Once upon a time I was part of the entertainment. From the first note of the show, I was in the pit and stayed in and around it and maybe took a break as I worked my way to the front and then leaned on the fence or the stage and watched the real entertainment, the band. Once I'd caught my breath or the band had cranked up a song that needed my involvement, I headed back into the pit.
Wow, what an exhilarating experience. Pure energy, super noise, release. It was so different from my day to day experience. I could scream myself voiceless, become drenched in sweat, smash into total strangers, and get knocked to the ground all while listening to my favorite bands play my favorite songs. Was there anything better?
It was sublime, we were violently peaceful, but how? We knew that we were in this together. We were a community and we learned the code. My friend David Theriault turned me on to this video that captures this spirit very well, "Another State of Mind..."
At first glance, the pit is crazy. People are flailing their elbows and knees, kicking and thrashing. How is that fun? How does it work? How do you know? What if I fall down? What about stage dives? Lots of questions...
On my way to my first show, I was nervous. I loved the bands and the music, but I didn't know what to do with the show. Should I slam dance? Should I go to the stage? What if I fall down? What about stage dives? What if I get in a fight? How do you know?
We'd had plenty of experience in garages. My friends were in bands and we'd slammed each other around and it was fun. But going to a concert with strangers in the big city was different.
OK, the show started and the pit got spinning and I stood on the edge and watched the other kids and did what they did. When someone came toward me, I pushed them and sometimes they pushed me back. That was easy enough and it was fun. As I got more comfortable, I got more aggressive and got more pushy, but then somebody fell down...
Boom! He got picked right up and was pushed forward with the others. The next thing I knew a friend of mine grabbed me by the front of my shirt and threw me into the pit. Sink or swim, here we go! At first I just ran around and bumped into people and then I remembered the music and I started to move to the beat and I got my elbows and knees going and I was slamming with the big kids!
Whew! What a rush! Somebody fell done, I picked him up and pushed him forward. I got knocked down and somebody picked me up. I just kept moving to the music. It was great. By the end of the show, I was completely drained, totally drenched with sweat, and I was overcome with a feeling of total peacefulness and community. I floated out the door and out into the real world. There were no hard feelings, plenty of bumps and bruises but no big injuries. There was a whole different way of doing things, expressing myself and there were lots of other people from all over who were doing it too!
I had learned and I was a different person for the experience.
From then on, I always found my way into the pit as I had learned how to slam and I had learned the code.
How had I learned? First off, I was with my friends. They were as inexperienced as I was and they were willing to take the leap. Second, there was the music that we knew and loved. At the very least, I would be able to see and listen to my favorite bands. Finally, I learned by getting in the pit and making my way and I became part of the code. I was learning as I moved forward and the whole thing became part of me as I became part of it.
What's the takeaway here? My students enter my classroom with some of these types of questions and reservations and I want them to know that I know this and that the code of the pit is part of the classroom that I strive for. Sometimes we get it and sometimes we don't. But in the end, I want my students to know that I will help them get in the pit and their friends and I are all in together. I want them to know that we'll help them if they fall. And, finally, when it's working right, they'll pick up their friends and me up when we fall down too. If we do this right, we'll create a community.
When we leave my class, I want them to realize that there's another way of doing this. I want them to float off to the next class. We can create a community if we create and learn and live by a code.
The Punk Rock Classroom, what do you think? Learning is My Business...