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Bloom Education

SHANGHAI, CHINA – Bloom Education brings together children and teenagers from diverse cultural groups with an aim to provide a holistic educational experience, especially in subjects not typically taught at school. They strive to connect people from different backgrounds and to inspire a love of learning in all of their students.

Strategy Advisor and Youth Mentor, Osmond Wang, approached The Art of Learning Project while preparing for a two-week summer camp program based in Xicang, Sichuan Province, which would focus on exploring TAOL principles while providing students with opportunities to truly enjoy the learning process. An important component of the program was to support the students in developing empathy and discovering the connections between the three participating cultural groups – the Han ethnic majority, non-Han minority, and Americans or Canadians with Chinese heritage.

The entire student population participated in daily martial arts practice as well as a variety of academic, arts and crafts, and other activities, including small group city-building games and debates themed around selected topics. The facilitators led the groups in 1-hour reflection sessions at the end of each day, during which the students contemplated and discussed their learning. Through these reflections, students were able to Value Process Before Results by noting progress and growth, and practice Investment in Loss as they made plans for how to approach a situation or problem differently in the future. Finally, at the end of the 2-week session, the student who demonstrated the most commitment to the process of learning was voted “most dedicated learner” by the other participants in the camp.

“In the beginning (and for many days…), the mandatory daily 7am martial arts practice was not an activity that the students enjoyed, due to the early morning time slot it was scheduled for” shared Wang. “But by the end of the camp, it was the most popular activity and the martial arts teacher was voted best teacher among all the instructors, which was a testament to the quality of his teaching and also an indication of the students beginning to grasp (emotionally and behaviorally) the principles of learning. Martial arts offered a medium through which students could clearly see their own progress – of being able to do something they weren’t able to before.

“I think it shows that learning activities can be structured in ways that allow students to enjoy learning even when the initial learning experience requires elements of discomfort. I love that – when discomfort is enjoyed, even desired, in service of learning.”

Ace Academics Learning Centre

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – Ace Academics is a math and science focused tutoring organization serving students from grades 2 through 12. Founder, Sal Enslin, is dedicated to helping her students develop self-confidence, curiosity, and a sense of personal agency in their learning processes.
“Many students experience maths and science as a necessary evil. They think of these subjects as abstract and boring, and they often just want to get those over and done. Many students are convinced that they have no talent for this; that they are not smart and are often completely disengaged from the learning process, “ Enslin explains. “If I could show them that their brain is capable of way more than the school system has led them to believe, and give them the tools to find out what that might be… that would be incredible. If we could discover how each student learns, how that would play out in his or her environment, and how he or she could apply what we do to anything else they want to learn, it would enrich their lives a lot.”
Each tutoring session is unique, depending on the needs of the participating students. Additionally, the learning principles Enslin incorporates into these sessions, and the methods used to explore them, vary depending on the group. Many of her older students have been reading and discussing sections of The Art of Learning Student Guide in order to provide a general introduction to TAOL principles and open a conversation about their relationships to those concepts. Enslin is beginning to incorporate peer feedback in several of her tutoring sessions as a means to practice Investment in Loss. She is practicing Stress and Recovery with her students by taking breaks during difficult tasks to explore student passions and interests, and regularly incorporates Listening First into her work with each student in order to understand what drives them, how they learn, and any underlying needs that may affect their learning processes.

Santa Fe Public Schools

SANTA FE, NM – Geoffrey Moon is a Gifted Education Specialist within the Services for Advanced and Gifted Education Department for the Santa Fe Public Schools. He first heard Josh Waitzkin speak at the National Association for Gifted Children conference in 2009, and has maintained an interest in bringing The Art of Learning principles to New Mexico public school students since that time.
“Josh’s story is a fantastic platform for allowing kids to look at what being pushed does to them and what making their own push and following their own bliss does for their motivation and their talent development,” Moon explains. “I think the book is pretty authentic… in the way it speaks from the first person, unlike a lot of the materials we use that come from a “you ought to” approach. It also breaks down some of his lessons learned in a way that allows students to explore each one and say ‘Do I need to internalize this? Does this affect me, or is it about somebody else and how am I different?’”
The Santa Fe public school system is in the process of expanding their gifted education programs to include greater numbers of minority students, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students than have historically participated. As part of this push, Moon is developing a seminar course for 8th and 9th grade students who have been identified as gifted or potentially gifted. He emphasizes the importance of helping these students develop breadth, observational skills, and critical thinking skills in order to understand themselves as learners and embrace challenge, rather than allowing them to develop a learning path exclusively in response to the skills they believe they already possess.
Throughout this course, students will read The Art of Learning, explore and discuss concepts from the book that are applicable and identifiable to all the students, and then begin to explore how they will each challenge themselves moving forward. As a culmination to the seminar, each student will create a self-development plan to carry with them beyond high school. It will serve as a dossier with current strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and interests, as well as plans for next steps after leaving high school and being on their own. Moon’s hope is that this plan will support these students as they transition into college and beyond, and encourage them to continue to stretch and grow as learners, independent of the high school support system.

Lafayette Moraga Youth Association – Volleyball

LAFAYETTE, CA – LMYA is a non-profit organization providing year-round athletic programming for school age children. In addition to the traditional athletic experience, the girls’ volleyball program offers a unique combination of sports, staff management skill training, and technology training to their high school aged participants. The full program consists of over 500 athletes playing club recreational volleyball, 80 volunteer parent coaches, 60 fourteen to eighteen year old volleyball club girls who partner with the coaches as paid trainers, and 10 girls who are paid to run the business portion of the organization. The goal of this unique program is to provide teenage girls with an opportunity to learn to be assertive in the workforce, and to develop real life management and technology experience in order to be better prepared for fields in which women are often underrepresented.
Eric Standring, the LMYA volleyball Commissioner, believes that programs such as this one take steps toward addressing the gender inequities so prevalent in the technology industry, as well as provide the participants with an opportunity to make a return on their monetary investment in club volleyball, and deepen the family connections between trainers, players, and their parents who volunteer with the program.
In the early phase of the program, Standring is focusing on building resilience in the young trainers and office staff, as well as in the volunteer parent coaches. As a first step, they will practice Valuing Process Before Results through collaborative goal setting and the development of benchmarks on the path to those goals. Both trainers and coaches will work on cultivating a Soft Zone approach to meeting their goals with an understanding that they may need to change their focus as they progress.
“I’m blessed to have two things come together in my life right now: TAOL and Strata Data Conference Chairman, Roger Magoulas. The chance to hear how ideas on learning resonate between these two camps, is inspiring. Particular to TAOL, having the foundational learning principle off which to dialog provides stability but at the same time, direction.” Standring says.
Ultimately, Standring hopes that incorporating the learning principles into the work of the Trainers and Coaches will deepen their relationships, encourage greater engagement for all participants, and improve the overall experience of everyone involved.

Barcelona Academy of Art

BARCELONA, SPAIN – Dorian Iten, the Digital Art Program Coordinator at BAA, uses The Art of Learning principles in a 10-week course that focuses on Investment in Loss and Valuing Process Before Results, with an aim to strengthen resilience and deepen the students’ awareness of their internal states.
“Time and again I have found my insights from drawing and painting echoed in the principles Josh gleans from chess and the martial arts,” Iten told the JWF. “Both mental and physical resilience are crucial elements of an artist’s success. There is a lot to discover in this area and I am looking forward to sharing our findings with fellow teachers, trainers and coaches!”

Throughout the course the students explore their feelings of self-doubt by learning about and discussing mindset, analyzing both failures and growth of masters in painting, and participating in shared journaling activities on Slack. Students practice Valuing Process Before Results in collaborative drawing exercises in which they focus on improving accuracy and proportions by working on each other’s drawings. By regularly discussing both the teacher’s and the students’ struggles, the class develops a safe space in which students can be vulnerable and open to working together on Investment in Loss and growing as learners.
“As artists, we value our bodies as instruments and seek to refine perception and control,” Iten explains. “Our students are studying their own responses and biases through heart rate variability training and the study of screen recordings of their digital painting sessions. Heartbeat by heartbeat and brushstroke by brushstroke, new understanding emerges.”

Plato’s Republic and The Art of Learning in modern education

I first met Josh Waitzkin before he had written The Art of Learning but after he had established his spectacular achievements in chess. Josh was an undergraduate in my Political Theory Barnard College course at Columbia University that I had taught there since 1969. This was a large lecture class but it was followed by small discussion sessions that I led. There, in this intimate but vigorous exchange of ideas, I became well acquainted with Josh’s ideas. Of course, I couldn’t have known then that many of his thoughts about education that he shared in those discussions would appear only a few years later in his book.
The political theory course started with an ample examination of Plato’s Republic, the foundation of western philosophy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his own classic on educational theory, Emile, called The Republic “the finest treatise on education ever written.”
A central element in Plato’s theory is the way that he framed, for the first time in philosophy (western or eastern), the nature-nurture paradigm that continues to be discussed as a key concern of education. Although I had taught this class for decades before Josh joined it I didn’t realize until he came that his example aptly demonstrated Plato’s thesis.
Plato grounded his educational philosophy in two major concepts, first, the idea of arete, defined as an inherent excellence or natural gift in a person; and, second, techne, the skill subsequently developed in that individual through proper nurturing of arete. These two elements in a student constitute his or her essence. Acting together, they form the product of mind and character that may come only from a right education, or “art of learning”. All of this was first expounded in The Republic.
Although interpretations of Plato’s nature-nurture theoretical model have swung back and forth like a pendulum, to either put the two concepts at variance or emphasize one over the other, Plato carefully portrayed them as inextricably interwoven, insisting that only a firm understanding of how they worked together could produce the result intended, of a soundly educated person, whether the student develop an expertise in crafts, medicine or philosophy. In the end, the happiness of a community depended on the nurturing and implementation of a scrupulously conceived and applied system of education.
The presence of an individual’s inherent gift or inborn type of excellence is basic, yet if this quality is not discerned and cultivated by discerning teachers, then the system must fail. This is why Rousseau asserted that to view Plato’s Republic as a book about politics rather than education missed its fundamental purpose and meaning. As Plato emphasized when he introduced the nature-nurture paradigm, “education or nurture is the one thing that is an absolute requisite.” (Republic. IV. 423)
I believe that there’s no better explanation of the validity of Plato’s thesis about education than The Art of Learning, from the very first page, when Josh opens with a narrative that will forecast his future as a chess master. He describes his revelation on a day when he is walking with his mother in Washington Square Park in New York. It’s important to note that he’s only six years old, with no previous exposure whatsoever to chess. In fact, he had been mainly under the spell of “Spider-Man, sharks, dinosaurs, sports and driving[ his] parents crazy with mischief.”
Then without warning the epiphany occurred: “We had taken this walk dozens of times. I loved to swing around on the monkey bars and become Tarzan, the world my jungle. But now something felt different. I looked over my shoulder, and was transformed by mysterious figurines set up on a marble chessboard.” The sensation was “magical”.
Soon he began to play with an old man despite his mother’s apologetic admonition that he had no knowledge of chess at all. Instantly, his inner sensation of somehow knowing the game guided his moves. An inborn competence, a gift of excellence, an unmistakable display of arete shone forth at that early age. Josh relates how “My mom was confused, a little concerned about what had come over her boy. I was in my own world.” Yet the old player quickly intuited that something special was on display. He predicted from that one chance encounter that he would “read about you[Josh] in the paper someday.”
Following Plato’s theory, it’s easy to see that if Josh’s arete had been left at that moment, even as he would repeatedly return to Washington Square, now consumed with the game, then no one would have read about his subsequent achievements. The prerequisite to all the rest came with techne or the art of learning that he relates in riveting detail. It’s precisely the method found in “the art of learning” that determines the outcome of any person’s arete. This is why the main excitement of the book lies not merely in the discovery at the beginning but in the careful explanation that follows of how techne works through the educators who helped develop Josh’s talent.
In the ideal world of Plato’s Republic, the story would not be as random as Josh tells it here. The role of his loving father and mother would be replaced from the start by rigorously tested equivalents of Bruce Pandolfini, the master-level chess teacher that serendipitously recognized Josh’s unique gift one afternoon in the park. Plato’s community is tightly structured, organized around the paradigm that he pronounced so that no gift is left undiscerned because teachers are eminently qualified to perceive and elicit the excellence of each student. Of course, in our very different system of education, the tragedy from a Platonic perspective, is that so many minds are wasted. It’s ultimately a society that doesn’t care enough to cultivate concern for each achieving her or his potential excellence.
Now, I’d like to shift to my own attempts to take further the vital lessons contained in both The Republic and The Art of Learning. Following my classes with Josh and reading his life-changing book, I retired from teaching college in 2008 and moved first to St. Croix and then to Portland, Oregon. My sole purpose was to be near my two granddaughters, Mia and Sierra, then ages 5 and 3 respectively in order to be personally involved in their education.
I began teaching in their elementary schools from pre-K and then advanced with them to where they are presently enrolled, a Portland public high school. I wasn’t only concerned with them, of course, but with the students in sometimes large classes, attempting to discern their relative strengths and weaknesses in one subject or another.
My question was whether Plato was correct about each child, regardless of sex (because Plato’s theory was gender-neutral, a revolutionary ideal in ancient Athens), having an arete or special excellence that should be developed by a particular mode of education, Josh’s “art of learning”? Although my experiment hasn’t had the systematic quality of a proper scientific study and is surely influenced by personal bias, I have come to appreciate its value throughout the last eight years. Above all, I’m gratified that after teaching Plato’s Republic since 1965 (first, at the University of London), I’m pleased that in certain ways it’s applicable in the real world of education rather than dismissed as a utopia. As I’ve said, Josh’s theory and practice show the way.
In the ethics class that I’m now teaching in high school, we employ the Socratic dialogue to instruct students in various moral philosophies, from Plato to the present. An art of learning is applied that stresses not competition but co-operative discourse in the way that Josh describes. In contrast to the adversarial style of debating, our classes foster conversational civil discourse.
Specifically, the philosophies that we examine begin with classical Greek thought (Plato and Aristotle), then move to ethics of Kant (deontology), theories of Bentham and Mill (utilitarianism), feminist care (Carol Gilligan and Nell Nodding), contract theory (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Rawls) and finally the ethics of nonviolence ( M.K.Gandhi and Martin Luther King). The aim is to teach each of these six ethical philosophies by using excerpts from primary texts, supplemented by Michael Sandel’s Justice (together with his video lecture series).
We direct these readings at “cases” of moral issues or ethical problems, e.g., of racism, sexism, xenophobia. There is no effort to find a final solution for remedying these various afflictions but to subject them to civil discourse or, as I said, in the spirit of a Socratic dialogue that resembles Plato’s classic style.
Josh’s crucial emphasis throughout the book on the value of a non-aggressive art of learning, recognizing and imparting a plurality of theories, becomes an indispensable guideline.
In the fall semester of 2017, I intend to return to Barnard College to offer a first year seminar called “Ethics” that will further test this experiment at a university level. Wish me luck.

-Dennis Dalton, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Barnard College, Columbia University, N.Y.