The Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported today about Mr Halis Beyhanoğlu, who graduated from elementary school in 1938 and just received his second university diploma in September at the age of 86. After being a civil servant for most of his life, he finally received a
degree in public adminstration, so he now apparently has the choice of
returning to work as the country's oldest bureaucrat, or staying in
school as the oldest grad student. He says he wants to be a lecturer
someday, so we wish him well (link).
This reminds me of a story a few years ago about an 84-year-old man who enrolled in first grade in Kenya as soon as the country began to provide free universal education, unashamed to sit among six-year-olds so that he might gain what had been deprived for so long. (click here for the rest of that story).
Both stories impact me for the brazenness of these gentlemen to pursue learning beyond society's limits of propriety. A couple years ago I shared on this blog the quote of a woman in her 90s who had not been so brazen: "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken up the
violin at 60. I'd have been playing for almost 40 years by now."
We --that is, I-- forgo so many endeavors because we are unaware of what is within us, how much endurance we carry, and the power of the victory over society's often silly ideas. So today I remind myself to pick up once again the aspirations that were within me and rekindle them, even if it is with the tiniest of sparks. So what if I'm past 50? Just think where I'll be in 40 years!
I recently wrote about the problem of poorly built schools around the world in reflection on the tragic earthquake in China. I have just now read, and feel I must share with you, some very moving stories I have just read about the teachers in some of those Chinese schools whose love for their students led to the ultimate sacrifice.
These stories are part of a collection of several stories compiled by Chinese blogger Bob Chen and published on Global Voices Online. Taking a break from grading papers and exams to read these will certainly put our own work, and our relationships with our students, in perspective.
A lot of the news about the earthquake this week in China emphasized the tragedy of students trapped and dying in poorly built schools. Unfortunately, outrageously, perversely, school buildings around the world are potential earthquake death traps. Remember Pakistan, where 7000-plus schools killed 17,000 students?
Experts on earthquake dangers have warned for years that tens of millions of students in thousands of schools, from Asia to the Americas, face similar risks, yet programs to reinforce existing schools or require that new ones be built to extra-sturdy standards are inconsistent, slow and inadequately financed.
Revkin cited an OECD report that states "schools 'routinely collapsed in earthquakes around the world because of avoidable design or construction errors, or because existing laws and building codes were not enforced." That last bit was a polite way of saying "corruption" -- the allowance of poor design and pathetic construction in exchange for personal favors. Here in Turkey, construction contractors have a nasty habit of fleeing the country when their buildings kill people, so the system apparently works --for them.
The reports by Revkin reminded me again of the latest such tragedy we witnessed here in Turkey. Five years ago this month, an earthquake in the Southeast killed nearly 170 people. Half of those killed were public boarding school students in a single dormitory building (click here for the CNN report). More than 90% of the schools in the area were affected by that quake.
Last week when I shared our little flower's survival of winter and good intentions, I prefaced my post with a line from a Robert Frost poem, Mending Wall. While I was setting up the previous post just now about a local newspaper covering the reappearance of the flowers in the wild, I sorted through my own old photographs, too impatient to hold out for this year's crop of photos.
I found this one, which I had taken a couple miles from where we collected seeds. This image is perfect for another of my favorite Frost poems, The Tuft of Flowers, which, in its own way, is also fitting for all kinds of virtual co-labor.
The poem relates the melancholy of a field worker alone on a beautiful morning, after his co-laborer has moved on:
But he had gone his way, the grass all mown, And I must be, as he had been,--alone, `As all must be,' I said within my heart, `Whether they work together or apart.'
The laborer is then surprised that his unseen partner has left uncut a tuft of flowers growing among the hay:
A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared. I left my place to know them by their name, Finding them butterfly weed when I came.
The mower in the dew had loved them thus, By leaving them to flourish, not for us, Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him. But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.
Even though his coworker is still out of sight and earshot, this shared beauty unites their spirits and joins their separate tasks into one labor. We too can find things of beauty and leave them for our co-laborers in the next field, or across time.
... and feel a spirit kindred to my own; So that henceforth I worked no more alone; But glad with him, I worked as with his aid, And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;
And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach. `Men work together,' I told him from the heart, `Whether they work together or apart.'
It was encouraging to see in the Today's Zaman online edition that our little flowers --or rather their still wild cousins-- got some press. Last year I didn't go out to the meadow where we collect seeds, so I didn't realize until reading this new article by Zaman that they were down to an area of only 30 square meters. I'm going to use that news article to do some campaigning!
My wife brought to my attention just a few hours ago that today is World Malaria Day. I am a malaria survivor, and since my personal ordeal I need to do my part to promote more awareness of this disease.
Each year malaria infects more than half a billion people and kills more than a million. Most of those who die did not have what I had going for me: general good health and adequate body weight prior to the disease, and access to medical care and medicine.
Like so many preventable diseases that continue to ravage the underdeveloped world, malaria is so devastating because of poverty and powerlessness. Access to basic resources and information goes a long way to fighting malaria, dysentery, tuberculosis and other killers of millions each year.
For more information, you can see the officlal World Malaria Day website, or this excellent article on Wikipedia. The world needs young people who are inspired to put their
knowledge and creativity to work to change the world. We can all help
fan the flame.
Newer readers might not be aware of my contentious school project to protect the beautiful and critically endangered Centaurea tchihattcheffi (yanardöner in Turkish). The natural habitat of this nearly extinct species of the cornflower family is in the vicinity of our school, and for the past few years two of our science teachers and I have bravely fought to propagate seeds on our campus (click here for photos and text from a happier time).
The flower's habitat is threatened by large scale agriculture, Ankara's urban sprawl and, ironically, its failure to be noticed (behavior which I have commented on before). After first collecting seeds in the wild (natural habitat pix here), we carefully prepared a plot close enough to be observed, but just out of the school bus and recess commotion. For a couple years following, we (that is, I) collected seeds, cleaned and sorted them, and then recruited students and colleagues to get a little dirty in the name of species diversity, sowing the seeds in our gradually increasing garden.
Who would have thought three years ago that we ourselves were a threat to our centaurea's survival?
Like I wrote recently concerning the local aversion to disorder, straight lines and right angles are the norm for flower gardens, and our nonconformist self-seeding weeds were a threat to that system. Our well meaning grounds crews and I were constantly in a race, they to restore order, and I to protect disheveled nature. As soon as I got one crew and crew chief on board with the project, they would be reassigned and new workers would show up, hustling to clean up the mess their predecessors apparently had left behind.
I was away for the entire fall semester this year, a critical time for fending off welldoers. When I returned to school in February I was disheartened to see that orderliness had finally won out: the garden was neatly hoed and planted with shrubs in straight little rows. The notion of death by PBL crossed my mind.
A few weeks ago I finally went out to see if anything had survived, and felt the faintest whisper of hope when I found that there were, in fact, a few buds creeping out of the ground. I went back today and saw that quite a few more were popping up at the edges of the plot. I found the newest commander of the gardeners (the 4th in the lifetime of this project) and together we assessed the state of the plot and agreed on a plan and a compromise: once the centaurea were in bloom and easy to spot, workers could go in among them and pull up the other less desirable weeds.
While we were examining the grounds, we found that two had bloomed. I took some quick shots with my mobile phone, as evidence that our project had survived all our best efforts at project based learning.
The title of this post is adapted from the poem Mending Wall, by Robert Frost. The photo is unretouched, taken under heavily overcast skies.
My friend's blog is just an innocent bystander caught in a legal dispute over a jailed cult leader and the press both for and against his cause. Since one blog in English that is hosted by Wordpress was deemed inflammatory, a judge decided that it would be best to just block Wordpress than try to get Wordpress to ban a single blogger (although that strategy did work in a similar debacle with YouTube a few months ago.
As the smoke which rises from such virtual blog bonfires becomes visible to more and more, we can expect the court decision to be reversed. How those who are threatened by such freedom will respond can still apparently go either way, but they are bound to learn that there is now no closing the door to borderless blogging.
When the iPhone came out in late June, the retail price was $599. Now they're going for $399. While that's still out of range for anyone's dreams of a one-iPhone-per-child school project, we can see the gadgets slide down a little closer to the intersection of demand and supply.
According to Steve Jobs, "there will always be people who pay top dollar for the latest electronics but get angry later when the price drops". True, but few expect next generation technologies, and lower prices for the displaced technologies, to hit the market in only three months. Bill Gates seems to always get worse press for his capitalist ventures, but maybe Bill's got some things right about the world that Steve still hasn't learned.