Things I Know 36 of 365: We’re really good at not teaching kids to sing

I celebrate myself, and sing myself.

– Walt Whitman

Each day in fifth grade, as the bus arrived at school, I hoped everyone would break out in song. I didn’t have a particular tune in mind – at least not one that I recall now.

I just thought we should start singing the way the people did on stage when my grandparents took me to the symphony. Mayber “Carmina Burana” or the “Ode to Joy.” Something simple.

“Let’s sing,” I’d sometimes say to whichever friend was sitting next to me as we stood to de-bus. No one ever did.

Last summer, working with educators in South Africa, as we closed our week of workshops, the teachers would sing in celebration. Everyone, to a person, would sing. We’re talking harmonizing and vocal percussion.

These same teachers who at lunch were bemoaning contract negotiations and class sizes and access to technology, they sang. They transformed from teachers I could drop in to any faculty lounge across the country, to the cast of Glee.

I’ve never felt as foreign as in those moments.

This was what I’d hoped for every bus ride to school. It was happening around me.

But years of education had taught me I didn’t know how to sing.

So I stood sort of clapping arhythmically waiting for what I’d hoped for all those years to be over.

I mean, what would you do if everyone on staff broke into song at your next staff meeting?

When Jabiz Raisdana said he’d be taking my students’ writings and cobbling them together into a song, I thought, “Oh, I could do that.”

When he said, he’d be recording it, I thought, “Oh, no never, hu-uh.”

Worse still was the look on many of my students’ faces when I read them Jabiz’s suggestion that they might contribute a recording of a chorus of the song – fear and panic.

I’m not entirely certain when we teach students they can’t sing. I haven’t found where that particular standard resides in the curriculum. Whatever best practices we’re using to teach students not to sing (or play instruments for that matter) we should really start to employ them in the teaching of math and reading. We’re really good at it.