Sunday, February 3, 2013

Week 4- FLOW


Last week in class, we discussed the concept of flow looking at the handout that was given out.  Many things came up durring that conversation. One of the concepts that was brought out was the idea that there may seem like there is a lack of sharing of beneficial ideas during class among the members.  I made the point that it really depends on whether the individual feels in some way accepted by the group that they are addressing and that will dictate whether or not something will be shared or how much of it will be shared.  There are, of course, other factors that have the ability to affect this such as if it is required for someone's earning a living. As future and current teachers, we will (and some of us already have already been) do(ing) this for a living; talking in front of people; running a classroom.  So why is it that some of us choose to stay quiet rather than be vocal about the things that we are passionate about in this particular class?  I think it can be traced back to a number of factors. Some people are sleepy at this time of the morning particularly at this time durring the year when it is so dark in the early morning hours; so being engaging in a discussion is not something they can readily participate in just yet.  Some people are feverishly taking notes and/or listening and dare not interrupt the flow of the discussion.  Some are not at a time in their life where they've had enough experience to coment on certain aspects of life.  Some are just unsure about what they feel about this or that.  

When considering the concept of "Flow", it is concievable that some people may be in a high anxiety state; perhaps due to their lack of ability; I believe more believable is their lack of confidence in their own abilities or their lack of awareness of their own abilities.  There is also the possibility that there are other challenging things going in their lives that make it hard to focus their energy.  

When we talk about flow, it occurs to me that there are many who miss out on that feeling; of being in the flow of learning and understanding in every area.  I have met many people who upon having real conversations with them, it is clear that the person is intelligent and thoughtful and could contribute so much to the world; however they may have chosen a life that doesn't really contribute anything positive to the world, or at the very least are working in an area and at a profession that is far below their intellectual abilities.  When I was a child, I naturally had an inclination towards learning new things.  I loved watching Sesame Street and other shows featured on PBS about learning.  Learning was this thrilling experience; however despite that; I still had some problems scholastically during my teen years.  I never did consistantly badly, however my school work was nothing to write home all.  At best, I probably had a a low B average in highschool.  I was dealing with so much trouble and emotional turmoil in my own life with many hurtful and painful things going on in my own family; that it was hard to focus on school.   I was depressed much of the time.  I was also dealing with trying to keep a horrible secret about an event that took place in my life as a little child; while at the same time dealing with family members that were not only emotionally troubled themselves; but were also from other countries; which of course made me even more isolated than I already was. Needless to say: school was not my main focus; it was survival. Although I never had to worry about finances and whether or not the place I was living in was physically safe or whether or not I would be able to eat or not, I did, however, have a challenge in terms of emotionally surviving in the environment that I was living in.  

As I sat in another class last week, the professor quoted a statistic saying that at an alarming rate, researchers have found that many African American boys begin giving up on school and learning at the age of nine.  What an alarming statistic.  There is so much to be learned at that age; that's when learning should be the most fun; you would think.  But the reality is that for so many children, there is an issue of generational poverty, institutionalzed racism, broken families, violence in their neighborhoods and worse than all these is the normalization of these things.  How can a student being brought up in a broken home with no contact with his father, stuck in a neighborhood that is not physically safe because of violence (partly brought on by poverty), how can that student be expected to enjoy learning?  

They can't really be a little kid; they have a very real understanding of the situation that they live in.  Children in these conditions don't take long to figure out that their lives are less than what they would have hoped for or what their parents would have wanted for them.  So how can a kid like that learn?  Is it really that they just don't want to? Or is it that there are too many distractions for them to even hope to get into the concept of "flow"?    

For that matter, how many people from middle class neighborhoods which includes people of all races and ethnic backrounds get into that euphoric, serenic state of learning Oprah refers to as "ah-ha" moments if they too, are faced with too many distraction in their own lives to focus?  What is interesting to me is that it occurs to me that someone does not have to necessarily have a tumultuous or difficult childhood in order for them to miss out on the joys and benefits of learning and pursuing education.  If they are simply not taught what learning really is, if they are not being raised in atmosphere of learning {in every area of life} which includes admitting that there are things that you don't know......they could concievably live thier entire lives missing out on learning, and missing out on what amazingly great impact they could have had and believing that they are just not one of the people born with the ability to learn; or the ability to learn on that level.  

My family, as a true Caribbean family is vastly huge.  I have one aunt on my mom's side who stayed in Haiti and lived there after everyone else left to come to live in the U.S.  She got married there, and had children there, and raised all of her children there; many of them subsequently ended up coming to the U.S. for education or work purposes; usually a combination of both.  I have a cousin who is a stay- at- home mom; a doctor by trade who attended medical school in Haiti.  She chose to stay at home with her children after she had them partly because her husband; also a doctor, went on to medical school in the U.S. and become a kidney specialist.  Needless to say, my cousin and her husband are very well off and by some standards may even be considered rich.  Thier children have always attended private schools all of their lives.  Their oldest son graduated from Yale, went on to enter and complete the Teach for America program and is now in law school and their youngest daughter studied at Layola University and is now a registered nurse.  When my little cousins were children, their mother was very passionate about them getting a good education and doing well in school. They were on a very strict no TV policy durring the week so that they could focus and do their homework.  I remember going over my cousin's house during the week and seeing my little cousins who are ten and twelve years my junior sitting at thier desks or on thier beds in their room studying in college students....when they were still in junior high.  I know that they probably did not have course work that was that hard in middle school, but I also know that their mother would push for them to have more school work so that they could be challenged.  
Of course these study habits followed them into their high school years which is clearly a contributor to them getting into the prestegious universities that they got into.  I guess that's the point.  When I was in high school, I NEVER remember doing anything in any subject that took more than an hour.  If I happened to have more than one assignment due, then it could take the whole night; or if I had to review material for a final that I never began untill the night before.  But not watching TV untill the weekend...? Unheard of.  What do you mean I can't watch TV? My parents were watching TV, they would never dream of telling me that I couldn't watch TV till the weekend; and my parents were not pushovers by any stretch of the imagination.  Because of the fact that my father was also EXTREMELY strict, and I could barely go out and do anything growing up when the weekend did come; that's the only thing that I had; that and music.  Thank God I had TV and radio, or I may not have survived.

However, when I look at them, my cousins; and look at myself in my educational career as a student; there is not doubt in my mind that when those kids went off to college they were much more prepared than I was when I first went.  I don't think there is any coincidence about the fact that their mother fought for them to be in higher classes and when the family would take vacations to their "motherland" of Haiti, or to other exotic places like the Dominican Republic, or Mexico or Puerto Rico (where my father comes from), or France or Spain; that their mother would actually assign them homework on the plane ride over.  I remember them complaining as any child would when upon packing for their trip to France, their mother tells them that she has a French textbook out of which she has assigned them lessons to complete and that she will be checking to see how much they have completed.....while sitting right next to them on the plain. I remember thinking to myself that she was over the top and that was too much.  Now all these years later; having explored and experienced (STILL experiencing) my own educational journey; and having had experience teaching (or attempting to teach) children from poor neighborhoods; I realize the value of what she was doing.  She was creating for them an atmosphere where they could experience the "flow" of learning.  I was having a conversation with her oldest some years ago when he was still in the TFA program in Boston. He was telling me that he told his students that when it comes to studying, you basically either pay now or pay later.  You either do the hard stuff; the reading, the homework, the reviewing; the things that seem tedious and that none of us really wanna do- you can either do that stuff now; or have to feel even more pressure when you're trying to do it all at the last minute, the night before the exam, quiz, or the night before the paper's due etcetera or feel even more pressure when you fail the quiz, assignment, test, class etc.   
When he was explaining that to me it hit me, that's really it; it's not that people who have achieved greatly  are smarter or more gifted and talented than anyone else per say, it is instead that they choose to do what is hard NOW rather than do what the majority does and wait until later and play catch up.  I think that has more to do with the fact that when you are learning something new; it is downright frustrating.  The older you get, the more frustrating it is.  Particularly if impatience is one of your flaws.  It becomes tedious, frustrating and can even become maddening.  Not to mention if you add outside factors that are beyond your control like a broken home, an unsafe neighborhood, being a child witnessing and living in a house with a bad emotionally and verbally abussive marriage; or being anxious about the implications for the relationships in your own future; or your failing health, or the failing health of a close relative or friend, or you yourself being the victim of some type of abuse; or any combination of those things.  At that point, the frustrating thing about learning can becomes even more frustrating.  

So when I consider how many people are in the world who have basically given up on learning, who have reduced learning down to a means to an end to get a degree or a job or a certain level of status; and who either in pursuit of that or in rebellion against it decide that learning is not for them; it opens my eyes to how many people are missing out on the joys of learning.  And it just seems obvious to me that if you give up on learning academically, where else do you give up on learning? In your personal life, in decisions you make about who your friends are or what type of person you want to be? In how to handle things that are hard? In coping with horrible things that may have happened to you? Where else do you give up on learning?  If you have mistakenly gone in pursuit of comfort from the pain that you've experience in your life looking for solace in a drug and now you have become addicted to that drug, are you even open to the idea that you don't have to live that way...or have you given up on learning a new way to cope with whatever is difficult and just accepted that this is the way your life will be?  

Do you have an oppurtunity to be a great mother or a great father and because you didn't have one and you've decided that you cannot learn or that learning is not for you, do you also give up on the idea of learning how you can be a good parent and role model for your children? Where else do you give up on learning? 

It's a startling question that has an infinite amount of answers.  I think it's important for us to realize that as music educators, that we are part of a big community of educators; charged with the task of pointing our future students; young and old (as some of us will go on to get advance degrees and teach adults) in the direction of success; in whatever field they choose.  Success meaning fulfillment, meaning being a gainfully employed person who is a contributor to society in some fashion.  It may not be as musicians, or to the shagrin of the popular philosophy of pursuing the career that pays the most; it may not be as physicians or attorneys or engineers; but then again maybe it will be.  Maybe it will be as screenplays, and professional atheletes and actors and actresses; maybe it will be as artists or sculptors or painters or photographers; or maybe as more than one of these things. Anything's possible. Whatever success looks like for the individual, I believe it's our job as educators part of an entire community of educators to inspire our students to know that no matter what circumstances they may come from, or what challenging or painful circumstance may be going on in their lives right now( ranging from being in an abussive relationship to dealing with the loss of a loved one) that they CAN learn; and they CAN be in that "FLOW" of learning; and they can apply that  learning process to EVERY area of their life and every challenging thing they will face; and still overcome.  

The free dictionary online ( defines the term "flow" this way:  "to move or run smoothly with unbroken continuity as in the manner characteristic of fluid."  I hope and pray that my life's work as an educator and as a performing artist is something that inspires people to pursue this concept of flow as it relates to learning and living. 


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Week 3- The Music Instinct

This week we watched The Music Instinct which delved into the effect of participating in music on the brain and the body.  In that documentary and in the reading, we heard from Evelyn Glennie, a profoundly deaf percussionist.  In our class discussions, we discussed the effects of music on the whole person from the perspective of the question of the purpose of music.

What struck a chord with me the most was hearing the biological and mental effects that music has people; and therefore the human experience.  It occurs to me that music has the power to express things that we as humans may not necessarily be able to put into words.  It has a way of articulating not only what is the most beautiful of our emotions but also the most uncomfortable horrible emotions that a human can feel all in one piece of music.

It occurs to me that this is why it has such a profound effect on us.  It is said that music has the ability to promote feelings of calm or agitation; fear or relax; serenity or elation.  Evelyn Glennie talked about an autistic boy who had no control over the muscles in his body and had to be restrained most of the time.  She described how this same boy that had to be restrained because of the lack of control that he had over his own muscles was somehow calmed down to a state of physical rest just from lying on the floor and feeling the vibrations of her playing the marimba.

She talked about how as a profoundly deaf musician; people don't really understand how it is that she is able to play so well and understand music so well.  She responds very matter of factly; stating that the same way that someone who is profoundly deaf cannot completely describe how it is that they hear; she also cannot; however they both have access to the idea of "hearing" the music. She points out that essentially how humans hear is mainly through vibrations; which she can feel as well. She just relies more on the vibrations in her feet and arms and hands than in her ears as we who hear do.

It's interesting that as people that study music we spend so much time trying to get everything exactly correct and exactly as we think the composer would have intended for it to sound; and how much that has a tendency to take away from the art of experiencing the music and actually feeling the music.

Monday, January 21, 2013


What is the Purpose of Music Education?
     Last week, the readings and the discussions in class were full of considerations about the purpose of music in modern education.  In so doing, we considered a few arguments.  One of those arguments was the aesthetic view of music education. Proponents of this view are seemingly in gross disagreement with what they feel is a common trend in music education; that is is for music educators to try to sell the purpose of music education as something to only be considered in support of the other "more important" subject like math, reading and english.  They feel strongly that that is not how music education should be viewed.  They feel that music education is about teaching students how to relate to beautiful music; teaching them what beautiful music is and what it sounds like; how to appreciate it and how to create or compose it; or even critique it.  
     Others feel that music education has more of a praxial purpose.  In other words, they feel as though learning music is not just for the sake of learning music; it is for the sake of understanding music from the perpsective of the musicians or composers who's work is being studied.  They feel very intensely that music should be explored by doing and that while aesthetics are definitely a factor, they should not be the only thing that drives the music education program in schools.  They also seem to feel very strongly that students should learn how to "do" music or become "musicers" (David. Elliot).  

     The socialist view of music education is one indicative of the idea that music education should contribute to helping to shape a better and more civilized society.  Cognitive music educators feel that music should no doubt stimulate the brain and mind by inspiring thought and reason. They feel that this philosophy of music education can also support cognitive thinking in other subjects.  When considering which point of view I most align myself with as a music educator, I find that I agree with the aspects of more than one of them.  I do feel that music education is partly the teaching of aesthetics. The teaching of the beauty of the art of music is integral to the human spirit which lends itself not only to the aesthetic but the socialistic view. However, I have to say that the aesthetic philosophy that music education has no other purpose than to teach students how to percieve and recognize beauty is one I disagree with.  I believe also in the theory that music education should be attained by doing as is the praxis view; and that in that; it will lend itself to the understanding of different types of people and the uses and functions of their music as well as the variety and diversity of the theorhetical and aesthetic value of music from the perspective of many different kinds of people.  However, I do not feel that music should ONLY be learned by doing.  I think there has to be room for listening and evaluating and understanding the feeling or time in the lives of the composers or performers.  
I do also believe what studies have definitely shown which is that music education contributes to the cognitive functions of students which does in fact help them excel in other subject areas. I feel that it is not helpful to pit one of these philosophies against the other. I think that one of the perks of an American education is the idea of citizenship and democracy which lend itself to the understanding that it takes scholars in many subjects in order to make a society work.  It is not just math or reading or english that is important; or music or foreign language or physical education; nor is it that choral music is more important than private voice instruction or violin or cello or wind ensemble or marching band etc.  What is true is that our society is a society of people who excel at all of those different subjects and every subcategory that falls under them individually.  I think what is more important is to glean the importance of music education from the perspectives of all of these philosophers and allowing that to guide us as music educators to work together with educators in other fields to point students in the direction of their success and our civilization. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Assignment #1 p. 37

Sarah E. Rios
History and Philosophy of Music Education
January 13, 2013

Assignment #1 p.37


Do Aristotle or Plato offer any insights into the core questions of the class?

1. Does a life in "gymnastics" lead to a life of savegery, and a life solely in music, a life too gentle, too soft?

According to the reading; Socrates and Glaucon would agree (as this is an imaginary discussion between the two) that this is true. 

1. Why does Aristotle believe that education be regulated solely by the state? What are his feelings about private education? To whom is this education restricted?

 Aristotle believed that the neglect of education "does harm the constitution" in that in order for an individual to be a good citizen; one must be molded and suited for the form of government he/she will live under.  He argues "the better the character" of the inhabitants of the government "...the better the government."  Aristotle feels that public education is better than private education.  Private education at the time was more children being kept at home and being educated by his/her mother;as the wife stayed at home and did not work most of the time.  He feels that education instead of being private and relative to the teachings of that particular family; should be uniform for all that live in that society since they all have a common goal of being a civilized society.  He maintains that this education should be regulated and restricted by the state.  

2. What criteria does he recommend one follow in deciding what to teach?

 He describes the customary branches of education in four aspects: i. reading and writing, ii. gymnastics and exercise, iii. music and iv. drawing.  He goes on to  describe that people should be able to work well and use leisure well.  Although he goes on to describe that people should spend all of their time amusing themselves, he does go one to say that although the study of letters, reading and writing and business are important, that music is essential in teaching people how to conduct themselves in leisure. Music is looked at as a means of supporting the other and deemed more important subjects.  Aristotle's view is shared by some even today. 

3. What if one thinks solely about "the useful" in education?
He argues that that if one only thinks about "the useful" in education, that they are in danger of not teaching the next generation other concepts that music can help teach them like nobility and civility.  

4. Should children be taught to play an instrument or just listen?
Aristotle maintains that parents and educators are careful not to teach music that will lead to vulgarity.  He mentions that some in the history of Greece have considered the playing of the flute, lyre and Lydian harp (among other instruments) to lead to produce too much emotion.  He also goes on the state that no freeman should be play instruments or sing for finances, calling professional musicians vulgar.  He says "Nay, we can professional performers vulgar, no freeman would play or sing unless he were intoxicated in jest." 

5. What do you think about Aristotle's argument about contests? And his opinions about performing on various instruments? Are there any parallels to this argument in contemporary life?
He seems to feel that children being trained to the end of competing in contests can be helpful and beneficial to the character.  Although he asserts the vulgarity of becoming a professional musician, he thinks it to be beneficial for children to learn how to play certain musical instruments while they are still young to the end of competition.  He thinks it is important for people to pay attention and care to exactly what instruments are being studied, as he feels that some are more appropriate than others.  I think that there are definitely parallels in contemporary life.  There are some that honor the study and practice of music by children even to the end of competing in recitals and other sorts of contests; however people have a tendency to not want their children to pursue a career in music or any aspect of the performing arts.  Many feel that music and the performing arts is a very unstable profession and should only be practiced as hobbies and not pursued as professions. 

6. Have you heard arguments in contemporary life similar to the following? Do you agree or disagree?  "The vulgarity of the spectator tends to lower the character of the music and therefore of the performers; they look to him, he makes them what they are, and fashions even their bodies by the movements which he expects them to exhibit."
Yes, I have definitely hears arguments in contemporary life to that end.  There have been many formal and informal discussions about the state of music today. Not just music, but all of the media outlets like film and television are being scrutinized for their content.  There are those that argue that the violent images in television shows, movies and even video games contribute to the rising violence among young adults and teenagers in urban and suburban communities.  They blame vulgar and misogynistic, degrading lyrics on the moral compass or lack thereof of partakers of rock n roll of the 60's and 70's  and heavy metal, hip hop and rap of the 80's, 90's and the first decade of the the 21st generation (200-2010).  I partly agree in that I do feel that what one takes in through their ear and eye gates on a constant basis does help to shape what value systems they hold and how they carry themselves; however I also know that there is much more then just music, movies and video games having an effect on today's teenager.  Some would argue that children and teenagers becoming functioning and contributing members of society begins at home with the training and values being instilled in them by their parents, others feel that whether or not the child grows up in a loving home is a factor; or whether or not a child has access to both of his parents.  I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.  All of those factors are important.  There is not one aspect that is more important than another; aside from maybe the factor of a child knowing that they are loved.  Not to say that this is the only thing it takes in order to become an effective contributing member of society; just that all of those factors; including what we watch and what we listen to effect who we are as individuals. 

7. How does Aristotle resolve this dilemma? Are there parallels in contemporary life?

Aristotle seems to suggest that the resolution of this dilemma exists in being careful to teach children the usefulness of harmony and other theoretical concepts of music; rather than the emotional dynamics.  He speaks about the possibility of being too emotionally moved to be of any purpose in society.  There is also evidence in the reading that the society that Aristotle lives in is not the democracy that we as Americans know; but a society of slaves and free men.  The free men, obviously are the educated people while the slaves are not.  There are clear distinctions made between free men and slaves where slaves are not even referred to as people and where slaves are believed to be vulgar and wicked from birth.  There is a great deal of reference to what is useful for a man to learn, since in this society, there probably at this time were not many girls being educated.  That being the case, there were certain things that were considered feminine, or too soft; hence the reference to being careful not to get lost in the leisure and pleasure of music but to learn and to calm down after rigorous exercise or a hard day of working. 
There indeed are parallels in contemporary life.  Again, among some, music and the performing arts in general are things that one does to unwind, or relax or entertain guests; not something that one should pursue as a means of employment.  Even the study of music education, and one taking on the training with the intent of becoming a music education; despite the rigorous education and practice that must be given to it is still, among some looked upon as not the most practical form of employment.  There are some who hold the performing arts and music in very high regard; some for enjoyment, some for the purposes of training and discipline; but there are still some who regard music as something to be enjoyed for entertainment purposes only.  The fact that most musicians that become wealthy are pop starts or other recording artists who spend years putting their lives on public display and missing out on what most would consider a "regular life" among other things only contributes to that opinion.