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Friday, January 9, 2015

Notes From The Education Lab

A year into one of my grand educational experiments, the results seem promising.

I wanted to cultivate a taste for higher things in my kids. I wanted them to experience something more transcendent than the cheap kind of appreciation that consists in deeming great things merely pretty.

I was playing a cd here and a radio station there and realized that playing masterpieces without context and order is just a survey, a lightweight college elective. So I planned an experiment in an attempt to teach a child " praise beautiful things and take delight in them and receive them into his soul to foster its growth and become himself beautiful and good," as Plato would have it.


This was the plan: to play one composer's works repeatedly and not move on until we knew him inside and out...or tolerably well. We started with Vivaldi because I happened to have an album handy.

The first thing I gained was a perfect demonstration of the weakness of the survey method, because the girls immediately began identifying all orchestral music, down to current movie soundtracks, as "Baldy."

But after awhile, they knew Vivaldi better, could identify Baroque flourishes and the sounds of the individual instruments. So I then introduced something completely different, also what I happened to have on hand: a cd of Chopin, all piano. We played these two in between Veggie Tales and jazz and Canadian indie bands, mostly just in the car. We eventually did the same with Beethoven via a Classical Kids story album, and then added Holst's The Planets because we were studying astronomy and needed something to play musical chairs to.

Each time, we listened and discussed and made friends with the music and its author before inviting any new composers in. A year ago they were conflating The Four Seasons and the Indiana Jones Theme. Checking in at about the year mark, here's the result: twice in the past week, while walking around stores with quiet ambient music, Gale Force has stopped to listen and announce, "I know this. This is..." and then correctly identify the composer.

I'm not raising trick ponies or anything, and you're not meant to be impressed, but rather encouraged.  Because though it isn't much to know a few pieces and who wrote them, the fact is that, knowing a few pieces well, Gale Force stopped to listen.

Loving things like Bach etudes or Tolstoy takes work.  Cultivating aesthetic takes time.  But imbuing grace and culture and gentility (don't laugh; I'm no denizen of the worlds I admire) is the larger part of a real education. According to Tracy Lee Simmons, who says many of my favorite things, "Whatever intellectual feats a man might bring off, they were of scant value if he had not first achieved a goodness and tranquility of soul."

So I'm excited.  It was a good year.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! Great, Liz. Great post, great parenting. I wish I knew my classical music better. I did have my radio on Sirius' "Symphony" channel tonight...for what that's worth. Love, Dad