Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pasión y compasión

“Passion with compassion” was the phrase Norman used a couple of weeks ago when referring to El Sistema. This play on words (con pasión in Spanish means with passion) is to me fundamental to any nucleo, you just gotta hear them playing!

"Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others; thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed." - The Buddha

The two speakers that have made a deep impression in my thinking have been Beth Babcock (interview link) and Sebastian from Community Music Works. Beth advised that the most difficult thing to do is to continue running a successful organization throughout the years. She came in with passion and was “in your face” about the struggles of non-profit organizations. Sebastian and Chloe from Community Music Works - completely different energy, but equally passionate - presented a model that really interests me. This work is embedded in the community (RI) and the program has grown very organically - Community Music Works (CMW) has been around for 14 years!

Beth said that running a non-profit resembles for-profit in a lot of ways. So lets analyze the cookie cutter business model.

  • You have to offer a product that is unique: El Sistema - pass.
  • You have to offer it to the right market: at-risk-youth population - pass.
  • Value (exceeds costs): Offers life skills, community and individual empowerment, self-esteem - “for everything else there is a credit card”.


How can we put a value on humanity development? That is a tough question to answer because equity, sustainability, production and empowerment are difficult to measure.

Why does assessment matter? For funding purposes. Your data has to support your claim that your business is yielding concrete results in your product. El Sistema inspired programs located in the US cost an average of $3,000 child yearly (varies by state). In the traditional school system the input output ratio of cost per student is determined by measuring it against a parameter such as school performance or attendance. If the mission of the program is to transform lives, how can you measure that output in measurable outcomes?

Don’t get me wrong I think art education can be assessed and I am all for it, however I have a problem with the model we are using in education. The teacher is the source of knowledge and kids receptively listen, then they have to take a test to see if they understood the material, if they didn’t understand it they fail the test. If you are interested in crazy-genius perspectives go here.

It wasn’t until I started studying music education that I started having radical ideas. I had never heard of Freire until this summer, and then BAAAM it made perfect sense! How come we didn’t learn about him in our education courses?!! I am ranting, my apologies!

Sebastian put it perfectly - How can we assess the impact music has on a person (intrinsic vs extrinsic)? In CMW they are looking at self-esteem, motivation, and participation in the community. Civic engagement is a large factor; students create their own performance in the community about an issue that affects them and thus their community. In the self-esteem assessments, teachers interview students six times in a term and complete a follow up interview with family of some of those students. CMW is interested with how to get students interested in their own learning!

Very succinctly stated by one of the fellows: The business approach seems to grow fast, its worried in production- (seems to be against Freire ideology) - community music works took very long to build because its built on respect and human growth.

I am still wrestling with thoughts on how to combine and balance both approaches in order to sustain and serve.

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