School Finds Music Is the Food of Learning At Voice Charter School in Queens, Students Have Outperformed Their Peers Academically

Elizabeth Harris:

Academically, students at Voice did significantly better than the city average on New York State math exams last year, with 70 percent of its students passing, compared with 39 percent citywide. Their English performance was less impressive, but with 39 percent passing, it still beat the citywide average of 30 percent.

The children, each in a uniform of a sky-blue shirt and navy skirt or slacks, are instructed to be quiet in the hallways and asked not to shriek during gym class, to protect order as well as their voices. But what really distinguishes the school are the sounds. Songs in English, Spanish, Japanese and German drift through the buildings, pens rhythmically tap against any convenient hard surface, and little bursts of music surface even where they are not meant to be.

Design education is “tragic”


News: Apple’s head designer Jonathan Ive says he struggles to hire young staff as schools are failing to teach them how to make products.

Speaking at London’s Design Museum last night, Ive attacked design schools for failing to teach students how to make physical products and relying too heavily on “cheap” computers.

“So many of the designers that we interview don’t know how to make stuff, because workshops in design schools are expensive and computers are cheaper,” said Ive.

“That’s just tragic, that you can spend four years of your life studying the design of three dimensional objects and not make one.”

Ive, who is Apple’s senior vice president of design, said that students were being taught to use computer programs to make renderings that could “make a dreadful design look really palatable”.

Cancel that violin class

The Economist:

parents fear two things: that their children will die in a freak accident, and that they will not get into Harvard. The first fear is wildly exaggerated. The second is not, but staying awake all night worrying about it will not help—and it will make you miserable.

Modern parents see risks that their own parents never considered. They put gates at the top of stairs, affix cushions to table corners and jam plastic guards into sockets to stop small fingers from getting electrocuted. Those guards are “potential choking hazards”, jests Lenore Skenazy, the author of “Free-Range Kids”. Ms Skenazy let her nine-year-old son ride the New York subway on his own. He was thrilled; but when she spoke about it on TV, a mob of worrywarts called her “America’s worst mom”.

Is De-Skilling Killing Your Arts Education?

F Scott Hess:

In 1974, when I was a freshman art student at a small Midwestern liberal arts college in Wisconsin, I wanted to learn to draw the human figure. One untenured professor took me under his wing and encouraged that process, but the department chair, an alcoholic abstract painter, stumbled into the studio late one evening while I was studying a plaster head that showed the muscles of the face. He slowly looked at me, then at the head. “This is not art!” he screamed, lifting the cast high and smashing it on the cement at his feet. Pleased with his stirring defense of Western Civilization, he staggered out the door.

Over the years my representational painting colleagues have expressed many similar stories, some funny in retrospect, coming as they do from the lucky few who successfully survived the vicissitudes of our academic art institutions. My experience was by no means an isolated incident for me. Other professors in other institutions purposely scribbled crude ‘corrections’ over carefully drawn works, daily held my work up to ridicule because of its style, or browbeat any opinion that tried to breach their academic dogma. I was a stubborn young cuss and held my ground. I often heard from fellow students, “I want to draw like you, but I don’t dare!”

Art in the Future Will Be for Everyone

Carter Cleveland:

Before talking about the future of art, I’d like to draw your attention to the past, to another form of human expression: music.

Pre-20th century, the music world in the West resembled the art world today. If you listened to professional music, were informed about the genre and attended performances, you were part of an elite class.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a world where listening to music has anything to do with class. Not everyone can afford front-row seats to a Justin Timberlake concert, but everyone knows his music. You can ask anyone on the street about their favorite band and watch their eyes light up. In contrast, try asking someone on the street about their favorite artist and rarely will you find a similarly enthusiastic response. (If this thought experiment doesn’t make sense, you probably live in New York or London—two cities that together account for over 60% of the global art market.)

It’s Urgent To Put The Liberal Arts Back At The Center Of Education

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:

Here’s the thing. In the understanding of both the great Ancient philosophers and, taking after them, of the thinkers who gave us the Enlightenment and the intellectual scaffolding for our prosperous liberal-democratic society, including the Founding Fathers, democracy did not simply happen. Democracy depended on a robust citizenship, and this citizenship, in turn, was a struggle of all the men (and, now, women) of the polity; it conferred rights as well as responsibilities. In particular, two of the most fundamental requirements of citizenship were virtue and a liberal education.

The expression “liberal education” is quite important. Today, when we think “liberal education”, we think “Would you like fries with that?” But as the common root with the word liberty suggests, liberal education is an education that helps make us free. Only by first understanding not only the empirical scaffolding of our Universe–a.k.a. science–but also its conceptual scaffolding, a.k.a. the ideas, concepts and history which shape the world we live in, can we ever hope to be free, that is to say to be able to make informed, conscious decisions.

Similarly, the great men (and, sorry, they were mostly men) who bequeathed us this wonderful order understood that a regime of majority rule cannot long withstand the test of time without having a citizenship that takes seriously the notion of virtue. The virtues, to Aristotle and others, are not so much about being a goody-two-shoes, but rather about the lifelong effort to reach self-mastery through confronting our passions (today, perhaps, we would say: our addictions) and properly ordering our will towards that which is good. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll see how growth in virtue is itself a form of liberal education.

Without an awareness of these things, a bunch of very smart people who built our world and know the instruction manual have been warning us, we consign ourselves to doom.

How Art History Majors Power the U.S. Economy

Virginia Postrel:

There’s nothing like a bunch of unemployed recent college graduates to bring out the central planner in parent-aged pundits.

In a recent column for Real Clear Markets, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute lauded the Chinese government’s policy of cutting financing for any educational program for which 60 percent of graduates can’t find work within two years. His assumption is that, because of government education subsidies, the U.S. is full of liberal-arts programs that couldn’t meet that test.

“Too many aspiring young museum curators can’t find jobs?” he writes. “The pragmatic Chinese solution is to cut public subsidies used to train museum curators. The free market solution is that only the rich would be indulgent enough to buy their kids an education that left them economically dependent on Mommy and Daddy after graduation.” But, alas, the U.S. has no such correction mechanism, so “unemployable college graduates pile up as fast as unsold electric cars.”

Rest in Peace, Marvin Rabin

“It is with great sadness we share the news that WYSO’s founder, Dr. Marvin Rabin has passed away.” WYSO Facebook page
The Open World of Marv Rabin
Marc Newhouse (2/18/13)
Want to see a guy go from his mid-nineties to about age fifty in thirty seconds or less?
Marvin Rabin does it, unbelievably, just by talking about music, his lifelong passion and profession.
Interesting what you know and don’t know about adults when you’re a kid. Rabin was the founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra; he was imported–OK, lured–to the UW from Boston. So I figured he was from a musical family, a long line of cultured, genteel, well-heeled patrician people.
Wrong, his father was a store keeper, and didn’t play an instrument. But his father, a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine, did realize–vaudeville kept a lot of musicians fed and shod. Remember, the talking picture hadn’t been invented, and that meant every movie house had a pit orchestra. So his father put a violin in young Marvin’s hands, which changed his life and a lot of other lives.
Mine, for example. When Rabin believed in you…
But wait…
Rabin believed in EVERY kid, which is to say that he was always looking for that special talent, or spark, or curiosity that made a kid unique. Nor was he just a music teacher, a conductor, an educator; he came to music relatively late, having gotten a Bachelor’s degree in history and political science. He wanted kids to grow up and develop and keep developing through their lives, and if that meant music–great.
The complete blog post includes an interview with Dr. Rabin.

Is Music the Key to Success?

Joanne Lipman

CONDOLEEZZA RICE trained to be a concert pianist. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, was a professional clarinet and saxophone player. The hedge fund billionaire Bruce Kovner is a pianist who took classes at Juilliard. Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields? The connection isn’t a coincidence. I know because I asked. I put the question to top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media, all of whom had serious (if often little-known) past lives as musicians. Almost all made a connection between their music training and their professional achievements.
The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously. Will your school music program turn your kid into a Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft (guitar)? Or a Woody Allen (clarinet)? Probably not. These are singular achievers. But the way these and other visionaries I spoke to process music is intriguing. As is the way many of them apply music’s lessons of focus and discipline into new ways of thinking and communicating — even problem solving.
Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry. Woody Allen performs weekly with a jazz band. The television broadcaster Paula Zahn (cello) and the NBC chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd (French horn) attended college on music scholarships; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell trained to become a professional violinist. Both Microsoft’s Mr. Allen and the venture capitalist Roger McNamee have rock bands. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, played saxophone in high school. Steven Spielberg is a clarinetist and son of a pianist. The former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall.
“It’s not a coincidence,” says Mr. Greenspan, who gave up jazz clarinet but still dabbles at the baby grand in his living room. “I can tell you as a statistician, the probability that that is mere chance is extremely small.” The cautious former Fed chief adds, “That’s all that you can judge about the facts. The crucial question is: why does that connection exist?” Paul Allen offers an answer. He says music “reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.” Mr. Allen began playing the violin at age 7 and switched to the guitar as a teenager. Even in the early days of Microsoft, he would pick up his guitar at the end of marathon days of programming. The music was the emotional analog to his day job, with each channeling a different type of creative impulse. In both, he says, “something is pushing you to look beyond what currently exists and express yourself in a new way.”
Mr. Todd says there is a connection between years of practice and competition and what he calls the “drive for perfection.” The veteran advertising executive Steve Hayden credits his background as a cellist for his most famous work, the Apple “1984” commercial depicting rebellion against a dictator. “I was thinking of Stravinsky when I came up with that idea,” he says. He adds that his cello performance background helps him work collaboratively: “Ensemble playing trains you, quite literally, to play well with others, to know when to solo and when to follow.”
For many of the high achievers I spoke with, music functions as a “hidden language,” as Mr. Wolfensohn calls it, one that enhances the ability to connect disparate or even contradictory ideas. When he ran the World Bank, Mr. Wolfensohn traveled to more than 100 countries, often taking in local performances (and occasionally joining in on a borrowed cello), which helped him understand “the culture of people, as distinct from their balance sheet.”



STEM to Steam
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is encouraging Art/Design to be included with the K-20 STEM curriculum.
What is STEAM
In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future. Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.
We need to add Art + Design to the equation — to transform STEM into STEAM.
STEAM is a movement championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and widely adopted by institutions, corporations and individuals.
The objectives of the STEAM movement are to:

  • transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
  • encourage integration of Art + Design in K-20 education
  • influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation

Orchestras (and audiences) get more Asian-American every year. Will it be enough?

Michael Ahn Paarlberg:

What do symphony orchestras and cigarette companies have in common? It’s the age problem. How do you stay in business when your customers keep dying?
For orchestras, at least it’s not their product that’s lethal, though it might as well be. With the median age of concertgoers rising, fewer than one in 10 adults reported attending a classical concert in 2008, according to a periodic survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, a 28 percent drop since 1982. The financial state of orchestras today is roughly comparable to that of Blockbuster Video post-Netflix. Ticket sales are dropping; layoffs and bankruptcies abound. In the past two years, the Honolulu, Syracuse, and New Mexico orchestras closed up shop entirely; the Philadelphia Orchestra, long revered as one of the five best in the country, filed for Chapter 11 protection in April.

Madison’s Phoenix Program Review

Madison School District (150K PDF):

Basic Information
The Phoenix program began serving students in the fall of 2010-11. The Phoenix program was housed in the Doyle Administration Building
During this school year the program served
35 middle school students and
33 high school students
28 middle school students progressed through the Phoenix program and returned to an MMSD educational environment
24 high school students progressed through the Phoenix program and returned to an MMSD educational environment
7 middle students were expelled from the Phoenix program due to behavioral issues 9 high students were expelled from the Phoenix program due to behavioral issues
The first year the curriculum consisted of on-line academics supported by additional resource material.
Each quarter a student could receive up to a .25 credit in Community Service, Career Planning, English, Writing, Math, Physical Education, Science, Social Studies
The program’s partnership with community FACE and district PBST staff allowed the students to participate in social emotional skill development forty-five hours per week.

Much more on the “Phoenix Program”, here.
P.S. This Madison School District document includes a header that I’ve not seen before: “Innovative Education”. I also noticed that the District (or someone) placed a billboard on the Beltline marketing Cherokee Middle School’s Arts education.

Fargo’s Plains Art Museum to open K-5 art education center

Dan Gunderson

The Plains Art Museum announced plans Thursday to open a “Center for Creativity” that will teach art to thousands of local elementary school students.
The $2.8 million center will open next fall near the museum in downtown Fargo.
Museum Director Colleen Sheehy said in the first year the center will serve 5,000 Fargo elementary students. Schools will pay a fee for the classes.
Ultimately, Sheehy said the new center will teach art education to the 12,000 K-5 students in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Programs offered at the center will replace some existing art education programs in the schools.
The center will significantly increase the number of people who use the museum, she said.

Music education key for childhood development

Natalie Tejeda:

Growing up many of us played musical instruments in school but did you know that nearly half of the us population has never had any musical education. And with budget cutbacks it seems today’s youth may suffer similar consequences unless parents take it upon themselves to bring music education home. Monica Snow with Primrose School stopped by the Saturday morning show to talk about how to do just that.

Live Stream of violinist Wendy Sharp tomorrow from Yale, plus a SAVE-THE-DATE for Feb 13

Lisa Bielawa, via a kind email:

Hi dear friends- So great to see so many of you at the performances of Koyaanisqatsi with the Glass Ensemble & the NY Philharmonic this past week. It was pretty great to share the stage with So Much Brass! and a great experience for us to share that incredible piece with the hometown audience.
I’m writing you because there’s a great way tomorrow Nov 6 at 4pm EST for you to hear some of my music – Live! – from anywhere in the world.
Violinist Wendy Sharp will be playing the solo Meditations from my cycle “The Lay of the Love and Death” in concert at Yale University at 4pm EST tomorrow (November 6), and I will be playing the role of reciter, reading the heartbreaking epic poem by Rilke, written in one night when he was just 22 years old. In its original form as a song cycle for baritone, with solo violin meditations, “The Lay of the Love and Death” was commissioned by the Joyce Dutka Arts Foundation in 2006 and received its world premiere on the Premiere Commission Gala concert in Alice Tully Hall that same year. As always, it is a great pleasure to be sharing the program with some superb, albeit not-too-social, colleagues: some guys named Brahms, Beethoven, and Korngold. Wendy is a beautiful player with a rich and very personal tone. I am really looking forward to it!
YOU CAN SEE/HEAR IT ALL ON LIVE STREAMING VIDEO HERE, at 4pm EST, broadcast straight from Sprague Hall at my own alma mater, Yale University:
And speaking of Premiere Commission…
SAVE THE DATE: On February 13, 2012, Premiere Commission and its Artistic Director/Founder/Impresario Bruce Levingston (acclaimed pianist and commissioner of much important music of our time!) will be presenting a 10th Anniversary Gala celebraton concert at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC, with performances of my music by Bruce himself, the peerless string quartet Brooklyn Rider, and myself. Bruce has honored me by curating the evening around music I have written for him, for Brooklyn Rider with myself singing, and – a world premiere for piano quintet for Bruce with Brooklyn Rider entitled Rondolette (it’s still in progress, but it does have a title…). And there will be some more historically-remote colleague composers on the program too!
In an extra show of support that is characteristic of Bruce, who is a great musical citizen, he is making it possible for some of the proceeds of this important and festive gala celebration to go towards the Tempelhof Broadcast project in Berlin. Thank you Bruce! Hope many of you can come out and help us celebrate 10 years of Premiere Commission on February 13! I’ll be in touch again as the date approaches, with more details.
With warm wishes as we plunge into this cold season,

Student turning computers into composers

BUY Computer Science Alumni Association:

Computer Science doctoral student Kristine Monteith pulls out her laptop and asks, “What are we feeling like?” With 30 seconds and a click of the mouse, her ThinkPad becomes a regular Beethoven, composing original songs based on any emotion she chooses.
Monteith is a left and right brain kind of person. She came to BYU with a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, a passion for voice, piano and guitar, and is now preparing to defend her doctoral dissertation on her computer program that can generate original music.
Since the beginning of her graduate work, Monteith has been trying to answer a golden question – can machines be creative like humans?
A classic issue in machine learning is developing ways for computers to act like humans. Can computers be so humanlike as to fool us? For Monteith, her question was “Can a computer act like a human in composing music?”

L.A. Phil announces a joint musical education initiative

Reed Johnson:

In recent years, both with its money and its reputation, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has endorsed the principles of Venezuela’s El Sistema national music training program. The Phil set up a Los Angeles youth orchestra partially modeled on El Sistema, and hired the program’s star graduate, Gustavo Dudamel, to be the orchestra’s music director.
Now the L.A. Phil is following El Sistema’s lead again.
On Tuesday, the orchestra announced that it is partnering with Bard College in upstate New York and the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., to launch a joint musical education initiative that will aim to combine first-rate musical instruction with the broader goal of serving underserved community.

Rick Hess’s Critique of Achievement-Gap Mania

By Reihan Salam
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the latest issue of National Affairs, which includes Rick Hess’s fascinating and at times provocative discussion, or perhaps I say “devastating takedown,” of “achievement-gap mania.” The following paragraph gives you a hint as to Hess’s conclusion:

In essence, NCLB was an effort to link “conservative” nostrums of accountability to Great Society notions of “social justice.” The result was a noble exercise hailed for its compassion. The sad truth, however, is that the whole achievement-gap enterprise has been bad for schooling, bad for most children, and bad for the nation.

I found his discussion of the neglect of advanced and gifted education particularly convincing, as well as his recounting of how the “delusion of rigor” has undermined quality control across many domains. Hess ends his essay with an accounting of where “achievement-gap mania” has left the politics of K-12.
(1) Reforming education has become someone else’s problem:

First, achievement-gap mania has signaled to the vast majority of American parents that school reform isn’t about their kids. They are now expected to support efforts to close the achievement gap simply because it’s “the right thing to do,” regardless of the implications for their own children’s education. In fact, given that only about one household in five even contains school-age children — and given that two-thirds of families with children do not live in underserved urban neighborhoods, or do not send their kids to public schools, or otherwise do not stand to benefit from the gap-closing agenda — the result is a tiny potential constituency for achievement-gap reform, made up of perhaps 6% or 7% of American households.
Because middle-class parents and suburbanites have no personal stake in the gap-closing enterprise, reforms are tolerated rather than embraced. The most recent annual Gallup poll on attitudes toward schooling reported that just 20% of respondents said “improving the nation’s lowest-performing schools” was the most important of the nation’s education challenges. Indeed, while just 18% of the public gave American schools overall an A or a B, a sizable majority thought their own elementary and middle schools deserved those high grades. The implication is that most Americans, even those with school-age children, currently see education reform as time and money spent on other people’s children.

(2) Reforming education for the majority of students who come non-poor families is seen as somehow unnecessary:

Second, achievement-gap mania has created a dangerous complacency, giving suburban and middle-class Americans the false sense that things are just fine in their own schools. Thus it’s no surprise that professionals and suburbanites tend to regard “reforms” — from merit pay to charter schooling — as measures that they’ll tolerate as long as they’re reserved for urban schools, but that they won’t stand for in their own communities. …
Gap-closing strategies can be downright unhelpful or counterproductive when it comes to serving most students and families, and so can turn them off to education reform altogether. Longer school years and longer school days can be terrific for disadvantaged students or low achievers, but may be a recipe for backlash if imposed on families who already offer their kids many summer opportunities and extracurricular activities. Policies that seek to shift the “best” teachers to schools and classrooms serving low-achieving children represent a frontal assault on middle-class and affluent families. And responding to such concerns by belittling them is a sure-fire strategy for ensuring that school reform never amounts to more than a self-righteous crusade at odds with the interests of most middle-class families.

This is one reason why Hess rightly bristled at the crusader mentality that informs films like the recent Waiting for ‘Superman.’


For Nashville Schools, Homework Will Now Include Country, Rock and Rap

John Jurgenson:

Nashville bills itself as Music City-now it’s trying to lock in the future of that status. The city is overhauling its music education program across all 144 public schools, Mayor Karl Dean announced today at a press conference at the Ryman Auditorium, downtown Nashville’s temple of country music.
Classes in country, rock and rap will supplement the traditional curriculum of orchestra, choir and band. Instruction in songwriting, production and other skills such as DJ-ing will also be added to music theory and other existing offerings. The new program, dubbed Music Makes Us, will be funded through a mix of public and private funds, primarily commitments from Nashville’s deeply embedded music industry, which includes hundreds of record labels, publishers and venues, plus countless professional musicians.
“The music industry has picked this as their cause,” Mr. Dean said yesterday in an interview. “It just makes sense to take advantage of this asset we have here.”

The Amazing Colossal Syllabus

Thomas Bertonneau:

Instructors have to spell out every detail for today’s students, and do some of their thinking for them.
When I was an undergraduate at UCLA in 1972, I was enrolled in four classes. On the first day of the term, each instructor went through the ritual of introducing the course and handing out the syllabus, if there was a syllabus. In the freshman composition course, taught by a man who later distinguished himself as a James Joyce scholar, I remember no syllabus at all, only the comment that we would be writing a number of formal papers.
In Cultural Anthropology there was a syllabus–a single mimeographed sheet with a few dates on it (exams, deadlines for papers) and the mandatory bibliography. In first-term German, as in freshman composition, the teacher issued no syllabus. The chapters of the primer were syllabus enough. For my fourth course, a survey of ancient civilizations, the textbook’s table of contents served as the syllabus.
Admission to UCLA in the mid-twentieth century was still rigorous and exclusive; our preceptors rightly took for granted that students understood that the ten weeks of the term would correspond to a structure. Students would expect regular quizzes, that they would have to submit formal essays at the midterm and at the end of the quarter, and that they would have to keep up with the reading.

Pushy dad learns his lesson

Rupert Chan:

At a recent charity dinner to raise funds for the Charles K. Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s disease, my son, Phoebus, and his wife, Danielle, performed an improvised version of the theme to the Japanese movie Departures on piano and flute. The music was synchronised to a video on Professor Kao’s achievements, and included a mention of his visit to my home to appraise the music that Phoebus composed for Nancy Koh’s Buddhist-themed verse musical, The First Leaf of Dream Song.
All that reminded me of the endeavours that my wife Helena and I went to as young parents two decades ago to initiate our children into the world of music.
Our daughter and son, Phoebe and Phoebus, were enrolled in music classes at the age of four, when their ears could develop best. They both eventually achieved perfect pitch. They learned to play the piano, as well as the rudiments of aural, theory, composition and improvisation.

Pulling strings into a top school: More parents are getting their children to play the harp as a way into prestigious institutions

Lana Lam:

More Hong Kong youngsters are following in the footsteps of Botticelli angels by learning the harp, with parents encouraging this special option as a way to secure a spot in a prestigious school.
Demand for harp lessons had steadily increased in the last three years and its appeal was multi-faceted, said professional harpist Joan Lee Wai-ying, who opened a home-based harp school in Sha Tin in 2008.
“Many parents want to widen the musical knowledge of their children but it’s also because of the school admission test which requires a basic instrument like the piano but also a very special instrument like the harp,” Lee said, with the number of students at her school increasing fivefold since opening.

Starting on the right note

Rebecca Tyrrel:

Roger Pascoe, head of music at Hanover primary school in Islington, north London, says 11-year-old Gabriel Millard-Clothier throws himself into everything he does. Gabriel plays the flute, the violin and the bass recorder and has recently been awarded a £1,000 ($1,600) bursary from the London Symphony Orchestra, which means he gets a year’s mentoring from a senior orchestra member. He has already played on stage at the Barbican.
Gabriel’s sister, Phoebe, 13, plays piano (classical and jazz) and the cello. Then comes younger sister, Honey, eight, on piano, flute and descant recorder and finally six-year-old Lucien, who plays classical guitar. Is this a typical family? Is Hanover primary an unusually musical school? Pascoe says the headteacher is keen on music and promotes it. Gabriel thinks Pascoe is an awesome teacher. On the other hand, Gabriel doesn’t like to practise. “No child likes to practise,” says Pascoe. “That would be strange.”
Phoebe has a music scholarship at St Marylebone School in London, a top state school. Competition is intense: for entry in September 2011, the school had more than 200 applicants for eight music places.
The numbers reflect a trend: many children are taking up one, if not two or three musical instruments despite the costs, which can run into thousands of pounds for a family with two or three children and much more for someone such as the writer and broadcaster Rosie Millard, mother of the Millard-Clothier children. While she may be at the extreme end of the spectrum (her children’s regime is detailed in her blog,, Millard is certainly not alone in her determination. Many parents have a quiet obsession with making their children learn music, even if they are not musical themselves.

Sometimes, the best we can do for kids’ education is to get out of the way and let them do it themselves.

Steve Rankin, via email:

Mikko Utevsky, 17, of Madison, decided to form a student-led chamber orchestra, so he did. Their premiere was June 17 on the UW-Madison campus, and here’s what Mikko had to say to Jacob Stockinger, a classical music blogger from Madison, at the beginning of a week of intensive rehearsal:
Obviously, these kids did not arrive at their musical talents without adult teaching and guidance. Many of them began in their school bands and orchestras. They continue to study with their own teachers and with adult-run orchestras such as WYSO ( and school-based bands and orchestras. As school funding continues to be in jeopardy, and arts programming is first on the chopping block (the MMSD strings program has been under threat of elimination a number of times and has been cut twice since most of these students began, (,,,, – many more citations available through SIS), the chances for a student-led ensemble such as MAYCO (Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra) to continue to thrive are also in jeopardy.

An inner city school fights to save its orchestra

Associated Press:

The violin isn’t pretty, but its scratched frame has been well-loved by the girl who cradles it now, and those who played it before her. Her mother calls it her daughter’s “soul mate.”
The instrument doesn’t belong to Nidalis Burgos. It is on loan from her school, where the seventh-grader packs it up each weekday to bring it home.
She practices anywhere she can — in her bedroom, in the kitchen, on her back porch so she can hear the sound reverberate off the brick apartment buildings that line the alley. Usually, she warms up with “Ode to Joy,” her mother’s favorite song, and a fitting theme for a girl who truly seems to love playing.

Madison School District Fine Arts Task Force Update

Laurie Fellenz, Teacher Leader- Fine Arts:

High School course sequence and alignment by course title across the four large high schools is nearly complete. All course titles will be fully aligned by 2011-12. This allows us to look at fine arts courses that are being offered at all of our high schools and what courses are more building-specific. Fine Arts Leadership Teams and High School Department chairs have discussed the equity (and inequity) across the attendance areas, and these two groups will offer recommendations during the 2011- 12 school year to improve access for all students to a wide variety of high school fine arts offerings.
Through the new Curricular Materials budget process now managed by Curriculum & Assessment (formerly ELM), the purchase of the Silver Burdett Making Music series for all elementary schools began this spring. All kindergarten books have been purchased, and 1″ grade materials will be purchased with the 2011-12 Curriculum Materials budget. The decision was made to purchase one grade at a time so that all elementary schools have equitable resources.
Funds from the Curricular Materials budget and the Fine Arts Task Force allocation were used to purchase REMO World Music Drumming instruments and curriculum forall32elementaryschools. Schools were assessed on their current inventory- some schools received full sets and some schools will divide sets based on need. All schools will receive the full complement o f curriculum materials, and professional development in 2011-12 will include world music drumming and drum circles.

Much more on the Fine Arts Task Force, here.

Kids Do More With Arts Education: Closing the Achievement Gap By Increasing Social Assets

Kristen Paglia:

The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners… but having the same manner for all human souls. In short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.
Professor Henry Higgins says this to Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play, Pygmalion. He has wagered that he can pass Eliza, a “lowly” flower girl, for a society lady by teaching her how to speak and behave properly. Higgins is successful, Eliza does pass, but her acceptance into the social elite came as much from her newly found self-esteem, as her style and manner.
The idea that “social assets” can help kids get ahead and do more in the world isn’t a new one. Social assets aren’t about money, but the stuff that comes with money. Things like knowing about fine art, current events, fashion, design, even food and wine. These are the social markers that give away what part of town you live in, where you go to school, and what your parents do for a living. In the last forty years the concept of social assets has been widely recognized in educational research as a major factor in where, or if, kids go to college, and how much they’ll earn over their lifetimes.

Pioneer of ballet wants girls to have more choices

Amy Nip:

Being born female set sometime actress Christine Liao on the road to a career in ballet, but it could all have been so different.
Growing up in a traditional, male-dominated environment, the founder of the Christine Liao School of Ballet and the Hong Kong Ballet Company may never have had such an impact on the art form had she not seen other career paths blocked.
And that’s precisely why she is backing a new campaign called “Because I am a Girl”, which will promote the rights of girls.
Liao began dancing when she was eight and, at the age of 19, she became a film actress using the stage name Mao Mei, and starred in eight films from 1955 to 1962. After graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a degree in languages and literature, she turned her back on the silver screen and considered becoming a lawyer or working in an office.

Autism sufferer Lo Yip-nang found a way to express himself through art – and his work is dazzling thousands

Oliver Chou:

A joyful kaleidoscope in clay, Lo Yip-nang’s display of intricate patterns in jewel tones entranced thousands of people who visited his exhibition at the Jockey Club Creative Art Centre in Shek Kip Mei. Although many were eager to talk to the artist, he kept working with his slivers of coloured clay, giving monosyllabic replies to queries.
“You’ve been working all day; are you tired?” asks one woman. “No,” he says after a long pause. “People like your work, does that make you happy?” asks another. “Yes.”
Lo wasn’t playing the temperamental artist, though. The 30-year-old is autistic and his two-week exhibition last month is a personal triumph – and a sign of hope that people with the disability can live independently.
Autism stems from glitches in neurological development that cause sufferers to be socially impaired. Unable to interpret what people are expressing or to communicate how they feel, they typically become engrossed with specific objects instead or find comfort in repetitive behaviour and routine. But Lo, or Nang as he is affectionately known, is a rare autistic person who found a way to express himself.

New Berlin teen with Asperger’s finds he belongs on the stage

Laurel Walker:

When Judy Smith was looking for someone to play the central role of stage manager in “Our Town,” the classic Thornton Wilder play about life in small-town America, she wasn’t expecting to cast a boy with Asperger’s syndrome.
Yet when 14-year-old Clayton Mortl auditioned more than six weeks ago, Smith said she experienced a director’s “quintessential moment.” He was perfect for the role.
Legendary actors like Paul Newman have brought powerful performances to the play – a staple of Broadway, community theater and classrooms since its 1938 debut, said Smith, the performing arts center manager and theater arts adviser at New Berlin West Middle / High School.
But when the 18-member middle school cast takes the stage Thursday, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., Clay’s performance may be legendary in its own right.
Though everyone is different, people with Asperger’s – an autism spectrum disorder – have impaired ability to socially interact and communicate nonverbally. Their speech may sound different because of inflection or abnormal repetition. Body movements may not seem age appropriate. Interests may be narrowly focused to the extent that common interests aren’t shared.

Origami finds new dimensions at MIT

Joseph Khan:

“We’re trying to get people to understand it’s not about paper boats and cranes.”
So said Yanping Chen, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology sophomore, as he expertly folded and refolded a 6-inch square piece of paper. Six minutes later, he set down in front of him — what’s this? — a paper crane. Only it did not resemble any crane a grade-schooler might make from a beginner’s origami primer.
Chen’s had five tiny heads and looked ready to fly away at any moment. But then he’s no origami novice, either. Chen arrived at MIT with a sophisticated knowledge of origami design, quickly connecting with like-minded enthusiasts through OrigaMIT, a club for serious paper folders who know how to push the envelope, not just turn one into a paper yacht.

Print me a Stradivarius: How a new manufacturing technology will change the world

The Economist:

THE industrial revolution of the late 18th century made possible the mass production of goods, thereby creating economies of scale which changed the economy–and society–in ways that nobody could have imagined at the time. Now a new manufacturing technology has emerged which does the opposite. Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands and thus undermines economies of scale. It may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did.
It works like this. First you call up a blueprint on your computer screen and tinker with its shape and colour where necessary. Then you press print. A machine nearby whirrs into life and builds up the object gradually, either by depositing material from a nozzle, or by selectively solidifying a thin layer of plastic or metal dust using tiny drops of glue or a tightly focused beam. Products are thus built up by progressively adding material, one layer at a time: hence the technology’s other name, additive manufacturing. Eventually the object in question–a spare part for your car, a lampshade, a violin–pops out. The beauty of the technology is that it does not need to happen in a factory. Small items can be made by a machine like a desktop printer, in the corner of an office, a shop or even a house; big items–bicycle frames, panels for cars, aircraft parts–need a larger machine, and a bit more space.

A Box? Or a Spaceship? What Makes Kids Creative

Sue Shellenbarger:

When art teacher Kandy Dea recently assigned fourth-graders in her Walnut, Iowa, classroom to create a board game to play with a friend, she was shocked by one little boy’s response: He froze.
While his classmates let their imaginations run wild making up colorful characters and fantasy worlds, the little boy said repeatedly, “I can’t think of anything,” Ms. Dea says. Although she reassured him that nothing he did would be judged “wrong,” he tried to copy another student’s game, then asked if he could make a work sheet instead. She finally gave him permission to make flash cards with right-and-wrong answers.
Americans’ scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008, especially in the kindergarten through sixth-grade age group, says Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor of educational psychology at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. The finding is based on a study of 300,000 Americans’ scores from 1966 to 2008 on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, a standardized test that’s considered a benchmark for creative thinking. (Dr. Kim’s results are currently undergoing peer review to determine whether they will be published in a scholarly journal.)

Verona’s Badger Ridge students get lesson in new perspectives

Pamela Cotant

Oil pastels drawings now hanging in the Verona Public Library offer a new perspective on the city’s landscape.
The artwork was created by eighth grade students in a drawing and painting class at Badger Ridge Middle School after being asked to choose an atypical point of view. Then they walked down Main Street armed with digital camera and took pictures of familiar sites.
In some cases, the students took a “worm’s eye view.”
“I was laying on the ground and I took the picture (shooting up),” said Sarah Guy, 14, who drew Park Bank.
While the photos were being developed, the class discussed how artists use colors expressively. This was the first introduction of oil pastels in the class and students were asked to choose a color scheme that diverted from the actual subjects.

Madison’s Fine Arts Task Force Update

Laurie Fellenz, Teacher Leader – Fine Arts

Since the January 2010 Board of Education update, the majority of focus of the Fine Arts Division in Curriculum and Assessment has been on recommendations regarding curriculum revisions, distribution ofequitable essential arts resources, and plans for a proposed fine arts programming financial planning team.
The Fine Arts Task Force Report contains three main areas. This updated report is organized around the recommendations from the Fine Arts Task Force, progress to date, and next steps in these three areas: Curriculum; Equity; and Long-Term Financial Planning.
Creation ofa multi-year funding pIan for arts education will be structured to provide adequate, sustained funding for MMSD students taking k-12 arts education courses, which will offer:
A sequence o f diverse, skill-based classes Expanded, equitable access to co-curricular opportunities Knowledge of and appreciation for world art forms

Teacher Marisa Martinez says music key to learning

Marisa Martinez

Kindergarten teacher Marisa Martinez was tired of political promises, unfulfilled vows to restore California classrooms to their former glory. She despaired as she saw her beloved art and music disappear from the schools as money dried up, leaving teachers scrambling for pencils and paper. To Martinez, 41, paintbrushes and pianos weren’t luxuries; they were necessities.
A professional musician as well as an educator at San Francisco’s El Dorado Elementary School, she decided to take things into her own hands. With her own money, she created a CD of songs she sings to her predominantly low-income students, tunes with a bluegrass, folksy feel that address the basics of life and literacy with humor and joy. It’s called “Chicken & ABC’s.” The project was both a labor of love and an artistic uprising against broken political promises from a frustrated and funny teacher who signs her e-mails, “With Love, chickens, Chihuahuas, children and Peace.”

Teacher connects jazz history to experience

David Wiegand

Kwami Coleman, the new kid on the block at the Jazzschool, is a graduate student in musicology at Stanford who grew up in New York, where his dad was a pianist.
He got his job through inadvertent networking when, at a musicological conference in Quebec, he asked author Scott DeVeaux (“The Birth of Bebop”) about the importance of Igor Stravinsky hearing Charlie Parker play live at Birdland.
Flash forward a couple of years and Susan Muscarella is looking for someone to teach the history of jazz from 1920 to the present at the Jazzschool. She contacts DeVeaux, who says he doesn’t know of anyone, except for this young guy at Stanford who impressed him at the musicology conference.

In tune with the have-nots @ Beethovenfest

Harry Eyres

I didn’t expect that going to hear the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra of Venezuela rehearse and play at the Beethovenfest in Bonn would give me a new perspective, not just on Beethoven but also on wealth and poverty and the divide between the haves and have-nots. Many of the teenagers in this orchestra (a younger version of the better-known Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela) come from the poor barrios of Caracas: what we would call slums, lacking basic amenities and privacy.
No wonder the kids I spoke to were so impressed by what they called the “beautiful” city of Bonn, where the Porsches and Mercedes glide through wide and well-ordered avenues, but where, from the deathly silence that reigns on the streets, you might think an invisible plague had killed the inhabitants.
But these kids obviously have something. In fact, what they have impressed the respectable burghers of Bonn so much that 1,600 of them rose to their feet after a concert consisting of the Fifth Symphonies of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and then gave themselves up to delirious and quite un-middle-aged clapping and swaying as the orchestra launched into six encores.

Camp trains students in classical theater acting

Pamela Cotant

A group of high school thespians sharpened their skills this summer at a camp where they worked with professional actors by day and then watched them perform at American Players Theatre at night.
The 27 students ages 13 to 17 attended Acting for Classical Theatre, an American Players Theatre residential camp. The annual six-day camp was based at Bethel Horizons Camp and Retreat Center in Dodgeville where the campers received their training and lodging.
On four nights, they traveled to the nearby American Players Theatre in Spring Green to watch Shakespearean plays. On another night, they received a backstage tour. When they got back to camp, they played theater games — despite the late hour.
On the last day, parents and American Players Theatre employees were invited to watch the youth perform a shortened, 60-minute version of Hamlet on the American Players Theatre stage.

Does Milwaukee need another art school?

Patti Wenzel:

There are numerous schools in Milwaukee where you can receive an art-centric education. Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Marquette University, UWM, Mt. Mary College, and Milwaukee Area Technical College are some schools that offer creative degrees in the area.
So do we need another school offering degrees in fields like Advertising, Film making, Graphic Design, Culinary Arts, Fashion Marketing, Interior Design, Media Arts and Animation and Interactive Media?
“Yes, because this is a great market,” Art Institute of Milwaukee President Bill Johnson said. “We feel there is a need for more educational opportunities here. We will fill a different niche than MIAD; we’ll be complementary and provide a valuable education.”
AI-Milwaukee (one of 48 Art Institutes across the nation) will enroll its first students in October at a 35,000 sq. ft. campus on Buffalo Street in the Third Ward. It will offer baccalaureate degrees in the aforementioned disciplines, along with an associate degree in Graphic Design. Johnson said degrees are designed to attract students with an “art bent” and prepare them for entry-level jobs in their selected fields.

School Spotlight: DeForest Musical Theater program hits a home run with kids

Pamela Cotant:

While some kids played baseball this summer, some put on a musical based on the history of the sport.
In fact, participation in the Village of DeForest Parks and Recreation Department Musical Theater doubled this summer when 25 children ages 7 to 11 signed up. Normally, the program draws about a dozen participants.
“Each year is more fun than the last,” said 10-year-old Chloe Janisch, who is entering fifth grade at DeForest Area Middle School and returned to the theater program for her fourth year. “It is a very fun atmosphere.”
Pam Smith, who teaches music at Yahara and Morrisonville elementary schools, proposed the idea to the parks and recreation department more than five years ago. Each year she has participants put on a musical with a different theme.
“The Inside Pitch,” a musical composed by Michael and Jill Gallina, was performed this year.

Minn. high school graduate inspired to paint

The Associated Press:

Inspired by the realist style of Edward Hopper, recent Century High School graduate Ali Sifuentes snapped a few nighttime photographs of Silver Lake Foods on north Broadway hoping to recreate the scene in an oil painting.
“I’ve been by there many times and after studying the building I thought I’d try to recreate the cinematic contrast between light and dark colors,” Sifuentes said. “The building has a fantasy sort of feel and it seemed ideal for this style of painting.”
Sifuentes believes Hopper, a well-known American artist that often focused on urban and rural scenes depicting modern American life, was sending a message about himself and people of his time.
“I’m basically trying to do the same thing, only I’m showing what the present looks like,” Sifuentes said.

Tribute to High School Musicals

Marshall Heyman:

There are jimmies and Jimmy Choos, and as of last year, Jimmy Awards. Monday night, the National High School Musical Theater Awards hosted its second annual Jimmy Awards at the Marquis Theatre. Don’t let your mind take you anywhere funny: The Jimmy (which is trademarked, by the way) is named after producer James M. Nederlander.
After five coaching and master classes at NYU’s Tisch, 44 competitors, representing 22 regional award programs, competed for The Jimmy. Monday night they each performed brief vocal selections as the character that won them their regional awards.
“It’s more Miss America than ‘American Idol’,” said Nick Scandalios, Executive Vice President of The Nederlander Organization, who was one of the judges. “The public isn’t voting.”

The Political Assault on Art Education

Michelle Marder Kamhi:

A few years ago a “contemporary artist” named Judi Werthein made headlines when she distributed specially designed and equipped sneakers to Mexicans waiting to cross the U. S. border. She called her piece “Brinco,” from the Spanish word for “jump.” Sneakers are also apt here. Ms. Werthein’s shoes–equipped with a compass, map, flashlight, and medication–were intended to assist people engaging in illegal immigration.
Dipti Desai, who directs the art education program at New York University’s Steinhardt School, thinks that “Brinco” should be studied in America’s art classrooms. At the National Art Education Association (NAEA) convention in April, she praised contemporary artists who use “a wide range of practices” to criticize U. S. immigration policy. If like-minded NAEA members can persuade Congress, your children may soon be studying works like “Brinco” in school.

School hopes to restore music in Afghanistan

Jerry Harmer:

From the outside, it looks like any other school in Kabul. A red two-story building is sealed off from the street by a high wall. A few trees stand in the front yard. Children constantly go in and out.
But listen carefully. When the noise of the traffic dies down, you can hear the gentle sounds of violins being played and the patter of drums. In this city where music was illegal less than a decade ago, a new generation of children is being raised to understand its joys.
“This school is unique in Afghanistan,” said Muhammad Aziz, a 19-year-old student who dreams of becoming one of the world’s greatest players of the tabla, a South Asian drum. “It’s the only professional music school and there are so many good teachers here.”
The new National Institute of Music has been offering some courses for the past several months, but the formal opening will be later in May.

It is Very Difficult to Reject Kids

Rajul Hegde:

Ace choreographer Saroj Khan, who has made almost all top Bollywood celebrities dance to her moves, is judging a reality show Chak Dhoom Dhoom on Colors which starts April 30.
She talks about her experience of judging the kids and her Broadway musical. Excerpts:
How was your judging experience in the audition rounds?
Superb! The kids are very talented, gifted and considering their age, really scary! All of them wanted to be different from each other and to be the best. Their spirit is admirable. It is very difficult to reject kids and see the sadness they go through, but we had to say ‘No’ to some. We will ensure that we do not break the hearts of these children.
You are known to be a very strict teacher. Are you going to be strict with the kids?
I am strict with the adults who claim to be good dancers and perform wrong steps and mudras. So I correct them. That is my duty and I will always do that. During Nach Baliye [ Images ] you must have seen how celebrity couples improvised and transformed into good dancers. Correction is very important and I don’t care if someone doesn’t like that. But with children, we have to very cautious and sensitive.

A Few Words on Teachers

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2010 Wisconsin Solo & Ensemble Festival. It is a true delight to enjoy the results of student and teacher practice, dedication and perseverance.
I very much appreciate the extra effort provided by some teachers on behalf of our children.
I thought about those teachers today when I received an email from a reader asking why I continue to publish this site. This reader referred to ongoing school bureaucratic intransigence on reading, particularly in light of the poor results (Alan Borsuk raises the specter of a looming Wisconsin “reading war“).
I’ll respond briefly here.
Many years ago, I had a Vietnam Vet as my high school government teacher. This guy, took what was probably an easy A for many and turned it into a superb, challenging class. He drilled the constitution, Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers and the revolutionary climate into our brains.
Some more than others.
I don’t have the ability to stop earmark, spending or lobbying excesses in Washington, nor at the State, or perhaps even local levels. I do have the opportunity to help, in a very small way, provide a communication system (blog, rss and enewsletter) for those interested in K-12 matters, including our $400M+ Madison School District. There is much to do and I am grateful for those parents, citizens, teachers and administrators who are trying very hard to provide a better education for our children.
It is always a treat to see professionals who go the extra mile. I am thankful for such wonderful, generous people. Saturday’s WSMA event was a timely reminder of the many special people around our children.

What liberal arts are good for.

Rochelle Gurstein:

Why draw from the model? A number of years ago, my husband and I and some friends–all, except for me, artists who also teach at art schools here in New York–spent hours discussing this question, though without arriving at anything particularly convincing. A few of them recalled drawing from the model as undergraduates, but none had done so in graduate programs–these were the heady, experimental days of the early ’70s, when all the action took place in the seminar room; in my husband’s program, studios had been dispensed with altogether. When we turned our attention to the art world today, drawing and models seemed just as antiquated. Installation, photography, and video, more popular than ever, are mechanically derived. And though we could easily think of paintings with figures in them, all of them had been lifted from mass-media images; they had as little relation to drawing from the pose of a living person in the artist’s studio as photography.
Yet, at art schools today, freshmen are required to draw from the model, sometimes six hours at a stretch, their labors then judged by teachers who have no use for, indeed, who disdain, the practice in their own work. We spent quite a while trying to account for this odd disjuncture. The best anyone could come up with is that studio drawing focuses the eye and hand; it is an intense discipline in seeing and then translating what one sees into material form. This, it seemed to me, was another way of saying that it was good for its own sake, even if it had no relation to making art these days. The conversation drifted to other subjects, but the next morning what had eluded us the night before now appeared so ridiculously obvious that I could not believe we had missed it: The reason the Academy required students to master the painstaking practice of drawing from the model was because, until very recently, the action of figures–gods, heroes, and mere mortals–was the prime subject, the central drama, the moving force, of all the greatest paintings.

Madison East High’s theater doesn’t do justice to school’s rich performing arts tradition

Susan Troller:

When the curtain goes up at East High, the school’s talented musicians, singers, dancers, actors and spoken-word artists have a well-deserved reputation for creating an enchanting world onstage. That’s good, because East’s real-life theater is one of the most awkward, uninspiring performance venues in the county, if not the state.
Consider the orange plastic bowling chairs, bolted to a concrete floor. These backbreakers may have been the height of utilitarian chic when East’s original theater was remodeled in the early 1970s, but they’re hardly conducive to long performances. In fact, after a two-hour play or a 90-minute concert, ardent fans have been heard quietly cursing the theater’s discomfort even as they praise the quality of the performances.
Then there’s the cramped, inadequate size of the theater, also a legacy of the remodeling that transformed the original, elegant Jazz Age theater with a 765-seat capacity into two study halls, one of which now doubles as the theater/auditorium.

Meaningful Academic Work

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
22 March 2010
In Outliers [2008], Malcolm Gladwell writes [p. 149-159] that: “…three things–autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward–are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying…Work that fulfills these three criteria is meaningful.” (emphasis in the original)
One of the perennial complaints of students in our schools is that they will never make use of what they are learning, and as for the work they are asked to do, they often say: “Why do we have to learn/do/put up with this?” In short, they often see the homework/schoolwork they are given to do as not very fulfilling or meaningful.
In this article I will argue that reading good history books and writing serious history research papers provide the sort of work which students do find meaningful, worth doing, and not as hard to imagine as having some future use.
In a June 3, 1990 column in The New York Times, Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote:

“…It is also worth thinking about as we consider how to reform our education system. As we’ve known for a long time, factory workers who never saw the completed product and worked on only a small part of it soon became bored and demoralized, But when they were allowed to see the whole process–or better yet become involved in it–productivity and morale improved. Students are no different. When we chop up the work they do into little bits–history facts and vocabulary and grammar rules to be learned–it’s no wonder that they are bored and disengaged. The achievement of The Concord Review’s authors offers a different model of learning. Maybe it’s time for us to take it seriously.”

His point has value twenty years later. Even the current CCSSO National Standards recommend merely snippets of readings, called “informational texts,” and “literacy skills” for our students, which, if that is all they get, will likely bore them and disengage them for the reasons that Mr. Shanker pointed out.
Students who read “little bits” of history books have nothing like the engagement and interest that comes from reading the whole book, just as students who “find the main idea” and write little “personal essays,” or five-paragraph essays, or short “college” essays, will have nothing comparable to the satisfaction that comes from working on and completing a serious history research paper.
Barbara McClay, a homescholar from Tennessee, while she was in high school, wrote a paper on the “Winter War” between Finland and the Soviet Union. In an interview she was asked why she chose that topic:

“I’ve been interested in Finland for four years or so, and I had read a book (William Trotter’s A Frozen Hell) that interested me greatly on the Winter War; after reading the book, I often asked people if they had ever heard of the Winter War. To my surprise, not only had few of them heard about it, but their whole impression of Finnish-Soviet relations was almost completely different from the one I had received from the book. So there was a sense of indignation alongside my interest in Finland in general and the Winter War in particular: here was this truly magnificent story, and no one cared about it. Or knew about it, at least.
“And it is a magnificent story, whether anyone cares about it or not; it’s the stuff legends are made of, really, even down to the fact that Finland lost. And a sad one, too, both for Finland and for the Soviet soldiers destroyed by Soviet incompetence. And there’s so much my paper couldn’t even begin to go into; the whole political angle, for instance, which is very interesting, but not really what I wanted to write about. But the story as a whole, with all of its heroes and villains and absurdities–it’s amazing. Even if it were as famous as Thermopylae, and not as relatively obscure an event as it is, it would still be worth writing about.
“So what interested me, really, was the drama, the pathos, the heroism, all from this little ignored country in Northern Europe. What keeps a country fighting against an enemy it has no hope of defeating? What makes us instantly feel a connection with it?”

Perhaps this will give a feeling for the degree of engagement a young student can find in reading a good nonfiction history book and writing a serious [8,500-word, plus endnotes and bibliography] history research paper. [The Concord Review, 17/3 Spring 2007]
Now, before I get a lot of messages informing me that our American public high school students, even Seniors, are incapable of reading nonfiction books and writing 8,500 words on any topic, allow me to suggest that, if true, it may be because we need to put in place our “Page Per Year Plan,” which would give students practice, every year in school, in writing about something other than themselves. Thus, a first grader could assemble a one-page paper with one source, a fifth grader a five-page paper with five sources, a ninth grade student a nine-page with nine sources, and so on, and in that way, each and every Senior in our high schools could write a twelve-page paper [or better] with twelve sources [or better] about some historical topic.
By the time that Senior finished that paper, she/he would probably know more about that topic than anyone else in the building, and that would indeed be a source of engagement and satisfaction, in addition to providing great “readiness” for college and career writing tasks.
As one of our authors wrote:

…Yet of all my assignments in high school, none has been so academically and intellectually rewarding as my research papers for history. As young mathematicians and scientists, we cannot hope to comprehend any material that approaches the cutting edge. As young literary scholars, we know that our interpretations will almost never be original. But as young historians, we see a scope of inquiry so vast that somewhere, we must be able to find an idea all our own.
In writing this paper, I read almanacs until my head hurt. I read journal articles and books. I thought and debated and analyzed my notes. And finally, I had a synthesis that I could call my own. That experience–extracting a polished, original work from a heap of history–is one without which no student should leave high school.”

This paper [5,500 words with endnotes and bibliography; Daniel Winik, The Concord Review, 12/4 Summer 2002] seems to have allowed this student to take a break from the boredom and disengagement which comes to so many whose school work is broken up into little bits and pieces and “informational texts” rather than actual books and term papers.
If I were made the U.S. Reading and Writing Czar at the Department of Education, I would ask students to read one complete history book [i.e. “cover-to-cover” as it was called back in the day] each year, too. When Jay Mathews of The Washington Post recently called for nonfiction book ideas for high school students, I suggested David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback, for Freshmen, David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing for Sophomores, James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom for Juniors, and David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas for all Seniors. Naturally there could be big fights over titles even if we decided to have our high schools students read nonfiction books, but it would be tragic if the result was that they continue to read none of them. Remember the high school English teacher in New York state who insisted that her students read a nonfiction book chosen from the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, and a big group of her female students chose The Autobiography of Paris Hilton…
When I was teaching United States History to Sophomores at the public high school in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1980s, I used to assign a 5-7-page paper (at the time I did not know what high schools students could actually accomplish, if they were allowed to work hard) on the Presidents. My reasoning was that every President has just about every problem of the day arrive on his desk, and a paper on a President would be a way of learning about the history of that day. Students drew names, and one boy was lucky enough to draw John F. Kennedy, a real coup. He was quite bright, so, on a whim, I gave him my copy of Arthur Schleshinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days. He looked at it, and said, “I can’t read this.” But, he took it with him and wrote a very good paper and gave the book back to me. Several years later, when he was a Junior at Yale, he wrote to thank me. He said he was very glad I had made him read that first complete history book, because it helped his confidence, etc. Now, I didn’t make him read it, he made himself read it. I would never have known if he read it or not. I didn’t ask him.
But it made me think about the possibility of assigning complete history books to our high school students.
After I began The Concord Review in 1987, I had occasion to write an article now and then, for Education Week and others, in which I argued for the value of having high school students read complete nonfiction books and write real history research papers, both for the intrinsic value of such efforts and for their contribution to the student’s preparation for “college and career.”
Then, in 2004, The National Endowment for the Arts spent $300,000 on a survey of the reading of fiction by Americans, including young Americans. They concluded that it was declining, but it made me wonder if anyone would fund a much smaller study of the reading of nonfiction by students in our high schools, and I wrote a Commentary in Education Week [“Bibliophobia” October 4, 2006] asking about that.
No funding was forthcoming and still no one seems to know (or care much) whether our students typically leave with their high school diploma in hand but never having read a single complete history book. We don’t know how many of our students have never had the chance to make themselves read such a book, so that when they get to college they can be glad they had that preparation, like my old student.
As E.D. Hirsch and Daniel Willingham have pointed out so often, it takes knowledge to enrich understanding and the less knowledge a student has the more difficult it is for her/him to understand what she/he is reading in school. Complete history books are a great source of knowledge, of course, and they naturally provide more background to help our students understand more and more difficult reading material as they are asked to become “college and career ready.”
Reading a complete history book is a challenge for a student who has never read one before, just as writing a history research paper is a challenge to a student who has never been asked to do one, but we might consider why we put off such challenges until students find themselves (more than one million a year now, according to the Diploma to Nowhere report) pushed into remedial courses when they arrive at college.
It may be argued that not every student will respond to such an academic challenge, and of course no student will if never given the challenge, but I have found several thousand high school students, from 44 states and 36 other countries, who did:

“Before, I had never been much of a history student, and I did not have much more than a passing interest for the subject. However, as I began writing the paper, the myriad of facts, the entanglement of human relations, and the general excitement of the subject fired my imagination and my mind. Knowing that to submit to The Concord Review, I would have to work towards an extremely high standard, I tried to channel my newly found interest into the paper. I deliberately chose a more fiery, contentious, and generally more engaging style of writing than I was normally used to, so that my paper would better suit my thesis. The draft, however, lacked proper flow and consistency, and so when I wrote the final copy, I restructured the entire paper, reordering the points, writing an entirely new introduction, refining the conclusion, and doing more research to cover areas of the paper that seemed lacking. I replaced almost half of the content with new writing, and managed to focus the thesis into a more sustained, more forceful argument. You received that final result, which was far better than the draft had been.
In the end, working on that history paper, [“Political Machines,” Erich Suh, The Concord Review, 12/4, Summer 2002, 5,800 words] inspired by the high standard set by The Concord Review, reinvigorated my interest not only in history, but also in writing, reading and the rest of the humanities. I am now more confident in my writing ability, and I do not shy from difficult academic challenges. My academic and intellectual life was truly altered by my experience with that paper, and the Review played no small role! Without the Review, I would not have put so much work into the paper. I would not have had the heart to revise so thoroughly; instead I would have altered my paper only slightly, enough to make the final paper a low ‘A’, but nothing very great. Your Concord Review set forth a goal towards which I toiled, and it was a very fulfilling, life-changing experience.”

If this is such a great idea, and does so much good for students’ engagement and academic preparation, why don’t we do it? When I was teaching–again, back in the day 26 years ago–I noticed in one classroom a set of Profiles in Courage, and I asked my colleagues about them. They said they had bought the set and handed them out, but the students never read them, so they stopped handing them out.
This is a reminder of the death of the book report. If we do not require our students to read real books and write about them (with consequences for a failure to do so), they will not do that reading and writing, and, as a result, their learning will be diminished, their historical knowledge will be a topic for jokes, and they will not be able to write well enough either to handle college work or hold down a demanding new job.
As teachers and edupundits surrender on those requirements, students suffer. There is a saying outside the training facility for United States Marine Corps drill instructors, which says, in effect, “I will train my recruits with such diligence that if they are killed in combat, it will not be because I failed to prepare them.”
I do realize that college and good jobs are not combat (of course there are now many combat jobs too) but they do provide challenges for which too many of our high school graduates are clearly not ready.
Some teachers complain, with good reason, that they don’t have the time to monitor students as they read books, write book reports and work on serious history research papers, and that is why they can’t ask students to do those essential (and meaningful) tasks. Even after they realize that the great bulk of the time spent on complete nonfiction books and good long term papers is the student’s time, they still have a point about the demands on their time.
Many (with five classes) now do not have the time to guide such work and to assess it carefully for all their students, but I would ask them (and their administrators) to look at the time put aside each week at their high school for tackling and blocking practice in football or layup drills in basketball or for band rehearsal, etc., etc., and I suggest that perhaps reading books and writing serious term papers are worth some extra time as well, and that the administrators of the system, if they have an interest in the competence of our students in reading and writing, should consider making teacher time available during the school day, week, and year, for work on these tasks, which have to be almost as essential as blocking and tackling for our students’ futures.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Patricia Travers, Violinist Who Vanished, Dies at 82

Margalit Fox:

At 11, the violinist Patricia Travers made her first solo appearance with the New York Philharmonic, playing Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole” with “a purity of tone, breadth of line and immersion in her task,” as a critic for The New York Times wrote in 1939.
At 13, she appeared in “There’s Magic in Music,” a Hollywood comedy set in a music camp. Released in 1941 and starring Allan Jones, the film features Patricia, chosen by audition from hundreds of child performers, playing with passionate intensity.
In her early 20s, for the Columbia label, she made the first complete recording of Charles Ives’s Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano, a modern American work requiring a mature musical intelligence.
Not long afterward, she disappeared.
Between the ages of 10 and 23, Ms. Travers appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the New York, London and Berlin Philharmonics and the Boston and Chicago Symphonies. She performed on national radio broadcasts, gave premieres of music written expressly for her and made several well-received records.

Playing along with the Mozart effect
If you want music to sharpen your senses, boost your ability to focus and perhaps even improve your memory, you need to be a participant, not just a listener.

Melissa Healy:

Five months after we are conceived, music begins to capture our attention and wire our brains for a lifetime of aural experience. At the other end of life, musical memories can be imprinted on the brain so indelibly that they can be retrieved, perfectly intact, from the depths of a mind ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease.
In between, music can puncture stress, dissipate anger and comfort us in sadness.
As if all that weren’t enough, for years parents have been seduced by even loftier promises from an industry hawking the recorded music of Mozart and other classical composers as a means to ensure brilliant babies.
But for all its beauty, power and capacity to move, researchers have concluded that music is little more than ear candy for the brain if it is consumed only passively. If you want music to sharpen your senses, boost your ability to focus and perhaps even improve your memory, the latest word from science is you’ll need more than hype and a loaded iPod.

And the Orchestra Played On

Joanne Lipman:

The other day, I found myself rummaging through a closet, searching for my old viola. This wasn’t how I’d planned to spend the afternoon. I hadn’t given a thought to the instrument in years. I barely remembered where it was, much less how to play it. But I had just gotten word that my childhood music teacher, Jerry Kupchynsky — “Mr. K.” to his students — had died.
In East Brunswick, N.J., where I grew up, nobody was feared more than Mr. K. He ran the town’s music department with a ferocity never before seen in our quiet corner of suburbia. In his impenetrably thick Ukrainian accent, he would berate us for being out of tune, our elbows in the wrong position, our counting out of sync.
“Cellos sound like hippopotamus rising from bottom of river,” he would yell during orchestra rehearsals. Wayward violinists played “like mahnyiak,” while hapless gum chewers “look like cow chewing cud.” He would rehearse us until our fingers were callused, then interrupt us with “Stop that cheekin plocking!”

Parents, staff to take part in Jefferson Middle School concert

Pamela Cotant:

Jefferson Middle School parents and staff members who put away their band instruments years ago — or maybe never played one — will get a chance to perform in a school band concert.
A portion of Jefferson’s band concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the gymnasium will feature five songs performed by about 30 parents and community members connected to the school. They’ll be joined by about 10 staff members.
This is the second time in five years that Jefferson band director Allison Jaeger has invited adults to join the middle schoolers — an idea her husband, Ben Jaeger, had tried earlier at Spring Harbor Middle School, where he is the band director. Jaeger had fun taking part in that concert.
“Really the most important thing is that the parents are showing they are learning right alongside their students,” Jaeger said.

Fine-arts teachers connect the educational dots

Karen Kimball:

First-year elementary school teachers must take a “generalist” exam to be in compliance with federal standards. The Texas Education Agency has successfully fought for a waiver that would exempt fine-arts teachers from the test.
While I certainly realize the time and expense involved in testing as many as 30,000 new teachers statewide and understand TEA’s desire to cut that number, I feel that such an exemption is a big mistake.
Elementary school is a time when children learn about the world around them and make connections between subjects. More detailed instruction in various disciplines comes at the secondary level. With the current emphasis on testing in math, reading, science and social studies, classroom teachers find themselves working to see that basic concepts in each of these subjects are learned by their students. Time constraints make lessons with numerous “connections” difficult to achieve.
What better place to weave many subjects together than in the music or art class? I have always chosen to teach this way but have discovered than many music teachers do not, perhaps because they do not see the necessity or because they may not see the connections themselves. A test of general knowledge may help.

A Chicago High-Tech Alternative for Hollywood Hopefuls

James Warren:

House lights up!” proclaimed the silver-haired former lawyer who, with blue jeans, black T-shirt, black safari jacket and Nikes, looked oh-so Hollywood in an oh-so Chicago bastion, the Merchandise Mart.
As four understudies from the Second City comedy troupe entered the sound stage, they were trailed by film students climaxing three weeks of labor by taping a half-hour faux “Saturday Night Live.” It featured comedy sketches, droll pre-taped mock commercials and a live performance by Rhymefest, a hip hop artist.
The students get academic credit by handling sound, cameras, lights and the funny people, all with the help of professionals, and their polished handiwork, “Live at the Mart,” may soon be shown on NBC locally or nationally. It underscored the glitz, teamwork and market-driven pragmatism at the core of Chicago’s Flashpoint Academy of Media Arts and Sciences, one of the country’s most curious and disorienting educational institutions.
Imagine Pixar, Disney, Nintendo and Dreamworks all melded into a vocational setting. Started in 2007, this is a pricey ($25,000 a year) two-year school intended for those not motivated by high school, or brief college stays, but who are captivated by technology.

BROADWAY WEST! Ensuring that West High drama continues to thrive; Honoring all of West’s talents across the arts

You’re invited to spend a fun and lively evening at Broadway West —
the Friends of West High Drama’s largest fundraiser and social event of the year!
Saturday, February 6, 2010 • 7-10 pm
Alumni Lounge in the UW’s Pyle Center (next to the Red Gym at 702 Langdon Street)*
$30 for one adult • $50 for two adults • $10 per West High student
Tickets will be available at the door, but advance reservations are greatly appreciated
• Enjoy a variety of fabulous theatrical and musical performances,
along with art exhibitions, by some of West’s highly talented students
• Eat, drink, and be merry with other West parents, theater friends, and students
• Hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and a cash bar will be available,
with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
• Bid on great live-auction items, auctioned by the always-hilarious Tom Farley
• Relax in our casual, but festive lakefront venue, with its 270-degree view of Lake Mendota
• If you’d like to make a last-minute donation of a fabulous live-auction item, please contact us at All donors will be recognized at the event and acknowledged in writing. We can assist with a pick-up if needed.
• Reserve your tickets to attend Broadway West: $30 for one adult; $50 for two adults; and $10 per West High student. If time permits, fill out the form below and mail it back to us. Or just show up! You can purchase tickets for the same price at the door.
• Make an online donation: If you cannot attend, but would like to support West drama in your absence, consider making a contribution using the form below or online through the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools at
Thank you for your support — this will undoubtedly be an evening to remember!
Questions? Contact us at
*Parking is available on Lake and Langdon Streets, in the Memorial Union surface lot, and in the Helen C. White, Lake Street, and Lucky Building ramps.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – CUT HERE – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Make checks payable to FMPS-Friends of West High Drama. Complete and return this section with your payment to: Marcia Gevelinger Bastian, 4210 Mandan Crescent, Madison, WI 53711. Pre-paid tickets will be ready for you at the door of the event. If time does not permit an advance ticket purchase, just show up! You can buy tickets for the same price at the door.
_____ Yes! I’d like to reserve adult tickets: _____ one at $30, or _____ two at $50 = (total) $ _____
($20 of each $30 ticket is tax deductible.)
_____ Yes! I’d like to reserve West student tickets: (number) _____ at $10 each = (total) $ _____
(Student performers get in free.)
_____ I enclose a tax-deductible contribution in the amount of $ _____
(You can also donate online through the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools at
_____ Yes! I’d like to donate a live-auction item. I’m contacting FWHD at to discuss it and to arrange a pick-up if needed.
Name(s): _______________________________________________________________________________
Address, City, State, Zip: _________________________________________________________________
E-mail: ________________________________________________________________________________
Phone (in case we have questions): _________________________________________________________

A Few Comments on Monday’s State of the Madison School District Presentation

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad will present the “State of the Madison School District 2010” tomorrow night @ 5:30p.m. CST.
The timing and content are interesting, from my perspective because:

  • The nearby Verona School District just approved a Mandarin immersion charter school on a 4-3 vote. (Watch the discussion here). Madison lags in such expanded “adult to student” learning opportunities. Madison seems to be expanding “adult to adult” spending on “coaches” and “professional development”. I’d rather see an emphasis on hiring great teachers and eliminating the administrative overhead associated with growing “adult to adult” expenditures.
  • I read with interest Alec Russell’s recent lunch with FW de Klerk. de Klerk opened the door to South Africa’s governance revolution by freeing Nelson Mandela in 1990:

    History is moving rather fast in South Africa. In June the country hosts football’s World Cup, as if in ultimate endorsement of its post-apartheid progress. Yet on February 2 1990, when the recently inaugurated state President de Klerk stood up to deliver the annual opening address to the white-dominated parliament, such a prospect was unthinkable. The townships were in ferment; many apartheid laws were still on the books; and expectations of the balding, supposedly cautious Afrikaner were low.
    How wrong conventional wisdom was. De Klerk’s address drew a line under 350 years of white rule in Africa, a narrative that began in the 17th century with the arrival of the first settlers in the Cape. Yet only a handful of senior party members knew of his intentions.

    I sense that the Madison School Board and the Community are ready for new, substantive adult to student initiatives, while eliminating those that simply consume cash in the District’s $418,415,780 2009-2010 budget ($17,222 per student).

  • The “State of the District” document [566K PDF] includes only the “instructional” portion of the District’s budget. There are no references to the $418,415,780 total budget number provided in the October 26, 2009 “Budget Amendment and Tax Levy Adoption document [1.1MB PDF]. Given the organization’s mission and the fact that it is a taxpayer supported and governed entity, the document should include a simple “citizen’s budget” financial summary. The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ very useful 2005 quote:

    This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

    In my view, while some things within our local public schools have become a bit more transparent (open enrollment, fine arts, math, TAG), others, unfortunately, like the budget, have become much less. This is not good.

  • A new financial reality. I don’t see significant new funds for K-12 given the exploding federal deficit, state spending and debt issues and Madison’s property tax climate. Ideally, the District will operate like many organizations, families and individuals and try to most effectively use the resources it has. The recent Reading Recovery report is informative.

I think Dan Nerad sits on a wonderful opportunity. The community is incredibly supportive of our schools, spending far more per student than most school Districts (quite a bit more than his former Green Bay home) and providing a large base of volunteers. Madison enjoys access to an academic powerhouse: the University of Wisconsin and proximity to MATC and Edgewood College. Yet, District has long been quite insular (see Janet Mertz’s never ending efforts to address this issue), taking a “we know best approach” to many topics via close ties to the UW-Madison School of Education and its own curriculum creation business, the Department of Teaching and Learning.
In summary, I’m hoping for a “de Klerk” moment Monday evening. What are the odds?

What’s up With Implementation of the Arts Task Force Recommendations – Who Knows

I have similar concerns about “meaningful” implementation of the fine arts task force recommendations. The task force presented its recommendations to the School Board in October 2008, which were based in large part on input from more than 1,000 respondents to a survey. It was another 7 months before administration recommendations were ready for the School Board, and its been another 6 months since then without any communication to the community or staff about: a) brief summary of what the School Board approved (which could have been as simple as posting the cover letter), b) what’s underway, etc. Anything at a Board meeting can be tracked down on the website, but that’s not what I’m talking about. There are plenty of electronic media that allow for efficient, appropriate communication to many people in the district and in the community, allowing for on-going communication and engagement. Some of the current issues might be mitigated, so further delays do not occur. Also, there already is a blog in the arts area that is rarely used.
Afterall, one of our School Board members, Lucy Mathiak, has a full-time job (in addition to being a school board member) as well as having a lot of other life stuff on her plate and she’s developed a blog. It wouldn’t be appropriate for administrators to comment as she does if they are wearing their administrator hats, but concise, factual information would be helpful. I mentioned this to the Superintendent when I met with him in November. He said he thought this was a good idea and ought to take place – haven’t seen it yet; hope to soon, though.
In the meantime, I’m concerned about the implementation of one of the most important aspects of the task force’s recommendations – multi-year educational and financial strategic plan for the arts, which members felt needed to be undertaken after the School Board’s approval and in parallel with implementation of other efforts. Why was this so important to the task force? Members felt to sustain arts education in this economic environment, such an effort was critical.
From the task force’s perspective, a successful effort in this area would involve the community and would not be a solo district effort. As a former member and co-chair of the task force, I’ve heard nothing about this. I am well aware of the tight staffing and resources, but there are multiple ways to approach this. Also, in my meetings with administrative staff over the summer that included my co-chair, Anne Katz, we all agreed this was not appropriate for Teaching and Learning whose work and professional experience is in the area of curriculum. Certainly, curriculum is an important piece, but is not the entire, long-term big picture for arts education. Also, there is no need to wait on specific curriculum plans before moving forward with the longer-term effort. They are very, very different and all the curriculum work won’t mean much if the bigger picture effort is not undertaken in a timely manner. When the task force began it’s work, this was a critical issue. It’s even more critical now.
Does anyone have information about what’s underway, meaningful opportunities for community and teacher engagement (vs. the typical opportunities for drive by input – if you don’t comment as we drive by, you must not care or tacitly approve of what’s being done is how I’ve heard the Teaching and Learning approach described to me and I partially experienced personally). I so hope not, because there are many knowledgable teaching professionals.
I know the topic of this thread was talented and gifted, but there are many similar “non-content” issues between the two topics. I’m hoping to address my experiences and my perspectives on arts education issues in the district in separate posts in the near future.

Auditioning Their Hearts Out, for High School

Jennifer Medina:

Like a Lincoln Center hopeful, Aislee Nieves spends most afternoons in her cramped living room, the couch pulled aside so she can perfect her pointed toes and pirouettes. A spreadsheet tells her the tryouts she has attended, where and when the next one is and the one after that.
On a recent Sunday she flitted about her apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, collecting what she needed that day: ballet slippers, leotard, footless tights, all slipped into her bright green knapsack.
“Mommy, you have the admission ticket? And my transcript?” she asked, her 13-year-old voice betraying a slight edginess.
Yes, yes, her mother, Blanca Vasquez, answered. After all, they had been auditioning for high school nearly every weekend for the last month.
The high school admission process in New York City is notoriously dizzying, with each eighth grader asked to rank up to a dozen choices, and the most competitive schools requiring tests, essays or interviews. But for hundreds of students who sing, dance, act or play an instrument, trying out for the ninth grade is now an all-consuming routine.

Madison School District News

via a Ken Syke email:

MMSD Fine Arts Coordinator Julie Palkowski is the author of the featured article in the latest edition of the Wisconsin School Musician magazine. Partnerships across our community enhance the opportunities for MMSD students. Making the Most of the Concert Festival Experience is a case study of the collaborative project among the MMSD, the Overture Center for the Arts and the Wisconsin Music Educators Association that occurred this past April.
According to Google, the MMSD is the fifth most popular searched item in the Madison area. Google broke down the top search terms by city in its Zeitgeist 2009 survey. Google counted searches in 31 US cities to compile the list of the most popular searches unique to specific cities. Looking for something to do on a cold winter’s evening? Why not consider a concert at one of our high schools, or a middle school choral performance. The MMSD calendar of events lists a wide range of no-cost potential family activities to beat the recession blues!

The Coming Crescendo of China

Nick Frisch:

Piano notes drift up the stairs in a Beijing branch of the Liu Shih Kun Piano School. Perched near the East Glorious Gate of the Forbidden City, the school does a brisk business educating the children of the affluent. In a practice room downstairs, a little girl is flanked by two adults–her teacher and her mother, who watches the proceedings intently. Lessons cost about 150 yuan ($22) per hour, and upright pianos sell for more than 13,000 yuan, substantial sums even for upper or middle-class families.
Still, they come en masse with their children. “Almost every student is accompanied here by the parents,” explains Ba Shan, the young woman manning the reception desk at the school founded by one of China’s first famous pianists. “Almost all of them have pianos at home, too.”
Between several established chains like Liu Shih Kun, thousands of individual schools and uncountable private teachers, there are still no firm figures on the actual number of music students in China. In an interview with the New York Times this year, Jindong Cai, a conductor and professor at Stanford University, estimated that there are 38 million students studying piano alone. A 2007 estimate put violin students at 10 million. And the trend is clearly upward.

Schools Play to Virtual Orchestra


The Southbank Sinfonia in Bedale Primary School hold a workshop via video link with pupils 12 miles away in Richmond Primary School. The video was compiled from footage supplied by technology developer ANS Group.
Pupils in North Yorkshire have jammed with one of the UK’s leading orchestras, thanks to high-speed broadband lines.
The video-linked music workshop over 10Mbps (megabits per second) connections provided sessions with the Southbank Sinfonia.
The project was organised by NYnet, which has set up high-speed broadband in the area.
It demonstrates what could be achieved using video conferencing.

Rodin’s Sonnets in Stone

Lucy Farmer:

It was in the Musée Rodin that I first realised what Art was capable of. Trailing along behind Monsieur S., our strenuously Francophile teacher in his sadly unironic beret, we had already “done” Notre Dame. Then came a route march through the Louvre. Before its airy makeover with the glass pyramid, the Louvre felt like the worst kind of museum-punishingly vast, the walls of its interminable corridors lined with dukes with beards like spades and spoilt, mean-mouthed women in poodle wigs. After some hours, footsore and deafened by culture, we got to the “Mona Lisa”. I remember thinking how small she was. And how podgy. The famous smile hinted at embarrassment that all these people would bother coming so far to see her, when really she was nothing special. We adored Monsieur S. and we listened to him hold forth, complete with faux-Gallic gesticulations, about a turning point in the history of portraiture, the subtle handling of flesh tones, blah blah. But it was no good. The “Mona Lisa” was such a masterpiece, we could hardly see her. Or discover her secret for ourselves, as teenagers badly need to do, whether in love or art.
The last thing we wanted at the end of that day was another damned museum. But with the light fading to the freckled silver that makes the Parisian skyline look like an early photographic print, we found ourselves in rue de Varenne. You have to cross a cobbled yard to get to the front door of the Hotel Biron. The Biron is actually a perfect small chateau, like a doll’s house lowered from heaven into seven acres of exquisite formal gardens in Faubourg Saint-Germain. Built circa 1730, it was first a private house, then a school. By 1905 it was in disrepair and the rooms were let out to several tenants. At one point, they included Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse, Isadora Duncan, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and Rodin himself. The queue for the bathroom must have been quite something.

Join the Fall Madison West High Drama Club Production of “The Miracle Worker” at 7:30 on November 6, 7, 13 and 14.

via a kind reader’s email:

Purchase your tickets in advance online to ease congestion at the box office on show nights. Tickets will also be available at the box office while they last..($10/adult, $5/student)
Ticket Website:
Director Holly Walker and Stage Manager Catherine Althaus have created a fantastic production. Immortalized on stage and screen by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, this classic tells the story of Annie Sullivan and her student, blind and mute Helen Keller. The Miracle Worker dramatizes the volatile relationship between the lonely teacher and her charge. Helen, trapped in her secret world, is violent, spoiled and almost subhuman–and treated as such by her family. Only Annie realizes that there is a mind and spirit waiting to be rescued from the dark tortured silence. Following scenes of intense physical and emotional dynamism, Annie’s success with Helen finally comes with the utterance of a single word: “water”.
The Cast: David Aeschlimann (doctor), Eleana Bastian (Aunt Ev), Andrea DeVriendt (Little Annie), Kevin Erdman (Keller), Sam Gee (Jimmie), Emma Geer (Helen), Denzel Irby (Percy), Simon Henriques (Anagnos), Sarah Maslin(Annie), James Romney (James), Sasha Sigel (Kate), Bayaan Thomas (Viney), and Claire Wegert(Martha); plus Sam Barrows, Khadijah Bishop, Allison Burdick-Evenson, Heather Chun, Sophia Connelly, Molly Czech, Ryan Eykholt, Ellen Ferencek, Henry Fuguitt, Maddie Gibson, Erendira Giron-Cruz, Maddie Hoeppner, Emily Hou, Janie Killips, Elena Livorni, Marianne Oeygard, Frankie Pobar-Lay, Ari Pollack, Kaivahn Sarkaratpour, and Laura Young.
The Crew Heads: Sound: Bryna Godar, Sasha Sigel, Sam Factor, David Aeschlimann Lighting: Catherine Althaus, Zander Steichen Stage: Laura Young, Lindsey Conklin Costumes: Heather Chun, Leah Garner Administrative: Charmaine Branch, Nina Pressman, Thalia Skaleris Props: Jenny Apfelbach, Jamie Kolden Makeup: Margie Ostby
Cookies, Candy, Water and Fan-Grams will be for sale! Proceeds go to Friends of Madison West High Drama.

School spotlight: Director sparks interest in drama at Middleton High

Pamela Cotant:

Thanks to a burgeoning drama club, audiences in Middleton High School’s Performing Arts Center this week will be treated to two performances each night, not one.
The double bill exemplifies the drama program under Lynda Sharpe, who recently received the John C. Barner Teacher of the Year award from the American Alliance of Theater in Education.
With 87 students in the drama club, drama director Sharpe needed two productions so more students could take part.
“She (Sharpe) works to get us all involved as individuals as well as the whole circle,” said junior Katy Dallman, secretary of the drama club.
Sharpe has all of those involved in a production stand in a circle before and after each rehearsal and before each show.
“I use a circle because we are all equal,” said Sharpe, who also teaches at Middleton High.
“Live Broadcast,” a 1940s-style live radio drama, will kick off the evening Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m. Written by former Middleton students Charles Stone and Timothy Wendorff, who are now students at UW-Madison, the performance will include live entertainment and live commercials.

Should student drama productions be restricted to PG themes?

Valerie Strauss:

ou would think people have better things to fight about, but across the nation people are arguing–and even going to court–over high school plays. Yes, the drama productions that high school kids stage for other high school kids.
The latest instance occurred this week at Churchill High School in Potomac, Md., when administrators abruptly cancelled a production of “Chicago” three weeks before it was to be staged because it is too racy, my colleague Nelson Hernandez reported.
Never mind that these same officials had approved the production last spring when students first asked permission.
And never mind that the play is decades old and was turned into an Academy Award-winning movie, making it impossible for anybody at the school to claim they didn’t know it was about murder and sex and other themes, that, come to think of it, run through Shakespeare’s plays too.
But I digress.

Arts Education and Graduation Rates

Rachel Lee Harris:

In a report to be released on Monday the nonprofit Center for Arts Education found that New York City high schools with the highest graduation rates also offered students the most access to arts education. The report, which analyzed data collected by the city’s Education Department from more than 200 schools over two years, reported that schools ranked in the top third by graduation rates offered students the most access to arts education and resources, while schools in the bottom third offered the least access and fewest resources. Among other findings, schools in the top third typically hired 40 percent more certified arts teachers and offered 40 percent more classrooms dedicated to coursework in the arts than bottom-ranked schools. They were also more likely to offer students a chance to participate in or attend arts activities and performances. The full report is at

Performing Arts Center at Menlo-Atherton High School – opening soon

Linda Hubbard Gulker:

Finishing touches are underway in advance of the opening of the new Performing Arts Center at Menlo-Atherton High School the second weekend in October, highlighted by a performance by Music@Menlo’s Artistic Directors, cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, and special guest Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The center – built in collaboration with the City of Menlo Park – includes a 492-seat theater, lobby, box office, rehearsal and practice rooms, and stagecraft workshop for production of scenery and props.
According to Sequoia Union High School District spokesperson Bettylu Smith, the 31,000-square-foot, 65-foot-high building is inspired by the beauty of the historical grove of Valley Oak trees on campus and has been carefully designed and landscaped to create a tree house-like environment and the impression it is following the contours of an already existing hillside.

A day at the museum – how much do children actually remember?

Julien Gross:

Museum corridors are often populated by clipboard-bearing school children enjoying a day away from the classroom. These museum trips seem like a good idea, but how much do children really learn from their day out? According to Julien Gross and colleagues, young children actually remember a great deal, especially if they are given the chance to draw as they recount their museum experience.
Fifty-eight lucky New Zealand school children, aged approximately six years, were taken for a day visit to the Royal Albatross Centre and Historic Fort in Dunedin. One to two days later, the amount of information recalled by the children depended to a large degree on how they were tested. Asked to freely recall the visit, the children remembered a significant amount of factual and trivial, “narrative” information, uttering an average of ten factual clauses. Crucially, this amount of factual recall doubled when they were allowed to draw at the same time as they recounted the day’s events. By contrast, the children performed relatively poorly when given a traditional comprehension test in the form of 12 questions.
A second study largely replicated these findings with a second group of children who were tested on their memory for the museum visit after seven months. The amount of information they recalled remained substantial but was reduced, as you’d expect after a longer delay. Also, the benefit of drawing now only affected recall of narrative information, not facts.

2 new L.A. arts high schools are a study in contrasts

Mitchell Landsberg:

The schools opened for business this week, one on a $232-million shiny new campus, the other in rented space in a small church. Both have high hopes.
One occupies $232 million worth of serious architecture on a promontory overlooking downtown Los Angeles. The other rents cramped space in a South L.A. church.
One has an address that shouts prestige, with neighbors that include the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral and the Music Center. The other is across the street from an apartment building for the recently homeless.
Two new high schools for the arts debuted this week — a rare enough feat in a down economy. Despite the vast differences in their circumstances, it may be too early to say which of the two has the most potential to nurture the next generation of artists and performers.
The Los Angeles Unified school at 450 N. Grand Ave., perched across the 101 Freeway from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, was years in the making and is housed on one of the most expensive and widely praised campuses in the nation. Yet it is only now shaking off more than a year of controversy and false starts in its launch to become the flagship of the district. The Fernando Pullum Performing Arts High School at 51st Street and Broadway may have the feel of something hastily thrown together out of spare parts, but it is led by one of the city’s most respected music educators and has the support of such big-name artists as Kenny Burrell, Jackson Browne, Bill Cosby and Don Cheadle.

O.C. school district, ACLU settle suit over ‘Rent’

Seema Mehta:

Newport-Mesa Unified School District agrees to provide harassment and discrimination prevention training after students threatened a girl who appeared in the play and used slurs to describe another.
An Orange County school district where varsity athletes threatened to rape and kill the lead actress in a student production of the musical “Rent” has agreed to provide harassment and discrimination prevention training to Corona del Mar High School students, teachers and administrators and other district officials, according to a legal settlement announced Wednesday. The Newport-Mesa Unified School District will also apologize to the former student.
Because of the settlement, “no one else will have to go through what I went through,” said Hail Ketchum, 17, the victim who, along with family members, identified herself for the first time on Wednesday. She is a freshman studying theater at Loyola Marymount University. “I hope the students at Corona del Mar High School will learn from my experience that it’s possible to stand up for what is right and prevail.”
The campus made headlines across the nation earlier this year when its principal canceled “Rent: School Edition” because of concerns about its content. It was later reinstated. Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union, who sued the district in March, said the controversy over the tale of struggling artists that includes gay characters and some with AIDS was just one example of official tolerance of misogyny and homophobia on campus.

A Real-Life School Of Rock


Do you really need to go to school to learn about rocking out? Many musicians might say no: Lock yourself in your room with a bunch of records and a guitar, put in your days on the road playing in scummy clubs, and you’ll master the craft eventually.
Or, starting this Monday, you could go to the real-life “school of rock” — the brand-new Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma. The program has true rock cred — it was started by Steven Drozd and Scott Booker, respectively the guitarist and manager of the Flaming Lips, a Grammy-winning rock band.
“The idea here is not that we’re just a school of rock,” Booker says. “The idea behind this program is really as much about business and learning how the industry works while you’re learning to play better.”
Unlike the original Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, England, the University of Central Oklahoma ACM offers an actual college degree. Booker adds, “not only are you taking general ed, but you’re also taking aural skills and music theory and those things that anyone who’s getting a music degree has to take.”

A middle school for the artist

Jessica Jordan:

An educational dream pitched by three Hall County teachers takes flight Monday when 120 students and six teachers come together for the first day of school at the da Vinci Academy.
The pilot program provides innovative learning opportunities for gifted students with a penchant for the arts and sciences. But that’s only half of the reason it’s making a splash with educators across the Southeast. The program also will operate at about 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost per student compared to a traditional middle school, Hall County school Superintendent Will Schofield said.
Though states have made unprecedented cuts to public school funds, educators are trying to make the most of every penny while pushing programs that engage students and get results.
Schofield said the da Vinci Academy is a great example of how schools can do more with less.
“I think it truly is some Renaissance thinking is these difficult times,” he said. “It’s the exciting side of chaotic and difficult times.
That’s when you see the best in people and that’s when you see the worst in people, and I think what we’re seeing is the best in terms of innovative thinking, new ways of doing something that we’ve done the same way for a long time.

Madison Public Schools’ Arts education gets needed support

Anne Katz & Barbara Schrank, co-chairwomen, MMSD Arts Task Force, via a kind reader’s email:

Kudos and thanks to the Madison School District Board of Education and Superintendent Dan Nerad for their support of arts education opportunities for all students, with additional thanks to members of the Arts Education Task Force.
The task force of art teachers and citizens has worked since 2007 with Board members and administrative and teaching staff on a plan that supports, enhances and sustains arts education in Madison’s public schools. The Board approved the plan on July 20.
In adopting the plan, the Board showed support of the arts as a priority for a quality public education.
The process took hard work by committee members, administrative and teaching staff and input from over 1,000 community members who have been thoughtful, inquisitive and dedicated to nurturing students’ talent and creativity through the arts. These plans will move forward with leadership, support and a strong partnership between the district and the community.
We are proud to live in a community with educational leaders who understand that arts and creativity are essential components of a 21st century education.

Learn how to draw Garfield on iTunes U

iTunes U:

Thanks to the Virginia Department of Education and the Professor Garfield Foundation, you — and your kids, of course — can get an Introduction to Comics on iTunes U. The 15 video episodes encourage children to draw, sculpt, and carve. In fact, Jim Davis — who created Garfield — gets the course off to a great start, showing us all how he draws his famous lasagna-loving feline.

Oregon Symphony’s outreach program falls silent

David Stabler, via a kind reader’s email:

The drums have gone quiet. The gongs no longer shimmer. The bells go unchimed. The instruments that kids in small towns around Oregon used to hit, rub and scrape as part of the Oregon Symphony’s award-winning outreach effort went quiet this summer.
Another victim of the economy.
The Roseburg-based Ford Family Foundation, the program’s primary funder, suffered losses to its endowment and declined to continue paying the program’s $150,000 annual cost, said Norm Smith, the foundation’s president.
Since 2002, the Oregon Symphony has “adopted” a different town each two years: Klamath Falls, North Bend, Redmond, Baker City, Estacada, La Grande, Cove, Tillamook. The idea was to flood the zone with repeated trips by symphony musicians. Break into tactical units and invade the schools, fill community centers, start a jazz band, launch a string orchestra. Then go back the next year to water the seeds.
What made the program unusual was the effort to make music a lasting presence. Unlike in other outreach efforts, the orchestra didn’t just show up, coach a few kids, play a concert and get back on the bus. The focus encouraged local teachers to design a music curriculum for years to come and involved arts groups in adding a concert series to bring performers to town, using Oregon Symphony staff for ideas and follow-up.

In search of a modern-day Mozart

Richard Fairman:

The premiere of Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto at the Teatro Regio Ducal in Milan on December 26 1770, must have been a memorable occasion. Six hours long, the opera was an immediate hit, and its run extended to 21 performances. “Every evening the theatre is full, much to the astonishment of everyone,” the young composer wrote in a letter to his sister. “People say that since they have been in Milan they have never seen such crowds at a first opera.” Mozart was 14 at the time.
He is far from being the only teenage genius in musical history; a recent poll to decide music’s greatest prodigy in BBC Music Magazine didn’t even manage to place Mozart in the top 10. Mendelssohn, who was the winner, composed his brilliant Octet when he was just 16. In second place, Schubert set German song alight by penning “Gretchen am Spinnrade” at 17. Korngold, placed third, completed his sexually saturated opera Violanta at the same age.
More from Arts – Nov-24
Where are the equivalents to these prodigies today? There is plenty of evidence that young people are as busy composing as ever – the recent Channel 4 television series about 16-year-old British composer Alexander Prior will have alerted the world to that – but very few music-lovers are likely to be aware of them. Spend a year going to concerts in any cultural capital and it would be quite normal not to hear a note of music by a single composer as yet untroubled by middle-aged spread.
If there is one place where youth really has a hold, it is the BBC Proms. The 2009 season opens on Friday and promises the usual admirable spotlight on youth. Young audiences, teenage soloists, family days, youth orchestras all have their place. But what of young composers? Search through the season programme and the score here looks rather different. The youngest living composer in the main evening concerts is 28. There are only three others under 30 out of the 128 composers altogether. By that age Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert and Bizet had already turned out masterpieces by the armful (and, tragically, each only had a few more years to live).

Violin-making has put a nondescript town near Beijing on the map. Now the locals have caught fiddle fever

Andrew Jacobs:

Perhaps the only thing more aurally challenging than a roomful of novice violinists screeching their way through Mary Had a Little Lamb is a roomful of novice violinists screeching along on out-of-tune instruments.
“Stop,” Chen Yiming says to her enthusiastic students, ages eight to 47. “Can we please pay attention to our instruments and make sure they are tuned correctly?”
After a short break for adjustments, the cacophony resumes.
Violin fever has hit Donggaocun, a drab rural township about an hour’s drive from Beijing. Hundreds of residents, young and old, are picking up the bow as Donggaocun tries to position itself as the mainland’s string instrument capital.
Once known primarily for its abundant peach harvest, the town has become one of the world’s most prodigious manufacturers of inexpensive cellos, violas, violins and double basses. Last year the town’s nine factories and 150 small workshops produced 250,000 instruments, most of them ending up in the hands of students in the US, Britain and Germany.

Picture is unclear on arts instruction in schools

Greg Toppo:

Gather up a group of eighth-graders, pop in a CD of George Gershwin’s seminal Rhapsody in Blue and turn up the volume. Then ask: In those first few seconds, what keening, soaring, note-bending instrument do you hear?
When the federal government put this question to thousands of eighth-graders in 1997, only about half knew it was a clarinet. When they tried again last year, the results were the same.
New data out today from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, may make America’s arts instructors kind of blue: In the past decade or so, middle-schoolers have made little progress in how much they know about music and visual arts.

School Spotlight: Decorated student bassoonist stands out in Mount Horeb

Pamela Cotant:

When David Richards tried out instruments during sixth-grade orientation, he was drawn to the bassoon because it was one of the pieces from which he could coax a sound.
He wound up playing the woodwind instrument as a student in Austin, Texas. Now a senior at Mount Horeb High School, Richards is an accomplished musician in a district known for its music.
“The bassoon requires constant vigilance to play cleanly, as David does,” said John Widdicombe, who plays bass with the Piper Road Spring Band and whose daughter played with Richards in high school. “One really must hear David play to appreciate the gentle voice he offers through his instrument.”
Richards has performed in Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras since eighth grade and started playing in Winds of Wisconsin as a sophomore and the experiences have propelled his interest in the bassoon.

Computer Orchestration Tips and Tricks

Stephen Bennett:

his book is aimed at those with little or not understanding of music notation. It gives the reader a basic understanding or the principles of orchestration and offers tips and techniques to help get the best simulated orchestral performance out of their equipment.

  • Create realistic sounding orchestras on your computer
  • Little or no musical notation knowledge needed
  • Create scores for real players to read
  • Tips and tricks to get the best out of your software
  • All you need to orchestrate on computer

Using modern technology, composers no longer need to wait until an orchestra plays their score to hear what their music will actually sound like. Using a computer and suitable software, it’s possible for anyone to produce high-quality results that can be used for music CDs, film and TV scores – or even as a basis of a recording session using orchestral players.

I reading saw an early 20’s student reading a book on Logic Pro. I asked about his plans and he responsded that he intended to make “some great music”.

The Music is Secondary…. But Still Beautiful

Pete Selkowe:

“Character first, ability second.”
Dr. Shinichi Suzuki
The creator of the Suzuki method of teaching music, Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, would have been proud Wednesday afternoon, as some 90 violin and viola students presented a three-school concert.
The youngsters — just the tiniest portion of the estimated 250,000 Suzuki students worldwide — entertained parents and each other in the theatre of the 21st Century Preparatory School. The budding violinists and cellists were from 21st Century Prep, Jefferson Lighthouse and Bull Fine Arts, directed by Teresa Hill of 21st Century and Charlene Melzer from Jefferson and Fine Arts.

Teaching Arts and Sciences Together

Mae Jemison:

ae Jemison is an astronaut, a doctor, an art collector, a dancer … Telling stories from her own education and from her time in space, she calls on educators to teach both the arts and sciences, both intuition and logic, as one — to create bold thinker.

Arts Education in America

Quincy Jones:

In 1943, the United States Armed Forces Institute published a second edition of War Department Education Manual EM 603 Discovering Music: A Course in Music Appreciation by Howard D. McKinney and W.R. Anderson. The material presented in the book was a reprint of educational material taken from existing standard textbook matter used in American schools and colleges at that time and is significant to this discussion because the text included the following when discussing jazz:

Some may start with an enthusiasm for music of the jazz type, but they cannot go far there, for jazz is peculiarly of an inbred, feeble-stock race, incapable of development. In any case, the people for whom it is meant could not understand it if it did develop. Jazz is sterile. It is all right for fun, or as a mild anodyne, like tobacco. But its lack of rhythmical variety (necessitated by its special purpose), its brevity, its repetitiveness and lack of sustained development, together with the fact that commercial reasons prevent its being, as a rule, very well written, all mark it as a side issue, having next to nothing to do with serious music; and consequently it has proved itself entirely useless as a basis for developing the taste of the amateur.

Drama king: Tom Hardin guides Madison Memorial’s Drama, Debate & Forensics Club

David Tenenbaum:

One by one, the students who will soon compete at the state forensics championship take the stage in the small theater at Memorial High School. Their timing is flawless, their gestures are fluid, their skill level is professional. Some of the performances, which last four to 12 minutes, make audience members laugh; some make them cry; a surprising number do both.
Dressed in black, deadly serious and totally in control, forensics coach Tom Hardin, an English teacher at Memorial, announces the program, then guards the door. As at any legitimate theater, stragglers are barred from entering during each act.
Sophomore Ben Mau performs a devastating roast of Oprah Winfrey.
“Oprah saved my life,” he testifies. “If not for her, I would not know about all the random crap that nobody cares about.”
Sophomore Naman Siad, the daughter of Somali immigrants, likens her head scarf to the traditional attire of nuns, and asks why Americans see the one as a sign of modesty and the other as an emblem of all we don’t like — or don’t understand — about Islam.

Neutral Milk Hotel Album Transformed For Stage

Avishay Artsy:

The scene is a restaurant. Anne Frank sits at a table.
The actress says, “We have duck a l’orange, saffron couscous and steak. Or would you like to try some of our fine wines? Helga, darling? Please? Answer me?”
This is all in Frank’s imagination. In fact, she’s in a death camp, dying of typhus and losing her grasp on reality. Emma Feinberg plays Anne Frank. She’s a freshman at Lexington High School in Massachusetts and the play is called With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart. It’s about Frank’s final months at Bergen-Belsen. Faced with horror and brutality, she escapes into a world where prisoners and Nazi officers become circus performers.

District-Wide Reform of Mathematics and Science Instruction: Case Studies of Four SCALE Partner Districts

William Clune:

This paper is a synthesis of case studies of four districts that implemented multifaceted reforms aimed at offering rigorous instruction in mathematics and science for all students as part of a National Science Foundation-supported partnership. A common theory of action aimed for a rigorous curriculum, professional development delivered close to the point of instruction, monitoring of instructional quality, and system coordination. Immersion units would offer an in-depth experience in scientific inquiry to all students. The theory of action was successful in many ways. Excellent access to top management allowed the partnership to assist with multiple aligned dimensions of instructional guidance. The biggest obstacles were turnover in district leadership, loose coupling across departments, attenuation of vertical alignment through overload of instructional guidance, and insufficient budget for adequate school site support (e.g., coaches). Greater coherence resulted from delivery of instructional guidance closer to schools and teachers, as with science immersion. The study suggests that complete, affordable packages of instructional guidance delivered to the school level district-wide might be the best model for district reform.

Related: Math Forum, Madison School District’s Math Task Force and the significant role that the UW-Madison School of Education has had in Madison School District curriculum decisions (see links and notes in this post’s comments)

Eli Broad dangles a carrot in front of Los Angeles Unified

Howard Blume:

Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad will help pay for a New York-based arts program that benefits poor and minority students — and he said Friday that he and other donors would provide similar funding here if the Los Angeles school district can better manage its own arts programs, especially the new downtown arts high school.
The Broad Foundation has pledged to contribute $425,000 so the Juilliard School can allow dozens of public school students to receive up to four years of free musical training. Broad said he decided to make the gift after reading a newspaper article about the program canceling auditions in a tight budget year.
“It really moved me,” Broad said. “I was saddened they were going to cut out these minority kids.”
But Broad also made a point about problem-plagued Central L.A. Area High School No. 9, the high-concept arts specialty school that is scheduled to open in the fall even though it still lacks an executive director, a permanent principal, a staff and an arts curriculum.
“It’s clear that if you have a quality arts high school, especially one that is educating kids from minority communities, there will be philanthropic funds forthcoming, as evidenced from our willingness to give money to Juilliard,” Broad said.
Such funding will be crucial for the new campus, he said, adding that it will cost more to run than other public high schools. “It will need some philanthropic support, not only from us but from others,” he said.

Juilliard Curtails Program That Serves Poor Children

Daniel Wakin:

The Juilliard School’s music-training program for poor minority schoolchildren — a rigorous curriculum that the conservatory holds up as a national model — has been slashed, disappointing dozens of children preparing to audition.
The Music Advancement Program will take back about 50 children in the fall to finish the second year of their two-year course. But it has canceled auditions next month for the incoming class, said Joseph W. Polisi, Juilliard’s president. About 50 are admitted each year.
Mr. Polisi said that the school could not raise the $400,000 necessary to finance the whole program, and that across-the-board budget cuts meant there was no money elsewhere for it. “I was the guy who started it 20 years ago, and I believe deeply in it,” Mr. Polisi said. “It’s an extremely important part of me and Juilliard.” But the likelihood of raising enough money was “exceedingly low,” he said. Mr. Polisi said he hoped to raise money to restart the program, on a smaller scale, in two years.
“It’s like cutting down the bush, but it’s going to bloom with fresh growth in a few years,” he said. “It’s not going out of business by any stretch.”

Discord builds over new downtown Los Angeles arts school

Mitchell Landsberg:

A tug of war erupted last week over L.A.’s new downtown arts high school, with some of its biggest supporters declaring that they had given up on the Los Angeles Unified School District and wanted the $242-million campus turned over to a charter school organization. In response to the critics, who included philanthropist Eli Broad, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines shot back: “There is not a for-sale sign on it.”

The tension had been building for months, fueled in part by the district’s plan to reserve most of the school’s seats for students from the surrounding neighborhood rather than open it up to the most talented students districtwide. It bubbled over after two star principals from the East Coast turned down offers to take charge, leaving the school leaderless less than six months before it opens in September.

“This pace is so slow that we have lost total confidence that the district could open this school in September as a really excellent place for students,” said Maria Casillas, president of Families in Schools, a nonprofit organization that encourages parental involvement in education. She is on the board of Discovering the Arts, an organization created to support the downtown arts school, and was on a design team for the school until she recently resigned in frustration.

Casillas and others have reached out to Judy Burton, the president and chief executive of the Alliance for College Ready Public Schools, a successful charter organization, in hopes that she could run the arts school with Board of Education approval. Burton, a former top official at L.A. Unified, said she would do so only in partnership with the district, and with the blessing of Cortines and board President Monica Garcia.

On Music Education

Bob Lefsetz:

First we met Seth Godin at Maison du Chocolat. It was fascinating to hear him riff on music education, Felice’s world. He lamented teachers married to excellence, performance of material that most people were not enamored of. He boiled it down to a sense of mastery. That by learning how to play an instrument, a child experienced a sense of accomplishment. That’s the message of music education, not exposing people to the classics or some extrapolation about IQ improvement. That’s Seth’s gift, the ability to execute an insightful surgical strike, right to the heart of the matter.
Are people ready for it?