Personal

Alternative Schools

A Krishnamurti School concerns itself with education of the total human being. Knowledge and intellectual capability alone are not sufficient to meet life’s challenges. Learning to enquire, to observe oneself, to relate with other people and the earth, is the core intention of the school.

Towards the end of last year, Uttara asked me to share my thoughts on my early education in India. We both went to Krishnamurti schools which are Alternative/Progressive schools in India that were really ahead of their time and she wrote an incredibly detailed blog post about the landscape.

I didn’t have a lot of time since I was just starting my crazily intense graduate program, so I sent her a quick note which she reproduced in it’s entirety. Here it is –

Pros

– sense of self; not defined by the crowd. they really encourage this. it is awesome

– respect for authority, but a good amount of disdain for it as well. they used to allow us to walk out of class if we wanted. it goes to #1 as well.

– learned in a non-traditional way – going and examining leaves for science class. walking outside. unheard of in the traditional sense.

– exercise. daily instead of weekly at most regular schools.

– arts and craft – also a lot of exposure to this and very non-traditional stuff. i used to learn how to model in card board, papier mache, photography (at 7/8 years old). i mean, seriously, they made this part of the education, not something that was tacked on because it had to be.

– singing – lots of singing. singing classes, singing bhajans, singing carols. it was awesome.

– it just felt free and enjoyable. i used to love to go to school. i used to cry if i couldn’t go. now, there’s a reversal if there ever was one.

Cons

– unfortunately we live in a world where competition exists. where public exams exist. where there are, in fact, losers and winners. so, in this regard, the school was like an unreal bubble.

– it was really bad at preparing students for exams. i finally got taken out of my alternative school at the end of the 6th grade – when the first batch went through their public exams and things didn’t go so well. I went to a regular school with lots of mid-terms and test. i was paralyzed and had no clue how to take these simple little tests.

in retrospect, leaving KFI when i did was the perfect right thing. just like spending my youth there was also the perfect right thing.

I still agree with everything I said to Uttara. In fact, since September, we’ve had to go through the ridiculously gruelling pre-school process for our twin boys in New York City and as I went through the process, I’ve had occasion to think more about my own experience and about a progressive/alternative education. My time at KFI till the 6th grade was the most enjoyable time of my life. I loved school, played every day, had science class under the trees, lived life, loved life. We were really children without a sense of pressure.

I also feel that KFI enhanced my creative side. My love for photography was born there. An incredible teacher taught me photography and made me fall in love with the power of the image. He pushed me, he challenged me and he didn’t treat me like a 3rd grader. It was amazing. I am in film school today in part because of him. So, Damayan Anna, if you are out there somewhere reading this, a huge thank you!

The lack of pressure of academics and constant mind-numbing deliverables is something that you can never find in the real world or in a regular school. If childhood is to be enjoyed why not let children actually have a life where they don’t have to be “realistic” for a the first few years of life?

But herein lies the rub. When do you do the shift and how do you do the shift? Because at some point, whatever said and done, the real world has not come around to seeing things the way of the Progressive educational system. My sense of self and sense of confidence took a real beating when I changed schools. I moved in the 7th grade and went from being carefree and not thinking about “my worth” to being graded in a system I had no clue how to survive in. But fortunately for me, it was early enough before the public exams in the 10th grade. I learned to cope and, slowly, to do well. But in a system that grinds that students, that values different things. Sure you can excel at debates and writing and extracurricular activities, but you also have to be a scholastic machine in a way that the system expects. IF you can be both, you are a super-star. But purely being creative is not enough.

This is not an issue just in India. I recently saw Gotham Gal’s post about her daughter Emily’s angst around the SATs. Emily goes to LREI, a progressive school in Manhattan. In the US, if you go to a City and Country or an LREIs of the world where you are happy and creative but want to go to a college that requires the SAT, the reality of the process hits you because the school so far hasn’t been focused on students learning that way. It’s hard and horrible and Emily articulates the problem well. Fortunately for Emily once she gets through the SAT, she can go to a college that values her abilities and evaluates her the way she’s used to.

The issue is larger in India. In India, when a kid trained in a progressive school meets reality, reality is in the form of the public exams – the national exams that grade students across the country. A huge deal. And then college, where there are no real progressive colleges that I know of. So even if a child goes to a progressive school, at some point, they have to shift their learning method into the “regular” mode. Maybe the progressive schools in India have morphed since I went there to cope with having to deal with the “evaluations” that exist outside. That would be the smart thing to do.

J&G are still very young but it’s something we think about for them. What is the right answer? To me, there’s no question that at a young age, Progressive is the way to go. We managed to get them into a progressive pre-school. But do we shift at some point? Or do we hope that they are natural test takers? Or do we say, “ok, fine, struggle with the SAT, but enjoy school” and that’s that? What if they want to go to college in India? More questions than answers. Will the world move to a more progressive model? Here’s hoping.

N.E.D. – The Rocking Docs

One of the wonderful benefits of blogging is the serendipitous contacts. I’ve written about cancer on this blog only twice, but because of those posts, someone wrote and asked if I would talk about a unique band. And while I’m very late, here it is.

N.E.D. is a band comprised of six board certified Gynecologic Oncologists who’ve come together to put out a really cool CD. What impresses me about these specialized doctors is that in addition to their day jobs, they have taken the effort to put out a CD where all sales goes to fund research at the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation. In addition, one of the doctors, Dr. Nimesh Nagarsheth, recently released a book called Music and Cancer: A Prescription for Healing.

The music is really wonderful – these are professional musicians and look the part.

N.E.D.

I’ve bought the CD and I encourage you to the same. Great music and a good cause – a perfect mix.

And I absolutely love the name! N.E.D stands for No Evidence of Disease. The best words a cancer patient can hear.

Happy New Year, 2010

And happy new decade. Am I glad to be done with 2009 or what?? I think that’s true for almost everyone I know.

What a crazy decade it’s been. I still remember standing on the beach in Hawaii watching the fireworks to welcome the new decade, the new millennium. It feels like yesterday in many ways. It feels like a century ago in many ways.

It is incredible to think about how much media production and consumption has changed in the past decade. We’ve had the iPod, YouTube, Kindle, xbox, netflix all emerge and flourish in the past decade. And it really feels like just the beginning. Entertainment will continue to democratize but I believe true quality will still (and always) be valued.

Anyway my fellow adventurers – here’s being cautiously hopeful for the decade to come!

Thanksgiving

Is a really good idea. Makes one pause and be grateful for our wonderful lives. Whatever is going on, if you can read this, you are blessed compared to many in this world.

The only thing I hate about Thanksgiving is the turkey massacre. Tofurkey for the win!

Peace, love and vegetarianism to you all.

Happy Deepavalli

This Deepavalli was very mellow. Barely felt like Deepavalli.

Life has been crazy. Probably the most hectic I’ve ever seen and that’s saying a lot after the insanity of 2001 – 2003. Every day I want to blog but it’s a choice between 15 minutes to blog or 15 minutes to sleep. Sleep wins every time.

Except today!

But that’s because the plan is to make this short. And to just say that I’ll be back with more soon.

Hope everyone has a safe Deepavalli!

Defining success

What does every person on earth want? To be happy. But how people define happiness and therefore how they define success is partly the reason that so few people are, in fact, happy.

We are conditioned to accept the definition of success that society puts out there. And because our acceptance is so unquestioning, it seriously affects how we make decisions. How long do people stay in jobs that don’t make them happy but meet society’s criteria of success? Society’s criteria become personal criteria and then it gets much harder to extricate yourself.

I was so there. I had a box – a set of definitions I subscribed to that were universally accepted. And because so much of how I defined myself was tied to my job, the decision to quit and the process of adjustment afterwords was hard.

Alain de Botton has an interesting talk on this topic –

It gets better with time, but it’s still not easy. I consciously put blinkers on to exclude outside opinions when I think about my definition and how I am doing against it.

Would love to hear how do you define success…

Willing to pay

nytlogo153x23There’s some chatter about the New York Times survey to their customers on whether they’d be willing to pay $5 per month to access the content. They also asked if $2.50 would be acceptable. I didn’t get the survey, but as a long-time NYT reader, my answer would be an unequivocal “Yes, absolutely”.

What’s interesting is that this debate comes on the back of the larger debate around Wired editor Chris Anderson’s book, Free. I haven’t read his book (although I have read reviews) and I also read Malcolm Gladwell’s retort. When Chris Anderson says “free”, he means free to the consumer – but the reality is that nothing that takes time or effort to produce is ever free – someone is paying. Either the producer is paying for her own costs and giving away the end product or advertisers are supporting the product.

And that’s what is important to realize. The cost to produce something is not free (even if the cost to transmit and disseminate it may be close to free). So what happens when the producer has to get paid?

Let’s come back to the NY Times. Everyone is jumping up and down saying newspapers are dead. Agreed – I haven’t bought a printed paper in over 8 years. But journalism is not dead. Not even close. Today, I cannot go to one place and get the incredible breath and depth that the Times offers me. I can’t find exceptional political insight and funny technological coverage in a blog. If you point me to the Huffington Post (a site I was addicted to during the elections), I’d say, yep, great example of online journalism.

The journalists at the Times are fabulous at what they do. And they have to get paid to be able to continue to do what they are good at. So what’s the solution? It appears that advertising revenues online cannot cover those costs. It comes down to having the consumer pay something.

My recommendation is to allow consumers to get a certain number of articles free each month – say 10 articles. After that they get charged the $5 fee and they can read anything they want, including all the archives, for the rest of the month. For a frequent reader, like myself, I’d rather just have them autobill me. Forget the 10 free articles a month. I’ll blow through that on day 1 or 2 at the latest.

For the customer who comes to the NY Times site very rarely, their experience doesn’t change either – they can read their one or two articles and leave without feeling any pain.

The middle section – the group that reads maybe 20 articles will dither. But, $5 is about 1.25 Starbucks coffees. At $2.50 it is less than a Starbucks. Quality content written by journalists who are the best in their fields, edited by a top team of editors, across an incredibly wide range of topics for an entire month on one hand. One cup of coffee on the other. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

The issue is that we’ve been trained to expect content on the internet to be free. Retraining ourselves will be hard, but not impossible. If it is a question of not reading the NY Times or paying $5, I’d gladly pay the $5. I think they should offer a family rate too – so for something like $10, up to 5 people can read the Times.

Now for some caveats: I’m willing to pay to sustain the journalists and editors that bring me the content. I am not, however, willing to pay to sustain high-cost printing technology and all the infrastructural and organizational fat that is needed to support the print side of the business. As a consumer, I can’t really make that allocation, but I hope the Times will do the math and when paying print consumers stop supporting the cost of print, the print section gets shut down. Please do not make the eco-friendly online users support the dinosaurs’ tree-killing addiction. Oh, and while I’m at it – if I do pay, I really want the ability to embed the NY Times’ photos and videos. They are awesome and by allowing bloggers to embed them (with links back of course), the Times will actually get more traffic, not less.

Finally, the Times has to consider if someone else will fill the gap they leave with a great product that is free. The asset is the journalists. Unique individuals with unique voices. Not so easily done. And even if someone could do it free for a while, they’ll hit the same economic issues as the Times.

The Times seems to have explored a number of options – a couple of years ago, they had people pay for Times Select (and yes, I paid). I’m sure they’ve come to this after a lot of thought (I hope they have, although their decision to disable embeds gives me pause). To term paying for things online as old-school and therefore unacceptable is silly. And I, for one, am willing to pay.

Quality

A group I’m involved with was embroiled in a debate. One side contended that passion was the most important factor in a blog post – do you care enough? Do you bleed onto the page? The other side maintained that passion without quality is just… drivel.

Forget blogs for a second – let’s consider work. Can you get away with delivering a sub-par, error-filled deliverable at work if you offer that it was done with passion? Work is not the same as blogging? Really? Why – are blogs your fun/amateur activity? If you think so, read John August’s piece on professionalism. And remember in this Google world, everything lives forever. And your name is on it.

What do I think? Quality is absolute. Evaluated on an absolute basis and absolutely required. In this instance, a Hugh MacLeod cartoon says it best…

Quality