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Yale-NUS and How Singapore is Creating the Future

Yale-NUS and How Singapore is Creating the Future

Elizabeth and I got a taxi at the airport and quickly realized that Singapore is nothing like India. The streets are quiet and orderly. Modern looking buildings are nestled amongst a surprising number of trees and gardens. The architecture feels like a statement to remind people just how old the skyscrapers in places like New York really are, and the optics of the city quickly made an impression on us. We had spent months in places defined by their connection to this past but Singapore clearly wanted to define itself differently. Elizabeth turned from the window, “I think this might be the future.”

A few days later, we visited the campus of Yale-NUS, a new university built in partnership between Yale University and the National University of Singapore. Yale-NUS is so young that they haven’t even had a graduating class yet, but the place is filled with a sense of creation and possibility. The project was undertaken with the idea of taking the best from each partner institution, but it’s also been seen as an opportunity to do away with dated norms that might hinder how a university should operate in the 21st century.

For example, the department system for faculty that defines American institutions, like Yale, was restructured to promote more cross disciplinary work. Instead of departments being in charge of their own hiring, professors from a range of disciplines are pulled into the interview process. There are courses that are co-taught by a science professor and a humanities professor. The organizational system that has become set in something stronger than stone in the US, has been ignored here in favor of a system better designed to prepare students for an interconnected world.

Curriculum has been re-shaped as well. Yale-NUS occupies a unique place in the intersections between East and West, and the courses reflect that in a more organic way than most universities. In a philosophy class, for instance, Aristotle and Confucius are read and compared in consecutive weeks. Eastern and Western schools of thought are not divided and pushed into different courses or departments the way they often are in the US. Instead they are discussed in ways that illustrate how their relevance has fused together in the modern world.

This organizational decision by the University is complimented by the natural diversity of the students. Half the students are from Singapore, which can mean family histories connected to China, India, Malaysia or just about anywhere else in Asia. And then there are students who come directly from those countries, as well as places as diverse as France, Idaho, and Jamaica. As we sat and talked with an administrator in the Agora (a student named café area), he pointed out that the four students working together across from us each came from a different continent. “These types of communities” he explained, “allow students to realize that some of the most basic assumptions they have about society may be thought of differently by someone else.”

Starting from scratch, Yale-NUS has also chosen to elevate student voice and leadership to a degree that might be untenable in more established institutions. The University knows that there will be opportunities for improvement as they grow, and they’ve made student feedback a central part of that process. When we pressed students to talk about what they didn’t like about Yale-NUS, they discussed how they had given feedback about certain things and also how the University had already moved to address that feedback. They then went on to talk about how exciting it was to be somewhere where it was up to them to create all of the clubs and student organizations. Almost everyone they knew was involved in starting some sort of club or project. They bragged about how the national news had picked up stories from their fledgling student newspaper and generally relished the sense of power they felt in being part of something new.

Students have also chosen to create a culture with much less of the partying that defines many US campuses. This might be why Yale-NUS students who study for a semester at an Ivy League school in the States often report that the work was much easier than at Yale-NUS. As a French student we spoke with explained, half-jokingly, “We are a tea drinking campus.”

At Yale-NUS there is a sense of fresh optimism. The idea that tomorrow is in our hands and we’re going to make it alright. It reminded me of how America likes to think of itself, but it also grounded me in how far we’ve drifted from that ideal.

Like much of Singapore, Yale-NUS has set out to learn from the best that the West had to offer, and then to see what more can be done. We saw this theme crop up again as we visited one of their top-performing high schools and their National Institute of Education.

Obviously it’s not fair to compare a country that borders two oceans to an island city-state like Singapore. We are not Singapore and shouldn’t be. But if we look at what they’ve accomplished here and say, “We can’t do that here. We have too many challenges.” Then we’ll only drift farther from the ideals we say define us.

  •  Will
Sand Castles and Camels in Jaisalmer, India

Sand Castles and Camels in Jaisalmer, India

Jaisalmer, India is in the northwest of the country, close to the border with Pakistan. This city was once a major stop on the Silk Road, where caravans of goods-laden camels stopped to trade and rest before moving on through the Thar Desert. The city is built around a fort that rises out of the desert like a life-size sand castle. On our first day there, we walked up to this magnificent structure.

Jaisalmer India 02

The narrow streets within the fort are filled with hustle and bustle – merchants, tourists, residents, cows. You get the feeling that it’s not much different than it was in the days of Silk Road traders.

Jaisalmer India 03

We visited a magnificent maze of seven interconnected temples.

Jaisalmer India 05

The carvings depicted many different scenes, including this battle with a large cat (a lion, perhaps?)

Jaisalmer India 01

We visited the palace within the fort as well, where we saw this model of the whole thing.

Jaisalmer India 07 Outside the fort, we visited one of the famous Havelis. A Haveli is a large mansion where a wealthy merchant once lived and did business. This Haveli had many early 20th century items that were found inside, including ledgers and other business items.

haveli jaisalmer 01

There were many lush living rooms as well, where you can imagine wealthy traders entertaining and relaxing.

haveli jaisalmer 04

Our trip to Jaisalmer would not be complete without an overnight camel safari in the Thar Desert. Here are our camels, Ricky and Babloo, chilling out after our afternoon trek.

camel safari 02

We relaxed in the dunes as the sun went down.

camel safari 01

camel safari 03

We enjoyed an Indian meal cooked over the fire and slept under the stars. Here is Will, contemplating the morning before we trekked back.

camel safari 05

Visiting Jaisalmer was a beautiful trip to another place and time.  It was fascinating to see this piece of history – a place where cultures met and mixed and did business. It reminded us once again of the variety of places in India – so different from the larger cities and Moghul strongholds we visited in other parts.

The Palaces and Temples of Udaipur, India

The Palaces and Temples of Udaipur, India

Udaipur has been described as one of the most romantic cities in India. The sites certainly have a romantic ambience, especially when you dine at one of the many rooftop restaurants after sunset. But romance was merely a bonus for us as we focused on taking in the Rajasthani culture.

Day One: We started our first day in Udaipur walking to the Hindu Temple in the center of the city.

udaipur temple india travel

We were astounded by the carvings that covered the building.

udaipur temple india travel

I especially liked these elephants.

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Then we headed to the City Palace – which is actually a very large complex.

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Here, we got a sense of the grandeur of the Rajput kingdoms. As the audio tour told us, the Rajputs were larger than life. The carrier pigeon room and elephant fight wall assured us of that.

udaipur city palace india

The elephant wall is still there, but this photo better captures its spirit. There were also several tiger transport cages not pictured here.

udaipur city palace india

Day Two: We decided to go on a day trip to the Kumbhalgarh Fort and the Ranakpur Jain Temple – both about an hour outside of Udaipur. The Kumbhalgarh Fort includes the second longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China.

udaipur fort india travel

Inside the wall, we visited several temples and the palace, all abandoned.

udaipur fort india travel

The palace at the top of the hill was particularly spooky – with no staging furniture, yet painting still on the walls. This base board depicts elephants behaving badly.

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Here you can see the wall stretch on…but it goes much further than we can see. We could have spent a whole day here – apparently if you follow the wall it takes you to the jungle.

udaipur fort india travel

Then we headed to Ranakpur, a town with a particularly spectacular Jain temple.

udaipur ranakpur temple india

The entire building is craved out of white marble, creating a peaceful and awe-inspiring effect.

ranakpur temple udaipur india

There are 1,444 unique pillars in this temple.

ranakpur temple udaipur india

And many beautiful carvings.

ranakpur temple udaipur india

The day trip to Kumblahgarh and Ranakpur was surprisingly cheap – only 2000 rupees (US$30) for a private car all day. The two sites are about 2hours from Udaipur. Our driver also took us to a scenic, reasonably priced restaurant for lunch. It was all set up by our hotel, Mewargarh Palace.

Not pictured here, we also attended a Rajasthani dance performance at Bagore Ki Haveli. Although meant for tourists, the venue is unique and the dancers were very talented. We had dinner at one of the Havelis – which had a beautiful rooftop view of the lake and the palaces. Although our time was short in Udaipur, we were able to do a lot in this small, culture-rich city.

The Power of Poor People: Two Days at Barefoot College

The Power of Poor People: Two Days at Barefoot College

After hours of driving on sporadically paved roads, we parked in a small and remote village. The stars were brilliant above and the air was quiet enough to hear the chewing of a water buffalo in a nearby pen. We turned a corner and there was this circle of light lined by the silhouettes of children. They each had a small notebook and a pencil and looked curiously at us as we approached. The children here spend their days taking livestock to graze, but for the past six months they’ve been assembling on this patch of cement at night to learn.

There are dozens of these night schools in the surrounding countryside, most of them much more established, and all organized by the TED Talk famous Barefoot College. Barefoot is most famous for its adult learning programs, specifically its program to train semi-literate grandmothers to become solar engineers. The women come from all over the world, and when they complete their 6 month training they return home to solar electrify their villages. The women I spoke with (one from Namibia and two from Colombia) were five months into their program. They all said that, at first, it was very difficult. Most of the women don’t share a common language, and the food took some getting used to. A Colombian grandmother gave me a look of surprised concern when she said, “The food. They don’t eat meat. And there’s no fish.” I asked one of the trainers what it was like on the first day. “On the first day, there is a lot of crying. They are thinking too much about their husbands or their children, and they are missing home. We do a lot of hugging and watching to make see who is not eating. But after two weeks most of them are OK.”

But the women talk about these early challenges as distant memories. When I asked how they felt about what they had learned, their faces lit up in flashes of joy. One Colombian grandmother looked up from her screwdriver and circuit board to explain, “For me, to learn something like this at this stage in my life. It’s something to make me very proud.”

This kind of pride is found all around Barefoot. There is a disabled man who trained to become a blood pathologist and now runs tests for thousands of people in nearby villages. There is a Barefoot dentist who was trained informally by an Italian dentist during her six month visit. She now does regular exams, fills cavities, and educates children at the night schools about dental hygiene. The entire complex was designed by a Barefoot architect. He was awarded a national award but refused to accept saying that he was just one of many people who came together to make the new campus a reality. None of these people have any formal credentials. In fact, there is a general disregard for ‘paper’ qualifications and the stuffiness that comes from people who hold them.

Barefoot College meeting

A morning meeting of the staff at Barefoot College

Barefoot is a living testament to the wisdom and capacity of poor people. It’s a statement against those who think solutions need to be imported to places like these. I asked the Barefoot architect how he learned to design buildings if he never studied. “From each other,” he said.

Of course, efforts here are not always easy. A long-term volunteer told me that, after being here a while, people started to open up to her about how for every success Barefoot has had there have been 5 or 10 failed attempts. But what allows people here to keep going is that these are their ‘failures.’ Missteps can be treated as learning experiences. There is a palpable sense that Barefoot is an institution of, by, and for the people who live here and in the surrounding villages. This feeling of self-determination is powerful and ripples out to the culture of the night schools as well.

When we left the night school, we couldn’t help contrasting it with what we had seen in rural schools in Malawi. In Malawi, the attempts at education took the form of imitation. Once they had the appearance of learning (a physical school, teachers, desks, uniforms) there was pride that education was happening. But the reality was far different. Students weren’t learning much of anything in the classes we saw. Here they had none of these things. Children were circled up on the ground outside in the same clothes they wore all day. But they were engaged. They knew that this space existed to serve them and curriculums were adjusted to be more relevant to their daily lives. Children led each other through phonics drills and corrected the teacher when he made ‘mistakes’ in his multiplication tables. Hours away from any city and kilometers from formal electricity, in a circle lit by solar powered lamps that were engineered by semi-literate grandmothers, children were sitting and eager to learn. I asked them what they enjoyed the most about night school. “Everything,” they said. It was beautiful.

  • Will

barefoot college night school (2)

Athens and The History of Democracy in Photos

Athens and The History of Democracy in Photos

During our time in Athens, I explained to a number of Greeks that, as a history teacher, Athens was a pretty special place to me. I had always wanted to come here. I spent a lot of time sitting around pondering the history of democracy.

Athens Will Contemplating

 

Here I can be seen at what’s left of the Theater of Dionysus looking out at the stage where western theater was born. Sophocles and Aristophanes scripted plays that were performed here. As one historian put it, the Greek dramas don’t tell us much about daily life but they give us insight into the spirit of the people. Art. It’s not overrated.

Athens theater

 

Down the street is this much larger complex built for concerts and recently renovated for use during the Olympics.

athens music spot

 

I also thought a lot about the benefits and excesses of Democracy. In other countries we’ve visited we’ve seen grand ruins that served only the rulers of an empire. In Greece, the monuments are almost all public buildings. But Democracies are far from perfect. Here is the jail where Socrates awaited his death. Athens had recently lost the Peloponnesian War to Sparta. They had lost standing as a major power and they were angry about it. And angry nations can do crazy things. Like kill the founder of Western philosophy. Maybe the most rational man of all time.

Athens Socrates jail

 

Of course, the most enduring symbol of Athens is the Parthenon. Unfortunately, the front is currently under renovation.

Athens parthenon

 

But the back still looks pretty cool. Notice how it seems to swell as it rises instead of tapering like most tall things? That impressive feeling it gives off? That’s not an accident. There are a series of optical refinements to create the sense of an enhanced perfection. The corner columns are wider than the others. The horizontal line across the top is actually slightly curved. And each pillar is sculpted to bulge slightly in the middle. Geometry. Finding real world application since 438BC.

Athens parthenon back

 

The Parthenon was meant to display the might of Athens and project the superiority of its democratic system. But the heart of its democracy is tucked on the side of a park, hidden from most tourist maps. Here is the assembly where the property owning men of Athens would meet to debate and vote on the laws they would live under. Early in the Peloponnesian War Pericles stood on the orator’s platform on the right and gave one of the most thorough defenses of Democracy ever argued. He talked about how, in Athens, the power was in the hands of the many and that there was equal justice for all. He spoke of how a man was judged for his merit and not by his birth. Anyone could rise from poverty to greatness. He talked about the benefits of being an open society eager to learn from the world. He bragged that this was a city where citizens could trust one another and did good because of civic duty. I stood in this spot for a while, as I do, and thought about how hubris led to the decline of Athens. I dwelled how long the world went without a Democracy before the American Revolution. Democracy is delicate, not to be taken for granted. I think, in America, we may be forgetting that.

history of democracy

 

There’s slightly more recent history in Greece too. Like this hill where Elizabeth is standing near the acropolis. This is where St. Paul gave his first sermon and essentially launched Christianity as an up-and-comer religion. A few days before this we stood here and watched New Year’s Eve fireworks above the acropolis. That was pretty cool…

Athens Liz and Paul history of democracy

 

Even if you’re not interested in history, there’s still plenty to do in Athens. The gyros are awesome (much better than in Turkey). The ouzo is delicious. And there are so many great hills for sunset, you could hike a different one every night of the week.

Athens Sunset

The islands get all the buzz for traveling Greece, and I’m sure they’re great. But Athens is pretty cool too, especially for anyone interested in emotionally connecting with the foundations of western civilization.

  • Will

For more reflections, specifically about American democracy, you can check out this post about my reflections after running around the National Mall in DC.

Also, this in descript case at a museum is one of the coolest things we saw in Greece. It’s crazy these things still exist. Conspiracy, Betrayal. War… For full context you may wan to check out this documentary.

Athens Themistocles history of democracy

Empathy & Collaboration: The Not So Secret Approach Behind Riverside, One of the Best Schools in India

Empathy & Collaboration: The Not So Secret Approach Behind Riverside, One of the Best Schools in India

The first thing we noticed about The Riverside School was the space itself. There’s a large open area with offices on one side and long flat steps leading to a multi-purpose space on the other. There are open staircases and curved walls. This is a school that is so fiercely dedicated to the ideas of student voice and collaboration that even the school’s architecture has been designed around them. There is a circular well with seats descending into the ground. A ‘giant seven’ bench works as a surprisingly perfect collaboration space. A stand-alone circular brick room with large windows is used for class meetings and discussions. Students and adults traverse the space with comfort and purpose. Everyone here seems to feel like they are home.

Along the edges of the open area, there are boards that celebrate the school’s history and accomplishments. Riverside is consistently ranked in the top 5 schools in India, and its various national and international recognitions are too numerous to mention. Pictures show that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are just two of the many prominent people who have recognized its successes. The founder Kiran launched the school to even greater international fame with a TED talk she delivered in 2009. The day we visited, we met a group of educators from Hong Kong who had spent the past week at Riverside generally having their minds blown by what they were seeing at the school.

Riverside School meeting with Kiran

The founder, Kiran, leading a class discussion

After we were settled and offered coffee, a pair of 5th graders, named Adi and Sraj, took us on a tour of the campus. We peppered them with questions, and they answered them with confidence and poise. They explained that they liked Riverside because they got to experience what they were learning, “At other schools,” said Adi, “they are only like ‘read this or read that,’ but here they make us feel what happens. Like if they are learning about pollution, they just read books about how much garbage there is. But us, they will make us go to the places where pollution is happening and see.” Sraj chimed in, “Here we have experiences. We go everywhere.”

I asked them what they thought the most important thing they learned from Riverside was. Adi didn’t hesitate, “To be together.” “I think I’ve learned how to work as a team. How to collaborate,” said Sraj.

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Elizabeth with Adi and Sraj in the ‘Giant 7’

This sense of community also made an impression on the team from Hong Kong. They explained that back home, there is a very competitive academic culture where everyone is focused on their individual scores. By contrast, Riverside doesn’t even give quantitative marks until 8th grade. There is feedback, but it’s personalized and not comparative. As one teacher explained, “We are not competing with each other. We are completing each other.”

This idea of growing as individuals through being part of a strong community is reinforced through reflection from the earliest years. Even in Kindergarten, students will sit with their classmates and reflect, one at a time, on what values they best exemplify and why. Each student has a strength selected for them from the class values: polite, caring, helpful, or responsible. Personal and group refection is woven into everything that students do at Riverside. A high school student who approached me said that he liked the school because there was more of an emphasis on being a ‘citizen leader’ than an ‘academic leader.’

riverside school students

At Riverside, students can be seen collaborating everywhere.

There is also a strong emphasis on empathy. Students have gone a day without food, had limbs tied down, rolled incense sticks, and gone through a variety of other experiences to better empathize* with the plight of other people in India. Perhaps most dramatic is a tradition upperclassmen go through just before exams. While the rest of the students in the country are focused on cramming for the most important tests of their lives, Riverside students are told to take a few days to look inward and get perspective on the world. They spend a day with ‘bag pickers’ salvaging recyclables from trash heaps, and time meditating, and they generally try to put their lives and exams in a greater context.

Riverside’s approach does a lot to build intrinsic motivation and investment but it is not a complete antidote to teenage pastimes like procrastination. I was grounded by a scene I saw in a physics classroom**. A girl student was on the defensive. She was explaining, with a bit of frustration, that she wasn’t ready with her project because she hadn’t been able to contact her partner. She detailed the ways she had reached out. The teacher then looked to the boy the girl had mentioned. “Is that true?” asked the teacher. The boy admitted it was and explained that he wasn’t by his phone. “Do you really think that excuse is going to work, when you had over a week?” The scene went on like this for a couple of minutes, the rest of the class in awkward silence. The teacher laid out the ways he could have been more proactive. She was upset, but it wasn’t just because he was unprepared, it was because he had failed to live up to the freedom and responsibility he had been given.

So, there’s a no nonsense undertone that anchors the empathy, collaboration and reflection work that Riverside does. The no nonsense attitude is necessary, but it exists in a context of responsibility rather than compliance. It’s certainly not the main reason Riverside consistently outperforms the best schools in the country on the national exams. Riverside’s main insight is proving that when you focus on character and community, academics tend to follow.

  • Will

*The empathy in these experiences is not an end in itself but rather the first step in the Design Thinking model that informs much of what Riverside does. Students end up actually doing something about these issues. We’ll write more about that later, but you can get a glimpse of it in Kiran’s TED Talk.

** I was walking around unchaperoned. The Riverside administration literally told us to walk into whatever classrooms we wanted. It was the first time that’s happened to us on a school visit.

Quotes from the boards around campus:

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Riverside School quote 3

Riverside School quote 4

Riverside school quote 1

Capturing the Essence of Venice in Photos

Capturing the Essence of Venice in Photos

To plan the Italy portion of our trip, we leaned on the recommendations of our friend Stephanie who had lived here for many years. Her endorsement of Venice was unqualified, “Venice is the only place I’ve ever been that can’t be captured in photographs. The Greek islands are beautiful, but they basically look like the photographs. Being in Venice is an experience.”

I decided to take her comment as a challenge. Over our 10 days in Venice, I set out to capture the essence of the place in photos.

Of course, the first thing people think of when they hear ‘Venice’ are the canals. They’re not overrated. There are no wheeled vehicles on these islands, not even bicycles, and that reality lays the foundation for a truly unique setting.

vebice canal

 

At night the bridges are even more charming, and the streetlights flicker in the water.

venice brideg

 

The shops that line the narrow streets are as much a part of Venice as anything else. You can’t talk about the essence of this place without mentioning affordable Italian leather handbags.

venice shopping

 

Or elaborate masquerade items.

venetian masks

 

There are scores  of fine dining establishments, but if we’re talking about the essence of the Venice, it’s the piles of baguettes in street windows that come to mind first. Though the spaghetti with clams, at pretty much any restaurant, is incredible as well.

venice food

 

We loved how the narrow and angular streets open into irregularly shaped squares with very little warning.

venice square

 

The grandest square is around St. Mark’s Basilica.

venice outside st marks

 

And the Byzantine style, gold leafed interior speaks to the opulence of this place like nothing else.

venice st marks

 

Great art is also woven into the essence of Venice. The consistency of the quality and the shear scale of the canvasses surpasses anything we’ve seen in or outside of Europe. See how tiny Elizabeth looks at the bottom of this photo?

Venice tintoretto

 

Of course, you can’t talk about capturing Venice without at least one photo of a winged lion. Coolest city mascot ever!

venice lion

 

The view from this bridge down the street from our hotel became my favorite view in the city. I love how the streetlight also serves as a lighthouse.

venice light 2

 

Now, I know I’ve failed miserably in my attempt to capture the essence of Venice. But I think it was worth a shot. We loved our time here, and it’s in the running for our favorite place of the trip. Spending time here truly is an experience. Still its essence remains elusive. In photos Venice will always be a place shrouded by fog on the other side of a grand canal.

venice fog

  • Will
Throwback Thursday: Will and the Dugout Canoe

Throwback Thursday: Will and the Dugout Canoe

This is the story of Will and the dugout canoe. At Mayoka Village, where we stayed on Lake Malawi, there is a dugout canoe challenge. If you can manage to get into a dugout canoe (already a feat), and paddle it around the swimming raft without falling out, you get a free night. On our last day at Mayoka, while waiting for our taxi, Will decided to try the dugout challenge.  Here’s what happened.

Check out our other experiences in Malawi here

How We Traveled Malawi 2015

Charity vs. Solidarity: Creating a Community School in Rural Malawi

Hiking Mt. Mulanje Malawi

Excellence and Inequality: Reflections from an International School in Blantyre, Malawi

A Pride Premature: Lessons from a School in Malawi

 

The Top 5 Best Podcasts Out There, IMHO

The Top 5 Best Podcasts Out There, IMHO

Traveling the world for the past seven months has allowed me to become somewhat of a Podcast connoisseur. To prepare for the frequent days spent in planes, trains, and busses, I’ve scoured ‘Top 10’ podcast lists on the internet, scrolled through what’s most popular on itunes, and enlisted the help of my friends on Facebook. The result has been several months of sampling a long and eclectic list of podcasts. So, what are the best podcasts out there? Here, in no particular order, are my 5 favorite:

1) This American Life, RadioLab, Serial

OK, ok… I know it’s cheating to put three podcasts in one slot but I didn’t want to clutter up a Top 5 list with three super obvious choices. You probably already know about these three anyway. If not, here’s a quick overview.

This American Life is the godfather of all that we know in the podcast realm. For a good 15 years Ira Glass and company held the torch of interesting radio programming nearly all by themselves. And they’re still producing stories that surpass nearly anything else in the podcast world. Their two part series last year on segregation in education, for instance, may have been the most important Ed reporting I saw in 2015. They have a collection of some of their favorites on the website.

RadioLab is just brilliant. There’s a reason Jad, the creator and co-host, received a MacArthur fellowship. The show is dedicated to curiosity in a playfully rigorous kind of way. The journey is the destination here. They’re comfortable with investigation without the burden of conclusion. Give them a shot and you will be too.

Serial. Well, I’m guessing you’ve heard about Serial. It’s great.

2) Love + Radio

Love + Radio is unlike any other podcast. Each episode opens with a voice, someone who has a story to tell or who has just lived a crazy or unique life. Then you’re with that voice for essentially the entire show with almost zero setup or narrating. It takes a little work from the listener, like reading a really great but kind of heavy novel, but it pays off in the end. People say that great art gives us opportunities to empathize more deeply with other people. Love + Radio is an example of what that can look like.

3) Intersection

There are a lot of interview-format podcasts, but this newish one by Jamil Smith of The New Republic is easily my favorite. It’s built on the quickly rising concept of intersectionality: the idea that race and gender, and all our various identities, are inextricably wrapped up in each other. Jamil’s mind is wicked sharp. In an age of headline-rigor conversations, knee-jerk liberalism, and identity politics, Jamil’s questions push listeners to explore the many beautiful layers of the people interviewed, and he’s not afraid to wade into the complexities of the greater world. There’s a casual poignancy to his tone. The empathy piece I mentioned before? That happens here too.

4) Reply-All

This is ostensibly a show about the internet, and its hosts can be a bit – well, ‘geeky.’ Especially PJ. But the show is pretty brilliant and most of it is only loosely ‘about the internet.’ For instance, they played the story of a grandmother who organized a protest that led to the resignation of a country’s vice-president. It’s ‘about the internet’ because it started with a Facebook event. Although, they do have a couple tech-specific recurring segments that have taught me a lot about the twitterverse. Overall just super interesting stories, and the theme song from The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder gets you hooked from the start of each episode.

5) The Message

Has the military really declassified a message that could possibly be from aliens? Is it true that the people who have studied it have all died mysterious deaths? I don’t know. Why don’t you check out The Message? The episodes are super short and there aren’t that many of them.

Alright. I hope some of this is useful. I have episodes of all of these (except The Message) cued up for my 50 hours of transit over the next 2 weeks. With so much quality entertainment lined up, I’m almost looking forward to the journeys.

Please feel free to comment with your own recommended Podcasts below.

  • Will

Oh! If you speak Spanish, or want to brush up in a serious way, check out Radio Ambulante. It’s like This American Life, but a bit more intense and focused on Latin America.

Students Are Not Rational Beings, They’re Emotional Ones

Students Are Not Rational Beings, They’re Emotional Ones

A young girl speaks up first: “Before Maya I wasn’t confident in how I talk with people and I wasn’t sure what my life would be like in the future. But Maya has given me the chance to say ‘Yes, there are lots of things to do in life.’” The kids around her nod and smile. All of the children in the circle are between 11 and 15 years old, and they all come from very low-income communities in Pune, India. In 2014 they were part of an original musical called ‘Maya’ that they performed for over 10,000 people across India.

Another student speaks up, “What Maya was for me, it was a platform for us kids to figure out, ‘what is our light,’ and what is our potential, and how can we use it in different ways, to help other kids or spread the knowledge that we have… I have grown in Maya. My confidence has increased. Now I can talk to people with more confidence…” Most educators would be glowing with pride if their students spoke like this, but Sanaya, the facilitator, has heard this all before and she doesn’t seem impressed. She cuts into the dialogue, “OK, I’m going to push you a little more. All of your confidence has increased. None of you spoke earlier, all of you speak now. What else?” A murmur of giggles rises in the circle and Sanaya looks up to Elizabeth and I, “At the beginning, they didn’t speak more than a few words of English. They were quite shy. They didn’t have opinions and if they did, they were afraid to voice them.” She looks back to the students, “OK, beyond that?”

Teach for india maya

The students don’t miss a beat. A young boy speaks up, “If we don’t know something, we used to leave it. We used to not ask about it. But after Maya, we learned to ask ‘Why?’ If we’ve been taught something we ask, ‘Why does this happen?’ or ‘What is the reason behind this?’ The reasoning skills that we have, have increased.”

Another girl chimes in, “I’m more aware of the things that I want to do in my life and the things that I did wrong. Maybe I’m a little confused about things, and about what’s happening in my life, or around me. But I’ve started thinking more about what’s going on around me. I’ve started to become more wise. Now I ask, ‘What is the right thing to do?’”

Maya is a program of Teach For India, an organization similar to, but distinctly different from, Teach For America. Maya came about because TFI kept telling their adult fellows that they should focus on values and expose students to experiences in addition to academics. The trouble was that they didn’t have any real examples of what this meant. TFI decided to start a program dedicated to values development and student voice. At about this time, there was a fortuitous introduction to someone connected to Tony Award winning talent from Broadway. The arts seemed like a good place to start and the idea for Maya began to form.

The results are unquestionable. Not only did the students eventually perform an original and elaborate musical (about Maya, a princess who fights to bring light back to her kingdom and, in the process, finds the light inside herself) but their academic test scores ended up over 50% higher than other TFI students across the country. Maya did have a minor academic component where they would break down vocabulary and discuss the musical’s script as a text. But there wasn’t nearly enough time dedicated to this type of discussion to account for a 50% difference in test scores.

Maya teach for india values

The students in Maya talk about the group as a family. They highlight the importance of trust and the fact that their individual voices are valued. It turns out that when young people feel part of a positive peer community like this, it has an immeasurably powerful effect that ripples through every other part of their lives.

Too often we treat children like they are rational systems. We have a goal for them, like academic success, and we push them toward it in a narrow and prescriptive fashion. We want them to be motivated because it makes sense for them to be motivated. But children are not rational beings. They are emotional beings. To find the fire of self-motivation they need emotional experiences. Some students can find this emotion inwardly and nurse their motivation in isolation. But the vast majority of young people need programs like Maya to set the spark that will help them find their ‘light.’

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