Kindergarten for Grownups

Jul 28 2012

I had a great public school education, starting with the gifted and talented program in Louisiana, where in grades four and five I got to leave my regular classroom one day a week and go to another school for "enrichment day." (I'm convinced my regular teacher nominated me for the program to get my precocious, disruptive little self out of her classroom, but thanks anyhow!) Enrichment day was awesome: we learned the Chisanbop counting system, we competed with college engineering students in an egg drop contest, we wrote computer programs on our TRS-80 computers with their black screens and green type, we built mousetrap cars to learn about potential and kinetic energy. It was great. It was what every child should have had, every day.

I was fortunate in high school too, attending Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, a public, legislature-funded boarding school for grades 11 and 12. We were taught by PhDs on a college schedule, and for middle-class families like mine, it was a way of affording a private-school caliber of education at a public-school price and a way of getting noticed by good colleges.

For college I went to Oberlin, a very good small liberal arts college in Ohio. Oberlin has a long history of being rigorous, progressive, and, well, funky; I fit right in. Grad school was pretty good too: I got my MFA in poetry at New School University, where I learned from great teachers like David Lehman, David Trinidad, Susan Wheeler, and Laurie Sheck, and where I discovered my hero Joe Brainard.

But for all that, I'm convinced that the best educational experience, for me, was my kindergarten. In fact, I think it was so great that this year I'm taking myself back there, symbolically anyway, to try to recreate for myself what worked so well about that model and to try a do-over on some of the basics I lost since then.

I went to kindergarten in 1976 in Grand Rapids, Michigan and was enrolled in an experimental program structured much like what I imagine Montessori to be. In any event, what it was was a big room full of different stations. There was cooking, carpentry, drawing, art, blocks, lots of things, and the key was: you could choose exactly what you wanted to do and for how long. It was all right there, and it was all my size. No two days had to be the same, and I truly believe that it's the flexibility and the humanism of this approach that has ruined me for the 9 to 5, 40-hour work model. Who could trade that big room of concrete possibility for a tiny beige cube of unrelenting hype?

So to break it down, so far we've got:

*a flexible schedule, where the learner sets the topic and the pace of instruction

*the space and tools to pursue those interests, right at hand and customized to fit the learner

What else?

There was the teacher, I think her name was Mrs. Paul. The best thing about her was that she knew how to stay out of the way, but whenever I needed help, say to hammer a very large block peg into its hole, she was right there to gently suggest that maybe the round peg wasn't meant to fit into the square hole, and to encourage me to think of an alternative approach. Oh Mrs. Paul, how I've missed you.

So to break that down we've got:

*a non-didactic, experiential instruction model

*teacher as coach, not lecturer

*a learning context where it was safe to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes

*an emphasis on application rather than memorization of facts

Who wouldn't want an education like that, and how could those same principles be applied just as well to the 40-year-old as to the 5-year-old?

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Art Show Opening

Sep 28 2011

I have a few collages in a four-person show with three of my favorite people in the world: Erica Harris, Henrietta Mantooth, and Areta Buk.  The show’s up through February so if you can’t make it to the opening, stop by another time to the wonderful Brooklyn Creative League.

New Messages
An Exhibit of Four Artists:
Areta Buk, Henrietta Mantooth
Erica Harris, and Shannon Holman

Opening Saturday, Oct. 1st from 6-8pm
At The Brooklyn Creative League
540 President St. 3rd fl. btw. 3rd & 4th Ave


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Aug 07 2011

photo by erica harris

photo by erica harris


The argument stretched and rolled like yarn
In the paws of G-d.  The problem of evil was toyed with,
the problem of hiddenness, the one of what I want to do
I do not do, but what I hate I do
: Why did we always give ourselves away
With a squeak, when He was safely distracted by that fucking yarn?
We never knew what was in the mind of G-d
When His tail flicked like that.
Excitement?—When the boy got lost,
We beseeched Him and posted flyers.  When the body was found,
We listened to the rabbis: G-d wanted it.
—Or possibly it was boredom with this tired yarn
That always ends the same way.
Whatever was made was made
Out of green acrylic.

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If You’re a Gadget and You Know It Clap Your Hands

Aug 02 2011

from among the R-U-IN?S:

When developers of digital technologies design a program that requires you to interact with a computer as if it were a person, they ask you to accept in some corner of your brain that you might also be conceived of as a program. When they design an internet service that is edited by a vast anonymous crowd, they are suggesting that a random crowd of humans is an organism with a legitimate point of view.

Lanier, Jaron. You are not a gadget: a manifesto. Knopf, 2010. 7. eBook.

Well, exactly.  Instead of only “seek[ing]to inspire the phenomenon of individual intelligence,” as Lanier argues, the data-driven, aggregated Web should keep doing what it’s doing: giving us an antidote to the notion of a fixed and individual identity that’s been so prevalent in the West for so long.  By pointing out that crowds can be wise, that machines can communicate, and that decisions can emerge in the absence of an executive, the Web doesn’t diminish our identity; rather, it points out that that identity was never actually there to begin with, and that the points of view we hold so dear aren’t the product of an individual, but the product of an ever-shifting aggregate of 100+ billion neurons, each continually interacting with between 100 and 10,000 other neurons in ways both patterned and random. The point is, there are legitimate points of view outside the Enlightenment notion of the individual human—in fact, I would argue that the notion of self as aggregate, permeable, interconnected, and inessential is actually more humanistic than the Self-ish view, in that it is more likely to keep us from destroying ourselves and the planet we live on.

Manifest that, Mother hubbard.

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…er — What the Crowd Knows

Mar 25 2011

Imagine a world where your resume and reputation becomes entirely redefined – not by where you’ve worked before and for how long, but by what skills you have and how they’ll make you exceptional in the future.

via …er — What the Crowd Knows.

From the startup Smarterer — looks worth reserving a spot in the beta.

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Eriko Yamaguchi on Sleeplessness

Oct 04 2010

It is not so easy to find what you want to pursue in your life. Thus, if I may make a suggestion, I would say “Why not thoroughly, day and night, struggle to get an answer about yourself or what you should do. I was always thinking about my life, and searching for the way to connect myself with society. Motherhouse is really the answer to my questions. I have been able to move forward little by little by overcoming troubles that I faced because I felt responsible for my choices that I had made. It’s all right to have sleepless nights. They will become your power someday for sure. It is also important to feel happy about your success even if it is a small thing.

via Alumni Voices | Keio University.

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Headed Upstream – Google Books

Oct 01 2010

“As I’ve traveled I’ve had the good fortune to meet and frequently befriend people whose minds have evolved beyond the mean imposed by advertising and commercial entertainment — people whose thinking runs counter to the current of the continuum, people of ideas and fortitude. I greatly admire humans who assume responsibility for their own thinking. . . those who live within coordinates of their own calculation, and who sometimes regard the culturally acceptable as contemptible.” — Jack Loeffler

via Headed Upstream – Google Books.

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The Art of Non-Conformity » “I’ve Just Been So Busy Lately”

Jan 14 2010

Chris Guillebeau gets it right again:

In a group project, a person who freaks out about being busy will stall, defer, and generally keep everyone else waiting on them. They use busyness as an excuse for poor performance. Sometimes it’s faster to put this person in a room by themselves and let them whine while you do their job for them.

A person in control of being busy will keep the project moving forward at all costs. They like deadlines, direct communication, and tough assignments. That’s the kind of person you want on your team. If you’re serving on someone else’s team, that’s the kind of person you should be.

via The Art of Non-Conformity » “I’ve Just Been So Busy Lately”.

In a meditation class once I learned about how the word in Buddhist texts often translated as “laziness” doesn’t have the same connotations in the original as it does to our ears.  According to the teacher, there are really three kinds of laziness: laziness of laziness, which is the kind we think of when we think of laziness; laziness of discouragement, which is the kind where we “don’t bother because it will never work anyway”; and laziness of busyness, which is the kind where we just can’t get to the real work because this email and this conversation and this phone call and this blog post just won’t wait.

In my experience, it can be helpful to take an attitude of casual interest in my laziness.  Sometimes I can approach it close enough to see which species it is, and then I have more information to work with.  “Oh, I see I am not doing this task.  What’s it like to not want to do this task?”

“I just don’t feel like it.” (laziness, an aversion often related to the fear of not getting what I want)

“Oh, there’s no point in doing this anyway.” (discouragement, often related to the fear of failure)

“Oh, I just haven’t gotten to this yet.” (busyness, often related to the fear of losing control)

It’s more often that I just head straight over to or start griping with a co-worker or get deeply involved in redesigning my Outlook taxonomy without even registering my avoidance as avoidance, but when I can pause, recognize my laziness, and sidle up to it, sometimes I gain useful information.

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Hero: Eriko Yamaguchi of Motherhouse

Jan 03 2010

I don’t care about common sense or precedent. I usually take those with a grain of salt. If you want to discover your or someone’s potential, you need to abandon your limited view.

via Big Generators #1 Eriko Yamaguchi & Motherhouse Part1.

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Yes Virginia, You CAN Be an Entrepreneur

Jan 02 2010

My new year’s resolution is to be more unreasonable, so I’ve been spending time over at the Unreasonable Institute to see how it’s done.  (Based in Boulder, CO, the Unreasonable Institute finds young people with compelling social venture start-up ideas, attracts investors who will sponsor those teams to attend a ten-week intensive incubator, and offers a marketplace for the resulting ventures.)

Teju Ravilochan, one of the group’s principals, has a recent post that’s a good counterweight to all those facile “Do YOU have what It Takes To Be an Entrepreneur?” lists.  We’ve all heard a thousand times that it takes chutzpah and cojones to found a start-up.  No duh. But Teju points out that an equally important but often overlooked element of the “entrepreneurial mindset” is humility, because that’s the attribute that helps folks to learn from others, abandon sacred cows, and learn from failure.

In the US, we like to craft a creation myth that foregrounds the wild frontier and downplays the bankrolling barons. We like to talk about garage ventures, ignoring the million-dollar homes attached to those garages.  Behind the myth, our stereotypical entrepreneur is almost always a young male, usually white or Asian, often Ivy League educated, and surrounded by a pretty plush safety net.  By repeating these stories, we make it easier for successive generations of young men like this to believe that they can found start-ups, and we subtly discourage folks who don’t fit that mold from venturing out on their own.

But when we look a little deeper and a little further afield, we find that over time more businesses are successfully sustained by communities of humble women rather than by brash young men singly or in pairs.  When we set men up with unreasonable expectations of being able to singlehandedly blaze the trail or break open the market, they are often battered by unexpected failures and are unable to rebound to close the distance between their out-sized self-image and the face of setback.  On the other hand, at a global level we still allow—or force—women to work in stealth mode.  Though fettered by lack of confidence and lack of access to resources, women are also freed to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep trying, because no one is there to laugh at our failures or crush us under the weight of their disappointment.  Our legacy is resilience, our lot humility, and it just so happens that those attributes are just as important as chutzpah and cojones.

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