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

by DENNIS DALTON
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.

Coral Academy Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, NV – Coral Academy of Science, Las Vegas is a k-12 public charter school with a focus on STEM education.  Alex Carlone, an 8th and 10th grade English teacher, began the school year with an exploration of The Art of Learning in a prerequisite unit focused on the craft of learning, metacognition, inquiry, and mental schema.
“My goal for employing TAOL ideas in the classroom is to level the playing field for students who have not developed sound learning strategies organically through positive family culture or early formative experiences. I find that there is a considerable gap between our “regular” and “honors” students, a gap I can only explain through the idea of “non-cognitive competencies” and differences in emotional intelligence. In my mind, Waitzkin’s ideas pair well with the initiatives led by the likes of Paul Tough and Alain de Botton, which help students develop performance psychology and humanistic intelligence.”

Carlone’s 10th grade students began the unit by reading The Art of Learning and participating in discussions at the end of each chapter.  They explored concepts such as the Soft Zone, the Downward Spiral, and entity versus incremental learning theories.  Their initial discussions helped Carlone deepen his own understanding of the students’ strengths and needs as well as their personal approaches to learning. He is developing a follow up unit devoted to the motivation and strategy behind personal transformation, in which he will connect The Art of Learning to Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and tie in ideas related to positive psychology.

Deenway Montessori and Unicity College

READING, UK – School founder and Headmaster, Munawar Karim, started Deenway Montessori School and Unicity College in 2009 to provide an educational environment that encouraged children to express themselves and contribute positively to the world. The Junior school, serving children ages 3 to 12, follows the Montessori method, while the Senior school, currently serving children ages 13 to 16, follows the Liberal Arts educational model – both working within the tenets of Islam. The schools currently serve 100 students, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and are run as a non-profit so as to be accessible to a broader range of families.
In the 2016-2017 school year, Deenway Montessori School and Unicity College began school-wide Thematic Programs with The Art of Learning Project. Over the summer recess staff were give copies of The Art of Learning and invited to begin their own personal reading of the book. In the spring, they plan to begin each morning reading and discussing a few passages from the book and thinking about how the ideas can be applied to their school community.
The Senior school students have begun an Art of Learning book study and discussion group, which will continue throughout the next two terms. Their teachers also plan to incorporate a selection of the learning principles into the school-wide Shakespeare study. At the same time, Mr. Karim is forming a parent book study group in order to educate the parents as to how they can support their children’s learning development at home. In addition, the Junior school staff will begin to weave the Resilience learning principles into their spring units of study in order to provide the students with repeated exposure to the concepts across disciplines.
When asked about his interest in The Art of Learning Project, Mr. Karim explained, “At our school we wish to prepare our young people for the world which they will be inheriting and that preparation entails much more than simply pushing students toward academic study and excellence in sports. It entails having a mindset, tools and attributes that can enable them to have the highest aspirations and know how to work toward them in whatever field, discipline or pursuit they are inclined to; and to be able to cope with the challenges that life gives us. What makes The Art of Learning special is that it not only agrees with some of the best research out there on self-improvement and learning, it is actually based on the real-life experiences of someone who continues to live by those principles and concepts.“ Regarding the school’s experience with working with the JW Foundation, Mr. Karim said, “The JW Foundation provides clear and structured resources together with one-to-one mentoring to help schools translate these ideas into life-transforming habits for staff, students and parents alike. The help they have given us so far is already beginning to make a difference in some quite unexpected ways…”

As participants in our semester long Thematic Program project, the faculty in both schools receive regular support from the JWF team over the course of their program. This support includes

· Monthly emails that lay out a plan for each phase of the program such as staff exploration of concepts, building personal daily habits, analyzing student needs, planning curricular tie-ins, working with students, and reflections on the program

· Scaffolded support of each participating staff member’s daily journaling on slack to analyze daily practice, note struggles, and plan for improvements.

If your school would like to participate in one of our Thematic Programs, please fill out this brief application.

University of California, Berkeley

BERKELEY, CA – Owen Monroy, Assistant Coach to the Cal Women’s Beach Volleyball team, contacted The Art of Learning Project after several years of experimenting with, adapting, and applying the learning concepts in his coaching. “The Art of Learning closely resonated with my instincts as a learner, and Josh’s experience and credibility increased my courage to re-imagine much of my coaching process,” Monroy says. After years coaching at the collegiate level (University of Illinois, Penn State, Saint Mary’s College of CA, Westminster College), Monroy returned to California with the hope of developing a better framework for skill acquisition and performance focused on beach volleyball, the fastest growing sport in the NCAA.
At Cal Berkeley, Monroy is engaging the team in a series of presentations and discussions, laying the groundwork for a culture and methodology which aims at feel-based learning, a mechanism for what they refer to as “dynamic response.” It is an incremental learning process, which pulls from concepts such as Form to Leave Form and The Soft Zone. “We try to limit rigid ideas around performance. Form, or technically explicit cues are not the norm here. We are focused on preparing well and allowing the body to shape movements in response to situational demands. The thing is,” Monroy points out, “encouraging athletes to color outside the lines of technique is counter-intuitive and often feels risky, yet our athletes are adapting to this approach incredibly well. Our ability to stay loose and produce dynamic results in chaos is taking off.”
With the support of the JWF, Monroy is developing a community of coaches, educators, and learners to discuss The Art of Learning principles and their role in athletics and education. If you are interested in joining the conversation, contact Coach Monroy.

Na Keiki O Halele’a

KAUAI, HI – C.E.O and Martial Arts Director Bear Bubnis contacted The Art of Learning Project with an interest in developing a Thematic Program that would weave The Art of Learning principles into all aspects of this free surfing, martial arts, visual arts, and gardening focused afterschool center. Currently serving 50 local children between the ages of 6 and 14, Bubnis and his staff of unpaid volunteer instructors are dedicated to providing learning experiences that will have a positive and lasting impact on their students’ lives. “We hope to gain a better understanding of how to connect with our students and how to help them fall in love with the learning process,” Bubnis explained.
Each of the afterschool teachers spent several months reading The Art of Learning, listening to Josh’s interviews with Tim Ferriss, and exploring their personal relationships to the learning concepts before bringing them to their students. At the same time, they carefully observed their students and began to discuss the strengths and struggles they saw in their approaches to learning. After identifying common themes such as creativity, humor, collaboration, lack of focus, low self-confidence, and limited perseverance, the teaching team decided to focus their program on the Resilience principles.
Within the first few months of their program, each instructor has seen noticeable growth in both their students’ approach to learning and their own teaching practice. “We have been using the Resilience principles and seen a drastic increase in the children’s interest in certain breathing and mindfulness techniques,” shared Bubnis. “We have also seen a collective appreciation for a silence that was previously taken with discomfort and unease.”
Art Director Paige Guglielmana explained, “With the JW Foundation, we have been able to move forward with inspiring creativity and self-reliance in our program by giving children the space and tools to do so. We encourage trial and error with their own creations in an inspiring group setting with a product of confidence, empowerment, and also increased mindfulness in their own practices and projects while bonding with each other as a collective group.”
“I have learned so much from the JW Foundation,” shared Surf Director Masaijah Lani. “Working with them has completely restructured the way I coach and help children to reach set goals. The JW Foundation helped to redefine the way I approach mindsets and the feedback that is given while in practice.”

As participants in our semester long Thematic Program project, the staff receive regular support from the JWF team over the course of their program. This support includes

• Monthly emails that lay out a plan for each phase of the program such as staff exploration of concepts, building personal daily habits, analyzing student needs, planning curricular tie-ins, working with students, and reflections on the program
• Scaffolded support of each participating staff member’s daily journaling on slack to analyze daily practice, note struggles, and plan for improvements

If your school would like to participate in one of our Thematic Programs, please fill out this brief application.