The bane of tradition

I expect this post may actually draw some criticism from various quarters. I am though decided, after seeing (or enduring) the much-hyped Royal Wedding in my country yesterday, to state an opinion in regards to the word, concept, idea,  which was seen in abundance yesterday… TRADITION.

Growing up in Britain you have a weight of tradition that is seen in the very fabric of our society. We see it in the medieval based nobility that has money, patronage, connections with the ancient” Universities (Oxbridge) and the fact that there is a built in subservience to these outmoded institutions amongst many people who yesterday were to be seen waving Union Jack flags and dancing in the streets to celebrate the wedding of a very ordinary couple whose nuptials are no more significant or indeed important than those of a young couple getting married in a Registry Office in Stockport today!

This weight of “tradition” can give a society a “glue” that allows it to  weather difficult times..but it also acts as a barrier to progress. We use the word tradition to look backwards to some “golden age” where everyone knew their place and there was a defined hierarchy in society.

I see the word tradition used so often in the ongoing debate over education. Michael Gove and many like him seem to believe that if we go back the learning of a narrow curriculum based on good Kings and Queens and some hazy concept of a happy “Merrie Englande” we will create the kind of education that will fit our children for life in the 21st century global village. If we teach Languages and have a good grounding in the sciences then we are preparing our children for a world where they need to have collaborative, problem-solving capabilities.

Maybe the most telling criticism that I made to my Royalist wife watching yesterday’s global media event, was that the ceremony could have taken place almost intact at any time in the last hundred years. There were the bright uniforms. the singing of Blake’s “Jerusalem” (which I always find ironic given the words), the trumpet fanfares and the medieval form of words. The message was that all is right in our view of the world which has 21st century people with their mobile phones hidden from view in their morning suits and hugely expensive personally designed gowns.

We are though in the 21st century and we inhabit a world of major problems but great potential. I would rather look forward towards the changed society that our technology is bringing about and not harp on the past and look back with a wistful feeling that everything was somehow perfect then when “everyone knew their place”.

Yesterday was disappointing to me because I can see the way that “tradition” can act as a support for those who want to halt or turn back “progress”. I am not saying that change is easy and understand the need for people to hold onto something that they think they understand and that defines them but our future does not lie in our past and the best we can do for our children is to make them fit to function in the changed environment of the 21st century and not the world of their great-grandparents!

Holocaust Remembrance: Eva Kuper’s Story

The symbolic "remains" of the railro...
Image via Wikipedia

With next week being  the U.S. Holocaust Remembrance Week I thought it might be timely to re-release a post that I did a few months ago. It relates to the story of Eva Kuper which I found on a Canadian website:

This is a beautiful and intensely moving film. The story of Eva Kuper a tiny little Polish Jewish girl who was rescued at almost the last second from certain death from a train that was headed to Treblinka Concentration Camp. The story then tells of the wonderful nun who looked after her for three years and how she miraculously found the nun when she revisited Poland in 2005.It is a film that should be shown in schools as it tells a great human story about awful events but shows how people risked death to help these children to survive.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

What’s great about Teachmeets

The video above  is a presentation at the Teachmeet in Milton Keynes which took place at the Open University in Milton Keynes (Bucks, U.K.) on Wednesday 7th July 2010.

The presenter is Chris Leach who is Head of ICT at Winchester House School, an independent school in Northamptonshire. He shows just why Teachmeets can be so informative and exciting. In the presentation he tells how he used freely available and downloadable software such as Spicynodes, Wallwisher and Scribblemaps to really engage the children in his school with research into historical topics such as The Gunpowder Plot. There was a good use of Twitter as well to communicate with each other and to link in with other schools here in Britain and abroad.

This was just one presentation in a number of really interesting presentations that was available to see and learn from on that July day. Teachmeets are happening all over Britain and there are numerous versions of the same in North America. They show just how good technology can be in  helping  schools move children into a 21st century mode of learning and communicating.

What’s great about Teachmeets?…. well practically everything. If there’s one near you soon then I would encourage you to attend or at least see the videos of the presentations afterwards.

The need for emotion

I have been searching over the Easter holiday for my twentieth Top TED Talk. I think I have found it in Eve Ensler‘s  Embrace your inner girl. This was a powerhouse of an emotional talk about the way that girls have been treated historically, how they are still mistreated, raped, put down and abused in so many ways and how they have had to cope throughout history with a patriarchal society.

At the end of the talk she reads her own piece   ‘I Am An Emotional Creature‘. I found a version of it on YouTube which I wanted to incorporate into my post.. thus:

All of this made me think of something that I have lived with all of my life. I am an emotional creature and I am also male. I often cry when I watch very emotional films or read something emotional. I still cannot read the line from “To Kill A Mockingbird” where Atticus says to Boo Radley “Thank you for my children” without getting a lump in my throat… the emotional context and content hits me immediately.

I used to believe that this was a weakness. I have often been told that I should “toughen up” and that somehow the show of emotion is not one for a man. But after having seen this talk I realise that emotion is something that is a strength. It is the fuel that leads to passion and can feed creativity. It allows a person to persevere in order to accomplish. It is about the fulfilment of dreams and as Eve Ensler says it is what has driven the human race forward and got us to the moon.

When we did finally have that “one small step” did the people in Houston just sit and applaud pleasantly at an achievement that fulfilled the cold logic and figures of their science?  No, they clapped, they hugged one another and they probably cried.. maybe somewhere private because after all, it wouldn’t do for the men scientists to show their emotions!

But I now believe that my emotion is strength and that the showing of emotion is a human strength that we should allow and indeed encourage in our students. We want them to have passion for what they do and we want them to persevere and we want them to show their emotion when they achieve what they set out to do. The students who may gain most from all of this will be the boys because they can express their feelings in a way that does not get them derided or make them feel that they are weird or weak.

We maybe male, we maybe female… in the end we are all human and our emotions can drive us to great things like maybe saving our planet and ourselves.

The School Of Life

Being an avid follower of Sir Ken Robinson (and now one of his many Facebook friends), I received the following Tweet late last evening..

Some thoughts on Passion at the School of Life:

I followed the link and this led me to an excellent talk (yet again) by Sir Ken. I have to admit that I had never really come across the “School of Life” before, but this “sermon” was a real discovery.

Here was an organisation centred in London which states in its own website:

The School of Life is a new enterprise offering good ideas for everyday living.

We are based in a small shop in Central London where we offer a variety of programmes and services concerned with how to live wisely and well.

We address such questions as why work is often unfulfilling, why relationships can be so challenging, why it’s ever harder to stay calm and what one could do to try to change the world for the better.

The School of Life is a place to step back and think intelligently about these and other concerns. You will not be cornered by any dogma, but directed towards a variety of ideas – from philosophy to literature, psychology to the visual arts – that tickle, exercise and expand your mind. You’ll meet other curious, sociable and open-minded people in an atmosphere of exploration and enjoyment.

I have now watched the Sir Ken sermon and another brilliant talk by Charles Leadbeater about thinking about the end of life and how we can make aging and dying better experiences than they are now (see Charles Leadbeater on Perspective ). The sermons are a great resource and I shall be indulging myself to look at a few more of them.

I shall also try and find out a bit more about this new social enterprise as it ticks a number of boxes with me about the quest for addressing important questions and networking with open-minded people (many of whom happen to live down the road from me!).

If you get the chance see the Sir Ken talk for his humour, wisdom and insights about where we need to go in order to achieve our true self and how this relates to education. See also the wise and at times, very moving talk by Charles Leadbeater on how we can rethink how we deal with an aging population that still has much to contribute to our world.

Look up the “School of Life” website and maybe join in the discussion.

World Peace and other 4th-Grade Achievements

Today I saw a wonderful TED Talk by John Hunter about his World Peace Game.

I left a comment on the TED site after I had seen the talk. I decided that I would upload the inspiring trailer to the film “World Peace and other 4th grade achievements”  that John tells us about in his talk.  I think that the  points that I make in my comment about the validity of this approach can be clearly seen.Here is true learning going on and John is truly an inspiring teacher.

Here is my comment with slight alterations for this post:

Firstly, I loved the talk, it made me proud to be a teacher and left me with the wish that I had had the courage to try and do the kind of learning experiences for my children that John Hunter set up for the children who had the fortune to be in his classes doing this really interesting World Peace Game.

Secondly, the discussion in the comments that I have just read in many ways reflects the arguments that are going on in the U.S.A. and other countries about the value of direct instruction in a tight, tested curriculum as against an open enquiry/project based approach that can be seen in John Hunter’s talk. (and the video above)

As a politics student at university I remember playing a game called “Diplomacy” in my International Relations course. Our lecturer was a young Harvard PhD student who was a visiting lecturer at Warwick University by the name of Mike Doyle ( now a professor of International Relations at Columbia University). Mike said that he wanted us to play the game to get a feel for what the theory was all about and to try and understand what shaped the thinking of the players in the international community. I remember that the game sessions gave me the best insight into the complexity of international relations than any textbook ever did and that I found it amongst the most inspiring events of my undergraduate years.

I therefore applaud John Hunter for his courage in allowing his charges to try and understand and to think and feel for themselves. I know that there are arguments in the comments about assessment of the game but I go along with those who say that the things the children get out of it are multi-layered and complex and are about wisdom, collaboration, the ability to speak and listen clearly and most importantly the ability to think.

Thanks TED for yet another inspiring talk.

I will be adding this as my nineteenth Top Ted Talk.

Steve Mazan: Chasing his dream

One of my friends on Facebook, Angela Maiers relayed a share about a TedX San Jose talk by Steve Mazan. I watched the talk and thought, yes, he is a funny person and a very slick and accomplished comedian. But as it progressed a more serious message came across through the comedy.

A few years ago Steve had been diagnosed as having inoperable Liver Cancer. Doctors gave him a prognosis of five years to live. He tells us in the talk about the stages that a person goes through on getting the kind of news that he did. The final stage of acceptance led him though to think about the fact that he had always had a dream from the age of about ten to appear as a stand up comedian on the Dave Letterman Show.

He initially gave himself one year to achieve his dream. He bombarded CBS with requests and got his friends to do so as well. But CBS did not want to have him on just because he had cancer. He said that he continued with his goal and kept on extending the deadline.

He found, during this process that he was not just living for the sake of living but had a goal in life and a dream to chase. He kept a video record of his efforts throughout this process and this has recently come out as an award winning documentary film called “Dying To Do Letterman

What I found most inspiring about the talk (which would make a great main TED Conference Talk by the way!) is that it is about all of us learning to reawaken the thing that is within us that we really want to achieve in life. I gave some thought to all of this and have decided that I need to set myself an achievable though at this stage possibly unrealistic goal… to deliver my own main conference TED Talk.

Mazan did achieve his goal as you can see in the video clip below.