“Academics of the right sort…”

When I read last year that a group of politicians in Texas had built into their platform their opposition to the teaching of critical thinking skills in the public schools of Texas, I assumed, at first, this was something The Onion, a satirical magazine, had cooked up. But nope. These words were actually written into the 2012 platform for the Republican party of Texas: “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.” http://www.texasgop.org/about-the-party

Yeah. I know. I was a little appalled, too, when I first saw that.  I mean, what the…?! I tried to imagine how I, as a teacher, could possibly AVOID teaching critical thinking skills – I think I would have to work really hard to try not to teach while I was teaching.

About the same time, another interesting tidbit of news crossed my path: “Students in New York City’s public schools cramming for tests can delete words like birthdays, junk food, Halloween, dinosaur and even dancing from study lists. References to such words have been banned from city-issued tests in an edict issued by the city’s Department of Education for fear the words could “appear biased” or “evoke unpleasant emotions” in students.” (reported by Katie Kindelan on http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/lifestyle/2012/03/nyc-bans-halloween-birthdays-aliens-and-more-on-school-tests/

Okay. So. Yeah. Let’s not make reference to dinosaurs because…? Maybe children will start actually asking questions about dinosaurs? And this could lead to (gasp) the study of evolution? And maybe make students think. And ponder. And ask more questions. And stuff. Holy shamoley.  We should not be afraid of our students searching for answers. We should not be afraid of our students FINDING the answers, either. This is a good thing. A deeper understanding of the world should be something we, as a society, celebrate, not try to stunt.

To be honest, it’s hard to be surprised by much that’s going on in education anymore.

When I was told by a school administrator that I could no longer do (and I quote) “all those great, fun things you do in the classroom – inviting in Holocaust survivors to share their experiences, having the students research and dress up as famous characters in history, all those special projects and things you do” – I guess that was the moment when I realized I no longer belonged in a public school classroom.  I’ve actually written a book about my own, individual experiences in public educatonhttp://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Teaching-Rambling-Schoolmarm-ebook/dp/B006NKNEAY –  (written under a pen name). And, after sharing my book with others, I’ve discovered that the tale in my book is a common one, and the theme universal.

Public education in America is in a terrible crisis right now. Most of the people making decisions about education policy are not classroom teachers themselves, and seem to know little or nothing about how to actually teach. Many of these policy-makers seem to view education as a business – a corporation – and students as “products.” There seems to be a desire by these policy-makers to squeeze all the healthy, nutrient-rich juices out of education, and compress and quantify learning into some kind of data sheet with a check list for objectives met, and a detailed script for teachers to follow in their teaching.

But the thing is… well, the thing is that teaching is as much an “art” as a “science.”  Good teachers are not automatons. Good teachers know how to adapt and adjust quickly to the needs of their students. They recognize, intuitively, that there are times when they need to throw out the checklists, pacing guides, and scripts, and follow where their students are leading them – to a place of learning that’s meaningful for them. Good teachers know that meaningful lessons are lessons students actually remember because it touches who they are as human beings and individuals.  Meaningful learning is learning that will serve students beyond their years of school – beyond the standardized tests and checklists and bureaucratic balance sheets – and help them their entire lives.

In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy writes: “Whatever furnishes the semblance of an idea governed by its Principle, furnishes food for thought. Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause. Academics of the right sort are requisite. Observation, invention, study, and original thought are expansive and should promote the growth of mortal mind out of itself, out of all that is mortal.”

Teaching children HOW to think, not WHAT to think – giving them “food for thought” – nourishing their young minds with learning that is meaningful to them, and will serve them throughout their lives – this, I think, is what teaching should be about. Teaching students to ask “why?” and to separate fact from opinion – teaching them to be critical thinkers – this, I believe, is essential to being a valuable citizen of a democracy. And “observation, invention, study, and original thought” are necessary skills for our citizens to have if mankind is going to move forward and survive the challenges ahead.

“The normal education system takes precisely twelve years to graduate a normal student from public school. Normal education is built around a standard curriculum, one size must fit all. Get too far ahead and you stress us out – cut it out, kid. Get too far behind and we fail you, reprocess you, give you another chance to get with the program…And so the factory-for-the-production-of-normal works overtime to sanitize and corporatize and discipline our kids into normalcy.” – from We’re All Weird, by Seth Godin.

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“Music is the rhythm of head and heart.”

Music.  What is it about music that touches us, reaches out and grabs us, brings tears to our eyes, makes us want to move, to dance, to smile? It’s elemental, isn’t it? There’s something about harmony, melody, and rhythm that connects us, somehow, to… well, to what I would call Soul, I guess.

***

Divine Science reveals sound as communicated through the senses of Soul – through spiritual understanding. Mozart experienced more than he expressed. The rapture of his grandest symphonies was never heard. He was a musician beyond what the world knew. This was even more strikingly true of Beethoven, who was so long hopelessly deaf. Mental melodies and strains of sweetest music supersede conscious sound. Music is the rhythm of head and heart. – Mary Baker Eddy

***

My husband and I recently experienced the great joy of hearing blues guitarist extraordinaire, Joe Bonamassa, at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle. From the moment the first note emerged from Bonamassa’s fingertips on the strings, to the moment the last note faded away, a giddy grin took up residence on my face.

And there was something really amazing about sitting in a theatre full of other people caught up in the same tide of inspiration. There was power in that room.

I am one of those people who believes there’s a meaning to life – a meaning greater than merely breathing, breeding, and consuming material things. And, for me, music and art – the things of Soul – are a part of what makes life meaningful.  Ray Charles said, “I was born with music inside me. Music was one of my parts. Like my ribs, my kidneys, my liver, my heart. Like my blood. It was a force already within me when i arrived on the scene. It was a necessity for me – like food or water.”

We’ve probably all seen babies who are bobbing up and down to music on their chubby little legs before they ever take their first steps.  And we’ve probably all heard babies singing before they speak their first words. (Mom tells me I was singing back to her when I was just weeks old.) Human beings seem to have a built-in appreciation and connection to music from their first days.  An attraction to music is not something that babies need to be taught. It comes naturally.

But giving children the skills and training they need to create their own music seems as essential to me as giving children the skills and training they need to write their own words and communicate in written language. Music is an important form of communication, too – in my mind, no less important than writing and reading in the education of a fully-formed and developed human being.

When speaking of education, Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes: “Whatever furnishes the semblance of an idea governed  by its Principle, furnishes food for thought. Through astronomy, natural history, chemistry, music, mathematics, thought passes naturally from effect back to cause.   Academics of the right sort are requisite. Observation, invention, study, and original thought are expansive and should promote the growth of mortal mind out of itself, out of all that is mortal.”

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and everything.” – Plato

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Berthold  Auerbach

Joe Bonamassa at the Paramount:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzhpcaTn-YA

You are…

You are the idea of Love and Truth and Life –  eternally perfect and whole, healthy and active, unchanged, undimmed, loved, loving, intelligent, alert, aware of all good. The belief that you can ever be less than your perfect, ideal self, is a lie. The belief that you can ever be separated from Love, Good, God, is a lie. As an idea, you dwell forever within the consciousness of Love. You are the image and likeness of Love. You are the perfect child of perfect Love. You reflect nothing but Love, Spirit, Life, Truth, Principle, Mind, Soul. There’s nothing about you that is imperfect, for there’s nothing in your Father-Mother out of which imperfection could come. Amen.

God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. – Genesis 1: 27

The Scriptures inform us that man is made in the image and likeness of God. Matter is  not that likeness. The likeness of Spirit cannot be so  unlike Spirit. Man is spiritual and perfect; and because he is spiritual and perfect, he must be so under stood in Christian Science. Man is idea, the image, of  Love; he is not physique. – from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy

Meet the incipient stages of disease with as powerful mental opposition as a legislator would employ to defeat the passage of  an inhuman law. Rise in the conscious strength of the spirit of Truth to overthrow the plea of mortal mind,  alias matter, arrayed against the supremacy of Spirit. Blot out the images of mortal thought and its beliefs in  sickness and sin. Then, when thou art delivered to the  judgment of Truth, Christ, the judge will say, “Thou art whole!”  Instead of blind and calm submission to the incipient   or advanced stages of disease, rise in rebellion against them. Banish the belief that you can possibly entertain a single intruding pain which cannot be ruled out by the might of Mind, and in this way you can prevent the development of pain in the body…   Mentally contradict every complaint from the body, and rise to the true consciousness of Life as  Love, – as all that is pure, and bearing the fruits of Spirit.  – from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy

On Consciousness: A Comparison Between Biocentrism and Christian Science

Home is the consciousness of good

 That holds us in its wide embrace;

 The steady light that comforts us

In every path our footsteps trace.

 – Rosemary Cobham, Christian Science Hymnal Supplement, #443

***

I just finished reading Robert Lanza’s book, Biocentricism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe. I found it thought-provoking and utterly fascinating. And as I was reading Lanza’s book, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the ideas I was reading in it, to the ideas found in Christian Science.

Lanza writes: “Take the seemingly undeniable logic that your kitchen is always there, its contents assuming all their familiar forms, shapes, and colors, whether or not you are in it… But consider: the refrigerator, stove, and everything else are composed of a shimmering swarm of matter/energy. Quantum theory… tells us that not a single one of those subatomic particles actually exists in a definite place. Rather, they merely exist as a range of probabilities that are unmanifest.”

A little later, Lanza writes: “Three components are necessary for a rainbow. There must be sun, there must be raindrops, and there must be a conscious eye (or its surrogate, film) at the correct geometric location… your eyes must be located at that spot where the refracted light from the sunlit droplets converges to complete the required geometry. A person next to you will complete his or her own geometry… and will therefore see a separate rainbow… As real as the rainbow looks, it requires your presence just as much as it requires sun and rain.” In other words, the answer to the question about whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if there’s no one to hear it, is “no.” A falling tree may make waves and vibrations, but an ear is needed to turn those waves and vibrations into sound. Lanza writes: “… without perception, there can be no reality.”

In her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, a book published back in 1875, Mary Baker Eddy writes: “Belief in a material basis… is slowly yielding to the idea of a metaphysical basis, looking away from matter to Mind as the cause of every effect.” Eddy writes: “Metaphysics resolves things into thoughts, and exchanges the objects of sense for the ideas of Soul.” And further in the book she writes: “As mortals gain more correct views of God and man, multitudinous objects of creation, which before were invisible, will become visible.”

In Biocentricism, Robert Lanza points out that the “dividing line between self and nonself is generally taken to be the skin, strongly implying that I am this body and nothing else.” But Lanza believes this is a myth. “Nothing,” he writes, “is perceived except the perceptions themselves, and nothing exists outside of consciousness.” According to Lanza then, we are directly connected to whatever we see, feel, and hear – it’s not outside our consciousness, but a part of it – and there’s no separation between what we perceive and what we are.

Mary Baker Eddy would agree that individuals are not isolated beings, separated from the rest of the universe, but she has a different take on our connectedness to each other, and to all. “When the divine precepts are understood, they unfold the foundation of fellowship, in which one mind is not at war with another, but all have one Spirit, God, one intelligent source, in accordance with the Scriptural command: ‘Let this Mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Man and his Maker are correlated in divine Science, and real consciousness is cognizant only of the things of God.”

Of western religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam – Lanza writes: “No mention is made of other states of consciousness, nor of consciousness itself… except in mystical sects…” Ahem. Well. Yeah. This is simply not true. In her textbook (published in 1875 – long before Lanza arrived on Earth) for Christian Science – a denomination that is considered “Christian” by its adherents, and which they do not consider in the least “mystical,” Mary Baker Eddy mentions “consciousness” 80 times.

But I suppose we can make a distinction between the consciousness Lanza is attempting to explain in his book, and the consciousness Eddy refers to in hers. Lanza talks about the structure of the brain, and a physical universe. Eddy speaks of a spiritual consciousness – the consciousness of Mind, God – and provides a practical use for drawing our thoughts near to that consciousness: “When we realize that Life is spirit, never in nor of matter, this understanding will expand into self-completeness, finding all in God, good, and needing no other consciousness.”

“To succeed in healing,” Eddy writes, “you must conquer your own fears as well as those of your patients, and rise into higher and holier consciousness.”

Eddy provides us with a choice. She claims we can choose which consciousness, which perception, we want to accept as real in our lives – and that choice will determine our experience here. “Dear reader, which mind-picture or externalized thought shall be real to you, – the material or the spiritual? Both you cannot have. You are bringing out your own ideal. This ideal is either temporal or eternal. Either Spirit or matter is your model… If sin, sickness, and death were understood as nothingness, they would disappear. As vapor melts before the sun, so evil would vanish before the reality of good. One must hide the other. How important, then, to choose good as the reality!”

Foreseeing the future, Eddy wrote in 1875: “The mariner will have dominion over the atmosphere and the great deep, over the fish of the sea and the fowls of the air. The astronomer will no longer look up to the stars, – he will look out from them upon the universe; and the florist will find his flower before its seed. Thus matter will finally be proved nothing more than a mortal belief, wholly inadequate to affect a man through its supposed organic action or supposed existence. Error will be no longer used in stating truth. The problem of nothingness, or ‘dust to dust,’ will be solved, and mortal mind will be without form and void, for mortality will cease when man beholds himself God’s reflection, even as man sees his reflection in a glass.”

***

…within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul. – Ralph Waldo Emerson