More wisdom of the teen-ages
Additional essays from Chico High student writers
Honors 9 English students at Chico High School supplied more compelling essays than we could fit in the cover story of the newspaper this week. Here are a handful of others, connected by a common thread of exploring aspects of education.
Waldorf in the real world
Picture this: two children, both preoccupied—one sprawled out in front of the wide-screen TV and the other glued to the computer, mouth pulled to a frown, playing some generic computer game. This is the situation in many American homes.
Now imagine an alternative scenario: one child happily playing on a swing set in the backyard; the other content painting the scene in pastel tones on an easel.
Which do you think is healthier for a child’s development?
In 1919, an Austrian named Rudolf Steiner created a way of educating children to bring out the humanity in them. It all started when a factory owner asked Steiner how to educate children in order to prevent another event like World War I. He devised a system of learning that teaches children necessary things at an age where they can process it and where it will foster a love for learning, not just repetition and rote memorization.
In an article in Mothering Magazine titled “The Wisdom of Waldorf,” Rahima Baldwin Dancy states that Steiner thought that “the purpose of education … should not be merely to instill knowledge, which can be coldly abstract and destructive when separated from human values and a feeling for the humanity of other people. Rather, Steiner’s goal was to educate the whole human being so that thinking, feeling, and doing were integrated and capable of functioning in a healthy way.”
Waldorf education incorporates things such as cooking, art, appreciation for nature, music, and teaching children what is appropriate according to age and maturity. I think that even if you aren’t a child, or you don’t have children in a Waldorf school, you can still apply these ideas and concepts to everyday home life.
The appreciation for nature and natural foods and cooking is one that would be helpful to us all. Taking a daily walk through the park or gardening your own fresh vegetables or herbs not only benefits you and your family, but also the environment and your financial standing.
If people learn to have a love and appreciation for nature, they are more likely to take better care of the natural world as they grow older. In the words of Rudolf Steiner himself, “What is necessary to keep providing good care to nature has completely fallen into ignorance during the materialism era.”
In our high-tech world today, nature seems to get lost and forgotten while kids are busy playing on Nintendo DS and surfing the Internet, and adults are watching TV and are attached at the ear to their iPhones. This time could be spent on a playful exploration of the outdoors or cooking together as a family.
All of this focus placed on individual technologies damages the social interaction and communication between family members, according to Gary Small, a psychiatrist at UCLA. In an article appearing in The Sacramento Bee—titled “Is Technology Rewiring Kids’ Brains?”—Small asserts, “When the brain spends more time on technology-related tasks and less time exposed to other people, it drifts away from fundamental social skills like reading facial expressions during conversation.”
One of the things Waldorf promotes is a variety of ways to do things together as a family and bring back that communication between people.
Not only do I think music is healthier than media-influenced, desensitizing television programs, but this line of thinking is also backed up by researchers from a brain research study group called The Dana Foundation.
The Dana Foundation did a research project on the effects of both music and a low student-to-teacher ratio, wondering if the children would learn more while incorporating music into their schooling. Both the children who were taught music and the children who had a lot of teacher attention did better on the tests concerning a variety of areas or intelligence. Their findings suggest “that music and attention training in these small group classes produces … beneficial results.”
This is one of the main emphases in the realm of Waldorf-Steiner education. To help incorporate this aspect into everyday life, people could learn to play an instrument or play classical music around the house.
William Ward, who is a part of the Why Waldorf Works association, states, “Waldorf schools seek to cultivate positive human values of compassion, reverence for life, respect, cooperation, love of nature, interest in the world, and social conscience, as well as to develop cognitive, artistic and practical skills.”
Who wouldn’t want their family and children to experience these things and use such tools to bring humanity back into the lives of the future?
Arts can benefit learning
The arts have traditionally been part of a well-rounded curriculum in public schools. However, when budget cuts are necessary, school administrators tend to make cuts in the arts programs, such as music, visual arts, and drama. It seems that arts courses are seen as nonessential or less important to the development of successful and responsible students.
What effect does this change have on the young people of our community? Is this the only option? Is this the most responsible approach to educating the future leaders of our city, state, and nation?
In our own community, drama programs have been terminated, when not a block away, flavor and creativity oozes from our sidewalks. Can we justify insufficient in-school opportunities for these students to express themselves?
Numerous studies have shown the major advantages of an arts program in schools. Students involved in the arts are known to be:
• Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement;
• Three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools;
• Four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair;
• Three times more likely to win an award for school attendance;
• Four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.
According to Shirley Brice Heath in a report for Stanford University and the Carnegie Foundation, young artists, as compared with their peers:
• Attend music, art, and dance classes nearly three times as frequently;
• Participate in youth groups nearly four times as frequently;
• Read for pleasure nearly twice as often;
• Perform community service more than four times as often.
The Business Circle for Arts Education in Oklahoma has found businesses understand that arts education:
• Builds a school climate of high expectation, discipline, and academic rigor that attracts businesses relocating to your community;
• Strengthens student problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, adding to overall academic achievement and school success;
• Helps students develop a sense of craftsmanship, quality task performance, and goal-setting—skills needed to succeed in the classroom and beyond;
• Can help troubled youth, providing an alternative to destructive behavior and another way for students to approach learning;
• Provides another opportunity for parental, community, and business involvement with schools, including arts and humanities organizations;
• Helps all students develop more appreciation and understanding of the world around them;
• Helps students develop a positive work ethic and pride in a job well done.
The organization Americans for the Arts states, “Just like kids need to have good nutrition on a daily basis, kids need to have their daily serving of the arts.”
High schoolers need an outlet for their energy and creativity, both in and out of school. On my own high school campus, I see personality and creative expression. However, one cannot see these things inside the confines of the classroom. Incorporating the arts into lesson plans would help students connect with the subject, while making it fun.
Junior highs and high schools are bursting with raw energy. This can be muffled, however, by the pressures put on by teachers, parents, and friends. If a healthy way to relieve this pressure cannot be found, kids will often turn toward unhealthy expressions of their feelings.
There are so many advantages, but what disadvantages come from healthy expression? The arts provide a unique, enjoyable outlet for the feelings of the everyday teenager. There is a program for every personality: sculpture, drawing, choir, band, drama, and many others. Can a flaw be found?
Learning an important creative skill is not the only advantage to studying an art; overall academic performance also improves. I can personally say that studying music has made school easier for me.
Reading music makes reading literature easier, while helping me with my mathematic problem-solving skills. I have seen many kids walk into the choir room the first day very shy and reserved, most likely with low self-esteem, but as time progresses their confidence soars to great heights. When little kids are taught music in elementary school or younger, and grow up performing in concerts, they don’t suffer from stage fright in the same way that many other kids do; the stage becomes natural to them.
Understanding the arts influences our understanding of the world and culture around us. As we study the different ways to express ourselves, we discover why the people around us do what they do.
As the advantages of quality arts programs in schools are revealed, is there any valid reason to cut such programs, when the significant advantages are so obvious?
Keep the musical staff in the schools
The five-lined staff has been used for centuries to teach students the art of music. So why take band out of the elementary schools when it gives students the chance to become musically talented and active in their school’s programs?
Enrolling in band in the early years allows students to recognize talents that they never knew they had. It also allows students to interact with other students who have similar musical talents, forming relationships that could endure through and beyond the school years.
Band at the high school level requires that you play your instrument with a high degree of proficiency. Two years of junior high band is by no means enough time to accumulate the skills that are needed in a high school band.
The Placentia Yorba Linda Unified School District in Southern California requires students to take either band or choir in the fourth grade. At least once a week for an hour each day, every upper-class student would spend time in choir or band.
Down south, music has been a high priority. In Chico, not so much. But if the city can see how big an advantage elementary school band can be, maybe band will thrive and more kids will see that they really do have musical talent.
Olivia, an 11-year-old trombone player, says, “They say music isn’t really learning and that’s why they cut it, but it is learning.” She’s right! Learning to read music is like learning to read a foreign language; every note, every time signature, every flat and every sharp is like every letter and accent in a language’s alphabet.
Learning takes time, and cutting music programs definitely does not help kids speed up that process of learning.
Also, band is fun! Students get to learn new instruments, play at concerts, get out of regular class, and all that jazz. If you take that away, then all you’re left with is a bunch of unmusical kids.
Music teacher Kim Gimbal puts the current situation in Chico this way: “Fifty instruments are just sitting in a closet, including some brought here when the district shut down Forest Ranch School.” Other music teachers, such as Vicki Triplett, have put together band clubs so that elementary-aged kids can come before or after school to practice and learn their instrument. Teachers like these are the ones who make our society a better, more musical place.
Band gives students the opportunity to interact with others and most students who play instruments start at a young age. Many famous musicians, such as Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, and even Wolfgang Mozart, started studying various instruments were at a very young age, like 6 or 7. So taking away the option of being in an elementary school band potentially takes away the chance of learning an instrument that could change a student’s future.
Cuts for high school sports should be outlawed
Have you ever gotten cut from a sport that you had a strong passion and love for? You have been preparing for tryouts for a few years and a total beginner to the sport came and got your spot on the team?
Well, for this reason, and many more, I am proposing an idea that would put a whole new meaning to the phrase “high school athletics.” It wouldn’t bring sorrow to some and excitement for others; it would bring happiness for all and practice for everyone.
I strongly believe that high school students should not be cut from their school sports teams. Clearly, every athlete will not have playing time during a game, but they still should be able to practice with their team and may receive many benefits in the process.
For many teenagers, life revolves around their love for sports. Taking sports away from them would be like taking a pacifier away from a young, crying infant. If you ask many athletes on campus why they come to school every day, most of them will say because of sports.
Many adolescents don’t find coming to school to be a high priority by itself, but come to school so they can play in the next game. From past experience, I know that it’s not just the playing time and practices that one grows to love about sports. Many love how everyone on the team “clicks together” and becomes each other’s second family. It’s a great experience for all, and will let everyone be exposed to the warm feeling of being a part of a team.
Having practices every day will get the teens in shape and drop some excess weight they might be carrying. As many people know, obesity is a growing concern for the United States. “Fifty-five percent of high school students are obese,” states Shape of the Nation magazine.
Imagine if we gave all those kids the chance to exercise two whole hours after school every day while doing something they are extremely fond of. This would give them a healthier life and could make them live longer, while possibly passing the importance of exercise on to many new generations! As involvement with a sport continues, the athlete might develop more of a bond with the sport and even start practicing on the weekends.
Not being able to be cut from a high school sports team would encourage a bigger percent of students to participate. Also, it would give more kids who aren’t in the “in-crowd” a chance to gain confidence. It would give an outsider the chance to have teammates and friends.
However, it’s not just the non-athletes that this would benefit.
For most sports like basketball and volleyball, only 15 make the team. Most people get nervous and worry about tryouts, wondering if they will make it or not. They get so nervous that they end up having a crummy tryout. If there were more than 15 talented athletes trying out, that great but nervous player could easily be overlooked and not make it. That would destroy his or her confidence. Besides, getting cut from a sports team is probably one of the most horrific things in high school for a sports lover.
If everyone made the team, all the kids would have a chance to prove themselves at practice and possibly be a starting player by the end of the season. This could give everyone a lot of self-esteem and make them feel like they can accomplish anything.
Many people like to do sports for the social status at school. They want to be known and so they try out.
I think that this would give the students the drive to work hard and later apply that skill to life. It would also get many other kids to keep up their grades and keep a positive attitude throughout the season so they can attend their daily practice.
I know that many people might complain about the prices of all the extra jerseys and busses the school would have to pay for; however, the school wouldn’t have to buy extra jerseys because only the athletes who play in the game that day would receive a game jersey. For the extra transportation needs, schools could get parent drivers for the non-players.
By not cutting students from sports teams, it would fulfill their love for the game, help prevent obesity, and give the kids hope and confidence. Some athletes would not be able to participate in games, but they would walk away from the season with new skills, confidence, and leadership directions they had learned from practices.
As MomsTeam.com says, “Even high school boys list the number one reason for playing sports is to have fun!” So why not let high school students of all sizes, athletic abilities, and social statuses have fun?
Preventing the monotonous drone
Can you imagine a world without music? All noises in movies would be either synthesized, or just naturally occurring sounds, like water dripping, or a car driving by. No, not even that. We would hear simple dull silence, like a never-ending drone that serves as the undertone for an actor’s pathetic attempts to play up his lines.
The reality described above is not impossible. If it were not for an incredibly large amount of valued supporters, all music programs in schools would be cut for the sake of money.
In public elementary schools, there were weekly classes where children could sing, dance, learn how to feel or create rhythms, and much more. There were also string, band, and choir programs. Currently here, there is nothing like that. In 2008, elementary music programs were cut for the budget.
One has to admit an elementary band concert consisting of students who had begun playing within the year doesn’t sound very appealing. However, just step into the audience and you will be overwhelmed by the emotions of the proud parents. Imagine in five or 10 years attending a junior high band concert with students of the same experience. Then in a couple more years (assuming the program has not yet been cut) attending a high school band concert. This snowball effect has already begun. Which way do we want it to go?
Not only is it ideal to begin practicing music at a young age, it is one of the best things a young person could spend time doing. Music is very similar to a foreign language in that it is easier to learn and absorb as a child. Music is also complex and very difficult to teach. This is a reason why it takes around eight or 10 years to actually be able to read music at advanced levels.
The added learning discipline music requires, and just hearing and learning music itself, has been proven to make children smarter.
Music improves spatial-temporal reasoning by stimulating certain neural pathways (according to MIND Institute research). The effect of this means higher test scores and improved math and reading abilities. Spatial-temporal reasoning is the ability to visualize patterns, such as words or numbers, and predict or manipulate them by choice.
According to Joan Schmidt, a member of the board of directors at the National School Boards Association, “Statistics indicate that students who participate in music earn higher grades and score better on standardized tests. Do the brighter students gravitate toward music, or does music make the students brighter? Now there is powerful evidence of a cause-and-effect link between music instruction and improved intelligence.”
Nowadays, with the high school dropout rate and test scores flashing a red light in the back of many influential people’s minds, sometimes it’s difficult to remind them what else is important before they make a decision. Some of the most important and influential people can be seen every day, dropping their kids off for school. We’re not secluded from the decisions that the board struggles with every year; no one is.
In the past, programs have been cut with promises of reinstatement as soon as funds became available. But junior high music educators are not going to be able to work a miracle and make two years of experience as good as four by the time high school comes around. If these promises are not followed through with soon, all high school and junior high music and the quality education they represent will quickly drop several levels.
Despite the irony of spending more money trying to improve test scores, and spending less on music, which has been proven to raise test scores, the pressure to cut more programs has been growing. With support of parents/guardians and students though, the likelihood of all music programs being cut is very low. Hopefully more supporters will raise the chances of bringing deceased programs back to life.
Not all people know the positive effects of learning or listening to music, so few people can provide their children this opportunity at home. Therefore, it is imperative for public and private schools to step in.
If it seems like having a cranky and underpaid teacher shove textbooks into their brains isn’t working very well, try teaching them how to tap their foot to a beat once in a while. For with the lessening of arts, after children are taught to read and write, what will they have to read and write about?