Why “education reform” won’t work

April 30, 2009

We need to forget what we think we are in order to become who we really are. – Paulo Coelho

It seems that the topic of “education reform” has been mentioned more frequently in the first 100 days of the Obama presidency than I have heard in the last several years. The dialog has not made headlines in the way that swine flu, the collapse of Wall Street, or even Dancing with the Stars has. But the fact that we have heard a speech outlining long-term education reform strategies, and several New York Times columnists chiming in on this topic says to me that a little red light has gone on.

I see it in my own experience. I come from an immigrant family that valued education over almost everything else, the only exception being protection of good health. Call it the old-school values that focused mostly on the basics beyond survival, since luxuries were few for my parents’ generation. And not just my parents. In President Obama’s memoir, he tells the story of his mother waking him up every morning to tutor him in English, so that he would have access to the American education system one day. When the young Obama complained, she replied, “This is no picnic for me either, Buster!”

I would argue that the very values that made America what it is today, and what we value most about living here, are also the reasons why full-scale “education reform”, if pursued only from a government policy perspective, won’t work. Individual freedom of expression, the freedom to live by any values you choose, without government intervention or limitation, are to be celebrated. They are the foundation of this country’s greatness and sustainability.

But a real education “system” requires agreement by a society – or at least a community – on the values that surround education. I live in the Bay Area, specifically the Peninsula south of San Francisco, which is characterized by the pluralism of choices in education that reflect the beauty of American individualism. Read the rest of this entry »

OPEN HOUSE – Saturday, May 16

April 29, 2009

Interested in witnessing The Music Within Us community in action? Come and watch our Saturday morning repertoire class on Saturday, May 16, 2009!

When: 9:30AM – 10:00AM Class observation #1

10:15AM – 10:45AM Class observation #2

*You are welcome to stay for either one or both classes. Parents AND children are invited to attend.

Where: 2483 Old Middlefield Way, Suite 150, Mountain View, CA 94043

Suite 150 is located in the rear of the complex. Las Muchachas Restaurant is in the front.

Enrollment for 2009-2010 is currently by waiting list only. Attendees at the Open House will be contacted regarding a parent informational seminar and the application process for the waiting list.

The Music Within Us

April 15, 2009

Yesterday I received an advance copy of a book entitled, “Talk About Music”. The art was created by my students, ages 4 through 10, to commemorate the past year of growth and learning in The Music Within Us program. I flipped through the pages of individually created drawings, paintings, and words describing my students’ experiences with music – what it means to them, or what they like about it – and I was overcome with awe. I have always felt that children are the truth, embodied for us adults to see and nurture and encounter, as a window to our own souls. What I see in the souls of each of my students is their wholeness, their uniqueness, and their infinite capacity to do, to know, and to feel.

Listening to music feels nice. I really like the violin. I don’t know why I just really like it. – Noah, age 7 (3rd year playing violin)

My violin is a dancing butterfly. – Soria, age 8 (5th year playing violin)

Music is important because it makes people happy. – Audrey, age 7 (3rd year playing violin)

Playing music means to me I know how to make a person happy or sad depending what the music feels like or how the person who is playing feels. – Sinead, age 9 (4th year playing violin)

Violin is love and beautiful. – Milan, age 4 (1st two months playing violin)

I wish I could share all of the quotes, the artwork, and the faces of the children here. But these quotes capture the essence of what is true and pure in the hearts of children. Read the rest of this entry »

Habits: gone but not forgotten?

April 13, 2009

A recent LA Times article discusses the phenomenon of habit formation. Neuroscience researchers talk about the fact that once a habit is formed, it never completely disappears from the brain. But breaking a habit IS possible, if you have a very strong motivation to do so (because it is hard, hard work).

One model of habit formation is that it starts out as a “goal-directed behavior,” an action that we perform because we expect to achieve a certain goal. If we repeat that same behavior in the same situation, regardless of whether the goal is there, the behavior eventually becomes a habit – something we do just because we are in that situation, not because we are trying to achieve a goal.

Interesting to think about this in terms of violin practice. Read the rest of this entry »

The Harvard Fallacy

April 11, 2009

I’m about to throw out something that could offend some people or come across as snarky, so consider this fair warning.

I went to Harvard. I graduated “with honors”, having dutifully written my senior thesis on the role of Complement Receptor 2 in the progression of lupus in a mouse model. In plain English, I described what happened when we bred mice deficient in a certain protein, and the results looked a lot like the human disease called lupus. Two copies of my thesis, leather-bound, are sitting on a shelf somewhere in my parents’ house. I’ve done some other things since then, each of which may sound “sexy” in its own way, to different groups of people. I graduated from medical school. I was a partner in a private equity firm. I started my own business, teaching children the fundamentals of learning and life through violin.

But what if, even after all of that, I haven’t yet taken the greatest risk that could lead to the full manifestation of my creative life force, and fulfillment of the remaining dormant dreams within me? What if my need for success at each step of my life – the declaration that “failure is not an option” – has not only led to a series of “successes” but also in fact limited my potential? Read the rest of this entry »

What can our bodies tell us about our lives?

April 8, 2009

This is my spring break week, and as some of you know I have been dealing with a lot of re-examination and assessment in the past few months, spanning all aspects of my life.

So I decided – totally spontaneously – to use this week to take better care of myself by going to at least one yoga class every day, and only doing things I decide I need to do (not just responding out of obligation to emails, or social calls, etc). In other words, I’m practicing conscious selfishness this week. Yesterday I took 3 yoga classes. Today I just got back from one, and will go to another tonight. What I’ve realized is that the past two years, in which I have not been able to practice yoga because my teaching schedule has taken priority in my life, and after that my social schedule has been second, I myself – the care of my physical body – came last. I now do only a weekly Spinning class on Mondays, which makes me feel better that I have gotten my heart rate up, but does little to nothing for the mobility of my body.

The yoga classes have revealed that all of my violin teaching (about 25-30 hours per week) and computer time (most of the other waking hours) have taken a huge toll on my shoulders, and my right forearm. My right shoulder is permanently internally rotated. My left shoulder and collar bone are slightly higher than my right. My right forearm, where the tendons of the wrist extensor muscles insert in my elbow is completely knotted (“tennis elbow”, except from violin and laptop computer ergonomics). Read the rest of this entry »

Learning and Entrepreneurship

April 7, 2009

One of my favorite teachers – someone who makes his own life lessons transparent in all of his work and has followed his heart through life – is Brian Johnson, the founder of PhilosophersNotes. What I admire about him is the honesty and self-awareness with which he talks about his own journey, having started three different businesses so far (he is 34 years old). He is a self-proclaimed student of life, and PhilosophersNotes is his “PhD in living”.

Check out this interview with Brian on mixergy.com.

More on teaching versus learning

April 7, 2009

This kernel of truth from my yoga instructor this morning: “Want to give a gift to your teacher? Do the work of learning and show the progress you have experienced. Period. Don’t offer me gifts! Literally, the greatest joy I experience as a teacher comes from seeing my students progress, because then I know they have experienced the joy of learning for themselves.

In total honesty, I am a teacher at heart, because I do experience a transcendent joy when I see any one of my students progress through one of their personal challenges. And by “progress” I mean not glossing over it, not trying to find an easier way out, but really doing the work of learning. And yes, sometimes there are tears along the way. I still have tear stains on my violin and I remember plenty of moments in my own learning that seemed impossibly hard. But eventually I did learn. I didn’t stop at the tears. I let them flow, but then I kept going back to try again.

Now, as an adult who is five years into a new venture as professional teacher, I ask what it is that I would like to see my students learn (make possible for themselves), AND what it is that I am teaching (demonstrating to be possible).

In any learning environment, there is an interplay between these two things – what the students are expected to learn and what is being taught by the teacher. There are teachers all around. In a classroom, each of the students is also a teacher. By giving an answer, by participating in a certain way, by listening, by exerting effort – all of these are demonstrations of what is possible. But in order to progress, each student must actually learn for themselves. This is a personal process, something experienced internally first before it can be demonstrated externally.

What I most want my students to learn is Read the rest of this entry »

Progress…what is it?

April 6, 2009

What have I been taught by being a teacher?

One of the most important lessons my students have taught me is that we must continually go toward what is difficult. Instead of avoiding pain at all costs, we must continue to ask, “Where am I having difficulty? Why am I experiencing difficulty? What can I do differently so that I can learn from this difficulty?” My mantra of learning comes from this little line from Paulo Coelho: “Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself.” So in order to learn from a difficulty, you must stay with it, train yourself, seek guidance, explore your own wisdom, use the tools you have as well as acquire the ones you don’t have, until you make that difficult thing possible for yourself. In other words, my students have taught me that the greatest gifts are the things that we find most difficult.

In teaching me this, they have only demonstrated to me that it is possible to face difficulties, instead of avoiding them or trying to create shortcuts that make them “easier”, and to experience authentic growth.

But have I really learned it? Have I made this possible for myself? Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching versus Learning

April 2, 2009

“Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself.”

- Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

This was one of those passages that stopped me in my tracks, just last night, as I lay in bed reading a few pages of my latest Paulo Coelho dose. The Pilgrimage is the predecessor to Coelho’s most acclaimed bestseller, The Alchemist, and is an autobiographical account of his journey by foot through southern France and Spain, a path called the Road to Santiago. The geographical details of the journey aren’t the point. It is the learning of the journey that Coelho so beautifully illuminates in his storytelling.

So the question is, how is each of us both a teacher and a learner? Read the rest of this entry »


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