Ferry Beach Conference Center, Saco, Maine

I was hanging out last night with some people from a music conference who were doing a little impromptu singing. One of them wanted to sing “Ode to Billie Joe,” originally recorded by Bobby Gentry, but no one could quite remember the lyrics. So they turned to the laptop that one of them had brought and did a quick search of the Web to find the lyrics….

It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door “y’all remember to wipe your feet”
And then she said “I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge”
“Today Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”

One of the musicians later said how pleased he was to be able to sit around and play music that was not electronic. And none of the instruments, none of the voices, was electronically altered in any way. But I’m in a postmodern, deconstructionist mood today, and very interested in how finding song lyrics on the Web alters the reality of folksinging.

Which makes me think about something else. In the next room over from where I’m sitting, there’s a workshop going on. Although I can’t hear much, I can tell from the rhythms and tones of the voices, by how many people get to speak at once, by the occasional bursts of polite laughter, that this workshop is using techniques of group process that grew out of the ferment of 1970’s pedagogy and group work — the human potential movement, second wave feminist group process, and so on. They are using, in fact, the same techniques I typically use when I lead small groups.

But in my present deconstructionist mood, I’m questioning whether those techniques still match the reality of our lives (almost definitely not). And wondering whether we can reconstruct new ways of teaching and learning that move beyond the tight limitations that I have begun to see in those old group process techniques. And thinking that teaching and learning are even more limited than I had ever thought.

Hey, just call me a postmodern kind of guy.