My View from South Hill
Thursday, July 15, 2010
As Garrison Keillor might say, “It’s been a busy week at Ithaca College, my home campus.” The Quad is buzzing with young people ages 3 to 18, walking from place to place and talking together in animated tones.
The 18 year olds are members of the class of 2014 here for their college orientation. They cross the quad multiple times during 48 hours of intensive meetings and even more intensive socializing that leaves them exhausted but also deeply familiar with the College and with each other. Parents and siblings often come to the orientation as well, making it a kind of family outing. At least, it is that way at first. The orientation begins with a group meeting at which the vice presidents for student affairs and academic affairs give an overview of what each student should expect in their academic and student life experience. There are some tips for parents as well, who after all are going through a transition almost as significant as that of their son or daughter!
After that first hour, though, the students and their families are separated. Students go off with their orientation leaders, themselves upperclass students who share their wisdom on how things really work. Parents and siblings attend separate informational sessions on academic and social life, and also have time to explore Ithaca, one of America’s truly great college towns.
If you walk around our campus this week, though, you will see about 275 other students who look suspiciously young. Ranging in age from 3 to 17, they are lugging around violin cases that in some instances are almost as big as they are! San Juan Capistrano has its swallows; Ithaca College has the Suzuki Institute, to which young violin students have been returning every summer for the past 36 years. Some of this year’s participants have been coming to the Institute for ten or more years. Others are here with parents who themselves attended the Ithaca College Suzuki Institute when they were young.
As you may know, the Suzuki Method for violin instruction rests on a powerful insight some 70 years ago by Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, connecting music instruction with how children learn to speak their native language. Children learn to speak by hearing the language spoken all around them, by constant repetition borne of their natural desire to communicate, and by receiving encouragement for every success as well as loving correction of their mistakes. Dr. Suzuki reasoned that young children are mentally and physically ready to produce music, just as they are ready to produce language. You don’t need to understand grammar to learn to speak your native language, and nor do you need to understand musical theory or even notation to play the violin. You just need an opportunity to try, a role model to follow, and loving encouragement.
It is that emphasis on loving encouragement from parents, teachers and peers that makes the Suzuki Institute on the Ithaca College campus so much fun to observe. The atmosphere is more of a family festival than of a high stress band camp for over-achievers!
Watching our young campus visitors making music this week, and watching our slightly older campus visitors prepare to begin their college education, I realized that Suzuki’s insights into learning the violin apply to every aspect of life. As human beings, learning new things is as natural an activity to us as eating and sleeping. It follows that the job of professional educators, including the Ithaca College faculty, is simply to give that natural learning impulse some direction in order to make learning time as productive as possible. We must also make sure that the learning environment is joyful and full of love, both for our subject matter and for each other as fellow learners.
When Garrison Keillor says of Lake Wobegon that “the women are strong, the men are good looking and all the children are above average,” he is being facetious. But sitting in the sunshine this week at Ithaca College, my home campus, I saw everywhere around me evidence of joyful learning. Some of our women may not be strong and some of our men may not be good looking, but all of our young ones are definitely above average!
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