Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

I really love Diana Laufenberg’s passion. The central point in this talk is about finding ways to create rich learning projects that allow kids to fail as part of the learning process, try different solutions, explore, play, inquire, draw upon each others work, and LEARN. She articulates it beautifully here:

the thing that you need to get comfortable with when you’ve given the tool to acquire information to students is that you have to be comfortable with this idea of allowing kids to fail as part of the learning process. We deal right now, in the educational landscape, with an infatuation with the culture of one right answer that can properly bubbled on the average multiple choice test and I am here to share with you … it is NOT learning. That is the absolute wrong thing to ask. To tell kids to never be wrong, to ask them to always have the right answer, doesn’t allow them to learn.

… the main point is that if we continue to look at education as if its about coming to school to get the information and not about experiential learning, empowering student voice, and embracing failure – we are missing the mark. And everything that everbody is talking about today isn’t possible if we keep having an educational system that does not value these qualities because we wont get there with the standarised test and we wont get there with the culture of one right answer.

Yusuf Islam, the Cat of Old

You ever had one of those days when you get home from work, your tired, but you carry on working because there always seems far more to do than time to do it in? you feel like you want to find a way of picking yourself up out of whatever temporary rut you feel yourself in? Well yesterday was like that I think I must have stopped around 11ish. Rather than hit the sack I made myself some tea ( courtesy of Zach ), and started to flick through channels. I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to do that, a lot! there’s nothing you actually want to watch, so you just flick through until something vaguely interesting catches your eye. And something did, I stopped on BBC Four and caught the last few minutes of Alan Yentob’s Interview with Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens), from 2006.

I’d never seen the full interview before, and yet the image I was confronted with on the screen, of this bearded man playing this acoustic guitar and singing in this beautifully melodic voice just made me want to listen (at the 45 minute mark). It was curious I suppose that I’d tuned in just in time to listen to Alan Yentob ask him the question”:

“After all those years of resistance you’ve now picked up the guitar again. Do you think you have allowed yourself to sort of take a position you didnt feel this literalism about Islam which a lot of people find difficult to accept. Some people might say to that extent you’ve been brainwashed perhaps?”

Yusuf Islam:
“The positions that I took previously, I held fast to them because I believed them to be true. However, one only has to look at history, it wasn’t long ago when we discover, guess what, the guitar was probably introduced to Europe, through Spain by the Muslims. Now I’m saying, hang on, What? you know… and thats a reality. When I learned something better I moved, and that’s what you’ve got to do. I think we must not, ever, take the position that we know it all. God may show you something you never knew yesterday,we’ve got to be ready for that” …

Alan Yentob:
“Is there a message in these songs as you pick up this guitar again?”

Yusuf Islam:
“There is certainly a change in the wind and the way in which there is now a chance for a new understanding of the moderate middle path of Islam because the extremes have been exposed. A lot of people have missed the whole point, including some Muslims, who have gone off on some kind of..their own..strategy of trying to improve the world through some kind of devious means that has nothing to do with Islam, and yet is supposed to be in the name of Islam. The word Islam itself comes from the word ‘peace’ now that is the heart and soul of this religion. I discovered that, I’ve done that journey and perhaps I can help others to feel a bit more assured that in fact a lot of Muslims in this world, the vast majority just want to live a happy life and be at peace with the rest of the world”

I think there’s something wonderfully uplifting in his words, and in his music. His sentiments are nothing new to many muslims yet sadly social the perception of Islam and Muslims seems to be growing more and more negative as the actions of an extremist minority are used to label all Muslims are radicals. In fact I remember storming off in a rage as I watched the European election results and listened to Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, explain that stopping the spread of radical Islam was one of the reasons people had voted for him.

After the interview ended the BBC aired a hour long ‘BBC Four Session’ featuring Yusuf singing a number of his songs, both old and new, from a concert in Porchester Hall several years ago. I stayed up and watched the show and found myself being moved more and more by his songs and their message. I even ended up downloading several of his recent albums on iTunes as I watched the performance on tv – although I’m not sure if my colleagues appreciated that since I was humming, and singing along to them as I worked in the office today 🙂

Rather than pick up the laptop and work this evening, I decided to see if I could find that interview and watch it all, sadly BBC iPlayer doesn’t have it, however it does still have the ‘BBC Four Session – Yusuf Islam‘ which is available to watch – it’s a wonderful concert, an inspired performance which I certainly recommend.

After searching on Google I did eventually find the Interview, there’s a copy hosted on Google Video ( disclaimer: it’s hosted by an organisation called ‘Turn To Islam’. I have no idea what this organisation is, I simply wanted to link to the video). I’m glad I watched it all Yusuf describes his early life, his celebrity status, his, his conversion to islam, and his return to performing. Perhaps the most moving part of the interview is when he describes his battle with tuberculosis – which will resonate with anyone who has ever found themselves lying in a hospital bed reflecting on their life, and where they are headed, particularly when he says “.. in that hospital I developed some insights which then later fed into my music … into my journey” … a poignant sentiment that touched me deeply given my own experience.

Yusuf Islam is an amazing man, who truly inspires.

Marcus Aurelius

Been reading a lot this weekend, it’s the only form of escape I can turn to without relying on any form of planning. I’ve got a couple of book reviews to write but I thought I’d post up some passages I just read by Marcus Aurelius which seem relevant right now for a number of reasons that I don’t intend to elaborate on …

All things are linked with one another, and this oneness is sacred; there is
nothing that is not interconnected with everything else.  For things are
interdependent, and they combine to form this universal order.  There is
only one universe made up of all things, and one creator who pervades
them; there is one substance and one law, namely, common reason in all
thinking creatures, and all truth is one--if, as we believe, there is only
one path of perfection for all beings who share the same mind.

… and …

Why should anyone be afraid of change?  What can take place without it?
What can be more pleasing or more suitable to universal Nature?
Can you take your bath without the firewood undergoing a change?
Can you eat, without the food undergoing a change?  And can anything
useful be done without change?  Don't you see that for you to change
is just the same, and is equally necessary for universal Nature?

… and also …

Discard everything except these few truths:  we can live
only in the present moment, in this brief now; all the rest
of our life is dead and buried or shrouded in uncertainty.
Short is the life we lead, and small our patch of earth.

… and finally …

nowhere can a man find a quieter or more 
   untroubled retreat than in his own soul

our circle of compassion

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited 
in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as 
something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his 
consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to 
our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. 
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our 
circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of 
nature in its beauty.
                -- Albert Einstein

Zimbardo, Lewis and Donne

I’ve been reading Philip Zimbardo’s – The Lucifer Effect, which is proving to be very difficult to read. Someone described it as a ‘transformative text‘ and I completely agree with that sentiment. It’s impossible to read without reflecting deeply about oneself. From what I’ve read so far If I had to distill Zimbardo’s book into a single sentence it would be that situation plays a bigger part in determining evil or heroic behaviour than any innate disposition.

That sounds so simple and yet it’s so very complex. I intend to write a review of the book when I’m finished but for now I’ve been reflecting on some material that Zimbardo points to. The first is “The Inner Ring” by C.S. Lewis, which from what I can gather was a Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944.

In it Lewis describes one such situational imperative that can drive people to make abhorrent decisions. Many Organisations (all?) have groups of people who are more powerful or influential than others. This is true whether the organisation is a company or a less formalised social group. These so called “rings” admit some people and exclude others. The desire to be inside, to gain acceptance and approval, can be a powerful motivational force for some people, and conversely this desire can be used by those on the inside to manipulate those seeking admission. As Lewis himself describes:

I believe that in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many 
men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, 
one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the 
local Ring and the terror of being left outside ... Of all the passions 
the passion for the Inner Ring is most skilfull in making a man who 
is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.

We have to recognise, individually, that we are all susceptible to such forces, they are after all a part of the human condition. The problem is many of us aren’t willing to acknowledge this, as Zimbardo points out, our unfounded pride takes precedence over what should be the humility to recognise that we are all vulnerable to such situational forces. In his book Zimbardo recalls John Donne‘s Mediations (27), as a wonderfully eloquent reflection on our common interrelatedness and interdependence, which I think is absolutely key to guarding our hearts and minds against such behavior:

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, 
one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better 
language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the
bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but 
upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much
more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....
No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee

Zimbardo’s book is proving to be a challenge on many different levels. The graphic nature of some of the experiments he describes, as well as some of the atrocities he has researched is painfully disturbing to read. Man’s lack of humanity is central to Zimbardo’s thesis, and on that subject I can’t help but smile ruefully thinking that Tennessee Williams was probably right when he wrote:

We're all of us guinea pigs in the laboratory of God. 
Humanity is just a work in progress

I’d love to hear anyone else views on the book or the subject, I’m learning a great deal as I read it but I’d welcome anyone else insight. So please leave a comment or get in touch.

Nature brings Solace …

I’ve been having a wonderful weekend. It’s always nice to get away, although in fairness the Warwickshire countryside isn’t necessarily that far away, still not every journey should be measured in terms of physical distance. I woke up pretty early this morning, like many people I totally forgot the clocks went back an hour last night. I tend to be restless when I wake so I got up and decided to take in the view. It’s stunning here. I don’t know what it is about the countryside, about being away from the city that I find so calming. I experienced something similar a couple of months ago when Richard and I went to Devon for an eight day Archery shoot, a trip that helped me to confront certain things I guess I’ve been hiding from.

Sitting on this balcony this morning gazing across the country side, as is often the case, I was absorbed by my own thoughts. Isn’t it strange and yet wonderful how the mind can meander from one thought to another and then suddenly present you with an answer or an insight from the deepest recesses of your memory. That’s how I was reminded of something that Anne Frank wrote, and I think it echoes my own feelings right now:

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go 
outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, 
nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should 
be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty 
of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know 
that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the 
circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace 
to all troubles.

Not so random thoughts …

G'Quan wrote: 'There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. 
It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight 
is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. 
Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of 
dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all 
around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments 
of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will 
take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.'
   -- G'Kar in Babylon 5:"Z'ha'dum"
"Then I will tell you a great secret, Captain. Perhaps the 
greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the 
same molecules that make up this station and the nebula 
outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are 
starstuff, we are the universe made manifest, trying to 
figure itself out. As we have both learned, sometimes the 
universe requires a change of perspective." 
   -- Delenn to Sheridan in Babylon 5:"A Distant Star"
"We create the meaning in our lives. It does not exist 
independently. Being Anla-shok does not mean worrying 
about what others will think about us. It does not mean 
deciding what to do based upon whether or not it serves our 
sense of ego or destiny. It means living each moment as if 
it were your last one. It means doing each right thing 
because it is the right thing. The scale doesn't matter. The 
where, the when, the how, or in what cause .. none of those 
things matter. In my life, I've discovered very few truths. 
Here is the greatest truth I know: Your death, Rastenn, will 
have a meaning if it comes while you're in fullest pursuit of 
your heart."

	-- Sech Turval to Rastenn in Babylon 5:"Learning Curve"

… and finally for now …

"What does the candle represent?"
"Whose life?"
"All life, every life. We're all born as molecules in the hearts of a 
billion stars, molecules that do not understand politics, policies and 
differences. In a billion years we, foolish molecules forget who we 
are and where we came from. Desperate acts of ego. We give 
ourselves names, fight over lines on maps. And pretend our light is 
better than everyone else's. The flame reminds us of the piece of 
those stars that live inside us. A spark that tells us: you should know 
better. The flame also reminds us that life is precious, as each flame 
is unique. When it goes out, it's gone forever. And there will never be 
another quite like it. So many candles will go out tonight. I wonder 
some days if we can see anything at all."

    -- Sheridan and Delenn in Babylon 5:"And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder"