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Archive for the tag “John Dewey”

Addictive Behaviour

I openly admit that I, like my peers, am addicted. Especially as I am on my own in San Diego, I use my IPad for a plethora of things: from checking the daily weather to reading Toronto’s newspapers to playing games to checking my email continuously and even reviewing great buys. In these ways, I stay in touch when I am away, happily exiled from the brutal cold of weather of my home. The tablet is my friend, bringing me news, information and even stimulation.

This past weekend a discussion between Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself and Jim Basillie ,CEO of Blackberry, in Ontario’s Globe and Mail reminded me of how once more, my place in the world is not as a citizen but as a mere customer to be manipulated by those whom I am allowing to use me, a pawn in the commerce of the world. Doidge and Basillie query, why do we share our private thoughts and finances on line with ubiquitous anonymous entities?

Unlike most of this generation, however, boomers were not brought up with computers and digital technology. Basillie points out,” CEOs of big tech companies are simply capitalists doing what capitalists are supposed to do: maximize…. And of course if you lobby those legislators you get rules and regulations hat help you increase profit. In an economy of intangibles, the market¬place frameworks are everything absolutely everything . These companies benefit enormously from addictions so they build it into their products wherever possible.”

And so, we willingly savour being flattered and courted and duped into addiction. Like my students long ago who missed an episode of ER or The Cosby Show, we want to belong to the greater fabric of society, speak the lingo, possess insider information, be in the know because this “ intel” puts us ahead, glamorizes us so we strive to participate in the latest trends: now overwhelmingly, social media fascinations with all its permutations, combinations and glitter- purposely engineered to suck us in.

A friend remarked likewise. We had been reading an article the week before about why we seem unable to read for long periods of time, about how our brain synapses are actually being altered by constant time spent clipping and surfing , searching for the next “ like”, or fix that will boost the chemicals in our brains, making us easily bored or unable to focus for more than a few second before flying off towards. a new site on our electronic devices. Because our brains can change themselves, altering structure and function in response to mental activities, “ neuroplastic”, Doidge explaining, “[d]igital technologies are uniquely compatible with the brain, because both are electric and also work processing at high speeds”. Along with brain alterations comes our bodies, especially necks that bend to screens, and rival the time we once swung our arms and legs in movement as opposed to being curled up with an Ipad or locked to a computer desk, all impacting badly on bodies that should be twisting, stretching, etc.

Even my son getting close to 40 who thankfully still enjoys an engaging read and born before the advent of addictive technology, years back, when given a choice to write a law exam on computers or not, he and his classmates definitely rejected the offer, weary of the pitfalls. Now I doubt there would even be a choice. And certainly his cadre would at present demonstrate preference of machine over hand written exam, cramping fingers replaced by other corporeal maladies.

Jim Basillie in the article describes the discomfort of a teenager whose parents take his device( Smartphone) away at a dinner in a restaurant , commenting on inappropriate table manners. The adolescent fidgets, squirms and Basillie observes his pain, a kind of withdrawal. No wonder fidget toys and spinners have found a market. We know through studies that young boys, even before the arrival of tablets found sitting still almost unbearable, now sadly that body unrest is exacerbated by minds that crave a fix. And how often do we notice parents providing tablets and phones to even babies at table to KEEP THEM QUIET.

Scientists note as well the role eye contact plays in a baby’s development, learning appropriate social and emotional cues by mimicking their mother’s ( or father’s) response by looking directly into their eyes. Remember “play -based” learning? How too do people complain of the lack of that eye contact of their companions as eyes across the table search for a place to land, to focus, to avoid, perhaps the gaze of another, or hunger for the blue light of the screen to satisfy a need. The Ipad exudes no judgment, just “ likes”, approvals whose goal is not your growth as a human, only as a purchaser, a source of profit.

Neuropsychologist are being paid to play into our addictive tendencies, aware of how to attract our brains through the rewards, novelties and even colours that render us as rats in the maze : our prize, the compulsion to spend money for a superfluous good that makes us believe it will satisfy, makes us feel better and happier about ourselves. And while we hunger to hold the tablet, we have no meta- awareness, only the driving desire.

Working with the concept of self, Doidge and Basillie discuss that adolescents require time for reflection, to decide, away from their peers, grow their fears, dissect their own arguments, weigh how to take a stand, defend and build a sense of self , evaluating what they believe is important :what works for them. But with the constant steam of voices readily available on the devices and the seemingly constant need to be validated, rather, than actually working out an issue, they inevitably turn to group voice, allowing the mass response to override or even negate their own. In this way, their weak and evolving sense of protest, outrage, and individuality is lost.

I’ve often worried that even knowing how to form words in print will return the population to illiteracy, lost by allowing Siri or Alexa to speak for us, voice and write down our thoughts. And then there are those strange abbreviations of eclipsed words ,OMG, WTF that not only abort language but shorten it to a few letters like grunts from animals. As we write, so we form or extrapolate our thoughts. John Polyani has described how the act of writing allows for more than what we superficially thought we know: to appear on paper, extending the thoughts we weren’t aware we had, that accumulated stream of consciousness based on experiential data that unravels and delightedly surprises us as it appears on the blank page before us.

If we simply speak our words to Siri, rather than engaging in the path that takes the thought from our head through to the fingers in our hands that holds the pen, things change. Our brains adapt differently and not only our meanings may be misinterpreted, nuance lost, but our ability to communicate as we intended will vanish as well. So too Basillie acknowledges that parents in Silicon Valley promote time away from the screen for their own offspring, encouraging Waldorf methods of being in nature, knitting, woodworking, using minds and bodies, reminiscent of John Dewey’s concept of the school where there are no barriers between the walls and the landscape wherein it is built.

Think this “addiction” is far fetched? Today’s Star Life Section entitled “Your house is going to get a lot smarter”. Rachel Tepper Paley describes how we will become more dependent on technology, more seduced ,although she seems to write with the wonder of it all, even allowing there were no refrigerators before 1913:

“[Smart time clocks will] sense when you’ve reached your sleep cycle’s lightest point and release a wake-up scent of your choice.

Once you’re up, it’s time to get dressed… with clothes you don’t just wear — they will interact with you, tracking health markers and habits. Among them: …smart gloves, which promise to detect skin temperature and provide heat accordingly. Your clothes might even change shape or colour based on your feelings, as will the Sensoree mood sweater, now available for preorder…And if you want a new wardrobe, you won’t have to even leave the house to find the best-fitting clothes: Amazon’s patented mirror will let you virtually try on outfits from the comfort of your own bedroom..”

She mentions too that your purchases will not be left at the door, but verified delivers will enter your living space, “your hub” so you need not even move from your couch where your television can effortlessly be rolled up and out of sight. Your home will be fit with numerous speakers that will control your everything from your light bulbs to your thermostat to your front door.

And dare I say it?. As we all ready know, televisions not only broadcast out, they also can spy on you in your home as those nasty Samsung ones can, garnering and collecting your life’s moments, piercing your privacy as cookies do on the internet. Nor surprising, some of us like Thoreau will want to escape to our own Waldens, eschew these devices, talk to one another, make eye contact, read and think and write down for future generations what it is was like back before technology went mad.

Interestingly not one person commented on the editorial page in The Globe after last week’s article by Doidge and Basillie.Are we so inured, so aware that this trend is coming, that we have totally accepted and normalized it?

The First Class

My parents drove me to Oshawa and dropped me at the YMCA. I paused in the doorway of McLaughlin mansion that once belonged to the founders of General Motors in Canada. I felt like some wayward teen to be whisked away into the depths of the musty residence. With its crystal chandeliers and circling staircase, that were no doubt once elegant, I might have been some “bad” girl in a sepia-toned movie.

In reality, I was only a student teacher.

When our practice teaching assignments had been posted, we demanded to know one another’s placements. That day, our names were aligned with schools whose names like St. Mary’s, Oakwood, or Summerview revealed no information about the students, associate teachers or even the communities into which we would be hurled like too rapidly formed snowballs. Those first assignments before Christmas were only two weeks long; three longer ones would follow. I pondered that someone had decided that these sojourns might magically transform us into professional teachers.

Beside my name, I read O’Neill Collegiate. O’Neill sounded Irish although I doubted that Oshawa boasted a large Irish population: I had no reason for this assumption. In any case, the only O’Neill I knew was Eugene O”Neil and his saga of the dysfunctional alcoholic family who spat words at one another in “Long Day’s Journey into Night”. Was the playwright’s name an omen to prepare me for my own journey into teaching?

Someone from the cluster of would- be teachers slipped me a phone number, shouting over the din that she was from Oshawa. I pocketed it, thinking, maybe I would call. We were allotted a stipend of $50.00 a week to cover costs and given a list of guest homes.

My “teachables” were art and English, mainly because I liked to draw and read. Once I had stumbled into art history, it had become my mission to see for myself the thousands of slides flashed on the screen, day after day, in darkened lecture halls, year after year. I was mesmerized by sumptuous details and intrigued by bizarre stories that surrounded the painters. I wondered by what foul deed had the fingers of saints been delivered into gilded reliquaries and whether or not fragments of noses or toes were authentic?

I pursued art in Europe: a girl from Toronto, who easily chose the wrong direction when two roads presented themselves. I lived in my head, preferring the intoxicating beauty of things and the lure of the strange to the cold touch of people.

I traveled to Chantilly to examine the Duke of Berry’s illuminated manuscripts, painted by the Limbourg Brothers. I learned many medieval artists had been trained in cloisonné, a multi-step enamel process that resulted in fabulous decorations for the rich. Had eyelashes of peasants been plucked to form microscopic paintbrushes to paint individual blades of grass? Each jewel-like page gleamed with secrets that beckoned and taunted my prying eyes.

I searched the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to contemplate the numerous paintings Rembrandt had chronicled of himself as he aged. I didn’t much like his portraits of his three voluptuous wives. Too much flesh and flabby thighs that reminded me of myself. Sometimes I sketched, too, but my work was weak, a diversion from traveling and investigating the work of real artists.

At university, I flitted and flirted and flung myself about, unconcerned about much more than satisfying my own passions.Too many late nights and late essays precluded a future in art history. Did anyone really care that I spent nights in third class trains, tracking down lost etchings by the blind Goya? Did tipping my head backwards for hours in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel render me a scholar? My grades deemed me only a voyeur, a tourist in the realm of art, not a serious graduate student. But in the end, the future of girls had usually fallen under the headings of nurse ( I had no science) or teacher ( I did have a B.A. in Arts). So, I applied, at the besieging of my mother, to be a teacher.

At the faculty of education, I doodled during classes on John Dewey, and slept open-eyed through policies and procedures and practical tips on classroom management. Often I imagined myself back in Provence or Heidelberg, unraveling some hidden clue, an artistic gumfoot, hot on the trail of some lost artist’s technique.

Only in my English instruction classes was I alert. My professor instructed how poems and novels sparked paths of adventure into words, format or hidden stories. Words evoked pictures in my head as I imagined images captured by the stiff staccato sounds or cadences of beautifully narrated prose.

I taught my first practice lesson to the other student teachers on “The Naming of Parts”. When I drew the flower in the poem, “Japonica” on the blackboard, I was inside the story of a recruit who wanders- in his head- out of doors on a spring day rather than listen to his commander name the parts of a gun. I must have been passionate or at least, diverting because thirty eyes smiled approval, caught in my presentation, that made meaning for them, connecting them with their own experiences, sustaining their interest to probe the recruit’s psyche through discussion and discourse that was only terminated by the bell at the end of class time.

And for me, it was an invigorating class as we were all participants, driven with the joy that occurs when learning excites personally, extending beyond the self to join in the collective.

In Oshawa, I called the number passed to me from Barbara McFarlane. Previously a face in a class, I soon realized we shared more than just the teachable of English: we were both neurotic, our fingers constantly combing through our hair. I could already see some bare patches on her scalp as she twisted and untwisted bits of hair. My own hair, I assured myself, was still thick, so no one knew my guilty secret. Yet I, too, yanked out those miscreant strands, as ruthlessly as Barbara. We laughed about our obsessive natures, wondering if teaching would be a panacea, finally making us fit with the rest of our smoothly coiffed classmates who seemed so certain of their fate as teachers. I pondered if we would be always be like the recruit in my teaching poem, dreaming of escape, or finding ours in the classroom.

When morning arrived at my first practice teaching assignment, I followed Barbara’s directions and arrived at O’Neill to teach art. My associate teacher seemed young, anywhere from 25 to 40, I thought. He was, smiling, laid back, and said, “You can watch me for a few days, and get a sense of the class. When you are ready, say, on Wednesday or Thursday, you could teach a lesson.” My knees knocked together as I grinned foolishly back at him.

Liam Johnson shared the students’ space naturally and with ease. It was apparent the kids liked him. If the teacher is like Liam, learning really occurs as problem-solving becomes explicit and part of an intriguing game that kids clamor to play. Stretching your brain in innovative ways feels so good. I had experienced that with my peers that day I had taught “The Naming of Parts”.

Yet, Liam was not really their friend, but more like a mentor. He spoke respectfully to students, and they, too, were respectful. He listened; he observed; he taught in a manner that demonstrated he enjoyed what he was doing. He never condescended or patronized, intuitive to the styles and needs of each individual. “No rowdy kids or classroom management problems here,” I jotted in my journal. Even at 20, I knew that Liam Johnson was someone who peppers your thoughts with choices and you want to emulate him as a role model.

Eventually I would learn that art is an easy sell . Kids actually choose art; they work at their own pace; they can be creative; art is an oasis and a relief from the hard seats from which they are not allowed to move in other prescribed classes, or the voices that drone on about subjects for which they care little.

I shadowed Liam until Wednesday, when he inevitably posed the question, “Ready to teach?” Actually I would have been quite content to watch him teach-forever.

What could I mumur, but “Yes”?

He paused, “The kids are ready to begin lino-cutting. You could spend about 20 minutes, explaining the process to them. “ Another silly smile.

That night at the Mclaughlin mansion, I began my research. I read “Lino cutting offers the older child endless scope for individual, creative print making. Linocut is a printmaking technique, a variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wooden block) is used for the relief surface. A design is cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed. The cut areas can then be pulled from the backing. The linoleum sheet is inked with a roller (called a brayer), and then impressed onto paper or fabric. The actual printing can be done by hand or with a press.” (Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia)

I already knew this; I had dabbled in printmaking and every grade school kid has made a Christmas card from some kind of print relief method. I just wanted to be sure that I had not missed anything.

In deed, I had carefully laid out pieces of tan linoleum on the desks of the thirty students in the chemistry-style setup room before leaving O’Neill the night before my presentation at 6:00. And I knew that placing linoleum on the radiators at the sides of the room would warm the tough leathery slabs and make the cutting easier. I worried, of course, that the students would cut towards themselves, not away and slice into their skin, even severing an artery that would require doctors and stitching. I could even hear the screech as an ambulance pulled up to the front door of the school. I shook my head, allowing the screams to dissipate.

Now for pedagogy. I wrote out the steps on little cards, a card a step. I even created diagrams. I found quaint examples in old art books in the musty McLaughlin library.

I approached the mirror in my bedroom and grimaced. So far at O’Neill I had only moved around the classroom, offering positive comments to the students deeply involved in their artwork. To them, I must have been a minor annoyance as they returned my courtesies, letting me admire their work, or nodding to suggestions made in the form of superficial critique. I saw them laugh with Liam and enter into real conversations that lasted for maybe 10 minutes. I saw trust in their eyes and interchanges that looked meaningful.

I re-examined my reflection in the bedroom mirror and said “Good morning class” , commencing my presentation to my bedroom of silence. I paused to ensure the imaginary students were paying attention. I spoke slowly, enunciating clearly, practicing in my best voice, (that was nonetheless quaking), over, and over again for just the right stance, the supportive appearance, the knowing and intelligent mannerisms. I thought and rethought my 10 simple steps in lino-cutting, reviewing my notes, reorganizing my visuals, and deciding where to punctuate my carefully planned talk for questions.

It must have been midnight and I was soaked with perspiration, but I finally decided that it would be just fine.

I arrived early the next morning, and Liam was already in the class, to welcome and encourage me, “ I’ve seen you with the kids. You will be fine.”

Absolutely. It would be fine.

“Good morning, class, “ I began, just as planned. I even paused in the right spot to turn my head, right and left, to acknowledge all of the boys and girls with welcoming smiles.

“Today, we will do lino- cuts…”

I continued to speak… and I heard my words, but my sentences seemed to pick up speed with every carefully rehearsed phrase. Like a train on the tracks that gathers momentum as it moves from the station, I heard my words accelerate as I began to rush through the steps, one through ten. My tongue, disregarding my brain, had a conductor of its own. My head, then my body were mere attachments to a mouth that was hurling itself at breakneck speed, never pausing for periods and pauses. I stood outside of myself and watched as the student teacher at the front of the class held up visuals, words spewing faster and faster from her mouth.

In spite of my racing words, I still managed to demonstrate how to hold the knife, attach the various blades, draw the image, paint in the negative parts with India ink- at the side of the class- warm the lino, cut the lino, print the image.. .

But, I was held captive by my tongue, that rambling purple snake I could not control. How had an alien invaded my mouth, taking my tongue as ransom for pretending to be a teacher? In horror, I performed robotic-like, a slave to the words that continued to race.

The faces of the students, not two feet away, their cool detachment had turned to amazement. Incredulous at the teacher-impersonator whose words seemed propelled by some wicked spirit, they turned to one another, unsure of what to do, of what to think. They remained glued to their seats, too dumbfounded to move. Perhaps they were awaiting a shapechange or transformation into something more terrible than a rambling student teacher.

I completed my lesson: albeit in 3 instead of 20 minutes!

As if my spring had been totally unwound, I was now depleted and wordless: the train had not gone off track, only driven at breakneck speed to arrive back at the station, its cargo erratically cast off Dejected, embarrassed, eyes focused straight ahead, tears barely contained, I made my way to the back of the room. Heads twisted; unblinking eyes followed me. There was silence in the room. I wanted to flee.

But shortly, the students picked up their tools and started to work.

From a fog of tears, I saw Liam approach. Before he opened his mouth, I surmised my teaching career had ended. I was about to plead.

He said, “ You did very well to-day”.

I knew it was a lie, but it was what I needed to hear.


En route to visit daughter# 2 several months ago, we turned on Marc Maron’s WTF and listened to two interview/ conversations. One was with Ivan Reitman of Meatballs and Ghostbusters fame and the other was with David Bronner scion of a famous German-Jewish family whose soapmaking tradition began in 1858. Each man spoke about relationships with family. Most specifically father and sons.

Ivan’s son, Jason, went on to produce less funny films than his father such as Up in the Air and Thank You for Smoking. In the conversation that highlighted Reitman’s early work with John Balushi Howard Shore ( actually a cousin on my mother’s side!), Martin Short and others, Ivan Reitman displayed a kind of humility and forthrightness about his directing career and what he suggested triggered Saturday Night Live’s emergence into comedy programming, My interest wasn’t so much on what Reitman said, but how he said it. Touching on a plethora of topics that eventually veered towards Jason, he displayed great affection and respect for his son, without being saccharine, or over the top. I flashed to a loving portrait I had seen the day previously at the AGO of the artist Henry Moore and his mother reading to him as he curled into her body. They were shown caught in a personal moment. No words, but the loving relationship was clear. Here in the podcast, it was the timbre of the words that responded to Maron’s questions and encouraged Reitman to carry on as long as he chose.

The second interview revealed that David Bronner ( whose “ magical” soaps are sold at Whole Foods) great grandfather who had had visions and was even locked away in a mental institution. On his soaps’ wrappings were printed such thoughts as “If I am not for myself, who am I for?”, from Rabbi Hillel as well as other messages to promote self-reflection into unity, collaboration and world peace. The soap business passed to David ‘s father and uncle who appeared to have followed a more conventional style of soap wrapper. Eventually David who had scorned any previous links to the business, took over: working for a year with his father who eventually passed away.

Here the conversation came alive as David Bronner presented his own mission: to wrestle from Monsanto harmful agents, and to work towards foods that are not genetically -altered as an impetus to maintain a healthier environment. He even sowed actual seeds on the White House lawn. David obviously hoping to garner attention to his causes, locked himself in a metal cage outside the White House, protesting the illegality of growing hemp, one of his soap’s main ingredients. The mantle had been passed to the grandson from his father, grandfather and great grandfather into this generation.

Bronner seems to have almost unconsciously inculcated the visionary spirit of his ancestors: towards improving the world. He spoke with such passion, explaining that only enough money to run the company is taken out and additional profits go towards charities. I was reminded of Albert Barnes, American physician, chemist, businessman, art collector, writer, educator, and founder of the company that produced Argyrol : silver nitrate antiseptic solution for the treatment of gonorrhea and a preventative of gonorrhea blindness in newborn infants. Philosophically, Barnes believed in profit-sharing with his workers and promoting diversity. His collection of mainly Impressionist art at the Barnes Collection ( a must-see for all art aficionados) is housed in Philadelphia. Mentored by John Dewey, Barnes was considered a rebel.

Both the Reitman and Bronner families had escaped oppressive regimes, Russians in Czechoslovakia, and Nazis in Austria, risking everything when they arrived in their new countries of Canada and the U.S. Perhaps having lost family or striving to establish themselves in foreign places had refocused parental energy towards demonstrating love and relationships in tangible ways, proving to their children that values live in people, not places. By the way, on September 8, the day before 2010 TIFF opened, Ivan Reitman and his sisters christened Reitman Square, the new headquarters of the Toronto festival’s year round administration on the property left to them by their own parents. Rather than parents being just a footnote or a passing comment, the interviewees revealed a real connection to the driving forces of their forbearers, paying more than just lip service.

As a parent and grandparent myself, I segued into how I and my husband will be remembered: hopefully more than our son’s lament that he was stashed with friends on his 5th birthday and pushed down hills because we were at work; or anger at being forced to share a bologna sandwich with his sisters. Hopefully it will be a memory of a trip where he consumed a delicious pizza outside Rome in an ancient castle aptly called Il Castello. Will he recall Howard and me dressed as maid and butler serving his friends at a celebratory lobster dinner for him , all of us consumed with laughter at each courteous course.

Maybe it will be our daughter’s birthday in Montebuono during Howard’s sabbatical; or perhaps a family boat cruise to Rio or watching the Cubs in Chicago all together. Maybe it will be revisiting our faces charged with pride and happiness at a graduation here or away; or Howard’s chaperoning the CCOC to Salt Spring Island. More likely it will be a resurgence of annoyance at the overwhelming deluge of toys loving bestowed to grandkids on my birthdays that riled my children into suppressing anger; or the “horrid” bulgur chicken or “healthy” spaghetti served to them as children. I hope it will be a mixture of some things good at least.

As the years go by, I actively try and make those moments with my own parents resurface, recalling more of myself; and with myself, them. Like buds from trees, we are parts of a whole, that continue to bloom and carry on, even when the branches have withered .

From letter to blog: a rant on MI in education

Weekends are lazy times to sort through newspapers and just enjoy perusing the columns. Yet barely into my ritual, I find an article that makes me burst into flames. It prompted a response to the editor.

 Sunday’s Star “Educational fads not helpful” should have made me toss the page when I read that the so-called education writer, Sacherin Maraharaj was directing his ridicule towards Howard Gardner. My thesis, “The usefulness of art in education: in and out of the classroom” called on John Dewey, Elliot Eisner and Howard Gardner as support for the importance of the visual in education. During my doctoral defence at OISE, one of the examiners referred to these three theoreticians as my educational gurus. They were and still are. Dewey’s understanding of experience, both in life and in education, is incredibly applicable and as fresh today as it was in the early 20th Century; Elliot Eisner associated with the Getty Institute and his approach to art-based (DBAE) education continues to resonate; and Howard Gardner’s research into seven multiple intelligences has provided a needed focus on individual differences. He has identified the intelligences as Visual-Spatial, Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Linguistic, and Logical –Mathematical.

Initially outraged by Maraharaj’s statements and conjectures that Gardner’s “ multiple intelligences “ were a fad, an unsubstantiated method with little research and that all children could benefit from the same pedagogy,” I wrote in my email to the editor,

“I’m wondering what he proposes: all well-dressed children sitting with their hands folded in neat rows, all heads turned towards their teacher in a suit?”

Maraharaj maintains that Gardner himself was backtracking on his research and recanting his numerous journal studies. Incredulous, I went to The Washington Post to read for myself what Gardner was querying.

Not surprisingly, Gardner addressed the criteria and actual meaning / definition of  “learning style ” and how one “recognizes, assesses or exploits that notion”.  Gardner was actually encouraging teachers  “ (to) (i)ndividualize your teaching as much as possible. Instead (my emphasis) of ‘one size fits all,’ learn as much as you can about each student, and teach each person in ways that they find comfortable and learn effectively”(The Washington Post, October 16, 2013).

Some “backtrack”!

 I can recall my best classes, particularly in Post-colonial Literature ( see earlier blogs), where I provided a topic and the students found their own touchstones to make the subject come alive. I cherish from those teaching days several three- dimensional books carefully and beautifully crafted that document the pivotal moments of South America’s history: as a back story for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, given to me as gifts from delighted students. As well, I treasure the memory of students who wrote their own dialogues, assuming the personas of characters in Rohinton Mistry’s novel, Such a Long Journey, and walked in their shoes, no longer  “others” looking in on the lives of people from India.

 I remember thinking how wonderful: that one young man had translated in a chemistry chart the frequencies of the rise and fall of a displaced family from a novel we were studying, comprehending in his own way the trajectories of fate and fortune. And I recall the brilliance of the group who decided to use the metaphor of a poker game to dramatize the Portuguese, Germans, Belgians, English and French’s use of the countries of Africa as chips in a bidding war. And with feelings of pride for student insight, even 20 years later, I reflect on a collaborative project that investigated female mutilation in Somalia and its connections in Toronto. Wow.

 Although I did teach, prepare and provide students with subject information and required assignments to satisfy curriculum expectations, each student played a part in his/her own deepening of the topic. That is the beauty of multiple intelligences: it honours that we are all unique and learn in a plethora of ways that makes sense to us. In classrooms where the mantra is collaboration, a varied approach to absorbing knowledge ensures that students enrich their understanding by looking from new eyes and respecting that diversity in perspectives can enhance learning. The openness of Bahtkin’s building dialectics ( in the previous blog) requires that people really hear their colleagues’ voices so that they can critic, contemplate and make  conversations/learning grow in interesting and unexpected ways. Those new revelations precipitate those “ ah-ha” moments when epiphanies erupt.

 Perhaps that is what I also love about art. If you stand in front of a painting and really look, the art begins to act on you. You will see a colour, a form, something that will begin to pique or resonate with you. Stand there longer and your conversation with the piece continues to grow. Voices in your head, your own and others, suggest a memory, a thought, a response that you did not know you had. Even the so-called polar bear in the snowstorm may make you shiver and you will imagine snowflakes conglomerating to cover the snarly bear. Or…  

 I will always regret the study during my Masters days of a museum-related class. Mini- exams were administered every Friday for 8 weeks, each in an identical format. A roister of professors presented lectures that concentrated on the decorative arts in silver, wood, glass, metal, glass and pottery, etc. What followed was a test based on 10 broken bits or shards. Our task was to identify the provenance, explain the composition of components, why they had broken, and the shattered artifacts’ usage.

 One professor thought it fair to trick us- as in presenting a replica of a 14th Century rural chair from Quebec and expecting that we neophytes would know it was an impostor. So we studied hard, or at least I did, got my A and to this day do not remember a morsel of what I had learned. 

In contrast, I have stored in my head and can recall the research I did in the same class on Cast Iron Toys ( banks, stove samples and Noah’s arks) in the early 20th century in Ontario. Maybe some of my fellow students can still identify pottery from Orange county in Ontario, its clay composition, the method of its production and why its colour distinguishes it as a breakfast bowl. I sure can’t.

 Cramming for the test obviously did not appeal to my particular “ style” of absorbing and retaining information. Fortunately I can still compare banks (some: replicas of buildings) in Ontario to those in America’s Golden Age of Toys ( some: racism in the form of animation) and even offer a few insights from my visits to a collector in Ottawa who kindly shared his information on his stash of toys with me.

 Sacharin Maraharaj considers himself an educational critic. How embarrassing he makes the mistake that many of my high students did: they quote out of context. They extract one piece of a puzzle to support their own diatribes.

Not surprisingly my letter(see below) that pointed out the flaws in Maraharaj’s analysis was not published. How ironic in the continuing wake of the Rob Ford scandal, and The Star’s constant attack, that simply misleading is allowed to persist by a newspaper high-handedly championing investigative journalism. Moral hogwash. Talk about hypocrisy-and believe me, I cannot tolerate even hearing the name of the buffoon who was voted mayor.

 Daily, we read about the efficacy of early kindergarten and the loss of its intellectual impacts by Grade 3.  I wonder if Maraharaj’s real topic was a political one to align himself or garner favour with those who support tests, scream about needless costs and lampoon creativity in education? Whether multiple choice tests reveal or substantiate “knowledge” or not, MI offers benefits for children. People who decry the expense only put the cost somewhere else- remedial and societal support programs because those who cannot read, or feel unaccepted in society may act out or on the society that has failed to educate or prepare them properly for life…I am not suggesting that early full day kindergarten will repair all of society’s issues: however, it damn well provides an excellent start upon which to build a healthier society.

We see MI theory at work in every kindergarten across the province in play centers and the play-based learning as the framework for early learning in our schools. This approach encourages children to stick their muddy little fingers into a variety of learning methods, They are engaged in an “experience” in Deweyian terms (for sure) through a multiplicity of sensual responses and intellectual stimulations in positive, practical environments supported by well trained professionals. Perhaps Maraharaj might scorn this as merely first rate daycare for people who otherwise might have dropped the kid at the neighbours. I’ld rather my kid interact than stare at the television or be tossed a video game. But again that’s me. Or forgive me if I am taking his argument out of its original context. 😉

I  truly don’t know where his argument comes from or why he more than tinkered with the meaning of The Washington Post’s meaning. As an educator, he does not do service to his readers. As a writer myself, I consider how twisting facts might grow into plagiarism or a total disregard for the validity of the work of others. For me, it’s a moral question: of how we use the ideas of others.

 When I taught, I always felt it was not so much what you taught but how you taught: that stimulating children so they want to learn and excite their interest and desire would enable them to stay curious, continue on and eventually discover what they were passionate about. Knowing the basics of reading and counting opens the doors of lifelong learning and a thirst for education. With these tools, children could go anywhere.

My grandson has been in English and French kindergartens and I have picked him up in both classrooms where at 5 o’clock there is still so much going on, that kids do not want to leave. Yesterday I walked in on pancake making for Channukah, noted kids constructing with enormous blocks, observed windows decorated with all the holidays, heard laughter, and witnessed engagement: the feel that any teacher will recognize of an excellent environment for children. I was literally knee deep in learning through play: new skills, collaboration, social adjustment, co-operation, respect for teachers and environment. What I saw, at least superficially, were well-adjusted children from diverse cultures, playing and learning.

This moment brought to mind a story that Stephen Lewis tells of his visits to Africa and how every single child he encountered has a desperate dream to go to school. This is the school I would envisage for all children, one that instigates the beginning of a lifelong process that fortifies the young and strengthens communities. We want all of our children to know they are the threads in our social tapestry, and that school is good, safe and rewarding.

If you look carefully at schools in Ontario, you will see these programs are built on Gardner’s MI theories; and truly- theory that lives in practice.



The Letter to the Editor at The Star



Sunday’s Star Educational fads not helpful should have made me toss the page when I read that Maraharaj was directing his ridicule towards Howard Gardner. I’m wondering what he proposes: all well-dressed children sitting with their hands folded in neat rows turned towards their teacher in a suit?


 Incredulous that Gardner would backtrack on his research and recant from his numerous journal studies, I went to The Washing Post to read for myself what Gardner was actually querying.


 Not surprisingly, Gardner speaks to the criteria and actual meaning / definition of  “learning style ” and how one “recognizes, assesses or exploits that notion”.  What Gardner actually says to teachers is “Individualize your teaching as much as possible. Instead ( my emphasis) of ‘one size fits all,’ learn as much as you can about each student, and teach each person in ways that they find comfortable and learn effectively.”(October 16, 2013)


Anyone who has taught knows this to be true.


Sacharin Maharaj makes the mistake that many of my high students did: they quote out of context. They give you only one piece of a puzzle to support their own diatribes.


To call MI an educational fad is a disservice to The Star’s readers.



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