Be More Than One Thing

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I’ve read a lot about branding. As a small biz owner I’ve heard I should focus on ONE THING.

my little treasure boxes

my little treasure boxes

See I’m a writing coach, but I’m also the director, producer and star of some short comedy films. Oh, and I make little treasure boxes. And I’m an advocate for kids’ creative learning. I love religion. I’m into improv and stand up comedy. I am totally a feminist and global peace-lover. I support Parkinson’s Disease causes. I occasionally run 5Ks. I review Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Mostly, I’m a blogger.

See, what I mean? It’s impossible to put myself in a box.

How can I be just one thing? How can you?

In our frenzied, distracted society, it may be that we only give ourselves time to label each other as one thing.

Ken Norton, back in the day.

Ken Norton, back in the day. (courtesy of boxingkodvds)

I was thinking about this this morning when a brilliant friend and student of mine (yes, they’re ALL brilliant!) posted an article about the death of Ken Norton. See, Matthew Baker knows a lot about boxing. He also takes people on Beautiful New York tours, and is a super-involved dad and lover of Broadway.

I wonder how Matt brands himself? Boxing enthusiast? Blogger? Tour guide? Dad? Actually, I don’t care how he brands himself. I am interested in his voice.

I read Matt’s article about Norton, not because I have any interest in boxing, but because I have an interest in Baker’s take on boxing. So rather than focusing on what we do, let’s focus on who we are. Let’s listen to the voices of complex people in our midst.

We are all complicated people. Complications bring new insights into old subjects. Be Renaissance women and men with many interests, not just one. It may be easier to brand yourself but who wants to be easy. Be interesting.

I know a little about a lot. Thanks to Matt, today, I know a little more about boxing. And I got this great line from Matt’s article. “He always treated me like I was somebody.” That’s what Tyson said about Norton. That’s nice. Maybe Norton saw that Tyson was more than just one thing (I’ve always labeled Tyson as a screw up.)

Maybe when we stop branding ourselves and others we can be a little more compassionate. Maybe people are more than screw ups. Maybe people are more than their brand. I am.

This reminds me of the headmaster’s advice, inspired by Wittgenstein, “Be a duck-rabbit.” I blogged a while back about  Dominic Randolph’s brilliant advice to Riverdale 8th graders.

Be more than one thing. Don’t brand yourself.

Learning Is Not Easy

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I found my kids’ classrooms and tried not to embarrass them by drawing attention to my enthusiasm for learning.

As reported in the Times magazine article (What if the Secret to Success is Failure? by Paul Tough), the head of school at Riverdale, Dominic Randolph, is passionate about developing character and resilience. On Parents’ Day, Randolph spoke about his passion for learning. Here are some of Randolph’s remarks and my responses:

1. Grammar, syntax — this skills are important. But more important is voice. Voice is mystical. “Finding voice and developing it is like tending to a campfire in the night; it is easily bulldozed.”

Love this. I can have skills but I need craft, which leads me to my unique voice. Craft only shows up when I write daily. Writing, like meditation, is a practice, not an achievement. Voice is difficult to attain and easily dismissed.

2. For skills and knowledge to stick — and our writing to be compelling, simple, elegant — we need emotion and story.

Humans are wired to love stories. There is something in our brain chemistry that begs for a beginning, middle and end. We are always in pursuit of closure and resolution to our stories, but we need and love the pursuit.

Love this picture of kids at Riverdale Country School. Getting out of the classroom and into the sunshine.

3. Learning is hard. We are all in it together. We need to coax and encourage one another to share our learning.

Yes, learning may seem to be a solitary endeavor, but humans are social animals. We need the camaraderie of a shared challenge or pursuit. Pursuing learning is innate, like hunting and gathering. 

4. Learning is experiential. So we move the science class to the bank of the Hudson River.

Get out of the dark interior of your thoughts, your classroom, your computer station; get into the realm of sunshine, river and mud. Invite your senses to partake in learning. Our minds will remember more when our bodies are engaged. 

 After hearing Randolph speak, I was inspired to unleash my enthusiasm for learning and creativity, even if this enthusiasm is a source of constant embarrassment to my kids.

Yesterday, I was inspired again at NYU alumni day, when I listened to John Sexton, president, talk about the city school, “in and of the city.” http://mybeautifulnewyork.wordpress.com/2011/09/24/nyus-john-sexton/

The Times article I referenced can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html?pagewanted=all

Love of Learning at Riverdale Country School

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I love that people are discussing the reasons and ways we educate children. The New York Times magazine on September 18 features Dominic Randolph whom I have loved listening to and talking to at Riverdale Country School about how children can become global citizens and good stewards of their gifts and passions.

I know one purpose of school is to develop a student’s thinking, but what about developing a student’s soul? Is school responsible for that? As we grow up, we all have to hit life’s curveballs. To do that, it’s more important to have resilience and relationships than high test scores and awards.

Don’t get me wrong — I love being an intellectual. But I don’t always love going through life with brainiacs. For example, I have one extended family member who delights in correcting others. He’s not the most fun to be around or the one I turn to when I need encouragement; and he’s not the one my kids run to when they’ve not seen him for a while.

The family member who gets the biggest hug is the one who is human, who listens well, who is quirky and artistic, who acknowledges mistakes, who shares a passion for learning, who lays on the grass and looks up at the sky, exhausted from a family soccer game. (And their grandmother — they love her too. Simply because they know she loves them.)

As a teacher and parent, I have to share with my kids what I consider important — compassion, a passion for learning, a global perspective, and a commitment to hard work.

I have to take the time even when I am busy. Like many New York parents, I am way too in love with the rush of achievement. And I probably convey this to my kids.

I also love being a good citizen, taking out my ear buds; listening to the breeze and shooting the breeze. I think education is about that too.

I’ve written about Dominic Randolph a few times on my blogs –

About what makes for community http://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/what-is-community/

And how I was blown away by Randolph’s advice to eighth graders:  http://gettingmyessayspublished.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/good-advice/

I hate to admit it  — because then it would seem I am all about achievement and not simply about sharing my passion — but once again, I have scooped The New York Times. If you read my blogs, Dominic Randolph is old news to you, but if you read the New York Times magazine this weekend, you can discover even more about Randolph’s thinking about a Riverdale education, of which, I am a huge fan.

Check out the article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/what-if-the-secret-to-success-is-failure.html