9 months later, and 10 years on

May 2015. Today is Mike Brown’s 19th birthday. This I learned from the political education and relationships that I have benefitted from through the It Starts Today campaign that ends today on Mike Brown’s birthday. April 2005. Ten years ago, I was invited by John, Courtney, and Jamie to apply to join the Advisory Board at Resource Generation. I did so. I entered my first board meeting at the Walker Center in suburban Boston in a cohort of rookie board members along with Andrew, Ajita, Penny, and Meg. We were some kind of board Fab 5 heading into headwinds of organizational turbulence, interpersonal challenges, and divine breakthroughs that I could hardly fathom when I first walked through that doorway as board member. It was revolutionary to attend meetings where the culture was to introduce yourself by saying four things: Your name. The place you live. Your class identity. Your “PGP” (preferred gender pronoun). I’ve been more schooled in and on gender and sexuality from the colleagues, friends, comrades, and confidantes of RG than any Women & Gender Studies classes could have instilled. At the first RG conference that I attended (circa 2006), multiple RGers did not only talk about their inherited wealth but told stories of how they could trace their white families’ wealth all the way back to slavery. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It rocked my world. And, I was hooked. RG gave me the tools, the political education, the camaraderie to be able to say that “my mom grew up in a working-class, white family” for the first time. I had never understood this, nor seen this facet of my family tree before being immersed in spaces that were explicit and unapologetic about class, classism, capitalism, and class dynamics. Not by being outwardly focused and waxing philosophical about class in society, but by being inwardly focused on families and the belief systems and biases that color my choices. I have been off of the board for just about four years and forever give thanks and have multiple, daily appreciations for the gifts that having been a board member at RG has bestowed upon me. Wisdom, love, patience, courage, trust in others (in their anxieties and their daring feats and so much more), impatience, humility, a yearning to tell stories and write blog posts among them. And ask others questions so they will write their blog posts and tell different versions of their stories. Today, I honor the life, the premature death, and the legacy of Mike Brown and all the people of Ferguson, Missouri. As one more name, place, and episode in the long legacy of lynching and the addiction to violence that discolor the US Constitution. I had not known the name of Ferguson before last summer. The people and popular outrage of Ferguson compelled me to figure out how I could act where I was and with those people that I already knew. To inquire who were the small group of people that I could band together with in such a nauseating, perplexing, horrifying time. If you’ve got some change in your pocket, some discretionary dollars in your bank account then go and invest in Black liberation, in Black leadership, and in Black dignity. By investing in Blacks in America, we are investing in all humankind. Thanks, yall. And, praise Jesus that I’ve learned to see that those who believe in freedom are of all races, of all classes, of all nationalities. And, I will continue to seek out those who believe in freedom and civil disobedience.

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regurgitating poison

yes, the vitriol, the hurt, the despondency that people are experiencing and spewing is intense. sometimes it feels like people are regurgitating the poison that’s been fed or forced into them.

i have been cautious, quiet and calm about not being subjected to too much. the systems of media and cable tv are as complicit in this moment as a courtroom in florida. and then getting small glimpses of the behavior, and wrong-speech has been humiliating. so, i have been around few dosages of it.

and, i was writing about my mixed race self on monday morning, which i shared with a friend. how my mom’s whiteness — as the only (wholly) white person in a six person family — connected me to cousins who have given me life, experiences, knowledge and stories that have been instrumental in cultivating compassion for someone who is racist. that has been a doorway for me to be compassionate, and just be with someone who is misogynist, sexist, abusive. and compassion has given me a better sense of my own self to note when i am splayed out emotionally, psychologically or physically.

so, it is an intense moment. our humanity is ill, and this is one more reminder and instance of it. yet, there are still ways to find life, goodness, love, brilliance and beauty in everyday interactions.

Why open space?

Open space is a way to break up the mundane, old ways of conferences. Just as we are realizing that rote memorization does not work in the classroom, and education needs to be shaken up. Our meetings and multi-day conferences need strong winds of new ideas and currents of new ways.

We do not need to leave the cool, non-traditional, people-powered ways to the techies in San Francisco, either. In fact, for the sake of our selves, our souls and our future, we need to harness our collective strengths. Open space (or Open Space Technology, as it can also be called. OST for short.) is one compelling way to do so.

Open space is not only about the topics that get discussed. The experience of open space is equally important. The experience of making choices and self-authorizing. The experiences of realizing that other people are co-creating ideas, having exchanges and addressing their own needs at the same time. In fact, others are doing so At. This. Very. Moment.

Open space is like communication. Just as 70% of communication is non-verbal, leaving 30% to be verbal. 70% of open space’s potency is how it feels, and 30% is what is said in the array of small groups.

Open space honors that we do not all learn in the same way. Open space embraces that we are all on different pages. Our being in different places is embraced, rather than viewed as being detrimental. It is actually, seeing a group of people as each one of us in a group is. Oftentimes, some people are ready to discuss some specific tangent, while others are seeking basic definitions and understanding of what is happening. Open space allows for the introductory and in-depth or tangential to happen at the same time. The people get to choose which one suits them.

During the recent BIN conference, I introduced open space technology as a version of “montessori for adults.” Go do what you want, as you want, with whomever else wants to do it. Or as they say in the Montessori camp, “go learn on your own, while being guided by a teacher.” Guiding happens, just with us guiding ourselves rather than relying on some typical teacher/facilitator.

****

I have attended too many gatherings and conferences where the energy of a group can swiftly change. The warmth, curiosity of the first-day-and-a-half pivots. Suddenly, people can begin to see that the multi-day funfest is has an endpoint. Questions arise: how do i carry this on next week when I am back at school/work/my home/my desk? How will the importance of this moment be sustained? Who is going to follow through on all that been talked about, identified, proposed and what i have heard?

Open space can be a pressure valve to let off some of the steam that expands in a contained space. Instead of trying to control it, open space provides a blank canvass for people to doodle, paint and illustrate. Old controlling tendencies get mired in question of what: what are we gonna paint? what are we using, watercolors, oils, pastels, charcoal? what is going on this canvass?

Instead, open space can be a canvass to the nth power. There can be as many canvasses as there are people who are ready to paint. Canvasses for whatever people identify a need for, and then commit to take it upon themselves to utilize. (if no one goes to discuss the place that open space identifies, then it quickly ceases)

Instead of saying, “oh no, we only have x number of slots,” open space enables, equips and empowers. People can say:
– You want a canvass to do what?
– Great. Go find some space and put a call out to everyone else so they know what you are up to.

The primary constraint in open space is our minds. By that, I mean the limits of what our human minds can fathom when we categorize, define and differentiate. Open space is a wiki for meetings and conferences. Some people can discuss topics and issues while others can figure out the building blocks of logistics, principles, leadership, communications. This is some of what happened when we devolved in Atlanta.

***

A year ago, I first introduced open space to another group. When defining it, I had to explain that it is not Free Time. Instead, it was a time for people:

  1. to go do what they need to do,
  2. to go where they needed to go,
  3. in order to take care of themselves.

That meant napping for some, and snacking for others. For me, i sat on a rocking chair on a large porch at the Benezet House of the Penn Center in St Helena, South Carolina. FOr most of the people present, it was a chance to jump in the car, ride 10 minutes to the beach where they took their shoes off, rolled their pant legs up, and strolled in the waves along the beach. They were doing what they needed to take care of themselves. They were right where tehy needed to be. And they got to do the things that we were all there to do: tell our stories, exchange ideas and experiences, compare notes.

As a little kid in me would say, it was so important that we got to do it outside, too. Afterwards, when i asked some people what their favorite part of our previous 2.5 days had been, they said it was their time on the beach.

***

That is some of what open space can allow for. What began as one person’s idea spread. It went from one car-full of people. To another. To a third. Just like that an idea found a group of people ready to spring into action. These ideas and such moments are all around us. The question is whether we can see them.

Rather than attempt to control them — control the ideas, control the moments, control the people — open space is one way to embrace ideas, moments and people.

Creative Destruction for the Education Industry

I read an intriguing article this morning on changes needed to 21st century education, by Harvard President Larry Summers. Despite my own misgivings, spawning a bias that speculated ‘what elitist notions would the controversial, tin-earred Summers’ put forward. To my delight, and my own reminder about not pre-judging someone today based on who they have been before, I found a lot in the article, which provides plenty of wise foreboding.

The article addresses changes in education. Changes to education. Changes that are coming. Inevitable change. Or change that depends on breaking through the status quo that serves plenty of existing, economic interests.

The business models of learning, education and schools (all related, distinct, and inter-dependent) are grappling with this lifeforce called the internet. The internet’s trends — five of which I can name: pervading our lives, mobility, decentralizing and distributing, multimedia, networks — are transforming how we learn, how we educate, and how our schools are designed. These trends diminish the old ways of doing things, where we needed the physical contact, of being in the same room at the same time. Being in the right place at the right time is less and less a concern with the growing ease of documentation — in words, videos, the triplet forms of summaries (email messages, tweets or google.docs) — of what happens.

What used to happen once, is capable of becoming infinite — if it can be found on the appropriate server or cloudware. But, as a friend said to me last night, “if it is unseen, then it may as well not exist.”

The six obser-dations (my compound word of observations + recommendations) in the article are:

  1. more accessing (or in his term’s ‘processing’ and ‘using’) and less about imparting knowledge.
  2. collaboration and ability to work with others.
  3. better presentation/design, provides for more time for discussion.
  4. active learning classrooms, rather than passive learning.
  5. “cosmopolitanism.”
  6. emphasis on the analysis of data.

#3 mentions “accelerated videos” (in a medical student example). I am not even sure what that is. Not having been to medical school, I have not watched one there. The question is, who else is already using ‘accelerated videos’?
#6 is  — a long-winded way of re-arranging the term “data analysis.” Yet, the inclusion of emphasis makes it a

Since I love/speak/think in math so frequently, my single favorite normative statement is one of the last line of #6: “Today, basic grounding in probability statistics and decision analysis make far more sense.”

###

A short while later, i glimpsed at Apple’s promotion for the iTunes U app:

an easy way to design and distribute complete courses featuring audio, video, books, and other content. And students and lifelong learners can experience your courses for free through a powerful new app for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

As they state, “an entire course in one app.” It is not just the syllabus, but the reference DVD that i had to sit in the library with because i couldn’t leave the building with it. Not just the syllabus, but all of the handouts that would be given out in the course of a 13 week semester. And, video clips of any class that I might have missed due to illness or some outside obligation. All of those moments of my Spring 1997 semester would look radically different, which this app/store is intent on hastening. Or as Summers’ wrote:

A good rule of thumb for many things in life holds that things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then happen faster than you thought they could.

###

Lawrence Summers article opens with the stagnant learning environment, and the parameters of the academic semester. In the middle of the third paragraph, my mind was jumping ahead hypothesizing if the article was going to proceed with ways to dismantle the parameters of ‘four courses a term, three hours a week, one professor standing at the front.’ That isn’t where the article went. That mental jumping ahead is an instance of “the processes of human thought” that he mentions in item #4.

The following sentence states, “We are not rational calculating machines but collections of modules, each programmed to be adroit at a particular set of tasks.”

Adroit (adjective): dexterous, deft, or skillful. (h/t to wiktionary, wikipedia’s little sibling)

Those unique, distinguishing characteristics are what foster collaboration and the betterment of our days and lives by engaging in interdependence. Of inviting in more interaction rather than further individualism and isolation.

Lame customs and norms

A lot of what we humans do is that we are creatures of habit. Coupled with the fact that we are socialized into not rocking the boat, there’s a lot of dumb shit that we are supposed to perpetuate.

Thus, i enjoy shaking up customs. It is similar to my enjoyment in being an enigma when people want to pigeonhole me by race or sexuality (yes, I’ve been speculated upon many a time).

Presently, a few of the ways that I intentionally rock — the boat, that is — consist of:
> being playful, making work topics fun. If we are gonna do it, might as well go all in rather than being dainty and scared of our own doubts about doing something wrong.
> bringing vegetables and CSA talk into the kitchen and work space. It amazes me how many people eat microwaveable food. And then I get asked questions when I peel a carrot over the sink.
> asking questions. Oftentimes obvious questions so as to invite further explanation, express my willingness to be supportive, or to give someone else the chance to say no.

I’m seeing how a lot goes unsaid. People are scared to understand. Or of being honest, or being understood.

A muddled sense of direction is a result of being implored to do little, or not think independently. I’m tired of that.

Stepping in my pet peeve.

Mariana once said that ‘stepping in dog shit is a bigger deal for you than me.’

Last night proved that right. Worst thing of all, i was scrambling to catch the bus. I had looked the time up, kudos to the new app of onebusaway.com but low and behold, there i was so quick to get on that i didn’t notice the soft squish to my shoe sole until I was forty feet back in the double-deep accordion style bus. And the coffee ice cream colored loam on my shoe from then on reached my nostrils. Fortunately, it was a sparse ridership at 6pm on a Friday night. Try as I may, I tracked that dookie far too long, and too far.

Dogshit. It’s up there with whining, arrogance and stepping in puddles with socks on. Those, are my top four pet peeves. (or at least, what i can remember this morning)

Moral of the story: get to the bus stop early enough to not have to scramble.

Favorite foods

Breakfast was English muffin with peanut butter and honey.

Kimchi and rice for lunch. Kudos to umajimaya at 7 am while on a conference call.

Made for a multiculti set of meals. If only I could end the day with pork ribs, enchiladas, or some of dad’s stuffed burgers.