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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Clint Eastwood and David Lynch Teach 10,000 Veterans to Meditate with Operation Warrior Wellness

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The filmmaker David Lynch has been a vocal advocate of transcendental meditation for some time now. But I’m quite intrigued with the work that his foundation is doing with returning veterans. The national initiative they are calling “Operation Warrior Wellness” aims to “teach 10,000 veterans and their families a simple meditation practice for preventing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Their kick-off event is this morning and they are streaming live video at 11 Eastern from the Paley Center for Media in New York.  It looks like their will be a healthy line-up of celebrities (Clint Eastwood and David Lynch), scientific researchers, and war veterans who “will present evidence showing that Transcendental Meditation can be an effective aid for veterans suffering from combat stress and PTSD, including anxiety, depression, anger episodes, hypervigilance, insomnia, and substance abuse.”

While you wait, here’s a short video the David Lynch Foundation produced featuring veterans and their experiences with meditation:

If you watch this, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about what they’re doing.

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Thinking of My Past Education and of Those to Come

by Krista Tippett, host

Krista Tippett Chats with Cognitive Neuroscientist Adele Diamond
(photo: Trent Gilliss)

Adele Diamond is a formative figure in the emerging field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. And she is the kind of person I love to interview — a person with an important body of knowledge who never stops growing and asking new questions and making big ideas come to life in her person. She has nurtured a lifelong love of dancing alongside her love of learning, and so she embodies the delightfully challenging story her research has to tell.

Here, in a very simplified nutshell, is that story — the piece of it that I have been able to internalize, in any case, and that has fundamentally changed the way I think about the education I received and what I want for my own children. Among other things, breakthroughs in neuroscience are helping us understand the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is the latest part of the brain to develop in our species (“the new kid on the block,” as Adele Diamond puts it) and the last to fully mature — as late as our 20s — in every individual life.

The prefrontal cortex is vital to how we learn more than what we learn. It controls the cognitive disciplines and flexibility we need to access, apply, and creatively build on what we learn across our life spans. Such skills are a manifestation of the brain’s capacity for what neuroscientists call “executive function.” Adele Diamond’s groundbreaking research has focused on an educational approach called "Tools of the Mind" that strengthens executive function in pre-school age children. It has also shown intriguing promise for children with autism and ADHD, and for helping close the achievement gap between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Serious ideas, all. Yet, wonderfully, play is at the heart of this show. Tools of the Mind and related science-inspired initiatives encourage a child’s natural inclination for dramatic play. They mine that experience for the discipline it holds: of creativity, of putting oneself in another’s shoes, of listening and yielding to others, of character and perseverance.

Cutting-edge science is bringing us back to some very traditional, intuitive, and — as it turns out — educationally savvy modes of human interaction in and beyond school. It is scientifically explaining the educational power of things like drama, music, and physical activity. It is revealing memorization as a form of exercise for the brain and demonstrating that joyful environments are also more efficacious. Stress shuts down the prefrontal cortex. And the kinds of mental discipline the prefrontal cortex enables — manifest, for example, in a child’s ability to interact with others in play at an early age — is a more definitive indicator of future thriving, academic and otherwise, than IQ.

I am also naturally drawn to the spiritual implications of Adele Diamond’s work. Her emphasis is as much on reflection as on information. The kind of science she and others are doing has led the school system of British Columbia to incorporate reflection as a part of the development of whole, healthy human beings within its educational philosophy. I hear echoes of my conversation with Malka Haya Fenyvesi and Aziza Hasan in Los Angeles, who are cultivating curiosity and listening between Muslims and Jews as a civic discipline that can enlarge our souls and our practical ability to be present to difference and possibility in ourselves and in the world.

Adele Diamond herself references Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel as well as the Dalai Lama as she reflects on the spiritual connections she uncovers between learning, doing, and being. Her robust Jewish identity flows into the way she makes sense of the larger meaning of what she does, and she has also been deeply influenced by her encounter with the Dalai Lama’s Mind and Life Institute conversations between scientists and spiritual thinkers. In fact, I met her at a conference in Vancouver, where she interacted with the Dalai Lama and other scientists, educators, and spiritual thinkers.

And next week, we’ll bring another, recent encounter with the Dalai Lama and religious leaders — the chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and a preeminent Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr. I moderated that public discussion, on the subject of human happiness. It was a lively and felicitously unpredictable conversation, and I hope you’ll listen in.

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Let’s Talk About It
by Kate Moos, managing producer
For years we’ve heard from all kinds of people that they are using the content of this program in learning environments — formal and informal, secular and religious. Book clubs, religious groups, high schools, colleges. I’ve always taken that to mean that the Krista Tippett conversation on any given week impels people to want to have new conversations of their own. We are an audience of talkers and listeners and learners.
Early on, we decided that developing learning tools (discussion guides, tutorials, etc.)  was something we should try, and we’ve done a few over the years. Episodes produced with NEH funding, like our Niebuhr show or our shows on Einstein, come with study guides as part of the production because we have funds from NEH to produce them. But we just don’t have the resources to produce materials like those routinely.
So awhile ago we created a partnership with Church Publishing, or CPI, as part of a major outreach and engagement project funded by Lilly Endowment, giving them permission to use the program as the basis for church-based curricula aimed primarily at mainline Christian denominations. We think they’ve done a lovely job, and we want to bring these products to your attention because we hear from you all the time that it’s the sort of thing you need.
Four sets of small group materials are organized by topic area: Einstein’s God features our content on science and religion; Living Islam, obviously, focuses on the many aspects of the Muslim experience we’ve covered in our program; Sustainable Faith centers around issues of environment and stewardship; and Spiritual Heros selects some of Krista’s most memorable interviews with people you will likely recognize.
We hope you’ll use these materials and then let us know what you think about them!

Let’s Talk About It

by Kate Moos, managing producer

For years we’ve heard from all kinds of people that they are using the content of this program in learning environments — formal and informal, secular and religious. Book clubs, religious groups, high schools, colleges. I’ve always taken that to mean that the Krista Tippett conversation on any given week impels people to want to have new conversations of their own. We are an audience of talkers and listeners and learners.

Early on, we decided that developing learning tools (discussion guides, tutorials, etc.)  was something we should try, and we’ve done a few over the years. Episodes produced with NEH funding, like our Niebuhr show or our shows on Einstein, come with study guides as part of the production because we have funds from NEH to produce them. But we just don’t have the resources to produce materials like those routinely.

So awhile ago we created a partnership with Church Publishing, or CPI, as part of a major outreach and engagement project funded by Lilly Endowment, giving them permission to use the program as the basis for church-based curricula aimed primarily at mainline Christian denominations. We think they’ve done a lovely job, and we want to bring these products to your attention because we hear from you all the time that it’s the sort of thing you need.

Four sets of small group materials are organized by topic area: Einstein’s God features our content on science and religion; Living Islam, obviously, focuses on the many aspects of the Muslim experience we’ve covered in our program; Sustainable Faith centers around issues of environment and stewardship; and Spiritual Heros selects some of Krista’s most memorable interviews with people you will likely recognize.

We hope you’ll use these materials and then let us know what you think about them!

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Valuing Intellectual Depth and Its Relationship to Work and Life in All Its Forms

by Krista Tippett, host


I was hooked by the opening lines of Mike Rose’s lovely book, The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker:

"I grew up a witness to the intelligence of the waitress in motion, the reflective welder, the strategy of the guy on the assembly line. This, then is something I know: the thought it takes to do physical work. Such work put food on our table, gave shape to stories of affliction and ability, framed how I saw the world … I’ve been thinking about this business of intelligence for a long time: the way we decide who’s smart and who isn’t, the way the work someone does feeds into that judgment, and the effect such judgment has on our sense of who we are and what we can do."

Mike Rose grew up in an immigrant family in the center of Los Angeles; I grew up in a small town in the melting pot of Oklahoma. I did not grow up around much physical work, but I did attend a school where advanced classes in languages, math, and science were axed to sustain a strong football team. His story of his late discovery of the strength of his own mind, and, even later, grasping the forms of intelligence he had known without appreciating, sparked all kinds of longing and recognition in me. Our stories taken together are disparate but kindred facets of a schizophrenia in the American story that thrives, largely unexamined, in our public life. Despite our national history of exceptional intellectual achievement, we also harbor what the historian Richard Hofstadter classically observed as a “national distaste for intellect.”

This takes the form of a defiant bias against “book learning” where I grew up. Joe Six-Pack is, after all, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s “common man.” Sarah Palin strums these guitar chords powerfully, as Mike Rose points out — a phenomenon that learned commentators deride but fail to understand. For the other side of our schizophrenia is a learned dismissal of the cognitive accomplishments of “average” people, working people, summed up in a phrase like manual labor.

Mike Rose can demonstrate the error of such dismissiveness with hard research. But his concern goes deeper than that and is relevant to us all. Failing to see and nurture the intellectual and civic substance of all kinds of work, he worries, is profoundly undemocratic. It limits our collective vision and range of action from school reform to social planning. We shape educational policies with economic competitiveness in mind; we don’t ask what kind of education befits a democracy. Mike Rose asks this question through his life story and in his scholarship, and speaking with him leaves me at once nourished and challenged.

My conversation with Mike Rose is more about intelligence and its relationship to work and life than it is about schooling per se, though he also offers very fresh and provocative observations on standardized testing and on what we might collectively learn from the controversial experience of No Child Left Behind.

Working on this show strummed some guitar chords already resonating in me and my colleagues after our show last fall titled "Learning, Doing, Being" with neuroscientist Adele Diamond. Many of you responded passionately to that show, and Mike Rose helps explain that response, I think. He calls forth — in a way we rarely do in our society, even in discussions about educational policy — the life-changing memories so many of us can summon of school or of teachers or of moments of reading or learning when our minds came alive; and how such moments formed who we wanted to be, who we are. We’ve gathered those insights on our website and would love to add yours.

What moments in your life shaped who you are in terms of becoming, longing, hope, and possibility?

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A World through the Hands

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"Our destiny is written in the hand."
Renate Hiller, co-director of the Fiber Craft Studio at the Threefold Educational Center in Chestnut Ridge, New York

Practicing mindfulness. Paying attention. Listening generously.

For Renate Hiller, the fiber artist whom you see in the film above, these majestic phrases apply in all their richness. Her German lilt of the tongue reaffirms this exquisite eloquence as she connects the importance of using our hands with the way in which we understand and find value in ourselves and in others. There’s something so honest and pure about her thought — that we gain a deeper, more meaningful relationship with our own humanity and our greater world by using our hands.

Using our hands grounds us — in work and in relationship. As we create something, hopefully beautiful, with our hands, we are transforming our moral and social senses. We evolve; we change. We notice things that we passed over the day before: the curve in a sidewalk to make way for a tree in the boulevard, the purl of a scarf, the transition of a capital that greets the ceiling. We observe the mundane and see it anew. The process of creating through the hands becomes a spiritual practice.

Ms. Heller strings together so many “threads” that help me think about raising children; about living a fuller, more physically experiential work life (yes, even about writing marginalia in a script rather than using the track changes option in Word); about hearing differently the many stories from folks who write in to the program, especially the passionate accounts of people and their gardens.

She also reminds me of something Joanna Macy told Krista in a recent interview (show to be released on September 16th):

"I’m looking at my hand right now as we talk. It’s got a lot of wrinkles ‘cause I’m 81 years old. But it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand was shaped by when it was a fin in the mother seas, where life was born. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets. It has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the first — what Thomas Berry calls ‘the primal flaring forth,’ the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story."

And, for those who are unable to watch the video, here’s a transcript:

Renate HillerRenate Hiller
“On Handwork”
 
I’m spinning wool with a stone spindle. This tool has been used probably for more than 30,000 years. And when we twist fibers into yarn we are actually creating a spiral. And the spiral is a cosmic gesture of creation.

When we look at our galaxy from outer space it is a spiral. And we find spirals in many, many places — in the plant world — on the back of our head we have a spiral. So, this is an activity that brings us closer to the cosmos, you could say. But at the same time we create something that is useful and beautiful because with the yarn that we have spun we can create sweaters, hats and mittens and scarves and so on.
 
To have the skill of knitting, to have the skill of crocheting, of felting, makes it possible for us not only to make something but it makes us skilled in general. The use of the hands is vital for the human being, for having flexibility, dexterity. In a way the entire human being is in the in the hands. Our destiny is written in the hand. And what do we do in our modern world with our hands? You know we move the mouse, we drive and so on. We feel plastic most of the time. The hands are relegated to very little that’s actually bringing dexterity to our times. So we have come ever more estranged from nature and from also what other human beings are doing. The whole social element comes into play as well because if I make something then I think ‘Hmmm, how was that yarn made?’

In the past there were all the professions of the shoemaker and the tailor and so on, and that’s also being lost. If you do practical work somewhere on the school grounds, there is practical work going on. The children will all go to that. They’re really drawn to that. They want to experience it and however the reality is that there’s less and less of that. In the home, you know you can use already bought vegetables, all chopped up and ready to eat. There is very little activity like kneading the bread, and you know children grasp first an item and then they grasp with their mind. So if they have very little to grasp other than plastic readymade toys then what their mind grasps is very little. The toy automatically moves and you know children can only be kind of astonished by that.

So though there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better, and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core because it’s a meditative process. You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today. Because we’re so egocentric and this makes us think of what is needed by something else. So we are in a way practicing empathy — empathy with the material, empathy with the design. I think this practicing of empathy that we do in the fiber crafts is paramount for being healing to our world. And it’s a service for the divine that we are surrounded by.

(A special thanks to Dorit of the Gerðandisgleðir blog for making connections.)

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A Student’s Reaction to “Tatanka Iyotake”

by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

Robynne Greeninger, a nurse and single mother who is currently working toward her law degree, recently sent us this thoughtful essay reflecting on our show about Sitting Bull’s spiritual legacy as part of an assignment for a World Religions class at North Hennepin Community College in Minnesota:

"This is a subject that is very close to my heart. I am half Native. My father is a full-blooded Sioux from a Lakota tribe. …

The story of Sitting Bull is mostly portrayed in war and defiance. But this SOF broadcast digs into the spirit of the man and what he was truly about — his way as a medicine man, visionary, and a protector of his people. Tatanka (his birth name) was a spiritual man, as most Natives were in those days. He was merely trying to preserve his peoples’ ways. …

I see a lot of Tatanka’s life closely aligning to the life of Christ. He was viewed as a visionary, chief, medicine man, and he died trying to protect his people. He was highly spiritual and compassionate. It is so upsetting to me that part of him has been overlooked or not been given credence. Some of the things the ‘white people’ did to force his hand were abominable and, instead of taking blame, the government has depicted events in a way that made Tatanka look horrible!”

Robynne’s professor assigns his students to listen to SOF and submit their reflections on our website. And, we’re hearing from other educators who are using — or want to use — SOF as a teaching tool in a variety of settings. In response, we’re launching a new initiative titled SOF Learning + Education to help people connect around this shared interest.

If you’d like to get involved, fill out our educators questionnaire so we can learn more about what you’re doing. You can also become a fan of our newly created SOF Learning + Education page on Facebook, where we’re trying to connect educators — from college professors to organizers of book/listening clubs, from high school teachers to leaders of adult learning groups — who can share what they’re doing or would like to do, ask questions about using our materials in creative and meaningful ways, and make suggestions that would help us facilitate learning.

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…unfortunately, society does not generally invest enough in innovation—especially in areas where it would help the poor (who aren’t an attractive market) and where there isn’t an agreed-upon measure of excellence. In the U.S., that means we have not invested nearly what we should in innovation for education.
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-from "My Turn: Bill Gates on Education and Innovation" in the recent edition of Newsweek.

This brief commentary by Bill Gates’ nicely accentuates a point made by Jacqueline Novogratz for our show to be released this Thursday (via podcast). She sees an opportunity for social investors to take risks in these unattractive markets abroad that actually might serve as new models for how we operate here in the States.

Perhaps this experimental work is going on now in more places than many of us realize. It’s just not funded properly or recognized. More directly, I’m thinking of two recent conversations we’ve had with Adele Diamond and Mike Rose. Both are challenging the stagnation in the U.S. education system that Gates’ later mentions — Diamond couples scientific knowledge of the brain with observations of children in classroom settings; Rose pairs his decades of teaching and education at all levels with his conversations with folks in all parts of the country.

Are we really listening and paying attention to what’s going on in our backyard (including Canada)? And, how are we willing to give those ideas a fighting chance of going mainstream?

Trent Gilliss, online editor

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Being Educated in Not-So-Obvious Places

Krista Tippett, host

Wonderful reactions to our show on the meaning of intelligence with Mike Rose. Here’s a line from his book Why School?, which didn’t make it into my interview or the script, but that I love:

We are driven — as surely as we are driven to survive — to find meaning in our lives, to interpret what befalls us, the events that swirl around us, the people who cross our paths, the objects and rhythms of the natural world. We do this instinctively; it is essential to being human. So we do it with or without education. But we are getting educated all the time, of course: by family, community, teachers, pals, bullies, and saints.

I’ve been on a bit of a trajectory of realization about that process — of being educated in not-so-obvious places — through my conversation this past fall with Adele Diamond, and now Mike Rose. They’ve given me a whole new appreciation for aspects of my experience that I had always characterized as on the sidelines of my education — debate teams and theater productions and choirs that kept me thinking and creative even as I was woefully under-challenged by schools in a small town in Oklahoma where advanced classes in everything were cut to keep up the football budget.

I’ve told myself that I had a failed primary and secondary educational experience. Now I can glorify joyful and energizing possibilities that did come my way with the word “education.” Adele Diamond even gives me scientific language to explain the fact that debate and drama quite legitimately gave me the tools to “learn how to learn” and to use what I learn into the present.

I’m also watching my children’s education with new eyes in ways that surprise me. I’m grasping why my daughter’s two years in a Waldorf School were so fundamentally transformative. Waldorf’s focus on storytelling, drama, handiwork, and music could come prescribed from the new science that Adele is part of. But I’m even appreciating my son’s touch football games where so much negotiation and strategizing goes on alongside the physical.

And so life, and education, come full circle.

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Jacqueline Novogratz’s Favorite Teachers
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

In response to Krista’s interview with Mike Rose, many people shared stories of teachers who noticed a talent or interest and encouraged their students to develop it in ways that opened up doors of possibility. Likewise, Jacqueline Novogratz, an upcoming guest on SOF, tells stories about three of her most influential teachers on My Teacher My Hero.

Novogratz runs the Acumen Fund — a philanthropic venture capital fund that invests in scalable entrepreneurial businesses in developing countries. Krista’s interview with Novogratz will serve as the next installment in our evolving "Ethics of Aid" series. We had our pre-edit listen yesterday and are planning to put the show on the air in late January, so stay tuned.

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I look back at the fork in my road and often wonder if I should have, could have, taken the vocational, farming route. But, at the time, nobody valued that route. Everyone valued ‘education.’
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— Michael Sanchez, a chemical engineer living in upstate New York who grew up on a farm in east Texas, in his lovely reflection on "The Meaning of Intelligence."

Trent Gilliss, online editor

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Kindred Spirits: Studs Terkel and Mike Rose
Colleen Scheck, senior producer

Studs Terkel and Mike RoseIn our program with Mike Rose, we are asking you to share your memories of school — moments when your mind came to life in a new way and shaped who you are in terms of becoming, longing, hope, and possibility. One of the memories that came up for me as we produced this program was reading Studs Terkel’s American Dreams: Lost and Found in a college sociology class.

That book inspired me, in the same way I feel inspired by Mike Rose, to consider the meaning of intelligence, to look below the radar and across lines of race, class, and occupation for what’s real, and to grasp how the reality of American lives often defies stereotypes I may attach to them. It also influenced my a love of storytelling, of oral history — Studs style — and an appreciation for the beauty that can be found in matters and people our culture often considers “average.”

So, it was fun for me to discover an interview that Studs Terkel did with Mike Rose in 1996 for Studs’ radio program out of Chicago. It’s classic Studs — filled with curiosity, passion, and his signature chatter. They wander through Rose’s book, Possible Lives, highlighting the public school teachers that Rose chronicled in four years traveling across the U.S. There’s a kindred spirit in their work, and even though it’s over a decade old, I found their conversation about imaginative educators defying the odds still very inspiring for today.

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Approaching Improv

by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

Anoushka Shankar
Anoushka Shankar performs at the Wychwood Music Festival in 2007. (photo: Damian Rafferty/Fly)

While listening to a classic SOF program, "Approaching Prayer" last week, I was struck by musician Anoushka Shankar’s wise words about improvisation:

"…when you’re improvising, it completely forces you to be in the moment, and every bit of your mind and your heart has to be involved with nothing but the melody that you’re playing, the time cycle you’re playing, and what’s happening with your musicians. And that being in the moment is, I think, one of the most important things you can possibly do, whether it’s through meditation or music or studying religion. And that’s always the goal of any meditator is to be in the moment always and not to have your head stuck in the future or stuck in the past. And when you’re able to do that, that’s the whole idea of Zen, I think, as well. And so that’s really beautiful."

I’m taking an an introductory Everyday Improv class right now, and it’s been a delightful challenge to step out of my thinking brain and trust that I don’t need to script or plan into the future — that what I blurt out in the creative rush of the moment will be better and truer than whatever I might concoct in anticipation. I relish the central tenets of performance improv, like accepting every idea as a gift, saying “yes and” to whatever manifests in a scene, trusting my gut, and staying authentic in the moment. It’s not always easy to live up to these principles, but I’m having fun trying.

We’ve heard recently from some listeners about improv is enriching their daily lives. Jim Martinez, a former Wall Street IT professional and teacher in the South Bronx, responded to our recent program with Adele Diamond about how he’s helping schools to meld performance improv and technology in ways that are playful and collaborative.

I hope that we can devote a full program to the theme of improvisation in the future. I see this building on past shows like "Play, Spirit, and Character" and our Repossessing Virtue series on the economic downturn where some of you shared how you’re learning to live improvisationally in the face of greater financial uncertainty.

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Moving to Think
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

Listening to neuroscientist Adele Diamond’s conversation with Krista, I couldn’t help but think of the talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson has written several books on education, the arts, and creativity, and he’s on our “big list” of potential future guests.

One thing Diamond mentions is a lifelong love of dance, which brought to mind Robinson’s story about Gillian Lynne, who’s best known for choreographing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. He tells the story about how Lynne’s “learning disorder” turned out to be her life’s calling (jump to 15:15 in the video for the story, or read the transcript below):

"… Gillian and I had lunch together one day and I said, ‘Gillian how did you get to be a dancer?’ And she said it was interesting; when she was at school she was really hopeless. And the school in the thirties wrote to her parents and said, ‘We think Julian has a learning disorder.’ She couldn’t concentrate, she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD, wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930’s and ADHD hadn’t been invented, you know, at this point, so it wasn’t an available condition, you know. People weren’t aware they could have that.

Anyway, she went to see this specialist in this oak-paneled room and she was there with her mother and she was led and sat on this chair at the end. And she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school.

And at the end of it — because she was disturbing people and her homework was always late and so on, a little kid of eight — in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said ‘I’ve listened to all these things your mother has told me. I need to speak to her privately.’ So he said, ‘Wait here. We’ll be back. We won’t be very long,’ and they went and left her. But as they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk, and when they got out of the room, he said to her mother, ‘Just stand and watch her.’ The minute they left the room she said she was on her feet moving to the music and they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, ‘You know, Mrs. Lynn, Julian isn’t sick — she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.’

I said, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘She did. I can’t tell you, sir, how wonderful it was. We walked into this room and it was full of people like me; people who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.’”

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SoundSeen: Dramatic Play + the Developing Brain

by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

For this week’s show "Learning, Doing, Being: A New Science of Education," Krista interviewed neuroscientist Adele Diamond, who studies how social dramatic play can build “executive function” (EF) skills in children’s brains. As Diamond explains it, EF is a container term for capacities like inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. These are skills that are lodged in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which Diamond calls “the new kid on the block” because it’s the part of the human brain to develop most recently through evolution. As we grow from babies into young adults, the prefrontal cortex is the last brain area to mature. When we age, it is the first to falter.

While producing this show, we learned that Diamond serves as an advisor for a nearby charter school that incorporates some elements of social dramatic play into its curriculum. We visited the school a few weeks ago and one result is this narrated slideshow pairing Adele Diamond’s explanation of the nuts and bolts of EF with 5th and 6th graders demonstrating some of the principles she describes through improvisational theater games.

If you have the chance, check out Krista’s full interview with Adele Diamond or listen for more of this ambient audio in the produced show. I don’t know what brain area is responsible for creating an audio slideshow but mine certainly got a workout putting this together.

And, a special thanks to the teachers and students at Quest Academy for their participation in this project.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson Interview

Trent Gilliss, online editor

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a name that’s been bandied about the office in the last several weeks as a potential guest. While scanning RSS feeds, one keys in on keywords one may not have paid attention to previously.

In this interview with The Humanist, the popular astrophysicist has some intriguing things to say about beliefs, education, and communication. When asked if he’s a humanist:

I’ve never identified with any movement. I just am what I am and occasionally a movement claims me because there is resonance between my writings and speeches and what they do, and that’s fine; I don’t mind that. But no, I have never been politically or organizationally active in that way. Astrophysics—that’s what I identify with.

On television and education (a la Winston?):

I gave a talk to the National Science Teachers Association. That is an important group of people, K-12 educators in science. I asked by show of hands how many people—because I knew it would get an interesting reply—didn’t own a television. Half of the hands went up. Of those who owned a television, I asked how many only occasionally used it to watch a movie, and half of the hands went up. So fully three quarters of that audience whose job it is to teach the next generation science don’t watch television, yet the average American watches thirty or forty hours of television a week. That disconnect is pedagogically fatal.

…and when I say pop culture I don’t mean only the TV shows that are kind of cool and interesting. I also mean the hit shows. I’m talking about Dancing with the Stars. I’m talking about the reality shows most educators thumb their noses at as being of no educational or intellectual value. Yet clearly millions of people watch them every week so there is a disconnect. Once there is a disconnect, you’re not communicating.

On a new atheist’s style of communicating science:

In the category of worst practices, there are occasions where people—either humanist or atheist—are just completely obnoxious in a conversation with others. I even had a tussle with Richard Dawkins (I think it’s my most viewed YouTube clip) in which I accused him of being completely ineffective because he is so sharp of wit in the service of his point of view, and he is so well educated that he may fail to fulfill the directive of his title, which at the time was Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. That implies that your conversation with another person is an act of persuasion in some ways, not hitting them over the head. You want to understand what is going on in another person’s mind and meet them there. Otherwise, you’re not as effective as you could be.

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