brag about. Paint is off-color, parts are squeaking, and there’s so much piled on top of it that it’s hard to even load the darn thing. Did I mention the coin-operated part? That means that these socks only get washed when the operator has the money…and you know what they’ve been saying about this economy.

And there you have it. Take the socks out of both machines and compare them. We can say they’ve both been in the washing machine, but scrutinize them and it’s easy to see they are not equal. The socks(students) in the older machine are doomed to fail even from the start given all of the variables against them. How can we standardize this process when there are so many differences among “washing machines” around the state? How can my students even measure up when they only get the simplest of worn-out, used machines and come in stained and worn beyond repair?

I don’t have the answer right now. But, perhaps summer will see this washine machine off to repair. It’s getting new paint(literally-my whole school will be painted when I come back!) at least and the thermostat is scheduled to be “looked at”.  I will clear off the top so it’s easy to load back up in the fall, and I will try my best to find enough grant money to at least upgrade the detergent to some middle-of-the road brand. Seriously folks, this machine needs a rest!

I’ll end this analogy by giving some advice that I will be taking as well: Take care of your washing machine. Clear off anything that may be getting in the way of a smooth wash cycle. Save up and buy the best detergent possible. Don’t skip regularly scheduled maintenance. And most of all, don’t give up on getting those socks clean. Try innovative products that may amaze you by their “stain-removing” power. Give it all you got even when you think have nothing left to give and you have to put yourself on Craigslist or Freecycle and hope someone picks you up. There will always be dirty socks that need cleaning.

~S

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