Friday, February 1, 2013

Great Composers Steal

Great Composers Steal

by Karen Hamilton - Tuesday, July 13, 2010, 03:08 PM
In this week’s discussion post we are asked what the implications of moving from a culture where the emphasis has shifted from “I know” to “We know” where our truths are the result of collective investigations. In the Google Tech Talks video (Oct 8, 2007) Everything is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger talks convincingly about how our systems of organization can limit information. He also talks about “publically negotiated knowledge” and how sometimes the people on the mailing list on websites know more than the experts. When we look at Dewey’s organization and consider the kinds of ways that we can connect information on the net, I think most of us would have to agree that the miscellaneous approach of the net just makes sense.

After viewing the required Weinberger video, of course the miscellaneous nature of the web led me to click on and view another video “Everything is Miscellaneous- Talking to David Weinberger (Nov 29, 2007). In this short video Weinberger goes on to say specifically that the nature of kids learning is collective and collaborative but teachers are grading individually. He also suggests that teachers should stop just sending kids off to libraries; rather they should send kids off on their own to wherever and then really talk about the sources they come back with. He goes as far to say that in the future, “We’ll give up print, like that!” While those like Nicholas Carr continue their foreboding rant about how we are all just getting superficial and stupid, Weinberger embraces the miscellany of it all.

After reading Parry’s Chronicle interview with Nicholas Carr, I surfed over to Carr’s blog Rough Type, read a few posts and hyperlinked myself over to Steven Pinker’s Mind Over Mass Media where upon Pinker takes on Carr’s view. But Carr’s blog, also alerted me to his recent appearance on Steven Colbert’s Colbert Report. Lucky me, with so little time to watch TV, there it was on my PVR, so my next step was watching Carr on the Colbert Report. Of course my favourite part of the interview was after Carr was going on about how multimedia makes us stupid, Colbert shouted out, “Bull s..t!” I’m with Colbert.

Now what’s the reason for describing my excursion? To me it illustrates the power of the miscellaneous nature of the web. Oh the places we can go and the things we can see. Could any of it have happened at a library? Did it make me stupid?

All these things speak to the issues involved in our case study this week.

Walter was a student who didn't follow the rules, instead of writing about music he created a detailed mashup that demonstrated a deep understanding of music and defended his submission in writing.

In my brief and earlier post I posted my reply to Walter as this:

"Walter your grade is A+ Not only have you found a unique way to complete the assignment in a deep and meaningful way but from your passionate and well written defense of your work, I can see you are a thoughtful and accomplished writer. I'll be happy to read more of your writing in future assignments."

I’ll now explain why I’m sticking to that. First of all, as an experienced college teacher who has spent at least half of my 20 years teaching Communications courses and the co-author of a recent college English textbook, I think I have a pretty good eye for a good writer. Walter is a good writer and if a high school student can so eloquently defend his point of view and if his everyday vocabulary includes words like ‘bricolage” then he’s not someone who I as a teacher need to worry about developing writing skills. He has them. For me my job would be to encourage him to use them more and to do that my words to him here praise his writing ability. I’m not sure if Walter knows how good a writer he could be, but I’m sure of one thing by the end of my course, he would be writing more.

My second point for why Walter deserves an A+ is that he really understood the assignment. How much can one write about music without hearing it? I’m sure the rest of the class wrote some lovely essays about how music shapes the view of America through melody and patriotism, but how many of them actually listened to music? How many of them took those ideas and created something new? How many of them will keep their essays or remember them in the future. How much learning stuck? The required composition to me is as much about music as it is about words and words without music are not quite enough. This assignment calls out to multimedia.

My third point is that Walter truly understands the nature of composition. It is evident in the production and in his defense of his project. He knows how to develop a well thought out argument; his arguments are clear and backed up with evidence and documentation; he’s persuasive and he’s passionate. Are these not the attributes of a good writer or creator?

Walter too understands the nature of creativity at a deep level. When he suggests that everyone is just producing variations from other themes, he sees the deep connection to the past. How much of music is original? My favourite example of how music builds from the past is a video posted at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain ( ), under the link Great Composers Steal composer Anthony Kelley shows how everything from classical to jazz is very much derivative.

We could also argue that Walter did exactly as asked. His work had over 3000 words, was a composition and it showed how Music shapes a view of America.

What’s the big picture? In communications courses, it is about communicating; often the stress is on writing and speaking. Can Walter write? I’d have to say, yes. With encouragement, I have no doubt he will write much more than what was required in that essay.

What our educational systems have to do is encourage the Walters, not alienate them.

Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke University Law. Retrieved from

Everything is Miscellaneous (Oct 8, 2007). GoogleTechTalks:Youtube. Retrieved from

Everything is miscellaneous –Talking to David Weinberger .(Nov 29, 2007). Infonomia:YouTube Retrieved from

Kelley, Anthony. Great composers steal. Retrieved from

Parry, M. (July 4, 2010). Is technology making your students stupid? Linkedin with: A writer who questions the wisdom of teaching with technology Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Pinker, S. (June 10, 2010). Mind over mass media. New York Times. Retrieved from

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