"Let me keep my mind on what matters
Which is mostly standing still
And learning to be astonished"

~ Mary Oliver ~

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Amazing Lauren!

Lauren, I just opened your pixel self-portrait, sent by your mom.  As I’ve known all along, and is so easy to see here -- what an amazing and artistically talented person you are!  I just love those shades!  How you got those lighting effects on the elevated cheekbones and recessed jaw line is way beyond my comprehension.  From my earliest memories of you, Lauren, you were creating and creative.  Yes, it was playdough in the early days and wonderful family drawings.  But now you have grown to incorporate the advances of technology into your own handwork.  I am in awe!

Lauren in Action Academy t-shirt from Me to We camp, 2010
 Today, you, Lauren, and your brother, Owen, are attending We Day in Toronto.  You are placing yourselves among those who pledge to make change in the world, no small endeavour.  I know that you have attended a Me to We camp and participated firsthand in this wonderful program for and by young people to free children in countries where children’s rights are so diminished that many have no clean water, or schools, or even homes that could be considered safe shelters.  How proud it makes me feel to know that my granddaughter and now my grandson are interested and committed to such compassionate efforts and action in the world! 

What an incredible treat for me to have had you and your family here at my place for two weeks during the summer this year.  It was wonderful that you all could come for Uncle Jamie’s wedding!  Lauren, you are growing up so fast – yes, same height as Bubbie now – and who knows what heights you’ll eventually reach!  I was fascinated to watch you doing your beadwork, and gimp work, always making necklaces or bracelets, creating gifts for others.  You always helped to clear your place at the table and were so capable in the kitchen, not hesitating to put something together for yourself to eat.  I had fun making lime meringue pie with you!   
I noticed small things, too – when I took you to buy some beads and tools, you kept telling me that you didn’t need this and you didn’t need that – “That’s ok; that’s ok,” you repeated – I knew you were worried that I was spending too much money on you.  And if I didn’t have a particular product you wanted, you also kept repeating that same, “that’s ok; that’s ok,” not wanting to put me out in any way.  Although I wouldn’t begrudge getting you anything that I could, it felt good to see how considerate you are, focused beyond yourself, and again I felt very proud.  We went to see many sights while you were here, but I confess that my favourites were just staying home and baking challah together, or playing Scrabble or cards, and yes, frying up just a few more bacon rashers!!  It’s the simple things of being together that are important, and I treasure every moment I get to spend with you.  

You looked so beautiful at Uncle Jamie’s wedding, all dressed up as a Junior Bridesmaid, complete with make-up, high-heeled shoes and all!  You were great at taking charge of the younger members of the bridal party and keeping them in tow.   

                                                        Yes, Lauren, you are growing up to be such a fine young woman with a big heart and everything it takes to make your way successfully in the world.  Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, even if the going gets scary.  You can be scared -- and do it, anyway!  Best of luck in getting into an arts high school!  Lots of courage in trying out for the school musical this year!  Let the world see the light you have to share! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson -- Educating the Heart and Mind

Aug. 25, 2011, Queen Elizabeth Playhouse
I'm still applauding Sir Ken's talk.  I first saw him on Ted Talks five years ago and he still inspires.  Here is a summary of his latest talk in Vancouver:

Schools keep children’s differences deeply hidden.  The standards by which all students are  measured, and the conformity that is expected  systemically embed the notion in our children that if they don’t meet those standards or conform to expectations, that there is something wrong with them, they’re “no good.”

Kids often get branded by their ethnicity, gender, “ability”, behaviour, or other single entity.  Systemically, we have created built-in stereotypes in our schools – stereotypes about what or who is acceptable, and stereotypes about those who differ.  We know that humans thrive on diversity, not conformity.  Everything creative, innovative, out of the box, comes from someone who thought about things differently, did things differently!  We know that children are interested and productive when they are engaged and passionate about their learning.   We keep asking children to modify themselves in order to fit into the school curriculum and the standards.  Instead, teachers need mandates to modify their programs to meet the students’ individual needs and interests, to know and act upon just what children’s individual “engagements” are!

There is a crisis in the world’s natural climate, but we also have a crisis in the human climate.  Statistics indicate a 40% drop-out rate in the USA.  Why?  Robinson says it’s because of disaffection and disengagement. Suicide rates are historically high.  Four times as many men as women commit suicide.  Why?  They feel unsuccessful, not good enough.  We live in a time of family breakdown, unemployment, and yet another “lost generation.”  One of every 31 is or will be in jail in the USA.  This is a catastrophic cost to pay for our extreme lack of social cohesion.  In Canada, we like to think that we’re not as bad off as those in the United States, but we must be aware of “losing” our young people, too.

Robinson says that education can be the solution, but changes must be made -- systemically!  The system is faulty.  To be born is a miracle; every child born, a miracle – and what do we do with these miracles who come into our schools?   The ideology, values and assumptions that are taken for granted in our educational systems exclude so many children.  These values need rethinking, re-visioning!  Conformity and standardization are the rule – we run our schools like fast food chains.   Schools now are trying to guarantee world-wide uniformity.  But what if we change those values and assumptions to be more like the Michelin Guide – that is, use criteria to evaluate success and high quality but create choice in styles, methods and what is produced.  Schools need to honour diversity -- diversity in who students are, in how students learn, in how teachers teach, in what students are passionate about learning and in how students demonstrate their learning.  

Our schools follow established patterns, long-term habits.   When baby boomers were children, tonsillectomies became a medical contagion.   They were the habit of the time.  Now we are in the midst of an ADHD plague; the habit of diagnosing this label is at an epidemic level.  We know that 900,000 children in the USA have been falsely diagnosed – but you see, this is a form of conformity, too!

Sir Ken’s message:  Personalize, don’t standardize!!

As long as our underlying assumptions and beliefs separate the mind from the heart, and indicate that only the mind is what is important in our schools, humans will feel this terrible schism.  There is more to us than the thinking, academic, mind!!!  We can better apprehend ourselves and the world without this division, a division which rapidly leads to exclusion.

The disciplines in academia are value-laden and hierarchical.  We’ve disembodied our children, honouring the academics over the arts, making high marks in reading, writing and arithmetic more valuable than physical, emotional and social development.  We value sitting still over how a particular child may learn best, labelling the child as unable to pay attention, all blame placed on that child.  We need to bridge this mind-body and mind-heart separation.  We need to value and give time to our inner space, our feelings, our ways of expressing ourselves.   

Sciences are directed to explanation, wherein objectivity reigns.  The arts, however, describe; they give an account of our experience, personally, subjectively.  We no longer live in harmony with the natural world but are separate and shut off from it, and now we have lost or have dismissed our creativity, our empathy, our imagination and intuition.

The task?  We need to have a more unified conception of what it means to be human, to explore and understand the natural combination of feeling and knowing and the connection between them.  According to Sir Ken, we’ve lost our spirit and must reconnect ourselves with ourselves and with each other.


  • Recognize that education is personal – therefore, we need personal curriculum, based on relationships between student and teacher, students and students, passion and engagement
  •  Put arts back into education – the arts are now so marginalized, and yet it is through the arts that we humans express ourselves!  The arts, including physical expression, should be at the centre of our education!
  • Mindfulness is needed – to assist with calmness and overall awareness. 
  • Humans are not mechanisms; they are organisms!  So we must look at the nature of the school.  See it realistically.  Then work together to improve it.  We can remake our schools organically.

Will it be easy?  No!  But, as Anais Nin spoke of the pain of containment being greater than the pain of bursting out of the bud, we need the courage to do this.

Sir Ken acknowledged that yes, there are schools who do this already, schools that teach from a pedagogy of care, schools that see the individual child and encourage each child’s passions and interests.  But those schools and those teachers do this in spite of the system, not in concert with or because of the system.  It’s high time that we make the eccentric the mainstream!

Let’s focus on social emotional learning, self-awareness, education of the heart.  To do this does not interfere with the education of minds!!!  In fact, all the research demonstrates that those who are socially and emotionally well also do better academically!

The real curriculum of conformity and standardization are hidden and embedded.  We now need to embed what we know matters – getting to know our kids, knowing what makes them tick, knowing what their passions are, how each learns best, what engages them.  Teachers need to know what they are doing, need to be conscious and aware of why they use certain strategies and not others.

Robinson says we can learn from Peter Brook, the famous British director.  He  writes about “the empty space” that is the stage and  what makes theatre the most powerful and transformative – he says it’s only the basics that are needed, leave out a lot, leave just the actor, the audience and the space in between, the space to create!  Applied to education, we don’t really need fancy, well-equipped schools at all – just a teacher, a learner, and a strong relationship between them.  Let them create the learning together.

Perhaps teachers require coursework on pedagogical caring, or at least emphasis on pedagogical sensitivity in their own training.  They should come to school with the conscious intention of creating a caring classroom and supplying the conditions for thriving! 

Sitting down for six hours a day doing clerical work is not what children should be doing in school!  And we know this!  When children can’t succeed at this, we label them and medicate them, rather than examining and changing the system that marginalizes them and makes them feel unsuccessful.

Yes, we are creating the problems for our children, systematically and systemically.  And we can do something about it.  Let’s stop the bad habit now!  Let's get kids to move, to meditate,  to tap into the learning and to express themselves in many different ways.  Are we creative enough to make the necessary systemic changes?  Yes!  Let’s create a culture where people can do their best work! 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Movie – The Concert

Saw a wonderful movie called “The Concert”, part of the Jewish Film Fest that’s coming up in November.  They have the odd screening on a Sunday morning, serving bagels and coffee, to entice people to come out to the Festival once it arrives.  The music was exquisite, the plot was far-fetched but humorous and touching, and I highly recommend it.  It’s not new, maybe 2009, but available, I think, on DVD.  I would love to get the soundtrack as there is some gypsy music in it that I just love, in addition to the main concert music, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major.  

The story line really added a lot to the music, with this performance of the "Bolshoi's" orchestra, marking a return to conducting for the conductor and a return to playing for all the orchestra members after a 30-year hiatus.  Their last performance in Moscow had been interrupted by the KGB, the conductor’s baton was snapped in half, and all of the orchestra members lost their place in society for being or supporting Jewish musicians.   Playing together again in Paris, with a beautiful violinist who had a close connection with them that she didn’t know about, made the concert so moving to watch and hear.  That young woman who played the part of the guest violinist threw herself into the part with every ounce of passion and expression, her eyes and her tears all contributing to her amazing performance, through which and after which her true identity became known to her. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Time spent with Owen – Summer of 2011

Owen, you amaze me with your special way of thinking, the things you notice that no one else does, your thoughtfulness and your caring.  Do you know what an incredible person you are?

 When you were planning your trip out west this summer, I asked you what your favourite foods were and what you didn’t like, so I’d know what to fill my fridge with.  You told me that there was only one food you didn’t like, cheese.  “But,” you said, “It’s ok if you go ahead and buy it; somebody else might like to eat it.”  What a considerate person you are!  Your list of likes was very long, showing me that you are somebody who is not fussy and someone who is open to many different kinds of food experiences.  You did surprise me, though, when you told me that mussels topped your list!

You asked me, “How old are you, Bubbie?”  And when I told you, you were shocked.  “Really?” you responded.  “But you’re so .... lifelike!”  I had to laugh at the word you chose.  “What do you mean by ‘lifelike’?” I inquired.  “Well, you’re so active – you can do so many things – not like a grandmother!” you said.  It amazed me that even though I hobble about on my cane, feeling unable to participate as fully as I’d like, you see me as someone active.  I loved the word “lifelike,” too. Usually, it’s meant for something that’s dead, or something inanimate that’s made so well that it looks alive – like a wax figure, or a beautiful painting. Whatever you intended, I took it as a wonderful compliment.  Thank you!
You asked me about the things you noticed around my apartment, things I had made by hand, either knitted or needlepointed. “Did you do that all by yourself?” “That must have been hard.”  “Did it take a long time?” “How many threads did it take for the eyes?” Owen, you are someone who takes the time to see what’s in front of you.  You recognize and appreciate people’s work and all the details of it.  I don’t think many ten-year-olds do that!

You even noticed my earlobes!  “Why are they so big, Bubbie?”  I told you that I was just born that way.  You thought about it and said, “You should check the weight of your earrings – maybe they’re too heavy!”  Always thinking ... knowing there are usually good reasons for everything.
I saw the time and effort you put into your sketchbook of drawings.  I see in your work all those fine points that you make sure to include, details that you notice and know are necessary.  I love how you focus that way!

 And, of course, your skateboarding skill is second-to-none!  You put so much energy into a sport that you love, you have so much patience, practising moves over and over again, and all of that pays off in how well you perform!  Developing that kind of patience, practice and attention will be a great tool as you move through life and try out all kinds of new things along your way.

We visited a lot of places while you were here – the Aquarium, the Museum of Anthropology, the Pride Parade, many skateboard parks, Sorry Baboushka to see Uncle Jamie play drums with his band, the Apple Store – oh, oh, all those desktops filled with yours and Lauren’s zombie faces!  Horrible Bosses (MFJ!), Kitsilano Showboat, the fireworks from Spain, Burnaby Village, Bard on the Beach, the Burnaby Blues Festival and more!  We really did a lot!  I was glad you asked if we could make challah again, and yours turned out beautifully!  Yum!  And I enjoyed playing cards with you, as much as any of the other adventures.  Yes, what I liked best was just spending time with you, in any way at all.  Your hugs and questions and incredible way of thinking just filled me up with so much joy!  
Always remember, Owen, that I will love you forever.