Saturday, February 27, 2016

Habits of Mind

The education sector is characterized by an endless parade of Game Changing Innovations (GCI), each of which eclipses the previous GCI, which was never given enough of a chance to work. Then there is the obsession with ever-lengthening and ever-more complex lists of "standards" each student is supposed to meet, for example as we see with the Common Core. One innovation that stands the test of time, and is simple to boot, is the learning construct called the Habits of Mind, introduced by Deborah Meier and others with the Coalition of Essential Schools some 25 years ago now. This is something a student can really grasp and internalize, I believe. And teachers can easily work them into assignments. This is how they are presented at the Mission Hill K-8 School (of Boston) website:
Habits of Mind

The Mission Hill Habits of Mind are an approach to both the traditional academic disciplines (math, science, literature and history) and the interdisciplinary stuff of ordinary life. They are what lead us to ask good questions and seek solid answers. They are the school’s definition of a well-educated person.

Evidence: How do we know what’s true and false? What evidence counts? How sure can we be? What makes it credible to us? This includes using the scientific method, and more.
Viewpoint: How else might this look like if we stepped into other shoes? If we were looking at it from a different direction? If we had a different history or expectation? This requires the exercise of informed “empathy” and imagination. It requires flexibility of mind.
Connections/Cause and Effect: Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before? What are the possible consequences?
Conjecture: Could it have been otherwise? Supposing that? What if…? This habit requires use of the imagination as well as knowledge of alternative possibilities. It includes the habits described above.
Relevance: Does it matter? Who cares?
None of these five habits stand separately, and the way we use such habits differ if we are studying a mathematical proof, a scientific hypothesis, an historical dispute, a debate over economics, the appreciation of a piece of art, a critique of a novel, the telling of a myth or narrative, or the settling of a playground dispute.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Theme & Variation

All of life amounts to theme and variation. All of the arts are theme and variation. And politics, too, I guess. In the arts, it's pleasing. In politics, not so much. I mean, in the arts any theme can be made more interesting, delightful, moving, or instructive. In this year's Republican primary race, every theme just comes out uglier after having gone through our candidates' variations.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Cat and the iPad

Whenever I hear the sound of thumping and scratching in the next room I know that it is Andy the Cat trying to open my iPad by sitting on it and clawing and swatting at it. I laugh every time I watch him in his futile quest. And I wonder: Is this how we look to those at the next higher level of consciousness? Do they laugh when we fail to . . . what? Open up our hearts wider and more freely, I guess. But you can't block them and hope to open them too, they chuckle. Not a moral judgment. Just a friendly observation.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Clash: Police and Thieves

This is a roots reggae classic first written and performed by Junior Murvin, and produced by the legendary dub master Lee "Scratch" Perry. The Clash sharpened the angles and made the song their own, though. Talk about the collapsing of dualities! Could be an anthem for now.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Ocean and the Drop

"All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop."

- Kabir, 15th century Indian sage and mystic

Saturday, February 13, 2016


Judith Trepp, 2013, ink and acrylic on Indian handmade paper, 18.5 x 29 in.

Thich Nhat Hanh: "Pratitya samutpada is sometimes called the teaching of cause and effect, but that can be misleading, because we usually think of cause and effect as separate entities, with cause always preceding effect, and one cause leading to one effect. According to the teaching of Interdependent Co-Arising, cause and effect co-arise (samutpada) and everything is a result of multiple causes and conditions... In the sutras, this image is given: "Three cut reeds can stand only by leaning on one another. If you take one away, the other two will fall." For a table to exist, we need wood, a carpenter, time, skillfulness, and many other causes. And each of these causes needs other causes to be. The wood needs the forest, the sunshine, the rain, and so on. The carpenter needs his parents, breakfast, fresh air, and so on. And each of those things, in turn, has to be brought about by other causes and conditions. If we continue to look in this way, we'll see that nothing has been left out. Everything in the cosmos has come together to bring us this table. Looking deeply at the sunshine, the leaves of the tree, and the clouds, we can see the table. The one can be seen in the all, and the all can be seen in the one. One cause is never enough to bring about an effect. A cause must, at the same time, be an effect, and every effect must also be the cause of something else. Cause and effect inter-are. The idea of first and only cause, something that does not itself need a cause, cannot be applied."

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Product Placement

1. Yesterday I went to Papyrus to buy an overpriced card. I needed a sympathy card, and I had a heck of a time finding them -- until there they were, at the bottom of an obscure rack near the back of the store. When I squatted down to peruse them, I saw they were positioned just above the retirement cards. I get that.

2. My two subjects in graduate school were education and theological studies. At the giant Barnes & Noble in Harvard Square (known locally as the Harvard Coop), those two categories are displayed at the very back of the third floor, the farthest possible distance from the store entry. I guess I don't have my finger on the pulse of things.

3. Why do I hate drug stores? Well, first of all, because every one of them looks exactly the same, everywhere in the US -- even when they change ownership. One month it's a Rite Aid, the next a Walgreens, and nothing changes. But mostly it's because to get the stuff you want like Advil and travel size toiletries they make you walk past all the stuff you don't want, like shampoo, magazines, and junk food.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wim Wenders' America

The question of the hour, of course, is how do they vote in Wim Wenders' America? If they vote at all, I'm guessing Trump, Cruz, and Bernie. The politics of non-politics, of throw the bums out, of somethin's gotta change.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Denise Levertov: "Relearning the Alphabet"

Here, I'll share the first few letters of Denise Levertov's poem of 1968-69:

Relearning the Alphabet


Joy--a beginning.   Anguish, ardor.
To relearn the ah! of knowing in unthinking
joy: the beloved stranger lives,
Sweep up anguish as with a wing-tip,
brushing the ashes back to the fire's core.


To be. To love an other only for being.


Clear, cool? Not those evasions. The seeing
that burns through, comes through to
the fire's core.


In the beginning was delight. A depth
stirred as one stirs fire unthinking.
Dark   dark   dark   , And the blaze illumines

The Original Reality Show

Credit: Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports

The Celtics knocked off highly-favored Cleveland last night on Avery Bradley's buzzer-beating three-pointer that splashed through the net with no time left on the clock. His shot was from the corner, right in front of the Celtics' bench. Televised sports constitute the Original Reality Show. Sports events are real-real, unlike reality shows, which are fake-real.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

When In Doubt: El Greco

My credo here at Art & Argument is: When in doubt post an El Greco. Okay, but why this one, an engaged reader might wonder (and I have no other kind). Well because while attending a Christmas music service at the Episcopalian Trinity Church in Boston in December, I was struck by how in Christianity the savior of humankind is a baby, the embodiment of innocence. I'm not sure what that means. But somehow it connects with how, despite his innocence, and also because of his spiritual provocations, he was sacrificed on the cross, taking upon himself the guilt of the world.

As for the painting, it has all the hallmarks of El Greco greatness: The hugely energetic composition spurred on by the elongation of the forms, the waviness of the fabric, and the storminess of the sky. And, my favorite part, his utterly distinctive, mellow but bold, color palette.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Eagle Hunters of Mongolia


Truly incredible photo essay at the the Mother Jones website. Writer Gregory Barber tells us that "the eagle hunters, known as burkitshi, are members of Mongolia's Kazakh minority, living in the remote valleys of the Altai Mountains in the country's far west. Australian photographer Palani Mohan spent five years traveling there, documenting the nomadic lives of the 50 or 60 men who still hunt as their ancestors did 1,000 years ago." The men take eagles from their nest at about four months, after they are old enough to survive outside the nest but are still trainable. They forge lifelong relationships.