Cultivate your kid’s strengths

I found this bit of wisdom in the book Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Though geared at self improvement, this quote struck a chord with me as a parent:

The trick is not to work obsessively on the skills and talents you lack, but to focus and cultivate your strengths so that your weaknesses matter less.

The story of Tony DeBlois is an example of this in action. His mother recognized that Tony had serious weaknesses/disabilities to overcome, but also realized that his strength in music could make much of that weakness irrelevant.

All of our kids have their own strengths. Much of it may be hidden from us as parents*, or their strength may be something that we don’t quite understand or appreciate as worth cultivating.

But it is by cultivating these strengths, in all of our kids (and ourselves), that we can help them be successful in whatever they ultimately decide to do.

– – — — —–
* Ferrazzi also gives this observation from Machiavelli: “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.”

Is any project ever really finished?

Earlier this year, I came across Michael Rubin‘s book Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolutionat my local St. Louis County Library branch. What an unbelievable find of a book. In some great stories, and lots of detail, Rubin tells the early history of what has become the LucasFilm empire, not to mention the birth of Pixar and the evolution of digital film-making that can be found on any new Apple Macintosh computer.

More to the point of this post, though, is that the book explains Lucas’ approach to making – and in the case of Star Wars, tinkering with – movies, exemplified by the following quote:

A movie is never finished, only abandoned.

Back in the spring of ’05, during spring break, my then 12 year old son made it a point to watch all of the Star Wars DVDs that were then available, including Episodes I (The Phantom Menace), II (Attack of the Clones), and the original trilogy. To make sure he was up to speed for the upcoming release of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, he also bought and watched (several times!) the animated Clone Wars Vol. 1. Needless to say, when he was watching when I was home I sat down and watched with him.

As we watched some of the original trilogy, Ian asked what it was like to see the originals in the theater. In time, the conversation wound its way to the special editions of the movies in theaters, then the re-release on VHS. As we watched the DVDs, I would tell Ian where something was different, where things were added from the original to the Special Editions. Even I was caught by surprise at the end of Return of the Jedi; I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, suffice it to say that the special edition was tweaked just a bit for the DVD version, so there are now 3 different versions of Return of the Jedi. (And yes, I have all three versions.)

Though it is written as, and meant to be, a history, Droidmaker is an excellent – if long – case study on how to bring your vision to life. The conventional wisdom about LucasFilm seems to be one of an easy road, things that just fell into place to create this great success. Would you be surprised to learn that The Empire Strikes Back almost didn’t happen? I sure was.

I think we have all at some point “abandoned” projects, not because we thought we were finished but because someone – maybe us, maybe someone else – said it was time to stop. Some deadlines are hard, and you don’t have any choice but to deliver what you have. For example:

Though Episode II was shot entirely digitally, it still had to be transferred to film for display in theaters. This meant that the “final” edit had to be complete about 2 weeks before release date for printing and distribution. It was printed and distributed, but Lucas wasn’t really finished with the film and continued to edit a final final cut right up until release, when the digital version was distributed to the few theaters in the country that have digital projection. The vast majority of people that saw the movie in theaters did not see the “final” version of the film (which, by the way, is the version that is on the DVD.)

I’m not sure what my point is, if there is one, in this rambling post. On the one hand, there is the desire to have your art (and if the result of our work is not art, what is the point) truly reflect your vision for it, to make it as complete as possible. On the other hand is the practical reality that dictates to us that at some point we have to stop, whether we want to or not. And right in the middle is that nagging question, “Is any project ever really finished?”

Just something to think about as this Monday comes to a close.

Take me As I Am…

I wrote recently about the Dream Theater song “Solitary Shell” and how it brought to mind the impressions many people have of autistic individuals.  Tonight I popped in Dream Theater – Live at Budokan to help get the creative juices flowing.  The first song in their set list for this show is a song called “As I Am”, an excellent opening.

Anyway….  I’m pretty confident that this song wasn’t written with autism in mind, but the message the writer is trying to get across – that he is a unique individual and should be accepted as that – reminds me of what many of my autistic friends ask for.   (Like most poetry, this is best appreciated in spoken, or in this case, sung form.   Just imagine a driving guitar, bass and pounding drums as you read this anthem out loud to yourself.)

Don’t
Tell me what’s in
Tell me how to write
Don’t tell me how to win
This fight
Isn’t your life
It isn’t your right
To take the only thing that’s
mine

Proven over time
It is over your head
Don’t try to read between the
Lines
Are clearly defined
“Never lose sight of
Something you believe in”

Taking in the view from the outside
Feeling like the underdog
Watching through the window I’m on the outside
Living like the underdog

I’ve been trying to justify you
In the end I will just defy you

To those who understand, I extend my hand
To the doubtful I demand, take me as I am
Not under your command, I know where I stand
I won’t change to fit your plan, Take me as I am

The emphasis on the last verse is mine, because I think it really gets to the heart of the issue.  Though we may not have all thought about this, because our situation in life allows us to not worry about it, if you give it some thought you will realize that this is what you want for yourself as well.

20th-century teachers using 19th-century methods to reach 21st-century students

As someone who loves technology and gadgets, and loves figuring out how to make them useful, I’ve had a long interest in how the technology of the information age could change the way people – especially children – learn.  This interest is compounded by the fact that I have two teenage sons, now in high school.  Born at the dawn of the information age (1991 and 1993), they are right in the middle of it all.  Sadly, though, my personal experience has been one akin to the quote used for the title of this post.

The quote is actually something overheard by Marc Aronson in his School Library Journal article We’ve Got the Technology: But our (sic) today’s schools ready for a radical transformation?, but is reminiscent to me of a main point of Seymour Papert‘s 1992 (yep, 1992!!) book The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer.  The following is paraphrased from the opening chapter of that book:

Imagine a party of time traveling teachers from an earlier century, eager see how much things have changed in their profession a hundred or more years in the future.  They might be puzzled by a few strange objects.  They might notice that some standard techniques had changed, but they would fully see the point of most of what was being attempted and could quite easily take over the class.

In his article, Aronson gives us a quick dose of reality, reminding us:

The fact that technology makes new kinds of educational opportunities possible doesn’t imply that teachers, administrators, school boards, and college admittance personnel—not to mention students and parents—want, or even need, those new methods.

The process, Aronson says, should be one of evolution, not revolution.

I’ll leave the pronouncements about 21st-century skills and radical reform to education analysts and other columnists. For those of us who write for, teach, or work with young people in schools and libraries, the old and the new are likely to overlap and blend, not suddenly displace each other. Doesn’t that make sense? Doesn’t that sound more realistic than a vision of a completely transformed educational system? It does to me.

As much as I’d like to see an overnight change, I have to agree with Aronson that it is better to grow, over time, the educational system we want instead of trying to simply build it.  The system is much too complex to think we can figure it all out at once.

The Art of Living

Just inside the entrance to the Art of Living Building in Downtown St. Louis is the following quote:

A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreations.  He hardly knows which is which.  He simply pursues his vision of excellence thorugh whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing.  To himself, he always seems to be doing both.

This came to mind as I was reading Lilia’s post Mama’s day, PhD work and being grounded, and her earlier post Turning work into life (June 2004) in which she said:

Don’t get me wrong, I like my work and office is a great space for meeting colleagues and serendipity of coffee talks. I’m just thinking about things what would make me more productive. A bit more flexibility, a bit more nature, a bit more fun… I know that there are organisations that make work fun and flexible to their people, but I wonder why they are so rare and what could be done to turn work into life. I guess one of the biggest obstacles is a myth about work/life balance, implying that work is not life, making us thinking that work should be that way – formal and full of discipline – and preventing thinking about other options…

Fortunate is the person who can make life their work and work their life.