Last fall, as part of an application to an online doctoral program, I wrote an essay in response to the following statement:
“Technological developments over the past 10 years or so hold the potential to revolutionize music education.”
To paraphrase Seth Godin, “An artistic age is dawning as the industrial age founders.” Music educators must pursue new answers to new challenges and new skills for new tools in order to equip today’s students for success.
I have two boys, and friends and relatives always tell me, “They will grow up before you know it.” The same adage is true in regards to technology and how we live life: “Life will change before you know it.” Life is changing and the challenges of today require not only different solutions than would have been suggested a generation ago, but also different ways of thinking.
Over the past ten years we have seen immense leaps forward in the power and availability of technology, and in how technology interacts with everyday life. In 2000 the average computer had a speed of around 500 Mhz; now a new computer usually boasts speeds of at least 2 Ghz, a 300% increase. In addition a whole new generation of tools has been introduced: iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iCloud, just to name a few. Perhaps we should call this generation the “iGeneration.” And not to miss the obvious, I am writing this essay in part to apply for a respected degree offered online, something which was not even possible 10 years ago.
The possibilities for education are massive simply due to the ability to connect over long distances via Skype, Facebook, and many other applications. No longer does a piano or composition instructor need to find students in their own neighborhood or city. Now a teacher can simultaneously teach students from around the world while sitting in his or her living room, a bedroom, an office, a park, or wherever they choose. The Eastman School of Music recently built a state-of-the-art recital hall which has built-in video conferencing technology so that masterclasses can be held across continents, a development possible because of the advances of the past 10-15 years.
This new reality brings new responsibilities to bear on the educator of today and tomorrow. Schools much build students who know how to use the tools of today. Educators must also build students into artists rather than assembly line thinkers. The industrial age brought the ability to mass produce large quantities of identical products. This new artistic age brings the ability for individuals around the world to create large quantities of unique and high quality products. No longer is quantity or even quality a measure of potential success; anyone with a few basic tools can produce large quantities of high quality products. Or, to speak in music education terms, now many more educators can produce high quality students in great numbers because teachers now have access to the entire world.
The question, then, is this: “If quantity and quality are more readily available than ever before, how does a student distinguish himself from the masses?” The answer comes in whether or not a student is willing to instigate creative and unique ideas and techniques. A great example is the organist Camperon Carpenter. His performances and techniques either outrage the establishment or delight the playful, but the most important point is that he has established himself as different, unique, creative.
Now is uniqueness for uniqueness’ sake desirable? Of course not. At one of my previous church positions an individual applied for the newly vacant senior pastor position with a cover letter decorated with playful stickers. Unique, definitely. Effective, no. His effort completely backfired, to say the least. Creativity, however, that takes what is known or unknown and extends it to new places with maturity and vision, that will be successful.
Unfortunately, educational systems today are based on an industrial, assembly line approach to life and success. This approach is dying or even gone. More than ever schools and colleges have the responsibility to unleash young minds to think creatively. Survival for a student in the artistic age must include excellence and the ability to produce, but success and distinctiveness for today’s student require an entirely new ability to dream and create what has not been and revise what once was into something new. Schools, and not just students, must change, which means that the change must begin with teachers if it is to begin at all.