Friday, November 4, 2016

Sundry Pieces of Reading Material I Wouldn’t Normally Blog About

I've played games with forty-page rule books before. So I don't know if Virgin Queen is harder than the others, or if I'm just dealing with a mind four decades older than the teenage sponge I used to soak up wargames with in the 70s. But after studying the arcane code of laws for a month now, I’m still finding hidden truths in it. This game of religious wars in the Elizabethan era has persnickety rules such as this: “France may ally with Spain or the Protestant but not with both these powers on the same turn.” (Presumably, the Holy Roman Empire or Ottomans may ally with any combination of powers on the same turn, so remembering this detail is a special burden that only the French player must bear.) And that’s just one line on one page out of forty 8½” x 11” pages. So maybe I should quit worrying so much about diminishing mental capacities.

I've played a friend's copy of VQ several times over the years, and reading Will and Ariel Durant's history of the sixteenth century this fall got me thinking about the game enough to buy it, set it up, and start playing through it on my own. (I was an only child, so I grew up playing games in this solitary way. It may explain why I’m not a competitive player today; I conditioned myself to be philosophical about losing every game.) But when I made it to the chapter on Elizabeth, the Durants’ account actually read like a commentary on my game. Suppose I need help understanding the Edmund Campion card; I could look through the rules, or I could just consult page 21 of volume VII of Durant. Then I draw the Douai College card; I could read the text on the card to find out what happens, or I could just recall what the Durants had to say about the Jesuit school.

My title cites “sundry pieces of reading material” off the rosy path of Great Books. Besides the rules to a game, I also had in mind three articles I came across one glorious day earlier this week. I did (completely imaginary) cartwheels when I read words pulverizing three pieces of stomach-churning rot I used to get fed repeatedly in graduate exams at a certain School of Music of an unnamed University: (1) that a multicultural society is a melting pot, (2) that learning styles are the same as multiple intelligences, and (3) that learning styles are worth talking about at all.

The Los Angeles Times dropped the first bomb. Multiculturalism celebrates every color in the box of crayons. The image of a melting pot, on the other hand, is one that takes all the crayon colors of the cultures that feed into a population and blends them together into a drab brownish-gray. I wish I could go back in time and tell those graduate students about Henry Ford’s parade of nations, Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans walking into the stage prop in their nations’ traditional garb and then walking out again in identical business suits waving American flags. Those would-be grade-school music teachers would be horrified.

The second article, from the Washington Post, quoted Howard Gardner, daddy of the model of multiple intelligences, as he “set the record straight” about the difference between multiple intelligences and learning styles. They are as different as a room and a door – more different, since I can at least walk through a room, although I cannot stand inside a door. One is a means of access to knowledge or a skill, while the other is the possession of the knowledge or skill itself (or possibly the aptitude toward its possession). Some people take the elevator to the second floor, and some take the stairs, but only a crazy person – or a graduate student in music education – would confuse the stairs and the elevator for the nice woman who works in the second-floor office.

But Gardner didn’t even have to establish the difference if the third article is true. I first read that the common theory of learning styles is a myth on That institution of the noble Fourth Estate doesn’t have quite the reputation that the Washington Post or Los Angeles Times enjoy. But googling “learning styles myth” reveals a whole choir of angelic messengers singing the good news, including PBS and the Association for Psychological Science. I no longer have to think that by lecturing in college classes, I failed in my duty to teach Johnny, who can only learn through dance interpretations, and Susie, who can only learn by means of manipulables. I used to defend myself (under a cloud of guilt) by noting that students hearing my lecture, reading the board, and writing notes engaged aural, visual, verbal, symbolic, and kinesthetic modes of learning. I’ll still defend my old methods (which have, after all, produced a well-educated person or two over the last 2500 years), but the cloud above my head now glows with the saffron hues of a rising sun.

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