Friday, September 25, 2009

The Journey: Yours, Mine, Ours

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.
- William James, American psychologist and philosopher (1842-1910)

The Journey: Yours, Mine, Ours

Join me on a journey. An unusual journey in that it will be one of the mind, prompted by my words and filled by your imagination.

Yet not unusual in that every experience we have is of the mind. The rest of the body has no means of recording or evaluating experiences. The brain records but has no inherent ability to critique, nor reason to do so, unless it is prompted by other experiences of the mind.
Our lives are of the mind, not of the body. Come along to learn more as we travel.

Our journey will take place over water. We will travel together, more or less, but each in separate boats. We may link together our watercraft, some of us. From time to time we will separate from each other, then link with others. Some of us will grieve the separation, others welcome it. We will all welcome the company of others, though some may not know how to show their pleasure in social interaction because they simply don't know how. They may remain alone more often than not.

So many of us will be on this journey that we will never meet everyone. Some will say that the ones we don't know are bad, stupid, simple, or evil, will plot against us given the chance. We don't know. The more we realize how little we know about the others we don't know and have never seen, the more likely we are to believe unfounded rumours about them. In all likelihood, they are just like us, but why take the chance?

We will meet relatively few others on our journey, compared with the total of us. We'll base our opinions and thoughts about them and what they are like on our own experiences with the few people we know. Many will not realize that if we think they are like us based on our experiences with those we know, it doesn't make sense to believe the people we don't know are any different from the ones we know.

Some won't like us. They will judge us based on their opinions about our boats, the looks, the component materials, the shape, the paint job, our own attire for the trip, our apparent ability to pilot where we want to go. There will always be people to tell us we should go another way, their way, even though they don't know where they are going either.

We're not sure of our destination. Some will say the destination doesn't matter, that we should make the best of what we have on the trip. Others will say that we should deprive ourselves on the voyage so that we will have an abundance once we reach our destination. Oddly, many who recommend depriving ourselves here believe that we will have abundance when we get to our destination. It may not make sense, but it's human nature. Still, nobody knows for sure what our destination is.

Some say that if we don't conduct ourselves on our voyage the way they say, our destination will surely be dire and tragic, eternal tragedy. They claim that if we follow their path the destination will be glorious. Strange how people who don't know a thing have the insight for forecasting what anyone's destination will be like. "It's in the book," they will say.

Some say they know the way and the destination because they heard of a man who had done it before and reported back. Others will say that man never existed. Many will admire the life that man led, according to reports they have read and heard, and will pay homage to the advice he gave. But few will actually follow that advice because it doesn't make them happy.

Many we meet along the way aspire to be happy. They haven't a clue about how to actually be happy, but they have read about their right to pursue happiness and it sounds really good. They will keep trying to buy and trade with others what they have for happiness. They will get thrills. The thrills pass, a bad period follows, then they will try again to buy or trade for a new kind of happiness. Like a good drug trip followed by a bad recovery. But they keep trying as if the routine will change by itself.

No one is sure what happiness is. So many hold happiness up as the greatest goal of life. They keep chasing happiness, but they can't ever achieve it because they can't buy it or trade for it. Yet they have been told that hard work and wealth buys happiness, and they believe it to a large extent.

What they know how to do best is to buy and trade their efforts for bargaining power. Acquiring, they have learned, is the way to happiness. That lesson, reinforced by every medium they know, has been taught to them since childhood. What you get and what you do will make you happy. That's the lesson.

Yet each joy or thrill passes. Happiness, it seems, never wants to stay.

A few people seem to enjoy some sort of joy that stays with them. They don't seem to necessarily be happy, just content all the time. Some say these people are delusional. Others that they are emotionally unbalanced, socially not "with it."

They are suckers by the standards of most. They spend far more time helping others along the voyage than they do acquiring for themselves. They don't seem to understand that they can't give and get at the same time. If the objective is getting--and almost every social norm suggests that's what is desirable--then they will never be happy because they keep giving so much they can never build up a sufficient treasure to be happy. Still, they seem to mysteriously enjoy life far more than most people. They don't experience as many thrills though.

Only the delusional, unbalanced, socially "different" people who give to others, who help others, who work with others along the way, seem to have some kind of inner joy that lasts, that stays with them no matter what trouble they endure along the way. The "suckers" can't be happy because that's not how most of us define happiness.

Some will look around and see multitudes of others in nearby boats, yet still feel lonely. They think that the others want to ostracize them or they feel isolated from the others because of something social abhorrent about themselves, while the others simply ignore them because they act invisible. They may just lack the social skills needed to make friends. Or they may be looking too much for what others can and (they believe) should give them while not concerning themselves about what they can give to others.

Some will be sick, weak, lack body parts that allow them to move through the water like others. Somehow they manage to move along the same route as the rest of us. We don't know how. They must have some scary secret remedy or formula that allows them to manage when they aren't "whole" like most of us. Most of them can't afford the same thrills as the wealthy ones. But they don't experience the same depressions either. Weird.

Some won't seem mentally "right" at times. They get angry, act out, get into battles with others. Some have periods of depression. Others periods when...they act strange. We try to ignore them. We may have something they need. We may even be able to help them. But we don't know what it is they need or how to help them. It's easier to ignore them, to pretend they don't exist for a while. Best keep them at a distance.

Some beg from others. They gain such skills at begging--they may call it by some other word--that we wonder why they don't apply the same devotion and effort at learning skills that will better benefit them so they can be more self sufficient. They won't learn. They admire their own skills at begging.

Some believe they are totally alone, with no one to help them. They move through the water by paddling with their hands while leaving the oars within reach sitting unused. They can't see what is obvious to us. We don't point this out to them because they are likely stupid and we don't want to seem socially intolerant. One must be correct, mustn't one?

Many will wonder what the purpose is of the voyage. "Why are we even doing this. All we ever see is the same old water." When told by the old ones that they once left solid land to make this voyage, they will be suspicious. When told the purpose is to learn something that will help them once they reach the new land, they will be suspicious. All they can remember seeing is water.

Maybe water is all there is. Maybe there was no land we once left and there will be no land to establish a new life after we reach a new shore. Maybe it's just water, water, water. What can you do with water? Better get as much as we can from others to make this endless voyage bearable.

Some will believe there never was land. Some that there never again will be land ahead. Some will say that land is a myth, that the only true way to define anything is according to the conditions of the present. If they can't see it, feel it, touch, smell or hear it today, it doesn't exist.

They will say that having faith that something existed in the past and will exist again in the future is self delusion. They ignore the argument that water must be supported by land underneath it, instead claiming that only what they can sense and "prove" today actually counts, actually matters.

Here's the Catch-22 of this story. Now that you are on the voyage, you must stay on it. Sorry, I kind of forgot to mention that earlier, before we launched.

Oh, and I have to leave you here because I promised to join with others away from here. I hope you don't mind. You will have to figure out the rest of the voyage for yourself.

You can do it. Think it through. Remember the kind of future you want so that you don't get stuck dwelling on the endless water around you. The better you plan the rest of your voyage, the likelier it is that you will reach the destination you hope for.

It's a voyage. Voyages end eventually. That's how they work. What may differ is the destination you reach. There are many to choose from.

But plan where you want to get eventually. If you don't, you may spend eternity paddling around in this same old water.

Good luck! See you around.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for people who want to know how to make their lives and their communities better. It all begins with teaching children what they need to know, when they need to know it.
Learn more at

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Public Schools Fail Us Tragically

How Public Schools Fail Us Tragically

"The social, emotional and spiritual are part of a child's connection with the world."
- Mary Paradis, director of development at the Vancouver Waldorf School

Why doesn't every child deserve the kind of education kids get at some private schools? The schools I refer to--Waldorf and Montessori are among them--teach the whole child, not just curriculum dictated facts and skills.

Children develop along four main streams: intellectual, physical, emotional and social. Mainline school systems address the intellectual and physical needs of their children, but curriculum seldom leaves time or room for social or emotional/psychological development. At that, intellectual development follows strict guides and physical development varies hugely from school to school and among various districts.

What would those strict guides be that schools follow? Education systems, in general, are designed to produce future employees who can do the jobs that big employers such as industries need to be done. And they produce consumers who will buy, use, throw away, then buy more of the products those industries manufacture.

Schools produce employees and consumers. The evidence is so glaring that those who argue against the claim have difficulty finding evidence of support. In fact, those who argue that schools are not designed to produce employees and consumers of the future delude themselves and try to persuade others so they don't feel so alone. If you doubt, just look at what topics fill school curricula and the young adults the schools produce.

Ironically, many of the leaders of the industries that employ public school system graduates themselves attended private schools. Is this true irony? In fact, no. Private schools, in general, prepare children to be leaders in their communities, not followers as public school systems do.

Providing "the right thing at the right time" in a child's learning development is the key to teaching to the whole child, according to Ryan Lindsay, president of The Waldorf Association of Ontario. Public schools, on the other hand, provide indoctrination of facts and skills in the employee-consumer model at the time most child have the ability to manage them. Those who are not ready fail--emotionally, if not by repeating school years--drop out when they reach the minimum age, often believing that they are too dumb for school. They try to work for large companies so they can depend on a steady income.

"We make sure we focus on teaching children how to think and not what to think," according to Lindsay. "We like to think we are laying the foundation in a more thorough way so that when children get to a certain age the approach aids their intellectual development."

Casting aside the lack of expertise you may feel regarding the topic of education as a whole, if you attended a public school do Mr. Lindsay's statements ring a bell about how you were taught? From what you know of adults today, do they know how to think, not just what to think when they make purchases?

We must keep in mind that private schools have the same number of teaching hours in their days as public schools. They don't have eight-day school weeks. Private school students are in class roughly the same number of hours as public school students the same age. Sometimes less if they have special assignments that take them outside the classroom.

What's the difference?

Some may claim that public schools have many more problem children to deal with than private schools. From my personal experience as an educator, I can see that argument having some merit. I also know that classes I taught in public schools had far fewer "problem children" than many of the other classes in the same schools.

In my teaching years in public schools, it was the teacher in my classes who kept getting into trouble, not the students. In my case I kept wanting to deliver to my kids what they needed and wanted and were desperate to take in and develop, not just what was on the curriculum. I believe my mission was to grow whole people, not just adults who were ready to be employees and consumers. I did. Administration often objected.

In general, classes with "problem children" do little to address their emotional and social needs. Consequently their problems tend to be emotional or social in nature--bullying, depression, fighting, shyness and so on. Where children have intellectual development problems--slow learners--very often the slowness of intellectual development relates back to emotional or social problems of the past.

And often to emotional or social problems of the present. How efficiently can we expect a child to learn if he or she has problems with a drunk or abusive parent at home, with a classmate or neighbourhood child who bullies them to and from school or on the bus, with a parent who does not provide a home atmosphere that supports what is taught at school, or even with the results of a recently broken close friendship?

For a child, emotional and social problems always take precedence over intellectual challenges in school. Always. It's how we are built. Emotional and social problems are related to our individual ability--our basic instinct--to survive. For our ancient prehistoric ancestors, intellectual development and learning took place when survival and personal safety and comfort were not at stake.

Most private schools address the social and emotional needs of their students. "I could never say enough good things about the value of community in a school," says Karen Murton, principal of Branksome Hall, a private school for girls in Toronto.

If a child can't get enough help with social or emotional development at home and his school doesn't have the time or the authority in its curriculum to address these needs, where does he get it, where does he turn to fill in the blanks he knows inherently he must fill? Television. Movies. Video games. Rumours picked up in casual conversations with peers. "Information" gleaned from overheard adult conversations behind closed doors and at parties.

Please consider that list carefully. Your child, or at least many of the children in your community, derive most of the emotional and social development information they receive from these same sources. Are they the sources you want young people to take as models? Think about their content.

Public schools could provide factual input, but most don't. They have the same amount of time with their students as private schools, but public schools spend their non-curriculum time dealing with created problems rather than teaching what the kids need to know to prevent them from happening.

One kind of school deals with kids who may already be broken. Another teaches what kids need to avoid breaking.

As astonishing as it may sound, addressing the emotional and social needs of children would not be a costly change for public schools. Most teachers already know this stuff and just need some direction, guidance and the authority to teach it.

If private schools can grow men and women who can lead major industries, professions and governments, public schools should easily be able to grow men and women who can think for themselves, who are more than mere automaton employees and consumers who work and buy as they are told.

If you believe what you have just read, then your family, your community, your world needs you to speak up about it. Only by speaking up will you find how many others think like you so that we can all work together to make life better for the future.

If we don't talk about this, we leave industries to manipulate their way into the lives of every student of every public school.

That's simply not acceptable.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, teachers and other interested people who want to know what children need to learn and when, not just what industries want them to be taught and how.
Learn more at

Monday, September 14, 2009

Interesting Stuff About Movies

Interesting Stuff About Movies

No, despite what many believe, Thomas Edison did not invent the movie projector. He "bought" invention rights.

The first celluloid roll film came into being at the hand of Episcopalian minister Hannibal Goodwin, of Newark, New Jersey, USA. His great idea didn't go far because he couldn't figure out what to do with it.

Edison's company developed the first movie camera, the Kinetograph, which had the ability to make use of Goodwin's invention, in 1891. But the company and Edison himself still could not project images from the film so that a mass audience could see them. They tried to invent a machine to play back what had been recorded on film, but had no success.

Being the enterprising fellow he was, Edison bought the manufacturing rights to a machine called the Vitascope. An interesting clause to the deal gave Edison the right to claim that he had invented it. By the way, Edison didn't invent the light bulb either, he just took someone else's invention and developed a commercially viable bulb.

The Vitascope and its successors found a ready market at fairs and certain commercial establishments where customers lined up to pay to peer into a visor device where they could see the first early movies, still without sound. To make what customers saw more attractive, the movies often included what were known at the time as "cooch" dancers, creating what thereafter was known as a "peep show," as peeping Toms watched scantily clad women strut their stuff.

Another film loop (the projectors didn't need a projectionist--the films were short, from 30 seconds to three minutes) showed the reenactment of the execution by decapitation of Mary Queen of Scots, arguably the first horror film.

Peep shows on the Kinetoscopes in movie parlours ended in 1908 after complaints in New York City about indecency. Having developed a taste for seeing women without their bustles and long dresses, the Peeping Toms moved elsewhere, thus providing another example where politically correct advocates caused laws to pass which resulted in development of an industry of Blue Movies. We know them today as porn movies.

Sound came along later with a film short showing two men dancing as creator William Kennedy Laurie Dickson played a violin. Dickson synchronized the sound with the film, arguably creating the first sound movie. The first widely recognized "talkie" came three decades later with a full length feature, The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson in a 1925 Broadway musical released on film in 1927. George Jessel had signed to play the role until he learned he would have to sing on film. The "talkies" ended Jessel's film career the way it ended other silent movie careers of such greats as Rudolf Valentino.

Sound movies required so many different sounds not required in live theatre that new techniques had to be devised to have some sounds simulate other sounds. Radio, the most popular entertainment of the day, benefited from sound effects as well for their dramas. Need the sound of crunchy snow? A boot pushed into ice layered with corn starch did the trick. Flapping leather gloves provided the sound of birds in flight.

Sound effects people had no end of tricks for creating the illusions they needed. A horror movie needing a human head being squished had the sound man squashing the frozen head of lettuce behind the scenes. Sometimes a sound effect worked simply because it went with the visual presentation and viewers believed what they wanted to believe. How many coconuts died in the cause of making the sound of galloping horses in cowboy films?

Some sounds need the real thing as no substitutes work. People talking in crowds, for example. "Walla" is the term for crowd murmur. A few people standing well back from a microphone, each saying "walla, walla, walla," sounds like a crowd. So does repetition of "rhubarb." However, this is not as simple as it sounds. People must say their own "walla, walla, walla" at a different rate than everyone else or it turns into a chant. People naturally synchronize their voices with those of others, given the chance, resulting in a choir-like chant of "walla, walla, walla."

Of course black and white film came first, with the much more expensive colour film only becoming popular when movie budgets became much larger. One early attempt at colour simulation, Kinemacolor, had a black and white movie played through rotating green and red filters. As artificial as it sounds, remember that people's brains will fill in the blanks or correct what they believe are errors in their own visual clues coming from their eyes.

Film creators have become masters of illusion. In The Ten Commandments, for example, movie makers filmed water pouring into a huge tank, then reversed the film to give the effect of the waters of the Red Sea parting for Moses. With digital effects, more illusion than ever is possible.

In The American President, for example, the scene with the Michael Douglas character entering the House of Representatives to deliver the State of the Union address showed the president shaking hands with members of Congress. The scene was shot with extras in place, clapping with the arrival of their leader, then the faces of the extras were replaced digitally with the faces of real congressmen. Crowd scenes and battle scenes can be shot with a handful of real people.

Some things about modern movies can be a tad too real. When the movie Earthquake, with bone-rattling Sensurround, premiered the seats shook so much that one patron cracked a rib.
Shaking may not be the worst thing in a movie theatre. Pick yourself up a large popcorn with butter and you could pack in 1,600 calories in a single serving. Diet cola with its heavy dose of aspartame (its long term effects on disease risk and possible genetic impact are under study) may not be the best choice of beverage.

Action films often depend on fire scenes (cars loaded with gasoline exploded, buildings bombed) for effect. For stunt actors, fire protection can be a chilly job. They coat their skin first with a fire retardant gel--a chilling experience in itself--then add layers of Nomex underwear saturated with the same gel. The top layer consists of flammable rubber cement (they have to appear to burn, remember).

Fire scenes are usually shot in as few takes as possible. The risk of getting singed by flames all over their bodies aside, inhaling rubber cement fumes ranks right up there with the most unhealthy parts of their job.

Funny things happen in making movies. At least they're funny after the problems are solved. In Jaws, for example, the mechanical shark did its own share of acting up. At one point its hydraulics had rusted so badly from the salt water that director Stephen Spielberg had to adapt quickly or waste a fortune on lost time. He chose to shoot the remaining shark scenes from the shark's point of view.

Four enterprising young Canadians aspiring to be film moguls had great ideas for the IMAX concept, but insufficient cash. After inviting Japanese investors to a meeting in their "offices," they quickly rented office space, furnished it in classy style with rented stuff, then entertained as if they had everything they needed. it worked. The Japanese wanted in. Fuji Bank bankrolled the whole venture.

Then the boys had to put their ideas to the test. They created a system with film ten times the size of 35 mm celluloid and camera(s) and projectors to boot, enough to fill a screen six stories high. With a screen that curves around the sides slightly, IMAX movie goers quite rightly have the feeling of being "in the movie."

The IMAX projector weighs as much as a male hippo, costs about $5 million. It's bulb is so bright that if pointed toward the sky it could be seen by astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station.

Speaking of the ISS, what sorts of movies do they have for the viewing pleasure of the space dwellers and their $10 million a shot civilian visitors? As you might expect, Apollo 13 and Armageddon are available. Around the World in 80 Days as well.

And So I Married an Axe Murderer too. Do we really want to know who chose that one?

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to know what kids need to learn and when, not just what ivory tower curriculum writers think teachers should teach.
Learn more at

[Primary source: Discover, June 2009]