Passion and Discipline

haulin netPassion is the buzzword of the day. People use the term as a qualification for their cherished pursuits.

“I am passionate about bicycling.” “I am passionate about singing.” “I am passionate about teaching.” I wonder, is passion alone enough?

Livingston Taylor, artist-in-residence at Harvard and music professor at Berklee College of Music, is a virtuoso. Oh yes, and James is his brother. I saw Livingston perform on 5/4 at Thalian Hall in Wilmington, NC.

A master entertainer, he specializes in connecting with the audience. He gives it all to the audience; he is one who will not take his music with him to the grave.

Taylor has been plying his musical trade for over 40 years . . . and it shows. His creativity is unrivaled. In one song he plays a complex arrangement on the guitar, while giving a running commentary as if he were an announcer of an Olympic event. In the folk song “Railroad Bill,” the song’s protagonist escapes from the lyrics and turns upon the singer. Who would have ever anticipated the ensuing battle of ego and will?

His repertoire runs the gamut. And he sprinkles folksy wit and refined wisdom throughout his sets. He advises his students on the topic of audience: “For them to hold your passion, they first have to be held by your discipline.” In other words, hard work precedes passion.

How willing are we to work hard to augment our passion? Do we toil so interminably on details and demands that our passion wanes? Like Livingston, are we willing and able to practice the craft we teach? Are we generating new content in our fields on a consistent basis? Are we keeping the creative homefires of our disciplines burning?

Look at these creative spins on traditional research that Doug Johnson suggests we could do with students on a daily basis:

  • Use the Internet to check the weather forecast and make a recommendation about dress for the next day.
  • Search and report an interesting fact about the author of the next story being read by the class.
  • Email students in another class to ask their opinions on a discussion topic.
  • Recommend a movie or television show to watch the coming weekend using a critic’s advice.
  • Find two science articles that relate to the current science unit. Evaluate the credibility of the sources of information.
  • Locate a place from a current news headline or class reading on an online map resource like.
  • Recommend a book to a classmate based on other books that classmate has read using the school’s library catalog or an Internet source.
  • Update the class webpage with interesting facts from units studied and links to related information on the web.
  • Estimate the number of calories and fat grams in the meal served in the cafeteria that day.
  • Find a “quote of the day” on a specific topic and use a graphics program to illustrate and print it out.

These suggestions augment the one-and-done passion of the semester research project; they become a creative norm for the daily discipline of research!

North Carolina is busy trying to fashion a more comprehensive and relevant core curriculum for future ready students. An arts requirement is among the new options. In a recent meeting of the NC Globally Competitive Students Committee, Neil Pederson had this to say of a proposed arts requirement:

It’s wrong to say that students can only learn about creativity by taking an arts class.

I totally agree with Superintendent Pederson. My only concern is about the amount of passion and discipline required to foster a creative and compelling environment in every classroom.

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