Saturday, January 03, 2009

The privilege at Black Butte

We've been in the Oregon Cascades over New Year's, nestled into a comfy house at Black Butte Ranch. Just the two of us, engulfed in white, warmed by a fire, surrounded by books.

Yes, that's the chair and the fire and some of the books.

I took several volumes to read by the fire. Among them was the revealing and eclectic anthology "A Joseph Campbell Companion."

It contains much to share with you.

Try this for the start of the new year:

"The privilege of life is being who you are."


"Life is without meaning; you bring the meaning to it."

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Teaching in cyberspace

For the past few days I’ve been learning how to teach on-line. Not that I’ll be doing it for awhile, but I’m working up to it. I hope to use some on-line features in my standard, classroom media-writing course this winter term at Portland Community College.

On-line teaching is destined to be the education of the future, especially as a financially strapped society searches for ways to cut costs in the public sector.

Imagine, no schools, no reunions, no proms, no school buses, no pep rallies, no student councils and no lunch hour cliques.

The institution of on-line teaching is like computerizing health records to cut healthcare costs. Or like using pilotless drones to fight wars.

Of course from the teacher’s perspective there will be no classroom histrionics. No pacing in the front of the room, no raised eyebrows, no dramatic pauses, no feigned looks of astonishment or cheers of congratulation.

I agree with those who say that 90 percent of communication is visual. Accordingly, on-line teaching will leave a lot to be desired. How will the teacher pick up on a student's look of confusion, or scowl of skepticism, or smile of recognition?

No, the medium will BE the educational message. I’ll learn to incorporate video into my teaching and even some music. Rap perhaps.

Production values will be important. Students may select courses and choose entire majors because of them.

Education as show biz.

Sex and violence, anyone?

Canned applause? Laugh tracks?

Can commercials be far behind?

Welcome to the University of Sesame Street.

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Wayward words and the path to wisdom

I found a recent correspondence to The Red Electric both troubling and encouraging.

The writer was broadly responding to the post “Four Phases for Hillsdale.”

He referred readers to a posting on his own web site. There he claimed to be familiar with Hillsdale and wrote with an indignant and hollow authority about the place.

Still, I sensed in his voice a note of caring and passion. That was the encouraging part.

But as I got into his critique of Hillsdale, it became apparent that he had little understanding of what’s been happening here for the last 15 years.

In essence, he was shooting from the hip, hoping that at least a few shots would find their mark. Or he may have been announcing his Hillsdale awareness or simply filling space on his blog.

I was tempted to take the writer to task, but then I thought of the times I’ve written with woefully superficial knowledge. At best I offered a "fresh" perspective, however wrong it might have been.

So I commented on his web site without picking apart the errors the writer made. I said nothing of his ignorance about Hillsdale and its recent history as a Metro-designated Town Center. He thought that the term “town center” was some journalistic contrivance. Accordingly, he also had no clue about the purpose of the Metro area’s 13 “town centers” — namely to absorb population growth by up-zoning areas well served by mass-transit. If the writer had looked into the matter, he would have agreed with the goal of making us all less dependent on cars by encouraging us to live more compactly near bus and light rail stops. The town centers fight urban sprawl, combat pollution and save precious farm land. They are the urban planners’ answer to smaller carbon footprints.

The writer also seemed unaware of the foibles surrounding the siting and construction of the Hillsdale Branch Library, which went $3.5 million over budget. County officials wrongly decided to squeeze the new building onto a small site. In the process they demolished the old library, an architectural gem. As attractive as the new building is, it is already too small to meet increasing demand.

The writer also seemed to think that the “open space” many of us would like to see developed in the Sunset Triangle is actually being used for some public purpose. It’s mostly unused backyards invisible to the public.

There’s more, but I’ll stop here. The thrust of my response was to encourage him to get involved. I’m a believer in Daniel Kemmis’ response to civic criticism: Got a problem? Get involved!

I invited the critic to the next Hillsdale Neighborhood Association meeting (7 p.m., Wed. Jan 7 at St. Barnabas Church on Vermont Street) or the next Hillsdale Alliance meeting (7 p.m., Wed, Jan. 14 at RE/MAX, corner of Sunset Boulevard and Capitol Highway).

Through involvement, he’ll discover for himself how he got Hillsdale wrong and where he might redirect his energies.

As I say, he has my sympathies. I’ve gotten things wrong too. Often it has been only after years of involvement that I’ve discovered exactly how wrong I was.

The trick, of course, is to learn from one’s errors and not commit them again. I’ve found the best way to avoid mistakes is through skepticism (including skepticism about oneself) knowledge (which means asking good questions of informed sources) and humility.

Put all that together and on rare occasions you might come up with something that approaches insight — and even wisdom.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thaw Sculptures

Melting snow absorbs warmth we cannot sense with mere flesh.

Snow feels micro-radiance from rock, twig, table leg and three-day-old boot print.

On our patio snowfield. today’s thaw sculpted miniature dunes, caves, a torso, free-form tongues of white.

Such shapes we have not seen before.

Or could it be we never noticed?

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