Monday, 9 January 2017

Week 1: Not like riding a bicycle


Last week was the first time since 1972 that I did not have to go to school. I finally left school. Possibly to return in the near future. Maybe. But I think that school left me first so I guess we are even.
I will miss school. No, I will not miss school. I will miss the students. And my colleagues. I will miss my open door policy and all the queries, chats, laments, confessions, complaints, accusations, rants that it encouraged and legitimised in the intimate context of speaker and listener, a transient and momentary complicity that validated teachers' feelings and made individuals visible.
I would like to blog about my unrequited love for school but it would sound contrived with resonances from The Sorrows of Young Werther; The Sorrows of a Middle-Aged Educator or Kafka on the Shore; Dr A. on the Bike.. It would be a reading chore, a bore, to rehash the cliched give-and-take discourse, the journey-vs-the-destination argument, the individualist/collectivist debate. But I do love school. I did and I do love school that is a reincarnated, a reimagined town square where citizens come together with their unique voices in symphony to articulate a future vision, to heal and to foster love for peace, respect and equality. 
Now I will take a break from the education of others and invest in the education of my self. The last time my life was focused solely and entirely on *my* education was in my twenties. And back then the existential angst and the fear of living conspired to withhold the climax of the lust for learning and awareness. I will relish catching up with the news over coffee in the morning and I will read voraciously. I will maintain my professional role and persona without the anxiety and the desperation of a broken heart. After half a century on this wretched earth I feel I have license to stop and ponder and reflect on and mull over events, sensations, ideas, thoughts and feelings.
One of my resolutions during this period of suspended activity, uninterrupted introspection and undisturbed focus is to blog about my readings and about education. The last couple of weeks I read Elizabeth Jane Howard's The Cazalet Chronicles, Gloria Steinem's My Life on the Road and Olivia Laing's The Trip to Echo Spring, but Brain Pickings is already out there and I do not feel ready yet to give the experience the physical dimension of language. Suffice it to say it has been profoundly delightful and rewarding, but it has not been easy to return to a mental state of complete detachment from schedule, routine, and work, to practise immersive attention and to fend off the sirens of connectivity.
Still, the most significant accomplishment of my first week off school has been to fall off my stationary bike. A laughable incident indeed, but totally predictable considering I was trying to climb on it while holding my Kindle in a way that I would not touch the screen and lose my place. To what extent is a huge bruise on my thigh more threatening and painful than "subjective dispersal and discontinuity"? 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

On Friendship

For GA and AK, for being here and there at the same time.

Self-proclaimed third culture adult that i am, i ponder often on the issues of loss, identity and direction. But what i miss most on rainy days are my friends. And i am not sure where they are.
I have to ponder these questions often. They take different shapes and forms when i consider them in different contexts, in fluctuating landscapes.

From the displaced person's point of view, friendship has existentialist associations that strive to create a meaningful connection. Who am i without my companions? And where could i be going?

From an educator's point of view, is friendship an item on the agenda of moral education? And should we be talking about moral education? I think we should. I think the reason why teachers have not been replaced by robots, the reason why schools and educational communities still exist is because they are loci of moral education. Perceptions of and insights into the 'other' as well as self-awareness of a self-realizing kind can only arise from a moral education that is enmeshed with understanding of the world and of its predicament.

From an international educator's point of view, moral education is a minefield of diversity, lending itself to relativism, this quagmire of 'subjectivity' and self-absorption. Sometimes i cringe when students say "well, it depends on the individual". As a parental figure, i see the dangers in that statement. As an international educator, i see this statement as a question, a question about our values and our selves as individuals responsible for this life, this world that we inhabit. If i were to preach one value to my students, that would be friendship, with a reference to Cicero's writings that "in friendship there is nothing feigned, nothing pretended, and whatever there is in it is both genuine and spontaneous. Friendship, therefore, springs from nature rather than from need, -- from an inclination of the mind with a certain consciousness of love rather than from calculation of the benefit to be derived from it."

There is hope for each of us as individuals and there is hope for the world if we believe that we are indeed inclined with a certain consciousness of love.

I want to go to school tomorrow and meet my friends, other individuals inclined with a certain consciousness of love. I will share with other individuals inclined with a certain consciousness of love. And i will make sure that although i will be talking about Caryl Churchill's Top Girls i will find an opportunity to tell my students that they are individuals inclined with a certain consciousness of love. And this is moral education with a little help from my friends.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The year in review (in other people's voices)


1. C. P. Cavafy:
Too bad that, cut out as you are
for grand and noble acts,
this unfair fate of yours
never offers encouragement, always denies you success;
that cheap habits get in your way,
pettiness, or indifference.
And how terrible the day you give in
(the day you let go and give in)
and take the road for Susa
and go to King Artaxerxes,
who, well-disposed, gives you a place at his court
and offers you satrapies and things like that—
things you don’t want at all,
though, in despair, you accept them just the same.
You long for something else, ache for other things:
praise from the Demos and the Sophists,
that hard-won, that priceless acclaim—
the Agora, the Theatre, the Crowns of Laurel.
You can’t get any of these from Artaxerxes,
you’ll never find any of these in the satrapy,
and without them, what kind of life will you live?  


2. Liz Stephan:
"You choose what you will let lie in the margins of your consciousness."

3. Ursula K. Le Guin:
"Those who build walls are their own prisoners. I’m going to go fulfill my proper function in the social organism. I’m going to go unbuild walls."

4. Mike Biggs:
"I pretend I am an astronaut and I have landed on a weird planet."

5. Paul Auster:
“In other words: It seems to me that I will always be happy in the place where I am not. Or, more bluntly: Wherever I am not is the place where I am myself. Or else, taking the bull by the horns: Anywhere out of the world.” 

6. Tamsin Kiouzelis:
"Thank you for letting me embark on a journey of self-discovery."

7. Friedrich Nietzsche:
"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."  

8. Lucky:
Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast heaven to hell so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labours left unfinished crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard it is established beyond all doubt all other doubt than that which clings to the labours of men that as a result of the labours unfinished of Testew and Cunard it is established as hereinafter but not so fast for reasons unknown that as a result of the public works of Puncher and Wattmann it is established beyond all doubt that in view of the labours of Fartov and Belcher left unfinished for reasons unknown of Testew and Cunard left unfinished it is established what many deny that man in Possy of Testew and Cunard that man in Essy that man in short that man in brief in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation is seen to waste and pine waste and pine and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding conating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports of all sorts autumn summer winter winter tennis of all kinds hockey of all sorts penicilline and succedanea in a word I resume and concurrently simultaneously for reasons unknown to shrink and dwindle in spite of the tennis I resume flying gliding golf over nine and eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell to shrink and dwindle I resume Fulham Clapham in a word the dead loss per caput since the death of Bishop Berkeley being to the tune of one inch four ounce per caput approximately by and large more or less to the nearest decimal good measure round figures stark naked in the stockinged feet in Connemara in a word for reasons unknown no matter what matter the facts are there and considering what is more much more grave that in the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman it appears what is more much more grave that in the light the light the light of the labours lost of Steinweg and Peterman that in the plains in the mountains by the seas by the rivers running water running fire the air is the same and than the earth namely the air and then the earth in the great cold the great dark the air and the earth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas in the year of their Lord six hundred and something the air the earth the sea the earth abode of stones in the great deeps the great cold an sea on land and in the air I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull to shrink and waste and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard (mêlée, final vociferations) tennis... the stones... so calm... Cunard... unfinished...

9. Banana Yoshimoto:
“As I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won't let my spirit be destroyed.”

10. Roz Trudgon:
"You put the paper in front of you, you put the criteria next to it, you take a pen in your hand, and this is how you mark."

11. My father:
"Καλύτερα κερατάς παρά κακομοίρης."

12. Noam Chomsky:
“The kind of work that should be the main part of life is the kind of work you would want to do if you weren't being paid for it. It's work that comes out of your own internal needs, interests and concerns.” 

13. Brent Whitted:
"La-la-la..."

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Waiting for Auster


A couple of weeks ago I attended an interview/discussion with Paul Auster. I am not sure what it was that drove me to take a four-hour flight just to be a witness -one of many- of a public conversation. I have read all his works, i have seen the movies he wrote and/or co-directed, i have listened to many interviews he has given, and yet, i went to the trouble of taking time off from work, catching a plane and standing in line to be admitted into the crowded auditorium. His place on the stage was indicated by a simple sign that said -very simply and plainly- "Paul Auster". I sat in the crowd. I had no sign to indicate my presence other than the fact that i was there. That's what i knew to be true.

I arrived a day late. If i had taken the morning flight the day before, as opposed to the red-eye flight that saved me some time and money, i would have met Paul Auster in person. Maybe we could have exchanged a few words, maybe we would have had a profound conversation, maybe we could have elaborated on stories, narratives of the reader and the writer, where trajectories intersect at moments of empathy. Or maybe not. I arrived in good time to find a seat in the fourth row of the auditorium. It was the closest i could get to Paul Auster as a physical being. Was i really hoping to feel the physical proximity? Was i expecting it to have an effect on me? Incur some mental transformation or some epiphanic experience? No. Before getting on the plane, i had called home to say goodbye (a precaution of some sort, a pre-emptive gesture of the umentionable possibility of  perishing mid-air) and my husband said "enjoy the presentation; ask him a lot of questions". But i had no questions for Paul Auster; i never had any questions for Paul Auster. My students have many questions, questions of the work they study, "The New York Trilogy". But like the wise imperfect human beings that they are, they never seek to question Paul Auster, the man on the cover of the book, the one that put the words together, the auteur, the master-builder. They question the world in the work, they question their assumptions, they probe into what they feel and perceive, but they too have no questions for Paul Auster.

One can construct thousands of questions about deconstructing the work, identifying the references to the genre of the American novel, the intetextuality in the works, the geography of identity, the search for the self, the subtle Beckettian twists. One can proceed to dismantle the architecture of the characters' (or the author's) discontent, search for instances of cosmic rhyming, observe the mechanics of reality as it is exposed in a storyline that turns upon itself. One can interrogate the goose that laid the golden egg. Where did it come from and how can we get our hands on it, how can we make it ours, ours, ours, and keep it forever? How can we possess the work, a piece of the author, a sliver of his inspiration, a fragment of his existence? I sat there quietly and waited for the Q&A to finish. This is the man who created a world i inhabit. One of many worlds i inhabit as a reader, but the one that i have come to wish to inhabit. A world that i enter effortlessly and without shame or self-consciousness. Is it the humility and humanity of that world and its creator that grant me license to call it my own? Is it some invisible algorithm that led me to the entrance of this world? And is this something i would need to know and understand?

"Maybe after the book signing we can get you to meet him" my friend, John, his agent, said to me. And i started waiting for Paul Auster. We had dinner, a bottle of wine, and i waited. We walked by the restaurant where he was having dinner with the publishers. We went back to his hotel and canceled the message we had left for him. I waited. As i was secretly hoping for the cosmic rhyme that would have Paul Auster bumping into us outside the restaurant, or the hotel, i was also thinking that this would have been too trivial, too obvious, too mundane. John was torn. We got into the car and started on our way home. On the way we kept deliberating whether we should go back. John felt he hadn't kept his promise that i would get to meet the author; maybe shake the hand of the duck after enjoying the foie gras? This is not how cosmic rhyming works. One cannot invent the mechanics of reality for oneself or for others. Some are waiting for the barbarians. Some are waiting for Godot. I am waiting for Auster.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Here and There but Nowhere






Picture from a recent school trip. Its symbolism rekindled the awareness of my diasporic identity as a citizen and a teacher. Unfortunately, a third space passport does not exist.


Thursday, 26 April 2012

What about the Good Stuff?


The life of man is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" but this does not entail that good things do not happen. However, the worst thing that could happen to us and maybe Hobbes did not anticipate it was the additional time famine from which we are suffering today. I have not blogged for a while; teaching, examining, mentoring, parenting and studying have left me with no time to blog. Not much time to make a note of the good things happening, despite the fact that life IS nasty, brutish and short for a great number, if not all, human beings. It is a sad state of affairs when you do not make a note of the good things. To train myself to do this, i have divided my to-do list in four parts. Important Stuff, Good Stuff, Boring Stuff and Very Boring Stuff. (My friend, LS, suggested we add another section, Daunting Stuff. I am considering collapsing Boring and Very Boring or Important and Good, to allow for a neat division of the page in four parts. I am not sure when i will reach a decision, as i am debating whether the Important Stuff is necessarily Good or the Good Stuff necessarily Important. Issues of definition, perception and experience are standing in the way of groundbreaking developments in the area of to-do-list-making, but Daunting will definitely be there.)

So here is my confession: my Good Stuff list since the last time i blogged. I hope i am forgiven.

1. My Year 1 students had an interactive oral session on Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto that made the room come alive with ideas and possibilities. The concept of the three-star question that i picked up from Erica McWilliam challenged them to higher levels of probing into the text and understanding its ambiguities. LS was there to witness it all and that made the experience even more precious, for the students who felt appreciated and worth observing, and for me, navigating my way in the new course (with so many others in the sidelines of the OCC forum) looking for good practice and improved student performance.

2. My lovely boarding student, S, prefaced this stimulating event with an equally stimulating and very enlightening presentation on Japanese culture. Might i add that she took the time to read the book in both languages before addressing my students? (No category exists for these experiences and the eagerness with which she picked up the phone to call her mother in Japan and ask her to send us a copy of the original).

2. The final draft of the second assignment for the online course was turned in on time. The design of a learning network for IB teachers with a focus on their professional development by creating a learning environment and a learning space for them has been completed. (Surprisingly, despite being famished for time, i did manage to spend a couple of days on JSTOR and other databases researching... ) Yes, the idea of a space where teachers can share what we know, learn more, share ideas, connect ourselves to individuals, professional communities and learning organizations is Good Stuff.

3. Quality time with the librarian=balm for the soul. Our lovely librarian had a little project prepared for World Book Day and i gave her a hand setting it up. (If she were to allow coffee drinking in the library i would seriously consider moving in there.) Her idea brought together book suggestions by members of staff and the outcome was an interesting list of books from around the world, dated from 200BC to 2012, books that can make one cry or laugh, books that have changed our lives. On that day i read an excerpt at school assembly from a book that i had chosen, viz. Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy, and our librarian tells me that students did ask her about it later. Several approached me asking for the title and the author again. This is Really Good Stuff.

4. Exams are approaching. We are all in one piece and getting there. This year i find myself in both camps. I will be examining and invigilating, but also sitting exams next month on the same day as our Economics and Biology IB students, in another venue and for another purpose. In solidarity with our IB students who are studying i moved my reading 'corner' outside. Where the sun is shining.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Where do I go?

A former student posted this on facebook with the comment that this is something i could have used in my teaching with her class. No matter what one thinks of the artist or the song, this is one great compliment to receive as a teacher. Thank you, JNM.