Monthly Archives: November 2011

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Education and the Arts: A Cultural Crossroads

November 17, 2011

DVYMO November 21, 2009

Everything changes.
Everything is connected.
Pay attention.
–Ancient Buddhist Proverb

What does it feel like when your world is out of balance, off kilter, or out of control? Koyaanisqatsi, the Hopi word meaning- A life out of balance -is born of the Native American understanding that the world and all living things are related and in a constant state of change. Change and transformation are a natural part of human evolution. How harsh or how mild that process will be is determined by the attitude and the intention of our actions. As we are witnessing a collective worldwide movement of uprising– demonstrations against the unjust imbalance of power and alarming rise in poverty, one must wonder…how is it that this is occurring not as an isolated incident in a remote corner of the world, but rather as a surge, a domino effect, gaining power with the momentum of a tidal wave, as it leads to one collective voice, “ We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore” moment in history.

The massive paradigm shift that is happening, in order to create effective change, must be accompanied by the realization that a healthy, thriving society is continuously created by the rise of educated young people, excited, armed with knowledge and creativity, empowered to forge exciting, innovative solutions and technologies, enabling them to compete in our rapidly changing world. Connected by the web, and rapidly shifting social demographics through unprecedented immigration, both real and virtual, has changed the face of societies and entire cultures.

Having recently moved to Germany, where my husband has been offered a teaching position, I have noticed that there is a different relationship to the Arts in education and in daily life here versus in the U.S., although that is unfortunately and slowly changing here as well. Albert Einstein said, “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well.” It goes without saying that the brief history of America as compared to Europe, is the critical difference, but Europeans have always acknowledged the all-important role of creative and critical thinking, as absolutely vital in maintaining a healthy and thriving society. This means that Europeans are deeply invested in their cultural arts institutions and in fostering the knowledge and respect for the role that the Arts play in their various cultures and in forming and maintaining a healthy society. They recognize that the Arts contribute to the development of socially minded and more comprehensive thinking, and social skills, including tolerance and the ability to contend with moral issues as they arise. That is not to say however that is business as usual, in Germany, as rapid immigration has completely changed the face of daily life here. It is increasingly difficult to spot cultural “norms” as migration has drastically changed aesthetic perceptions in daily life since the European Union was formed.

Unfortunately, it has been a uniquely American point of view that business and the business of making money deserve more attention, energy and funding in our schools and universities, at the expense of a fundamentally well-rounded education, that includes the Arts. In a March 10, 2010 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tom Hayden noted, “…No longer independent, higher education has succumbed to the political pressures of regents and trustees who all too often are tied to banks and corporations.”. We have President Ronald Regan to thank for the devaluation of the Arts, when in 1981 he slashed the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts by millions of dollars, giving the money to US Military Bands.

However, there are institutions, government officials and organizations such as the Arts Education Partnership that have accomplished amazing and transformational programs and have directly contributed to a congressional bill: H.CON.RES.275 — Whereas arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential… (Enrolled Bill [Final as Passed Both House and Senate]. [H.CON.RES.275positive and su.ENR][PDF] In 2005, The Arts and Education Partnership published Third Space: When Learning Matters, a book that creates a Third Space as “a metaphor that describes the positive and supportive relationships that develop among students, teachers and the school community when they are involved in creating, performing or responding to works of art.”

In Germany, the issues of international immigration and their affects on society are new as compared to the essential base of immigration upon which America is founded. A creative and comprehensive approach to this is offered by a private foundation, Stiftung Mercator, which addresses and supports this rapidly changing society, “…it pursues clearly defined objectives in its thematic clusters of integration, climate change and arts education and it achieves these objectives with a combination of socio-political advocacy and practical work. Stiftung Mercator implements its own projects and supports external projects in its centers for science and humanities, education and international affairs.” They believe that all students should have access to arts and culture, and have initiated and funded a program of “Cultural Agents” and an outreach program which involves collaboration with cultural institutions, creating a cross-disciplinary education programs between pupils, teachers, artists and cultural institutions.

It is essential to understand that at this time of unprecedented global connectivity, we are at a collective cultural crossroads. We can see this as an opportunity to enhance education, allowing societies to flourish and excel, by supporting informed, critical thinking and by developing the hearts and minds of our young people. As Dr. Cornel West so eloquently stated during the final stop of the Tavis Smiley and Cornel West Poverty Tour, “…It is about the quality of your service, and the depth of your love.” We must love ourselves and our children enough, to care about their future. Through this time of unprecedented global challenge we can consciously and positively participate in this critical process, finding a clear and concise path, by examining the “quality” of education, and what it produces.

Author’s recommended links:

Arts in Education Partnership
The Poverty Tour
Keys to Enhancing Brain Development in Young Children
Keep Arts in Schools

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design / E:

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International Education: A Personal Journey

November 10, 2011

In celebration of International Education Week (November 12-16), I am reminded of my own personal journey as an international student. It began when I was ten and the six weeks I spent one summer at the now defunct Stoke Brunswick School, in East Grinstead, England. With its original Tudor architecture dating back to the 14th century surrounded by lush green grounds, Stoke Brunswick served as a boarding school during the regular school year and a co-ed camp in the summer. This was my first time abroad and away from home and family. Home at the time was Tehran, Iran. I actually embraced leaving home for the summer and looked forward to spending it in a country that I’d learned about in school and from my own parents who too had studied abroad in England. It was at Stoke Brunswick where I met and made my first Scottish best friend Fiona Campbell whose mother served as our House Mistress. I met teenage boys and girls from Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, Portugal, Spain, Egypt, and Japan. We spent our mornings in classrooms led by university students teaching us conversational English and passed the afternoons sightseeing and visiting the country’s many castles, museums, and historic sites.

During my six weeks at the Stoke Brunswick, I had my first brush with such English culinary delights as sausage rolls, fish fingers, Cornish pasties, steak and kidney pie, baked beans on toast, bubbles and squeaks, and shepherd’s pie. I also learned to ride horses, play billiards (even winning a tournament and beating all the boys), sing Beatles tunes, perfected the art of letter writing (wrote letters home parsing out details of my adventures), and performed my first piano recital.

Returning to Iran, I was armed with an arsenal of worldly experiences and on learning that my school in Tehran had mysteriously closed, I urged my parents to enroll me in a boarding school in England. Though I was barely eleven, having proven my chops during my six-week sojourn at summer camp, my parents acquiesced and located Charters Towers School (CTS), an all-girls boarding school in Bexhill-on-Sea, a sleepy seaside town in Sussex, England. For the next six years, I immersed myself in my studies, returning to Tehran during long holidays like Christmas, but mostly summers, and developed friendships with girls from the five continents. Our school was the quintessential melting pot of nations, so much so that each year on October 24th we celebrated United Nations Day where each person represented her country of origin by dressing in their national costume, preparing an ethnic dish (if possible) and even putting on a show (traditional dance, song, play, poetry). On any given year, we had more than thirty nationalities represented by the student population hailing from Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Mauritius, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan, Greece, U.S.A., the Netherlands, Belgium, Iran, India, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Jamaica, Sweden, Jordan, just to name a few. Through this rich exposure to different cultural backgrounds and traditions I learned to appreciate and respect our differences, be it language, religion, politics, or heritage. To see the world through this multi-cultural prism at an early age taught us to be curious, open-minded and tolerant. Here’s a wonderful link to a recent story on Miss McGarry, the legendary headmistress at CTS (who recently passed away) that captures the spirit of this cosmopolitan school:

Travel to countries which I’d never imagined possible was another benefit of being a student at CTS. When at thirteen I was invited to spend the Christmas Holidays with my English friend Anne Summers and her family in Nairobi, Kenya, I accepted in a heartbeat with the full backing of my parents. I was not going to let this rare opportunity slip me by. And it was while we were on a Safari that I had my ears pierced at a small clinic run by a proper English nurse, dressed in a crisp white nurse’s uniform. When she told me I was her first “patient” to have her ears pierced, I was unimpressed. But when she told me that prior to moving to Kenya, she had lived in Isfahan, Iran, I nearly fell off my chair. There in the middle of the African savannah was an English woman chatting with me in Farsi! Encounters such as this continue in my life to this day and I can only attribute them to having benefitted from the “international education” experience.

My journey as an international student brought me to the U.S. where I continued with my university education and earned the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and embarked on a career in international education, research and credential evaluation. As the founder of ACEI, I credit my career path in this field to my own personal experiences as an international student. I can now be of service to students and professionals from around the world who are interested in either studying or immigrating to the U.S. by helping them with the evaluation of their academic documents so that their educational achievements are duly recognized.

The list of international students who were educated in the U.S. and went on to positions of leadership is extensive. Here’s just a short list of world leaders educated in the U.S:

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia. Received a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University.

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore. Received a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia. Received an accounting degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico. Received a Master in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

For more famous individuals who attended U.S. universities, visit this link.

We can nurture international education by welcoming international students to our academic institutions. It’s a win-win situation. Not only will international students gain a better understanding of America but so will American students by sharing classrooms, dorm rooms and engaging in dialogue and participating in study groups and socializing. We can also continue our support of international education through our study abroad programs and encourage our college students to embark on a year overseas. Nothing is richer and more fulfilling than stepping out of our comfort zone.

Let’s celebrate International Education Week and the contributions of the international students to our society as well as ours to theirs, whether through food, music, art, literature, science and technology. I am who I am because of the rich and invaluable encounters and friendships I have had throughout the years with people who’ve touched my life in ways that words cannot express. I can, however, from the bottom of my heart say: Thank you!

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI, Inc.

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Music and the Brain: An Enduring Partnership

November 3, 2011

Ever since I became entranced by Coltrane’s song “India” in my bedroom when I was sixteen and living at home, I’ve been aware of the power of music to affect the heart, soul, and spirit. Music has always exerted a powerful force on me, even before I could really put its magic powers into words.

It’s what moves the Sufis, enables fire walkers in Morocco to avoid getting burned, and is used in ritual trance ceremonies in Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, the Philippines, and many parts of Africa. Music is a hypnotic agent and healing elixir, and it has been for a long time.

In preparation for a class I was about to teach a few months back, I did a lot of reading on music and the brain. I read Gilbert Rouget’s Music and Trance; Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, and Daniel Levitin’s excellent study mentioned below. The Music Salon course was called: The Experience of Music: Search for the Sublime. In it we listened to ritual ceremonial music from the African diaspora, the Sufi dervishes of Turkey, qawwali music from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and the amazing Kecak trance music of Bali. It was very fulfilling for both me and the class members.

This was not long after an amazing find: the discovery of a prehistoric bone flute over 40,000 years old, in Germany. The archeologists who discovered it found something astounding: that it had been drilled with precisely placed cylindrical holes, presumably to allow its player to produce organized sound. So it seems that even Neanderthals enjoyed music, and it wasn’t just to keep saber-toothed tigers away at night but also to produce pleasurable sounds. But it did even more than provide pleasure.

Daniel Levitin, a Canadian cognitive psychologist and melomane (music lover), asserts that music preceded speech, not the other way around (as is often thought). In his book This is Your Brain on Music, he says that this primordial music-making actually helped build new neural pathways and synapses, allowing those early hominid brains to grow and allow complex speech patterns to develop. It was a way for primitive man to organize an otherwise chaotic universe into a realm of order and regularity. It also helped the brain develop into the amazingly sophisticated organ it became, allowing humans to go to the top level of primates.

We see this the other way around, in the way music therapy helps people with brain injuries recover. Melody Gardot is a good example. She was severely injured by an SUV while riding her bike, and completely forgot her music education and performance skills. Music helped her brain heal and make music again. Similarly, music is now used extensively among Alzheimer’s patients in helping slow the degeneration of this terrible disease.

For me music has always been primal, the queen and king of all the arts. It involves us in ways that books and paintings don’t. Who dances in front of paintings or sculptures?

And that is, for me, why it will always be on top.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW (rhythm planet / KCRW)
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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