Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: knowledge

Notes From Our School. Friday

20150824_153605 To say that we’re redefining the school concept, or rather searching to acquire knowledge the way we see fit, might sound conceited. It’s not with that purpose that we do this, but rather so that the boys can open their eyes. Hearts too, as you have to have both open and willing if you are to learn. And learn we have to, learn to live with grace and gratefulness. Learn to tie the stories of the world together so we can see the world in all that it is.

Today we talk about food. Why choose this over that, what is taste and why it is used by those who handle chemicals and colours to mislead us… ‘We have to eat with our brains’ I tell the boys and they tilt their heads. True, if we are to eat to live, I press on.

They like the challenge and the learning of unconventional matters that help choose our way as we go, saying no thank you to mainstream invites to indulge and siding with simplicity while at the same time learning that a ‘simple’ piece of food that nature creates is never simple, but the result of such mind-boggling biochemical processes it is but necessary to be grateful for each bite. And learn.

20150815_182852 It’s in the choices we make, with everything. With food, we can only make choices once we learn the taste of food and the value of each bite. Unaltered and ‘as is’, imperfect and yet complete, simple food as nature offers it is where eating starts. Science is there too and it is never repugnant but enticing.

We play the game of ‘What about…’ and the boys ask about processed foods that we all know are a silly compromise at times but without any nutritional value. ‘What about?…’ they keep on asking. I keep on answering nope every so often and they laugh. ‘But it says so on the package!’ they protest knowing the truth but enjoying the game.

To eat healthily is a mind-opening adventure. We eat with our minds, we eat with our hearts (would you ever eat the results of suffering or some chemical warfare that happened in the field where your food happened to be? ‘No Mom!’). We eat knowing that we’re never to bow to trends or marketing ploys, but stay true to needs and leave wants die of attention emaciation… They smile. Lesson ends with the eye glimmer that tells me they’re flying high, having learned things that make sense.

Next, I tell them, there’s something else to watch. A TED talk about taking care of those parts of ourselves that do not show. Today we talk about emotions, namely the ones that overwhelm us when we fail.

The lid of the white porcelain tea pot broke today because hurried little hands put it too close to the edge. Disaster! Little boy’s hand covered his mouth. Then came a sad pout. ‘You liked this pot, Mama. What now?’

Now is just the same with or without a porcelain lid. I am not tied to a while porcelain pot more than I am to some dandelion fluff. It’s not self-blame that helps us clean the white bits off the kitchen floor but the realization that mistakes happen. Blame is not the same with learning from our mistakes.

20150824_153714When you start learning, you fail at times. The boys nod; they know the feeling of emptiness and frustration that goes with it, as we all do. When you want to stomp your feet and be mean to yourself. Why would you, I ask? They think. Pause…’Because…’

Here is a place where we can say it as we see it. To admit to vulnerability is to find the place to grow from. And to understand others. Self-compassion for trying times. Whether you break a porcelain lid, or fail a test or or make mistakes of any other kind.

We pursue things that do not work out sometimes and that makes us feel inadequate, a flurry of sharp edges pushing against our soul… The boys’ eyes grow large. Smiles. You cannot turn back in time and erase mistakes, but you can try again with what you know. Because of a mistake, you know more.

I hope I can help them see that nobody’s expectation of greatness should ever make them think less of themselves. They are enough as they are, and if they believe that, they will keep on growing and following their heart’s call.

When you live, you make mistakes and you fail at times. What then? Where do look next? You draw a blanket of compassion from the shelf and wrap yourself in it. So you must put it somewhere on a shelf where you can reach it at any time. You or someone else will need it, we all do at times. Few of us have it handy. Few of us are willing to use it, or know how to…

It is a big subject indeed and we will go back to it. We are to get to know ourselves in learning. Reciting manuals and facts, achieving milestones so others can say ‘good job’ does little in the end if you’re not present to celebrate your feeling of having learned and the joy that comes with it. Learning with a purpose.

20150918_134456Next, little boy chooses piano class over science today (but can we do science on Monday, Mama?) and the sound of music, braided sounds from keyboard and from the boy experiencing the wonder of making it, start dancing around the living room. So it is, we love our school.

Big brother reads his own and then we talk it. It is about paradigms that help us move further or keep on being stuck. He already knows so much, but it is often hard to remember. His big smile and hug at the end will remind me of joy down the road when, our together adventure becomes overwhelming at times and we forget of paradigms and better ways to do it and get caught in spikes. Learning together becomes yet another facet of our bond.

Everything that’s worth doing and living becomes overwhelming at times. That’s how we learn. We admit to limitations, to being human, to being afraid and inspired, to follow calls only we can hear… To learn to say ‘I can.’

It’s been a good day. It’s past lunch. I make miso soup with thick kelp and soba noodles; we eat and talk. Taste and laughs and wonder. Learning is all, but it is never a paddock where we lock our thoughts at any time, but rather an endless array of fields and mountains where they can keep on running and dancing forever. Because, in truth, learning never stops…

Change Starts With Education

IMG_8606It’s the word we’re hearing every day during the ongoing campaign: change. It is, in truth, what keeps the world turning and alive, so it make sense that the elections would become the epitome of the very concept.

The word and its envisioned wake get people fantasizing about what will be after October 19. Change alone is not what we should be after, but positive change, visible and beneficial for all Canadians. And we need a lot of good change to make things better.

With so much at stake, it is only natural to experience the slight hand tremors of the overwhelmed voter. There is no simple answer and yes, there is work involved in searching for the best option that will make the said tremors go away. It is really not enough to just show up to vote; we need to become informed voters who know who and why. If you find yourself hesitating, you’re not alone.

Every day, a new event unfolds, at home or internationally, new boundaries are being traced and we find ourselves wondering who to vote for, so we’re back to the drawing board once again. Who to choose? Why? It might as well be that common sense will invite to clarity; it always does when you let it do its thing.

Needs should come first. Food, water, medical care, education, financial support for those in need, addressing security issues that will not see anyone unfairly monitored or even worse, prosecuted, developing climate change strategies that will see alternative energy source industries thrive and people safe from natural disasters. For starters.

Good food; it is a right, not a privilege. We now know enough about nutrition to realize that corporate agriculture is not the way to go. No amount of pesticide is safe enough, and food coming from huge silos, whether it is vegetables or meat is just not the same as locally grown or raised products.

Food should come unprocessed, supplied by small businesses with faces we can see and know; with people who stand behind their product and supply not only farmer’s markets but also food stores throughout the country. It has been said that only large scale, genetically modified food can feed the growing number of people. It is only logical to argue that corporations know less about the growing of food and there are considerable risks associated with depersonalized food suppliers, one of them being the slow degradation of the very land we need to grow food in the first place.

In the age of corporate agriculture where seed patents are a reality and a company can dictate the way farmers live and operate, most times painfully removed from farm life in the name of profit over people’s health and environmental well-being, we need to go back to understanding growing food from the roots up.

High quality, independent (PR-free) education can provide the pros and cons of such arguments and enough critical thinking should serve as a tool to find the best solution.

We have been witnessing a decrease in the quality of education, and moreover, at a higher level, frequent and shocking abolition of science and the means that support it, be it research labs, libraries, intellectuals whose purpose is to promote knowledge and help it thrive, but who are instead shut down to make room for corporate development that brings profit to a few, but rarely to a community.

By definition, true knowledge should be unencumbered by any financial and political interest. We should employ electoral change to help go back to that. Reinstate the importance of learning, and the need to offer programs that will not stop anyone on the basis of income, reinstating the value of studying hard, knowing that studying is a right, but one that comes with the obligation of excellence.

Excellence is badly needed in addressing various health issues that have been at the centre of many a discussion in the media, from obesity and lifestyle-caused cardiovascular disease, to mental health, addictions, and the lack of quality care for veteran and the elderly. In the age of increasing environmental and lifestyle-related health issues, medical care (hence enough medical doctors of various specialties available in most communities) has to be an election subject, and an important one at that.

As for the environment, well, we’ve been raking up a bad reputation for a while now, our government stubborn enough to stay out of climate change summits. That needs to be addressed and unless people understand why urgent attention is needed, the perception of ill-intended environmentalist who oppose economic development will keep on going, much to the detriment of us all.

We need to educate ourselves and our children that health comes with a healthy environment, which can only be done if we apply knowledge and common sense to the world we live in, understanding that non-renewable energy sources can only take us so far and they come with a price too high to pay (recent storms and the hottest summer on record, plus the rapid melting glaciers as well as the disappearance of many canary-in-a-gold-mine species).

Climate change should have been addressed already and education on the subject will shed light on undeniable true-to-form facts: a thriving green industry provides employability for many and break the vicious circle that holds us dependent to finite, polluting resources.

The needs of a community at large (a country’s needs in fact) are many and diverse, and the task to address them all is gargantuan at best. Which is why we need to ask those in power to address the needs of those who are most at risk if not protected: children with special needs, the elderly, low-income families, and veterans, to name a few.

For all of that and more, we need education. From the first day our children ask why, we need to provide truth and knowledge and that should be enough to help promote integrity and help critical thinking tools develop in each and every one of them so that when it’s time to vote, greater good change will be the first to happen.

The Place We’re In, Up Close and Personal


Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday May 8, 2015. 

Have you ever seen a bee napping in a clump of flowers? We have, my youngest son and I, as we were walking to the bus stop on our way to school today. Just a very sleepy bee, its will to fly conquered by the brightest morning sun we’ve seen in the last few days.

‘Will you write about it, Mom?’ I promised I will.

You see, we now make our way to school every day from up on the hill to the downtown, and every day comes with its own novelties. We add to it all by reading on the bus. He snuggles close and we step into a world of wonder. Black Beauty, Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans and King Arthur and Robin Hood, they join us to and from school every day and give us countless topics to discuss.

Honour, compassion, empathy, meanness, values and principles, the ‘why’ behind so many human actions, and all the questions we still have to find answers for regarding human nature. It’s a wild ride, no pun intended.

I am an outspoken advocate of reading quality books, which leave you richer and better for having read them. I do believe, as Iranian-born, Canadian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo said, that ‘A mediocre book has nothing to offer to its readers, no matter how close we read it.’

Children’s reading choices have diverged tremendously over the years and some does not qualify as quality reading, which is a shame, because children are eager to learn about the world, past and present, and they are have questions, many, which increases their appetite for free thinking. Much needed in today’s changing, trend-dominated world. But that is the topic for another column.

On my way back, I walk, instead of taking the bus. I choose quiet streets over busy ones, and spring makes every step worthwhile. The world is alive and blooming, and I am there to see it. I listen to books most times and then I walk listening to the sounds around. It’s a revealing trek every time with certain addictive features that make me look forward to the next day’s uphill walk, rain or shine or blustering winds, as it was the case two days ago.

But, as they say, the path reveals itself every day anew. Some streets are simply raucous: waves of heavy trucks roll so close and fast on the road, it feels like they’ll peel you right off the sidewalk, and then, the dust… it makes the air hard to breathe, which makes that perfectly blue sky and crisp morning sunshine a great tease. The city feels, at times, and looks like it’s drowning in fumes and noise. We breathe walk and live next to all of that.

It’s a shame that it has become this way, as walking should be a common thing (along with cycling, and commuting by transit when needed). I am partial to that sense of belonging to a place that sprouts from the nod and smile I get (and give) to my fellow town trekkers. Cyclists too, they nod too. Presence, I like that.

When on the bus, we greet, smile to people and say thank you for the ride. The driver always acknowledges that. We share the place for part of the way and that creates the ‘together’ we all need to be safe and have the said sense of belonging.

In my quest for avoiding busy streets, I have come to discover various trails that take me downtown but in a more, well … hobbit-ish way. Snaking among trees and overwhelming lilac bushes, the dirt paths I take add colour to my daily walks. They connect this street to that and create the feeling of a world apart from the one we’re used to by living in the city.

BlueThe other day I came across some larkspur shining blue among tall grasses, and just a few steps up the trail there was a woodpecker proudly wearing a fiery red tuft and pecking at an old birdhouse. I’ve never seen one so close; it makes for a quiet reappraisal of how we could, if we wanted to, have a place that would foster reminders of life and, most importantly, life beyond the city limits.

If more people see, through the eyes of those who venture out first and then through their own, we’d all join in finding ways to make the city a good place to be when you choose to travel on foot, bike or by bus.

A place where such activities are encouraged and shared becomes a safe place or be where the motivation to make it better, for everyone’s sake, not just on an individual basis, grows with each step we take off the beaten path.

I will soon walk downhill through the dry midday sunshine, King Arthur and his valiant knights tucked in my backpack, ready to pick up my son and have him snuggle close so we can read further.

Before we do that though, we will walk hand in hand to the bus stop and maybe, just like yesterday, someone will be there playing a harmonica and carrying an old violin and we will smile and say hello, and later on my son will wonder about the story that person carries along… I will too, and that will expand my horizon even more, to include understanding and the need to see the human to see what human is, yet another perk of walking and taking a bus rather than driving.

Every time we get off the bus and call it a day (transit-wise) I feel richer in the best possible way. Such are the consequences of acquiring more. Knowledge and experiences that is. Even when I’m in a rush, as long as I am on foot, the world appears closer and the colours are more intense. I assume that is part of making it personal.

Education Should Not Be About Money But About Critical Thinking

Initially published as a column in the AM News on February 6, 2015. 

I grew up in a country where I had access to free university education. It seemed logical. I had to pay to live in the dorms and I had to pay for food, of course, and I also had to pay for some of the textbooks that were not available to borrow from school (department or library) but most were reference textbooks that I have to this day and have served me for more than one particular course with a final exam.

My graduate studies here opened my eyes about paid education. I could pay my tuition from scholarships and by teaching in my particular field, but the undergrads I was teaching often complained about having to work and study at the same time. Some could barely made ends meet, coming from underprivileged families but they were very keen on learning; their debt grew with every year of studying.

I also had many students that arrived to school in expensive sports cars and could not care less about the way cells uptake glucose. There were arguments about marks, haggling over fractions of a mark and an attitude that was that I had to deliver something that will push one’s social status to a higher tier. I guess the perception was that if one pays, the goods should be delivered and they’d better be worth the price.

That was when I started having the distinct feeling that such a conflict of interest might breed trouble. The story repeated itself during my years of teaching at a private post-secondary school. Some students believed that though they were paying (and more so, because they were paying money that did not come easy to them) they had to work hard and make it worthwhile. Others believed education to be some sort of merchandise that was being bought with money. A certain sense of entitlement was often looming over their heads and it was affecting the learning process.

Many a conversation with people who have to pay for their own education bear a bitter taste. Tuition is high and increasing, quality of education often low because, many feel, every paying student has to be caught in the safety net that will not allow very many to fall behind, whether they truly have something to show for it or not, and then, there are the exorbitant prices for textbooks that, on being resold after merely a semester, bring but a fraction of the money back (percentages may vary depending on the discipline and institution.)

Tuition, I was told by a second year student, includes a bus pass which she uses occasionally, but some do not use at all, it also includes daycare costs (she has yet to have a child in need of a daycare), and union fees; thus, fee by fee, tuition meant to open the avenue to higher education becomes an avenue towards frustration.

Should education cost so much? Getting a loan these days becomes increasingly difficult. Between not having well-to-do parents and/or acceptable co-signors, many a student willing to learn are pushed out of line because they cannot afford it.

The cost of living even in a city like Kamloops is increasing, rent and food, and many have trouble paying for textbooks that rake bills in the hundreds just for one semester, which makes one wonder about it all. Should education be free and standards higher, wouldn’t the whole society benefit after all?

By higher standards of learning I do not mean forcing kindergarteners to read before their time or promoting competitiveness at the expense of true knowledge and common sense, but rather allowing them to learn at their own pace while providing them with enough time to play and express their creativity and encouraging them to develop critical thinking as they see the significant adults in their lives use theirs.

As soon as we put a price on education, everyone suffers. The learners in the first place, the instructors, and the society. By promoting values and true knowledge, with no price tag, students feel like they have truly achieved something when they graduate from school, be it elementary, high school, university or post graduate) and moving forward. I have heard from high school students and university students as well that they do not feel challenged enough so when they finish school they almost feel like frauds. That is a sinking feeling.

On the other hand, no one benefits from anyone entering society with superficial knowledge or barely any knowledge, just like we do not benefit from people doing jobs without much passion and just for the monetary gain. We see critical thinking and common sense missing; in politics, at a family level, in all types of learning institutions and workplaces, we see it everywhere and at all levels.

Education should not be about money but about learning and acquiring knowledge not just for personal benefit but in order to bring a contribution to the society that has enabled us to get an education to begin with. When financial issues get entangled with education, a certain bias is bound to overshadow the noble and worthy endeavor of acquiring true knowledge.

A first discussion topic on many an education board should perhaps be disentangling the learning and finances for everyone’s gain… for the greater good, you could say, and that is a lofty goal for any society where critical thinking and knowledge are valued.

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