If you are serious about improving education in a big way — about transforming education in general and communities in particular — then here's what you can do: Grab your fellow educators or students or parents, etc. and watch these TED talks: (1) Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? (2) Bill Strickland: Redemption through arts, music, and unlikely partnerships. After you've been inspired and challenged to think differently by watching those great talks from past TED Conferences (and you have discussed their ideas), sit back and watch the two TED videos below which were recorded just two weeks ago at TED 09. The three TED Prize presentations were fantastic — truly an incredible evening that I will not soon forget. But it was the last presentation by TED Prize winner Jose Antonio Abreu that moved many of us to tears (and all of us to our feat). To me, Abreu and organizations like El Sistema perfectly exemplify the spirit of TED and inspire us to work harder to be better and to help others improve their lives in even the smallest of ways. What Jose Antonio Abreu speaks in his TED Prize talk from Venezuela is truth, and it's from the heart. The presentation is 17 minutes, but it really did feel like only five minutes live; we were all listening so carefully to his words (presentation is in Spanish with subtitles). Watch below or go here for better download options.
After the Maestro's TED Prize speech (which got a big standing ovation), the TED audience was really in for something special: The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra lead by Gustavo Dudamel, himself a product of El Sistema. We were blown away. The second musical piece — Arturo Márquez' Danzón No. 2 — was especially moving. It was really a special night. So, put on your head phones and turn up the volume. This is truly remarkable, inspiring stuff. Go here for more download options.
No music, no life
El Sistema is a reminder that music and the arts are not cursory, they are not mere luxuries or niceties for a few. "Music is life," as one of the young musicians said in the presentation. You do not need to become a professional musician, but in music and art you learn discipline and commitment and the value of hard, hard work. You learn what the pursuit of excellence is all about, that hard work has a reward, that you have to fail before you can succeed. You learn about self-expression and communication. You learn self-respect and the respect of others. These are not unimportant things, they are vital things. Yes, of course you need math and science and literature — these are essential. But you need music and art to take you to a higher ground, to make you human. Why it is a case of either-or — "academics" or "the arts" — is one of the great mistakes of our time. People like Jose Antonio Abreu and Bill Strickland and Ken Robinson, etc. remind us that this is a false choice.