It is a condescending word.
It suggests that one person is better than another. That the other has nothing, and needs the assistance of the affluent, often with money and money alone. It is the passing of checks and and heartless donations. An act completely detached from care or humanity.
I find that highly condescending. Of all of the experiences I have had working in slums, orphanages, crisis zones, spending time with people affected HIV and Aids, never once have I thought that there is a social order where I am higher up then they are. I have rarely felt that I am giving more than they are giving me in return. The lessons which I have learned from these people who are on the fringes of our unaccepting society cannot be quanitified, only appreciated. The word Charity, does not have room for that level of mutuality.
This is what it is about, this is what care and humanity is, the understanding that we are all equals in this game, and though we don’t all hold the same pieces of the puzzle, without everyone at the table, we will never be able to complete the picture.
If that doesn’t mean everything to you, then you will have no place in the history of the future.
Lines of Education
I was going through my archives today to flesh out a new blog post I am writing and stumbled upon this segment, which I don’t believe I’ve published.
Education, for me, is not defined by the walls of a classroom, or the quality of the teacher, but by simple act of seeing one’s setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve. This is one of the greatest downfalls of so many modern education systems we see today; we have complicated the process of learning so much - by the need to monitor it - that many of our students have shut off. It was massive issue in my schooling, that my classes simply were not keeping up with my curiosity, or supporting my downfalls. If I did not fit into the predefined box (the grading system) I was deemed a failure. This is not be the point of education; fitting our youth into a box. The point of education, is simply to educate; to support the learning and the massive curiosity of the partaker, who, is everyone on this planet.
Dull bricks, that’s it.
I’m sitting now on a train from Washington to New York, looking out on the sun setting over the vivid orange of the Eastern United States, reflecting on the beautiful sights I saw today, and I can tell you right now, they weren’t made of marble.
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is a selective state school just outside Washington DC, specialising, obviously, in science and technology, but what is more, they specialise in an education I have dreamt of since my days of in the box learning.
The day started in a meeting, a discussion of the format of learning and the dialogue in which the pupils experience throughout their time at TJ, their course is based in a linear fashion, with every class and year continuing a conversation which lasts from day one to graduation. A continuing development of knowledge. Everything is interconnected.
We had only just begun.
The school reminded me, rather hauntingly of my days at high school, long dull corridors, lined with loud tin lockers. The place was not awe inspiring, not until the first classroom.
TJ, is well reasoursed, mostly by sponsorship, as public funding wouldn’t cover their “wish list”; it was quite clear people believed in the place, believed in what is was, and knew it was achieving. It didn’t take too many classroom intrusions to see why.
Looking back on my high school career. I was spoon fed, it is very safe to say, and when I was not chocking on singular use information, I was disinterested and thinking about how much better things will be if I was sitting in the bakery.
It was only the colour of the walls that reminded me of highschool.
The pupils, in their final year complete a project. What kind of project? Well, it will most likely have something to do with science and maths. That’s it.
Given virtually free range and support, the pupils are doing everything from finding possible new ways to sequence DNA, to building prosthetic knee joints, as my tour guide was.
And they were focused, not once did I see a pupil wasting time on Facebook or messing around having yet another loo break. Nor did I see more an one classroom where a teacher was giving a lecture. It was all pupil led, all pupil driven, and their achievements were owned by them.
This is what was so brilliant to see. For so long I have believed in a pupil driven form if education; an education based around problem solving and taught in a way that will do nothing but engage and empower the pupil, because it is theirs.
This is what I had dreamt of, and there it was in that dull brick building. A testimony of how much our pupils are capable of, and how little we expect of them in traditional formats.
This is what education is. Learning in ways so colourful and diverse we don’t even realise we are learning, let alone the fact that the lunch bell rang ten minutes ago.
This what education needs to be. Let our pupils own what they learn. Let them protect it because it is theirs. Let them nurture it with their curiosity. There is no excuses in my mind any more, I’ve seen it working perfectly.
The idea of learning is not a dull one, so why should our education systems be just that; as dull as the bricks that encases them.
I want you to think of a marble on a track, the kind you played with when you were very young. Building towers and adventures and dropping the marble through the loops and bends. The marble rolls quickly, easily, even in a way that would seem free and careless.
Now place a large chunk of Blue Tac on that track and try to roll your marble.
This is why we need to live with an open mind, in a room full of open doors. It is all to easy to believe we are experiencing the world from the colourful views of our marble track, however it is not until you are rolling down a wide open track, bouncing off obstacles and spinning in fantastic directions that you can really live.
Hire the Artists
Walking around the city of Groningen lately has got me thinking about the sense of community and fellowship of citizens. It is amazing how simple things, such as everyone riding old fixed up bicycles, can really give a unique feel to a city.
The more I started thinking about these things, the more passionate I get about creating unique and united communities; how can it happen? Can it simply be created? Is it really such a difficult task?
I have imagined community movements that aim to cover every ‘plantable’ space with local and naturally sustainable greenery that needs no maintenance, but simply adds colour to our concrete jungles, though such acts take considerable time and effort to create, they would provide an easy to imagine, considerable difference in our cities.
Though, perhaps it is much smaller acts that create community.
Last week I took a train from Paris to Amsterdam, going through many beautiful small towns and large cities along the way. It is incredible to see the different graffiti work, the stunning creations done in the mystery of the night, nameless artists who decorate the eye level surfaces of train yards and alleyways.
Cities seem to fight with these criminal artisans. They repaint walls and watch the darkened streets for more horrific acts of cosmetic crimes. So much talent hidden, so much potential overseen.
By seeing their work as an opportunity, allow them to blossom, employ them to continue painting their walls, but give them tasks and competitions, offer them rewards for best representing the communities they live in, on the decrepit cement grey canvassas that surround them.
If the incentive was no longer pride and rebellion, but art and finance, what kind of murals would we start seeing around our communities? What sort of spirit would grow out of seeing tulips and windmills all over dutch walls, rather than profanities and anger?
Perhaps it is the much smaller acts that create community.
Perhaps instead of stopping a community from forming because we don’t understand it, we should see it as an opportunity; a painting which has not yet been painted.