Fire, iPads, Angry Hominids, and the Wrath of Zeus

We are all astounded by the ability of a child to learn. Indeed, I have been told fascinating stories by parents who place iPads in the laps of their 18 month year old children. Fantastically, the children learn to use the devices on their own, and within very short order. They discover the button, they push it, and the manipulate what they see. My comment on this: of course they do! That’s why they were invented! To reduce the effort of discovery to elemental objectives: one button to push (and in newer iterations, even that has been removed); desirable colors and forms to swipe; the immediate gratification of feedback that encourages further swiping!

If seeking convenience and simplicity were the reason for the invention of the iPad, then why are we so surprised that an 18 month old child would master it in such short order. Indeed, we should be proud to have achieved our objective. Then, we should quickly turn it off, hide it, and begin teaching the child to listen, observe, understand, and learn about the world that surrounds him or her, the good, the bad, the easy, and the challenging, and the interconnectedness that lies between all of it. And make no mistake, once that’s done, we can give them the iPad again to help in their journey.

You see, digital is not a form of thought. Rather, it defines a new class of tool and technique we can use to achieve particular goals. This is important. It is simply a tool. The fact is, the human condition remains as it has since one particular hominid in the dawn of our species unexpectedly created a spark in an act of frustration that manifested itself in an angry frenzy of banging rocks against one another. Her discovery, born of accident (and, likely, a little surprise), led her to uncover something that would impact social behavior forever afterwards. Fire. Prior to her angry outburst, those who preceded her learned to endure, and survive, the coldest environments on earth. Then, in one frantic act of frustration, she forever mitigated one critical challenge to her community’s survival.

Fast forwarding three or four hundred millennia, her distant progeny unleashed the potential for all knowledge to be accessed by the push of one button. The point here is this: neither fire nor knowledge, nor the iPad, is of any value on its own. The important part is the learning and understanding that are required, first to learn, then to apply, all of them, meaningfully. It wasn’t fire alone that motivated Prometheus and scared the bejesus out of Zeus. He chained Prometheus to a cliff where crows feasted on his liver for all eternity precisely because of the potential and power that the understanding and use of fire provided humankind.

Like Planck, Einstein, de Broglie, Compton, Bohr, and others many millenia later, she who discovered fire unleashed the potential to mitigate an impediment to existence. In doing so, she removed the necessity of bearing with what had theretofore been a significant obstacle to survival. But fire, much like quantum phenomena, and much like the technological accomplishment the combination of the two ultimately led to called the iPad, it is a tool we have created. And in its mastery it allows us to accomplish greater goals and achievements. Fire, quantum mechanics, and iPads are not ends in themselves. Yes, we must learn the skills involved in how they are used. However, and more importantly, we must acquire the knowledge and ability to think in order to use them in contextually meaningfully ways. They are the means to reach more deeply into understanding and improving who we are, and in doing so enable us to impact ourselves and the communities in which we live.

Simply knowing that fire, quantum mechanics, and iPads exist is not enough to understand their potential and to use them in meaningful ways. Rather, we must first understand what they are, how they became, and how they function. We have to understand their place in the world, how they emerged, what they imply, and how they impact us in both obvious and unique ways. In elementary school I was fascinated by the walls of our classrooms. They were walls, but they had wheels on top! And in one unforgettable moment of understanding, I watched in awe as our teacher, with a simple push, removed all of the walls separating our class from the ones beside us. The walls I had been sitting within for weeks to that point simply accordioned away into corner pockets. Our classroom was suddenly four times the size and quadruple the population. I witnessed engineering to a degree beyond the mousetrap my grandfather taught me to make. In that environment, and for the next few weeks, we entered the project phase of our unit of learning on Ancient Civilizations. Myself, in this community of learners within a flexible learning environment circa 42 years ago, I researched and rebuilt, in papier-mâché miniature, the ancient Greek city of Olympia. And it was good. Seven years later I would build a guillotine.

Waves and Particles, the Analog and the Digital, and the Death of Radar

You see, if light travels as waves, blocking those waves will stop their progress. So, to progress from one point to another, waves of light must travel across the space between, unfettered, in order to arrive at their destination. Should there be obstacles in between, they will be prevented from completing their journey. In this sense, light must follow a path from here to there and travel through whatever lies between, sequentially. The obstacles between are relevant, each requiring its own solution that will allow the light to pass it and continue towards its ultimate destination.

If light, however, also behaves as particles in a quantum realm, as the gentlemen mentioned in a previous post indeed determined it does, then suddenly the concept of the space between becomes irrelevant. Even with barriers between here and there, the particles of light arrive at their destination. And they do so instantaneously, as though they, as with Kirk and his away team, were simply and somehow “beamed” there. And so, given this duality, the possibility that all that exists can somehow follow the same indeterminism becomes a possibility, a consideration, a fantasy, and an influence on social thought and behavior. And as an interesting caveat, if you try to observe particles of light in their mysterious transference from here to there, they will simply disappear. And from this rises a whole other set of implications that have also manifested themselves in current social thought, and education theory.

Current trends in education seem to mimic quantum phenomena. If, as light, we should be able to arrive at our destination without concern about obstacles that lie between, then anyone can believe s/he can achieve anything he or she desires simply by desiring it, without complication, period. As individual particles of light achieve their destinations without interference or observation (and indeed, even simple observation impedes their ability to arrive where they should), individuals should be left alone to decide what is and what is not important for them to learn according to goals they determine they would like to achieve.

The trend in education has been to remove (perhaps better put, ignore) the obstacles, the complications, the challenges, and the rigor that would otherwise, possibly, redirect or derail people in their journeys through life. Current curricular theory reflects this. Assessment is no longer based on standards; it is a derivative of each individual’s own capacities. Learning objectives are no longer wholly derived from prescribed outcomes; they are are derived from what individuals would like to achieve. And left as such, the objectives of learning in many centers of education are now lacking those things that were once core to standards that defined competency according to the needs of community and society.

Now, the argument here is that individuals will learn on their own what their capacities are, and by doing so determine the learning paths they are best for them. However, left completely unprescribed, so much is potentially missed. Were I not exposed to the theorems of geometry, how would I know they exist. Were I not made privy to the mechanics of language, how would I know the rules that apply to the ways we communicate as we do. Were I not taught to memorize passages and learn about icons of our language through memorizing and deciphering the mechanics, meaning, and purpose in prose and poetry, how would I learn to appreciate how language can be an art, a tool, and a means to influence the world around me in multiple and wonderful ways. Were I not taught numbers, formulas, patterns, and process, how would I understand the mechanics of social and physical world of which I am a part.

Very few of the foundational objectives of learning are easy. Few, if any of them, can be learned without frustration. And none of them can be understood clearly and in practical terms without the experiences that only life, in the analog, can provide. And, sadly, none of them is now necessarily required to be learned. While in my youth we lost geometry, there is so much more that has since been deemed unnecessary in terms of formal learning curricula. Instead, they have become options for people to choose in their own self-direction. The sad thing is, in most cases, they are options not chosen since they are simply no longer on the radar. Indeed, GPS has replaced the radar, the particle the wave, and the digital the analog.

For better and for worse, quantum theory played a crucial role in, and has had more and more impact on, the rise of the digital era. The social impacts have, as a result, been greater than any other technological shift that has taken place in the history of humankind. It’s consequences have affected the nature of the human condition in, I would argue, all ways: from the most fundamental needs of survival to the gratuitous wants of escapism, and across all levels of human endeavor between. Social institutions once fundamental to human existence are crumbling. They are deemed as no longer relevant, and indeed, perhaps even as historical mistakes. In many ways, current social thought exudes particular confidence in having seen the light of truth. In metaphorical terms, I understand why: since light is apparently particular, it no longer shines in waves on the messiness of challenges inherent in survival. It beams only on the desirable destinations that lie apparently at the end.

The digital world has allowed us, in fact, to beam ourselves out of the complexities of life and straight to what were once the objectives we ourselves were required to achieve, step by step. We no longer must kill beasts for nourishment. We are no longer required to understand grammar in order to write. We don’t have to meet people in search of relationships. We don’t have to visit libraries. We don’t need books to understand. We no longer need skills of survival to travel from here to there. We don’t have to fix or maintain or renew (we recycle!). We don’t have to write letters. We don’t have to imagine. We don’t have to think. In the quantum-derived digital world, and for most all of us, everything, simply, happens.

We’re finally getting closer to guillotines…

The Demise of Slide Rules, Abaci, & the Appropriation of the Googolplex

When I was in my early teens, I recall my father, a teacher (of English Literature incidentally), lamenting the loss of geometry from the standard school curriculum. While I could not understand his frustration completely at the time, I did infer this: we appeared to be losing the ability to learn something that held secrets that would forever forward be lost. Even at that young age, I remember feeling something very unfair was happening. I believe that more than ever today. Indeed, a good grasp of geometrical theorems might help me during those occasions in the mountains when I would dearly like to understand how far I am from a mountain peak. A little prowess at astronomical concepts would allow me to find direction without the use of google. How my father learned to use the slide rule with such fluency, and others the abacus, I have no idea. To me they were, and as a result likely always will be, as unintelligible as, well, a slide rule.

In my father’s mind, our learning was being whitewashed. Perhaps to stem that tide, within the same timeframe he set out to teach me Latin. I think he did so driven by a compulsion to sustain, in the education of at least his own child, the power inherent in the kinds of knowledge being lost and the advantages he perceived they would provide in life. I think he was onto something, and I am grateful for the effort he made. I have often found those few things I was able to retain to be useful ever since. In his mind, the institutional expectations of our learning were being whitewashed. In my mind, here, today, I believe, for most, the power provided by many tools of understanding, along with the skills to use them, have been and are continuing to be, well, googled (to the detriment of the googolplex itself).

I’m not sure of the nature and trend of education discourse 50 years ago. I am certainly not aware of the perceptions held by education academes a century ago. That deserves to be googled! However, I am well aware of the trends and mantras amongst education scholars and fashionistas of the preceding 30 years: student-centeredness, 20th (now 21st) Century approaches to learning, the provision and application of information and communication technologies (ICT, for those in the know), inquiry-based approaches, teacher-as-mentor, learners (as opposed to students), flipped classrooms, flexible learning spaces, among many others. All of these are reactive to a dark age of “traditional” education in a murky yet not so distant past: oversized populations of students sitting row by row silently, watching, listening, and note-taking in front of all knowing teachers filling their minds with knowledge and facts, assessing them on their ability to retain what they are told against impersonal and detached metrics, and applying techniques devoid of anything that would engender critical thinking or the ability to inquire, discover, learn, evaluate, and understand. The thing is, I cannot pinpoint where, at least in my own experience, this traditional approach to education has ever existed.

All of these are reactive to a dark age of “traditional” education in a murky yet not so distant past: oversized populations of students sitting row by row silently, watching, listening, and note-taking in front of all knowing teachers filling their minds with knowledge and facts, assessing them on their ability to retain what they are told against impersonal and detached metrics, and applying techniques devoid of anything that would engender critical thinking or the ability to inquire, discover, learn, evaluate, and understand. The thing is, I cannot pinpoint where, at least in my own experience, this traditional approach to education has ever existed.

And why would that be? Stay tuned!

Waves, Particles, Cats, and Captain Kirk: The Quantum Impact on Social Thought

“To be nobody but 
yourself in a world 
which is doing its best day and night to make you like 
everybody else means to fight the hardest battle 
which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”

― e.e. cummings

*This is a poem by one of my favorites. I am fascinated by his ideas, angst, and forms of expression. Sadly though, I believe he, among many others, is rolling in his proverbial grave. Why? I’ll get to that a little later.

In the meantime, as I said, this does segue. And now that we’ve gone beyond mousetraps and into the workings of how and why they have anything at all to do with learning, it’s almost time for guillotines.

Almost…

An interesting phenomenon occurs when you examine the behavior of light at the microscopic level. Depending on the kind of test you use to observe its behavior as light passes from point A to point B, it is, at the same time, both waveform and particle form. Without getting into what exactly that means, since you can, I suppose, simply google it, this “wave-particle duality” is central to the field (notion?) of quantum mechanics. I would also venture it is central to, at least correlated with, and perhaps even somehow responsible for the world’s current socio-digital zeitgeist, especially when it comes to the sanctity (or lack thereof) of notions of sequence, order, and predictability in time and space. As I see it, this one discovery has led to what is arguably one of the most significant technological cum social upheavals. Let me explain.

The cat (likely Schrödinger’s) that Planck, Einstein, de Broglie, Compton, Bohr, and others unwittingly let out of the bag, became, I propose, a perceived emancipation (or at least the hope thereof) of human behavior, thought, and potential. To lay philosophers and believers in (as opposed to practitioners of) science, what all of this meant was this: ultimately, and at least in theory, anything is possible, nothing is determined. The problem, that I believe has since led to massive social and societal confusion, is this: what takes place at the micro level does not (at least to any practical perceptible degree) have parallel effects in the full size world where we all live, love, and labour.

As much as religious thought impacts social behavior, so too does scientific discovery and theory. And though my intention here is not to delve into the complexities of quantum mechanics, I do want to suggest that its implications dramatically impacted human thought and behavior. They continue to do so now at an even greater pace, and are indeed motivated by the subsequent technological advances that appear to support the essential quantum notions of indeterminism and non-linear progression. The discovery of quantum mechanics carried with it the promise of a reality that was no longer as fixed and predictable as Newton had suggested. Its implications have affected perception, thought, and philosophy at all levels.

Like Homer’s sirens, the possibilities suggested by quantum mechanics, along with both its fictional and factual technological consequences that followed, led to a widespread derivative perception: much like the indeterminate nature of the atomic world, success in life can be achieved in much the same way Captain Kirk and his “away team” can “beam” from orbit to surface of any unknown planet, unscathed, and in the blink of an eye. Beaming allows for the total and instantaneous bypass of all of the dirty bits that are unavoidable in any practical sense: the inhabitability of the vacuum of space, the hellish passage into atmosphere, the explosive release of physical integrity in low pressure environments, the science and technology of life preservation, the knowledge of flight and aero-spatial dynamics, and the catastrophic consequences that the lack of understanding of all of the above might have on Kirk and his team could they not simply skip-it-all by being “beamed.” And while we are in reality yet to beam one another in a physical sense, we have certainly achieved, via quantum discoveries, parallel phenomena via digital technologies that have changed they way we do and perceive everything.

In educational terms, quantum theory has, through pop culture, fantasy, and its very real impact one society through the advent of digital technologies, led to changes in thought, problem-solving, perception, and expectation that have led to this: we are told we can achieve whatever we want in life; that each of us is unique and deserving. We can beam from A to Z, and skip B through Y entirely in order to get there. We can communicate with anyone from anywhere. While we cannot (yet) beam ourselves, we can certainly beam representations of anything, from anywhere, to anywhere. We are bombarded each waking second with images and propositions about what life’s goals should be, often in fantastical terms and forms that are no longer easily distinguishable from reality. Individually, we can access the sum total of human knowledge, the good and the bad, equally and unfiltered. Individually, we can access, possess, or experience anything we desire, or so we are led to believe; and we can accomplish all of this effortlessly, in milliseconds, without any prior knowledge, ability, or skill, save what it takes to operate keyboards (and even in that, despite never having learned to type).

In educational terms, I would argue that now, more than ever before, we are provided daily, freely, and without consequence, what were once goals to be achieved, or frankly, simple dreams. The thing is, and concerningly so, is that, as a society, we no longer produce to live. We consume to satisfy. And our definition of success is more and more determined by what we can consume, and how our behaviors can entice others to do the same (resulting, incidentally, in the aforementioned discomfort e.e. cummings would feel, could he still feel. More on that shortly.).

There are a few unalienable truths about being human. One is that we are indeed different from one another: in capacity, biology, physique, composition, social role, heritage, cultural grounding, spiritual affiliation, morality, location, climate, strength, psychological constitution, and many other qualities of being. And yet, we belong to communities of commonality in order to survive. From them, despite our differences, we must achieve standards of thought and purpose in order to survive. Within the communities we are part of, we must find fit. Where I am weak, others’ strengths compensate. And this interplay between all members of every community results in the stability and well-being of the community itself. If indeed the quantum realm is, ultimately, indeterminate, can the same uncertainty be applied to social role, responsibility, and interaction and the health of communities?

Yes, we should strive to investigate, discover, understand, apply, and achieve towards goals that gain their definition through that very process. And yes, we should strive to maximize the satisfaction we gain from our lives. And yes, this does presume mitigating things that are noxious, dangerous, and unpleasant that run counter to our instinctive tendency to avoid those things that foster discomfort and anxiety. However, the truth is, sometimes we must abandon our reflexive tendency to defend self in order to become stronger, more capable, and better at doing exactly that. We must engage in activities to which we may be instinctively averse. By doing so we learn how to master them; by doing so we remove from them the very noxious qualities that led us to avoid them in the first place. Ultimately, they become a part of what we consider to be our strengths. The path we should take is from A through B in order to arrive at C. Once we master that, then, and only then, should we look into the merits of beaming.

I may be completely misguided in this perception, but it’s one I hold: the trend in education for decades has been to lessen the burden for people to learn by removing learning challenges that produce anxiety and discomfort. No matter how counter-intuitive that may seem, I believe it to be true. People are less and less required to achieve rigorous standards of skill and ability. Instead, their abilities to calculate, communicate, and problem solve are weighed against none but their own paces of accomplishment over time, and only in areas they are comfortable in pursuing. My experiences tell me that what we are required to learn is being further and further modulated by a perceived justice in allowing individuals to set their own objectives and parameters. I would indeed venture that in certain curricular circles we are no longer “required” to learn anything. Here the laws of entropy thrive, as more and more of the learning that takes place does so at the expense of anything that might produce anxiety and discomfort, the tough stuff, the things that may in fact be some of the most worthwhile things to be learned. However, where Challenge is reduced, Assessment and Achievement rise. In a world driven more and more by perception, accountability, and transparency, this is, I suppose, the perfect outcome.

This will continue…

Modes of Learning… Community, Reality, & Finding Creativity

Key features of Cross programs are emphases on problem-solving, communication, creativity, challenge, diversity of experience, collaboration, negotiation, and community approaches to discovery and accomplishment.

Cross Academy learning experiences are intended to be “peeks under the hood” and adventures in discovering “how things work.” People learn and make things in order to fulfil perceived needs. They learn and make things to provide the means of interaction with each other and with the environment that surrounds them. Arguably, every idea, every thing, exists to meet the needs of people.

People are social creatures. Ultimately, the things we use, make, do, and engage in become parts of our “reality” because there is social consensus that they are necessary, useful, and important; they become means of interaction that make our communities work. Community is therefore at the center of the human experience: communities live, believe, do, make, and act in ways that are accepted by a majority as necessary to the success and well-being of the community itself.

Why is this important? Well, simply put, everyone within a community is an integral part of the process of the negotiations that result in what the community perceives to be its reality. Of course, there are always fundamental rules involved that are, perhaps to a great extent, determined and defined by the physical environment. Those rules are the foundational sciences that communities create (discover?) that give definition to the spaces that surround them. Those “natural rules” are themselves essentially “stories that work.” They help communities create the means to survive within the physical spaces they occupy. Most importantly, those stories are created, shared, tested, agreed upon, and used by the individuals within communities. In this way, the ideas, needs, wants, and desires of each individual ultimately affects the reality within which the entire community rests.

Cross programs emphasize learning through doing. We want people to learn to appreciate the world around them by discovering how and why things work. However, from that understanding, we would like people to develop the awareness that they too can create, add to, and perhaps modify their own behaviors, those of their community, and, by extension, reality itself. Finding ways to improve reality, to whatever scope or degree, is, perhaps, fundamentally, where creativity lies.

As a result, Cross wants people to experience, do, explore, and discover as much as they possibly can. We want people to appreciate that a plane flies; and we want them to discover how that happens by understanding the principles that allow it to happen. We want people to understand how to interact with each other in positive and meaningful ways, and so we teach them to dance, to play soccer, to work together to build, launch, and enjoy the experiences that only rockets can provide. We want them to eat, but we want them to understand not only the importance of food, but also the processes involved in where that food comes from and how it comes from those places. We would like people to learn to communicate, to understand each other, to work together to accomplish goals that benefit themselves and everyone around them. We want people to appreciate their environments, and learn to improve their abilities to interact with themselves, within their communities, within the spaces they occupy together.

Cross Summer Academy

Cross Education has come to Japan to establish its fully cultural & communicative immersive international summer camp experience to Japanese and offshore students.

There are certain places in the world where international education community building has happened and flourished. We’ve seen so historically in the USA, Switzerland, Canada, the UK. We believe that Japan makes absolute sense for may reasons: one for its global economic reach and impact; two for its positioning in the East, from where global economic growth is now largely being driven; and three, from a country that provides the connectedness, the safety, the security, and the richness of life and experience that inspire learning in all ways. 

The directors have a long heritage in both Canada and Japan offering English-based experiential programs for international students. Through Cross Education, Japan, they proudly bring an exciting new brand of education to Japan to create a venue for people from all corners of the planet.

The Cross Summer Academy, coming next in the summer of 2019, is a multi-locational program based in the Tokyo and in the Kanto region. It brings a community of children and teenagers (from 5 to 18 years old) together from around the world, and from around Japan.

Together they engage in up to six weeks of challenge and discovery in the Cross Summer Academy:

Overall Theme:

  • Open Minds Change the World

Weekly Sub-themes:

  • Eco-Environmental Studies
  • Mechatronics & Technology Design,
  • Online Media & Design,
  • Photography, Videography, & Production
  • International Dynamics & Awareness
  • Remote, Virtual, & Real Flight

Program Contents & Features

(Applied weekly and thematically integrated into daily learning experiences.)

  • Technology: 3D, Mechatronics, Artificial Intelligence, Renewable Energy
  • Blockchain Innovation Theory and Application
  • Agriculture and Environmental Studies
  • Photography, Videography, and Digital Production
  • Aeronautics, Aviation, and Rocketry
  • Fine and Performing Arts
  • Sports and Athletics
  • Architecture and Design
  • Animation and Design
  • Outdoor Learning (Urban, Mountain, and Ocean)
  • Age Range: 5 to 18
  • Flexible & Variable Groups (same age, cross ages, by Academy “house”)
  • Full native English speaking environment and focus.
  • International Social and Cultural Awareness
  • Japanese Cultural and Language Studies
  • Integration and interaction between all ages.
  • Specialized focuses within age groups.
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Coaching, Mentoring, and Leadership Education
  • Weekly Social and Family Events that Include:
  • Performances, Parties, Presentations, and Park Barbecues

Cross Education Japan believes that children and young adults should participate together in a relationship that helps both learn. Older children help younger, and younger children are inspired to learn by the examples set by their older peers.

Equally so, Cross believes that in order to become inspired, at any age or level, inspirational figures and role models are essential. That’s why we tie professional in their fields into everything we do. Each theme and category of learning throughout the camp is tied to international professionals and organizations who are impacting the world with what they do.

We use the best examples and advice available in all of the learning opportunities we facilitate, from organizations and institutions such as Siemens, Platinum, Line, MIT, an more.

Cross Education Japan, and the Cross Summer Academy, provides educational opportunities, based in Japan, where ideas and people from around the world come together to benefit equally:

  • to inspire each other,
  • to learn from one another, and
  • to impact their lives each in ways that may later help each of them impact the world.

Check us out at www.cross.education and send us a note should you want more details: basecamp@cross.education.

All the best,

The Cross Team

The Mousetrap

Ok… here we are, 47 years ago, around the time this picture was taken. I believe that’s my brother. It’s raining. No matter.

We are standing in the doorway of a small toolshed behind a small, white, red-trimmed house built 47 years earlier by my grandfather.  This particular little workshop is situated about as far as you can possibly go from the town in which he was born. In this small and slightly ramshackle structure are the tools he uses and the spaces in which they all belong. They sit, stand, and hang, all at the ready for whatever necessity or whim might happen to capture his sense of responsibility, his attention, and, likely, often, just his imagination.

The walls are adorned with every kind of yard tool: rakes, hoes, shovels, spades, and others whose purposes are, in my six years of experience, mysteries. A rusty well-used scythe hangs there too. The concrete floor is stained with oil, and, likely, his blood and sweat. There sits the massive, round, pedal-driven grinding stone mounted in the ancient wooden contraption he’d built especially for it. Behind that is a work bench; attached to its edge is a heavy cast iron vise. I think it’s green. Behind the vise sit numerous old coffee cans filled with every kind of nut, bolt, nail, and screw you could possibly ever need in a lifetime. He’d indeed spent much of his life collecting them. He created this space as only a creator could.

I see this, this spot of time, vividly, even the smell: a musty combination of gasoline, oil, decomposing grass, metal, and wet wood. And here we are, one hand in my grandfather’s as he rummages around with his other to assemble those things we need to take care of a situation needing attention. Mice.

My grandfather emigrated from Italy in the early 1920s. I believe 1922? It was soon after the First World War had ended, and soon after he was released from an Austrian POW camp located not far from his home town, not far to the north of Venice. My grandfather was a conscripted soldier in the Italian Army. However, he apparently refused to accept the role of a soldier and would shoot into the air above the heads of his Austrian neighbors who had likewise been commissioned to shoot at him.

Since he was able, years later, to be here in this workshop with me, I like to think that those Austrians shared the same pacifist rebelliousness. I like to think that there, in the Alps, the Italian and Austrian conscripts shot over each other’s heads, more in favor of sparing the lives of neighbors than in doing what the common mousetrap mercilessly does to mice. He spent the remaining years of the war in a prison somewhere on the other side of the Italo-Austrian border, not so far from home.

After the war, and his release, and as soon as he could, he, his wife, and my young uncle (God bless them all), packed their bags, boarded a ship in Genoa, and left. Via Ellis Island, they journeyed to about as far away from all that nonsense as they could possibly get: the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada, at the edge of a small logging town in what was then one of the farthest reaches of the civilized world. Incidentally, the whole notion of “the civilized world” needs a little more consideration, but that’s for later.

So, here, in his workshop in 1971, my grandfather wants me to help him make a trap to catch the mice that are terrorizing his wife. And so we do. He quietly, but unforgettably, goes to work to transform an odd collection of items into a devise fashioned to capture the vermin responsible for the recent acts of terror. He builds a mousetrap, but one fashioned according to his principles and world view, and surely inspired by his life experiences, to spare their lives.

He was my teacher. I learned this from him. I have never made anything quite like that mousetrap in my own life since then. However, there is much that I have done that I would never have been able to accomplish, nor perhaps understand as well, had it not been for that one experience with him.

Fields of Sensibility

We live in fields of sensibility. 

We live in spaces that at every millisecond are defined in full by our sensitivity to external stimuli. Incidentally, at some point I would like to dig more deeply into the concept of “now.” That one will blow your socks off for sure! At least, it does mine.

Just to set the record straight, I’m not in fact too fond of yellow cars. I much prefer darker tones, blacks, blues. If I let myself succumb to my more radical side, I might go for a red Maserati GT Convertible, but that’s an entirely different conversation as well. Having said that, I, now, as result of all of this chatter, see yellow cars everywhere. It’s kind of irritating to be honest.

But that’s the nature of learning, and being taught…by a teacher, or a blue dragon fly. It is precisely those things, for better or for worse, that happen and exist in our fields of sensibility that, for whatever particular reasons, become part of the defining characteristics of the realities each of us inhabits. Those are the things that ultimately become part of those things we say we understand, recognize, know, and have learned.

One favor. Patience. This does segue into mousetraps and guillotines.

Teaching + Learning = Education. Yes. Even Now

There is always a teacher.

However, like yellow cars that, for me, never existed prior to me wanting one, we all share the same conception: a teacher is that person who stands in front of rows of desks staring back at us, talking way too much.

But, wait…

What we fail to remember is that we are surrounded by teachers, every moment of every day, in every place we might be. The teacher is the blue dragon fly that lands on the corner of your phone while you’re sitting on a lawn chair watching your dog wade happily in the ankle high pool you recently set up because of weather far too hot for most men, women, and dogs.

In fact, all of them are teachers: the phone, the lawn, the pool, the heat, the dog, and everything else that completes the moment. Whether we appreciate it or not, each one of those things is demonstrating to us something that was not entirely the same moments before, and guides us in directions that we would not have taken should we not have been there exactly at that moment…or perhaps better put, in that particular reality. And that reality itself we created from knowledge we gained from all of the teachers that preceded that moment: the sun beaming through windows, the algae that inspired a clean pool, fresh water, and an excited dog. Cause. Effect. Intertwined. All are teachers.

But wait!

By teacher we don’t mean all of that! We’re talking about that person who keeps talking at us about all sorts of stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with anything going on around us as we sit in rows of seats in front of him.

Aren’t we?

More on this to come, with a little discussion about mousetraps and guillotines.