THE LEGACY OF LEONARD BERNSTEIN
Alexander Bernstein Follows In The Teaching Footsteps Of His Fabulous Father
Leonard Bernstein’s second child (of three), Alexander Bernstein, is a Bernstein natural—the voice, the enthusiasm, the humor, the passion, the dedication all recall the Maestro in pedagogical mode. Leonard Bernstein was a Master Teacher, whose love of learning rubbed off on his son. After five years as a second-grade teacher at the 163-year old K-12 Packer-Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, and then as a teacher of drama in the Middle School, the Harvard-educated Alexander yielded to the inevitable draw of helping to institute and then direct The Leonard Bernstein Center for Learning, now based at Gettysburg College, where he can espouse and effect values that reflect his father’s vision. As the motto of the Leonard Bernstein Center (LBC) declares, “The renaissance in education begins with how teachers teach and how students learn through the arts.”
Alexander Bernstein came to his administrative position with a background in the arts that also included his mother’s domain, acting. As Production Associate at ABC’s News Documentary Unit, he found himself one day working on Steven Sondheim’s musical, “Merrily We Roll Along,” which whet his appetite for acting but when that career didn’t pan out, he gravitated easily to teaching. Then again, maybe teaching was always in his blood. He laughs, recalling a time when he was about eight and up in a tree house with his father. He announced he wanted to be a teacher. How did his father take that? “What a great idea.” But as Alexander Bernstein concedes, as he matured he was not the greatest student and perhaps, thinking of what had been missing in his own academic experience, he determined to infuse LBC with a different idea, a “non-prescriptive program” centered on the arts. Eventually, a Masters in Education from NYU would complete his commitment while allowing him to preserve and honor the legacy of his famous father.
Formerly housed at The Grammy Foundation, LBC moved to Gettysburg College in 2005 with a stated mission “to stimulate and deepen academic learning through the arts by “emphasizing interdisciplinary scholarship; endorsing a personal and passionate approach to teaching and learning; and activating the use of Artful Learning as the structure for arts-infused teaching & learning.” The Center, which originally took root the year after Leonard Bernstein died, is now a national force for K-12 education reform, using the arts “as a focal point for teaching and learning in all academic subjects” and as a way to improve academic achievement, increase student engagement, and instill a life-long love of learning. Of course, Leonard Bernstein applied those principles to himself. He was the consummate teacher, as reruns of The Young People’s Concerts demonstrate. And he was also the consummate scholar, as his son adds, recalling LB’s Norton Lectures at Harvard, with their evidence of wide and deep scholarship. His father “was so open to every influence and wanted to learn more himself, which is a quality of a great teacher.”
Although many arts-based education organizations would claim a mission similar to that of LBC, how does LBC distinguish itself? By adhering to “rigorous” standards for research, development and sustaining school practices inspired by Leonard Bernstein, the director says. The Center, which now extends its Artful Learning principles to 25 public schools nation wide—and growing—draws its faculty from the arts, education, administration, and infuses the curricula of schools located in towns, rural areas and urban centers. Although non-prescriptive learning is at the heart of the enterprise, whether applied to individuals, students, or groups, the common bond is an interdisciplinary approach and “integrative thinking.” Take, for example, a masterwork of art, a painting of Seurat, say, then make it the subject of intense scrutiny and inspiration—what do science and history reveal about the artist, his times, his process? The youngsters are invited to respond orally and in writing and then to create something themselves.
Teachers make a three-year commitment to the vision. The non-prescriptive ambiance may be “scary” at first, Alexander Bernstein concedes, but after training sessions and a year’s experience, teachers grow not only comfortable with the idea but passionately committed to it, seeing how it can produce higher academic scores, better attendance, more interest: “Students become more engaged, remember more.” As for his own commitment, Alexander Bernstein is “flying,” deliciously so, as his father might have said. To learn more go to www.artfullarning.com. #