Tag Archives: culture

What I learned at Harvard

I recently spent a week training at Harvard’s Principal Center.

There were lectures and workshops covering a wide range of topics from “Adaptive Leadership”, to “New Approaches to Teacher Assessments” and “Defining School Efficacy” and much more. It was a fantastic institute and an extraordinary learning experience.
How surprising, then, is the fact that 3 of the most memorable experiences of my week in Harvard are the ones that took place outside the classroom:
Lesson 1 – The International; The Cultural Divide
170 participants from 22 countries around the world participated in the institute. 
On the second day of the institute we had a morning of ice breakers and team building activities in smaller, 14 person, cohorts. For one of the very first activities I found myself paired up with Eida. The activity was this – pairs needed to decide on a song they are both familiar with. One person stands and sings the song while their partner walks around them in circles. When the singer is ready for a switch – he taps the partner on the shoulder and they switch places. 
(The purpose of this ridiculous activity was to get us way, way out of our comfort zone as an opener to a full day of team building and open conversation).
A bit about my partner. Her name wasn’t actually Eida, rather – by her own admission – something none of us would be able to pronounce. Eida is the Student Activities Coordinator of a 1300 student, public high school, in Southern China. I, on the other hand, am the Judaic Studies Principal of a 200 student private, Jewish-Orthodox, high school in Toronto.
After apologizing and explaining that we will have to do without the tapping due to “religious restrictions”, we moved on to search for a song we both knew. I asked if she knew any nursery rhymes. She didn’t. She asked if I knew any traditional Chinese songs. I, foolishly, responded that I knew some of the songs from Mulan. She frowned, though I’m not sure if because she didn’t know what I was referring too, or because I was being ‘culturally insensitive’ (the absolute worst of crimes at a place like Harvard). No success with the Beatles or Madonna either. She came up with “Jingle Bells”, which I wasn’t comfortable with as – for the rest of the group – it would strongly be associated with Christmas. (“Jingle-Bell-Rock-Dancing-Santa” shout-out to the Malkosh clan…).
Several minutes had gone by and the rest of the group was standing around waiting on us to start. They all threw in their own suggestions. Finally, someone suggested the “A, B, C” song. 
Looking approvingly at each other we awkwardly carried on with the (ridiculous) activity. By the end of it we recognized that we had done more than find a way to carry out the activity. We had found a bridge, albeit a slim one, across a massive cultural divide. It was the opening – for all of us – to an extraordinary cultural education throughout the week as well.  

Lesson 2 – The National; How Close and How Far We Drift

Lesson 3 – The Personal; Me and My Chicken Soup (Coming Soon)

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Van Gogh and Twizzlers; My Visit to The Museum of Modern Art

I just visited the Museum of Modern Art in NY (MoMA) with my grade 12 students and this is what I discovered:

1. I still can’t get enough of Monet.

2. I like post-impressionism and have discovered a new favorite painter Georges Seurat; especially “Evening, Honfleur”(below left).
About what makes him so unique, see here.  
In the same category, I finally understood what the big deal was about Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (below right). Until you’re actually looking at the original you can’t really get it.

3. I finally found one Picasso piece I actually enjoyed: “Girl Before a Mirror“. I was looking at a girl looking at herself in the mirror and seeing the difference between the way she viewed herself and the way she actually looked (well, kind of. It’s still a Picasso…). I found it to be a brilliant concept and thought provoking on multiple levels.

4. I dislike “Expressionism” and “Surrealism” and found “Abstract Expressionism” ridiculous to the point where art started to turn into nonsense.
5. I couldn’t find anything interesting or pleasant past 1940. 
As I walked through the lobby to leave, I was feeling quite good with myself; cultured, sophisticated and even a bit pretentious.
Upon slipping my hand into my right pocket, I remembered the half eaten package of Twizzlers I stuffed there before entering the museum in case I got peckish. Looking both ways and seeing no one watching me, I quickly stuffed my mouth full of the long, strawberry candy and as I stepped into the street thought to myself “Ahhhh, the finer things in life…” 

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