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, Director of the Digital Art Program, uses principles from The Art of Learning 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 their studies, students explore feelings of self-doubt and fear of failure by learning about and discussing mindset and participating in shared journaling activities. Collaborative drawing exercises provide opportunities to practice Valuing Process Before Results and discussions of both the teacher’s and the students’ struggles create a safe space in which participants can be vulnerable and open to working together on Investment in Loss and growing as learners.  Iten believes this work will help the students to become more capable artists, and more importantly, more capable, resilient, kind, and aware humans.

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.