Monday, December 16, 2013

Phish and the Classroom

Phish in San Francisco this summer. My photo
I have a confession to make. I like Phish. The band. A lot. Like they’re my favorite band. Like so much my favorite band that I’m not sure who my second favorite band is.

No, I’m not a hippie. I shower. No patchouli. No drugs. I have a job. That I love. But why am I writing about Phish? Good question.

I have a couple good friends who don’t really like Phish (Cheryl) or jam bands at all (Andrew). And while their musical taste is not something I'm interested in changing, there is a beauty to Phish that I think closely mirrors the beauty of the three of our classrooms on our best days. We share remarkably similar visions for what we want our classrooms to be: in four words, student-centered and collaborative.

This past summer I was lucky enough to go on a spectacular vacation in the US and Canadian Rockies and had a 23 hour solo drive home from Glacier National Park to the Bay Area. (Yes, I listened to a ton of Phish.) But I realized on that drive that Cheryl and Andrew - wait for it - want their classrooms to be like Phish. Yeah, that’s right. Then, I wrote and rewrote and sat on this post for like ever. The post isn’t what I want it to be, but it needs to get published and get out of my head.

I don’t want to get into the long version - or even the short version - of the history of Phish. I want to talk about why I love Phish. About why I spent a ridiculous amount of money to see them for two nights in San Francisco at the end of the summer. About why I drove to Washington in early August to go see two Phish concerts at a venue that is 800 miles from where I live.

I just had a friend listen to Phish for the first time. Their response: "Why don't their songs have words?" Good question. And relevant to why we want our classrooms to be like Phish.

Without getting into too much of the minutiae... This year is Phish's thirtieth anniversary. They've taken a couple hiatuses over their thirty years but are making arguably (and this would spark an intense argument in some people) the best music of their career right now. In year thirty.

What makes Phish great isn't the lyrics. It's not their albums. It's their live shows. That moment can come at any time when all of a sudden one song slowly and beautifully drips into another one. A thing done so well that it almost hurts to hear it's so good.

Get back to the classroom. Yes. Okay. Phish is great this year because they listen to each other. No one dominates jams. Their communication within jams is spectacular. The music just flows.

What happens on the best days in my class? I get out of the way. My kids talk. They listen. They make meaning and create beautiful products together. They create things that they couldn't have created alone. The epitome of #BetterTogether.

These are exactly the things that make Phish great: collaboration, really hearing each other, and spontaneously creating pieces of intense beauty. Pieces that bring me joy as a fan. Or as a teacher.

Intrigued? Got 36 minutes? (Yes, 36 minutes.) Check out this version of the song Tweezer that Phish played at one of their shows at Lake Tahoe this year. This is (in my opinion) the most beautiful piece of music they have ever created.