And The Point Is…?

Before there was education, there was life.

The way you learned anything was to do it. You didn’t go to school, you went to life.

Now, if you want to be a farmer, you can get a degree in agriculture. If you want to be an artist, you can get a degree in applied fine art. If you want to be a landscaper, you can get a degree in horticulture. If you want to be a shop owner, you can get a degree in retail marketing.

But before you could get a degree in any of these things, there were people doing them — just doing them — learning along the way through trial and error alone. In time, as things got worked out and others saw that these various activities or pathways were things of worth, there was a need, a reason, to transfer the information gleaned through hard-knocks experience to others who wished to benefit from that same experience, hoping to shorten their own path to the same good goals.

What if, however, what you want isn’t yet organized into some kind of a degree program? You cannot as yet, as far as I know, get a bachelor’s degree in basketball, baseball, soccer or swimming. You cannot get a degree in housekeeping, you cannot get a degree in shrimp fishing, you cannot get a degree in motorcycle building or car repair or micro-brewing beer.

What makes some things worth organizing into formal school-based training programs, and some not? Why are some endeavors in life things that can be sanctioned by a university and shaped into a multi-year structured way to learn a particular life lesson and others not?

And, what is the reason for doing such a thing — creating a degree program in a certain special field or discipline?

If formal university-based learning is a guide to shortening trial and error when pursuing a particular goal, then, when you begin applying your school-earned experience, it should make reaching your goal clearer, simpler, and more accessible than it would have been had you not gotten your piece of paper. If the purpose of education is to give you a “heads up” in the world, then it is imperative that we not lose sight of that fact.

You can go to school and stay in school for your entire life. You can learn something and then learn some more about that something, and keep learning about that something, and then teach what you have learned, all in a school environment, and if you have been learning something that has very real roots in the world as an activity, and you have not actually gone out into the world and DONE that activity, then what you are teaching is second-hand information. This cannot be, will never be, a substitute for going away from school and facing life.

Therefore, when someone has done anything in life successfully for a long time, and when that success has been recognized by a verifiable means, is this not only the equivalent of a piece of paper given by a university, but actually something far more valuable? If I run a successful dress store for 30 years, and I have satisfied customers who have been loyal for all that time, and I am contributing to my community, and I have treated my employees well, and I have made more than enough money, and I have developed a reputation for being honest and reliable, is this not as valuable as a degree in retailing? Even a master’s degree in marketing? How about a PhD in business management? Is it not true that having the degree is only that, having a degree? It is NOT a substitute for life experience nor for success.

Yet, we hear repeatedly that you cannot get a job at a university teaching singing without a doctorate. How could that be so? If you have had a career as a singer, and a career as a teacher, and your students have gone on to work successfully and healthfully for many years as professional singers, and you have participated in your professional associations, and you have a good solid reputation, and have a busy studio, is this not JUST AS GOOD, as having a doctorate?

When people lose sight of the purpose of education, when they forget that “educare” (the root of the word) means to “draw out” or to “illuminate”, they get caught thinking the means are the ends. Education is a stepping stone, it is a short-cut, it is a preparation, it is a doorway, but it is NOT the goal, especially if you are educated to DO something that happens with your body. You can have lots of pieces of paper and still sing badly. You can get lots of degrees and still be lousy at communicating effectively. You can pass tests and write theses and still not understand what happens in those who sing freely and fully because you yourself do not do that. Schools, when they are hiring teachers, should remember that.

Education, especially in singing, is only as good as the doing and the transference of that ability to do. Otherwise, what’s the point?

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3 thoughts on “And The Point Is…?”

  1. It’s a big business — education. I looked into graphic design, and found out that it used to be all you needed was a good portfolio, but then some people got some kind of “certified” in it and the certified people got jobs over the non-certified so then all the graphic designers had to go out and get certified. Now it’s changing and the minimal needed is certification, etc…

    However, I still believe that when the work is very good, that in the long run that can be another acceptable and viable path.

  2. When I started out, getting a Master’s degree was the thing, and your are right, now the requirement is a Doctorate.

    A hundred years ago the requirement for voice teachers was that they be able to sing very well and be a master of their craft. It was considered normal to keep a student singing scales (only) for an extended period- even up to a year. Who does that anymore?

  3. When I was working on my master’s degree I had a teaching assistantship in music history. My supervising professor was a one-year replacement who was trying to get hired permanently. Between the teaching and the inside view of the faculty search antics, I became thoroughly disenchanted with college teaching and the idea of getting a doctorate, which I “accepted” as a necessity in academia. Not only did the search committee require a doctorate, they threw away applications that were not from a handful of certain universities that the musicology members approved of. That and some other experiences both positive and negative, saved me from pursuing a full-time life in academia! I have mixed feelings about schools trying to have CCM degree programs, since it seems likely that many will screw it up.

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