His approach to making music is very technical and market-driven, guided by expert lawyers, producers, managers all of whom collaborate with my son and his band mates in creating what they hope will be valuable cultural content. There is serious money , venture capital being spent. He spoke enthusiastically of his artistic enterprise–what more could a bright and musical fellow hope for?
The band’s initial recordings have been shopped around and put in front of focus groups, who have fed-back allowed revisions, which he’s involved with now. “They came back and said everything was great except for the vocals and the funky break in the middle,” he reported. “We’re totally changing that.” It’s all about craft with his enterprise: devise the “best tool for the job,” the job in this case being cracking the 14 year old girl demographic. The timing is perfect for him, at age 20 and 9 months, and it’s springtime, and he’s happy. And so am I, his proud dad.
I told him of the shocks to the teaching industry this year, what the NYTimes today quotes a superintendent calling a “devastating” harbinger of “a new reality” in American public education. There is less money and more needy students, less control over curriculum and more tests, and the school house has become something more resembling a factory than a nursery. The current situation means larger class sizes–1 teacher for 35 students plus. And with less money for technology, some serious stressors will amp up. Add to these the ill will and low morale that emerge when you see many of your colleagues getting pink-slipped–the junior teachers, too–sometimes the best and brightest while less competent older teachers are kept. That’s not good for anyone. Teachers worry about their jobs…not an easy time to be in my business.
Inspired by my son’s plan, I posit my own five-year version: I shall endure another several in this darkening battleground, shedding light, and giving support as I can to the kids who need it most. I will do this by building my own and using as many engaging, individualized computer-based learning projects as I can. And in my department, with my colleagues, I will try to be a good teammate.
However, I will envy my older colleagues their modest pensions. And exit plans will play (are already playing) in my mind. It is sooner than I had wished, but life is short. My distraction cheats my students and I feel anger–an anger and disappointment with my countrymen and women. These budget problems reveal my society’s negation of a basic promise I grew up expecting–to give a quality education to all children. An important reason for the problems is the elephant in the corner–our imperial wars. We’d rather be old-school tough than nurturers of the planet. Bottom line, though, we’re treating our kids (and our selves) pretty shabbily. We have manifestly chosen to no longer nurture our youth. The message: When times are tough, kids, we’ll sacrifice a quality education.
Having to think about me and money in the context of school at all feels like a gross dis-service to the kids. Mother Church had it right: when a priest is secured a job and lodging, etc., it is so that he can give whole-heartedly to the kids, and not have to worry about taxes and mortgages and interest.That is the deal I signed up for–teacher as vocationer–priestly servant of society, etc. And for a number of years–maybe 4-5–it was one I was able to get. But no more.
I feel a bit cheated by society changing the rules of the teacher game on me. In one nightmare scenario over the next 4-5 years, fascist controls grow over schools from a continuing bad economy (it has happened). There are no contracts and job protections in this future. An older guy in that job with an expensive paycheck is left especially vulnerable to ageism in that circumstance. I may have to hit the bricks… And yet, as my son shows me, what is man, if not the adapting, planning species? When they pink slip me, I’ll find a new plan. Perhaps I’ll get serious about being a rock star, something my son knows something about now.