I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. -- Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Japanese Musician on Selling Our Kids Short

While googling for information on piano equipment (pedal extenders for the kids), I accidentally stumbled on an essay that criticizes the modern tendency to underestimate the mental potential of our children, written by Haruko Kataoka, founder of the Suzuki piano method.

Dr. Kataoka wrote:
I am always dismayed to see the content of so-called "children's entertainment" and educational materials. They are so simplistic, as if children cannot understand anything….

Making only childish materials available to children is based on a huge misconception…. adults become convinced that children need simplistic materials for their entertainment and education, and they arbitrarily provide children with only these things. The great majority of children's toys and activity books are based on this basic misunderstanding….

The result is that society itself makes children look below themselves in their studies. It is not the children's fault that they are looking down. The adults are forcing them to look down….

The beauty of nature and the splendid fragrance of the arts are necessary for people from childhood. Whether they are exposed to such things daily for ten or twenty years or whether they have been exposed only to lowly, common things will determine that individual's sensibility for the rest of his or her life.

That is one of the core messages that I hope I am communicating in this blog: kids are capable of far, far more intellectually than most adults give them credit for. We are routinely denying children access to the best knowledge of nature and history that humans possess, and to our greatest cultural creations such as classical music, and instead feeding them "simplistic" pabulum considered “developmentally appropriate.”

That is not only an insult to our kids' intelligence. It also cripples our kids in developing the primary means of survival possessed by human beings – their minds.

While Kataoka’s specific interest was in music and music teaching, she makes clear that she intends her point to apply not just to music but rather to all aspects of a child’s development.

The entire essay is a bit over a page in length, and well worth reading: I hope you’ll take a minute to click and read it.


  1. Nice essay. Love the blog by the way. It's good to hear of others who think math and science are sadly under taught. Oh, and dh and I are nerds too. (As are most of the children though we do have one type B slacker personality that snuck in.)

  2. Thanks, Lisa.

    A while back, our family dropped in to one of the local homeschool groups, and we happened to mention that my wife and I were both nerds (Ph.D. in physics, Ph.D. in biology, kind of obvious!). The assembled ladies gave the strangest sort of nervous laugh, as if we had just admitted to being committed felons! We realized we would not really fit in with that group.

    Have you seen the quote from Gerry Sussman of MIT? He said:

    "My idea is to present an image to children that it is good to be intellectual, and not to care about the peer pressures to be anti-intellectual. I want every child to turn into a nerd - where that means someone who prefers studying and learning to competing for social dominance."

    Mary Bucholtz at University of California at Santa Barabara has written some interesting things about “nerds” and the fact that being a nerd is actually a chosen status, not something that some poor unfortunate folks just fall into. I’ll write a post about her work when I get a chance.

    Thanks for dropping by.