kitchen table math, the sequel: The moral life of downtown

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The moral life of downtown

Back from a quick trip to Illinois to see my niece graduate high school --- and finally posting this passage from a WSJ book review:
Almost two decades ago, Earl Shorris, a novelist and journalist, told the editor at his publishing house that he wanted to write a book about poverty in America. The editor, to his credit, said that he didn't want just another book describing the problem. He wanted a solution. So Shorris, who had attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship many years before and who was greatly influenced by its Great Books curriculum, hit upon the idea of teaching the core texts of Western civilization to people living in poverty, whose school experience had scanted the canon or skipped it entirely. His Eureka moment came when he was visiting a prison and conducting interviews for another book he was planning to write.

He asked one of the women at New York's Bedford Hills maximum-security prison why she thought the poor were poor. "Because they don't have the moral life of downtown," she replied. "What do you mean by the moral life?" Shorris asked. "You got to begin with the children . . . ," she said. "You've got to teach the moral life of downtown to the children. And the way you do that, Earl, is by taking them downtown to plays, museums, concerts, lectures." He asked whether she meant the humanities. Looking at him as if he were, as he puts it, "the stupidest man on earth," she replied: "Yes, Earl, the humanities."

What Would Socrates Do? By NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY April 16, 2013, 6:18 p.m. ET

1 comment:

SteveH said...

Hearing the New York Philharmonic play Stravinsky's Firebird Suite won't do the trick, but parents who would take their kids to such a concert probably do lots of other important things.

El Sistema started over 35 years ago, and it's success has a lot to do with mastery of skills. Just reading a lot of great books or going to concerts is not enough. Skills and mastery drive understanding and success. El Sistema starts kids very young with a "paper" orchestra. It is a clear demonstration that even though one might see an ability or IQ curve, that curve can be so much higher, and this is true for things other than music. Low expectations and treating all kids as equals is a very awful disease.

Just listen to the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, directed by Gustavo Dudamel. Many of these kids come from the barrio. They often play formal concerts in street clothes just to make a point. José Antonio Abreu's vision cannot be underestimated or compartmentalized to just music. It's too bad that many in the US will not look elsewhere for any sort of vision.