Joy, beauty, meaning, purpose, relevance, independence, interdependence, creativity, ingenuity... just a few of the values modeled at Constructing Modern Knowledge.

Constructing Modern Knowledge is about learning-by-doing – celebrating creativity, utilizing cutting-edge materials, elevating timeless traditions, and promoting the rights of each learner – in order to invent the future of education. We seek inspiration from movements across the globe that help learners become something bigger than themselves. This is but one reason why we have introduced the powerful ideas of the Reggio Emilia Approach to CMK participants and welcomed our wise Italian friends, Carla Rinaldi, Lella Gandini, Barbara Donnici, and Elena Sofia Paoli. Other guest speakers, including Howard Gardner, Edith Ackermann, and Lilian Katz have been inspired deeply by the Reggio Emilia Approach. In many ways, CMK itself is an Reggio-inspired atelier where (adult) learners develop whimsical, complex, sophisticated, and deeply meaningful projects.

One of the profound lessons from Reggio Emilia shared by Carla Rinaldi is the importance of learning as a group as opposed to learning in a group. El Sistema, hailing from Venezuela, is one of the world’s most provocative, exciting, and successful models of learning as a group.

El Sistema is a testament to the transformational capabilities of music education. Its roots trace back to 1975, when Venezuelan economist and musician Dr. José Antonio Abreu began with just 11 students. Driven by a vision that playing classical music with others could be a means of social change, Abreu believed in the power of ensemble music-making to uplift young people, especially those from marginalized backgrounds. The program’s ethos resonated deeply, and it rapidly expanded. There are no barriers to participation either at the individual or community level. Any child who wishes to participate is welcome and every community, regardless of resources, can have its own nucleo (community music school), even if led by a teenager from a neighboring village or when the youngest musicians join a paper orchestra.

The “Paper Orchestra,” originally borne out of a shortage of instruments, has become a pedagogical strategy for introducing young children to ensemble playing

Today, El Sistema’s success in Venezuela has impacted hundreds of thousands of children, giving rise to countless youth and children’s orchestras across the nation. With its core principles of ensemble-based learning, early and intensive instruction, and an unwavering commitment to accessibility, El Sistema has become a global inspiration. For educators everywhere, it serves as a poignant reminder that music is more than an academic pursuit; it’s a profound instrument to instill discipline, foster collaboration, cultivate respect, and spearhead significant social transformation. El Sistema alumni include Gustavo Dudamel, Musical Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Paris Opera, as well as, Rafael Payare, Musical Director of the San Diego Symphony and Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal.

From the moment a child enters El Sistema, they are part of an orchestra. They learn by doing; by being part of a culture with shared values, high expectations, and supported by a wide range of expertise. Constructing Modern Knowledge is no different, except that for four glorious days, the learners are educators.

Gary Stager: Founder of Constructing Modern Knowledge

A unique virtue of Constructing Modern Knowledge is how we create an alternate world in which educators are encouraged to replace their teacher hat with a learner hat and luxuriate in a non-coercive space celebrating creativity, collaboration, confidence, and each learner’s personal capacity for competence. Daily, El Sistema creates an alternate world for hundreds of thousands of children in one of the Western hemisphere’s poorest nations. The stressors of poverty, violence, and political unrest fade when students of all ages form an orchestra and make music together; not just any music, but classical music often performed to an incredibly high, and always passionate, standard. In El Sistema programs, children gain a sense of excellence through continuous growth and effort. At Constructing Modern Knowledge, educators often tackle seemingly impossible projects and learn a great deal about learning (and teaching) through such learning adventures, surrounded and supported by a diverse community of educators engaged in similar pursuits.

While the vast majority of time at CMK is spent on project development, we punctuate the experience by offering conversations with incomparable guest speakers. Constructing Modern Knowledge 2024 is no exception. In addition to acclaimed mathematician Stephen Wolfram, this summer’s institute will introduce educators to two extraordinary women, Tricia Tunstall and Melissa Walker, each making the world a better place through their service to children. While Tricia’s work has a global perspective focused on children playing classical music, Melissa’s efforts are on behalf of American children playing jazz. Together, we will learn a lot from their experience and expertise.

Tricia Tunstall is a veteran music teacher, arts education advocate and the author of the definitive books about El Sistema,  Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music and Playing for Their Lives: The Global El Sistema Movement for Social Change Through Music (co-authored with Eric Booth).

Melissa Walker is a Grammy Award-winning vocalist, Founder and President of JAZZ HOUSE KiDS, a NY/NJ area non-profit organization creating its own “system” of music education.

Now in its 20th year, JAZZ HOUSE KiDS transforms lives using the power and legacy of jazz through world-class education and performances that create avenues of access, learning, career development and community building. The organization and students have received more than 125 awards and honors for excellence in jazz and jazz education. Every day of the week through a series of in-school and out-of-school programs, the JAZZ HOUSE helps young people gain an artistic edge through music, mentoring, education and apprenticeship, building thriving communities, and fostering community leaders and global citizens. JAZZ HOUSE KiDS is the only community arts organization in New Jersey exclusively dedicated to educating children through jazz: America’s home-grown art form.

“Jazz music is the perfect metaphor for democracy. 
We improvise, which is our individual rights and freedoms;
We swing, which means we are responsible to nurture the common good, with everyone in fine balance;
And we play the blues, which means no matter how bad things get, we remain optimistic while still mindful of problems.
The jazz band works best when participation is shaped by intelligent communication

Wynton Marsalis

Learn more…

TED Prize Winner and El Sistema founder reveals his TED Wish and shares the importance of El Sistema
Trailer for a fantastic El Sistema documentary
Overview of the program serving tens of thousands of American children