A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pokes and Prods for Creative Input

My 78 year old Mom often calls to correct me on the inaccuracies of my posts, so the other day, I asked her for the umpteenth time, "Why won't you comment directly on the blog." Recently, I explained to a group of 4th graders about the importance of, citing references in their research writing. Blogs are notoriously unreliable if one is looking for "reliable information." For accuracy, academic journals and certain publications can be relied upon, blogs cannot be relied upon for factual precision, especially one with entitled "Poetic License," which I view as a sketchpad as opposed to a finished product. Mom's reason for not commenting directly: "I am too private." Sounds like an excuse to me! While I hope to correct any inaccuracies eventually, possibly in a book form, if somebody will pay me, my more immediate goal is to generate responses because I enjoy engaging in conversations.

Hopefully, through these asynchronous thoughtcasts, the purpose of which have always been to poke, prod, and cajole others to respond, similar to the way I attempt to continuously poke, prod, and cajole students to respond continuously in the classroom, I might eventually persuade her, at the very least, to make an effort to record her stories using Evernote on her IPad. Currently, mom is more interested in exploring how the light falls across objects as she photographs her garden, a spectacular garden that incorporates elements of shade and open space as well as any professional garden I have ever seen. Truly, mom's little patch of paradise has been her labor of love since my family moved to Arlington in 1967. The family home in Arlington is the first place my mom was ever able to really call "home," considering the way she was so rudely uprooted as an impressionable 7 year old, when her world as a spoiled little rich girl was rocked by the men in the black suits who came in the middle of the night to take her father away.

When I captured mom's animal stories on micro tape in the late 70's, as a zit-faced high school student, I never anticipated how empty I would feel when I tried to retrieve them years later from the attic, only to find they had been erased by the heat. I felt like the Sybil must have felt when somebody opened up the door just as she was getting ready to bind up the knowledge of the world, which she had written on leaves, only to have the leaves scattered to the winds. I felt as though I had just witnessed the sacking of Timbuktu by the terrorists. I felt like Milton in the middle of the night, grasping for an image as it disappeared into thin air. Poof! History dead, history gone, pounded to dust. Having set up camp in the Library of Congress, having immersed myself in the the audio history sections on the web, it pains me that such a wonderful story teller would be "too private" to share her experiences openly. For many years, I have wanted to record mom's voice as she describes, with great expression, the look on her mom's face when, as a little girl, she returned home only to discover that her pet, a wild bird, which flew freely around the family "cottage" at Tule Lake, had electrocuted itself and died after tugging on an electrical cord.

Mom called to correct me about my Fishing Trip post, in which I mixed up some important facts concerning her father's tuna canning operation -- in this case, the truth is actually far more entertaining than what I was able to come up with in my rough sketches. As I heard somewhere recently, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Actually, mom's primary concern was that I stress the importance of water safety to my teenager, Joe, to which I replied, "I am the water safety nazi," but I allowed the conversation to meander until mom began to bring up my job search woes, at which time I conveniently remembered that I was late for my appointment with an exercise bike. I hope that mom responds with her corrections, because she has a story to tell, and she is, in fact, a "primary source," in some cases, and a "secondary source" in others.

One of the central themes that I am noticing in both How to Create a Mind: the Secret of Human Thought Revealed, by Ray Kurzweill, as well as The Tell-Tale Brain, by Dr. V.S. Ramachandran is the unparalleled capacity of people to immediately identify patterns, as opposed to our capacity for computational precision, which is a digital, as opposed to biological advantage. In defining the genius of Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously described Shakespeare's ability to generate in his audience that "willing suspension of disbelief" which constitutes poetic faith. Had Shakespeare allowed himself to be bound by the rules of reality television, his audience and future generations would have been far poorer in their understanding of human nature. In Shakespeare, where all the world's a stage, and plays within a play abound, every element is connected in a Great Chain of Being, since in the Shakespearean world view, we live in an analogous universe. Shakespeare was able to recreate in miniature, and broadcast universal, timeless patterns of thought, which now are being mechanically encoded in DNA computing algorithms.

In the reductive environment that the business of education has become, where genuine academic rigor has suffered ever since No Child Left Behind resulted in a misplaced emphasis on computational precision and factual recall, computational precision too often gets in the way of learning. Tasked with developmentally inappropriate requirements, many students give up the quest for understanding before ever getting started on the journey. Had mom not self-educated herself, reading on a dirt floor just likeAbraham Lincoln, had mom been held to the 5 finger rule by teachers whose number one rule should be, "do no harm," she would have never picked up Origin of the Species as a child, she would have never quoted Nietsche in applying to the University of Nebraska, despite having only 3 years of formal education, she would have allowed the men in the black suits who took her father away in the middle of the night to define her.

Mom hated Japan, which having read Embracing Defeat, I only came to understand as an adult. Her singular goal, from the minute she stepped ashore in Japan, was to get back to America and a way of life which had been taken fro her. Her path to America was through education. Having restored her little Garden of Eden, I challenge her to find the courage to share her story because it is worthwhile.

After I reached my nadir as a 9th grader at Williamsburg Junior High School, what I discovered about my family history saved my life. Without any respect or appreciation for my family history, I had been on the path to an early death or a life behind bars, not on a path to an appreciation of what Kurzweill and Ramachandran are revealing about the human brain and the implications for beneficial changes in national education policy.