I learned a lot in school, just not from my teachers

Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School by Jessica Hagy, is a fantastic education retrospective. Upon extensive reflection, some yoga, and a lot of green tea, we clearly attended different schools. Yes, there were many insidious and unspoken lessons in school. And I agree completely that students will “have to unlearn them” if they want to thrive. Yet somehow, what I took away from school was different.

What do I need to unlearn? I definitely was not a great student. Good grades were celebrated at my house. When I was clearly having too much fun, I got sent to harder school. We did not celebrate again for a while. To me, I always seemed to be learning. Yes, there were rules, but somehow I learned early on about angles and latitude. College was a given, but there was no pressure to conform. Was it the rural Midwest landscape? Some of my best friends were card carrying members of Future Farmers of America and 4-H. I did get my first job at thirteen? Maybe I just got a batch of eclectic teachers?

Maybe the concept of school was similar, but different variables resulted in vastly different school experiences? Sure, I was not overly fond of school, but it had its moments. I heard about the starving kids in China. Turns out in China, there were stories of starving kids in Africa. Talk about early spin. I had my share of passionate and “less passionate” teachers. I got through them all. Yet, somehow I picked up on an unspoken/surreptitious undercurrent.

  1. Question Authority! School was filled with historical references to people shaking things up. Whether it was taxation, liberty, the industrial revolution, or voting rights, I learned that people could create different realities. So, when I did not like an answer, I asked questions. Sometimes there was further discussion, sometimes there was not. Most times I was dispatched to the library. I went on to build robots, venture to big cities, and even plan a Grade Eight trip to our national’s capital. Sure, we never made it, but I learned early on that the teachers were only going to get you so far.
  2. Show & Tell Rocked!. Students, teachers, and even parents brought in cool stuff. Everyone had a story. And those that were interesting, you sought out to learn more. You went over and tried to borrow whatever it was. If his/her parents have a strict “no lending policy,” you invited yourself over. If that did not work, then you asked all the questions you could. Where’d you get it? How much was it? How long have you had it?
  3. Pay Attention! Yes, there were different rules for different people, e.g., Teacher’s Pet & Goodie Two Shoes. You had to get past those though if you did not want to be teased. I noticed teachers liked it when you asked questions. Offer a little physical labor, wind an extension cord, move a desk, carry some great smelling ditto copies, teachers liked it. Swing by the lunch counter at clean up, you might get free cake. School/life was coming together nicely for me by Grade Eight. To keep me humble, I was sent to the citys top high school. Talk about challenge based learning?
  4. Supplements to the Book! No dispute, the textbook was the go to place for information and answers. Occasionally though, a topic came up that was too new. Unlucky students got told to choose a new topic. Lucky students found their way to the library. And if they were really lucky, they found Reader’s Guide to Period Literature. Note to reader, I noticed a correlation to “lucky” and those students who paid attention. Of course, this is just my observation.
  5. Standardized Testing Wouldn’t Kill Me! I was horrible at standardize tests. And I am a little proud to say; I never quite learned how to take them, apart from the ones at the DMV. Maybe I was warped early by all those law dramas my Dad made me watch, i.e. every case was winnable. I knew I was bright. My parents favorite phrase was, “you’re a bright kid, you just need to apply yourself.” Of course, according to the government, I was not bright. Lucky for me, no one in my educational career focused on this fact.
  6. Snow Days Could Get Boring! Believe it or not, you can only watch so much daytime television. I did learn a lot about value, worth, and probability from the Price is Right. In the absence of school and cable, thank goodness for copies of the magazine Boys Life and the book the Boy Mechanic.  I learned a lot about making igloos and Eskimos. When we did make it back to school, I stocked up on books at the library. Unfortunately, I could find no whale blubber in Southern Ohio.

Where did this undercurrent come from? It came from my parents. They somehow engineered a reasonable balance of push, pull and slack. In my mind, there could have been more slack. There were trips into New York City when I could have been playing with toys or watching television. We shopped at a historic inner city market house instead of the A&P or the IGA supermarkets. The library was a weekly trip and twice a week in the summer. I red and was red to. Television was a family activity where shows were vetted and many ruled inappropriate or “a waste of time.” I learned to use chopsticks at age ten. Talk about a patient mother. We talked about the future, theirs and mine.  And family friends streamed our house or dining room table on their way to their next adventure. Ah, the stories!

Learning is now a team sport and parents need to be in the game. Technology brings fabulous opportunities along with new responsibilities. Shirk these responsibilities and who knows what your son or daughter will need to unlearn. Technology is not a makeshift babysitter. It is a tool that requires ongoing collaboration and monitoring.  You may want to be their friend, but do keep in mind the there are different job descriptions for parent and friend. My parents did!


Carpet – check! Baklava – check! Turkish Delight – check!

A day in Istanbul, all expenses paid, what could be better? At the time, which was 1:30 am, it sounded great, but after sitting for two hours at Ataturk International Airport Starbucks in Istanbul with only fried chicken sandwiches, the “what could be better” list was starting to grow. Despite assurances of being “put you in the city, very close to the Grand Bazaar, no worries sir,” we ended at the airport convention center WOW Hotel, a three-minute bus ride away. At check in, we were told, “you will be picked up at 9:00 pm and you must check out at 7 pm!” Apparently, there was a Baklava Conference due to hit down later tonight and they needed the rooms. With it past 4 am, Zen prevailed and I said, “that’s cool.” We drifted off to our rooms with meal vouchers and Ethernet cables in hand.

Each room at the WOW Hotel came with its own Mini Mart I kid you not! In addition to the standard compliment of drinks and snacks, there was a bevy of business traveler friendly items. Wearable inventory included boxers, panties, socks, panty hose, and singlets. As for personal hygiene, there were shaving kits, deodorant, dental implements, and even breath mints. And for those feeling a little randy, condoms and Turkish Viagra (figs stuffed with almonds and covered with honey, condoms).

Tang, it’s still for breakfast and it’s green and even clear! After rocketing off into outer space in the 1960s, it obviously landed at some point in Turkey. Who knew? Add a Simit, a sesame encrusted bread ring, some olives, a few ripe tomatoes, and a few cubes of sheep’s milk cheese and you’ve got a Turkish Breakfast.

By checking out at Noon and stowing our bags, we missed the 7 pm eviction. We figured the 9 pm pick up was more like a guideline. Rushing to catch the Noon shuttle to the Grand Bazaar, we discovered the first was 50 meters away at WOW Hotel Tower #2 to pick up pre-conference baklava attendees. After ten minutes, just as the driver was lighting up his second cigarette, we legged it for the elevated train stop 500 meters away.

An estimated 250,000+ riders use Istanbul’s tram system each day. At the Zeytinburnu station, we transferred to the tram and encountered at least half the daily ridership. Twelve stops later and several failed attempts at conversation, apparently Jakarta does not make the local news much, we arrived at the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar dates from 1461 and is still one of the largest covered markets in the world. Clothes, hand bags, carpets, luggage, cafes, jewelry, more jewelry, pipes and assorted smoking paraphernalia, spices, tea, tea paraphernalia, and of course Turkish delight make up the primary offerings.

We fought our way onto a wave a people heading in, but we quickly veered off the main path only to meet Ishmael, a purveyor of fine Turkish Carpets. Two cups of tea and several hundred dollars later, we departed with an 80-year-old Caucasian carpet. Note to reader, bargaining is different in Istanbul. It is not the usual back and forth, best price, lowest price, special friend price, or first sale of the day price. It is a slow process of discussion where a price is mutually agreed. Neither side is insulted and both parties part as “friends.” We learned Ishmael’s brother lived seven years in Queens. He was Mesopotamian and that his people had no interest in fighting, ever. At the end of our first cup of tea, Ishmael finally felt comfortable enough with us to move on this price. Several pieces of Turkish delight and into our second cup of tea, a price was agreed upon. Hands were shook, the carpet was wrapped, a brief discussion about smuggling ensued, and we agreed to return to view more carpets at a very vague later date.

Tea, when in Turkey, I highly recommend it. The cups, the saucers, the lemon, and the lumps of sugar, it’s all about the accompaniments. Skip the sugar cube and invest in a few pieces of baklava. The bitterness of the tea complements baklava nicely. I suggest sitting outside anywhere sipping and people watching. And take it slow; you can easily overdose on baklava.

The Blue Mosque was to be our next stop. Unfortunately, our strategy of turning right at every mosque did not get us anywhere and we ended right back at the Grand Bazaar, i.e., a lot of mosques. We did enjoy ourselves in though, in the two-hour journey, we stopped, shopped, chatted, and even bought a few items. Oh yes, there was tea drinking. If you can afford the time of just wandering, I highly recommend doing so in the Old Town. It’s a gorgeous walk of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, with a few new pieces of modernist architecture mixed in, and of course several architectural calamities where old and new collided.

We did eventually make it to the Blue Mosque after a short tram ride. We did the obligatory photo shoot and struck out for the Bosporus! Walking past Topkapi Palace, which I recommend you do visit if you possess the time; we entered what appeared to be the commercial epicenter of Istanbul. Everyone other shop was either selling Baklava, Turkish Delight, tea, Italian coffee, or some combination there of. What spaces cafes did not occupy, souvenir shops stood ready to assist you, as  one shopkeeper put it, “how can I take your money?” One innovative risk  taker offered us very attractive Adidas tracksuits for 20 Lira. We were tempted; unfortunately there was already a long queue for his fitting room, i.e., the back seat of his car. We knew even with a good fit, exchanges would be difficult.

The Bosporus was amazingly blue. While I have stood in Asia and Europe on the same day, thank you modern aviation, never have I been to both continents within 30 minutes. If only I could walk to the three other continents I have not yet visited. Back at the Bosporus, tour buses, trams, trucks, and ferries continuously landed waves of people on the two continents. We were in awe of the vehicle/passenger ferries that seemingly unloaded and reloaded 50+ vehicles and hundreds of passengers in less than 15 minutes. Good old fashion hustle, it’s something of a lost art. And we paid our respects to the Orient Express, which passed away in 2009, at Sirkeci Terminal.

After a day of snacking on Turkish delight, baklava, salted Apples, salted watermelon, ice cream, fresh pomegranates, figs, pitas, and nuts, we were in dire need of sustenance. Unfortunately, strawberry tarts appeared and necessitated a reverse dinner. A peanut crust laced with chocolate, topped off with cream, and then covered by strawberries. Many a lactose challenged would run for the nearest baklava stand. Luckily the pastry chef, Erman, and I came to an understanding.

Two tarts later, we collapsed at the Bither Cafe. Yes, it was touristy but after eight hours of being on the move we could care less. Two Efes Pilsen’s later, we made our dinner selections: puff pastry stuffed with chicken and chilies, lamb stew, egg plant stuff with figs, peppers stuffed with eggplant, and rice. Of course not everyone in Bither was up for adventure dining. To our immediate right, two children and their father were sporting plates of spaghetti and rice. While not my first choice, I can sympathize immensely having over adventure dined myself in the past. We toasted our gracious host, Bither. He in turn assisted us with a few photos. And we agreed to return, again very vague on the timeline.

We jumped the tram right outside the Bither and lucked out by securing seats. Although I sat ready to give up my seat to someone more deserving, the other half of Istanbul’s 250,000+ a day tram riders piled on at the next station and effectively trapped us in our seats for the next fourteen stops. Note to reader, the vast majority of Istanbul’s public transport riders are in fact men. We arrived at WOW Hotel, secured our bags, translated a little Chinese for the staff (Chinese pastry chefs checking in for the baklava convention), and found Turkish Airlines were nowhere to be found. Guidelines, got to love ‘em!