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Bluebird

The first science article I remember reading was about Thor Heyerdahl. In the 1940’s, the Norwegian ethnographer and explorer postulated the Central Pacific islands were populated by South Americans who drifted from Peru to their new homes on rafts. This article, on a stiff card, came from the box in the back of the classroom. This was, I think, second grade.

There were four boxes back there. Maybe eight inches cube, maybe a bit longer than wide, they were named after birds. Each contained cards with articles and stories plus reading comprehension questions. Bluebird was the highest of the four levels.

If that was second grade, then four years earlier was when I learned to read. And five years earlier was when I learned to walk and when my parents were told learning to read would be out of the question for me..

Heyerdahl was wrong, it turned out – South Americans did not drift to the Central Pacific. He was terribly eurocentric and felt the migration could not possibly have come from east to west due to lack navigational skill and instrumentation. That the Pacific islands could only have been populated by accident. His son, an academic, said his father did everything backwards – came up with an idea, then made the facts fit it. Genetics, some seventy years after his voyage, would prove him wrong.

But I didn’t know that in second grade. In second grade I could not get enough of Thor Heyerdahl, or anything else that came from the Bluebird box.

You can’t have bluebird boxes today. See if you can follow this. I can’t, and I’m a professional.

Having boxes the kids move through and up from is now considered tracking. This is like having a college track and a technical track in secondary school. Even though the kids can progress from one box to the next, it still separates the kids into groups. But teachers are supposed to differentiate. They get reviewed for, receive scores for, differentiation. Differentiation is when a teacher recognises students have different skill levels and adjusts the work for those differing abilities. That isn’t tracking. When I taught ESL, recently, we used a computer program that tested the student’s reading skills, took articles and adjusted the lexile (reading level) of the content so it was a just difficult enough to make the students stretch their abilities, but could still read it, and then gave them a series of reading comprehension questions, letting them move up through the levels of difficulty at their own pace. That isn’t tracking. But boxes are.

When I was reading from the Bluebird box, computers were more true to their name – they computed. They performed complicated functions with numbers. They counted people and trajectories and helped send men to the moon and took up entire large rooms. They didn’t fit on a desk, adjust articles for kids from Honduras, China and Syria, and then fold up when not in use. Maybe it’s just that boxes are bad. He boxes were simple. The boxes were tactile. I liked the boxes.

I walked proudly to the Bluebird box for another article every chance I got. I devoured them. Anthropology. Botany. Zoology. Mineralogy. Physics. By mid-second grade, I had moved to articles that weren’t in boxes, and then books.

My first book inspired by the Bluebird box was Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – the story of his 4, 300 mile trip across the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft. Then Leakey and his discovery of Lucy. Once I read a card from the Bluebird box, whatever it was about, I wanted to read more. More about bees. More about volcanoes. More about of trees. More about Aborigines. From the box to the books..

I read anthropology. And archeology. I was fascinated by them. And myths. Lots of myths. In sixth grade I read book after book of Aboriginal and African myths. From there, Philosophy. In eighth grade, I read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Bach. Realm of Numbers and The Planet that Wasn’t, essays on mathematics and Physics, respectively, by Asimov. I read the collected works of Carl Jung. I read Also Sprach Zarathustra by Nietzsche. Zen Flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps. Tao Te Ching, translation by Feng and English. I read the biographies of Steinmetz and Tesla. I read The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are by Alan Watts, and started the ABCs of Science Fiction – Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. I eventually made it to Zelazney, though I am not a fan.

I also learned about primary sources. I found I preferred reading first hand material rather than second hand accounts. Why have someone tell me what a bunch of other people said when I could read it for myself? After that, my disdain for textbooks was obvious. This often drove my teachers to distraction as I would raise my hand and say, “actually. . . ” and quote exactly what the inventor, explorer, or author said, instead of the paraphrase which was, often, to my understanding, watered-down, misinterpreted or wholly incorrect

In ninth grade, I had heard about pep rallies. They sounded like monstrous things and I dreaded even the idea of them. I’d rather read and didn’t want to participate in anything that wasn’t academic. So every time we students were supposed to be in the gym, I was hiding in the library with a book. I succeeded in avoiding pep rallies until I was found with Oedipus Rex under a table and was removed from the library as I protested that I was learning, which was the function of school, and saw no point in the pep rally, let alone forcing me to attend it. I recall citing Dewey regarding the Pragmatic philosophy of education as I was lead down the hallways and into the gym. Kids were stomping and screaming. I collapsed in the bleachers. Fell on another student. They never made me leave the library again.

That is not entirely true. Once I was asked to go back into the gym.

I don’t like dissection and I took part in only one. A frog. The smell of formalin was terrible, and I did not slice it open myself. I was paired with another student who did the slicing and who was, unfortunately, not Grace Barcia. As I was watching him poke around inside I, popular as I was, felt something  wet hit my head. Then my face. I was soon being pelted with livers and lungs and other airborn ampbianalia. The teacher had a rather loose concept of classroom management, especially considering we were in a lab with organs, scalpels and chemicals. So I walked out. I never took part in a dissection again.

Thus, when welcoming the incoming ninth graders with a gym-full of tables displaying all our school had to offer, I was a strange choice to put in charge of the table displaying our menagerie of dissecta. It had the usual jars of fetal pigs, frogs and other animals, none of which I had ever personally taken a scalpel to. One notable object on the table was a (If you are squeamish, please skip down four paragraphs) cat. Skinless, four furless paws adhered to a board, one could examine the surface musculature in detail. I was left, behind a table covered in dissected animals, with a skinless cat, a gym full of high school students, and I was in danger of being bored.

So I sold the cat.

I hawked that cat to everyone who walked by, billing it as the perfect pet. “You’ll always know where it is, you never have to clean up after it and all it takes is a little bit of dusting now and then. Plus, it is guaranteed never to shed!”

I finally sold it for nine one-dollar off Frito-Lay’s coupons. I knew better than to accept actual money. That might have gotten me in trouble.

I don’t know what happened to that cat. It was the morning, and it wouldn’t fit into a backpack, or into anything but a fully empty locker, so I imagine it was hard to not see a student walking around with a skinless cat glued to a wooden plank, but it would not be the first obvious thing missed at my high school.

Another obvious thing missed at my high school was the relatively vacuous state of our library, and our local public version wasn’t much better. The large, full, beautiful library was too far away, in downtown Miami, so I spent quite a bit of my time at Waldenbooks in the Mall at 163rd Street or Arts and Science Bookstore in North Miami. There I read the bulk of Freud, Heisenberg, and as much Alan Watts as I could find. Through the next years, right through college, and still today, I found the use of secondary sources was only to lead me to primary ones.

In college when we came to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I went to the original for a more full understanding, reading Toward a Psychology of Being and finding it so much more meaningful, making much more sense. Reading the original took Maslow’s work from a theory in a textbook to something whole, deep and complete. Once I read his own words, I could see his theory played out everywhere in daily life. That is not something I would have ever gotten from the textbook, no matter how much it cost.

Having Marty Fromm as a teacher in Human Relations, I read the works of her lover, Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls. Then Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, and Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society, then Rogers and more Rogers. Having read Adler’s Understanding Human Nature, as well as other essays by the famed psychologist, when I had the delight of meeting, and spending an extended amount of time with, Margot Adler, author, activist and NPR journalist, we were able to discuss her grandfather’s work, at length, with an understanding of the original texts. Luckily, I had read her books as well.

I read Piaget from Piaget, not a textbook. I read Assagioli and Ellis, Harlow and Groff. I read Milgram from Milgram, Zimbardo from Zimbardo, Allport from Allport and Kohlberg from Kohlberg. In education classes, I read Jefferson and Mann and Dewey, Skinner, Hegel, Kant.

As a massage therapist, I read my textbooks, but I also read Alexander, Feldenkraise, Ling and Rolf. I know that made it difficult to have conversations with me, but if you knew the other students in my class, you’d see that was certainly a plus.

As a teacher I’m an absolute fiend when it comes to source reliability and the use of primary sources in research. Just ask. It’s ok, kids. You can tell them the truth.

Today, though I read less now that my eyes are often problematic, and sometimes listen to books, I’m still likely to read an article, see the study discussed, regardless of the field, and then immediately go to find the study. I am always appreciative of the nuances of the original which seldom translates into the paraphrasing and description found in secondhand accounts.

And, regardless of what I’m reading, and right now I’m reading The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton and The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, I think, believe it or not, nearly daily about the Bluebird Box. and what it did for me. Shallow enough to be beautifully wide and varied and deep enough to provoke an interest from a that has lasted my entire life, with neither dulling nor diminution, in a child who was never supposed to be able to read. The Bluebird box is still the best box. You can quote me on that.

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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Social

 

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Einstein’s Bagels And Why They Apparently Think I’m An Illiterate Putz.

I have a big superego. I freely admit that. I think a person should go out of their way to do the right thing and if something is wrong then you just don’t do it. That doesn’t make life in this culture very easy sometimes.

I am what the gamers, the folks who play Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games, call Neutral Good. As a player, that would be my moral alignment. Good, and Evil, come in three flavours—Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic. Lawful Good follows all the laws. That defines his or her idea of goodness. The means justify the ends, whatever those ends may be. Chaotic good follows no rules but acts on the ideas of outcome only, saying the ends justify the means. Neutral Good is defined this way:

A Neutral Good character is guided by his conscience and typically acts altruistically, without regard for or against Lawful precepts such as rules or tradition. A Neutral Good character has no problems with co-operating with lawful officials, but does not feel beholden to them. In the event that doing the right thing requires the bending or breaking of rules, they do not suffer the same inner conflict that a Lawful Good character would.

When I see a rule being broken, and I think it is a good rule, a law being scoffed, and I think it is a good law, one that makes sense, one that deserves to be followed, I find myself wanting to do something, and that oversized superego means I have no problem doing it. And I’m a fixer. When I see things that aren’t right, I want to fix them. Need to fix them. Even if I’m hungry.

And I was.

I was up early. Too early, really. At five-fifteen. Why? Because I’m the only one who shows up to Wednesday six a.m. spin class and I don’t want Tammy to lose her income for that class. So I went, even though I hadn’t slept well and even though I had to be back at the gym an hour later to see a string of members for short, introductory sessions of assisted integrated stretching from eight am through six that evening.

Spin class over, I ran home, showered and, after feeding Dusty, let her out. In the meantime I was going to make my own breakfast in my beautiful (and it is) healthy (and it is) lovely (and it sure is) Vitamix. Looking out the kitchen window I notice something. I notice that I don’t notice Dusty. She has leapt the fence again. So much for my salad smoothie. And so much for my coffee.

I walk out the back door and she isn’t there. I walk out the front door and she isn’t there. Down the street to where she plays with Rank and she isn’t there. It is five to eight and I can’t do anything but hope she likes her new family, wherever that is.

So much for breakfast. Sure, Dusty gets to eat and play, but I don’t. Off to the gym.

Two hours and six patients later, I’m hungry. I have a break and my blood sugar is low enough that I know for sure I’m headed for a bad choice. Luckily, Einstein’s Bagels is a block away, on Babcock and Palm Bay Road. A salt bagel and coffee. Maybe even some lox.

Without enough time to walk, I get into the truck and drive over. I park and have my Einstein’s cup, my cup about to be filled with free coffee, in my hand. Coffee. Bagel. Salty salty fish. But first, the bathroom.

On my way in, I see the community board. The last time, there was barely anything on it. An announcement or two. And it was neat. Not now.

The fact that I can barely hold it (and why didn’t I go at the gym? Oh, yes, I was hungry and my blood sugar was dropping) doesn’t keep me from staring at the board and noting that most of the things on it are not supposed to be there, according to the big old sign smack in the upper-middle of it all.

OK. Bathroom. Then I can talk to the fellow at the register as I order my bagel and coffee.

Back out. No line. Here I am. “May I take your order?”

“I’d like a salt bagel please. Toasted, and coffee.”

“Anything else?” I look at his name tag. He is the manager. Perfect.

“No thanks. But I wanted to mention that there is a lot of stuff on the community board that doesn’t adhere to the guidelines.”

He looks at me as though I had said, instead, “Excuse me, but there is a dead body in the bathroom and your mom is standing over it with a knife. Oh, and he’s not got pants on.”

Slowly, with a great deal of emphasis on the last word. “What sort of things?”

“Lots of business cards. And political advertising for candidates. I saw that the sign said no advertising and no political campaigning.”

“I’m offended!” He says this as though I had said he mom hadn’t any pants on either. And I am quite well confused. I can’t imagine how I could have offended him.

“I’m confused. You’re offended? By the political advertising?”

“No, by you. Everything up there has been approved by management.”

“So, you’re offended? I really can’t imagine how I offended you.”

“Well, you did. I’m very offended.”

I’m not going to win this one, so I might as well have at it. “Well, you must be incredibly easily offended. Exactly what offended you?”

“Your suggestion that we did not follow the rules on the community board.”

“That offended you? My, you ARE easily offended. It says clearly no advertising. And no political campaigns.”

“That campaign is a non-partisan race.  And those business cards and advertisements are not for food. It only appIMAG3762lies if it is for food that competes with us.”

“Come with me, please.” I gave him a follow-me index finger and walked over to the board about four feet away, the order area being at the end of the long counter and just before the short hallway to the bathrooms, halfway down, on the right side off which is the community board. I point out the sign.

“No advertising. It does not qualify that in any way. This is full of advertising. No political campaigns. It doesn’t say unless it is a non-partisan race.”IMAG3763

“Well, it means that though. That’s what it means. You know, you could have just asked if you wanted your cards there.”

I cocked my head to the side. The way a puppy does when he’s confused. I find myself doing that quite a bit.

“Now I am offended” It is his turn to look confused. “You are telling me” (and I step very slightly closer to him) “that I am either illiterate or I am a putz!” I take care to pop my P like I’m trying to explode a microphone.

“I would not ask to put up a card because this clearly states no advertising. If I did ask, that would make me illiterate. If I wasn’t illiterate and I asked anyway, I would be assuming you would break the rule just for me and that would make me a putz. So which is it? Am I illiterate or am I a putz? Which one are you accusing me of?”

I walk back to the counter. He follows. Each of us on our proper side.

Grimly, he looks at me and asks, “Did you want anything on your bagel?”

“I’m not handing you any money! I won’t give money to a place that can’t even follow its own rules and has an illiterate manager. And NOW you can be offended, because that one I meant!’

I walked out. To the car. I get my phone. I walk back in, camera on.

He follows me. “I really can’t let you take pictures of this store.”

“Really? People take pictures when they check in on Facebook. There are pictures on Yelp. On your own Facebook page, people upload pictures. And how are you going to stop me?  Afraid some other corporation is going to copy your community board?” I take one picture. “Besides, how else will I spread this great story all over social media without a picture?” I take a close-up of the sign. I smile and walk out.

Back to the gym I go. I’m still hungry. But I know the bagels are no good for me anyway and now I certainly won’t be having any. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not soon, unless they are really really good ones.

No matter. Right is right.

But I sure could have used some coffee.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2014 in Culture, Education, Food, Social

 

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