Retrograde Music History

Geoffrey Himes argued recently in Smithsonian Magazine that “we should teach music history backwards.” to take advantage of the desire at least some listeners have to understand the precursors to/influences on the music they like today.  The question of what order to put things in (chronological, reverse chronological, by genre,…..) is a perpetual one for teachers of music history or music appreciation. Why don’t we start with the music they know and perhaps even like?

Himes , although he claims to discuss music history, writes only about popular genres,  In his primary example , he makes connections from Sam Smith all the way back to Rosetta Tharpe.  It’s not hard to see the limitations of the approach, most prominent among them that you have to start with contemporary music that you like and follow where that leads.  What about all the other music?

Especially, how do you span the chasm between folk/popular song and the art music tradition?  Understanding the link between Sam Smith and Aretha Franklin is relatively straightforward.  Making the connection between Smith and Josquin is much less obvious.The chasm is even wider when you consider music without words, a bête noire for many studying music history for the first time. Even if you are working backwards, there comes a point where you must jump the gap to music that seems not at all familiar. Does it make more sense to start at the beginning with a blank slate?

Catching up with Rhizo15

I had originally intended to not add  Rhizo15 to the long list of MOOCish things I started but didn’t finish, but got sucked in via a tangential discussion about social media platforms.  Thanks for nothing , Lisa Chamberlain 🙂     Since I’m a late arrival, I am going to do two for one here:


I think this turn of terminology is a wonderful encapsulation of what rhizomatic learning is about. My subjectives for Rhizo15 are:

  1. Learn more about how to build and facilitate a rhizomatic learning space.
  2. Consider how to square the rhizomatic model with educational structures that run very counter to it , especially in the areas of learner autonomy.  For example, I’ve read multiple responses to the new book Redesigning Americas’s Community Colleges, which advocates  reducing the amount of choice available to students as a way to improve completion.


That segues nicely into the question of measures.  It at least seems nearly self-evident that in an environment that puts learner agency first, measures of learning will also come from the learner.  Learning can happen this way.  The challenge is that most learning is embedded in things called education or training or school.   Someone wants to improve their skills and abilities and is willing to pay for access to support structures that enable that.

People could just pay for supports that help them meet their subjectives.  It’s like life coaching or hiring a personal trainer, just on a bigger scale.  What that scenario ignores is that the kind of learning supports people and institutions are willing to pay for aren’t related to subjectives at all.  They are, for the most part, connected to external economic incentives, especially the willingness to pay workers more if they have a particular degree, license or skill set.  As long as the economic incentives work that way, subjectives will be climbing up a steep incline.

Is all grit the same grit?

This morning as I was checking my twitter stream, I saw that grit had come up again, this time in a chat. The entire concept of grit has been pointedly criticized because it can be summarized as “the ability of poor and/or minority kids to overcome challenges that the white and well-off never have to face.” When your narrative applies only to one ethnic group or economic class, it says less about them than about the system that surrounds them. A recent Atlantic article which describes the lives of students who, in a formally designed education-industry parnership, work the graveyard shift in exchange for tuition remission, sounds very similar. If your parent is a hedge fund manager, you don’t have to even think about how to solve this kind of problem.

Then I got to thinking about doctors (of the medical variety) and face a conundrum. Every doctor I’ve ever known has said the process of becoming a doctor was difficult and required them to push themselves through all sorts of challenges. Many of the behaviors we ask of aspiring MD’s (cramming for MCAT’s , surviving the schedule of medical residency) look like what the grit narrative asks of those who are poor. Is medical education an example of a bad system, that applies the harsh demands of the grit narrative to even those who aren’t poor or minority, if they progress in the the most competitive parts of the educational system, or is there another explanation? Is there some sort of substantive difference between the two models, one being bad and coercive, the other being strenuous and character-building in a Teddy Roosevelt kind of way?

I am pondering all this in part because of one of my children, who has, for almost half their life, answered the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with the answer pediatric neurosurgeon. Said child is bright and inquisitive, and hasn’t demonstrated all that much grit. But he/she hasn’t had too, yet.

The Limitations on the Wiki-ness of a Happening

One of the great challenges and opportunities of the fedwikihappening has been learning a new workflow, one that lets go of the notion of a single canonical version of a document and relaxes the usual focus on who wrote what. Collectively thinking through how to do that, and what tools could support it, was a fascinating experience.

That said, there were at least a couple of ways in which the journaling model that Mike presented wasn’t fully realized. First, my daily wiki surfing was defined by the happening participant list. Second, the shared conversation had a particular focus, a good bit of it meta-wiki-ing. I found myself not creating some pages because of concerns about how they might not gel with the audience that was my fellow happening participants. Otherwise, my site would have had more pages about folk music and Internet privacy than it did.

Because of the happening, there was a certain sense that we, like the pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, were on a journey together. I have note how the federated wiki journaling model may be more like side-by-side play, where there’s occasional interaction and sharing, but the key process is individual.

I’ll be very interested to see how things evolve once the formal happening ends and interactions between participants become more occasional and haphazard.

The Polar Surveillance State

Those of us over a certain age have regarded with bewilderment the now annual appearance of elves on shelves, not part of the Christmas of our youth. Now at long last, hidden in the depths of the Snowden leaks, the truth has been revealed.

Elves on shelves are , it seems, a symptom of a sea change in North Polar behavioral monitoring. Following the lead of the NSA and GCHQ, Santa , realizing that more and more of children’s behavior is online, has in recent years reallocated resources, including many senior elves in the Naughty or Nice Division, to SIGINT, Sleigh-Installed Gear for Interception of Network Traffic. Exploiting the TEMPEST vulnerability, high-altitude, single-reindeer sleighs monitor children’s internet behavior via leaked electromagnetic signals. A complex sleigh-based system of laser communication relays delivers data to the arctic undetected. What, you may ask, has this to do with elves on shelves?

The reassignment of senior elves to the SIGINT program has left traditional elf intelligence activities to junior staff. Not surprisingly, the stealth capability of new recruits isn’t as well developedas the more senior agents they have replaced. leading to a frightening number of early morning discoveries by surveilled children. At some point, North Pole PR gave up trying to explain the phenomenon and decided to have field agents hide in plain sight.

Of skills and shortages

In one of her recent end of year posts, [Audrey Watters discusses skills] ( She mentions the regularly mentioned notion of a skills shortage, where employers, particularly those seeking workers with technical skills, can’t find qualified workers. The more I think about this, the more dubious it sounds.

We think of the labor market just like we think about markets for smartphones and commodities. These markets are supposed to be responsive to the law of supply and demand. If there is a shortage of plumbers or machinists,or insert occupation here , the price of that worker (in wages, benefits, and perks) will rise until more workers are attracted to the occupation at the new price point. So, is a shortage really a shortage? After all, the unemployment rate is still almost 6 percent and , once you add in discouraged workers and those employed part-time out of necessity, there would seem to be many potential workers who could fill these hard to fill positions eventually.

Eventually is an important word. Since these positions are skilled, it takes time for would be machinists, clowns, etc. to retrain, creating a lag. As Audrey points out, employers used to deal with this lag by hiring someone, then training them. Now, employers expect to hire individuals who are work ready, as [Cait Murphy points out] ( Workers are now expected to acquire the skills they need at their own expense, rather than being paid while they receive on the job training. This moves the supply curve. If you’ve been out of the workforce while retraining, and especially if you’ve acquired debt to fund that training, you’re less likely to be demanding about salary, benefits, and working conditions.

Moses Cross

I don’t normally post on my genealogical research here. That has its own webtrees powered site at However, I’ve run into a confusing branch in my father’s family.

Mark Miner has a page on Noah Cross which lists Noah’s son Moses as being married to a Mary Kelley (b. 1760). In Francis Byron Greene, History of Boothbay, Southport and Boothbay Harbor, Maine, 1623-1905 is listed a published intention of marriage between Moses, of Freetown, and Mary, of Boothbay, dated 22 October 1768. Google Books Marriage intentions were apparently, like Banns, published close to the wedding date. This would have made Mary only 8 years old. Betrothal of an 8 year old might be plausible, but even in the Middle Ages, the wedding itself would have been later. I’m perplexed.

Off on the wrong foot

I started the Digital Analytics and Learning MOOC – DALMOOC, this week. George Siemens and his co-conspirators describe it as a dual-layer MOOC, although it seems to me that dual-track would be a better term. The idea is that one can complete the MOOC either by following the traditional path of content followed by assignments or by following a social path where one is given a problem to solve and then finds some kindred spirits, goes forth and solves. This sounds great in theory. My reality of it hasn’t been great so far.

First, I’m not clear where to go to find the problems and connect with other learners on the “social” track. I’m looking for some sort of hub for this layer of the MOOC and haven’t found it yet. Second, The first assignment seems to be to gather information on learning analytics tools. One does this by downloading an MS Word document and filling it out. I am hard pressed to think of a less social way to approach this task.

Finally, I worry that the course may do a wonderful job of teaching about tools, while leaving out important stuff like how to figure out which data is important and useful. That’s the most important thing to learn about learning analytics.