A New Site

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Make it new.

– Ezra Pound

Dear followers:

Note that this site has moved to a new address.

From here on out, I’ll be posting under a new name and theme at learnersherpa.com.

Please consider following, especially if you were already following Constant Happiness, and would like to stay in the loop.

I plan to kick things up a notch — so stay tuned.

Juxtapose.

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Textbooks can only offer so much. But the richest textbook is out there.

Let’s say the learning goal is to sink our teeth into the ongoing problem that is racial prejudice in America (and to a lesser yet still significant extent, in Canada).

It would be simple and tempting for Teacher to blab about the injustice committed in the shooting of Michael Brown. To sell Teacher’s point-of-view.

But if our job is to light a spark and to help Learners make their own connections, we might consider the art of juxtaposition. Let’s lay it on a platter, and let them decide.

Say:

We play this clip from a police officer’s retirement party, where an officer mocks Brown’s death in a song:

Then we play this track by artist J. Cole:

Then we see what happens.

Then we work play with that.

Be annoying.

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Last week you told me that others sometimes find you annoying. Because I know that you’re reading, here’s what I’m thinking.

So they say you’re annoying. Good! Be annoying.

Because what they mean by ‘annoying,’ whether or not they realize it, is something else entirely. Something different, something new. My guess is, if you’re annoying, you’re also interesting.

I wonder. Why do they call you annoying?

Do they call you annoying because you laugh in funny way? If so, let’s call Ricky Gervais annoying. But let’s also call him a comedic genius.

Do they call you annoying because you ask lots of questions? If so, then let’s call Albert Einstein annoying. But let’s also call him a peacemaker.

Do they call you annoying because you hold a viewpoint that differs from their own? If so, let’s call Malala Yousafzai annoying. But let’s also call her a voice for millions of the voiceless.

Einstein was annoying.

Don’t get me wrong: there is such a thing as bad-annoying.

Bad-annoying means only talking about yourself. Bad-annoying means making others feel small. But that’s not what you are.

What you are is worth paying attention to. You may not blend in; but blending in is over-rated, and frankly not that interesting.

So be annoying. Be good-annoying, and don’t try to alter this part of your character. Instead, own it. Because what makes you annoying today is precisely what might make you worth paying attention to tomorrow.

The things people say of a man do not alter a man. He is what he is.

– Oscar Wilde

The Devices We Use (To Get By)

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dog in car

Colville’s ‘Dog in Car’ (1999) | on exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario until January 2015

It is interesting how often you see a dog in a car. Why would a person take a dog in a car? Well, there are practical reasons — you don’t want to leave the dog at home or something like that — but basically the dog has a comforting presence. There is this curious business of how people stand existence — how do people make it from one day through to the next, without becoming anxious or crazed or suicidal, or whatever, you know? And they do it by all kinds of devices, and one of which is having a dog in a car.

– Alex Colville

Why I don’t own a car.

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Meet Mr. Money Mustache. At age 30, he retired along with his wife to start a family and live a “wonderful and fulfilling existence.” How does he do it?

Badassity.

His word, not mine. For MMM, it’s all about

using logic and science to design a Slightly Less Than Average Lifestyle in order to live more happily.

It’s not so much about living like you’re poor. It’s about learning to recognize the profound richness, right under your nose, ready to be tapped into.

A starting point for Mustache was the decision to question whether it made sense to own more than one car. Or to own a car, period.

Two years ago, my wife and I found ourselves asking the same question. We had just bought our first home which, lovely as it is, doesn’t have a driveway. So we had to pay for street parking. And we had to pay for insurance. And for gas. And repairs. One morning, I awoke to find the front bumper smashed in; no one had left a note. Literally overnight, we lost over $700.

a sexy bike

a sexy bike

After some discussion, my wife and I decided to sell the car. After all, we each owned a bike, and were paying for public transit passes, anyway. We sold our Civic for ten grand, cash; but the real profit is in what we’ve saved since then. Going carless was liberating. We’ve never looked back.

I’ve since invested in a sexy bike, which is my primary mode of transportation. People sometimes express surprise that I commute most days by bicycle. Here’s what Mr. Money Mustache has to say about choosing pedal power over horsepower:

We don’t use our bikes […] because it saves us a few dollars of fuel. We do it because it’s an awesome way to connect with your own town, stay in proper condition, adapt naturally to your own climate, and live like a real human instead of a sanitized, flabby car clown.

Mustache’s tone is, granted, sometimes abrasive — that’s his style — but his message resonates. Lifestyle changes are about more than saving money.

They’re about being smarter about how to tap into happiness.

Serial is the Real Deal.

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Everywhere is noise. Yet on occasion you stumble on a sound-thought that begs you to pause and to dig deep.

Last week I discovered Serial.

Serial is a podcast where we unfold one nonfiction story, week by week, over the course of a season. We’ll stay with each story for as long as it takes to get to the bottom of it.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so enthralled by plot. The other night I inhaled my dinner so that I could put on a pot of tea and begin the next episode.

Am I an old man? Or is this just the direction decent storytelling is headed?

The best part is, listening has become a communal ritual. Listening means listening together. Last Sunday my partner and I ‘binged’ on a few episodes. That’s three hours of uninterrupted audio. I paused twice to pee; otherwise it was distraction-free. I start to fidget if a movie goes over two hours; but there’s something about pure listening that makes the minutes melt away.

Others, notably educators, are picking up on the power of the podcast. This English teacher is dropping Shakespeare from his syllabus in favour of Serial. My pal Stepan appreciates it for the culture of deep listening that it fosters. The serial podcast may be finding its place in the classroom.

I just think it’s damn fine journalism. You’d be hard-pressed to find some of the other so-called hard-hitting news outlets exploring a human interest story with the depth and grace shown by Sarah Koenig and her team.

What’s more is it’s free. At least for now. Listeners are now asked to consider donating to Serial, especially if they’re hoping for a second season. And because I’m one of those people, they can expect a modest donation from me.

If you’re new to Serial, start here. Once you’re in, you’re in. You’ve been warned.

We’ve been using music wrong.

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Dear Ms. Rizzo:

Recently you proposed that the TCDSB consider classical music as a means of making certain areas of our schools — bathrooms, parking lots — into safer, calmer spaces.

As someone who has dedicated tens of thousands of dollars and hours on the study of classical music, I have long struggled to pinpoint how best to apply its virtues. Your insight has helped me realize that we have been using music wrong all along.

I realize now that my music teachers had it wrong, too. Back in high school, Mr. Grylls tried to convince us that music had the ability above all other art forms to bring people together. He played for us this performance from 1989 near the site of the freshly-fallen Berlin Wall. How naive were these Berliners: coming together in this so-called “celebration of freedom”! Did they not realize that Beethoven’s Ninth symphony would have packed a greater punch if blasted from a watchtower’s loudspeaker, in the effort to keep citizens at bay?

Then there was professor Myska, who for some reason felt that the power of classical music lies not in its ability to calm listeners, but rather in its power to excite them. The poor fellow tried desperately to convince us that the Rondo alla Zingarese from Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 1 could somehow rouse the human spirit into action and awareness. Sadly, Dr. Myska’s suggestion fell on deaf ears, you see, because after playing this excerpt, half of us were driven away from the classroom — and those who stayed had fallen asleep! It was a sad scene (if perhaps somewhat safer).

Therefore, Ms. Rizzo, anyone who proposes using music as a tool to deter loiterers and to instill in our learners a sense of impassivity has this teacher’s support. Because indeed, we would not wish our schools to remain spaces where teenagers feel too energized before dismissal, nor feel too tempted to linger around after it.

But why stop at music? I’m confident that we could google studies which support the use of other forms of high art as wea– as tools for teenage behaviour management.

Might I recommend the poetry of W.H. Auden? Shouted from a megaphone, his words can act as a satisfying deterrent for n’er-do-wells. (Curiously, spoken through a PA, his verse has an opposite, lulling effect.) Or perhaps we could mount in our parking lots reproductions of paintings by Kandinsky, canvasses so garish that after-hours lingerers would have no choice but to avert their eyes in disgust.

As a teacher and musician, I thank you for having kindled a much-needed discussion about the value of art music and the role that it might play in our schools. Trust that this teacher, for one, commits to doing his part to ensure that music continues to hold the power to move our young learners.

If not always necessarily to move them away from us.