African penguins are hurting. "African penguins are at their lowest population numbers in recorded history and have seen an alarming rate of decline in recent years. Since 2005, South Africa has lost around 70% of its breeding pairs with less than 15500 pairs left in the wild. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), this is the lowest number ever recorded. ... Marine pollution has affected the species, especially during major oil spills such as the Apollo Sea bulk carrier spill in 1996 and the Treasure spill in 2000, but also due to chronic plastic and fishing line entanglements. Disturbance and disease are other threats." This material waste is a concern for educators. African penguins may be extinct in as little as 10 years; our action is required. How are schools wasteful? In big ways.
In 2013 the LA public schools gave every child an iPad. $1.3 billion was spent for 650,000 iPads, and the program was initially lauded as a social justice accomplishment. Of course, giving tax dollars to huge companies like Apple and Pearson is not social justice. In this "ill-conceived and half-baked" plan quite a bit went wrong. However, an aspect that mostly goes silent is the ecological impact of big press-oriented school administrator plans. Most of those iPads went unused. It doesn't help that iPads are designed for obsolescence. Of course, in the Pittsburgh Public Schools we had our own press-oriented administrator, Mark Roosevelt, who lobbied to get $40 million for his ill-conceived plan for city school reform--turning an overachiever among large city districts into a wasteland; and turning his press achievements into a university presidency. Of course, the Gates money meant Gates wanted to guide policy, and ultimately that $40 million was less than half of the cost of the program; which was a hefty cost for taxpayers to pick up. Administrators who are not connected to communities and have no long-term plan for making those places better have no place in superintendent positions. Our children aren't your tool for political gain.
Sadly, all similar big projects look good to press initially; they look good to the public. Pre-tenure university faculty would love to have one of these on their tenure review portfolio. The negatives take years to emerge. Its the "looks-good" criteria that keeps organizations like the Gates Foundations active in the destruction of our public schools, our prison system, and ecological destruction, especially of places where the social majorities (the global poor) live. But the "looks-good" criteria is an illusion and a specter. As an illusion, these big projects are a mirage of promised water in the desert. As a specter, long after administrators move onto higher positions and faux philanthropists go back to their 3rd mansion, communities are strapped with the costs of big projects. Looks-good isn't what's needed as we face massive inequality and global ecological challenges. These can be solved by a fundamental rerooting of people in place. (Note: My book is still as low as $12.50 on Routledge's website... reading it will cost you much less than the billions listening to the Gates Foundation costs your community). We need to stop going after matching-funds for projects we don't need. We rather need to associate locally; to work with other people who will spend their whole lives here making this place better.
With politically oriented administrators and faux philanthropists so active and powerful, where is our hope? Within our small and low field, music teachers can help students reroot; to resist the activities of the globalized destructive powers at play in and predating upon schools. It is the only hope for African penguins, who are being killed by big business, by professional aspirations, by our waste, which is exacerbated by political administrators and faux philanthropists. If we are genuinely going to slow and reverse waste, we need to slow the murderous wheels of capital. James Scott suggests anarchist calisthenics: "What you need is anarchist calisthenics. Every day or so break some trivial law that makes no sense, even if it’s only jaywalking. Use your own head to judge whether a law is just or reasonable. That way, you’ll keep trim—and when the big day comes, you’ll be ready." What "anarchist calisthenics" can we as music teachers do? We do have an insider-outsider status in schools. We are teachers, but are often not already strapped tight to Pearson and Gates conceived syllabi; schemes to dis-empower teachers and students. Here is a little, imperfect list I made; I'd love to hear other suggestions in the comments:
1. Resist large-scale purchases. Every teacher doesn't use an iPad. Every student doesn't need one to learn. Those resources are better spent on more teachers and aids, who also recycle that money in local economies.
2. Use local musics rather than buying generalizables (published musics). When you do buy a generalizable, make sure it teaches students something of resistance (against ecological destruction, racism, classism, ableism, gendernormativity, and urbanormativity). If you can buy a piece off of a local composer, do so!
3. Have students make their own instruments whenever possible, like musicians have for 43,000 years. Buying factory-made instruments is a capitalist activity. When you're hired to teach an ensemble that uses factory-made instruments, use them and repair them as long as possible. Do it yourself--resist becoming obsolescent. If you can find a local instrument-maker, use them.
4. Teach students to love the place where they live, rather than to long for the suburban ideal--moving for job advances and leaving family and places that need rooted citizens to resist (e.g., resisting mountaintop removal mining). People require roots. Its part of growing up in all the old stories (the adolescent wanders; the adult roots). Teach students what it is to be an adult living in a community.
5. Join community associations that make your community better. Be active in the community as a music teacher, but also in ways beyond your profession.