Distance “Learning” can not be the future of “Learning”

On July 27, 2020 was supposed to be my first day of Band Camp!  However, since THE VID has made a bit of a comeback, I cancelled the band camp.  I have no interest in a “virtual-band-camp.”  For 27 of my previous 30 years of teaching high school music, I have hosted a band camp. 

Had some great times.  

Took Tokay High School to my alma mater, Carmel High School.  We did that twice.  The first band camp, the hot water heater broke.  Led to cold showers.  My goal was to take the students from hot / dust Lodi, California to the cool coastal community of Carmel.  Well, we didn’t need the additional cold showers.  Walk down to the beach.  Fire on the beach.  Parents working their butts off providing meals for the students.  It was incredible!!  

Took Granite Bay High School to Pacific Grove High School and a science campground where the students did science camp as grade school students. 

At Pacific Grove High School, we had an “army” of volunteers who made three full meals a day for the students.  For when we went to sleep, they were the “guardians.”  We had a parent at each door.  We had parents sleep in the middle of the room dividing the room according to their gender!  

One night, the girls decided to “surprise” (they asked me for permission) the boys with a water balloon and shaving cream fight.  So much fun!!  Until the boys got pissed and started to go through the girls purses / backpacks / make-up bags.  Boys… you don’t want to go that far with the girls.  Oh, my goodness.  Things quickly turned ugly, but calmed down.  All-in-all, it was fun!

At the science camp, we got to have cabins.  They had a staff to make our meals.  I loved the movie on a big screen outside under the starlit sky.  We watched BIG.  So good!  

Many more things have happened at band camps.  

Having a “virtual-band-camp” this year with THE VID was a wise use of our time.  My OJT (on the job training) for how to use technology to help teach music should not be a waste of time for the students / their families and ME! 

My heart is heavy today (July 28, 2020).  

I am so damn lost with this distance “Learning.”  I am!  For thirty years, I have been blessed / honored to bring young adults together and bring alive composers’ souls!! There is such a feeling of bringing order to chaos.  Kids with instruments.  Kids with a variety of backgrounds:  gender / race / rich kids / poor kids / gay kids / straight kids.  All of them have to work together to play a given note at the same time.  Really.  You don’t see what miracle that is? Especially in a world where we have taken steps back to tribalism?  (a topic for another day … I do think it is okay to have a CELEBRATE AMERICA CONCERT – it’s not jingoistic!) 

What concerns me about distance “learning” is, we have shown educational leaders and the community that, as a whole, we can perform music at home via computers.  We don’t “need” a rehearsal hall.  Please.  We have!  And that bothers me.  

The one subject where students really do have to care about what another person is doing is in the performing arts.  Math class – why would “Johnny” care about “Vicki’s” grade?  English – same question.  

But in the performing arts courses, band being the example today, “Johnny-The-Clarinet-Player’s” performance is directly related to “Vickie-The-Clarinet-Player’s” ability.  To perform a piece of music, all the students are connected and to say distance “learning” gives the same experience?  No.  It doesn’t. 

So, that is my “female-dog” about distance “learning.” 

Now, distance “learning” is here.  Many teachers are convinced there is no way to be back in a classroom with students until a vaccine / cure is found.  Okay … I will have to submit to that decision.  What do I do now?  Answer:  SURVIVE!  For the sake of my wife and my future – SURVIVE.  No… not THRIVE.  I choose not to thrive.  There will be nothing EQUATABLE via distance “learning” to standing in front of an ensemble leaving me to SURVIVE – not thrive.  

My first taste of distance “learning” was July 27, 2020 and it wasn’t with my current students. 

During the summer, I have created a leadership seminars service.  I have been doing this service for over fifteen years.  

Well, again thanks to THE VID, I had to cancel the seminars for this summer.  I did offer FREE seminars via distance “learning” or on-campus.  Out of the seven or eight FREE seminars, one school accepted and / or made it happen:  Rancho Cotate High School.  I was really touched they would accept the offer.

I was so fricken nervous!  

In 2020 (never having been so emphasized as “today”), who I am is important for empathy / perspective:  54 years-old; Caucasian; heterosexual / happily married to Diana since March 30, 1991.  Grandfather!  I am terrible with technology.  Me being able to have a blog and post is a stretch in my skills!  So, distance “learning?”  Not good.  

The week prior to meeting with the Rancho Cotate students, I studied how to do zoom.  The day before the session, the band director asked me to do the meeting via Google Meets.  What the hell is Google Meets?  The day before, I needed to do a quick study.  Ends up Google Meets is very similar to Zoom.  No worries.  Bummed no “breakout” rooms, but with the session being 90 minutes… we can make do without breakout rooms.  

THE EXPERIENCE WAS WONDERFUL!  The students were so on top of it.  I was so grateful for their flexibility and empathy.  

The first question of the day was, “How are you doing?”  I always do my best to ask that question.  I want to take the “temperature” of the room.  I answer the question first.  I let the students know I was feeling terrible.  Awful.  One student answered, “Well, I now have a great appreciation of the need to be with people!”   BINGO!!  I was very touched this young man was so open with his feelings.  

Distance “learning” needs to be a “necessary-evil” for this time – not a new way of teaching / “being with people.”  Not the wave of the future.  

Human beings are “paradoxes.”  We are both blessings and curses.  We are the “can’t live with them and can’t live without them” species.  

As much as the Google Meets experience with the Rancho Cotate students was a success… I missed being in the backyard of the Alcala’s house.  Smelling the lunch being cooked by Mr. Alcala.  I missed talking about the San Francisco Giants! I missed seeing the students working together in groups.  I missed the sun!  I missed handing out candy to the students to get them to keep pressing on.  I missed the teambuilding activities / building things together.  I missed giving Mrs. Alcala a hug before she went to work and the residential care facility – 3pm – midnight shift.  

I missed all the human moments. 

Please.  Before you get all giddy that distance “learning” / not having to sit in some office for a meeting is quickly approaching, think about the senses that you are going to miss.  The smell of lunch.  The fellowship of sitting around a table and enjoying that lunch.  Sitting across from a person and seeing the tear run down the cheek (BTW – at the end of the meeting, I did cry because I was so excited / grateful that the session was a success… thanks to Mr. Friel / RCHS students and me).  The body language.   

Folks wanting a computer screen to be the connector? Check yourself.  You are not truly connecting.  You are, however, learning how to use a computer program better and that is what the companies want … you to buy their programs. 

What do I want?  

Not to buy their programs. I want my time with human beings.  

Thank you Rancho Cotate High School Music Department and Mr. Friel for teaching me so much.  I wish you all the best.  

And to all of us, especially those of us who enjoy being in the same room with fellow human beings, I wish all of us the best and to also fight to keep us human beings together! 

Now, it is time to go to Lake Tahoe and spend time… yes… with human beings:  my wife; Chris & Tom.  Can’t wait.  



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