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Suzuki and Montessori versus Today's Culture
As the father of three Montessori-schooled young children, two of whom receive Suzuki instruction, I was fascinated by Craig's comment. I was fascinated because, like Craig, I also believe that Maria Montessori and Shinichi Suzuki were luminaries in the field of childhood education.
For those readers who are unfamiliar with the work of Maria Montessori, she was an Italian Doctor of Medicine who developed her educational methods while working with mentally retarded children in the early 1900s. The spectacular results that she achieved with those children caused her to wonder what was holding so called normal children back to the levels she was attaining with her retarded children.
In 1907, she opened her first Casa dei Bambini (Children's House), where she applied her methods to children of normal intelligence. Although she was later vilified by many intellectuals, her radical methods were widely acclaimed by the general public. Her successes have led to an international Montessori movement and the establishment of numerous Montessori schools around the world.
It was through my wife's and my interest in Montessori education (Cindy is a Montessori teacher) that we first became aware of the Suzuki method. Although neither of us come from a musical background, we both firmly believe, like Maria Montessori, that music should be an integral part of a child's education. In our attempts to find the best way to provide our children with their musical needs, we quickly discovered that the Suzuki approach to music was absolutely compatible with the Montessori approach to education.
Just as Dr Montessori had discovered that by creating the right environment, she could achieve startling results with both handicapped and normal children, Shinichi Suzuki discovered, by observation and extraordinary insight, that even tone-deaf children could achieve a high level of musical ability. The key, both concluded, was in providing the proper environment.
Today's modern culture, in general, does not provide a proper environment for children. When one looks around at the state of our culture, I am sure that most responsible parents feel, as I do, more than slightly uneasy at what they observe. What is most concerning to me is that, unless parents do all in their power to protect children from the ugliness and destruction that best reflects the current culture, the end result will be ever- increasing numbers of young people whose outlook on life is one of futility and despair.
It's happening already. In my view, the increasing number of teenage suicides, an issue that has received much publicity recently, can be directly linked to the mistakenly held belief that there are no values on this earth worth fighting for. And who can blame the young for embracing such a mistaken belief?
What young child is going to grow up thinking that the world is a beautiful place when he or she walks into a museum expecting to admire "food for the soul," only to find the walls adorned with framed blobs and smears, or exhibitions comprising collages of cigarette ash and other sundry garbage? Is it any wonder that many of our young are growing up believing that there's nothing worthwhile in the world when the genius of composers like Mozart, Handel, Bach and Beethoven has been replaced by "composers" who delight in destroying any concept of melody or harmony, but who hold up as profound the sound of chain saws or breaking glass? What effect is it having on those who, in their crucially formative adolescent years, sit zombie-like for hours in front of a television set that serves up a steady stream of mindless pop videos and appalling programmes like Beavis and Butthead?
To the extent that the culture best reflects the predominant philosophical trend in any given society, it is not difficult to conclude that there is a very strong element of nihilism underlying and giving rise to every aspect of our cultural environment.
For example, take my field of endeavour - sport. Like music, sport offers children a chance to find out their ceiling of potential. What then can be said about the sort of negative pressure that, in many instances, is brought to bear upon those who, in sport, are disparagingly labelled "try-hards" if they pursue sporting excellence? What can be said about those who caused a talented young school swimming champion to refuse to compete in a second school swimming championship because she was given such a hard time after she won it the first time round? Like a bunch of crabs at the bottom of a bucket, who will do all in their power to prevent one of their number from attempting to climb out, what can be said about the sort of crab-bucket mentalities who would reduce a swimming champion to a fear of competition because she was too scared to win? Is our mainstream cultural environment so bereft of values that even teenagers have been corrupted to such an extent that anyone who strives to make the most of his or her ability is labelled a try-hard or perceived as a threat?
In my view, the answer is an emphatic yes. Whether it's blobs and smears replacing genuine masterpieces in the field of art, or incomprehensible nonsense replacing the works of Kipling in the field of poetry, or plot-less novels about nothing in particular replacing the great works of literary geniuses like Victor Hugo in the field of literature, or ridicule and hostility replacing admiration and respect in the field of sporting excellence, or the sound of breaking glass, atonality, dissonance and punk rock replacing virtuosity, melody, harmony and magnificent symphonies in the field of music, the common denominator at the root of it all is what amounts to a full scale attack on the cultural values that are held by any rational human being.
Whenever I am asked why we introduced our children to the Suzuki Method, my answer is - because it offers them a glimpse of what the world could and should be like. By exposing them to such a world, my wife and I are hopeful of not only being able to instil in them a passion for a lifetime's appreciation of the best music that the world has to offer, but also, and far more importantly, we hope that such exposure will serve as spiritual armour protecting them from the cultural depravity and nihilism that has already corrupted far too many unsuspecting young victims.
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