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.’

Hand-made clothing and thinking for one’s self

I believe part of the answer to America’s economic crisis is a return to self-sufficient local communities, including local small-scale farming and the establishent of individual and community gardens, as well as a shift to regional small-scale manufacturing to produce the FEW goods of necessity which justify automated mass-production.  I do not think, by and large, that clothing production should be automated — except for local small-scale plants which produce basic, hardy cloths (denim for example) used as a ‘staple’ for many different things besides clothing.

Accordingly, I believe deeply in the value of handmade clothing (really I believe deeply in the value of handmade almost ANYTHING:  a person truly close to God is a person who knows how to work with his hands and loves working with his hands and VALUES working with his hands!  It is almost sinful to be blase about the value of your own hands). 

This morning I was trying to find information online about a wonderful festival I attended outside Dallas in 1997 called ‘Sheep to Shawl.’  At that festival I met a couple who run a small sheep farm in Duncanville and who sell the wool from their sheep (which they shear themselves) to local individuals who card and dye it by hand, then sell to local purveyors of knitting yarns.  Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous.  Anyway, in doing that google search, I happened upon the blog of knitter and free-thinker Donna Druchunas, a resident of Colorado (you’ve got to love that state).  I hope Donna does not hate me (or sue me!), but I am going to reprint an excerpt of one of her blog posts here, because it is just too wonderful:

Do you know how to think for yourself?  I didn’t learn this important skill until I was almost thirty years old.  In grade school I memorized times tables and spelling, in high-school I learned how to pass standarized tests, and in church I was taught to follow rules simply because they were written in the Bible.

Today, someone got pissed off at me on the Knit Design group because I said that I think that many knitters suffer from an inability think for themselves regarding their knitting because they got gipped in school. Instead of learning how to think, we were mostly taught what to think. This has consequences in many areas of life, including knitting.

We were talking about the differences between line-by-line instructions and charts, and I said that in my classes, I find that many people have troubles with charts because they try to translate each symbol into words and then translate the words into stitches on their needles. The techniques I teach allow knitters to move directly from symbol to stitch, without looking at the chart legend every few stitches. I try to help my students learn how to read their knitting, so they can also memorize the patterns they are working on and free themselves from needing to slavisly follow line-by-line instructions or charts.

When I teach lace knitting classes and show my students how to read their knitting so they can anticipate mistakes as they go, by matching their knitting up to a chart, instead of blindly following instructions without paying attention to the fabric on their needles, I always have 2 or 3 students who are so excited to learn that THEY are in charge of their knitting and that they can decide what is right and wrong in a pattern for themselves.

Too many knitters go along blithely following the line-by-line instructions in a pattern without understanding how knitting stitches are formed, what the shapes of garment pieces should look like, or how the stitches on their needles work to create the pattern stitches they are trying to make. Without these skills, they are destined to remain chained to patterns, always worried about what to do if there’s a mistake in the instructions. How freeing it is to grow past this beginner stage!

The person on the Knit Design group who attacked me, said I was being insulting by criticizing the US educational system. Far from it! Criticizing a faulty system has nothing to do with insulting the people who have gone through that system. The students in my classes are intelligent and bright women. But some of them have gotten ripped off by an educational system that did not give them the confidence or critical thinking skills they need to realize that they do not have to follow rules and stay inside the lines! I hope that confidence and independence are two things I can impart to all of my students, regardless of their knitting skill level or past educational history.

Do I still knit from patterns? Sure. Sometimes it’s relaxing to make a design that someone else has figured out for me! But my ability to understand the underlying logic of patterns and the structure of knitting stitches and garment shapes, means that I can continue even if there’s a mistake in the pattern or if I want to make some changes to the design to suit my own tastes and body shape.

If I didn’t learn to think for myself for almost thirty years, that just shows that it’s never too late to gain the confidence needed to stop being a follower.

Question Authority is my favorite motto and it applies in knitting as much as anywhere else!

Please check out Donna’s blog for yourself — and learn to knit!  My daughter Bethany knits (although I am ashamed to admit I do not:  I do cross-stitch and used to do crochet in my youth, but that is the limit of my needlecraft skill). 

Donna can be found on the web at www.sheeptoshawl.com.  

Diane Stranz