I’ve been working my way through Tillich’s Systematic Theology.  One of the concepts he addresses is the fundamental indissolubility of form and content.  That is, we can separate form and content at times for pedagogical purposes, but in real life they form an ontic whole that is greater than the component pieces.

I’ve covered this topic before (and will again), but this week I’ve been thinking of it in terms of education.  In a school district, the professional learning community has made a district wide project of assessing singers on a specific song.  They will teach the song without addressing vocal technique, establish a baseline in some specific areas of vocal production, teach on those areas, and then re-assess for a grade. 

Of course, if we taught drivers ed this way, it would be akin to saying, “I’m going to teach you how to drive, but first, I want you to drive without using your hands on the wheel so that I can establish a baseline.  Then, I will teach you about how to use your hands and re-assess your driving.” 

The problem is, of course, that what you are doing when you establish the baseline is fundamentally something different than driving.  In the same way, if you are just teaching pitches and rhythms, you are doing something fundamentally different than singing.  The nefarious error in this approach is the idea that the component parts of music are a technical side which can be mastered after which you add in the emotional component.  All of which makes me say, “OK, you can think like that, but I wouldn’t want to spend the night with you.”  It’s as wrong headed as attempting to isolate the emotional components without addressing the technical issues.

Of course, the nice thing about separating out form and content is that it provides discreet quantifiable measurements that are great for politicians.  They can report on how something is improving or not improving in their district.  That’s all much easier than motivating a child to take an artistic emotional/technical risk after he/she has been locked in a basement all weekend without food. 

I do wonder if this is discipline specific to the arts, but I doubt it.