Pedagogy, or Trying To Pin Down the Butterfly

One of the ugliest words in the English language is Pedagogy. It sounds like a very unpleasant disease, and perhaps that is not inappropriate, as pedagogy kills creativity.

The word is as ugly as the concept. What is pedagogy? It is a misguided attempt to fix and quantify the art of teaching and guiding young musicians. Teaching is a creative process between two people, the teacher or mentor and the student, constantly changing, evolving, exploring, creating, experimenting. When we attempt to analyse it, fix it, pin it down with rules, fragment and quantify it, we kill it. We cannot pin down the butterfly without killing it.

Pedagogy can be defined as the method and practice of teaching. Chopin had something to say on the subject:
“People have tried out all kinds of methods of learning to play the piano, methods that are tedious and useless, and have nothing to do with the study of the instrument.”

Pedagogy feeds our illusion that by taking apart, analysing, compartmentalising the teaching of great teachers, we can learn from this study. But we are left, not with wisdom or understanding, but with fragments, bits of information, meaningless without context. We are in the world of the left hemisphere of our brains.

It was a revelation for me to attend, some years ago, lectures given by the eminent neuro-scientist, Dr. Ian McGilchrist, who is the leading authority on the hemispheres of the brain.

In his masterly book, The Master and the Emissary, McGilchrist has much to say that is revelatory to musicians.

People have long since held a very simplistic view of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. McGilchrist explains that the now outdated view of the left hemisphere as being concerned with language and reason, and the right hemisphere with imagination and feeling, is incorrect. Both hemispheres deal with everything. It is not a question of what they do, but how they do it.

The left hemisphere takes things out of context to examine the component parts, to analyse, abstract, compartmentalise. This is a necessary part of studying, to examine in detail, but if we lose touch with the context, as is increasingly the case in our modern world and systems of education, we are left with just pieces, bits which have no meaning without a context. It is the right hemisphere which provides the context, sees the broader picture, makes connections, and allows us to experience those dawning moments when knowledge becomes understanding.

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