Friday, March 27, 2009

Are Our Children Getting What They Need? Acquiring Knowledge versus Gaining Wisdom.

One aspect of home school that I value immensely is the freedom to partake spontaneously in alternative opportunities for learning. Our very wise piano teacher invited her students to attend a dress rehearsal of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This was a very special opportunity, and she highly encouraged attendance of this event, even if it meant missing school. She must have realized that the true value of the experience would take her students into a realm beyond knowledge. We gladly accepted the invitation and spent the better part of a morning in musical immersion!

The kids and I sat in the beautiful Segerstrom Concert Hall while billions of music molecules danced around us in perfect harmony. The situation was ideally suited to practice identifying individual instruments in an attempt to understand their unique sound characteristics. We listened to the beautiful syncopation of the orchestra as the emotion of the music flowed through their instruments to our ears. We listened intently to the conductor as he spoke quietly and passionately to the musicians about the emotions the composer was attempting to communicate to the audience through the music. For the first time, I think my children realized that each orchestra member played a vital role in bringing the music to life. Then, it struck me. This was much more than a backstage glimpse into life as a member of the symphony, it was a LESSON on life and how we each fit into the universal whole.

We begin our life with an ego centric existence completely dependent on our primary caregivers for our very survival. As we grow, we struggle for individuality, independence, recognition, significance, achievement, a sense of purpose, growth and contribution. We experience our own personal trials and tribulations as we learn our place in life. We discover that while our identity comes from our individuality, we are not complete without an intimate connection to family, friends, groups, our community, our country and our world. Eventually, we learn that in spite of our earthly accomplishments, we are nothing more than a miniscule part of a universal whole. The best we can hope for is to “share our music with others” while we are here, and to leave our legacy in the hearts of those who knew us when we are gone.

It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Lives of all great men remind us we can make our lives sublime, and departing leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.

The experience reminded me that whether our children are home schooled or part of the traditional school system, it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that they have ongoing opportunities that will enable them to transcend knowledge and acquire wisdom. They may gain knowledge from any situation or educational experience, but are they really acquiring wisdom? Wisdom is the ability within each of us to link broad concepts across subject matter, time and personal experience. Wisdom appears in our ability form hypothesis, experiment, draw conclusions, invent, and create in a manner that will positively advance society. Wisdom is the act of searching for the deeper meaning in things, confronting errors, and learning. Imparting wisdom in our children requires that they have a broad variety of experiences, study of core subjects, participation in the arts, mastery of sports, and acquisition of life skills. Children need time to play, think and create, to fail and rebuild, to learn moral and ethics, and to solve complex problems.

Norman Cousins, the much beloved athletic coach who used laughter to cure his cancer, once stated that “Fortunately or otherwise, we live at a time when the average individual has to know several times as much in order to keep informed as he did only thirty or forty years ago. Being ‘educated’ today requires not only more than a superficial knowledge of the arts and sciences, but a sense of inter-relationships such as is taught in few schools. Finally, being ‘educated’ today in terms of the larger needs, means preparation for world citizenship, in short--education for survival.”

I am afraid that our current education system, due to budget cuts, administrative demands on teachers that distract from teaching, large class sizes, and time constraints, has been reduced to a system of preparation for standardized testing with optional after school childcare, rather than, as Norman Cousin’s suggests, education for survival.

As I sat in the symphony with my children, I realized that this is precisely the kind of supplemental learning experience that facilitates the kind of wisdom Mr. Cousin’s finds essential. As parents, we must seek out these opportunities for our children.
The symphony was powerful and awe inspiring. My kids connected recent science lessons about atoms and molecules with the sounds of the music that literally danced around them. They studied the mechanics of the lighting and marveled at the state of the art acoustic system. They figured out how many octaves could be played on the organ that filled an entire wall of the music hall. They witnessed how vital each member of the orchestra is, even if their part, played in solo is seemingly insignificant. They realized how important a leader is to implementing the vision. They each spent an hour lost in their own thoughts and inspirations—awed by the power of live music.

And yes, there were even a few moments of napping, but I didn’t object. How many people can claim that they napped (or shall I say, committed the music to their subconscious memory) during a dress rehearsal of the London Philharmonic Orchestra? Awesome!


  1. What an awesome field trip and great lessons! Have you checked out my other blog, Fields of Grace? I've not been doing as much with Yankee-Momma (I think I'm becoming so used to Dixie that there just isn't as much that strikes me as odd, LOL). Have a blessed weekend!!!

  2. No, I will check it out today. Good to hear from you. I hope you are well.