Archive | November 2014

The Big Reread: The Garden of Eden Revisited

hemin

Perhaps revisiting our youth is dangerous business. So dangerous, that our present narcissism prevents us from getting too close.

Did I find traces of my younger self within the pages of Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden? Certainly. In fact, I immediately recalled the titillation of discovering this gem within a small German book store, paying what had seemed an exorbitant amount, and reading it boldly; or rather, trying to be bold in the absence of anyone to care. I was only sixteen, living as an exchange student in a small village in Rheinland-Pfalz. I had wanted to explore the world, to become worldly.

Initially the cover had drawn me in. The plot had sounded so sophisticated and risqué. And yet, in the end, it was the every-day descriptions that stimulated my imagination- the food and cocktails, the setting and dialogue, all described so richly with excruciating detail. I remember thinking, how truly amazing that such mundane objects and actions could become so exquisite, making me feel so strangely alive.

Upon my most recent read- I have to admit that I have picked this one up several times since my first introduction- I still felt the same sense of stimulation. However, this time it wasn’t the minute details that dominated my attention. Clearly, they still felt electric, but I now understood that the energy was not their own. Instead, it was radiating from the underlying tensions of the characters and their respective relationships. And ultimately, it was the fragility of the situation itself, or perhaps the inevitability of its ruin, that charged every detail with a heightened sense of sharpness.

This theme of inevitability took on a prominence both within the central narrative and also the stories within a story that I had barely skimmed in earlier reads. The idea that once set into motion, our interactions build towards some unstoppable crescendo. And although there is a nobility in exhibiting restraint, discipline, holding to the belief that we ultimately have control, in the end we must allow our lives to run their course. This recognition in turn creates a sense of detachment, which is perhaps a self-indulgence or instead a protective shield. But regardless, once the crescendo is reached, there is simply no going back.

As I reflect on my self-imposed challenge (see “The Big Reread”), I have indeed found traces of my former self within the book’s well-worn pages. And have also witnessed the distance I have come. Through my experience I now appreciate the impact that relationships can have, projecting their colors onto things and places, as if throwing their energy like patterns on a screen. And yet in many ways I am still that same explorer, trying to be bold, and still drawn to the humming tensions that play out just under and around the surfaces.

*This post is part of an ongoing series associated with “The Big Reread”, posted on October 11th, 2014

Homage to Deep Integrative Learning

Mapping Brain Circuits

For years I have watched reform play out in higher education and PreK-12, both within each respective system, and through efforts to more seamlessly marry the two.

While well intentioned, these initiatives have been woefully doomed, inherently limited by the very learning goals they employ.

For those who try to follow my blog, you may sense the coming of a familiar refrain. Namely, it is only through the pursuit of sufficiently powerful goals that we can extricate ourselves from the proverbial weeds that continue to pull us down. And unfortunately, in the world of education, and certainly PreK-16 collaboration, the goals that we have thus far followed have been underwhelming at best. Workforce readiness, critical thinking, and even college preparation, while all important constructs, are insufficiently powerful to actualize the latent potential of our systems, or their respective students.

In some ways the problem can be viewed as a moving target. We can prepare students for key jobs and career paths but the economic landscape will continue to shift and change. We can prepare students for college, but higher education will continue to morph in response to its changing realities. And while critical thinking is certainly important, it begs for specific ends and purposes in mind.

The undeniable fact is that the world is changing at an accelerating rate. And if we want to survive and thrive within this dynamic environment, we desperately need goals that can serve as both anchors and drivers, expanding the space for innovation and creativity, while at the same time ensuring a strong and stable foundation for growth.

While this may seem like a daunting challenge, such goals are well within our reach. In fact, I would argue that the notion of Deep Integrative Learning might just be the Holy Grail we’re all seeking.

What is deep integrative learning? Perhaps it can best be understood through its associated competencies: the ability to attend to the underlying meaning of information and content; to integrate and synthesize different ideas and sources of information; to discern patterns in evidence or phenomena; to apply knowledge in different situations; and to view issues from multiple perspectives.

While each of these represents important abilities that align closely with employer needs and expectations, thus supporting the goals of employability and indirectly college readiness, collectively, they offer so much more. Beyond academic and professional success, they address societal and civic needs related to personal responsibility and perspective taking. And from the standpoint of pedagogical diversity, they present a vast universe of learning opportunities, including both academic and non-academic experiences.

Beyond its conceptual merits, however, I have seen the benefits of deep integrative learning first hand. Students who return from study abroad or a service trip profoundly changed, and look at their discipline and career goals through a new set of lenses. When we are able to support and empower these students by nurturing their observations, testing their assumptions and stereotypes, and introducing them to new paradigms and frameworks, we will witness the generative power of learning. In addition to  better workers, students, and professionals, they will become better citizens and stewards of the world, the ultimate goal to which we should all aspire.

A Year of Gratitude

gratitude

One year and 94 posts since I first started my blog

It began as a whim, or perhaps an experiment. What would I share, and would anyone read it. I gave myself a year to find out.

At first it was a guilty pleasure, posting observations and critiques that I had amassed over the years. Hitting the publish button felt cathartic, and somehow emboldening. But the satisfaction was always short lived. Each post catalyzed the next, like a cascading need to give voice, to externalize, to release.

Yet over time, and writing, my mind has cleared. The intervals between posts have lengthened, and I find myself strangely in the present, not worrying about what to write, or think, but simply knowing that inspiration will come.

It usually visits in the morning, in the form of an idea, a phrase or observation that reveals itself as truth. And once acknowledged, it begs to be developed, quickly taking shape and form as I struggle to keep up.

Everything about this process is personal. And yet the exquisite point of connection with my silent readers is what brings it to life. I often sense that my ideas are not intended solely for my own benefit, but will resonate with some unspoken need or yearning.

Although I cannot know the intended, this knowledge elevates my sense of purpose and the purity for which I strive. Shedding layers of pretense and ego, I try to reveal what is most vulnerable and true.

Doing so has undoubtedly changed me. In addition to clearing my mind, it has allowed me to shine more brightly, to resonate at a higher frequency, or however you choose to interpret it.

And while I once feared that the intimacy of my musings would evoke discomfort, I have found the opposite to be the case. People seem to respond to this level of intimacy, which in turn deepens engagement, allowing for more productive and meaningful relationships.

Interestingly, over time, my external audience has become an internal filter, helping me distill the essence of experiences and ideas, reflecting on whether they are sufficiently worthy of contemplation and sharing.

Increasingly, the answer is no. The urgency and heaviness that once cluttered my mind and prodded my writing, has transformed into an airy sense of wonderment. It often evades rumination and worry altogether, instead encouraging me to slow down and simply be.

What a journey this blog has been. And what a treat to touch souls with you, my silent readers, on your own quest for fulfillment and truth.

And so, as my one year anniversary quietly passes, I am unsure what is left to be written or shared. Yet I know that turning back is no longer an option. Forward and upward, and together, we must go.