One of the books I read over the summer was On the Road and off the Record with Leonard Bernstein by Charlie Harmon.
Bernstein was one of the 20 th century’s true Renaissance men. He was a musician who played several musical instruments; he was a conductor; he was a composer, a great one who composed music for both symphony orchestras and for Broadway musicals, including West Side Story. Bernstein was also an educator, and he was dedicated to fostering in young people a love of learning in the hope that they would become life-long learners.
Bernstein said that learning is a kind of love -- and love a kind of learning. He said that although he couldn’t prove it, deep in his heart he knew that every person is born with a love of learning. He observed that “Every infant studies its toes and fingers, and a child’s discovery of his or her voice must be one of the most extraordinary of life’s moments… Imagine an infant lying in its cradle, discovering its voice, purring and murmuring MMM to itself.”
Like Picasso, he feared that this natural love of learning is too often stifled. We at the American School are dedicated to ensuring that it is not stifled, but fostered and encouraged. Helping create young people who love learning and become life-long learners is one of the goals that is articulated in our school’s Mission Statement, our guiding document and set of operating principles.
Our American School community works as a team. The teachers and other staff at the school are steadfast in our desire to achieve this goal. The parents support, help, and encourage their children, and have already shown their commitment by making the important choice to send their children to the American School. We ask that our students do their part by doing the following:
- Focus on WHAT they are learning, and think of how each thing they learn builds on what they already know and how it fits with other things they are learning.
- Focus on the HOW they are learning. Learning is a skill, and the more a person knows about his or her strengths and weaknesses as a learner, what strategies work best for them, how they learn from their mistakes, the better that learner becomes and the independent he or she becomes. Like playing a musical instrument, becoming an outstanding athlete, or achieving success as a dancer, learning takes practice and effort, but the rewards are worth it.
- Focus on the WHY of what they are learning. Think and ask. “How can I use this knowledge or these skills in another academic setting?” “How can they be used in real life situations?” “What benefits will I have for knowing this or knowing how to do that?” We all learn best when the material we learn is relevant to us.
Finally, I believe we should all try to find more time to reflect. We all lead busy lives, but if we go from one activity to another without reflecting between activities, we are missing important opportunities to pause, sort through, and find deeper meaning in the things we do. As Bernstein said, “You can’t ‘do’ the Sistine Chapel instantly — you have to lie on your back and look up at that ceiling and contemplate.” There are lessons to be learned from this 20 th century Renaissance man.