Diane Stranz on American Life


Play a Musical Instrument

Check out this short, to the point, blogpost by a man named Chuck:  Play a Musical Instrument.  Chuck’s blogpost cites an MIT study to the effect that playing a musical instrument can increase the size of the cerebral cortex by 30%.  My son’s fabulous violin teacher Colby Howe (at the Main Street School of Music) mentioned this study to me yesterday . . . except he says those results were found in adults who began learning a musical instrument no later than age 11.  This further supports my belief that it is a fundamental human right of personhood to be taught how to make music at a young age, and all discussions about educational reform simply must take this fundamental right into account.

We have public Pre-K for 3 year olds, and Dr. Shinichi Suzuki has designed a simple and effective method for group violin instruction beginning at age 3.  Would it really be that difficult to make Suzuki violin instruction a compulsory component of Pre-K 3 programs in the U.S.?

This past May I saw a news story on The View about Chinese high school and college students using IV drips to ‘get an edge on the academic competition’ (since IVs enable them to study for 12 hours straight without having to take breaks).  NO, NO, NO CHILD!  ‘Learning under compulsion takes no hold upon the  mind’ (Thomas Jefferson), most individuals need regular breaks from study in order to remain sane and ensure retention of the material being studied . . . not to mention that holding one’s body hostage in the name of ‘learning’ is not progress towards the full-flowering of human potential but yet another form of societal punishment.

I don’t agree with much of what I hear on talk shows like The View and The Talk (on the rare occasions I watch), and what appalled me greatly was the insinuation that ‘maybe American students should consider trying this IV approach.’  OMG, NO, NO, NO AGAIN!  The first century christian writer Didache said there are two ways through life:  the way of life and the way of death.   The Way of Life is expanding the intellect of children by teaching 3 year olds to play the violin and playing classical music during reading and study periods to reap the intellectual benefits of The Mozart Effect The Way of Death is hooking young bodies up to IVs in order to facilitate ‘learning under compulsion.’

Please, America, let’s not let our current economic challenges terrify us into pursuing ‘the way of death.’  We do not have to compromise our right to a joyful life in order to become economically whole, and no one should be a slave to their jobs or to their so-called ‘education.’



Harry Potter is not a Role Model
February 22, 2009, 6:47 pm
Filed under: Children and Parenting, Literature | Tags: , , , , ,
Parents are the persons primarily responsible for molding their children into moral human beings of character.  Just as a parent should be concerned about a child’s nutritional intake, a parent should also be concerned about a child’s reading diet.  J. K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter books constitute a very poor reading diet.
 
I have done research on J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter Mania for years, including that I have read parts of the Harry Potter series for myself.  I am primarily turned off by the fact that Harry and his friends are all very small of character, immature, grudge-filled and essentially mean-spirited.  Fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin, who I respect, holds the same opinion:
When so many adult critics were carrying on about the “incredible originality” of the first Harry Potter book, I read it to find out what the fuss was about, and remained somewhat puzzled; it seemed a lively kid’s fantasy crossed with a “school novel”, good fare for its age group, but stylistically ordinary, imaginatively derivative, and ethically rather mean-spirited.
I am also convinced that Rowling’s ADD type of story-telling actually destroys a child’s interest in classic children’s literature.  There is a young student librarian at our local branch library who told me one day last summer (while I was perusing the shelf of children’s literature awarded the Newbery medal for excellence) that Newbery books are ‘entirely too boring’ for ‘the modern generation’ of readers, and that ever since she read the Harry Potter books she has no interest in any books which do not demonstrate a similar ‘fantasy/action adventure’ pace and story line (hence the rise of more obnoxiously poor books like the Lemony Snicket series, etc. etc.)
 
As literary critic Philip Hensher wrote in The Spectator in 2003:  “Rowling is not a subtle writer, and one of the tiresome things about her books is how routinely they resort to turning up the volume, rather than describing anything vividly.”  Yes, I agree.  Constant action, violence and emphasis on ‘good versus evil’ does not advance civilization in a peaceful, cooperative, loving, gentle direction — whereas numbers of good children’s books do:  Doris Gates’ Blue Willow, Lois Lenski‘s The Giver, Kate DiCamillo‘s The Tale of Despereaux, Paul Zindel‘s The Pigman, Scott O’Dell‘s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s Little House on the Prairie series, E. L. Konigsburg‘s The View from Saturday, Jean Craighead George‘s Julie of the Wolves, Ann Nolan Clark’s Secret of the Andes, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  To name only a very few, of course.
 
Why waste our children’s time reading trash when there is so much good literature waiting to be discovered?  Horse trainers know that once you train a horse to ride Western saddle (which has far fewer demands and expectations of the horse than English saddle) you can never again get the horse to agree to/cooperate with being ridden English saddle.  I believe that once a child is permitted to indulge in a ‘reading diet’ of Harry Potter type fantasy, you cannot again get him or her back into a ‘meatier diet’ of genuine literature.  I may be wrong, but with my own children I prefer to err on the side of caution and feed only the meatier diet.
 
To date my 7-year-old son Jeffrey and I have worked our way through only a few chapter books — including Elizabeth George Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver, which Jeffrey loved — and my point to him is that we are not going to waste time on Harry Potter books when there are SO MANY MUCH BETTER BOOKS we still have not yet read!  Books which teach children how to evaluate and respond to moral crises in real life.  Reading should entertain and teach, but it should also help mold character and values.  And it is a parent’s job to care about that.