My Introduction to the System

As the oldest child of first-generation immigrants, the stereotype of harsh enforcement of ‘methodological’ practice is actually true. I loved reading and playing music until my parents made it a requirement, along with this notion that I had to know Beethoven and Bach, etc as some foundation to being respected in the piano-playing community they’d opted into.

So when it came time to get my own daughter into music, I thought I’d do things a little differently.

Revisionist Parenting

My daughter actually requested a piano teacher, and she loved it because I culled out the ‘traditional’ ones with the teachers that I told to just let her be and have fun with it. To this day she pulls out whatever app and uses her iPad as her teacher. I thought, now that’s a creative solution. It saves me money and still lets her ‘love it’ as she goes at her own pace. Apparently Beatles songs are her favorite.

I started thinking: Maybe if we let our kids build their own structures and systems instead of trying to force them into ours, then just maybe they will not only be able to thrive but teach my generation (Gen X) and other generations to come, more than we ever could have thought.

The Free-Form Method

Then, my fiance, an extremely talented, independent trombone teacher (and composer who played in every country’s orchestra in his formative years) said one night that his most brilliant kids are the ones that say, “Hey, do you care if I free-form or play different kinds of music?” And him being the free-thinking creative he is, he embraces it head-on.

So one of his students brought in a Miles Davis piece that although difficult, he eventually got the hang of. And eventually, really good at. So my fiance suggested he bring it into his band teacher as a piece for them to perform. But the system wouldn’t have it.

The first dispute incurred because there was an electric guitar. The second dispute happened because it was too difficult for the other students to learn, even though he’d composed their parts as well. And the third dispute, when the kid offered to play it himself, was that it would “make the other students feel inferior.”

Jail cells made of textbooks

Is this the hand-holding, participation trophy world we want to raise our future leaders in? The truth is, I’m coming to suspect that the school system itself is putting ‘creative-thinking’ and ‘life-hacking’ kids into constricted mindsets. Students who often end up in the pool of ‘those that won’t test well’.

There’s no number we can project or hypothesize for the kids that don’t want to play what they’re not interested in. Most of them aren’t aware of it. But without a system encouraging it, there’s a good chance they will get lost in the shuffle.

Who’s to say how many future innovators we are holding back?

Looking back on my time learning music, I’m not mad at my parents for trying to get me to learn the classics. But I got to thinking — did Bach or Beethoven have a teacher? Or more importantly, did they have teachers that let them play as freely and liberally as they wanted? And if they didn’t, would we even be talking about them today? Probably not.

It’s a chilling thought when you consider how critically someone’s entire legacy can be impacted by someone (a teacher) whom you think is supposed to be helping you build it. But it’s something we need to keep in mind as we guide the next generation of students into the future. It’s something every industry needs (go climate change!) and it’s how we shape our country’s future. Encourage independent thinking. Raising students to test well is not what I consider forward-thinking in any way. It’s something that schooling systems everywhere who insist on force-feeding students outdated textbooks and archaic educational tools need to understand. And the system should incentivize teachers instead of punishing them for going ‘off course’ a bit. If not, a future generation of Beethovens could be lost.

Running Into The Deep

Work is life to me. While trying to hire and recruit these ‘original thinkers’ for my growth-based advertising agency Rock Candy Media, I am also noticing the pitfalls of our educational system as a parent. The problem is far deeper, ingrained and supported by associations with deep pockets, donors with deep pockets who have no right to be talking about ‘shaping the future’. Also, seeing my cousin — whose test scores would have opened any door she wanted — pursue teaching because it’s all she ever wanted to do — get so jaded she had to go teach in other countries to get some perspective made my mission stronger.

When politicians talk about ‘education’ (because who doesn’t care about that?), they need to be seeing it from a global perspective in a global economy. It’s about inclusivity in any way, it’s about really leveling the playing field from a socio-economical level among others. What makes some rise above their circumstances (Jay-Z, I’m looking at you) while others buy into it? We need to make it easier for the poor to succeed. We have yet to see what they have to bring to the table. What if school was a place that not only accepted independent thinking but encouraged it? What if school was a respite or a safe place to have ‘dumb thoughts’ that are rarely encouraged in our ‘template’ school system now?

Recruiting is one of the most important responsibilities of a business owner. LinkedIn has to be your best friend. Without the right people, your client’s businesses will not grow, and neither will you. Scalability in a creative industry is all about innate smarts. All I know is that I look for and value more those that are self-taught. The fact of the matter is that I have seen a plethora of potential employees who didn’t cut it because they just couldn’t let go of the structures they’ve been taught. For example, I can’t hire for the intelligence I need if they come from, and were happy at a “medical marketing agency”, “real estate marketing agency”, etc as I know by time investment ‘un-brainwashing them’ is far too much/more than I’m willing to take on right now.

They are collectively a product of an elementary to middle school to high school educational system that told them to act, think, and create in certain ways that benefited the school. Ways that today, they can’t shake. And unfortunately, to work at a growth agency that has the caliber of my team at Rock Candy Media, you’re going to need to know how to think on your feet. How to improvise. How to be different, not for the sake of it, but because you’ll meet a client’s goal that much faster because no one thought like you. None of which is possible when you’re taught to approach every problem the same way.

So what I’m asking the teachers, politicians, and influencers of America to do is better understand what their responsibility is far wider, deeply ingrained and will impact the development of creative problem-solving in the next generation. We can decide if we want our world to be stenciled and painted in between color-coded lines, or if we want it to be a beautifully drawn free-form mural.

The choice is ours.


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