A Wassailing We Will Mimeograph


There was a time in which a devout heart and an applied mind were considered mutually antagonistic in Christendom – a mindset some might argue lingers to an unfortunate extent today. Generally, though, those who seek to save your soul see comparable value in renewing your mind, while those focused on stretching your ability to think care deeply about your character, and your ability to find your calling - if not specifically your ‘soul’.

Neither of which matters much in this post – but it seemed I should open with something suggesting a deeper purpose for this use of virtual real estate. In reality, I just had an urge to compare Lesson Plans with Christmas Songs. I figured the pith and marrow would kinda naturally emerge once I got going.

I was mistaken.

Still, point or not, the correlations themselves are undeniable:

1. Lesson plans seek to enlighten, to teach, to inspire. Christmas songs seek to shine light, share news, and comfort or extol. Both are founded on the underlying premise that a fuller understanding of their content will lead to a fuller, richer, more meaningful life. Both assume lack of said knowledge means darkness, struggle, and unnecessary suffering.

Barenaked Ladies - "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings" Feat. Sarah McLachlan

2. In teaching or in creating music, a certain amount of technical proficiency is essential. There are basics of the craft that any competent participant should know. Both have deep roots and universal truths regarding what’s important and what’s not, and both are ripe with experts regarding the effective spreading of these essentials. In both, the violating of one or more universal truths is sometimes required in order to serve the higher calling – because sometimes what should work, doesn’t, and what shouldn’t work, does.  

Straight No Chaser: The 12 Days of Christmas (2008 Version)

3. Both have essential characteristics which are difficult to replicate on a large scale. In the same way that increasing the size of a honey badger thirty-fold doesn’t give you a giant-but-fully-functional honey badger (its body would collapse in on itself), it’s near impossible to take what works in one setting with one teacher and one group of students and scale it up effectively. You can do the lessons, but you lose the life-changing. Spreading the ‘good news’ and the life-altering this implies – same thing.

(I, um... I don't have a Xmas video representing that correlation - it just seemed important to mention it. The next point is related, though, so... half-credit?)

4. Both teaching and caroling are manpower heavy and relationship-based. Both can be entertaining or poignant, even in large groups, but if one is serious about educating the young or sharing the gospel, it means investing in your charges personally and long-term. It means offering to them something worth emulating. Like King W.

Mel Torme w/John Colianni, John Leitham, Donny Osborne - "Good King Wencaslas"

5. Both offer infinite variety to what often seems to be a limited body of material. Even when we use others' ideas or materials, the actual lesson – the event – the song – is never quite the same, nor should it be. Our kids are never exactly the same kids, our classes never quite the same classes, and we are inherently different teachers from one another. Despite overwhelming efforts to overstandardize everything, different = good.

Carol of the Bells (Admiral Twin)

Fleming & John - Carol of the Bells

Carol Of The Bells

6. In both, "classic" can mean old and boring, or "classic" can be reimagined and recombined with other pedagogical standards so that its familiarity becomes a strength instead of a weakness.

Misty Mountain Wonderland

7. At the same time, whether wassailing or reviewing the Progressive Amendments, not everything needs "modernizing." Sometimes you teach just by teaching. Sometimes you gospel just by gospeling.

What Child Is This ? / Sarah McLachlan

In both, we largely rely on what’s already been sung, what’s already been taught, what’s already been written, recorded, saved to flash drive, or filed away for use again this year. Some we get sick of, until we find a way to make them fresh again, and some we just stay sick of forever.

(Jeopardy on the Smart Board is like "Jingle Bell Rock" to me – if I never experience it again, in any form, it will still be too soon.)

8. Both education and faith are going through identity crises currently. What is our primary purpose? What are the non-negotiables? What’s effective vs. what’s “selling out”? How do we fulfill our calling in this changing world full of all of these very different people than we faced not-so-long-ago?

As a result, both are evolving dramatically, while still staying very much the same. Both are anchored to the past while trying to save the future, and both are struggling to figure out how this... this 'calling' of theirs – might ideally work. In both worlds, practitioners seeking to engage in new ways, or add elements not directly related to the primary purpose. There's nothing wrong with making one's message a bit more palatable, but whether in the classroom or the choir loft, we sometimes extrapolate until we completely lose sight of our original priorities.

Lou Rawls - Santa Claus is Comin' to Town

Education and Christmas - One is perpetually in danger of having its basic premise undercut, subjugated, perhaps entirely forgotten in service of commercial interests. The other involves giving presents to each other. 

9. Both offer a wealth of shining examples to emulate and inexplicably poor behaviors which nevertheless continue. Education has its Horace Manns,  Maria Montessoris, and Anne Sullivans, but also its fill of nameless stereotypical coaches in small towns wearing shorts and whistles, that scary cartoon fellow from The Wall, and at least a half-dozen fairly attractive but empty-eyed women per year who decide they’re in love with 15-year-old boys. Christmas music has its Mormon Tabernacle Choirs, Bing Crosbys, and ability to make Sarah McLachlin interesting for 45 minutes, but also that song about grandma being run over by reindeer and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Sometimes we can’t agree about which is which. I say awesome, you say atrocious…

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy - Pentatonix

10. In both, sometimes you mean well, but what you try just doesn’t work. I had several possible examples for this one, but by the time it came to final editing, it just seemed cruel and out of keeping with the spirit of the piece. Tri-hos.

11. Both, whatever their struggles or victories, come around annually – the efforts at educational erudition for nine months out of the year, and the celebration of Yuletide for one. Or actually more like two, recently. Maybe three months out of the year. In any case, they’re getting ever-closer to taking up the same percentage of calendar.

12. Both are worth it – not only for the ideals and message behind each, but for the occasional moments when something new happens, and works, and makes all the tired lessons fresh and all the old feels feelier, stirring either your heart or your mind in a way which may not be literally unprecedented, but might as well be.

The humblest lesson plan by the most obscure teacher or the weakest bit of Christmas cheer sung out of tune by that enthusiastic alto who thinks he’s a tenor… both – if we let ourselves get a bit touchy-feely about it – both give us a little hope and a little promise and throw a few more candles into the otherwise-overwhelming night.

Both promise it doesn’t have to stay dark.

It's Not Too Late (Bellwether Squares)


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