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.