Tag Archives: people’s music school

What is school for?

On the heels of our observance of Labor Day, a series of questions come to mind about the meaning of work. One question I have is: What motivates us to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money.  But it’s not exactly joy either. Scientific research has shown that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has presented two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work.

Also on the heels of this holiday, Chicago Public Schools are opening their doors to begin the new school year. I can’t help but try to connect the dots between the meaning of work and why teachers teach? What compels someone to stand in front of young impressionable minds?

According to Seth Godin, the school system was redesigned to meet the needs of the factories born out of the industrial revolution. Students were taught respect and obedience in order to fit in, so they can do the same after they graduate and secure a job on the assembly line. Obviously, times have changed and the economy has changed. If they’re not training kids for a life in a factory, what is a teacher preparing students for? Is it still about fitting in? Reciting what’s on the text book? Knowing what’s on the test? Today, is it more important to ask kids to collect dots than to connect the dots?

I will never forget what my high school English teacher, Emannuel Leviste, said to me in our writing class: “Don’t fall in love with one idea. If it ends up not working, don’t be afraid to throw it out the window and start again.” His words have always been a pillar for me whenever I face a fork in the road. A great teacher knows what school is for: With passion, insight and love, to spark courage in every child to follow their dream.

Story. It’s not what you say. It’s what you mean.

peoplesmusicIn this case, words alone cannot tell the story of a young boy discovering his passion for the violin. Hearing his name called out loud, echoing in the halls, and stepping onto the stage at his first recital makes him feel like the most important person at that specific moment in time. With every stroke drawing the hair of the bow across the strings, he remembers every single time his parents took him to a class at The People’s Music School, a nonprofit offering free music education in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. He remembers looking forward to his teacher showing him how to play a new composition. The sound takes him back to his hours of practicing the same piece, over and over. But today, on that stage, it feels like he is playing it for the very first time. After his performance, he picks up his sheet music, tucks it under his arm and takes a bow. As he exits and listens to the applause, he is thinking about his new performance when he comes back to the same stage next year.

No words. Watch the performance. Listen to the sound. It may not be perfect today, but its real value is in what it means for the young boy’s future. Potential. Opportunity. Promise.