who gets the knowledge?

25 February 2009

This week I read an article about a professor who has recently retired from Columbia University, which sits in the middle of Harlem.  This particular professor approached teaching from the perspective of Plato’s “street philosophy” (as he calls it) and the more modern term, “community of learning.”  He felt that any educational institution should be an interactive part of the community, and as such, he welcomed the neighbourhood residents into his classroom anytime they wanted.  Without registration or fees, and much to the chagrin of the university administration.  He involved these folks in the class discussions, and he started a community forum in which they were able to further their exchange of ideas.

I’m greatly inspired by this educator and those like him, because the biggest thing I took away from my own experiences as an adult learner was that my take on things matters.  My window on the world is valid, and unless my ideas and interpretations get “out there” they won’t become a part of the community/world dialogue.

The story reminded me of a lady that used to ride her bike around Windsor around the time I was attending the University of Windsor which, similarly, resides in one of the city’s “have not” neighbourhoods – the notorious “west end.”   I’m not sure what her particular ‘situation’ was – she didn’t really appear destitute, but she was always riding on that bike with its large front basket, like those designed for newspaper carriers.  And she was always looking for all she was worth like she had somewhere to be, toting around numerous plastic shopping bags full of who knows what in that giant square basket.

One year, the bike riding lady took to sitting in on some of my English classes.  She would sit right in the front row and pull out a handful of loose leaf paper from a plastic shopping bag and spend the whole class taking notes.  One day she sat beside me and a couple of times I looked over at her notes to see what they said.  Her light and measured scrawl left bits and crumbs of the professor’s lecture, as if she were just catching words as he released them and getting the ones she managed to secure down on the page.  Each line of the loose leaf was filled to capacity, and then she would turn the page over.  At the time I thought she was probably only taking notes to make herself blend in, and I thought that was too bad because she would probably get much more out of the experience if she just sat and listened, rather than trying to hide by taking notes that didn’t say anything.

One time at the start of a new semester, she arrived on the first day and this time she asked the professor if she could sit in.  Maybe this time she thought if she had his blessing, she could just sit and listen.  But he said no.  He said the seats were limited, and they had to be reserved for paying students.  I’d venture to say that a good percentage of the payers for those classroom seats were probably mommies and daddies whose little darlings would cease to populate those seats after a week or two in favour of a sleep-in or something else more fun than an English class.  Given that, I couldn’t understand what possible harm she could be in the classroom.  At least she wanted to be there; and even if it was just to keep warm, it sure beat lots of other places she might otherwise find to keep warm.

Whatever his reasons, this professor certainly seemed to reinforce the notion that university (i.e. knowledge) is for the paying elite, not meant to accommodate the likes of the community in which it sits.

Today I’m wondering what this lady might have got out of the class if she were encouraged to not only sit there, but to listen and to offer her own take on the literature in the discussions.  More importantly, I wonder what the students, even the professor, might have learned from her window on the world.

Read the article here.


If I am ever to contract some dramatic, long term disease, I will clearly not be the type of writer who will end her life by writing a detailed, moving book about the situation and live on forever as an inspiration to all those who came after her.  And before I go any further, I DON’T have any dramatic and long term disease, but I was not well for a time, and it culminated in a somewhat dramatic fashion, by way of a “get your ass to a hospital and get a blood transfusion” call at work from my doctor.  By the way, I’d recommend a blood transfusion for a haemoglobin sitch any day of the week as I now feel like a million dollars.  (That’s NOT to say I’m recommending getting into any haemoglobin sitch.  Important stuff, that haemoglobin; do your best to hang on to it.)

I suppose every one of us would retreat inward on getting sick.  You focus on getting though the day and on your body getting well.  And I guess it makes sense that since one of the symptoms I had was extreme fatigue, the mere act of thinking, let alone writing, was a challenge to me.  Getting to the bus stop was a minor victory.

At any rate, I’m back.  I’m well, and I was treated, and continue to be treated, and it’s working.  I could tell the tale of what it was like to learn that I needed blood, and the subsequent day spent going about getting it. But I’ve done enough sitting around in emergency rooms and hospitals to last me a lifetime, and probably so have you.  Describing what it is like to wait and wait and wait and wait is not what I call ‘writable’.  (It was certainly ‘writable’ by Samual Beckett, but I’m no Samual Beckett.  Frankly, I didn’t like his play much anyway.  Probably because I’m not a good ‘waiter.’)  And I could tell you what it was like to be referred to as “the hemo” or the “the blood” by the busy nurses swirling around the rooms with tubes and bags and blood pressure monitors in their arms.  When I told Carly I was “the hemo” we really just had a giggle about it.  Who wouldn’t?

There were a few inspirational experiences, like spending half a day next to a wonderful man in his nineties and eavesdropping on his conversations.  But he’s in hospital, vulnerable, and I’m thinking that even though he and the other people I encountered remain anonymous, it’s somehow unethical to talk about them.  But I sure hope that man got to go home.  He really  wanted to.  He had some shopping to do.

Anyway, it’s time to get this blog and my related blog world activities rolling again.  It was one of life’s annoying (and thankfully temporary) little glitches.  I’m back, and I feel great, and duly reminded of the precious gift that is health.

an old scottish couplet

2 February 2009

“If Candlemas Day is bright and clear/ There’ll be two winters in the year.”

(Somehow a Canadian groundhog heard tell of that little verse.)

(Sure is bright and clear today.)

Winter: My Secret, Christina Rossetti

Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.

Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.

Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.

Perhaps some languid summer day,
WHen drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.

Christina Rossetti

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Creating a doll in collage is a great way to convey a picture of the inner “YOU” at present.  You might be surprised at who reveals her/himself!  Knowing that, how could you resist trying?

In which a collage doll comes together. 


The results are always surprising.

Clear a comfortable space.  Start by focusing on a theme or personal vision.  Browse through magazines and newspapers, or other materials at hand and cut out whatever speaks to you.  (Remember, you’re not married to the pieces.  Just cut them out.) 


When the piece (in this case a doll) has revealed itself to you (and it will), arrange it together in a journal, on a sheet of cardboard or whatever. 


When the arrangement is right, mark the placement of major sections with pencil.  Podge the back of the pieces and carefully secure them to the page. 


Make sure all the edges are flat.  (It’s kind of like wallpapering – get all those bubbles out!)  Apply several coats of podge over the entire thing.  


Before this creature was even born, I envisioned her in a window, so I expect she will be cut out and further embellished with stuff that sparkles in the light.  Stay tuned.