A Teaching Rationale
In the God Delusion, under the heading: Fairies or Theories, will be found the wonderful tale of the lost keys. It is generally true that in complex societies, whose benchmarks are derived from material values, there is much more capital to be made out of problem extension than out of problem solving.
It is gratifying to note that, since the original attempt to implement ACA, many LEA's appear to have softened their approach for fear of losing even more teachers to the private sector.
Since the feedback from fellow teachers has been one of universal approval, and since many of the comments and opinions expressed are equally relevant and applicable today, I've decided to publish the following article in its original version.
A COMMON APPROACH 2002
PERSONAL OPINION AND COUNTER-ATTACK
ACA: personal opinion and counter-attack
What it is.
A Common Approach is effectively a new, alternative instrumental teaching syllabus. The Associated Board, Trinity and Guildhall syllabuses, universally acknowledged as among the finest systems of graded instrumental/vocal study, meet and surpass all the requirements of the National Curriculum. As a bonus, they produce musicians of superlative quality and international repute. ACA, by dint of its mere existence, acknowledges neither of these facts, and is based on the supposition that instrumental teaching in this country is inadequate. It is, therefore, an affront to, and a direct attack upon the proven and accepted standards of instrumental tuition.
ACA has put traditional instrumental teaching methods in the dock. But - as anyone who has done jury service will know - the defendant has nothing to prove: it is the prosecution that must prove its case.
ACA’s supporters would like us to believe that it is already up and running by the mere fact of its having been printed and put in colourful folders. They are using the old trick: act as if - they are trying to kid us that it’s all over bar the shouting, that it is already more or less accepted and approved by the majority of teachers. Indeed training schemes have already been set up! No statistical or other factual evidence has been offered to support the idea that ACA is either accepted or approved by the majority of teachers, who, indeed - if the grapevine means anything - would sooner have nothing to do with it, and who see it as another example (in a long line) of clever word-play and empty rhetoric being used to urge them to redouble their efforts in the direction of yet more meaningless scribbling and box-ticking, none of which has ever been shown to advance the acquisition of musical skills.
ACA publicity, now being distributed, constructed from fashionable jargon and fancy turn of phrase, is cunningly designed so as to avoid direct reference to actual examples of excellence. It talks of “developing.... improving.....professional skills....knowledge...understanding” and other such ill-defined and woolly nothingness. It’s all gravy and no meat. Why is it written like this? Why does it talk unendingly of “long-term-family-specific-programmes......learning objectives......holistic approach....generic issues”? It’s wordwash, the literary equivalent of whitewash. Take equal measures of pc speak and musical terminology, mix well and apply! Anyone can do it: empowered musical standards of family-related studies.... sounds good. What does it mean?.....niente!
The plain truth is; we are being offered a sales pitch.
As for “encouraging... teachers”, one new contract, recently issued by managers to teachers, states categorically that a commitment to retraining is one of the criteria that must be met if teachers are to consider themselves eligible for wage increase. For “encouraging”, then, read “ virtually blackmailing”! People are being virtually blackmailed into lowering their sights in order to serve a politically acceptable agenda.
The same document claims that ACA is built “.... on the expertise of many teachers....". Judging by the number of rank-and-file teachers who, on being asked what they contributed to ACA, replied “nothing”, “many teachers” can be taken as a euphemism for “hardly anyone”.
ACA 2002 “aims to improve the quality of musical experience for all pupils by encouraging instrumental/vocal teachers to reflect on, develop and improve their professional skills, knowledge and understanding”. When I teach, I assume that all my pupils are potential Albert Hall material, which is why I make all of them, without exception, follow the requirements of the conventional syllabuses. ACA requires teachers to abandon these in favour of its own dumbed-down standards, suspending the effective delivery of a world-class instrumental teaching system in order to allow their students to be herded into a factory, where they will be processed, then shoved out into the world, grinning vacantly while chanting “I am included.....”. A minority of students may benefit from this approach, but to propose that it will improve the quality of musical experience for “all pupils” is patently ludicrous. It is a classic demonstration of Collective Mental Derailment, and further belies the claim that ACA is the product of proper consultation.
Imagine the same principle applied to athletics. Imagine halving the height of the high bar so that more people could jump over and feel “included”. No one with a brain would be taken in by such a scheme, Yet, in the case of music, this is, apparently, perfectly acceptable.
The mentality that gets turned on by the idea of creating a society peopled by clones and imbeciles, of life reduced to the level of a package tour, is hard to fathom. The experience of music, or for that matter anything else, does not arrive and depart via conveyor belt; it’s not something to be packaged and then stowed away or discarded. It’s a complex thing that really can’t be quantified at all and at whose heart lies an individual personality that will neither conform to, nor develop under any type of common approach that could be devised. In the exploration of music, what is needed is an uncommon approach - not the subjugation but the celebration of the individual, whatever their age. The best music mirrors life; it is hard, dangerous and unpredictable, and it is only from such music as this that the individual will ever derive a sense of achievement that could meaningfully be described as genuine and life enhancing.
In a civil, progressive democracy, any standard worthy of the name must be both the highest possible and universally applied. It’s not the degree of achievement that’s important, but the benchmark by which it is gauged. Those who feel excluded can always get counseling or take up another activity - one toward which they are more naturally inclined.
Oh lovely! - another form!
Precious few of the activities outlined in the main body of ACA are simple and applicable, and good teachers do these already anyway, so why turn them into an exercise in documentation? A certain amount of paperwork is generated naturally by any activity, but above a minimum requirement it begins to impede the performance of the activity; it becomes self-defeating.
Playing an instrument is something you do, not talk about. It is a non-academic activity; you can no more apply academic criteria to playing an instrument than you can to playing football.
Do the parents who pay for these lessons have any idea what peripatetic teachers are up against in trying to deliver the same standard of service to lessons given on school premises as to those given privately? The amount of paperwork teachers carry around with them from school to school - nearly all of it lesson or pupil specific - already constitutes an actual impediment to the efficient delivery of a first class service. ACA will increase this dramatically.
As things stand, the present system allows sufficient time - though, of late, only just - to cover the technical work, scales, pieces, etc., and write in the lesson notebook. In other words, lessons given at school are more or less the same as those given at home. Teachers need be under no illusions; if they agree to implement ACA, it will be virtually impossible for them to continue delivering a teaching service at a standard sufficient to meet the requirements of the conventional syllabuses.
As a proposed teaching method, the main bulk of ACA has little connection with the realities of what has to happen in order for a person to acquire from their teacher the skills and knowledge necessary to play a musical instrument. Nor does it take any account whatsoever of the physical practicalities involved in operating and delivering a working teaching timetable. As for “unit of work template.....move into diagnostic mode......recording template......the intuitive teacher will capitalize on changes to the original plan......” etc. etc., this is sheer, unadulterated codswallop. It’s difficult to believe that the people who wrote this have ever actually done any teaching, or even live on the same planet as the rest of us.
Current thinking acknowledges a serious staffing crisis in our schools and that the principal reason for this is that experienced teachers have been consistently alienated and ultimately driven away from the profession by the increasing necessity of having to comply with politically correct gobbledygook instead of being left alone to do the jobs they were trained to do
The dismay expressed by managers, when learning of the depths of anger, discontent and frustration to which teachers have been driven only indicates the extent to which they have allowed themselves to become disconnected from the realities of the jobs they are supposed to be managing. They are losing the plot: they are supposed to manage, not tell teachers how to teach. To advise people who play and teach Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and the like that they should consider retraining, or “reflect” on their skills is both laughable and an exceptionable insult; to follow such advice by offering this puerile drivel for serious consideration by intelligent working teachers is to risk losing all credibility.
Teachers are being hoodwinked and virtually blackmailed into implementing a teaching method in the formation of which the majority have not been consulted, to which they have not been invited to give their approval, and for which no track record, pilot scheme, feasibility study or other hard evidence has been presented in support of its credibility as a practical system. The philosophy behind it is irrational, unadventurous and mediocre. Its working proposals are impractical and take no account of the everyday realities of peripatetic teaching. While much of ACA is inane, all of it is completely unnecessary. It is, in any event, over complex to a degree that will make it all but undeliverable at the point of contact.
It is a mediocre work dedicated to the furtherance of mediocrity. One more notch in the downward spiral that began in the 1970’s. and that has, ever since, continued to alienate and marginalize the intelligentsia of our nation to the point where they have virtually nothing meaningful to contribute to the evolution of our culture. The trend that requires teachers to fill in forms about teaching instead of teach. The trend which, having already turned teaching into a semi-skilled occupation, will, if allowed to continue unchallenged, turn it into little more than a labouring job. There will be teachers, for sure. They will even have qualifications: GASM. - Graduate of the AcmeSchool of Music; CHC - Certificate of Having a Certificate.
It is my sincere and firm belief that if we do not stop the implementation of ACA and, more to the point, scrutinize and call to account the ideology that produced it, superb quality peripatetic instrumental teaching in this country will, in due course, be compromised to extinction.
The music and music teaching professions are staffed by a rank-and-file of experienced experts; they are not a free-for-all. It’s time to take politics out of teaching, and for the writers of word-play to get back to the puzzle magazines instead of monkeying around with things they don’t understand.