31 May 2018
Dear Professor Winslow,
I saw a TED talk the other day. It was something called, Where are the baby dinosaurs? Apparently the fossil record lacked infant and juvenile examples of triceratops, t-rex, and other recognized dinosaurs. It took a paleontologist named Jack Horner to point out that his colleagues had been inaccurately naming these fossils of younger dinosaurs as new species. The desire to be known for discovering something was stronger than the idea that we should not just expect, but actively look for change over time.
Every now and then, in a heated discussion thread in an online voice pedagogy forum, I encounter someone who reminds me of myself 10 years ago. Usually a little more certain of their point of view than they should be given their evidence or support, and generally unaware of what others around them know. In moments like that I’m frequently impressed with how tolerant my mentors were with me and my own passionate public opinions. To be fair, the 22 year old version of me barely had access to email list serves. The 32 year old version of me was stumbling through yahoo groups, not an instant international publishing platform designed for quick discovery and threaded conversations. It is not only possible, but easy for young people today to make lasting first impressions on their elders in a way not possible in previous generations. It seems to me that the very nature of online discussion has changed over the past 20 years. In many ways, forums on Facebook at least supplement, if not replace the communities only possible through journals, symposia, and conventions. The tent is infinitely larger now, but includes a huge variety of people. Factionalism, tribalism, guruism, pseudo science, dogmatism, etc now collide much more easily, and real, lasting collaborations (and commerce) take place between people who have never met.
As a pedagogy community, I wonder how we look for and foster the change that has to take place in the minds of our members over time? It’s one thing to just argue with someone who doesn’t have all the information. But we want that someone to become more educated and circumspect in another 10 years. There’s a ton of nuance in the voice pedagogy world. Not everything is equally right, but people tend to argue in the language of absolutes when what they mean is within their frame of reference. We don’t need to perpetuate yet another generational struggle in voice pedagogy. In fact, we can choose not to.
So I wonder, how aware are you of how to publicly disagree with people in online communities, and do you think about the long term impact of dismissing someone who disagrees with you because they don’t yet understand you? How do you make sure to see them as a baby dinosaur on their way to maturity, rather than a fully formed monster?
Dr. Ian Howell
Vocal Pedagogy Director
The New England Conservatory of Music