Jon Madian: For Love Of Learning

Posted by Janis Daddona on Feb 3, 2014
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     “In discovering the innocence of children, we discover something of the design of the Universe or the Earth.  So to become educated is to become in harmony with the beauty of that design and the empathy that design requires.”  This pretty much sums up Jon Madian’s bead on education at its best.  Far from didactic, it is it interactive, “inner-active,” and juicy in the joy of discovering things with others.
   Jon has worked in many professions.  But he came to work in education through synchronicity.  One day he spotted a young boy observing the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, California.  In that moment, a story was born.  The working title was Building with Love.  In it the young protagonist comes to appreciate how a lone Italian man, Simon Rodia, would take junk and create something wondrous and monumental from it, lending a hand along the way.  “It became a theme of my life.  I didn’t know I was writing my bible at the time.  But all my work in education has had to do with how we build with love, for beauty, for inspiration.  And Simon Rodia was the model for that philosophy.”  The book was published as Beautiful Junk, and was a staple in classrooms of the day…as well as a particular upper class living room.
     While in conversation with the hostess of a dinner party, Jon was asked him about himself, and he mentioned the book he had written.  With that the woman led him to the coffee table in her living room and showed him a copy she kept for her grandchildren to read.  It turned out that she managed a family foundation.  So inspired was she by Jon’s approach to education that she financially helped him realize a dream of his own:  a program that would bring artists of all kinds into classrooms, helping students learn through creativity.
   The Artist in Residence Program in Los Angeles had a tremendous impact on students.  Suddenly, bored and frustrated students were catching the fire of enthusiasm as they explored learning through painting, poetry, and play.  In one instance a little girl would paint nothing but pages of black.  Over time, a blue spot began appearing in her paintings.  It grew bigger and bigger until, in the end, it turned into a beautiful seascape.  And she turned into a more light-hearted child.  Dozens of children would show up in the classroom before, during, and after school engaged in some form of art.  The unexpected bonus was that the artists also felt more enlivened by this opportunity.  They were being of genuine service in a community rather than working in isolation.
     We are wired to be social, to explore.  But the education system works against our very nature in order to measure progress.  Teaching to the test is now the norm, and students as well as once-inspired teachers face the prospect of learning in an environment of mistrust and shame.  As Jon says, “When a teacher feels they are helping a student learn in a way that is exciting, harmonious, and beautiful, it brings forth a completely different part of the teacher’s personality.  The teacher, the student, and the subject then all become connected.  The present system connects them to their boredom, pain, loneliness, and fear.  We need to connect to the joy of life that will promote compassion.”
     Jon has never lost his own sense of wonder and exploration.  And he would love to connect with others to explore ways to de-institutionalize education and create a more open and community-oriented paradigm.  If you are enthused about making a difference in your community’s school or a student’s life, please reach out to Jon at and he’ll bring you as well into the excitement of learning through love and creativity. 

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Comments (1)

  • Jon Madian wrote ...

    My goodness, Janis! What a kind surprise to come upon this so gracious piece about me and my work :))
    Thank you! Thank you ever so much.