FCPThe issues facing public school educators are real, daunting, and complex.  Certainly adequate funding for public schools is a huge issue today but naively blaming budget cuts for every ill misses the mark.  I feel that lack of funding may be systemic of other issues.  We seem to be in the midst of a cultural shift, call it growing pains, as we try to get out of the “ruts” and make fresh paths that will prepare our young people and country to be productive society members that meet the needs of a fast-changing world.   By cultural shift, I mean one of those defining moments in history, when you wake up and yell, “HOW DID WE GET TO THIS PLACE?”

 Shifting Culture
Community demographics are changing and the hardships of our economic times are affecting more and more children inhibiting their readiness to learn. The job market is shifting at an alarming rate requiring new skill sets; it seems we cannot make educational adjustments fast enough.  In education these are unstable times – we find ourselves in transition constantly.  But some things I am sure…trailblazing is hard work and there are no short cuts. Many times you end up at a new destination only to realize that this is no better than the old one. Teachers press on. Teachers never give up. Teachers realize the importance of what we do.

Community is Key to Change
At the risk of simplification and in an effort to drill underneath the surface of issues facing public schools, let me make a few observations about our shifting culture.  We have become a culture of busy people. So much so, that much of what goes on around us simply goes unnoticed. This includes the educational needs of children in our communities.  We have become a compartmentalized people.  We isolate ourselves into our own small worlds (i.e.  our careers, our hobbies, our striving for advancement). Concerned elementary parents soon become concerned middle school parents, then high school parents, and finally unconcerned community members. Our focus inward has blinded us of the common good. The need is great to slow down and focus on one of our greatest commodities, the children, our students.  We need a united effort, one that realizes that educating children is a lifetime community responsibility.  Americans are a resourceful people and I am part of a resourceful profession.  The greatest challenge is to ignite the awareness in our community of this great need and harness the resources and power that lies all around us.  Communities are the key to making a difference.

A Few Lessons from Choir
The “public school machine” might do well to adopt the modus operandi of a choir.  In choir, we embrace unity; we call it blend. Although every voice is important, it is not more important.  We are all there because we love the music, and we voluntarily keep ourselves in check to serve the collective sound. In choir we learn to embrace differences.  I tell my students they may not like a particular style, or tempo, or interpretation of music we sing, but the person beside them might. Choir members are from different cultural backgrounds, economic levels, grade levels, and interests.   All of these differences combine to make something beautiful in the end.  We even learn in choir to embrace conflict when the person beside you sings a phrase differently than you.  Together, we come to the same rhythm, pitch, tonal color, and articulation to present a unified sound.  We also learn to embrace creativity. My choir recently did a jazz piece that had several sections that called for an improvised solo singing technique called “scat singing.”  I was pleased that students felt our rehearsal was a safe place for them to take a risk vocally and experiment with what worked for them. They were clearly learning from each other.  Sometimes we are faced with tremendously long phrases that should be sung on one breath. Through a choral technique called “staggered breathing” we are able to do the impossible, together.  This takes trust, planning, collaboration, and experimentation to arrive at just the right phrasing.

I challenge our national lawmakers, state lawmakers, state Board of Education, local Board of Education, school administration, and teachers to operate like a choir.  Let’s embrace unity, differences, conflict, and creativity and change the way we do the business of education FOR THE GOOD OF OUR STUDENTS.

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Johnny Matlock 217 West 24th Street Hays, Kansas 67601 Phone: 785-623-1412 Email: