Gwyneth Paltrow was quite fetching on GLEE when she sang the Cee Lo song, “Forget You,” which I had heard many times on the radio.
I had no idea what I was really missing, though, until I went recently to open mike night at Brookline High School. My son Eli’s band, Hippos on Campus, opened my eyes and ears to Cee Lo’s original version.
The audience was mostly made up of high school students; some intrepid parents were there too. Grace was sitting next to me, and in the video you can see a shot of her at 02:14 . Also in the video at 00:48 you can see one of the high school music faculty, Carolyn Castellano, scurrying in front to give a student a megaphone.
Later in the night, from behind the piano, Carolyn reminded her students, “The band room is not the high school.”
I parsed her remark and took it to mean that, within the context of rules and right answers, there also has to be a place for subversiveness in education. Some teachers, like Carolyn, seem to manage this balance well: She drives her students to be ambitious and practiced musicians (Eli is the bass player in her jazz band at the high school), and yet prods them to think, act, and play with originality. Students find it hard to get praise from her, and yet the really serious ones want to work with her because she treats them as though they were musical peers.
It’s hard to teach inside these contraries, and although I value them, I’m not so sure I pull them off in a radical or dramatic way. On the one hand, I have a responsibility to teach the conventions of scientific writing and communicating. On the other hand, I have a responsibility to the student who aims to do work that is authentic and meaningful. In my practice, I seem to be more structured in the classroom as a lecturer and more open to individual work in small groups and 1:1 conferences. Interestingly, this may resemble the division between my public and private self in general, and my public and private teaching self.
I really admire professionals like Carolyn who seem to take public risks in their teaching while still upholding really high standards for their students. Funny, though, when I told Eli my interpretation of the band room/high school remark as slyly subversive, he wondered if Carolyn, whom he knows well, had really intended instead that her students remember to behave once they leave the band room.
Either way, the remark conveys the same dichotomy.
For a more polished and still angry version of “Fuck You,” watch Cee Lo himself, in a Pepto pink suit, sing it here on a BBC special: Link.