Magician Inspires Students to Learn Through Illusion
Allan Kronzek lets no grass grow under his feet. And even if he did, he would figure out a way so that you’d never see it. Kronzek is a professional magician, writer and educator. While recently updating his New York Times bestseller, “The Sorcerer’s Companion — A Guide to the Magical World of Harry Potter” (Broadway Books), he was also putting finishing touches on a soon-to-be published magic manual for The Hocus Pocus Project, an outreach program of the nonprofit Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York City. And between sentences, he was likely to be found presenting one of his magic-centered enrichment programs in a New York-area school.
The forthcoming book, “The Book of Powers — Lessons in the Art of Magic,” was commissioned to be given away to participants in the Hocus Pocus Project. The organization teaches magic to disadvantaged youths and adults, primarily children in hospitals, at-risk youth and veterans. “Learning to perform magic can be extraordinarily empowering,” Kronzek said. “In a short time, these kids learn to entertain and baffle their friends, their doctors, and their parents. They can do something other people can’t do. It’s a new role. They experience a sense of mastery and self-worth.”
While magic books typically arrange subject matter according to type of trick, The Book of Powers is organized according to the power taught: mind reading, predicting the future, super-mental powers (like lightning calculation and photographic memory), super-physical powers, super senses (including super-sight, super-hearing, and even super-smell), X-ray vision and divination. Each chapter begins with a mystery that is baffling, yet easy to do. “We then build on that as we move on to more complex and challenging tricks. Magic requires discipline and work, but if the student gets rewarded early on — by applause or admiration, or by frying the brains of a friend — he or she will accept the necessity for hard work. One of our goals is to teach many of the core principles of magic so that the student can create original routines that fit his or her interests and personality,” Kronzek said.
Kronzek’s school programs are unique in their use of magic. Unlike traditional magic show assemblies, which typically use magic to teach another subject (the “magic of reading,” or fire safety), Kronzek’s programs are about magic and illusion. The Art of Fooling is a history of magic as performance art, from ancient Greece to modern times. The program—which is tied to sixth-grade social studies as well as ninth-grade global studies — features performance, audience participation and historical illustrations (paintings, woodcuts and posters) to show how the performance and perception of magic changes during different historical periods.
“In Medieval times street magicians were commonly feared as sorcerers,” Kronzek said, “whereas after the scientific revolution, they were perceived as skilled entertainers, and even men of science.”
Another program, The Magician’s Art and Scientific Inquiry, uses magic tricks to explore core science skills, such as developing skepticism, forming hypothesis, questioning appearances, testing explanations, and distinguishing between a scientific and non-scientific world view. Especially insightful for teachers and psychologists are Kronzek’s discussions (as elaborated in his study guide), about perception and memory—topics of increasing attention in the worlds of forensics, neuroscience and research into Alzheimer’s disease. As he has written, “The mind is quick to make inferences and see connections, patterns and cause-and-effect relationships where none may exist.” Magicians draw on perceptual and logical fallacies to create various kinds of illusions and false appearances.
“Kids are fascinated by trickery,” Kronzek said. “They deeply want to know how it’s done, what’s going on behind the scenes, what illusions are all about — which offers a natural tie-in with science. Magicians create illusions and scientists try to see through illusions. Both are concerned with the hidden, underlying mechanisms behind appearance. How does it work? How are we fooled? What’s really going on?”
His own interest in magic began, he recalls, at the age of 9 when he was a magician at a Hanukkah party and was “hooked.” His parents encouraged him, his mother giving him his first magic book. It was an important moment in his life. A child with a heart murmur, he was not allowed to participate in competitive sports and magic gave him another way of competing, of holding his own among his peers. A product of the Pittsburgh public schools, Kronzek spent a year at Carnegie Tech as a theater major before switching to English at Bard College. But magic was always there and he began to study seriously with master magicians shortly after college. His interest shows no sign of waning. #
Those interested in finding out more about Kronzek’s programs (available through BOCES Arts-in-Education in Nassau/Suffolk and Westchester Counties) and his forthcoming book, should visit www.allankronzek.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.