While I might not be blogging as much as in the past, I am spending more time with my notebooks and other writing that just doesn't seem suited to blog posts. So during this in between time --while I am in between fits of blogging, in between a just-finished and a brand-new notebook (the paper kind), and in between the Merry Christmas and the Happy (or, God willing, Happier) New Year -- here's something I just found to help spend three minutes clearing one's head.
We can call it a stocking stuffer of peace and quiet.
I found out about this song today by way of CC Long on the Classroom 2.0 social network. It's Tom Chapin singing Not on the Test. One stanza goes like this:
Thinking's important. It's good to know how. And someday youll learn to, but someday's not now. Go on to sleep now. You need your rest. Don't think about thinking. it's not on the test.
CC had a link to this NPR broadcast clip (link here), but I dug a little deeper and found that the song has its own website, Notonthetest.com, with additional lyrics that include a stanza about the US education policy package called No Child Left Behind. The website is actually advocating for more art and other programs to stimulate creativity, which are being wedged out of education that targets test performance rather than knowledge.
The website also provides suggestions for parents on how to lobby for change, although education policy out here in the rest of the world might be far less susceptible to parental influence. Here, for example, the system is highly centralized with a rigid national curriculum that shackles students to test scores even though its leaders know it shouldn't (here's something I wrote recently about that unfortunate irony). Still, pressing for change is always better than just singing along.
Farm boys with vivid imaginations tend toward science fiction, and since our tiny school library didn't stock that shelf very well, my sympathetic parents let me sign up for the Science Fiction Book Club. One of the first books I got was Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, written by Clarke at the same time he wrote the screenplay for the movie. The idea that space travel could have a mythic, mystical dimension that transcends technology was just the fuel to fire my imagination. It was maybe five years later that I finally saw the movie, but after reading the book the movie was superfluous.
Most people, even Sir Arthur himself, did not always realize how much his thinking crossed back and forth across the boundary between imagination and reality. In the 1940s he believed that man would reach the moon by the year 2000. No one else believed back then, even though he overshot the prediction by 30 years.
The Associated Press reported that, "serving in the wartime Royal Air Force, he wrote a 1945 memo about the possibility of using satellites to revolutionize communications. Clarke later sent it to a publication called Wireless World, which almost rejected it as too far-fetched." But now, a geostationary orbit at 36 000 km is called a "Clarke orbit."
Up until the end Clarke explored and imagined. He had just finished reviewing the manuscript of his latest science fiction novel when we passed away, having already authored more than thirty novels and countless short stories and magazine articles.
Such a creative iron man is both an inspiration and an embarrassment to most of us. I wonder how many of us will keep up and keep ahead as we get up into our 60s and 70s. Or will we succumb to creativity fatigue, watching timidly while our students (and our students' students) pass through paradigm shifts that we today cannot imagine? In twenty years, will we still be twittering at SecondLife seminars, left behind in the dust while whole other new minds commune within other new virtual worlds?
I'm generally impressed by the calibre of students in our IB program, and often imagine that these students would be excellent with or without the IB, that we're just helping provide some structure for their genius.
Here's some support for my theory.
The International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme culminates in each student completing a personal project which is "a significant piece of work that is the product of the student's own initiative and creativity.
Sixteen year old Marco Facciola's personal project was the design and construction of a bicycle made entirely of wood, including the chain, gears and all connectors. He says he just wanted to try something challenging. You can see photos and read more details here.
Well done, Marco! I hope your diploma programme teachers are ready for you.
We had a beautiful snowfall earlier this week, but for many days the landscape was shrouded in dense fog. Only yesterday as the sun came out could we see how the school grounds had been transformed.
I took a one hour vacation to walk the perimeter of the campus and out among the trees to take in the clean air and enjoy the sunlight against the ice. Here are some souvenirs I brought back for you (thanks to Flickr):
As the next installment in my holiday break playtimes creativity enhancement exercises, I'd like to share Language is a Virus, a site of different language art toys that will cure your writer's block and maybe even generate some imaginative blog posts for the next semester.
I took a paragraph from my recent post about Greek bronzes, and put it through the Slice-n-Dice, and discovered some interesting collocations and artificial words, like:
Since several of my readers in countries west of here will be getting a few days off about now, and in this part of the world we'll have a few days after New Year, I thought I'd pass along some fun things this week and next to stir up your creative side.
The Make-a-Flake website has a very cool java thingy that folds your paper, hands you the scissors, and lets you snip away. Unlike the real thing, your fingers don't get all cramped in the scissors, and there's an undo button if you snip off too much! Here's mine:
When you're done, check out some of the others in their gallery.
In the next few days I'll share some other fun things from my creativity+cool links in del.icio.us. Enjoy them with your children both familial and pedagogical, and have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Mutlu Yıllar ve İyi Bayramlar!
We went to Athens a week ago and got to enjoy some of their world class museums. I was glad to have a second, more leisurely visit this time to the National Archaeology Museum, especially the Prehistoric and bronze collections.
The Prehistoric collection has some of the earliest pottery, sculpture and jewelry found in Greece. I was struck this time by how successive technological innovations in ceramics and metal working opened successive floodgates of creativity. It seems that, as soon as a new technological development became diffused, there would follow immediately wave after wave of new designs. Some of these design changes were utilitarian, some were aesthetic, and some even led to the creation of new tools, but the abruptness of these waves of innovation suggest that these hundreds of new ideas were just waiting in people's minds for an opportunity to become real.
I've been browsing in Ideas: a history of thought and invention, from fire to freud by Peter Watson, which talks about the ancient equivalent of patents, wherein kings held the rights to innovations created by their craftsmen and which afforded them economic or political advantages. But as certain technologies like bronze forging and lost wax casting broke away from those restrictions, the knowledge of these technologies spread, and in many different places variations emerged simultaneously, the way that ripples on a pond echo and create new sets of concentric circles.
The museum in Athens displays some rudimentary molds and unfinished castings like this one that illustrate the process of trial and error (read: learning). By about 1750 BC bronze as we know it was perfected from an alloy of copper with tin and other metals. According to Watson, metallic tin never occurs naturally, so bronze depended as well on major developments in mining and smelting. How the ancients learned to identify sources of tin is remarkable in itself.
But as amazing as the explosion of technological knowledge in ancient times was -- extracting metals from ores and working them, glass making, ceramics, tool design -- equally amazing are the beautiful forms that these technologies produced. Little bronze figurines and axe blades are one thing, but to create something like the Jockey of Artemision (ca 140BC) and the youth pictured at the top of this post, required a unique and awesome fusion of ability and imagination (click on the images to enarge).
The ancient creations are surprisingly beautiful even in our post-modern age, and they strike a chord in us from across the centuries. They give us further evidence that technology is not an end in itself, whether it's bronze casting or robotics. Rather, technology is a means for us to release the ideas that are latent in all of us.
The more accessible that any technology becomes, the more we flourish. The more inaccessible that technology, the more it is used for the interests of a few. That's the philosophy behind open source. Technology can be exploited for bad ideas as well as good ones, but who knows what ideas are locked up on the wrong side of a political, economic or digital divide, waiting for the right tool to make them real?
I just came across a gallery of photographs taken by Dick Osseman of the Netherlands, during some 30 different visits to Turkey. He caught some sights that I have enjoyed looking at many times, but also some new perspectives on things that had almost become commonplace for me. It's always amazing to me how photographs can confront you with images that you've seen a hundred times but never really noticed.