Monday, April 15, 2019

Toby, Music Therapy, and Break Assignments

In college, I took a course in music therapy. I've always been interested in music, and if we could use it to help people, so much the better. I never really followed up on it. I'm now more keen on therapy dogs, which I think I first heard about in a NYSESLAT exam (before the NYSESLAT exam devolved into an exercise on Common Coriness). I believe in therapy dogs, because my dog Toby wants to say hello to absolutely everyone when we're walking. Sometimes people pet him for a while, turn to me and say, "Thanks. I needed that."

One of the very first assignments I got in Music Therapy 101 was to write instructions on how to use a kazoo. I found that to be an absurd assignment. I failed to see how teaching someone something so obvious would be therapeutic. Perhaps there was something I was missing. Perhaps there still is. My friend wrote something like, "Place it in your mouth and hum." That pretty much nailed it. I don't like to copy, though. I wasn't sure how to differentiate my work from that of my friend, and I didn't see a better approach. I'm a big fan of simplicity.

Since simplicity was off the table, I decided to go in another direction. I wrote a five-page paper on one of those old-fashioned things they called typewriters, in the form of a Q and A. I don't recall everything I wrote, but I remember this:

Q: Can I use my kazoo as a weapon?

A: Kazoos are made for only peaceful purposes, and should never be used to do intentional harm. However, it's certainly justifiable to pull out your kazoo if it's a matter of self-defense.

The teacher was not amused. She handed it back to me and wrote, "This is all very interesting, but please go back and do the "real" assignment."

I remember being offended by the quotation marks around the word real. Did that mean it was just so-called real? What was real and not real to this teacher? I spent a lot of real time doing real work to complete a real assignment. Of course I found the assignment ridiculous, and I don't suppose the teacher liked that. I dropped the course rather than pursue whatever it was she deemed real.

Years later, my daughter was in high school reading The Catcher in the Rye. I remember when I was in high school. I read it and wondered what the big deal was. I did not find the book shocking, I read an awful lot of books back then. Some were really eye-opening. I remember a whole lot of books that contained a whole lot of material that was way beyond Holden and his teenage angst.

I read the book again, along with my daughter, and found it to be worse than I recalled. Holden was a detestable little person with whom I did not wish to spend one extra moment. I did not care at all what happened to him. I don't recall whether it made such a negative impression on my daughter, but her teacher gave a spring break assignment that pissed off both of us.

She had to make some kind of display with artifacts. I remember running around with her to 99-cent stores to pick up crap to make the display. She also had a menu of other crap to do, one option of which was to write a blog in Holden's voice. I did that for her. It came easily to me. Unless the goal of this assignment was to make us hate the book even more, I saw no value whatsoever to it. However, it had the added advantage of ruining our week off.

I never give assignments for breaks. I figure a break should be just that. I know some of my colleagues disagree, and I'm absolutely sure there are assignments that are not crap. But I don't feel bad about cutting my kid's time spent on crap. I figure it's one of my jobs, as a parent and a teacher, to reduce the amount of time spent on crap in any way I can.

Now you could argue that I was being dishonest helping her. I'd argue that one of our jobs as teachers is to identify stuff that is not crap and get our students involved with it. Hopefully, then, we'll be raising a generation that will both take and dole out less crap than we did.
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