Why Educators Should Listen to What Phox Has to Say & Play

Stay with me.

I read Heather Browne’s Denver-based music blog, I Am Fuel, You Are Friends.  She’s a pretty reliable source for the folk-dance-Americana-singer-songwriter-roots scene.  That’s a lot of hyphens.  And that’s important to this post.


Browne recently put up a post spotlighting Madison Wisconsin’s, Phox, a seven-piece band that creates intriguing, multi-layered, beautiful songs that feel at times like a sonic collage bathed in a sunset.  (I should have never stopped writing music reviews after college.) Said post includes an interview quote from yet another blog, I Am Tuned Up.

(Still with me? Good.)

What trend in music business should we be paying attention to? “Synthesis. Don’t worry too much about EDM, or the Americana revival. Just look what’s in between the two. Not just an average of the two popular aesthetics, but the intuitive common ground which is developing the native tongue of our generation. Look for artists.

For he uninitiated, EDM is short for Electronic Dance Music (think Moby) and Americana revival is short for heirs to the Woody Guthrie empire (think Mumford & Sons — ironically, Welsh).


Just look what’s in between the two.

Look for artists.

To date, this quote best captures my feelings on how teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community leaders should approach education in an age of connectivity and saturation, an era of movements and initiatives, a time of acronyms and consortiums.

Customized learning. Project-based learning. Proficiency-based learning. Common Core.  Smarter Balanced.  PBIS.  Visioning. Digital citizenship. Tech integration.  Interdisciplinary teaming.  Content literacy.  Shared leadership.

And that’s just in my building.

Yes, many of those intersect and overlap, some are philosophies and others more practical applications.   It doesn’t really overwhelm me once I get a chance to think about how they work together.

But then I go online.  And I learn about design thinking (which I love), and explore Twitter chats (which I also love), and see what’s happening with game theory, data visualization, Minecraft, GApps, tablets, Kickstarter, and turn up Google+ communities and Facebook pages and Pinterest boards and then I follow @everyoneimportantineducation and that turns out to be a ton of people all saying a ton of things and everyone seems to have the right answers and the best answers and better answers than I could ever possibly have imagined myself to consider and then all I really want to do is stream seasons 1-3 of Justified, finally, and finish A Feast for Crows, finally.  But I can’t because — wait.

Just wait.

Synthesis.  Just look what’s in between the two.  Look for artists.

When I stop worrying about becoming an expert adopter of a particular philosophy, or becoming an acolyte of a particular thinker, and start looking  at the parts and pieces of each that I find most compelling, I start formulating solutions to my problems and those of my students.

It’s why I read books like Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat and Ben Hewitt’s The Town that Food Saved more often than the latest from Robert Marzano or Sir Ken Robinson.  Sure, I respect the latter, but the former inspire me to think in new, powerful ways because I’m the one making those connections for use in the classroom.   I’m the one crafting a thinking-and-learning mash-up that would make Girl Talk bob his head.  And when I assert my own expertise in there to bind it all together,  I get to be the artist.  I worry less about doing it right or wrong, and more about doing it well and effectively.

It’s liberating.

Pulling from the business world might be the best way to help my students stay productive and organized, while taking a cue from graphic design might help my students create aesthetically beautiful and purposefully effective products.  Sabermetrics and statistical analysis might help me make better sense of intangible X-factors in my teaching,  while a book on barefoot running might help me better understand tribal group dynamics and the power of commitment.

And this is not to discount customized learning or design thinking or the common core.  Rather, one could argue the only way to honor each is to find ways of uniting them — even at the risk of cutting away a part here or a piece here so to make a more prosperous fit with an adjacent idea.

A colleague of mine tells his AP Physics students every year, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”  Sure, it’s crowd sourcing.  Come together and solve common problems, ladies and gentlemen.  I think it’s also a call to hybrid thinking.  No single idea is better than all possible ideas.  Fuse them together.  Best practices?  Perhaps the best practice is to grab some weaker practices from “Collection A” and cobble them together to a pretty okay practice from “Playlist B.”

Phox understands the power of the hyphen.

I think it is time educators did as well.  If not for our students, then for our sanity.


About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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