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August 21, 2008


Teaching children to love what is beautiful, they learn to appreciate that which transcends culture, race, ideology:

At Harvard's Graduate School of Education, Howard Gardner has long taught his theory of multiple intelligences to enable his students, when they enter their own classrooms, to understand and nurture these various strengths in the youngsters they teach. As explained by a Gardner practitioner, second-grade teacher Christine Passarella, in last fall's Adelphi University newsletter: "In the past, if you had linguistic intelligence, if you could read and write, you were smart. If you had mathematical and logical intelligence, you still got credit for that. But what if you had musical intelligence or what if you had kinetic intelligence? You see that with musicians and athletes. So Howard Gardner says there are gifts in all of us and it's up to us to teach to those."

Teaching in the Holliswood School, P.S. 178 in Jamaica Estates, Queens, she says, "I have worked on wonderful projects on artful thinking with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Children studied paintings not just about the artist and his style but to look at the relationships between the characters in the painting, and the setting. It's a way of developing thoughtful dispositions."

Ms. Passarella told me that she teaches "in a looped classroom that gave me two years to develop my program with the same children, starting in the first grade. I began mixing great works of art with classical music; and over time I introduced rock, the blues and jazz."

A childhood friend, blues guitarist Joey Leone, had at first introduced her to the music of John Coltrane, and when she played his recordings "the children were drawn to the range of feelings in the songs as I gave them the backgrounds of the compositions.

"'Alabama,' for example, was about Martin Luther King and racial discrimination; and while 'My Own True Love' concerned a man and a woman, John Coltrane's 'Love Supreme' expressed a love for humanity."

This reminded me that in one of my conversations with Coltrane he said he was searching for the sounds of what Buddhists call "Om," which he described as the universal essence of all of us in the universe. He also told me regretfully, "I'll never know what the listeners feel from my music, and that's too bad."

Ms. Passarella's second-grade students, she says, would have told him how moved they were by not only the ballads "but the more avant-garde recordings, such as 'Interstellar Space.'" She notes that, through her teaching, "I have discovered that young children have open, welcoming minds, and the more pure and emotional the music, the more they connect. Soon they were hooked on John Coltrane's music."

The children learned that Coltrane lived in Dix Hills -- a hamlet on Long Island not all that far from their school -- from 1964 to his death in 1967 (his family sold the home in 1972). And they were saddened to discover that the house -- where he composed "A Love Supreme" and all his last works -- had been in danger of being demolished by the real-estate developer who now owned it. But they and their teacher soon were excited by the news that a resident of Dix Hills, Steve Fulgoni, a longtime jazz enthusiast, had come to the rescue of the Coltrane home.

...Starting what he calls a "grass-roots effort" to save the house -- aided by news coverage in New York City and Long Island newspapers and on television -- Mr. Fulgoni eventually persuaded the Town of Huntington, of which Dix Hills is a part, to make the building a local landmark; in 2005, the town bought the home from the developer. It has since been listed on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places -- with the ownership transferred to "Friends of the Coltrane Home," whose board includes Coltrane's son, Ravi; Ravi's wife, Kathleen Hennessy; and Mr. Fulgoni. Before her death, John Coltrane's widow, Alice, was an enthusiastic proponent of restoring the house.

But the structure, left untended for years, requires much fund raising to become what the Coltranes would like it to be -- "a place of learning" where, for example, Coltrane's Meditation Room would change into a multimedia room for schoolchildren. Contributions can be sent to Friends of the Coltrane Home, P.O. Box 395, Deer Park, N.Y., 11729 (www.the coltranehome.org).

Among the more dedicated recent fund-raisers were Ms. Passarella's second-graders. They engaged in raffles, cake sales and a book fair. Then, their teacher tells me, on May 23 of this year -- at a special assembly program in Coltrane's honor -- "they sang their original songs and choreographed ballroom dances." One was named "Chasin' the Train" (Trane was his nickname).

I've often said children come to appreciate things more when they aren't just handed to them. These second graders were given a priceless gift by their teacher:

What they earned for themselves - and for others - is the capacity to experience a few moments of grace, infinitely suspended in time. May they enjoy it for the rest of their lives.

Posted by Cassandra at August 21, 2008 08:09 AM

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Hi, Cass...completely off topic (perhaps) and I apologize if you may have already covered this, from Snopes, a wonderful website:


It would take someone a lot harder than me to view the accopmanying video and not be deeply moved.

Posted by: sean at August 21, 2008 12:33 PM


You'll never go wrong with me posting something like that, off topic or not. My Dad had tried to send that to me, but I don't think it got to me so I'm grateful for the link.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 21, 2008 02:52 PM

I watched that through. It was a fine tribute.

Posted by: Grim at August 21, 2008 03:35 PM

Great tribute; but to address your original topic, these kids did have a wonderful teacher. I've long believed that we could do a better job teaching kids that "things" are interrelated. It's possible to teach history, or at least make it more relevant, by using art or music or literature, for example. This teacher gets the idea and, as you said, has given her students a fantastic gift.

Posted by: lela at August 21, 2008 06:39 PM

That was the joy of learning to me - seeing the amazing connections between things. To me, that is what a great teacher does - draws connections between subjects and helps students discover how they relate to their lives. In this way, information acquires context: it becomes knowledge rather than being seen as just disconnected facts with no importance.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 21, 2008 06:43 PM

At any rate, the other thing I loved about this piece is that it was my oldest boy who introduced me to John Coltrane. He asked me to buy him 'A Love Supreme' for his 26th birthday - that and another recording (can't recall which now - it was a few years ago - just remember that I had a devil of a time finding it, which is par for the course for him: he always asks for obscure music). Later when I was visiting him, we were listening to some music on a quiet rainy evening and it was just heavenly. Sure enough, it was the music I'd bought him years before.

So sometimes your kids can teach you things you did not know.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 21, 2008 06:59 PM

I ended putting a lot of my son's jazz CDs on an iPod for my husband when he was in Iraq last year. He was very surprised :p

I don't think he ever thought he'd have an iPod, but I loaded it up with photos and movie clips of The Burrito at Christmas. Kind of neat, the way technology can help bridge distances.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 21, 2008 07:01 PM

Oh dear, I am getting education department speak here now.

I have some problems with this. I will be keeping them to myself.

Posted by: Pile On at August 21, 2008 08:27 PM

If my name were Pile On, at this point I would make a smart a** remark :p

However, I am Nice Cass so I will .... ummm.... be keeping my thoughts to myself.

Posted by: The Older the Violin... at August 21, 2008 08:38 PM

You are who?

Nice Cass?

Posted by: Pile On at August 21, 2008 08:45 PM

The Seeress can be nice? Amazing.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 22, 2008 12:21 AM

Or, as Virgil said to the Cumaean Sibyl, "You can't be Seeress..."

Posted by: BillT at August 22, 2008 04:00 AM

I've been tied up for that last few days trying to determine how many "houses" I have. I gave up after discovering that I have at least 3 editions of "The Fall of the House of Usher" on the books shelf.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help but comment as to how absolutely THRILLED I am that young people are being the opportunity to hear the most perfect music a soul could produce. There's hope yet, world.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 22, 2008 01:40 PM

It was a treat listening to different clips on YouTube for this post, spd. I was interested in the story because both my boys seem to like him and my oldest boy had asked for two CDs at once, so that got my attention. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it - I didn't have any trouble finding three clips that I liked well enough to post.

I do not normally listen to a lot of jazz, so I wasn't familiar with Coltrane.

My youngest boy loaded several of his CDs onto my iPod long ago, but there is so much on there that I have never gotten around to listening to. I think he got lost in the maze of stuff I hadn't tried yet.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 22, 2008 04:46 PM

Your "It's Twue, It's Twue" post title, Cass, is too evil and funny.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at August 23, 2008 07:00 PM