A New Culture in Education: How You Can Help Change Our Schools
Wanna just listen? Here's a talk in preparation for a TEDx Talk. This was presented at UCLA in the summer of 2018.
Short Summary and Explanation:
After teaching at every level of the traditional US education system for nearly 20 years, I quit in the Spring of 2018. I've always loved learning, and I was put on this Earth to be a teacher, but I finally had enough.
I always knew something wasn't right. Even as a young student I recognized 'the game' that needed to be played. As I traveled the world studying various cultures and music, and as time and technology increased, it became painfully obvious that I was part of an exhausted system that does not positively contribute to the development of young people. It's difficult to state but true, nonetheless.
I’ve had the privilege of traveling all over the country and all over the world as an educator and as a musician. And yes, its true, I am a drummer, but unfortunately there’s no hidden set of drums today, I do not have any cool tattoos, nor a rad hitch-hiking story from my apartment in Brooklyn.
You and I right now are standing on one of the largest plots of common ground, which is education. We occupy this space together simply because most of us have gone through the system in one way or another. We share this space also because most of us feel that there's something wrong with our schools. Dropout rates are climbing, students are increasing reluctant, the teacher riots, the violence.
I would like to talk with you today about education- the system and its many issues, and I’d like to discuss how you can create change. I’m going to tell you about my time in education and why after nearly 20 years, I quit. I’ve come to realize something of great importance. Though our schools separated us by age, subject matter, sex, race, ability level, economic status, teacher from students, students from families- though there is plenty that divides us, we all share the same net result of education, and that’s our culture.
Two tireless decades of teaching, 15 countries to date, thousand of students and performances, and what I’ve come to realize is this: A culture is a reflection of it’s own educational efforts. I believe the single greatest issue we face today is a fundamentally flawed system of education. Our culture’s daily news feeds are filled with absolute madness, and feel much of this is rooted in not what but how we educate ourselves.
I understand this is a bold claim from a simple music teacher and a drummer who doesn’t even have tattoos. Education is a touchy subject because it shapes and reflects much of who and what we are. Always and forever, we will share the common ground of culture as a direct result of our systems of education. To change our news feeds, we must change our systems of education. The system is us. We are the system. And I believe to innovate inside the classroom, we must realize how we learn outside of the classroom.
Part 1: Awareness
TED is a generally accepted authority of thought and new ideas. Most of us have seen tons of TED Talks, but have you gone to their website? On their Education page, the very first line reads, “How do we change education? Re-Imagining School; there’s a growing consensus that our systems are broken.” I don’t think the system is broken, I think it’s exhausted. And you don’t need me or any other educator providing further defense of this truth, but I’d like to make sure you are aware of the most common arguments: It’s simply outdated, routed in ideologies older than our country itself and mandated by all 50 states in 1918. Exactly 100 years later, the world has evolved radically yet the process of education is largely unchanged. It’s a one-size-fits-all model on a fixed time frame, cognitively clumping us all together, boxing our minds into unified packages in assembly line fashion.
The obsession with assessments. We test, examine, and GPA our youth to death and to new levels of stress and anxiety often destroying their imagination, creativity, curiosity, and most importantly, their self-respect. And it’s a big bureaucratic business. The US alone is rapidly approaching an annual expenditures of 1 Trillion dollars on education yet many schools lack basic facilities, basic technology, and our courageous teachers remain towards the bottom of what we call middle class.
We’re still doing this not because it works, but because its what we’ve always done. Our culture values tradition. But how do we want to approach education? As a deeply rooted tradition? 100 years of innovation as given us so much: we can now talk to our toasters. We’ve come so far:) Imagine if our students could process information as well as our appliances. Alexa, learn Algebra. Imagine where our culture would be today if the assembly line had only included cars and not our students. Imagine if we had innovated education.
I have a thing I do with students when they take issue with something. They say, “Mr. Eagle…..” I say, “Stop…and take a breath…now, let’s address the problem.”
We are the system. And I have 3 things for you that you can do in your daily life to help innovate education.
Part 2: You Are the System
Number 1- Accept your role as a teacher and a student
Most of us are already pretty good telling other people what we know, but that’s not teaching. Teaching is less about imparting knowledge and more about providing guidance and support. Your students in a given situation could be your kids, other young people, or other adults- anyone. You are a teacher, everyone around is your student, and the world is your classroom. Because no one has had your experience, and everyone stands to benefit from your unique perspective.
You are also a student of life developing a love of learning. If you haven’t learned to love learning, simply observe children. They are the greatest example of natural curiosity and creativity. They want to know everything about everything- all the time:) Why do so many of us stop being so curious about the world? We stop because they’re told to. Remember your love of learning, realize your childhood wonder of the world, and share that love with everyone around you. Accept your role as a teacher and a student.
Number 2- Identify passion
If you’re taking the role as the teacher, you must first identify the passion of your students. Start by asking, by observing, by listening. Let’s take a common passion of most young people: video games. Now, I’m not a gammer. I feel off that boat a long time ago when I gave up trying to beat Mike Tyson- the guy’s tough, couldn’t do it. What exactly does your student love about video games? Is it the amazing graphics? The imaginative characters and worlds? The connection with other players? Or is it the technical side, the coding? Help them discover why, and you’re likely to find that what’s often viewed as a distraction is actually a gateway to their most amazing ability. Learning begins with passion.
Number 3- Do Stuff
Put passion to work with purpose by doing things. It is remarkable how much we actually learn by fulfilling basic tasks around around the house or in your community. Reorganize the garage, finally build that fence in the backyard. Organize an event, and sell some of your stuff. Figure-out how to repair that structure in your community that you’ve always wanted to see fixed. As you do stuff, incorporate technology. Build a simple website detailing your new found skills and expertise, share your newfound knowledge with the world by embracing social media. Start a simple Youtube channel.
We learn by finding what we love, experiencing and creating something new, and guiding others along the way. Leaning through passion and purpose also how we come to realize our true identity. The chaos and confusion we see from so many of our youth is an identity crisis. They are desperately trying to find who they are. Helping a young person discover who they are through what they love is perhaps the most important thing anyone can offer them.
Accept your role as a teacher and a student, identify passion, and do stuff. This is how we learn, and by living this simple process, you can help influence and innovate education.
Part 3- My Story
I’ve spent my entire life in education. I lived it as a committed student, then I became part of it as a teacher. No matter how effective I was, the interests of the institution superseded those of my students. So I decided to make a change. When I gathered my last class of students to tell them I was not only leaving them, but I was leaving education entirely, it was like nothing I had ever felt before. Change is difficult, but I knew if I wanted to ensure a better future for them, I would have to first change me.
So I started all over again, and I began with my passion of music, drumming, entrepreneurship, and bringing people together. I assembled a team of others who felt the same way, we started doing stuff, and we found our purpose. What we created is a new way to discover and learn, and it’s called Rhythm Monster. ‘Rhythm’ because there’s rhythm in everything and everything has rhythm, and ‘Monster’ because that’s what us cool music guys call the best of us. And no matter who you are, we believe- you can be a Monster too:)
We’re kinda like the Khan Academy if they only taught drums. On the surface it’s an online music educational platform, but what we really do is provide access into these secret societies of culture and music. We work directly with public schools, universities, independent groups, and individuals in integrating our Monster musical resources with their live students and instructors. What we demonstrate is a new balance of technology and personal interaction so that other disciplines can follow, bringing our culture ever closer to the school of the future.
It’s already happening
The Age of Information is only a few decades old, and two new movements have already started: one is our conversation today, which is part of the revolution in education. The other is its opposition, anti-intellectualism. Some kids seem to be subscribing to the later and are often described as lazy and apathetic, and they are, and they will be until we give them a reason to be otherwise. Forcing the ways of the past and ignoring their futures clearly isn’t working for them.
But some kids aren’t waiting on us. At Rhythm Monster, I’ve learned some really cool production techniques from a 12 year old on youtube. How awesome is that? Imagine if his entire life supported his passion and guided his purpose starting with that simple youtube channel. Imagine what global issues he might solve if allowed to learn in a way that makes sense to him?
Finally, when it comes to innovation, the leader of our lifetime is Mr. Steve Jobs. In his final public presentation he said, "To change our culture, technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with the liberal arts, that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.” I believe your passion has been singing your entire life, and the traditions of education have taught you to keep it quiet. Join this revolution and help change our news feeds by allowing every child discover their passion and find their purpose. And never give-up on another human being because of age or circumstance. There is no quick fix, but as long as you have a pulse, you have rhythm which means you have the ability to influence.
We stand on this common ground of culture today because of where we’ve been in education. We can change our schools by realizing we are the system. Be a living reflection of a new culture in education. Forever a teacher and always a student. Thank you.