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Do School Plays Lead to PhDs?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 15/02/2020 - 6:36am in

Earlier this week, we published a story about musicians who are diversifying classical music, one of the whitest genres in the arts. Privilege and class have long played a role in how culture is consumed, and by whom. Today, we explore what’s behind the remarkably strong links between education levels and involvement in cultural events.

Can an interest in theater and music predict whether someone will graduate from college? And if so, can introducing children to the arts put them on a path to academic success? 

In January, the National Endowment for the Arts released its latest Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which analyzes the various ways Americans interact with arts and cultural events. It’s a trove of data with more than a few surprising revelations. (For instance, one percent of Americans attend a live reading of poetry or prose every week — the mind reels.) One of its most thought-provoking findings has to do with education. As it turns out, how much schooling you’ve had is a near-perfect predictor of how much culture you consume.  

The NEA’s report shows a direct correlation between the highest degree a person has achieved and the number of arts events they attend. (“Arts events” are defined broadly as plays, museums and concerts, but also live music in a church or nightclub.) Of the adults surveyed, 20 percent of those with only a grade school education attended an arts event in the previous year, while 40 percent of high school graduates, 70 percent of college graduates, and 75 percent of those with post-graduate degrees did the same. The pattern holds even for those who didn’t finish high school or college; the more years of education you have, the more likely you are to see a ballet performance, go to a craft fair, or visit a historic site. What’s more, this has been true since the NEA began conducting the annual arts participation survey in 1982, almost 40 years ago.

Credit: National Endowment for the Arts

There’s a chicken-and-egg question here. Do elementary school art classes lead to PhDs? Or do people whose privileged backgrounds allow them to get the best possible education also have more opportunities to cultivate an interest in the arts (and the cash to afford subscription seats to the opera)? We consulted the experts to find out. 

A question of access 

“There is correlation here around opportunity,” says Sarah Johnson, director of the Weill Music Institute, Carnegie Hall’s education and social change initiative. “Who’s most likely to participate in [arts activities]? Kids who have plenty of resources and who are in good schools.”

Weill Music Institute, founded in 2003 as an umbrella for Carnegie Hall’s education programming, provides learning opportunities for children, teenagers and disenfranchised populations in New York City and around the world. Among their programs: a digital world music curriculum for young children, a program that links professional orchestras with local elementary schools, and opportunities for young artists to be mentored by famous musicians (including, this year, opera legend Renee Fleming and rapper Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter from The Roots.) The vast majority of their programming is free, accessible to students and educators at underfunded schools who may not otherwise have those resources. “We have been thinking about those issues around equity and access to opportunity a ton, for years, across all our programs,” says Johnson.

Because here’s the good news: exposure to the arts has been shown to have a profound impact on all students, regardless of their socio-economic status. 

The arts advantage

There is no major study that directly addresses the question of whether arts participation leads to higher education levels. There is, however, a whole lot of data about how the arts improve students’ performance and motivation in school, which, logically, may encourage them to go on to college and beyond.

Broadly, the arts have been shown to strengthen both reading and math skills. When drama is integrated into a language arts curriculum, students achieve higher levels of literacy and build better vocabularies. The study of music has been connected to improved math skills. Children who participate in arts have higher GPAs and perform better on standardized tests — ironic, since No Child Left Behind inspired many districts to cut arts funding and redirect their resources towards test preparation.  

school art classParticipation in the arts at a young age is a strong predictor of future educational outcomes. Credit: Wikipedia

The arts advantage not only cuts across income levels, it can level the playing field. Disadvantaged students who are “deeply engaged in the arts” have been shown to perform better academically than students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds who are less involved in the arts. Even juveniles in the justice system are more likely to earn high school credit if they participate in the arts while incarcerated. 

Not only do the arts improve academic performance, they enhance students’ overall experience of school. Young people who participate in arts programs report less boredom and are more likely to describe school as enjoyable. They feel more respect for their teachers and peers. They have fewer disciplinary infractions. They are less likely to abuse drugs.

All of these positives help students stay on track. Young people who are highly involved in the arts are five times more likely to graduate high school than those with low involvement, and students who study the arts are 29 percent more likely to apply to colleges than those who do not. So while no specific study has drawn a straight line from art classes to advanced degrees, the cumulative evidence is compelling.

What can’t be quantified

While the data is persuasive, it’s also not the whole story. The arts have the power to transform education in ways that are difficult to quantify, and some that researchers are only beginning to understand. 

Educator and scholar Sarah Fine believes that the subjects we think of as extracurriculars, including the arts, often sculpt students’ intellect more effectively than core academic classes. 

“In a lot of classroom classes, kids are constantly practicing isolated skills without ever really understanding how those skills fit together towards some authentic purpose,” says Fine. “There are very few opportunities to actually produce something that is distinctive and involves any sort of individual contribution, whereas in the arts, almost by definition, you’re creating something that ideally has some aesthetic or social value to the world.” 

school playYoung people who participate in arts programs report less boredom and are more likely to describe school as enjoyable. Credit: Eaglebrook School / Flickr

Fine’s book In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School, co-authored by Jal Mehta, compares the experience of students studying Hamlet in English class to theater students at the same school producing the 18th century comedy The Servant of Two Masters. The authors observed that, in comparison with their classroom behavior, the students participating in the production worked harder, had a greater sense of purpose, built closer relationships to their teacher and were less self-conscious about participating. They also had more opportunities for collaborative work, and simultaneously achieved a spectrum of learning that is physical (building sets, performing), mental (learning lines, analyzing text) and emotional (exploring character arcs, building relationships with other theater kids). 

Fine argues that some of these crucial life lessons — for example, learning how to use one’s skills in collaboration with students in different roles to achieve a common goal — are necessary to earn a living wage in the 21st century, and are not being adequately taught in most classrooms.

She also notes that it’s possible to attain these same benefits by participating in non-arts-based extracurriculars — for example, playing on a soccer team. But physical education isn’t being eliminated from public education at the same rate as arts programs, because sports are recognized as inherently valuable to a well-rounded education, just as Fine believes the arts should be.

Passing the baton

Given the research, one could extrapolate that exposure to the arts encourages students to pursue a higher education. But why stop there? Jeri Lynne Johnson, founder and conductor of the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, facilitates educational programs with children in underserved communities across Philadelphia. She believes that “part of the reason that we are in the political situation we are in” is that U.S. citizens feel powerless to even imagine a better society, let alone make changes. By facilitating creativity and a sense of agency, she theorizes, arts programs won’t just get kids into college — they may even save democracy.

“We have programs where we’ll go out, we’ll do a concert, then we put a baton in people’s hands and say, hey, come on up and conduct the orchestra,” says Johnson. “I give them a little conducting lesson. And to a person, they’re amazed that the orchestra really is doing what they tell them to do. They need to understand that when they move, that makes something happen. And so an orchestra as a living system becomes a metaphor for the political system, the financial system, the legal system, the educational system, and that people have the capacity to move and communicate in a way that affects that system.”

Read the companion piece to this story, This Is What Classical Music Looks Like.

The post Do School Plays Lead to PhDs? appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Weird Science: Plants as Interplanetary Communication Devices

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/01/2020 - 5:06am in

Science Fiction has been described as the literature of ideas, and one of the most bizarre ideas is that grass is an artificial computing device. This strange notion appears in Clifford Simak’s 1965 novel, All Flesh Is Grass. This is about a small American town that finds itself completely enclosed beneath a forcefield. The town is on a nexus linking our world and its counterpart in a parallel universe. Investigating the force field and the strange disappearance years earlier of a mentally handicapped lad, the hero finds himself transported to this alternative Earth, where he meets the missing boy, now grown up. He also encounters a group of mysterious travellers from yet another universe, who have come to the world simply to listen to music and dance. Returning to our Earth, he finds that the force field has been put around the town by intelligent extradimensional aliens. There is a series of alternative Earths, who have come together to form some kind of interdimensional federation. These wise, enlightened beings wish to help humanity. They are skilled physicians, and show their good intentions by healing the town’s sick free of charge. It’s revealed that grass is some kind of intelligently engineered device, which was used by an alien race for information storage thousands of years ago.

As with many of the stranger ideas in literature, whether Science Fiction or not, you wonder where the idea came from. Some clue is perhaps given in the 1973 Erich Von Daniken book In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible. Beginning on page 192, the world’s most notorious author on ancient astronauts discusses how two American scientists suggested that plants could be extraterrestrial communication devices. He writes

So far all attempts to capture signals from the cosmos with the aid of electromagnetic waves have failed. Dr George Lawrence of the Ecola Institute in San Bernardino, California, hit on a fantastic new way to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences. Lawrence wondered if plants connected to an electronic control system would be suitable for communication with the universe. It is known that plants possess electrodynamic properties, indeed their capacity to assimilate tests and react in a binary way like a computer is sensational. Lawrence closely observed the semiconductive and general electromotive capacities of plants. He asked himself the following questions as part of his programme:

  1. Can plants be integrated with electronic apparatuses in such a way that they yield usable data?
  2. Can plants be trained to react to specific objects or events?
  3. Is the assumption that plants have the capacity for exception perception provable?
  4. Which of the 350,000 kinds of plants is most suited for the test. (p. 192)

Von Daniken then goes on to describe how plants respond to electric stimulation, and how Dr Clyde Backster, an expert in lie detectors, observed similar responses in 1969 during experiments in which he believed his test plants responded telepathically, at first to himself lighting a match, and then to a bucket of shrimps being plunged into boiling water. This response became known, apparently, as the Backster effect. Von Daniken continues

Dr Lawrence next tried to use plants for electromagnetic contact with the cosmos. A series of experiments, christened Project Cyclops, was organised over a distance of seven miles in the Mojave Desert, near Las Vegas. On 29 October 1971 at the same fraction of a second the measuring sets attached to the plants registered heightened curves which were transferred to the tape by an amplifier. What was going on? Was something underground stimulating the plants? Were there torrents of lava, earthquakes, magnetic influences? New sets were made, the plants were protected in lead boxes and Faradaic cages. The result was the same! Observed over a long period of time, curves and notes showed a certain synchronicity. The plants seemed to be communicating. Plants cannot think: they can only react. Every conceivable kind of magnetic wavelength was tried. At the moment of the different reactions, nothing could be heard. Could the process be connected with the fixed stars, with quasars or radiation? A new series of experiments clearly showed that the cause came from the cosmos. Radioastronomers with their gigantic antenna could pick up nothing, but plants showed violent reactions. Obviously a wavelength that functioned biologically was involved. This brought the experimenters into a territory whose existence has been suspected, but which is not measurable so far – telepathy. A biological contact took place in a way unexplained to date, but during the detour via the cells it became measurable. Dr George Lawrence said on the subject:

Obviously biological interstellar communication is nothing new. We have only 215 astronomic observatories in the world, but about a million of the biological type, although we call them by other names such as churches, temples and mosques. A biological system (mankind) communicates (prays) to a far distant higher being. Biological understanding is also the order of the day in the animal kingdom; we have only to think of dogs and cats which find their way home again by instinct. A fascinating feature of the experiments in the desert is the realisation that these biological contacts with the cosmos are connected with the speed of light.

The suspicion is growing stronger that the plants are called up by someone in the constellation Epsilon Bootes at a hundred times the speed of light. That is also why radioastronomers could not register the transmissions. Why use a big drum when a kettledrum is available? Perhaps we have investigated interstellar contacts with the wrong instruments, the wrong wavelengths and the wrong spectrum until now. (p.194-5).

This is clearly very fringe science, if not actually pseudoscience of the type likely to get Richard Dawkins grinding his teeth. It also merges into a kind of New Age pantheism, in which the cosmos itself may be some kind of God or supreme intelligence. It’s all very different from what I was taught in secondary school that grass was a monocotolydon. That means, it only has one leaf. I also note that the experiments started in 1971, some six years after Simak published his novel. But scientists and novelists were discussing plant intelligence from the 1950s onwards, including the idea that they could feel pain. It’s now been found that plants do communicate biochemically, and there was an article in the papers last week stating that they do feel pain. Perhaps Lawrence’s ideas, or ideas similar to them, were being discussed several years before Lawrence conducted his experiments, and influenced Simak when he wrote his book.

Let's Think About... Booklet (1971- )

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 16/11/2019 - 12:06am in

The Let's Think About... booklet was published by Scarfolk Council Schools & Child Welfare Services department in 1971. It was designed for use in the classroom and encouraged children between the ages of five and nine to focus on a series of highly traumatic images and events.

Parents and teachers assumed that the booklet was based on psychological research but it had no scientific basis whatsoever. The booklet's medically untrained author was one of the dinner ladies from the council canteen before she was fired for attempting to slip strychnine into bowls of blancmange.

Despite the scandal, the booklet remained on the school curriculum for many years and the author was invited by the council to pen an updated edition from her prison cell in 1979.

Cyberwoman Lies About Anti-Semitism Smears in the Metro

The late, great Bill Hicks once said, ‘We live in a world where the good die young, while mediocrities thrive and prosper’. And on Tuesday, two days ago, one of the more noxious of those mediocrities, Tracy Ann Oberman, appeared in the ‘Sixty Seconds’ interview column in the Metro. That’s the free newspaper given away to passengers on buses. The former Dr Who cyberwoman was talking about her latest role as the heroine, Brenda, in the crime drama Mother of Him, the mother of a son, who has committed a terrible crime. Inevitably, the questions then moved on to the abuse she had received for her campaign against anti-Semitism. This ran

You’re no stranger to facing a barrage of abuse online since speaking out against Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism problem. Did that feed into the play?

My speaking out on anti-Semitism and misogyny, in particular in my old party, Labour, and the trolling I received didn’t really feed in because the character of Brenda is not an actor or celebrity and didn’t put herself out there. It made me think that social media has a positive side, which is to give people a chance to put out their story when they otherwise would have been unable to.

Why has anti-Semitism reared its head now?

All racism and misogyny is there somewhere beneath the surface but up until the past few years it was kept to people mumbling in pubs and private areas as it wasn’t deemed acceptable to say in public. I think there’s been a big change since 2017. The left should be better, as should the right- but that is not my affiliation so someone else needs to police them. You can deny you have a problem with it as much as you like but it’s here and it’s thriving.

Your experience with trolling on social media fed into your podcast, Trolled. Have people responded positively to it?

I’ve had such incredible feedback. I get handwritten letters and cards and tweets from people who enjoyed it. I think people have found it very empowering and cathartic to be able to talk about it. Everybody I had on my podcast was championing a different cause and every single one of us had exactly the same sort of trolls. So it is less to with the issue and more to do with the type of person who wants to abuse someone they disagree with.

This is the most self-promoting, hypocritical balderdash. 

The anti-Semitism Oberman and the other witch-hunters are so keen to root out isn’t anti-Semitism per se, but rather criticism – including very justified criticism – of Israel. That’s why Oberman and the rest of the witch-hunters have been attacking Corbyn and his supporters. They do criticise Israel and its slow-motion ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. And Oberman, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Jewish Labour Movement and the rest of the wretched lot can be very justly accused of anti-Semitism themselves. Very many of their victims have been Jews, like Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, to name only two. As a result, these decent people have suffered the most appalling trolling and abuse. Walker has been told that she can’t be Jewish, ’cause she’s Black, obviously by White racists ignorant of the indigenous Black Jewish people of Africa and Afro-Jewish people in the Diaspora. They’ve demanded that she be lynched – not a joke to someone, whose mother’s people in America really suffered that atrocity – and her body dumped in bin bags, or set on fire. Tony Greenstein has been physically attacked, and told by right Zionists that they wish his family had died in the Holocaust. And any Jew, who criticises Israel, will be called that their a ‘traitor’. As they point out, you can’t be a traitor to a country you weren’t born in, or have never visited. But Netanyahu, contrary to the I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism, which says that Jews cannot be accused of being more sympathetic or loyal to a foreign power, has declared all Jews, everywhere, to be citizens of Israel, and automatically expects their immediate, unconditional loyalty. Needless to say, he’s being sadly disappointed, as increasingly more Jews are giving him the two-fingered salute and ignoring Israel completely or showing solidarity with the Palestinians. To be a Jew, as one pro-Palestinian Jewish American has said, ‘is always to side with the oppressed, never the oppressors’.

The witch-hunters targets also include decent, anti-racist gentiles, like Ken Livingstone and Mike. They went after Leninspart because he dared to cite respected history, that Hitler did initially support Zionism. Tony Greenstein and Prof. Newsinger over at Lobster, and many others, including Mike, have cited chapter and verse of respected histories showing that this is absolutely right. But as Greenstein has shown, Israel has repeatedly tried to suppress any mention of its collaboration with Nazi Germany, including the collusion of Zionist activists, like Kasztner in Hungary, with the Nazis in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz.

Many of the people smeared as anti-Semites by people like Oberman are anything but.

Quite often, they, Jews and gentiles, have been active against racism, like the Black anti-racism campaigner, Mark Wadsworth. Mike and I were brought up with an awareness of the horrors of the Shoah, and Mike at College was invited to be one of the speakers at a commemoration of those murdered in it by one of his Jewish friends. They have often themselves been the subject of racist or anti-Semitic abuse and attack.

And as for trolling, Oberman, her friend Rachel Riley, and the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism have done more than their fair share of this against decent people like Mike, Jackie and Tony. Riley herself has connections, it seems, to David Collier’s Gnasherjew troll army.

And Oberman has no business lecturing anyone on free speech.

She and her bestie, Rachel Riley, are suing 16 people, including Mike, for libel because they reblogged material showing how they bullied a 16 year old girl with anxiety issues after calling her an anti-Semite. Why? She dared to support Jeremy Corbyn, and didn’t want to have anything to do with them when they wanted her take time out from school to meet them to be ‘re-educated’. Riley is suing Mike, despite not being able to answer his question about what was libelous in the material he reblogged.

At the moment, they’re trying to wear down Mike’s defence by raising technical legal issues in the hope, it seems, of using up Mike’s money so that he won’t be able to afford to defend himself. Mike is still appealing for contributions to his defence fund, and is very grateful for the generous support he’s received from people really concerned with justice and free speech. See:

Court confrontation over Riley libel case is postponed

Fortunately, every time Riley and Oberman open their mouths, support for Mike and the other victims of their lies, smears and trolling goes up.

Don’t believe the lies of Oberman and Riley. Support free speech, and the people really tackling racism and anti-Semitism: their victims.