Friday, August 30, 2013

Little Boxes: Hexaflexagons the Inspired Way

That kid is a genius. She's a math-savant. That one over there has a learning disability. Just like that other one, only she's a bit further behind. Those two over there require tutoring. That one has been skipped ahead a grade...

We're all about putting ourselves in boxes. Names, ages, races, grades, careers, professions, hobbies... the list goes on and on, and to some extent it's useful for finding like-minded people. As homelearners, unschoolers, life-learners, etc. we tend to put ourselves (and our children) in boxes, too: My son is a budding physicist! My daughter is a budding writer! Oh wait! Librarian! Maybe she's a budding educator!! Wait! I'll figure it out! (Why am I trying to pigeon-hole her??) We like to say "Oh look at all the math we're doing with this recipe!" or "...been reading the whole ________ series from beginning to end; he must be great at reading!!" Maybe he's just happy with ________. As a teacher I have become very good at identifying the "core subjects" that we cover in our explorations during Wild Art sessions. This validates what we do for parents and the inevitable curriculum requirements of our province's school system. Some people cut up their days into time for working, time for playing, and (though I think it's ridiculous) time for 'learning', (as if 'learning' only happens at that time...). We unschoolers sometimes even coach our children on how to identify themselves to others, to help avoid conflict, and promote healthy relationships. These boxes create part of our identity. But they also mask it. And they definitely prevent a lot of understanding.

So here's a box for you, and we're going to deconstruct it. 
With abandon!

OOOOOOOH! It's one of those excellent "math activities"!! It's a flat paper with 3 or 9 sides!!! Or 27!!!! Wait. What? Now you're getting interesting. So let's follow a template. They're all over the internet. Easy to find, just like the templates for paper models of polyhedra. You get to cut out on the solid lines, fold on the dotted lines, and... ta da! You made a polyhedron! Just like you were supposed to do!!! Or a hexaflexagon! Or a tri-hexaflexagon. Just like the recipe.

It's obvious where this is going. Don't do it! Save yourselves!! You've put yourself in another perfectly 20-sided little box!!

Here's what I would do, instead:

How to Make Hexaflexagons and other Math-Crafts:
Watch Vi Hart videos. Yes, they're kind of instruction videos, but she goes so incredibly fast that you simply can't follow. And she has awesome style. You can only watch and get inspired. :-)) Excellent. My kids love her videos so much that they just sit and watch them for entertainment!

Next, retire the videos, and get out materials: glue, tape, scissors, paper, big papers, thin papers, thick papers, coloured papers and white papers, maybe some fabrics or plastics or whatever other scraps you have lying around... rulers or a straight-edge cutter... and pens or pencil-crayons... anything that suits your fancy!

If you have friends who already have some inspiration in cutting-and-folding-and-glueing, get together with them and have fun letting them show you what they like to do! Then show them your own innovations!

Now play.

Maybe you will make hexaflexagons; maybe you will make polyhedrons; maybe you will make flip-books, comic strips, curly paper decorations, paper chains, paper earrings, paper clothes for your pet hamster -- maybe you will eat the paper. But you will have FUN. And you will get to the end of this messy paper session having had fun. And THAT is what is important.

Yes, sure, you're going to get some math skills in doing this. And science. Physics.  And communication skills, and dexterity practice, and colour theory, and maybe even writing and poetry, depending where you go with it. I could go on. But who cares? In trying to pigeon-hole it like this, you've probably killed the enjoyment.

So... back to that enjoyment. HAVE FUN!!! You might even be making boxes - literally! Differently-shaped boxes, differently-sized boxes, boxes with many many evolving sides and inside-out boxes that jump into different dimensions?! You might start out making a hexaflexagon "just like Vi Hart's" and end up with something really quite different, due to your own experimenting!

It's all a bit existential, really. You could try transcribing existential poetry or bendable stories onto your boxes and wig each other out with your weird performances...

You can even get together with your friends around the world and make hexaflexagons over Skype.

This is education!
This is fun!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Syria, Thicke, and Cyrus

Yeah I'm talking about it.

Everybody's up-in-arms. Everybody has something to say. If it's not about the ridiculous (or shameful, or brave and commendable) performance of Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the VMA, (for reasons of sexism, racism, slut-shaming, etc.) or about Syria, the Arab Spring, and the debated potential for World War III, then it's about which of the two is more important. Even in humour, that seems to be a thing. So here's my thing: They're BOTH important.

Pop Culture
Honestly, I didn't know this song existed until I heard Jian Ghomeshi interview Robin Thicke on CBC last week (listen here), and I've seen way too many naked girls (she wasn't naked anyway) and arrogant men with no dancing skills making un-coordinated moves at them to be even slightly alarmed by the performance. It was just a publicity stunt... which would be completely in line with Thicke stating (about his video for Blurred Lines) in his interview on CBC: "...and uh, you know luckily I'll be able to put my kid through college, so... thank you everybody out there." I guess we all have to do what we have to do, eh? I hope his kids are happy he did it. I don't find the VMA performance shocking, nor to I find the Blurred Lines video shocking. It's not any different than the ads on bus shelters, the covers of magazines in grocery store checkouts, or the TV shows that sell us pop-culture and shock-culture along with consumables.

It's everywhere. Is it surprising that there's political pandering all over the place, and leaders seek to align themselves most favourably, and all the rest of us hang on their words, trying to predict when the next World War will come, and where it will cause the most damage? No. We're just people being scared.

The Combination of War and Pop Culture
This is where things get real, for me. We feed our children war in their cereal in the mornings. We pump up the controversy to make money and make hype for our egos and our wallets. We lounge around with slave-made technological devices typing our arrogant thoughts onto our blogs (yes that's me) and we post slogans and alarming articles to our Facebook pages. A few notices come my way every day, just relating to significant ecological threats to my own tiny corner of this province. There are so many of these alarming news items that they are now as cluttered as the stage of Miley's teddy bear performance (were there white teddy bears or only black? People can't remember; this seems to be a topic for debate...) and we don't know where to look.

Look here: Drone Operator describes how he killed more than 1600 real people remotely, from a desk on another continent.

That is real.

People don't just train for the military by playing video games, they also kill people using similar technology. And it looks like a video game. We have lost touch with ourselves as humans. War IS pop culture. Pop culture IS war. Robin Thicke is wrong. This is not just entertainment. This is where we play out the real wars that are really killing real people. War is entertainment. And we are OK with that.

We're all about healthy body-image and promoting good, safe sex for our kids; helping them to feel good about themselves and brave enough to stand up to bullies. We're all about giving them emotional, intellectual, and physical weapons to protect themselves, but WHEN do we, as parents, stand up for them? When do we stand up for ourselves?

When do we, as a global culture, stand up and say NO MORE?!
When do we, as a global culture, stand up for US?

It's not even about not buying guns and barbies, or telling our children to be kind to each other.

It's about maybe not buying anything at all. It's about realizing that every single item we buy, use, or promote has a political, cultural cost.

It's about realizing that this little laptop - in its materials alone - has cost our culture and our future much more than I paid for it. The media it accesses costs untellably more, again.

It's about realizing that we can't just shield our children from the pop culture that we consume ourselves; we have to LIVE the way we want the world to be.

It's about knowing that Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke are us.

It's about knowing that the Syrian rebels and Al Qaeda and the al-Assads and the Obamas and the little girl sitting in her Syrian house wondering who Robin Thicke's children are... are us.

It's about knowing that when she dies, a piece of us dies, too.

We can't tell other people to change.
We can only change ourselves.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Treasures we Choose to Pass On

I write a lot about what we pass on to our children, because I think it's one of the most important things in the world. It's how evolution happens. So I want to be careful about what I choose to pass on.

Tali and Rhiannon using their instruments at our campsite.

I am trying to pass on my love of traditional folk music. Folk music = people-music. And I'm trying to pass of my love of the people I share it with. This is one of the gifts my mother gave me.

My lovely Mama, Lyn van Lidth de Jeude
We have some wonderful friends, Jon and Rika, who are magnets for BC's traditional folk scene... and no wonder, since they've dedicated their lives to collecting, preserving, and promoting BC's, North America's, Britain's, and some of Europe's traditional music. Wherever they go they seem to create a folk festival, and it's pretty much guaranteed to be mostly attended by musicians -- many of whom travel great distances to participate -- as well as to be a good kernel of raw traditional music in a field that is now very much populated with pop music. They are in many ways the heartbeat of this music genre in our corner of the earth.

Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat

So these days they're living in Princeton, BC, and that's why we go there every summer for the now 6-year-old Princeton Traditional Music Festival.

Dancing in the evening with

-- which happens to include our dear friend Morgan Bartlett on euphonium!

My Mum and brother and I like to perform there. We watch all kinds of fabulous performances, we hang out at Jon and Rika's house making and enjoying music and good company late into the night(s), and most of all, we find the old friends who have been such an important, though infrequent, part of our lives. These friends aren't the people we have over for tea or family celebrations; in fact we nearly never see them except at folk events. But there is something in the sharing of this music that connects us.

Barry Hall
One of those people is Barry.
Once, when I was a teenager, I saw a long-haired man walk into the room at the Vancouver Folk Song Society's annual retreat, and felt as if I'd known him all my life, despite having no recollection of him. He played amazingly beautiful blues guitar, that day, and eventually I had to ask my Mum who this man was. I was sure I knew all my uncles, but really -- could I have forgotten one?
She laughed. That's Barry! He and I used to sing together when you were a baby and you spent a lot of time playing around our feet. Ah. So he is family. Musical family. Barry Hall turns out to be a hugely respected musician (this took me a while to realize, as a teen), who is credited by some with inspiring a generation of banjo players, after his record, The Virtuoso 5-String Banjo came out in the 60's. But more importantly to me, he is one of the kindest people I have ever known, and I guess such people never leave my heart!

This year I was delighted to discover that Barry was coming to Princeton. I hadn't seen him in many years, and it was a wonderful thing to be able to introduce him to my husband and children. He allowed me to film some of the pieces he played, for this blog post.