What School of Rock REALLY taught us about education…

(This is the first in a new breed of shortStepping Back: Shooting from the hip‘ posts!)

Ok – orientate brains… after all, it’s only 12 years since School of Rock was released, and I’m not even trying to link it with British party politics. However, I saw it for the first time in years a couple of nights ago, and two things hit me in the face like a speeding white van which I’d never pondered before. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen it.

Basically, School of Rock has two MASSIVE learning points for teachers – and almost certainly they aren’t what most people would expect. [Look here for example – this post from 7 years ago pulls out 5 lessons teachers can learn from the film and there are some worthy points – finding ways to allow out talents which normally get ignored – giving teachers autonomy to teach how they want etc. Mostly though, it is of the ‘give them a relevant project and they will just naturally flourish’ type thing.]

However, my own two HUGE (well, pretty big) points are very different:

  • The main band members – if you like, the absolute core of the project, without whom it would have just been a pointless exercise – had all already developed well-honed, disciplined musical skills. They didn’t just have ‘talent’ – they had carefully acquired, knowledge-based technique, ready to expand on.
    • In other words – their eventual ‘breaking free creativity’ was able to feed on something which made it actually useful and really powerful, rather than just ‘expressive’
  • Secondly, they weren’t just inspired by the ‘set them free and let them go for it’ kind of rhetoric which some movies (and blogs) imply is all children need to become passionate geniuses. The success of the whole enterprise was built around the incredible knowledge and passion of their teacher (Jack Black). They had no interest in rebelling or trying something different (apart from the drummer – who actually kept referring to what Black was doing with them as ‘goofing off’). They were serious students and Black was only able to lead them into a new way of being because of his own intense vision of what great rock music and being in a band is like.

This wasn’t all there was to it of course – he did indeed try to find the best ways that individuals could be involved (because in that project they simply couldn’t all do the same thing) – and he worked hard on lesson plans and background theory. Even here though – this element totally fed off his intense personal knowledge and commitment to the area. He walked-the-walk magnificently, and was able to talk-the-talk convincingly.

What also didn’t seem far-stretched was the implication that opening up a person’s natural creativity doesn’t require you to have spent their whole education prioritising them being creative. The hard work is in getting the base knowledge and skills in place for them to feed on. Then a good teacher can press the right buttons to let their innate dispositions flow out.

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