bloggingboomer

A fine WordPress.com site

Archive for the tag “The Star”

The Olympics Conundrum

Everyone this year must have wondered about Rio as an appropriate site for the games. Admittedly, not a great sports fan, I still always am fascinated by the prowess of the athletes, always amazed by the skill and sleekness of their bodies. Last night the choreographed duos plunging into the pool left me in awe : the best reminded me of the tightly wound gears of clocks. 

Even the opening ceremonies that traced the history of the country fascinated. The hot pinks and greens of people dressed as arrows along the parade of athletes tickled my imagination. The skeletons of boats rocking with explorers a la cirque de Soleil, the slaves with huge blocks attached to their feet, the rising tenements that featured a backdrop for the diversity of silver dancers were all wonderful, artfully and historically conceived. The serious admission and projection of the shrinking land and resources of our world dramatically set against each athlete planting a seedling: small and big, individual and colossal. And yet, as in Beijing where the poor were relocated for the building of stadiums such asThe Birdsnest (which now stands empty ) ,60,000 residents in working class favelas in Rio were also moved out for the building of the Olympic Park. Gary Mason in his column,” The spectacle you don’t see on TV”( The Globe and Mail, August 12, 2016) describes families in dire circumstances, begging for food and sorting through garbage cans, babies in arms. He states,” The dichotomy between the money drenched world of the IOC…and the horribly disadvantaged people…in Rio is blunt and depressing.”

With the terrible issues in the favelas and the poisonous prick of the Zika, not to mention the fluctuating political presidents, Rio appears cursed. My own hairdresser confided her family has been beset by gangs in local grocery stores and no doubt, most have heard about the Spanish sailing team’s mugging at pistol point. In the midst of such burning poverty, how can there not be unrest? 

Yet I carry sweet poignant memories with me when eight years ago, I celebrated New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach with four million others in a quietly festive, family based party. Every one respectfully dressed in white, carrying gladiolus, silently approaching the edge of the water, bending to offer the flowers to the goddess. Small groups of extended relations preparing dinners on portable stoves, tasty, spicy smells, children dancing on tiptoes on the sand: the atmosphere calm, friendly, spiritual. 

And at exactly midnight after fireworks, belongings and small babes packed up in arms, the partygoers turned back to fill the streets and head silently home by foot or bus. We were sitting in a bar restaurant called Mabe’s beach- front where we poured champagne for anyone who came by. Told not to display jewellery or wallets as tourists, we had begun our Rio trip fearful, but encountered no problems. In fact, our memories of Rio still give us pause today :awe of a night that was far from violent or threatening – and lives in our minds as one of those moments that twinkles and endures when so many  other travel memories have vanished. 

The story yesterday, August 8, of Raefaela Silva, is like that, a story that persists. Winning Brazil’s first gold medal in women’s judo division, she is  David battling Goliath,poorest of girls triumphing. On the podium, biting her lips to hold back tears as she waited for the medal to be placed around her neck, Raefaela conveyed( to me) that she was unlike the other athletes. Whether it was a toughness, a rawness, a particular look, a demeanour,a raggedness, she somehow marked a difference from the sleek and poised, say, of the women swimmers or divers such as our Penny Oleksiak or Rosie Filion. Siva is quoted as saying, “I was always climbing up walls, over walls to get a kite that might have fallen out of the sky…I had a dream” , a mantra both literal and figural for a child reaching beyond a bad neighbourhood towards a better future. She adds,”I had to fight in the midst of that, in order to overcome and not be defeated as a child” ( The Star, Bruce Arthur, The girl wins gold for City of God”). 

As humans and story readers,we approve this story, beaming with pleasure that there are avenues to vanquish our enemies, whether they be human or societal. We burst our buttons that the human spirit has prevailed and for one shining moment, the dragon has been felled. But in truth, there are few Raefaelas able to exit their circumstances. Even her sister at 15 found herself pregnant. The conditions that confine all the other children and propel them into crime, not sports, drama , professions must haunt society. Without opportunity, the quiet one in the corner, the bully, the kid kept at home to mind his baby brother, few can escape the cycle of poverty that robs all of us :to move  from challenging circumstances and go forward. What made the difference for Raefaela? Did she have a latent gene from her ancestors to persevere and somehow continue her trek? Was it her parents, who in spite of moving a small mile away from their former favela, hand her the torch? Was it her coach who in the midst of crushing racism in London, and  Siva being disqualified in London four years ago and persuaded her to dig in her heels, scof and steadfastly believe in  her dream? Was there one guardian angel knowing what words or signs were neededto keep her on the right track? In deed, what makes one swing one leg in front of the other when everything within screams, “Giveup, lie down; it’s enough all ready.”

Cynically I ponder if she will return to her former life and hang her medal on her wall, or will she be used by the government as motivation that even if you live in slums, you can triumph.Will she be air brushed by the government into a lovely model for drinking coke and selling sanitary pads? 

It is a lovely notion that we cling to: that one downtrodden person can rise up in the midst of adversity. Rather than fighting the odds, governments must ensure that all  our Raefaelas find outlets for their talents, and even ” ordinary” children be allowed to rise to fulfill their potential, not scour for scraps in garbage bins. Wasn’t that the idea behind the 1979  Year of the Child promoted by the Unesco and the  UN?Not snipped in the bud by the Zika virus.

Advertisements

Stars, Emotions and What Hides Beneath the Surface

“Shabam-shibbebel-yibbam”, ( or some such expletives) shouts the Bone in The Amazing Bone by William Steig. Unexpectedly, the loathsome fox begins to shrink until he is the size of a mouse, no longer a threat to succulent Pearl the Pig whose oven was heating in wait for her. The Bone unaware how he/it had muttered the magical words, declared he did not know where he had absorbed them, maybe from living in the pocket of a witch, but who knows for sure?

When I worked on a paper for Children in Poverty in Ontario, I recall reading that what impacts most strongly on a child is having a parent, a teacher, a friend who supports that child emotionally. One person can make such a difference. Yet why is it that even some children or adults with packs of friends cannot find their way through an abyss? No magic bone appears to rescue them from their traumas. But often, there are attacks that arrive from not just outside but inside as well. This week Robin Williams took his life and I’m sure many wondered, how if a person such as Williams with all the love, concern and care from friends and family in his life could not survive the crises that plagued him, then how anyone?

Just yesterday I read Joanna Schneller in The Globe who reflected on our connection with movie stars, illusions that we extend to entwine ourselves in, imagining that we possess meaningful association with them: “… actors who come into our lives through film and tabloids whom we think we know because so much is published that we feel affinity to them.” She maintained that what we feel, our emotions, nonetheless are in deed real towards the celluloid super star and we should not dismiss or diminish how we feel. She asserted. “We are not wasting our time if we take to the internet to help us process the weight of depression that crushed Williams. We’re not even pathetic if we try to express our feelings in 140 characters or less. The feelings are real. It would be tragic not to feel them” (Aug 16, 2014.)

I disagree.

We, of course, do experience feelings for ourselves. However, we have no idea what Williams truly was , neither the deep inner thoughts of Philip Seymour Hoffman or the insights of Lauren Bacall when she was married to Humphrey Bogart. These people are mere areas for transference for us, a palimpsest that we employ to post on, then erase our thoughts and feelings. That we think we know them is perhaps saddest of all and to be given permission to grieve for them is saddest yet. The basis for our response not even real or true, often manufactured.

True enough that we don’t always own our emotions, their presence, their façade that obfuscates what lurks beneath. Providing license for grief should herald a wakeup call to look within, not without. Why listen to Jenny McCarthy when you really know so much better.?

In contrast today in The Star,( August 19), Dr. Gabor Mate, took another stance in saying that childhood conditioning can play a role in depression and that Williams was bullied as a child and found his father “ frightening”. He said “[ Williams] early in life had learned early in life to cover up his feelings, as a child does when he is emotionally alone and there is no one with whom to share”. Does this tidbit of information allow us to rationalize and psychoanalyze, pondering like Dr. Freud’s penetrating Ah-ha : that was the reason! as we smugly don our own white coats, clucking as if we knew the secret yearnings and despair that dog some members of society.

However, reading Ruth Ozecki’s book “ A Tale For the Time Being”, I could begin to understand the depth of depression a child/adolescent would face by the constant mockery by their peers. For Nao, one of the protagonists, it is life’s constant brutalities that encourages her to seek suicide as well. Fortunately for Nao, she unearths shreds of resilience and as the literature on that topic teaches, one person- a friend, a teacher, a family member can make the difference.

For Nao, it is the wisdom of her grandmother nun, the perseverance of a great uncle written in a French diary, her own purpose and project that persuade her to continue on for her own sake. Being inspired to find a glimmer of hope when all the lights are dimming is the challenge. For the heroine of Ozecki’s book, Nao may find solace;and in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, the reader is able to envision her heroine Ursula’s diverse trajectories, a plethora of alternate paths taken or not with varying outcomes.

Yet, as I stand outside a character such as Nao and peer into her soul and thoughts, make connections, and think I comprehend her pain, I am at a remove from the scorching mistreat by her classmates that reinforces she is worth less than her twisted underwear. The value of books is to bring us to the edge so we might peer over and try and empathize. At least a book gives us context and reason, words that convey reason. Our television glimpses or media-driven reports are not truths that can instruct the way into a tortured soul. Like the commercials created by Don Draper in Mad Men, they are snippets created to manipulate our emotions for a variety of reasons; most commercial.

When I worked at OCT, my research for the ethical standards revealed that several universities offered classes or courses to teach the values we hope our children will espouse and make their own: Care, Respect, Trust and Integrity. Coupled with the standards, these ethical incentives are what we all should strive towards in our daily actions : codes to guide our behaviour and interactions with others.

Williams’ death makes us stop and face our own mortality. I think that it was his sweetness, self-deprecation, laughter and crazy antics that endeared him- at least on screen and the zines that profiled him. At least that was how he portrayed himself in his film roles and comedy shticks. Too bad there were no magic words for Williams as in The Magic Bone to ward off his demons and shrink them to mouse size. Even nanoo- nanoo did not do the trick.

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.

 

 

Post Navigation