Miles Davis: So What

My oldest son is learning to play the clarinet, and seems to be doing well.  He makes sure he practices everyday.  Of course he learned to play a part of the Star Wars theme, which he likes to share everyday.

So, I thought I would introduce him to Miles Davis.  To expand his musical interest.  To reveal to him some of the great artists, to show him how incredible music can be.  To show him the deeper part of music.

It didn’t go well.  Not that he didn’t listen with me, but he wasn’t much interested.  I tried to get him to let the music speak to him, to feel the emotion behind it.  He just wanted to be somewhere else.

I was disappointed.  Over the last month I have been sharing movies with the boys that I watched when I was growing up.  Both boys like some of my 80s music.  I thought exposing him to Miles Davis was going to be a great moment.  Why wasn’t it?

I started to wonder about all the times I tried something like this in the classroom.  Some times it worked, other lessons failed.  Why?  I just assumed my son would like Miles Davis because he was learning to play an instrument.  My son has no background knowledge about Miles Davis, hasn’t even heard him before.  What did I expect?  That he would just understand how great Miles Davis was.

As an English teacher I have fallen into that same trap, especially with literature.  That my students will just get how awesome a book or poem is.  I don’t want them to miss the opportunity to be moved by the literature, just like I wanted my son to feel the beauty behind Miles Davis’ music.  Ironically, I become the barrier of that moment.  Not in sharing the music, but by being the source of the selection.  And worse, like with my son, not creating an opportunity to spark their interest, or to provide a real foundation to what they will be reading or listening to.

I want to share the great works of this life with my students, with my sons.  But more importantly, I want them to decide what is great on their terms. To search out their own deeper moments.  That is when real learning happens.  And I want to be there, as a dad and as a teacher.

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