Teaching Smart vs. not LO13686

Ray Evans Harrell (mcore@IDT.NET)
Tue, 20 May 1997 22:56:07 -0700

Replying to LO13648 --

C. Suzanne Deakins wrote:

> Dear Ian,
> Unfortunately saying that those exiting school don't have the basic skills
> is the same "sayings" that have been used for over 100 years ago in both
> UK and US, by each preceding generation. The truth is that our young
> people have the equivalent of a BA or B.S. by the time they leave
> secondary school (high school in the US) compared to just 25 years ago.
> And they approach a graduate level compared to 50 years ago. They know
> more, do more with their knowledge than ever before.
> Children do get the basics in most schools in the US (basics being
> reading, writing and arithmetic). The big question is are we preparing
> them with thinking skills? (snip)

To the List:

But don't fail to read the rest of this excellent post if you didn't


I would add a couple of points to this. Why are there no expressive
skills included in your list? Everyone from Plato to Clifford Geertz and
Peter Senge speaks of the importance of the arts in the development of
conscious cognitive skills, yet the arts are excluded from almost every
educator's list that I read. As I mentioned in an earlier post to this
list, Shakespeare had no grammar from which to compose his plays. He
simply used performance with audience and peer feedback, "real" life
expressive experience.

Before I became acquainted with European intellectuals, I thought that
Einstein played the violin for fun and pleasure. But before that it was
my Father who opened the door to that way of thinking. My father whose
Doctorate was in psycho-metrics with a strong minor in behavioral
psychology, bought a new piano when he was 72 years old. I asked him
why he had traded in the family piano for a new expensive model. He
replied that when he practiced his scales he wanted to be sure that his
instrument was capable of holding the tuning perfectly. I asked why he
still practiced the scales instead of simply enjoying the music. He
looked bemused and let me know that the scales WERE the point. He was
keeping his brain connections in good shape from his hands as he grew
older. He was a school teacher and administrator for forty years and
never ceased to learn and explore right up until his passing.

I am only sorry that my Father did not have the advantage of the
computer and the internet so that he could have stretched out a little
more and enjoyed the world's intelligence. That, for me, is the reason
for the technology. It is to live more fully in the world, not to make
things easier and us lazier.

As for teaching the arts in the schools, the discipline of a
singer-pianist, for example, is not usually a part of the educational
skills taught to teachers in the public schools. The "teacher must do
every subject equally" approach is a problem. That, however, is no
excuse for simply avoiding the entire "affective expressive team" side
of learning. The affective expressive team elements are taught as the
core curriculum only in the arts.

As any computer salesman will tell you, they can take care of your needs
for math, science, graphics, stock market figures and word processing,
etc, with a reasonable PC setup. However if you have to include even
a small music writing program, then you had better double your memory.
Indeed the holistic nature of music in the individual is so vast that it
includes the entire brain. As pointed out by Paula Washington in her
groundbreaking study of brain states in musical performance, "An
Electroencephalographic Study of Musical Performance" NYU 1993,
(assuming the practiced skill of the performer in the task) Dr.
Washington defines the issues of successful performance as: one who has
come to control his reactions to variability in instrument, room and his
own internal state..."

In another part of the study speaking about the use of the brain in
musical activity she states:

"Music partakes of so many disparate functions, visual tracking,
hand-eye coordination, auditory discrimination, spatial orientation,
temporal planning,...Musical functions appear to be spread out in a more
diffuse pattern across the two hemispheres than language function."

Although I had grammar classes, required by the government on the
reservation where I spent my public school years, I have had to unlearn
most of what I was taught. The real grammar rules are much more complex
than the ones having to do with "basic" grammar. However, what was
useful was the introduction to the IDEA of a structural underpinning for
all communication. This was particularly important for me in the study
of Math.

"Grammar" only came to life when I was forced to deal with these issues of
communication. Like Shakespeare, it was in speech and drama where I was
forced to deal with communication on a subtle level. What the Italians
call the "tone as metaphor" (emotional color) music theory and the
architecture of the orchestra and aural mapping (which I learned from a
creative high school teacher) gave me an introduction to language that I
later found to be the discipline of Semiotics.

My point is that teaching children to experience structure as a way of
successfully functioning in the world creates the need for grammatical
schemas. If they have the need they will in turn seek out the tools to
both explore and study the best ways of doing this, i.e., thinking.

I don't want to raise the issues that I discussed earlier on the list
except to say that the CONSCIOUS PRACTICE of human communication both the:

concrete functions (speech, drama, debate, discussion as
well as the visual language skills, graphics, literature)
and the

abstract functions (music, verbal math, the plastic and
kinetic arts, etc.)

are crucial to the development of the kind of cognitive skills required in
today's professional life.

IMHO we must never forget that writing is basically an aid to memory or
is at best a poor tool used when we do not have access to the
multiplicity of symbols that face to face and even aural communication
makes possible. That is why we are working so hard to make a visual
computer, with better sound, in real time. As anthropologist Edward T.
Hall's research has made clear, intentional meaning is found in the
recognition of the non-verbal elements not possible to write down on
paper or computer thus far.

Plato considered the arts the basis for all human consciousness. We
speak often on this list about organizations learning but most would
consider a chorus or a football team on company time, a waste. And yet
President Kennedy often judged people's ability to work by how they
played "touch football." Choruses and football teams learn together.
They are living Learning Organizations.

The Canadian historian and economist, Mike Hollinshead writes of the coal
mines in England and Wales that depended upon teamwork for personal safety
and company productivity. Because they were company towns the company
organized the "recreation" by organizing men's choruses in Wales and brass
bands in England. AFTER WORK the men would unwind by practicing THINKING
and ACTING together in the chorus or on the village green while they
marched together performing in harmony.

An Army has to pay people to march for teamwork, in this case the insular
community allowed the companies to develop teams without paying for more
than the uniforms, instruments and a band director. Wales for years had
the world's greatest men's choruses, Bryn Terfel the great bass is one of
the final products of that system. England has practically owned the
contract on the world's finest music for Brass ensemble. Listen to the
brilliant marches written for the British Royalty by Vaughn Williams,
William Walton and Benjamin Britten. The principles of LO are imbedded in
these structures.

And yet Americans separate work from community as much as is possible.
They also separate the learning process of play (best exemplified in the
multiple coordination tasks of the arts), from the values of the

Whether you call it a team or an ensemble, the principles are still the
same. The knowledge of effective communication, the special brain
patterns that exist at the time of learning, and the creative uses of the
agreed upon language(improvisation) are part of the skills that companies
are trying to learn about and use. Learning to think together like a
theater company, ballet company, champion ice skaters or a combat platoon.
But, as the Christians say, it is like putting new wine in old wine skins.
The holistic purity of the practice is not generally something that an old
fashioned company can tolerate. Even when they are shown that it works.
Instead they wander about like a body with the two hemispheres of the
brain separated. Continually fighting as if they were not the same body.

Since I'm a pagan, I feel comfortable using this metaphor for economists
and corporations. My Elder once said of a particular individual trying to
learn to solve a particular problem, He would have to enter into his
mothers belly and be born again before that would happen. Although not a
Christian she always related to that cultural metaphor when considering
the possibility of the dominant culture expanding its educational world
view simply because it might work better.

On a sad note, Hollinshead tells that these Welsh and English towns are
now closing down and the choruses and brass bands are dying. On an
interesting note, Musical America records that orchestras in London are up
to 60 in 1997 from 33 in 1994. This year Paris has 17, New York 36, L.A.
19, San Francisco 8, Toronto 7 and in Tokyo where it is not a native art
form there are 9. Are the Japanese very good at Learning Organizations?

As for student data on the state of the American college student, I would
recommend the book "The Opening of the American Mind, Canons, Culture, and
History" by the distinguished American historian Lawrence W. Levine.
Beacon Press 1996.


Ray Evans Harrell, artistic director
The Magic Circle Chamber Opera of New York


Ray Evans Harrell <mcore@IDT.NET>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>