The Role of Arts, Crafts and Music In Education
The journey of school performance improvement gave me the most valuable education of my life. Some of the greatest challenges faced by teachers were classroom management, student engagement and discipline and behavior. They would say children are not motivated to learn. Student attendance before and after the holidays fell dramatically. Teachers and Administrative Supervisors were struggling to the utmost to say the least, until Miss Tammy Tusek introduced the school leadership to the fact that you cannot enter a child’s real world by force, it’s a trust-based privilege to which entry is By Invitation Only.
I understood this as a concept, but I had zero 1 to 1 experience on a personal level. My life was dominated by work since the age of 26, until I relocated to Jordan over a year ago and was hosted by my cousin Niveen for a couple of months till our household items arrived from Dubai. She has a 6-year-old boy Saif, and Celine age 4.
Our home in Dubai was mostly very quiet. Even our three German Shepherds were so well trained that they only let out a couple of barks if someone was at the gate. My cousin’s home by contrast was bursting with the vibrant sounds of little curious children from morning till night where most things represented a new experience. I greatly appreciated technology in the first couple of weeks because their parents’ smart phones and tablet were keeping them occupied, until I started paying close attention. I had apparently developed a deep need to connect with them but while they were focused on the gadgets, they were closed off to the world around them. I was getting increasingly frustrated about not being able to reach them. Conversations with Saif remained superficial where I got mono-syllabled responses. If I asked him to do something, I would generally be ignored. I approached this new situation as I normally do most others in life; analyze my feelings, the situation and my approach and take thoughtful action. So I decided if the day will be about marathoning between Government departments until the business is set up, I should spend an hour at least in the evening with the kids.
The next day I bought with their grandfather, who was greatly amused by the choice, an assortment of colorful beads and string and I asked Saif to work with me on making a bracelet for his grandmother. As I started teaching him, we started talking. We were having a real conversation for the first time. I told him while he was focused on inserting the string into the tiny holes in the beads without a needle, that this can only be accomplished with patience, focus and perseverance. I started noticing signs of the early formation of his personal values from his reactions and words….He worked for so long that evening on the bracelet while I was holding the string from the other end, and when he only had one left, I accidently dropped the string. He looked in shock as the beads bounced on the ground. I said: “I’m so sorry Saif, please forgive me”. He responded calmly and patiently: “Don’t worry about it. It’s okay. We’ll do it again, don’t feel bad”.
To provide him with a visual reference of what focus and patience can achieve, I showed him the video of the Master Artist of micro-sculptures, Willard Wigan and told him his story. I told him how his teacher treated him but without labelling the teacher’s behavior. He rewarded me with insight into another of his values, he recognized when someone was being mean and hurtful to another and it showed on his face that he was upset and even slightly disgusted by the teacher’s treatment of Wigan as a little boy.
Saif made bracelets for his grandmothers and all of his aunts and with every new one he got more creative. He would tell his aunts, because he was having a shortage of beads of the same colors, that he would mix two colors. He would run to get his big bag of beads and string and ask them to choose which two colors they preferred. So he had an appreciation that his aunts needed to choose their preferred colors. His mom never takes off the bracelet he made her when he first started learning how to make them.
Once as I was reading him a story which featured ants, he asked me a question to which I responded he should look it up. He could work with family members to help him research it. I told him I would get him a gift if he found the answer by the deadline. He asked his grandfather to help him and my gift was the type that I knew would allow me to spend even more time with him, a jigsaw puzzle. He was so exited that he wanted to start working on it right away. His mom and I made our hot coco’s and we started helping him in putting it together. He expressed that Celine was getting on his nerves because she was messing up what we were completing. He told her annoyedly to stop playing with us. So I asked him to ask his little sis to help us because with collaboration we could finish faster. We asked her to put all the pieces of the same color on one side. I was extremely happy to see that she knew the names of the colors, she could recognize the different shades and she looked for each color and handed it to us as we asked or set it aside along with the others of the same shade. A little over an hour later the mission was accomplished to everyone’s satisfaction and delight.
Saif and I now enjoy a close relationship. We have discussions where he generously opens up and takes me further into his own little beautiful world. I would have missed out on that opportunity had I continued to focus only on my work, my needs and especially the need for quiet. Some of my happiest moments involve Saif and Celine including when we played with balloons, mom and dad joining in. We all had a good laugh that night.
But I was also greatly surprised when Saif and I were going through a book about animals in the wild and I said: “Saif imagine that…”. He said: “what do you mean imagine?” I said: “try to picture something in your head”. He said he didn’t understand. Then I realized it was something we needed to work on.
Imagination is the womb where creativity is conceived. I watched Netflix’s documentary yesterday called The Creative Brain. The Gathered Gallery Blog posted about it: “Creativity is not only crucial for innovation and forward progress in the field of fine arts, but also in science, cuisine, and every other field pushing the boundaries of what currently exists. Michelle Khine, a scientist working in nanotechnology research, explained, “In order to advance science, you have to be creative, because otherwise, you’re just creating the same things that have already been created and you’re thinking about things the same way everyone else has thought about it.” Dr. Michelle Khine’s innovation featured in Phys.org as the Shrinky Dink Solution which reads: “A UC Irvine assistant professor in biomedical engineering drew upon the hours she spent playing with Shrinky Dinks in her childhood — thin plastic sheets that can be colored with paint or ink and then shrunk with heat — to solve a problem in her research on how chemical cues affect cell activity. The work earned Khine a spot on Technology Review’s 2009 TR35, an annual list of 35 innovators under 35 in business and technology worldwide. Technology Review is published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With the Shrinky Dink method, Khine says, researchers can easily and cheaply design and develop custom microfluidic chips within minutes. “And all they’ll need is a laser printer and a toaster oven,” she says.”
The documentary made me think of the unfocused arts and crafts and PE classes at some schools with lesson plans and class schedules splattered across the calendar like an afterthought. Or how some parents in Jordan or the Middle East object against their kids taking music education at school.
Unfortunately, we are not yet fully aware of the benefits of how the development of interests and skills outside of numeracy and literacy related to sports, arts and crafts, dance and music makes them happier children. USC posted that arts education “ changes young lives” “It creates an outlet for self-expression and opens doors to new cultures and ideas”. They note a study conducted by USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) which “revealed that instrument instruction appears to accelerate brain development. Neuroscientists compared schoolchildren learning to play musical instruments with peers who weren’t. They found that the young musicians had more-developed auditory pathways, which connect the ear to the brain. The more-developed pathways could potentially jumpstart a child’s abilities in areas beyond music, such as language and reading.” The article further mentions “A 2015 Korean study proposed that music and dance instruction may reduce the risk of depression and increase self-esteem in children. A 2013 study by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, based in France, suggested that music education strengthens IQ, academic performance, word decoding and phonological skills; that theater education strengthens verbal skills; and that students who study visual arts are stronger in geometrical reasoning.”
Some parents say: “enough with that nonsense and focus on your studies”. The history of humanity provides multiple examples of artists who actively explored mathematics in their artwork. Mathematics has itself been described as an art motivated by beauty. “The engraver Albrecht Dürer made many references to mathematics in his work Melencolia I.” A basic Wikipedia search tells us “Other relationships include the algorithmic analysis of artworks by X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, the finding that traditional batiks from different regions of Java have distinct fractal dimensions, and stimuli to mathematics research, especially Filippo Brunelleschi‘s theory of perspective, which eventually led to Girard Desargues‘s projective geometry. A persistent view, based ultimately on the Pythagorean notion of harmony in music, holds that everything was arranged by Number, that God is the geometer of the world, and that therefore the world’s geometry is sacred.”
All of humanity is thankful that Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Angelo, Tolstoy, Chekov, Shakespeare, Poe, Milan Kundera, Baryshnikov, B. B. King and the great artists of the world since the beginning of time didn’t ask themselves, what’s the point?
On yet another personal note, I’m very grateful that my cousin Tareq Al Jundi, a highly renowned Oud musician regionally, has resisted all the push back against his desire to become a musician instead of a chemical engineer. “How will you support your family in the future as a musician?” the family questioned. But he couldn’t betray his calling, his vocation. He fought hard to become the person he is today. Married to a musician and teacher, Ala’a Takrouri in the below piece beautifully playing the flute.
As a teacher he knows and deeply understands the struggles that children go through with their own desire for an outlet for self-expression. He mentioned this statement in an interview that I will never forget: “I don’t only teach music for music itself, but it is so that a child would develop a sense of community, citizenship and aesthetic values to the point that they would prevent him or her from throwing waste on the road.”
From a corporate and team leader’s perspective, some of the best professionals I worked with needed a lot of development in teamwork. I once had to let a Group HR Manager go whose advanced skills in technology and numeracy we really needed for HR Analytics’ implementation in the organization, but made the team feel miserable. They were afraid to contradict him whereas our basic team principles necessitated that everyone speak bluntly and honestly in relation to creative work and projects. It enhanced the creative process and our performance in various projects. They started dreading coming to work the next day.
Music and arts and crafts education develop children’s manual dexterity, teamwork, discipline, self-confidence, provide an outlet for creativity and a constructive release of energy – Where angels play, the devil has no playground. Music and art also enable us to elevate into a different type of humans altogether where we no longer think about what makes us different from one another, but they join us in a bond of humanity.
This epic performance by Dr. L. Subramaniam, Jean Luc Ponty and Billy Cobham is a clear example of that, where three magnificent musicians from different cultures take on the lives of those instruments, become those instruments, and sublimely merge into a combustion of beauty itself, transcending all thought and words in all the different languages of the world into the language of the immortals.