The cover of Zangbu’s Story, by Ang Zangbu Sherpa with Diane Scott, shows young Zangbu, a Sherpa boy, gazing at an airplane. Piloting a plane is to become his dream, but to achieve that he has to endure hardships few of us can imagine, and he needs to go to school.
The book describes this true journey. The illustrations by Malcolm Wells alone make it a classic.
His first school is a Sherpa school near Lukla, six hours from his home. It is expected that in two years he is to become the one in the family to learn to read and write, to hold important posts in the village, and to understand land deeds often used to steal land from illiterate Sherpas.
But it is not easy. He has no support at home, no mentor. He must work beforre and after school:
At Sherpa school, grade 1
He struggles not because he is lazy, but because he is working so hard-at pulling weeds and hauling manure in the fields. From the moment it is light until the school bell rings, then from the time he gets out of school until dark–work. But not schoolwork. That must be done, if it is done at all, by the dim light in his cousin’s single open room, where a place by the fire is assigned by age.
Zangbu’s story is not about violent struggles with wolves, or imagined struggles with yetis, though there is some of that. It’s about growing up with hunger, hard work, and abuse rather than with toys and creature comforts. It’s about perseverance and the ability to learn from difficulty, not to become discouraged. It’s also a richly detailed account of the educational challenges for children in mountain villages in Nepal.
Although written for children, Zangbu’s Story is a book that could inspire and teach any adult as well.
On Friday, staff from More Than Words (MTW) worked with members of the Friends of Wellfleet Library (FWL) to load donated books for sale in one of two Boston-area stores and online. The books filled a medium-sized truck and weighed 2.75 tons.
That’s a lot of books! Even so, the MTW truck will need to return for more books in a couple of weeks. Once, they managed to carry twice as much, but that pushes the safety limits on a medium-sized truck.
Backing the MTW truck up to the shed
On this day, a couple of MTW workers joined with Friends volunteers loading books by passing them in a chain from one hand to another.
I thought the names would be easy for me since I was positioned with two Stephen’s before me and one after, but I found that it caused confusion when I’d call out, “careful, Stephen, that box is breaking!”
Book donations to the Library
These books and others were donated by people who care about the Wellfleet Library. Occasionally a book may fit Library collection needs, but generally the idea is that they will be sold during the two summer book sales or from a sale rack in the Library. Some of the children’s books are given to new parents or to families involved in a summer reading program.
Filling gaylords with books, 500 pounds each
The sales have been extremely successful, raising thousands of dollars for Library needs. Receipts from the sales supplement the Library budget, making possible museum passes, children’s programs, online tools such as Freegal and Zinnio, special equipment purchase, computer user support, special books and periodicals, and audio visual materials for documenting the life and times of the community.
But there are always some books that don’t sell. In the past, many of these met their end in the recycle bin. But for the last three years, MTW and FWL have partnered to give the books an extended life, one that amplifies the reach and benefits of the Library.
More Than Words
The partnership helps More Than Words (MTW), a significant, nonprofit social enterprise in the Boston area. MTW “empowers youth who are in the foster care system, court involved, homeless, or out of school to take charge of their lives by taking charge of a business.” Youth in the program have managed an online bookselling operation since 2004. They are challenged with authentic and increasing responsibilities in a business setting, along with high expectations and a culture of support.
MTW opened a lively bookstore on Moody St in Waltham in 2005 and added a coffee bar in 2008. The model was replicated in the South End of Boston in 2011, doubling the impact of the program. Even so, the Wellfleet donation is about all that MTW can handle from Cape Cod.
Serving multiple needs
Helpers of all ages
I’ve always felt that the summer books sales serve multiple worthy goals: raising money for Library collections and programs, making low-cost books available to those who need them, bringing community together through a shared project, informing people about the Library, and preserving a literate tradition. Even a book that doesn’t sell helps with some of those purposes. But I was sad to think that even one book might end up as recycled paper.
Through More Than Words, many books continue their good work. They become available to a larger audience, both in the metropolis of Boston and through the worldwide online market. More importantly, the book sales offer young people an opportunity to learn business skills, to further their education, and to develop as individuals. Now, although I still hope that FWL racks up good numbers in the summer sales, I’m glad to see that many of the books continue to serve additional purposes.
Whaler and fishing vessels near the Coast of Labrador, William Bradford
I’ve been learning about Desmond X. Holdridge, starting with a quote about boats from his book about sailing around Newfoundland and Labrador:
For boats, even the uglier ones, are among the loveliest creations of man’s hands, and though owning them brings a train of debts, hangnails, bruises, bad frights and all kinds of worries not experienced by those who content themselves with more practical vices, the relation between a man and his boat is as personal and intimate as the relation between husband and wife. –Desmond Holdridge, Northern lights: A voyage into danger, 1939
Holdridge was an explorer and author who lived a short, but interesting life (1907-1946). It was filled with dangerous expeditions and the extreme versions of the nautical disasters that I thought only I could create. He died in an automobile accident near Baltimore (Democratic Advocate, April 19, 1946).
When Holdridge was 14 he fitted a rowboat with a sail. Soon after, he was caught in a squall and crashed the boat. At age 18 he and two others sailed a 32-foot schooner for six months around Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Labrador. A five-day gale battered his boat to pieces on that trip but they were rescued by another schooner.
Holdridge was again feared lost at age 21. He visited Labrador in to find evidence of Martin Frobisher’s colony from his search for the Northwest Passage in 1576, possibly on Resolution Island.
Not long after that, Holdridge went on an expedition to the jungles of southern Venezuela. His camp was attacked one night, but the attackers fled when he blew the campfire into flames.
The end of the river (film)
Holdridge wrote about that expedition in several books, including the novel, The End of the River, about a South American Indian boy who leaves the jungle for the city where he is accused of murder. That novel was the basis for a film produced by Powell & Pressburger (1947), which was made in Brazil.
He also wrote technical articles, such as “Exploration between the Rio Branco and the Serra Parima” for Geographical Review (1933). He writes there:
The section of northern Brazil enclosed by the Negro, Branco, and Uraricoera rivers and the Serra Parima has long been indicated on maps of Brazil as terra incognita and it was in the hope of finding there aboriginal cultures unchanged by contact with white men that the writer’s expedition was undertaken. During the seven months from May to November, 1932, explorations were conducted on three of the five large tributaries of the Amazon system that have their sources in the Serra Parima–the Catrimany, Demini, and Aracat.
Throughout the several journeys low mountains at strategic points were ascended and bearings taken from them on near–by and distant peaks and sketches made. The resulting network of bearings constitutes a rough triangulation of the whole region and with the photographs and sketches has made possible the construction of a map giving an approximate representation of the topography. A part of the Brazil-Venezuela boundary, following the crest of the Serra Parima, lies within this area, and as a consequence its delineation will be quite different from any shown heretofore.
Holdridge lived for the adventure and writing about it. Speaking of a Labrador storm, he says:
that storm was another symbol, a symbol for the absolute of insensate fury… And here, I think, is the reason for much seafaring, especially for the kind that is conducted in small boats. From the experience of such dreadful chaos there is a catharsis obtainable from no possible work of art…
in the flying Dolphin, her very presence on the surface not predictable even for seconds into the future…
the coexistence of abysmal terror and god-like elation is responsible for much seafaring, especially the small-boat kind… the survivor feels that, if he can design and build the perfect vessel, there will be no terror and only that tremendous thrill. Hence the buckets of drawing ink and the miles of timber that go every year into the building of small seagoing yachts, accompanied always by more money than their owners can afford, and it must make an economic determinist feel like a fool. –Desmond Holdridge, Northern lights: A voyage into danger, 1939
I’ve been reading about Metis, a Dewey-free library classification system developed and implemented in 2011 by the librarians at the Ethical Culture School in New York City (Kaplan et al., 2013). The system places the thinking, interests, information needs and information-seeking behavior of children at its center. It was developed as an alternative to the Dewey decimal system, which is currently the most commonly used system in school and children’s sections of public libraries.
Metis is named for the Titan Metis, who was the mother of Athena. The Greek word metis means a quality that combines wisdom and cunning. The system is designed to encourage productive independent browsing and successful catalog searching by children. Its emphasis on situation specificity, flexibility, and user-centered design is closer to John Dewey than to Melvil Dewey. I liked this on the Metis site:
Our decision to create Metis is a result of our progressive approach to education and the library. The system isn’t a cut-down version of adult thinking. Kids feel empowered to navigate the library because it is organized in a way that they understand. Metis increases the success rate of finding books, which fosters self-reliance and produces joyous discovery.
The Metis main categories are based on studies of the practices of young children. They put users and their needs and interests at its center, and curriculum, collection, and library geography second. In contrast to the Dewey system, they are not meant to reflect the state of human knowledge or depict the relationship of one branch of knowledge to another. The categories are ordered using the letters of the alphabet, A-Z. This is the only code that is not whole language.
For example, H. Arts, might include art books, biographies of artists, and fiction featuring artists, whereas in most other systems those would all be in widely separate categories. U. Scary is a category of special interest to children, either as one to seek or one to avoid. G. MakingStuff would include cooking, model building, magic tricks, and crafts of all kinds.
Some obvious concerns about Metis are whether youthful readers can make the transition to other systems. One critic asked “What happens to these children when they arrive at a college or university and need to learn the Library of Congress classification system?” Notwithstanding the fact that very few college-educated adults presently learn LC, I’m inclined to support an experiment aimed at getting children to read more. Moving to another school could present problems, too, but seeing classification as a human construction could be a valuable learning experience in itself.
Almost a century ago, Célestin Freinet developed a classification scheme with a similar motivation, to facilitate the easy finding of documents. It was also for his Bibliothèque de Travail, a collection of student and teacher-made booklets for the classroom. The Freinet classification is also a simple system, similar to the Dewey decimal system, and reliant on the decimal coding.
There are 12 major divisions, such as 1.32. Plants, 1.43. Animals, and 1.54. Other sciences, with subdivisions and sub-subdivisions. Many educators see it as more logical and natural for school work than the Dewey system, although it is closer to that than is Metis. The Freinet classification is still used in the libraries of some elementary schools.
I’ll be interested to see how well these alternatives work and how much they spread to other libraries.
It’s fun to visit the famous sites when traveling, even if only to see all the diverse people coming to see those same sites. But What I tend to remember and value most are the unplanned, mundane, and more local adventures.
On Friday in Bucharest, there was one such involving worms. I was speaking at the aptly named “Friday meeting” at the university. The topic of planning in teaching (exploring the important sites?) came up and I had to share a story that Jack Easley, a math and science educator, had told.
Jack had been working in a second grade class, guiding a six week long unit on weather. Pupils learned about clouds, precipitation, storms, weather measurement, agriculture, and other such important topics, taught, I’m sure in a creative and engaging way. On the last day, it was raining outside until just before the class ended. Jack knew that there might be a rainbow. Viewing that could be an exciting culmination for the unit.
He took the class outside, preparing to discuss the visible light spectrum, refraction, moisture in air, and others such topics. But the pupils weren’t interested. While Jack was looking up, they were looking down at the closer and and more ordinary. He was a latter day Thales at risk of falling into a well while gazing at the stars. The children’s observations of the worms led them to ask, “Why do worms come out of the ground after a rain?”
Soil, plants, worms
Jack started to answer, then realized that he didn’t really know. So he asked the students to write down their question for scientists at the university. It turned out they had many ideas, but didn’t really know, either. A few days later a long article came out in the New York Times, saying that this was an important question for science and for agriculture, but the answer wasn’t simple. Even today, there is a lot to say about why earthworms surface after rain?. Jack saw that the pupils became most excited about their own question, which in turn was more like the science that scientists do.
Catalina Ulrich, a professor at the University of Bucharest, and my host, appeared to be quite excited by this little story. She pulled out her smartphone to show photos (shown here). Just the day before she had been observing in a crèche (preschool), where the children had been fighting over a bike. But then, one of them discovered a worm. Like Jack’s students, these even younger ones saw that soil and worms were more interesting and more attractive than whatever else they had been doing, and than many people might think.
That evening, we had dinner at the home of Claudia Șerbănuță. I needed a toilet break, and as is my habit, couldn’t avoid looking at the reading material there. Right on top was Doreeen Cronin’s Diary of a Worm.
The book describes the world from a worm’s point of view. For example, in the beginning, it tells you the three rules about worms that you must never forget. The third rule is “Never bother Daddy when he’s eating the newspaper.” When I came out, I asked Claudia’s children about the book. Could they tell me the three things we must always remember?
They grew quite excited and shouted out the third rule in unison. When I asked about the others they weren’t so sure. The other two have something to do with how worms live, the making of soil, the interdependence of life, or global food supply. I couldn’t remember them either.
Temple Bar is an area with narrow, cobbled streets on the south bank of the Liffey in central Dublin. It’s famous the world over for its lively nightlife, but that’s not high on my list of reasons to visit it. There are better places in Dublin to experience Irish food and music, ones where you’re more likely to encounter people who actually live in Ireland. However, the area does offer much that’s special, such as the Irish Film Institute.
One that we just discovered is The Icon Walk, a project of The Icon Factory. It’s located just off Fleet Street, along Aston Place, Bedford Lane, and Price’s Lane. Local artists have transformed the lanes into an open air gallery of Irish culture. It’s recently been awarded approval as a UNESCO City of Literature site.
Someone described the Walk as a twenty minute activity, but it deserves more than that. There’s a great collection of photographs, drawings, paintings accompanying sayings of famous writers and artists, descriptions of moments in the history of sports, movies, fashion, and more.
Arriving at the Playwrights section, we read,
Around 1610, Shakespeare wrote the “The Tempest” and retired to Stratford on Avon where he died in 1613. Queen Elizabeth I having completed the conquest of Ireland was dead. The last of the great leaders, O’Neill and O’Donnell were gone to Spain and Ulster planted with Crown subjects.
Between 1613 and the War Of independence in 1922, which won back self rule for most of Ireland, no play of real merit was written in the English language by anyone other than by an Irish-born writer.
The selected icons–Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, and Oscar Wilde–won’t be enough to convince everyone of that claim, but their collective oeuvre is amazing.
Along the walk, you can see many great images produced by a wide variety of artists. A few of those are on the website, but the majority are visible only on the walk itself. They’re best seen that way, in any case, in the context of the other artworks and Temple Bar itself.
One of the best parts for me was the individual quotes, both from writer’s works and from their lives. For example, we read,
Beckett went on to live with an older woman who was not exactly a barrel of laughs. She took the phonecall that informed them of Samuel’s Nobel Prize. “This is a disaster, our lives are ruined” she responded.
In the eighties, Beckett was invited to Germany to direct “Waiting For Godot”. When presented with the script which he had not read in many years he exclaimed; “This thing needs a good edit”.
John Hume, third from left
(Again, however, most of these texts exist only on the walls. I hope there will be an exhibition book at some point.)
One thing I learned was that in 2010 John Hume was chosen in an RTÉ survey as Ireland’s Greatest. He was also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1998), the Gandhi Peace Prize, and the Martin Luther King award. He had modeled his own work for equality in citizenship on that of Gandhi and King. Unfortunately, his peaceful work was disrupted by violence and the “troubles” began. Hume became a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. Through speeches, marches, hunger strikes, dialogues, and long-term negotiations, Hume was behind many of the developments and agreements toward peace in Ireland, and later for European unity.
You can get a sense of the walk from the video below (only part of which is in English):
As we’re about to set off on a trip both to explore and to discuss progressive education, I’m thinking about the example of the Misiones Pedagógicas in Spain in the early 1930’s.
My colleague, Iván M. Jorrín Abellán, just sent a link to a digital copy of the 1934 report: Patronato de Misiones Pedagógicas : septiembre de 1931-diciembre de 1933, in the collection of the Bibliotecas de Castilla y León. It tells the story of the Misiones through text, photos, and a map. Even if your Spanish is as poor as mine you can enjoy the many photos and get enough of the text to appreciate the project.
Some of the photos of uplifted, smiling faces are a bit much for today’s cynical eyes. Still, it’s hard to deny that something important was happening for both the villagers and the missionaries.
The Misiones Pedagógicas were a project of cultural solidarity sponsored by the government of the Second Spanish Republic, created in 1931 and dismantled by Franco at the end of the civil war. Led by Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, the Misiones included over five hundred volunteers from diverse backgrounds: teachers, artists, students, and intellectuals. A former educational missionary, Carmen Caamaño, said in an interview in 2007:
We were so far removed from their world that it was as if we came from another galaxy, from places that they could not even imagine existed, not to mention how we dressed or what we ate, or how we talked. We were different. –quoted in Roith (2011)
Listening to music, outdoors
The Misiones eventually reached about 7,000 towns and villages. They established 5,522 libraries comprising more than 600,000 books. There were hundreds of performances of theatre and choir and exhibitions of painting through the traveling village museum.
We are a traveling school that wants to go from town to town. But a school where there are no books of registry, where you do not learn in tears, where there will be no one on his knees as formerly. Because the government of the Republic sent to us, we have been told we come first and foremost to the villages, the poorest, the most hidden and abandoned, and we come to show you something, something you do not know for always being so alone and so far from where others learn, and because no one has yet come to show it to you, but we come also, and first, to have fun. –Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, December 1931
There’s an excellent documentary on the Misiones, with English subtitles. It conveys simultaneously the grand vision and the naïveté, the successes and the failures. As Caamaño says, “something unbelievable arrived” [but] “it lasted for such a short time.”
Watching a film
In her study of Spanish visual culture from 1929 to 1939, Jordana Mendelson (2005) examines documentary films and other re-mediations of materials from the Misiones experience. Her archival research offers a fascinating contemporary perspective on the cultural politics of that turbulent decade, including the intersections between avant-garde artists and government institutions, rural and urban, fine art and mass culture, politics and art.
I’m struck by several thoughts as I view the documentation on the Misiones. Today’s Spain is more literate, more urban, more “modern”. But although the economic stresses are different, they have not disappeared. There are still challenges, in some ways greater, for achieving economic and educational justice.
Iván and other educators are asking how the spirit of the Misiones might influence community-based pedagogy in current times. Their experiences have lessons for those outside of Spain as well.
Roith, Christian (2011).High culture for the underprivileged: The educational missions in the Spanish Second Republic 1931 – 1936. In Claudia Gerdenitsch & Johanna Hopfner, (eds.), Erziehung und bildung in ländlichen regionen–Rural education (pp. 179-200). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
The talk reminded me of the devastation of the Haiti earthquake. As bad as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in California was, the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan was many times worse than that in terms of deaths and homes destroyed. But the Haiti earthquake was many times worse than Japan’s with as many as 300,000 killed and 1.5-2 million homeless. The current cholera epidemic shows that even a terrible situation can become worse.
Haiti has neither the money nor the technical expertise to recover, and half of the people are under age 21 (some sources say half are under 18). It’s also one of our closest neighbors, and many of its problems are directly traceable to the US’s unquestioning support for the Duvaliers’ dictatorship that robbed the country of what little it had. Last year, the world pledged $5 billion in aid, which was not nearly enough, but then delivered on only a third of that.
It’s inspiring, and humbling, to see how Haitians continue to live, to create, and to work together in spite of challenges no one should have to face alone.
In a 2006 book, Healing Psychiatry: Bridging the Science/Humanism Divide, David H. Brendel notes that psychiatry “is torn by opposing sensibilities. Is it primarily a science of brain functioning or primarily an art of understanding the human mind in its social and cultural context?” He sees the divide between science and humanism as a sickness of psychiatry, one that makes it difficult to heal the emotional conflicts and wounds of patients.
To address the divide, he turns to the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. He presents pragmatism in a simple formula (the four P’s) that could apply to most other domains (e.g., Shields, 2008):
the practical dimensions of all scientific inquiry;
the pluralistic nature of the phenomena studied by science and the tools that are used to study those phenomena;
the participatory role of many individuals with different perspectives in the necessarily interpersonal process of scientific inquiry;
and the provisional and flexible character of scientific explanation. (Brendel, 2006, p. 29)
Any such formula has its limitations, but this one seems remarkably effective at capturing salient aspects of pragmatism. The first p, practical, emphasizes pragmatism’s insistence on considering the consequences of any concept, to steer away from abstractions and idealizations that have no conceivable effects in our ordinary experience. The second p, pluralistic, reflects the fact that pragmatism is not so much one method or theory, but rather, an approach that considers any tools that may increase understanding, thereby achieving better practical consequences. It also reflects the assumption that interesting phenomena are unlikely to be captured within a simple category or single way of viewing. The third p, participatory, follows from the second in that multiple perspectives, Peirce’s community of inquiry, are needed to accommodate a pluralistic understanding. And the fourth p, provisional (cf. fallibilism), acknowledges that in a complex and ever-changing world, any understanding is subject to change as we learn more or as events occur.
Brendel, David H. (2006). Healing psychiatry: Bridging the science/humanism divide. Cambridge, Ma: MIT Press.
Shields, Patricia M. (2008, March/April). Rediscovering the taproot: Is classical pragmatism the route to renew public administration? Public Administration Review, 68, (2), 205-221. Washington, DC. (PAR Interview)