Monday, March 25, 2013

Strasbourg Geese

I was reviewing an Op-Ed piece written in the New York Times by Susan Engel, a senior lecturer in psychology and the director of the teaching program at Williams College, almost two years ago.  I wrote about it in this blog at the time:  You can find the link to Engel's essay there too.  
Toward the end of her essay Engel mentions the importance of play.  She writes:  During the school day, there should be extended time for play. Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective and thinking of alternate solutions.
“A classroom like this would provide lots of time for children to learn to collaborate with one another, a skill easily as important as math or reading. It takes time and guidance to learn how to get along, to listen to one another and to cooperate. These skills cannot be picked up casually at the corners of the day.”
Engel wrote about what children need to know, or need to learn in elementary school.  I’ve recently been reading John Medina’s book, Brain Rules.  He talks about his teaching at the college level.  His mother talked about seeing a movie showing how Strasbourg Geese were force-fed.  It reminded me that I had referred to those same poor geese when I commented on Engel’s essay.  It points us away from stuffing our children like Strasbourg geese for test success, and toward an education that values listening, collaborating, following their curiosity, and creating things…”
Medina writes:  “My mother would often related this story to me when she talked about being a good or bad teacher.  ‘Most teachers overstuff their students,’ she would exclaim, ‘like those farmers in that awful movie!’  When I went to college I soon discovered what she meant.  And now that I am a professor who has worked closely with the business community, I can see the habit close up.  The most common communication mistakes?  Relating too much information, with not enough time devoted to connecting the dots.   Lots of force feeding, very little digestion.  This does nothing for the nourishment of the listeners, whose learning is often sacrificed in the name of expediency.”
I believe that the digestive process is play.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  College students, adults, third graders, learners all along the spectrum of life learning need play: stories, the invention of games, the opportunity to collaborate, practice, sit back to dream and imagine, to make connections between new ideas and old information, to fashion something from the information they’ve been given, to build connections that go beyond short term recall.
 We need to worry as much about how we consume information, and for what purpose, during the course of our lives, as we do about how much we consume meat, soda, and corn.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Storyteller's Creed

While going through an old notebook looking for an exercise to do with a theater class tomorrow, I came across this.  I used to share it at the beginning of every class on theater and creativity I taught.  It seems especially apt now given the recent death of my beloved son William.

The Storyteller's Creed is taken from the beginning of Robert Fulghum's book All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowldege,
That myth is more potent than history,
That dreams are more powerful than facts,
That hope always triumphs over experience,
That laughter is the ony cure for grief,
And I believe that love is stronger than death.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Everyone Should Have a Futurist Handy

I had a chance to catch up with my friend Garry Golden the other day.  I first met him several years ago when he gave a series of presentations on The Future of Arts Education.  Garry is a futurist.  What, you may well ask, is a futurist?  A professional futurist?  First off, he’s a scientist.  No crystal ball, no runes, no divining, no incantations.  If you need to, go to the Wikipedia entry on Futurist.  Here’s how it begins:  “…scientists and social scientists whose specialty is to attempt to systematically predict the future, whether that of human society in particular or of life on earth in general.” You can also go here to learn about Garry, .

Of course, none of this tells you about Garry’s generosity with ideas and information, enthusiasm, curiosity, as well as his ability to listen well.  As we caught up, I told him about the acting teaching I’m doing as a university adjunct.  I described a workshop I imagined on creativity to help Baby Boomers such as myself rediscover and reawaken imaginative play.  Garry grabbed a nearby envelope and wrote down “Creative Aging”.  He told me that was the name of my workshop, reminded me of the demographics relating to Baby Boomers and told me to get to work.  He laid out a rapid-fire game plan, which boils down to,  “Start teaching the workshop, now”.  Or, as Seth Godin would say, “Ship now.”

So I set about doing some homework. The first thing I did was Google Creative Aging.  Lo and behold, there is a National Center for Creative Aging.  Even with the help of a generous futurist I’m already behind the times!  Take a look. .Then I found an interesting article on their site by Dr. Richard Senelick.  It turns out “dementia and aging do not affect all parts of the brain equally.”  Aging, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s can actually uncover previously hidden talents, especially in art and music. For the entire article, go here: .  I’m encouraged and confirmed in my conviction that my Boomer peers and I, with or without disabilities, have plenty of artistic potential to explore.  Especially with regard to the rich reservoir of stories we have to tell.  Exploring creative futures for ourselves by delving into our past.

Then I remembered I’d recently seen proof about what Dr. Senelick is talking about.  Not some abstract study, but the true story of a longtime friend, Jeanne Raichle.  Jeanne’s mother is a 94-year-old Alzheimer’s patient who has been painting for the last five years!  See and hear her story here,

I then thought of my own mother, a longtime artist and teacher.  She taught rug hooking when she was 90.  She held regular classes at home.  She would also travel to workshops and seminars to improve both her teaching and her craft.  Here are some examples of her beautiful work.  

Both ladies I mentioned are inspirations.  It’s exciting to ponder my future, both as teacher and learner.  There’s plenty to do.  The time to get on with it is now.  Having a futurist friend to guide and encourage me, to help me move from dream to action, is both luxury and gift.   

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Addiction Is a Mental Illness

Thanks to my former student,  Sam Marcus,  for sending me this article, and consequently, for the introduction to The Fix.  What an important site for people contending with addiction!  Please, folks, read the article and browse the site.  There are some interesting articles if you click on the About Us link.
I am indebted to so many of my former students for their concern, support, and investment – both literally and figuratively in our fight against addiction.  Sam is but the most recent example.   
As always, everyone, check out the Where There’s A Will Fund as a way to contribute to the fight.