Friday, June 29, 2012

Early Education in Norway

Dear Helen, Dear John,

I found this documentary about an outdoor school in Norway fascinating:


I'm so grateful that in several important ways, this was in part how my parents tried to raise us. We learned how to light fires and use hammers and knives at early ages. We climbed trees and got wet in lakes and the Pacific Ocean in and out of season. In the wintertime in Wyoming during the years that we lived there we would get up early from time to time to help feed the elk. Sometimes in the afternoons, we would leap off the back porch into snow that we could tunnel through simply by walking, it was so soft and deep there when it first fell.

These joyous in-body experiences are important because they help us to connect all of the brilliant aspects of ourselves into a vibrant, cohesive whole as we acquire skills and understanding. I do not learn as well or live as well when I try to live my life in brain/body fragments.

Every time I learn of a writer, composer, mathematician, or scientist who found inspiration or worked out a puzzle while walking or immersing themselves in nature (and there have been many), I ache for the children who suffer at young ages from the educational version of cubicle sickness- being tied to a desk in an artificial climate with little allowance for movement, interaction, or creative thought. This type of existence is mind-numbing, not brain-building. It's no surprise to me why so many children struggle in these circumstances.

I find the Norwegian outdoor school philosophy empowering. It is leading me to consider some changes that I can make to enhance my own learning.

Thoughtfully yours,

Melanie

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Olympiad: A Chess Competition Like No Other

Dear Helen, Dear John,

Here's a question for you: What country televised a chess championship in 2011 live for over 8 hours? The answer to this question certainly surprised me. This country also happens to be the only one in Central America that uses English as its official language. Give up? It's Belize.

Each year Belize hosts the Annual Belize National Chess Olympiad. I've never seen chess celebrated like this (2011) and this (2012). Drummers, marching bands, face paint, teams with banners and costumes, stilt walkers, full size chess games with live people acting as the chess pieces- this competition is something else- and something marvelous!

It's all part of a fantastic program begun by Ian and Ella Anderson to help the youth in Belize stay off the streets. Apparently chess has now become the fastest growing sport in Belize. Remarkable.

Pondering my next move...

Melanie

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Scarlet Pimpernel and... Hungary???

Dear Helen, Dear John,

What does a dashing Brit who originated the hero-with-an-alter-ego genre (think Zorro and Superman) have to do with Hungary? More than you would suppose.

For starters, Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "EmmuskaOrczy de Orczi, who created Sir Percy and the league of the Scarlet Pimpernel, was born there. But the connection does not end there. 

While Anthony Andrews is THE Scarlet Pimpernel as far as I'm concerned, Leslie Howard, the Brit who played him on film first, helps tie The Scarlet Pimpernel back to Hungary. Leslie Howard directed, starred in, and produced a modern-day adaptation of The Scarlet Pimpernel during WWII called "Pimpernel" Smith. That movie was seen by Raoul Wallenberg and helped inspire him to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. (Leslie Howard's final speech in that movie is eerily prophetic, by the way.)

Literature is powerful, especially when it speaks to the best within us. I was lucky enough to encounter the league of the Scarlet Pimpernel when I was very young. I have been a braver, more proactive individual ever since. 'Cause after all, what teenage girl in her right mind wouldn't want to try to deserve a man like Sir Percy? *giggle* *long drawn-out sigh*

Feeling gloriously thirteen again,

Melanie 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Country Named After an Ideal: Burkina Faso

Dear Helen, Dear John,

I had never heard of Burkina Faso before working on my olympic challenge. It is one of the French speaking countries of West Africa. Its name in the local languages of Mòoré and Dioula means "the land of upright people", which can also be translated as "the land of men of integrity".

I love that- a country with a name that stands for an ideal. Integrity is a quality I've been working to develop for many reasons. One is that for me, integrity means living up to the best that you know. Knowing something is one thing, living it is another. A lot of important qualities are romantic in theory but astoundingly difficult in practice. Perhaps that's why we try to make them seem romantic to begin with- by the time we realize just how hard living those qualities is going to be we've already given our heart to them. That's where the third definition of integrity in the Merriam-Webster dictionary becomes important: "integrity: the quality or state of being complete or undivided".

I hate feeling fragmented. The closer I get to living what I believe, the more whole and confident I feel. That's a tremendous gift.

Another gift is this photo taken from the top of the waterfalls in Karfiguela, Burkina Faso. Meditating on this scene brought a great deal of calm and beauty to my life this morning. Apparently the path there passes through a mango orchard. It must be heavenly!

Back to earth now, but feeling more rested,

Melanie

Becoming our own Best Teacher: Francois Rabbath of Syria

Dear Helen, Dear John,

Francois Rabbath was born in Syria. He fell in love with the bass but had no one to teach him how to play it there, so he taught himself. He went on to revolutionize how musicians play and view the instrument. He wasn't always well received by the establishment (few innovators throughout history in any field are), but he persevered. His love for his instrument and his pursuit of learning inspires me.
You can see his love for music and learning here and you can read about how it affected an accomplished bass player in his progression with his instrument here.

Learning is important no matter our age or our personal circumstances. It keeps us interested and interesting. It isn't necessarily easy learning outside of traditional settings, but it is possible. Sometimes, because it makes us take greater responsibility for our learning and dig deep within us, it's even better.

Francois Rabbath is able to inspire and encourage many with his playing because the bass once sparked something vibrant and powerful within him. I admire that. What I admire about him most, however, is how he used his passion for music and his personal circumstances to become his own best teacher.

Learning how to learn in every circumstance I am in,

Melanie