Tag Archives: adult learning

Revisiting the 2002 National Educator Workshop

In the Summer of 2002 I participated in The Lincoln Center institute for the arts National Educator Workshop: Introduction to Aesthetic Education. Several years later, in March 2008, I blogged twice about the workshop – Imagination: Maxine Greene and Lincoln Center institute for the arts in education.

Everything we have done in the past helps to craft who we are in the present. My yoga teacher Deb often reminds us that everything we have done in the past makes us who we are at this moment on the mat. With that in mind, this morning I reread my Response Essay to the workshop, written in July 2002.

What brought me to reread the essay was a desire to refunctionalize my myriad book shelves at 8:30 last night. For years I have kept my favorite fiction, poetry and reference books in the same room as my desk, on two shelves built into the wall. A portion of my desk was allocated to books about the brain. And my yoga books were relegated to a laundry bin stored under a bench in our bedroom.

My life is changing, by choice, and it is time to purge those books I no longer cherish, and bring my yoga books to the fore. And in the process of looking through folders I smiled to revisit this essay. Not wanting to lose portions of it, and not wanting to keep the papers, I am copying part of it here for my reference. For anyone who happens to read it, if you have comments, please feel free to post them. I’d be delighted to have a conversation.

Oh, and I still do not have room for all the books I’d like to have at my fingertips. Hmm…

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Response Essay – National Educator Workshop – Summer Session 2002/July 8-12

An article in the October 3, 2001 Metro section of The New York Times piqued my interest in Maxine Greene. I had never heard of her beforehand yet the ideas she espoused about education gave direction to thoughts about which I had been ruminating. This prompted me to read her book Releasing the Imagination which in turn led me to John Dewey’s Experience & Education. And all of that pointed me to the National Educator Workshop. [Ed Note: part of the Lincoln Center institute] My expectation for the workshop was to give my imagination some much needed prodding and help me look at what I do through a different perspective. With that in mind, the most significant ideas embraced during the workshop include:

  • The aesthetic approach is one of self-discovery which can be guided through a series of carefully crafted questions and activities.
  • This self-discovery is a process, and that process should tap into what people can do and help them expand their thought repertoire.
  • Collaboration, questioning, and experiential learning (all part of the process) help to make learning intrinsic and give it meaning within the context of the student’s life.

To borrow from others (Maxine Greene and Apple Computer): With aesthetic education we are “releasing the imagination” and enhancing our perspective to “think different”. Imagination is an entry point into something that might otherwise be ordinary.

My perception of the work of art seen/heard twice changed substantially over the course of the workshop. In both cases, viewing and listening to the art without any prior knowledge of the artist or piece was very satisfying. This let me form my own response to the art, modified a little by the comments of my workshop mates. In the case of Poulenc’s music, I listened “hard” the first time as I concentrated on what was being played; this was not listening for pleasure! The Chuck Close portrait interested me for it size and colors. The subject of the portrait intrigued me and I wanted to know more about him.

The early hands-on activities were enjoyable to do but I did not yet make connections between those activities and how I felt about the art of Poulenc and Close. The collaborative brainstorming (of questions we would like to ask about the artists/works of art) was highly satisfying. Indeed, it almost did not matter to me if the questions were ever answered. The very act of collaborative discussion and questioning was exhilarating, cementing ideas and possibilities for me to ponder. It was the satisfaction of thinking and the interaction with others concerned with the same topic.

The research was icing on the cake.

[Ed Note: There is more about my research along with a response to a talk, but I am editing out much of it to keep this post from being even longer!]

Conversation with Catherine (colleague from my school who also participated in the workshop) after the first music workshop yielded these observations:

  • Everyone did something and was able to do something.
  • There was no “wrong” or “right” approach or answer.
  • Using our imagination it is possible to create something out of nothing, in this case just using our voices and bodies to make music.

Five days into the workshop I heard Tenesh [workshop co-leader] say that we are developing skills to focus, and that we try to go to the core of what the thing is all about. Being able to unleash our imaginations to focus in a multitude of ways and thereby get to the core of what we are learning…wow, very powerful ideas which this workshop modeled and helped me experience.

On the last day of the workshop I wrote these notes in my journal. I don’t recall whose words they were but they sum up my feelings about this workshop experience, and the goal I have for my students:

There is excitement in experiencing something intrinsically. This experience makes you the expert – it empowers you and draws out your imagination. The result is self-confidence and a depth of knowledge.

[Ed Note: The works of art were Chuck Close's portrait of Lucas, and a musical piece by Poulenc, title of which I did not note. I chose to research Close, which included: Chuck Close, Up Close by Greenberg and Jordan (Dorling Kindersley, 1998) and the May 13, 2002 Fortune article "Overcoming Dyslexia".]

How Elders Will Save the World

With age, comes wisdom.

Attribute to that line whatever you like. I choose to attribute it to the wisdom that comes from having lived a long enough time to be considered living in elderhood, that stage of life following adulthood. William Thomas, author of What are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World, believes in and advocates for elderhood living environments intentionally designed to promote a sanctuary where elders thrive. These are not merely places where elders survive, but places where they can remain vibrant participants in their own lives and the lives of others, regardless of their physical or cognitive capabilities.

Thomas denotes several “Principles for Elderhood’s Sanctuary”:

  • Warm – radiating human warmth and developing “the practice of doing good deeds without the expectation of return”
  • Small – keep the scale small
  • Flat – keep the hierarchy flat
  • Rooted – have a “deeply rooted belief system”
  • Smart – use of technologies that support the well-being of elders and their care takers
  • Green – sustainable places that provide a “connection with the living world” through gardens

With the above principles in mind, Thomas developed The Green House Project, with implementation support from ncb Capital Impact and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Below is a “documentary short” about the project.

John Zeisel is another author who has created a nursing home alternative. I have read his book, I’m Still Here, and blogged about him a few times, so was pleasantly surprised to see he was referenced by Thomas as a resource when Thomas was researching design possibilities for The Green House Project.

William Thomas goes on to paint a picture of elderhood where each person is able to give and receive loving care. He behooves us to reconsider the lives of the oldest of the old as another developmental phase in the life of a human being:

…to see old age as part of the ongoing miracle of human development. It offers a perspective that connects all elements of the human life span from birth to death.

Mostly what Thomas advocates for is a reenvisioning of the last phase of our lives with a return to respect for old age and the wonders it has to offer, and an acknowledgment that how we craft this last stage (including, but not limited to, physical buildings, guiding principles for care, opportunities for participation, equal respect for the care takers and the cared for) will make all the difference in how it is lived.

What are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World

William Thomas is the most optimistic advocate for aging I have yet to encounter. He believes in the power of the oldest of the old, and has called that phase of our lives “elderhood”, the natural successor to adulthood.

Old age has richness and complexity that, when appreciated, provide a powerful counterweight to the measurable, progressive, steady decline in bodily functions. In old age, the body instructs the mind in patience and forbearance while the mind tutors the body in creativity and flexibility.

History & Culture of Aging

What Are Old People For? is Thomas’ treatise on old age, beginning with a brief history of the hunter-gatherers and continuing thru to old age’s transformation by modern culture. This was the first time I heard the word “senescence“, defined as “growing into old age”, as compared with adolescence, which is “growing into adulthood”.

The upper limit of longevity may be defined by human genetics, but the experience of living into old age is defined almost exclusively by the customs and mores of one’s culture. An individual’s ability to live a long and bountiful life depends, most of all, on society’s aptitude for making such a life possible.

If you take a look at the various media cultural artifacts (television, magazines, newspapers and the like), you cannot escape the many advertisements for anti-aging products and multiple medications, all being marketed to a very large baby boomer generation that has fully entered adulthood.

Not only are adults impacted by this swath of advertising, but there is a huge trickle down effect, whereupon youngsters and teenagers are inundated with messages about staying young. Modern culture does not embrace the distinctive lines of age – the wrinkles that appear as a banner to living long. There is a huge market for medicine and medical procedures designed to eradicate any banners of aging.

Long-Term Care Environments

From discussing culture, Thomas goes on to describe the “plagues of loneliness, helplessness, and boredom” that accompany oldsters who are relocated, by choice or against their will, to “long-term care environments”. Rather than sit by the sidelines, William Thomas and his wife, Judith Meyers-Thomas, have created an approach to eldercare living called The Eden Alternative. You can read more about it here or listen to this 2002 PBS NewsHour interview: Nursing Home Alternative.

Thomas quotes a passage from Erving Goffman’s 1961 book Asylums, where Goffman lists five traits that define a “total institution”. It is a scathing description that, as Thomas notes, can be equally applied to life in prisons, state psychiatric hospitals and concentration camps. Alas, concludes Thomas, this list is also applicable to our long-term care facilities.

While the intention of these organizations is clearly different from that of penitentiaries, they share a common, rigid division of people into the guardians and the guarded, the therapists and the sick, the staff and the residents.

My Dad lived in assisted living, followed by a nursing home, for a combined seven plus years. My Mom was hospitalized several times within the span of six months, followed by a three week stint in a rehab facility, followed by round-the-clock care at home for several weeks. I know first hand of what Thomas describes.

But all does not have to be glum! The full title of Thomas’ book is What are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World. Stay tuned for that second part!

for more on William H Thomas:

Elderhood Rising: The Dawn of a New World Age

As I become more involved in the community of aging adults, including my own aging, I am determined to better understand the world of elderhood. From my experience, for the generation of my parents, those born between 1915 and 1930, old age has often been synonymous with illness, nursing homes, hospital stays, and, in too many instances, undignified end-of-life experiences.

William H. Thomas, M.D., has spent his career as a geriatrician trying to educate the world about having a “positive elderhood”, and in the process has helped create Eden Alternative, a living experience for elders that takes a rather different slant to what it means for older folks to live together. I first heard of William Thomas when viewing his TED Talk Elderhood Rising: The Dawn of a New World Age.

Yes, I know he has a semi-syncopated way of talking, but his message is well worth hearing, as he presents important and useful ideas to consider as you age and as your parents age.

 

I have since picked up his 2004 book, What are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World, and that’s the topic of my next post or two.

Morris Sword Dancing

Social dancing is physical manna for your health. It gets your body moving and your neurons firing. Morris dancing takes this to another level, with the myriad foot patterns and sword movements that have to be learned in order to accurately and smoothly dance within your group of six. This is what I discovered in my capacity as an extra person for my school’s May Day dances.

Turns out that every year on May Day each grade in this K-9 school has its own dance to perform in front of the entire school, which includes parents and grandparents. Held outdoors on the field, all the students dress in their summer best, and for ninety minutes there is swirling and foot stomping, dosey-doeing and allemanding. After a school-wide Virginia Reel, the ninth grade winds up the festivities with a Morris Sword Dance.

For the dance, the students need to be grouped in sixes. This year, there were 19 students in the ninth grade, necessitating 5 faculty volunteers to help make four groups of six. Of course, I volunteered! Besides enjoying the social component, I had to learn four rounds of sword dancing, reciting on a daily basis right over left, flat on top so that I could remember to pass my sword properly, thus winding up with a locked star.

It wasn’t that the dance was difficult, but rather when we perform, it becomes a race to the music to see which group creates their star first. The adrenaline rush of trying to be the first with the star is often what causes any given group to muck up with the passing of the swords. In the end, all that really mattered was the tremendous fun everyone had dancing, coupled with marching around the rectangular field being high-fived by all the kids in the other grades!

This first set is my group practicing earlier in the day. For the actual dance, each ninth grade group dons their costumes (held secret till the actual dance), and my group became super heroes. (Wonder Woman, in case you were wondering ;-) ) Scroll down to see us in as our super selves!


Successful Aging

Oh dear, yet another large print book. I have nothing against the concept of large print, ideally this makes it easier to read for people with vision issues. However, I wish the publishers did a better job with layout and leading, the latter essentially being the spacing between lines. Lines of large type clumped on a page does not, actually, make for easier reading (for me).

John W Rose, MD, and Rober L Kahn, PhD, compiled the results of a MacArthur Foundation Study on aging and the result is the 1998 book, Successful Aging. Given that this book was published 14 years ago, there was nothing new in it that I had not already seen in some other format.

There were, however, two items that did particularly strike me. The first was the wonderful optimism the authors exude in describing both the results of the long term study and what the findings could mean for the future. While they break down the study and discuss multiple aspects of aging, I think the book’s message can be summed up quite simply. To paraphrase Carol Dweck’s findings about mindsets, those with growth mindsets will find it easier to deal with aging and, as such, will likely have a positive impact on their own aging process. Those who have a fixed mindset will find that when the going gets tough, they may be less flexible in managing repercussions, which will likely have a less positive – and perhaps negative – impact on their own aging process.

The idea of mindsets holds true, as well, for younger peoples’ perceptions of older people. As a teacher, I have always believed that students rise or fall to the level of expectations held for them. Similarly, if younger people can have a positive mindset about older people and the process of aging, this is more likely to have a beneficial impact on their interactions with older people and on their own aging process.

Due to the date of the book, 1998, I tended to question some of the statistics the authors noted, especially regarding the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the aging population. I am reasonably confident that the numbers of people with, and expected to exhibit some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s is far greater than what they forecast back in 1998. You can read more about the Latest Alzheimer’s Statistics in the United States in this article on the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium site. In any case, both resources note that dementia and Alzheimer’s are not part of the normal aging process.

Similar to what I have gleaned from other books on aging, and from attendance at various Learning & the Brain conferences, Rose and Kahn note there are several factors a person can engage with to help their brains and bodies age normally. Turns out we do have  some control over how we age, it’s not all in the genes.

  • engage in physical activity – good for the body and for the brain, as exercise helps stimulate BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor
  • fertilize your social network – showing care for and an interest in others, and allowing them to do the same for you makes for a strong support system
  • believe that you can manage whatever comes your way – while this may not always be the case, having a “cup half full” approach to aging can help you handle the blips

According to research, focusing on the above three elements will help an individual age successfully. Essentially, this approach translates to preventive care, and preventive care can aid with (in the words of the authors) “avoiding disease, maintaining high cognitive and physical function, and engagement with life.” Alternatively,

Disability in older people results from three key factors: 1) the impact of disease, or more commonly, many diseases at once; 2) lifestyle factors, such as exercise and diet, which directly influence physical fitness and risk of disease; and 3) the biological changes that occur with advancing age – formally known as senescence.

For more on healthy aging, here are some of my prior posts plus an article by Elkhonon Goldberg.

More from Mortimer

John Mortimer may have started his career as a barrister in England, but he is equally, if not better known for his literary career, topped off by a memoir in three parts. The last part, The Summer of a Dormouse, Mortimer wrote while making the most of his mid-70s, almost a decade before he died.

While life has its inconveniences for him, Mortimer certainly gives the impression of living life to the fullest while he has any say in the matter. That’s not to say he doesn’t think about death and dying. Towards the end of his book is a chapter that begins:

I that in heill was and gladnèss
Am trublit now with great sickness
And feblit with infirmitie:
Timor Mortis conturbat me.

That last line, written by William Dunbar, Scottish poet, is Latin and translates to “fear of death disturbs me” or “the fear of death confounds me”. Mortimer notes how “Dunbar was especially worried by the fact that death seemed to have it in for writers” and lists stanzas from a Dunbar poem wherein each stanza had a rhyme about an author or two coming to an end, the stanzas ending with “Timor Mortis conturbat me.”

Here is Mortimer on Dunbar:

For me Dunbar, the good-time monk, got it right when he thought of death not as a mysterious love object but as a vague, unexplained anxiety. Timor mortis, like arthritis and failing eyesight, sets in around seventy and becomes acute after seventy-five. There are, however, if not cures, at least painkillers, placebos and periods of remission.

Love, the opening of a bottle of champagne or the act of writing sentences to fill a long sheet of ruled paper can banish timor at least temporarily. The cure is to be found among the living, not dwelling with those good fellows, Rowll of Aberdeen and Rowll of Corstorphine, reduced to an asterisk by death and the editor of an anthology.

[The Rowlls were authors, and in a reprint of Dunbar's poem, an editor deleted their names and replaced them with an asterisk!]

Humor was certainly Mortimer’s method of understanding life. And in his final sentences, having embarked on an annual picnic, wheel chair among his companions, he leaves us with what I hope guided him through his next decade.

I feel neither old nor in any way incapacitated. Everything is perfectly all right.

The Summer of a Dormouse

In early April I shared my recent foray into literature about aging, as seen through the eyes of those older than I. The Summer of a Dormouse is book number two, and I have just made a discovery that, although entirely fitting, has me somewhat indignant. But first, some background.

Turns out that my local library only had access to one version of this book, the large print version. Having never seen a large print book, I was curious to know if it would make reading easier. What I discovered is that the text overwhelmed the pages. A bit more white space or leading between lines would have made a positive difference; better yet, access to a standard print size would have been greatly appreciated.

John Mortimer is the author, and he already had one claim to fame with me as the writer of Rumpole of the Bailey, a PBS series about an English barrister, lovingly portrayed by Leo McKern. In The Summer of a Dormouse, Mortimer entertains while sharing reflections on a year of his life in his seventh decade.

Now for the indignant portion, of which there are two! Only this morning, in checking out various amazon.com versions of the book, did I discover that The Summer of a Dormouse is “the third installment” of Mortimer’s memoirs. Am wondering why that isn’t noted anywhere on the book’s back cover blurb. But here is the stronger reason for indignancy – the title is off! In the concluding paragraph of the New York Times obituary (yes, alas, John Mortimer died in January, 2009 at the ripe age of 85, and here is The Guardian’s obituary), Mortimer is quoted from this book – The Summer of a Dormouse: A Year of Growing Old Disgracefully. Why is it that the second part of the title was left off of the large print version?

Well, disgraceful as it may be to switch titles on different publications of a book, Mortimer’s memoir is anything but disgraceful. Mortimer reminisces on politics, writing, socializing, family, building a theatre, and finding a statue to sit on an empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, among other topics. In his humor and seriousness, he shares a healthy approach to aging, seizing it for all it is worth and making the most of his time. What especially struck me was Mortimer’s statement on old age.

The real trouble with old age is that it lasts for such a short time.

He goes on to say:

All worthwhile projects are investments in the future. … After you’re seventy, it’s probably too late to establish another career, create a mature garden, or discover a new way of writing. The old, grabbing time by the forelock, have to go for immediate results.

Worst of all, there’s not time to see a child grow up.  [Mortimer is talking about his youngest child, a daughter who was born when he was 62.] … For me life becomes insupportable, and inoperable pomposity is liable to set in, unless there’s a fairly young child about the place. Having such a child makes it essential not to die until it’s absolutely necessary.

Barbara Arrowsmith

In January 2008 I wrote a post about Barbara Arrowsmith entitled Plasticity and Education. I first heard about Barbara through reading Norman Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself. To quote my piece from 2008, Barbara was born with an asymmetrical brain, which means that one side of her brain functioned astonishingly well and the other side functioned retardedly. Her experiences growing up led to her opening a school that made use of strategies she learned through experience and research. Here she is in her own words, talking about the book she has just written, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: And Other Inspiring Stories of Pioneering Brain Transformation.

Retirement – what does that really mean?

Prudential is a large insurance company that has a brilliant marketing scheme, which just happens to also be a wonderful testament to retirement.

The Day One project consists of photos and videos documenting the very first day of retirement for each of hundreds of people across the United States who retired in 2011. I do not know how it is that the specific people in this project were contacted, but their stories are interesting, touching, inspiring, and a vivid reminder that – barring circumstances beyond one’s control – we will each eventually reach that ripe point in time when change is ours to make; when we may leave our jobs and craft an adventure; when we redefine how we spend our time.

What is retirement? Last year my husband left his job of twenty-seven years. He was successful at what he did, highly liked and admired by colleagues, and on the younger side in terms of typical retirement age. People figured he was retiring, or taking a sabbatical. He replied that he was taking an adult gap year, for sabbatical implies returning to one’s position, and he was definitely not returning. He absolutely did not want to retire; he simply wanted a change.

Synonyms for retirement, according to one online definition, include retreat, seclusion and withdrawal. Yikes! These couldn’t be worse prescriptions for one’s long term cognitive health! Take an aging brain and induce it to retreat, seclude itself and withdraw, and you have a recipe for old age decline.

So what did my husband do? He is taking courses at Yestermorrow in Vermont, focusing on a sustainable building and design certificate program. He is teaching AP Computer Science online. He is engaged in experiments revolving around his sustainable architecture practicum, which involves a curved roof system. He is reading books, both online and in print. He is tweeting. He is writing a book. Well, more accurately, he is taking a book that he hand wrote over part of a year, rereading it one chapter at a time, editing it and posting it online. He is thinking about ideas. He takes daily long walks. He has time. He makes his own time. And the stress lines are gone from his face. And he’s dropped a few pounds. And he cooks dinner every evening.

I’d describe this as retooling or retreading, but not retiring. And perhaps there are even more apt words to describe this next phase of life. When the time comes for you, what will you call this phase?