by Rodrigo Godinez
We always talk about a learning gap, an achievement gap, or whatever you want to call it. How was this gap created? Is it really a gap, or is it a lack of understanding on the system’s part as it pertains to each child’s learning journey? My perspective on this is informed by my own experience as a musician.
As a child, I loved listening to all kinds of music, thanks to Pops. My mom (and here is where I acknowledge my life of privilege) wanted me to take piano lessons. So, on Saturdays, a teacher would come to our house to give me lessons. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, but I told my mom I didn’t want to continue with the lessons because the teacher gave me homework and I didn’t want more homework. So, the lessons stopped. Then, a couple of years later, my mom got my brother and me flute lessons, like flauta pan and zampoña. My brother loved it and stuck with it. In fact, he still plays. I liked it okay, but I wasn’t in love. It wasn’t my journey…not the instrument.
Flash forward to high school…sophomore year…I saw there was a guitar class. I went to Einstein High School, and Ms. Rackey taught me guitar. There were a bunch of clowns in the class who only came to hang out and half-learn licks, riffs, and just chill. But for me, the class was the highlight of every day. I wanted to learn so badly. Ms. Rackey noticed my interest and my needs. She gave me a guitar to take home for practice. I studied chords, attempted finger picking styles, and practiced well into most nights. I had swimming practice at 4:15 a.m., but I would play until like 10 p.m. It was like a bug. I learned how to play “More Than Words” by Extreme, a popular song on the radio (which dates me!). In any case, I learned how to play guitar that year, and I haven’t stopped since. As I continued my journey through college, I started writing and performing songs during open mic nights in local bars. I even opened for my friend’s band while still in school.
I graduated with my teaching degree but instead went on tour with my band, The Lloyd Dobler Effect (pictured right). We got pretty big, so big that we played the main stage at the HFStival in 2002, with performers like N.E.R.D, and Eminem. My youngest brother (who was also one of Ms. Rackey’s students and played violin in my band), my percussion player, and I went back to talk to Ms. Rackey’s high school classes. We went to talk to my then-girlfriend’s third grade class and brought instruments to share our love for music with the little kids.
The point I’m trying to make is that my journey in music was not forced upon me. My parents didn’t force me to play an instrument, they let me be. They shared their love of music, provided opportunities for me to explore my interests, and supported my passion when I found the right fit. Ms. Rackey taught me the fundamentals, learned about my background experiences, and she treated me like I had unlimited potential. My parents’ and Ms. Rackey’s support, combined with my passion and work ethic, helped this Guatemalan immigrant become a world-class musician and, later, a top-notch teacher.
Let me circle back to my original question: Is there really a learning gap? If so, according to whose standards?
I believe there is an understanding gap. Instead of understanding the cultures, interests, and life experiences of our Black and Brown learners, we are imposing the norms, rules, and systems steeped in white supremacy culture. That’s what feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. As educators and leaders in society, we must understand our children’s perspectives in order to support their journeys. Otherwise, we are just additional obstacles that our kids must overcome.