Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Educating our children in the School of One

I recently read about a pilot programme, for school children, currently underway in some New York Schools.

Time Magazine listed the programme as one of the best inventions of 2009

Arthur E Levin, of the Huffington Post writes that this programme "is a prototype for our nation's schools in the decades to come. It's a model much more powerful and potentially far-reaching than any other reform, including much-ballyhooed charter schools, to date"
It is called the 'School of One' programme, and it has the support of New York City's schools chancellor, Joel Klein.

Joel Rose, the founder of the School of One says that the intention is to “provide teachers with a powerful tool that enables them to meet the needs of each student and allows them more time to focus on the quality of instruction.”

The programme combines traditional teaching methods with cutting-edge technology and software. Virtual tutors, and other tools, are used to provide students with customised tuition that meets each student's individal needs and learning styles

It is a new approach, and it challenges the classical approach to classroom tuition, that has been in place for approximately 100 years.

The New York Times explains:

"Once the students arrive at school, they receive their individual playlists identifying the lessons they have to complete for the day, which could involve virtual tutoring online, computer worksheets or small-group lessons with a classroom teacher. Their schedules are also displayed on large television screens, akin to flight schedule displays in airports"

What I find fascinating, and exciting, about the School of One programme, is that each lesson is customised for each child. That means that each child's strengths, weaknesses and interests are accounted for.

The programme acknowledges that when it comes to schooling and education, each child is different

And that's a good thing

Monday, November 16, 2009

What can we learn from South African Film Locations?

 District 9, released in 2009, is a science-fiction movie, reflecting many realities of South Africa's past and present. It was a block-buster hit of 2009, and to date, has grossed $200 million. Sara Vilkomerson, a movie critic at The New York Observer wrote:

"District 9 is the most exciting science fiction movie to come along in ages; definitely the most thrilling film of the summer; and quite possibly the best film I've seen all year."

Other critics were equally complimentary

Interestingly, the movie was shot on location in Chiawelo, in Soweto. In fact, the setting was mostly that of a shanty town, a typical township. Typical of the poverty and impoverished neighbourhoods that many South Africans are living in

Tsotsi tells the story of a South African street thug, who finds a baby on the back seat of a car he stole. The film was resleased in 2005. It was set in a slum, in Soweto. The film won an Oscar, and to date, has grossed $10 million.

 Jerusalema is a film that deals with the criminal underworld of Hillbrow, Johannesburg. It was submitted to the Academy Awards to qualify for a nominee, but was not selected

What I find fascinating about these movies is that they are all set within parts of South Africa, that many South Africans would rather not acknowledge. The poverty of township life, the criminal activity that exists within shanty towns, the thuggery of Hillbrow's organised criminal underworld.

But these 'negative' aspects of South Africa are the essential backdrops for these successful and critically acclaimed movies

There is a saying that goes "One man's rubbish is another man's treasure". Well, South Africa has so much 'rubbish' that the international movie industry, at least, recognizes as treasure. And that industry is willing to exploit our treasures.

The lesson, I feel, that can be learnt is that South Africa has so many unique issues, that we need to not only acknowledge, but also embrace. Some of those issues are not particulalry pleasant, but they are ours. And they can be seen as treasures

And so too in our personal lives, we have many personal issues. Let us view them as treasures, learn from them, and exploit them for the unique role they play in our lives


Look out for Invictus, a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, detailing Nelson Mandela's life during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. It is due for release on December 11, 2009. It stars Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman

Check out the recently launched: http://www.safilmlocations.co.za/

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My son wears high heels. Yay

My 3 year old son, Caleb, and I, recently had a typical encounter. When I say typical, I mean the encounter was typical of many parent-child encounters/debates

Encounters that usually take place prior to stepping out into the public arena

Encounters that I too had on many occasions with my parents

This particular encounter occurred on a non-descript Shabbat/Sabbath morning before shul/synagogue. We were at home. Getting dressed. Wearing our smart, presentable, 'Sunday best'.

Okay, I was dressed in my Sunday best. The struggle was getting him to understand that when going out in public, especially to the synagogue for Sabbath prayer services, one should dress appropriately. He should dress like me. Black pants. Long sleeved shirt.


When people use the word 'appropriately', it sometimes means 'not naked' but it (actually) usually means 'like everyone else'

In this situation it refers to the latter

My son insisted on wearing short pants that resembled swimming trunks. Long Spiderman socks, pulled up to his knees. A T-shirt that did not even match itself. And, his high heels

He loves his high heels

They are a pair of smart, boy's black shoes with a typical heel at the back. He calls them his 'boy's high heels'

And the encounter went something like this

Daddy: You can't wear that. It looks ridiculous
Caleb: I love these clothes. I love these shoes
Daddy: But you can't leave the house looking like that
Caleb: It looks cool. I like it

That went on for a while. I eventually gave up, realising that giving my kids a healthy breakfast was more important than having a fight over what Caleb was wearing

We went to the synagogue. Caleb wore HIS version of 'Sunday best'. And I sat in the synagogue, watching him, feeling slightly embarrassed.

I replayed the 'encounter', over and over, in my mind. And then I got into an internal debate

I reckoned:

  • He is fully clothed. 'Appropriate' for prayer services.
  • But he looks ridiculous.
  • But he looks extremely cute too
  • But what bout the 'encounter' we had before leaving home?
  • I really did not want him to go out looking like that
  • But this is what he wanted to wear
  • These were clothes that he liked
  • This was how he wanted to express himself
What's a concerned father-with-a-dress-sense to do?

My biggest concern before leaving the house, and while sitting in the synagogue, was:


I was not thinking: 'What will people think about him'

My concern was that people would think that I did not know how to dress my kids 'appropriately'. My concern was that people will judge me. My concern was that people will accuse me of being an inadequate parent. My fear was that my EGO would come under attack

And I recalled the same fears my parents had - every time I left the house with my favourite ripped jeans, or worn-out shoes.

It took me a while, but I started to realise that I should not confuse my ego with childrens' desire to express themselves

My kids dress 'appropriately'. I do not need to fight/argue with my kids when all they want to do is express themselves, albeit through an offensive dress sense.

THESE types of parent-child 'encounters' are not worth the fight
These types of arguements only serve limits my childrens' self-expression. I do not want to limit their creativity to my ego-based fears of other parents' criticism

My ego can handle a pair of boy's high heels

Monday, November 2, 2009

Extremist Capitalism and Chipmunk Economics

Goldman Sachs recently reported profits of $3.1 billion for the third quarter of 2009. The bonus pool being set aside for this year will amount to, approximately, $16 billion.

When converted into ZAR, the figures are mind-boggling. And while mere mortal South Africans do not (usually)deal with such fantastical numbers within corporate South Africa, the issue of big bonuses (and greed) is not unique to the US or Europe.

Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of Cosatu, recently slammed the South African business community for white-collar crime, as well as ridiculously high salary levels and bonus payments.

While I very seldom agree with Cosatu, or ANY member of its leadership, I do see capitalist greed as not only problematic, but self-destructive too. The greed, and ‘survival of the fittest’ concept, is getting more extreme, especially as economic and political uncertainty grows. I support capitalism and the freedom to pursue one’s commercial interests. But I fear Extremist Capitalism and the pursuit of greed and accumulation.

US President Obama likes referring to the “top 1%” who own and control the US economy. Economies that are owned and controlled by a small minority are pretty typical of all societies, cultures and states. It is not unique to the greedy West and it exists in the corrupt developing world too. But while we live in the free world, and live within a free economy, we need to recognize the pitfalls of our system. And these pitfalls exist in the form of greed, exploitation and accumulation.

Cosatu, and the 99% of South Africans who are feel economically disempowered, will continue to fight Capitalism, as long as it continues to present itself in the form of Extremist Capitalism.

Extremist Capitalism is not only driven by greed, and the desire to survive. It is also driven by a need to accumulate. And that need to accumulate overrides our desire to live lifestyles that suit our families, our communities and ourselves.

George Soros committed $50mil to the recently launched Institute for New Economic Thinking. Anatole Kaletsky of The Times in London, writes that economics is a profession “whose creativity has been stifled by the intellectual monopoly of orthodox academic funding bodies”. The new institute aims to challenge this orthodoxy and its accepted economic theories and models.

I support such a move

And while traditional economic take scientific mathematical models, as well as human behavior into account, the Western world’s desire to accumulate, is driven by, what I call, Chipmunk Economics. Chipmunk Economics is all about accumulation.

At times, the accumulation is for the ‘just-in-case’ scenario. Just in case we need that thing in future; just in case we can’t find it next time; just in case the economy slows down; just in case there is political upheaval.

At times, the accumulation is for accumulation’s sake.

And both types of accumulation are completely rational. Both are accepted as normal. Both are justified

But are we human beings or are we chipmunks?

Do we earn money to support the lifestyles we want to live, or do we earn money to accumulate things?

• How many holiday homes can one family visit at one time?

• How many cars can one executive drive at one time?

• How many i-pods can one person listen to at one time?

• How many video-gaming systems can our children play with at one time?

Are we spending time growing our business ventures, or at car dealerships, buying yet another car? Are we spending time with our families, or are we on the phone with our property managers because the geyser burst (yet again) at our holiday home in Plett?

Is our rational, normal and justified desire to accumulate REALLY supporting the lifestyles we want to live?

I support a free, rational economy as a means to developing our country

I support the making of money in order to provide for our families and to ensure some sort of financial security

But I fear that Extremist Capitalism, based on greed, will lead to demise of our society.

And I fear that Chipmunk Economics, based on accumulation, will lead to the demise of our inner selves