WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Posts tagged ‘education’

The much that’s being made of Internet communications lately (Facebook “families” proliferating like crazy, “tweets” emanating from Iran) has reminded me of something I loved as a kid – comic books with their blips of word and image. And that has brought to mind an after-school project I’ve been following because it, too, appears able to cross all kinds of “borders” in inspiring a population whose multiple needs our clients often seek to address. Eight years ago Michael Bitz launched his first comic book club in an elementary school in Queens, believing the way to get kids really engaged in reading and writing is to use their own media. Since then his project has spread to schools across the country, as well as to older grades. Indeed, Harvard Education Press has now published Manga High: Literacy, Identity, and Coming of Age in an Urban High School, based on a four-year study Bitz, a research associate at Columbia Teachers College, did in Manhattan, where students at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School have taken up the Japanese version of comics or “manga.” Not only have the students learned how to break through the learning inertia that can bog you down in your teens and become adept at transforming their experience into skillful visual and verbal narratives that convey real meaning and fun, they have also become engrossed in all things Japanese. The influences that foster revolution come in many guises.

One of the things I love about assessing an initiative is hearing stories that, taken together, offer up a richly textured and meaningful narrative. One I encountered recently speaks volumes about the lifelong impact that studies are likely to have when kids are given opportunities to be creative. In this case, two Minnesota seventh graders were asked to come up with a project for National History Day – a contest conducted by the University of Maryland in which a half million participate annually. The topic: triumph and tragedy. Having learned from her older sister’s fiancé, a history buff stationed in Okinawa, that the U.S. rounded up and interned Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, Michelle Reed was stunned and invited her friend Carly Gutzmann to find out why. Alert to their own contemporary environment, the two recognized immediately it as a “huge act of profiling” and were appalled that no one seemed to know about it. After doing a year’s worth of primary research they produced a documentary. But they also spawned an amazing chain reaction in deciding to make an origami paper “crane” to honor each of the 120,313 incarcerated. You can read more about the girls’ efforts here and here and get a sense of their peer’s creativity here. The lesson learned? “It’s all about not being a bystander,” says Michelle.

Learning Science in Informal Environments: People, Places, and Pursuits, a new publication from the National Academies Press, makes it abundantly clear that both adults and children can learn from the informal looking, listening, and manipulating that they do as they move through exhibits and activities at children’s museums, aquaria, and science museums. In addition, the report points out the many different kinds of effects that informal learning can have: motivation, curiosity, facts, and even a sense of membership in the community of individuals who do, think, and love science. The report has bold implications for exhibition design, staff training, and evaluation whether the content is triceratops, Turner, or the Civil War.

Lifelong Creative Learning

February 5th, 2009

In a previous issue of OOM, Dr. Dennie Wolf drew our attention to three books that raise “important questions about the role that arts and cultural organizations could play in breaking down the stubborn correlation between a young person’s wealth…and the likelihood that her gifts will be discovered and cultivated.” Dr. Wolf stirs us to think about plasticity in not only children’s development, but throughout one’s life. Too often we are under the impression that as we age, our opinions, habits, feelings, and prospects become ever-more crystallized, and our futures increasingly pre-determined by our pasts. This is, however, an illusion, fostered only by the network of correlated constraints we each encounter in our routine daily lives. It is only when some extraordinary effort is undertaken or some truly unusual event occurs that these networks become disrupted, and the malleability of our development, at any age, is rediscovered. Perhaps this explains to some extent the transformative power of arts and culture, which whether through sustained outreach programs or a single event may change lives by disrupting networks so that new ones can be created.

Wall Street Journal

Leon Botstein is a multi-talented individual who is the long-time President of Bard College and also an accomplished conductor. He runs an innovative festival each summer at Bard that explores broad themes in the music world through performance and symposia. He is also responsible for bringing architect Frank Geary’s work to Bard with the design of a beautiful concert hall. In October, he wrote about the fate of classical music. He was quite upbeat (while others have been pessimistic) and his words are strangely comforting. Among other things, he says that crises crop up in the field when inertia and excessive caution set in, and that we must learn to innovate and learn from those institutions making their programs challenging and relevant while reaching out beyond the confines of a concert hall. “Above all,” he says, “let’s abandon politically correct notions about how ethnicity and class constitute barriers to the appreciation of classical music, a universally admired dimension of high culture and the human imagination.”

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