To honor Valentine’s Day and again trot out one of my most beloved essays from ye olde blogge of yore, I share this inspirational and TRUE story…
What Would Josephine Do?
(originally published online 10/01/07)
Josephine was one big dating “don’t.”
She pushed too hard. She clung too tight. She regularly chewed her anus.
Josephine was a bitch – literally. 100% female dog.
If you don’t count the carnival fish or science class hermit crabs, Josephine was my only pet, the lone animal to capture my heart. Worms captured her heart, but that’s another story.
When it comes to matters of the heart, Josephine actually had a lot to teach. I didn’t appreciate this at the time, but now that I’m older and infinitely wiser, I can see Josephine for what she really was:
A love goddess.
It’s true. Don’t be fooled by the fact that she used to snarf her own turds – nothing more than a crafty ruse to throw us off-track.
Josephine educated by example, both negative and positive.
NEGATIVE: Josephine used to bully us into giving up physical affection. She’d whine. She’d squeal. She’d bash me with her head, applying snout-as-lever force in order to send my hand arcing through the air and landing limply atop her head. Oh, how I’d dread her approach. Oh, how I’d bruise like a peach.
What’s the lesson in all of this? First, keep your elbows above muzzle level and always protect your extremities. Second, violence is no way to win love.
Today, when I find myself yearning for creature comfort (and know a non-blood relation who might consider giving it), Josephine’s teachings form the cornerstone of my strategy. I sideline my “grabby snout.” I put myself in my (hypothetical) boyfriend’s shoes by reflecting on what I would have appreciated: A reasonably worded rubdown request; a few upfront tit-for-tat pats. If Josephine had treated me with respect, I would’ve happily scratched behind her ears, and felt like a sweetheart instead of a servant.
POSITIVE: Josephine’s loyalty was limitless. True, her protective instincts could err on the side of excess. For example, there was the time that Josephine scared the neighbor’s dog so profoundly, it channeled its agitation by popping one of its eyeballs from the socket. The eyeball dangled free for a couple of hours, but that’s not the point.
The point is, if you look past that unfortunate incident, you’ll glimpse a lifetime of steadfast devotion.
Here’s the lesson: Get your crew’s back and show ‘em some love. In this era of multi-tasking and compartmentalizing, time and love are increasingly rare. Basic supply and demand, my friends —being rare makes them valuable. So don’t skip out on the socializing or skimp on the sentiment. Josephine never did.
During her later years, arthritis in her hips made stair-climbing difficult. Dad built her a ramp, complete with carpet squares and wooden braces. During her later years, incontinence made bladder control impossible. Dad built her a dog house, complete with supplementary space heater. Josephine never used the ramp, though, and she never ventured into the dog house. Why?
“Because she was dumb” would’ve been my answer several years ago. But now that I’ve uncovered Josephine’s love goddess identity, I’ve changed my tune. Maybe she rejected the ramp because she was eager to accompany us and the ramp would’ve slowed her down. Maybe she bypassed the dog house because she wanted to watch us and the dog house would’ve limited her vision.
Or maybe she was dumb.
Regardless, the lesson we can derive is still a valuable one: Love your loved ones, and then love ‘em some more.
It’s been five years since Josephine died. Gone are the fur clumps that used to choke the staircase cracks. Gone are the neon yellow stains she leaked onto my carpet and my carpet alone.
But the heart’s a funny thing. Every time I walk through my parents’ door, I still brace myself for Josephine, inwardly cringing as I anticipate her full-on knee-rush, paint-peeling breath blast, room-clearing fart gas…
For nothing. Because Josephine is gone.
So I hang up my jacket in the vacuum of eerie silence, breathe in the scent of antiseptic cleanliness, and am always, unaccountably, disappointed.
Now I’m on my own, looking for love in this brave new world. As I negotiate the perils of online and face-to-freak dating— trashing misspelled come-ons from middle-aged foreigners, meeting up with bleary-eyed belchers for a cup of 7-11 Big Brew—I find I’m at a loss. How should I act?, I wonder. What should I do?
That’s when I intone my trusty mantra: WWJD, What Would Josephine Do? And I act according to her enlightened example.
So maybe I am still “single” and without a “prospect” between “here” and “Kingdom Come.” But I swear, it’s not because of interpersonal incompetence. Thanks to the love goddess, my dating deeds are not one big “don’t.”
On May 27, 2012, my family celebrated the 90th birthday of the one and only Ruth Feldman Marcus, aka Gramma. My mom and uncle — Ruth’s two children — set this simcha at Max and Benny’s Deli in Northbrook, IL.
The invitation to this party nodded to Ruth’s past, proclaiming, “you can take the girl out of the deli but you can’t take the deli out of the girl.” Ruth’s mother and brother, Sarah Rich Feldman and Maury Feldman, had co-owned and operated a Jewish deli on Chicago’s West Side during Ruth’s teen years. Ruth’s college dreams were denied when Sarah broke her wrist and needed Ruth to fill in for her, slicing cold cuts and carrying trays, among other things. Here at this family deli, Ruth’s future husband (and my grandfather) Ray Marcus took a shine to the cute blonde waitress and endearingly chose to eat far more meals there than strictly necessary.
My uncle Dick welcomed the group of approximately 50 family members and friends, explaining the significance of delis to our family.
Rick Felt, Ruth Marcus, Dick Marcus
Ruth Marcus, Dick Marcus, Barbara Marcus Felt
Later, Uncle Dick revealed his wonderfully creative, hilarious, participatory party game. What if contemporary folks, ignorant of Jewish customs, wandered into an old school Jewish deli? And what if they all spoke Yiddish? (By the way, Uncle Dick’s premise isn’t as random as it may sound; see Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.)
The following three videos feature Uncle Dick’s funny and articulate explanation of the concept. Because my brother recorded the speech on his cell phone, the image resolution is poor but the audio quality is good. He broke the footage up into three segments in order to make each file small enough to send. The beginning of each film includes the end of the last, just to provide context and ensure that no part of the talk was accidentally lopped off.
While the crowd laughed at the prospect of performing (and Uncle Dick’s improbable math), 11 brave, corned beef-sated family members later accepted Uncle Dick’s scripts and embodied the roles of meshuggeneh customers and exasperated servers, first in Yiddish and then in English.
Ashley and me
CUSTOMER 1 – YIDDISH
Customer: Vilt du zine azay goot oz tsu helfin mir?
Waitress (Waiter): Yeh. Vous vilst due?
Customer: Ich vill habn ah sendvich fun pastrami.
Waitress: Mit rye broit?
Customer: No. Mit veisse broit.
Waitress: Veisse? Feh!
CUSTOMER 1 – ENGLISH
Customer: Will you be so good as to help me?
Waitress (Waiter): Yes. What do you want?
Customer: I will have a pastrami sandwich.
Waitress: With rye bread?
Customer: No. With white bread.
Waitress: White?! Feh!
Dick Marcus, Kenneth Marcus, Ina Goldberg
CUSTOMER 2 – YIDDISH
Waitress: Ken ich helfin der?
Customer: Ich vill habn ah sendvich fun pecklfleisch mit rye broit.
Waitress: Rye broit. Zeier goot.
Customer: Und mit a shmeer mayonnaise.
CUSTOMER 2 – ENGLISH
Waitress: Can I help you?
Customer: I will have a corned beef sandwich on rye bread.
Waitress: Rye bread. Very good.
Customer: And a shmear of mayonnaise.
Bev Copeland and Bryan Savitsky
CUSTOMER 3 – YIDDISH
Waitress: Ken ich helfin der?
Customer: Yeh, danken. Ich vill habn ah hot dog, mit pomidor und pickle.
Waitress: Mmm! Geshmak.
Customer: Und mit ketchup.
CUSTOMER 3 – ENGLISH
Waitress: Can I help you?
Customer: Yes, thanks. I will have a hot dog with tomato and pickle.
Waitress: Mmm! Delicious.
Customer: And with ketchup.
Doug Hoffman and Benjy Felt
CUSTOMER 4 – YIDDISH
Waitress: Arain! Zetz zach ah nitter. Ken ich helfin der?
Customer: Yeh. Nemn a salami sendvich.
Waitress: Hart oder zachtig?
Customer: Tsibbleh bulke.
Waitress: Zeier goot.
Customer: Und a slice Swiss cheese.
Waitress: Vous?! Salami mit cheese?! Feh! Bist meshugah? Milchik un fleishik?! Nit gedacht! Feh!
CUSTOMER 4 – ENGLISH
Waitress: Come in! Sit down here. Can I help you?
Customer: Yes. I’ll take a salami sandwich.
Waitress: Hard or soft?
Customer: Onion roll.
Waitress: Very good.
Customer: And a slice of Swiss cheese.
Waitress: What?! Salami with cheese?! Feh! Are you crazy? Dairy and meat?! God forbid! Feh!
Leanne Marcus, Sarah Felt, and Someone
CUSTOMER 5 – YIDDISH
Waitress1: Ken ich helfin der?
Customer: Ich vill haben a BLT.
Waitress1 (aside to Waitress2): Vos a BLT?
Waitress2: A sendvich.
Waitress1: Und vos iz in dos sendvich?
Waitress2: Pomidor, salat, und, ummm, bacon.
Waitress1: Vos iz dus bacon?
Waitress2: Bacon iz…. well bacon iz….
Waitress1: Bacon iz vos?
Waitress2: Well, uh, well bacon seh kumpt foon ah chahzer
Waitress1: FOON AH CHAHZER! Feh!
Waitress1 to Customer: Gai avek! Gai! Gai! Gai tsu Howard Johnson far chahzerfleisch! Meshiggoner!
CUSTOMER 5 – ENGLISH
Waitress1: Can I help you?
Customer: I will have a BLT.
Waitress1 (aside to Waitress2): What is a BLT?
Waitress2: A sandwich.
Waitress1: And what is in this sandwich?
Waitress2: Tomato, lettuce, and, ummm, bacon.
Waitress1: What is bacon?
Waitress2: Bacon is…. well bacon is….
Waitress1: Bacon is what?
Waitress2: Well, uh, well bacon comes from a pig.
Waitress1: FROM A PIG! Feh!
Waitress1 to Customer: Go away! Go! Go! You go to Howard Johnson for pig meat! Crazy person!
Needless to say, a great time was had by all!
My gramma and I have always been close. I had the good fortune of staying nearby for college, so during those years Gramma and I got even closer. I wrote my first column for The Daily Northwestern about a particularly memorable experience together.
Since graduating from college 10.5 years ago, I’ve only lived near Gramma (and the rest of my immediate family) for 2.5 of them. Boston was a lean time, family-wise, but luckily Gramma’s niece Helena Feldman Erlich and her daughter and her daughters live in the Los Angeles area. This means that, even though I’m far away from the heartland, I’m not without my family. We all gathered together last Saturday to celebrate the last night of Hanukkah, and Helena insisted that I share this video with Gramma. You were with us in spirit, Gramma!
Mike and I also threw a Hanukkah party, complete with high-stakes dreidel.
And I wrangled two rounds of latke-making, clad in a fabulously garish dreidel apron. As I jokingly explained to Gramma the next day, a 12-year-old girl does not truly come of age at her Bat Mitzvah — she joins the ranks of Jewish womanhood when she cooks up her first batch of latkes. :)
“This was lightning in a bottle in my world. This tremendous opportunity, but also this tremendous pressure to try to make the most of it.” – Nirvan
“There should be a seamless gradient from their naive play to what adults would recognize as work.” – Isaiah
“We have to create a culture where play is not only acceptable, but valued. Where we’re demonstrating that we care about play and creativity.” – Laurel
“Making/playing is a platform for kids to have the confidence to try a new skill they don’t have yet.” – Isaiah
For me, interesting points of the conversation include (but are not limited to): playing vs. making; values vs. rewards; capacities vs. checkmarks; practice vs. philosophy; today vs. tomorrow.
Playing vs. making
I’m interested in creating a Venn diagram for these two concepts, playing and making, because I find them to be interrelated and even overlapping at times yet not synonymous. Isaiah said that in order to make, one must play; I agree. But in order to play, one does not have to make — that is, unless we define “making” more broadly to encompass making narratives, making interpersonal connections, making characters, making decisions, etc. I feel that makerspaces and hackerspace are havens for tangible tinkering — taking an object and transforming it in some way. But by definition, play does not require any objects. In fact, my favorite way to play — improv — insists upon no props, no sets, no nothing.
Isaiah elaborated that to earn a Skill badge on DIY.org, one must complete at least 3 challenges that incorporate play. So play is in the DNA of making. But what is in the DNA of play? USC Dornsife’s Joint Educational Project will pilot a badge system in which service-learners can earn badges in play. Designing challenges that support play proficiency is on my To-Do list for — now-ish, I suppose :-), and by “now-ish” I mean NOW, since we’re launching this in February 2013. I’m looking forward to demystifying (and complicating) a process/concept we all thought we already understood: play.
Values vs. rewards
I characterized badges as expressions of values, ways to show community members what we care about. By recognizing Attendance Award winners, schools show that they care about kids coming every day. By letting a student walk to lunch first because she raised her hand without calling out, a teacher shows that he cares about turn-taking and orderliness. Do these rewards motivate and incentivize behavior? Perhaps, to a point — extrinsically. We all know that the value of such methods is limited and we do not want to create a generation of individuals who require external validation.
I care much less about people working for the reward, and much more about the symbolic value of giving time and attention to a certain set of values. I like what badges express. When an organization supports a play badge, it says, “We care about play.” When an organization connects a group of badges to its program, it says, “These are possible outcomes of your work. These are some goals we find worthwhile.” To learners — who may understandably assume that this learning context is just like the rest, and that their job is to sit passively and spit back the expected responses — it declares, “This time, it’s different.” Badges show what you can explore, do, become. “Welcome, current and budding Players, Zoologists, Engineers. This experience transcends an A in who-knows-what. This experience is open for you to grow.”
Maybe this sounds idealistic and naive. Maybe that’s my specialty. ;-) I just think we need to unambiguously show learners that the world is rich with possibilities, and have our learning contexts reflect and honor that richness.
Capacities vs. checkmarks
Educational standards have become (or were they always?) a dirty word. Our American educational system is not federal but wide adoption of The Common Core moves us closer towards national norms. Is this a hollow affair at best, a time-sucking or even sinister situation at worst?
It depends on what you believe standards do. From Monika, it sounded like she believes that standards superficially designate “good” and “bad” where such qualifiers don’t exist — there is just difference.
So far, I can only think of examples where I disagree… I’m struggling to play devil’s advocate with myself and find a case that will support her point. Perhaps I’ll get there as I share my own position.
I think there are basic skills that allow people to play the game. If you don’t know how to dribble, you can’t really play basketball. You can make up your own game with different rules and not have to dribble at all, or only dribble in a certain kind of way. That’s fine. But that’s not basketball. Whether we want to transition to this new game becoming THE game and replacing basketball, that’s a separate issue. But this new game is not basketball. To play basketball, you have to be able to dribble.
So that’s what I think of when I consider standards. To be able to read, you have to understand phonemes. To be able to subtract, you have to understand the number line. Teaching these skills to children is an important task we give to schools. Standards articulate this expectation, this part of schools’ job description. By the end of the year, the students should understand X, be able to do Y.
Standards become problematic when the learning goals they outline are: 1) irrelevant; 2) beyond students’ zone of proximal development (either too easy or too hard); or 3) chained to inappropriate instructional methods. If/when any of these criteria describe standards, then the standards should be rewritten. But in my opinion, the phenomenon of standards should not be dumped all together.
I want our children to be able to engage with challenging texts. I want them to be able to express themselves so that comprehension is not limited by writers’ poor grammar but by listeners’ own willingness to engage. I want our children to be able to look at a pie chart and know what it means. I want our children to be able to calculate which carton of orange juice at the grocery store is a better deal per milliliter. And of course, I want our children to love themselves, treat one another with respect, and dream of what never was and ask why not (to borrow a phrase from the late, great Bobby Kennedy).
Isaiah said that his ideal middle school would consist of two required courses in character-building and five electives whose content would authentically integrate standards/basic skills. Amazing idea. To that integration end, I encouraged educators to identify the basic skills already embedded in creative projects, and to discover diverse subjects’ interrelationships, e.g., a social science standard within the scope of a science project.
Let’s help school enable, rather than prevent, education.
Practice vs. philosophy
What we believe is one thing; what we do is often another. How can we make our teaching reflect and support our philosophies? What can we DO? Fabulously time-strapped teachers legitimately ask for this concrete guidance; in many cases, educational advocates are preaching to the choir instead of giving them a hand. Of course teachers want to support their students; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have gone into this (largely thankless) profession. But how are they supposed to get the job done? Even though I know better, sometimes I catch myself teaching in the same way that I was taught (didactially) and taught to teach (by the book/standard/standardized test). I need a model for another way; I need practical guidelines; I need an example. I think we all do.
In terms of a model, in today’s conversation I presented participatory learning (which is similar to connected learning). In a playful participatory learning context, educators surrender some classroom control in order to honor students’ self-directed learning and creativity, embrace technology and digital media even in the absence of personal expertise/mastery, and value process over product – that is, escape the tyranny of perfection (Vartabedian & Felt, 2012, p. 62).
In terms of practical guidelines, I shared the five characteristics of participatory learning (hereafter referred to as the “5 CPLs”). Our research from USC Annenberg Innovation Lab’s PLAY! project and, previously, from Project New Media Literacies, found that rich learning flourishes with the establishment of these values and practices:
The 5 CPLs
● heightened motivation and new forms of engagement through meaningful play and experimentation;
● an integrated learning system where connections between home, school community and world are enabled and encouraged;
● co-learning where educators and students pool their skills and knowledge and share in the tasks of teaching and learning;
● learning that feels relevant to the students’ identities and interests; and
● opportunities for creating and solving problems using a variety of media, tools and practices (Project New Media Literacies 2010; cited in Felt, Vartabedian, Literat & Mehta, 2012)
The following tool might help educators and their students to discern whether and to what extent their learning contexts qualify as participatory. Areas of weakness are simply spaces for development and innovation.
4 C’s of Participation Inventory
How do we provide mechanisms to CREATE?
How do we offer opportunities for media [which can be understood as messages and information] to CIRCULATE across platforms, disciplines and ages?
How do we help learners to COLLABORATE and build upon others’ knowledge?
How do we encourage learners to CONNECT with counterparts and establish productive networks?
(Reilly, Jenkins, Felt & Vartabedian, 2012)
In terms of a sample activity or curriculum, I suggested improv games. Improv establishes a context in which to develop essential and versatile skills, and improv’s respectful implementation helps to co-create a culture in which risk-taking is encouraged, “failure” is acceptable/impossible, collaborating is key, and gift-giving is just how we roll.
I think we’re still figuring out the HOW. But I think that getting down to these brass tacks, discussing practice rather than philosophy, is necessary in order to avoid old habits and move forward.
Today vs. tomorrow
A ConnectedLearning.tv community member shared a question via chat. While this query set off our riff about standards, it also inspired my final comment about who we reach out to and how we conceptualize our goals. We would be remiss if we focused exclusively on either today or tomorrow; we must consider both.
Exchanging concrete practice is very today-oriented, extremely here-and-now. The task of identifying standards across one’s teaching is also contemporary. It speaks to what’s currently on the books. For today, let’s do all we can to hack/mod the system, establish standards crosswalks, and connect our ideals with our realities. We can’t abandon today to rhetoric of tomorrow. And, institutionally, we can’t abandon formal education to the potential of informal learning. Our children are in school for many hours every day; I refuse to surrender that time and just invest in the outside. Nothing against the informal! But a formal does exist. Let’s dig in and fix a thing or two NOW.
In terms of tomorrow… We we all know that our educational system is sick. We all know that a lot of renovation is required. So let’s also reach out to the funders, architects, and contractors of that system — in other words, government officials and representatives, school board members, and curriculum developers. Let’s ask them to build school spaces that look less like factories and more like labs, libraries, coffee shops, and meeting rooms. Let’s ask them to write standards that are neither irrelevant nor beyond students’ zone of proximal development nor chained to inappropriate instructional methods. Let’s ask them to offer professional development workshops that model and encourage playful participatory learning.
Let’s work better today. And let’s build a better tomorrow.
I’ve embedded today’s webinar below and welcome the opportunity to continue this conversation on Twitter! Please talk back to me via @laurelfelt and/or hook this up with the communal discussion via #connectedlearning. Thanks again!
Yom Kippur begins tonight at sundown. This means that, for Jews, it’s time for us to reflect on our lives over the past year and, hopefully, wipe the slate clean and start fresh.
Three years ago, I found this poem/self-reflection tool that so eloquently invites us to think/act towards enriching ourselves and our lives. I share it because I care.
The day has come
To take an accounting of my life.
Have I dreamed of late
Of the person I want to be,
Of the changes I would make
In my daily habits,
In the way I am with others,
In the friendship I show companions,
Woman friends, man friends, my partner,
In the regard I show my father and mother,
Who brought me out of childhood?
I have remained enchained too often to less than what I am.
But the day has come to take an accounting of my life.
Have I renewed of late
My vision of the world I want to live in,
Of the changes I would make
In the way my friends are with each other
In the way we find out whom we love
The way we grow to educated people
The way in which the many kinds of needy people
Grope their way to justice?
I, who am my own kind of needy person, have been afraid of visions.
But the day has come to take accounting of my life.
Have I faced up of late
To the needs I really have –
Not for the comforts which shelter my unsureness
Not for honors which paper over my (really tawdry) self,
Not for handsome beauty in which my weakness masquerades,
Not for unattractiveness in which my strengths hide out –
I need to be loved.
Do I deserve to be?
I need to love another.
Can I commit my love?
Perhaps its object will be less than my visions
(And then I would be less)
Perhaps I am not brave enough
To find new vision
Through a real and breathing person.
I need to come in touch with my own power,
Not with titles,
Not possessions, money, high praise,
But with the power that it is mine
As a child of the Power that is the universe
To be a comfort, a source of honor,
Handsome and beautiful from the moment I awoke this morning
That I can risk the love of someone else
That I can risk to change the world
And know that even if it all comes crashing down
I shall survive it all—
Saddened a bit, shaken perhaps,
Not unvisited by tears
But my dreams shall not crash down
My visions not go glimmering.
So long as I have breath
I know I have the strength
To transform what I can be
To what I am.
The day has come
To take an accounting of my life.
Levy, R.D. (Ed.) (1985). On Wings of Awe: A Machzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Hillel Foundations. pp. 104-106.
During the summer of 2010, I had the thrilling opportunity to work in Dakar, Senegal, with innovative non-governmental organization le Reseau Africain d’Education pour la Sante (RAES) program, Sunukaddu. To this teen workshop in multimedia health communication, I brought a pedagogical model and method that positioned new media literacies (NMLs) and SEL skills as fundamental to meaningful learning, and asset appreciation as key to sustainability. Collaboratively as a Sunukaddu team, local staff and I generated: a daily schedule that reflected a scaffolded methodology for optimizing participatory learning; a programmatic schedule that introduced key communication characteristics, strategies, and platforms, as well as useful theory; full lesson plans that respected our theoretical, temporal, and curricular goals; and a sense of togetherness, prompting us to declare the important Wolof phrase, “Nio far!”
…Prior to joining the implementation team for a new youth development intervention, Tidiane always kept his speech to a minimum. At meetings, he listened attentively and took copious notes; periodically, he would send a long email to the director that articulated his perspectives on the various topics of discussion. Such communicative behavior might be considered Tidiane’s “baseline.”
During the summer of 2010, Tidiane and several co-workers piloted Sunukaddu 2.0, an intervention intended to empower youths by supporting their development of skills that enable exploration, collaboration, and meaningful communication (Felt & Rideau, forthcoming). Not only did the program significantly impact participants but its effects upon Tidiane were also profound. During brainstorming meetings and curriculum workshops, he voiced his own ideas. When the program opened its doors, he challenged participants with critical thinking questions and rich cultural commentary. During a lesson on message dissemination, he spontaneously sprang from a corner of the room and translated a lengthy explanation of Everett Rogers’s Diffusion of Innovations theory (1962/2003) from (imperfect) French into participants’ native Wolof. And when unanticipated transportation and scheduling issues left Tidiane as the sole instructor for an entire day, he independently delivered – and innovated! – the curriculum, then enthused about his experience afterwards. In Tidiane’s own words:
“You gave me self-confidence thanks to these skills” (personal communication, September 22, 2010).
“My favorite skills are negotiation, self-awareness, and social awareness because they represent values that are and must be the basis for an equitable and responsible society” (personal communication, September 27, 2010).
Tidiane did not revert to his quiet ways after the program bestowed certificates of completion upon its participants (an element suggested and designed by Tidiane). Rather, he declared his intention to realize his filmmaking dreams by proposing a short video that would explain how to take the skills presented in Sunukaddu 2.0 and adapt them to an African, specifically Senegalese, context (personal communication, October 7, 2010).
When anticipated funding streams fell through, he was undeterred: “I will make it with my own funds because it’s a good subject for a film” (personal communication, January 8, 2010). Tidiane’s colleagues playfully nicknamed him “the kitten who became a lion,” a moniker that he embraced. On August 18, 2010, Tidiane Photoshopped his Facebook thumbnail so that the image of a roaring lion overlaid his polo shirt (See Figure 9).
Figure 9. Tidiane publicizing his newfound leonine identity
Tidiane’s experience functions as a cultural beacon because its full understanding, its very recognition, requires cultural participation. Had outside evaluators visited RAES and observed Sunukaddu 2.0 in action, they would not have noticed anything remarkable – a young instructor was simply teaching a lesson. The phenomenal nature of Tidiane’s speech would have been invisible to these context-less recorders and so this rich data, bursting with implications, would have been lost.
I left Senegal in August of 2010, bidding adieu — but not goodbye — to my beloved colleagues. Here’s a final goofy photo of me, Tidiane, and Brock (a Master of Public Health student at UCLA and my roommate for one month of my stay):
In my absence, Tidiane and our colleague Idrissa, who we both affectionately referred to as our father, continued to share the Sunukaddu method. On February 1, 2011, Tidiane sent me nine huge photo files; each depicted an image of employees from Senegalese non-profit organizations as they used the Sunukaddu method in a training workshop that Tidiane and Idrissa led. Here are screenshots of two of these photographs:
On June 8, 2012, Tidiane sent the following via email:
“Je voulais t’envoyer les photos de la formation sunukaddu que nous sommes entrain de faire à Mbour…
“C’est super de faire sunukaddu à Mbour parce que c’est une zone touristique et c’est l’endroit ou le taux de prévalence est le plus élevé au Sénégal et aussi la pauvreté fait que les touristes on du pouvoir par rapport aux habitants locaux…”
“I’d like to send you the photos from the Sunukaddu training that we’re in the middle of doing in Mbour [a city in Senegal approximately 81 km south of Dakar, also along the Atlantic coast]…
“It’s great to do Sunukaddu in Mbour because it’s a tourist-y area and it’s the place where the tax rate is the highest in Senegal, and also the poverty is such that tourists have power over local residents…”
Here are the images that Tidiane appended:
I, too, kept pushing forward with Sunukaddu. I incorporated NMLs, SELs, and Idrissa’s competence clothesline into an after-school program, Explore Locally Excel Digitally, that I co-created with my colleagues at PLAY!
On May 2, 2012, Tidiane informed me via email that a short film he made with his friends would be shown at an international forum on youth employment in Geneva, Switzerland. In a follow-up email on May 3, 2012, he wrote,
“Je pense que ce film une fois qu’il sera diffuser au forum international à Genève , peut être , changera quelque chose dans les politiques d’emploi pour les jeunes au Sénégal et en Afrique.” “I think that this film, once it’s shown at the international forum in Geneva, maybe will change something with regards to employment policies for youths in Senegal and in Africa.”
Tearing a page from my mentor Henry Jenkins‘s playbook, I also emailed Tidiane a series of interview questions so that his responses could complement and contextualize his important artistic and political work. Here are the questions and answers, first in their original French, then in English and boldface for our reading ease (NOTE: This was translated by little ol’ (limited) me):
LAUREL: Comment est-ce que tu as pris l’idee a faire ce film?
TIDIANE: C’est Alex qui m’as envoyé le lien pour participer au concours et j’ai participer, j’ai beaucoup d’amis qui vivent cette situation donc s’était très facile pour moi d’écrire le scénario et surtout de pouvoir partager leurs préoccupations avec le reste du monde. LAUREL: How did you get the idea to make this film?
TIDIANE: It was Alex [the director of RAES] who sent me the link to participate in the contest and I participated, lots of my friends experience this situation so it was very easy for me to write the script and especially to be able to share in their concern with the rest of the world.
LAUREL: Comment est-ce que tu as fait le film — trouver les joueurs, louer le transport en commun, faire de la recherche sur l’issu d’access a l’emploi des jeunes, ecrire le scenario, employer les assistants, payer tout le monde, prendre le camera et le logiciel de montage, etc?
TIDIANE: Tous les acteurs sont des bénovoles et ce sont mes amis. J’ai payé 5000 fcf environ 10 dollars au transport en commun et j’ai filmer dans le car rapide mais on n’avait au préalable fait une répétition chez moi puisque la voiture devait faire un seul tour du quartier avec nous alors il failait faire 3 prises et que tous le monde devaient assurer. Le raes m’a prêter sa caméra et j’ai monter le film à la maison avec le logiciel Sony vegas 7 donc le film a gouté 10 dollars. LAUREL: How did you make the film — find the actors, rent the bus, do research on the issue of youths’ access to employment, write the script, hire the crew, pay everyone, get the camera and editing software, etc?
TIDIANE: All of the actors were volunteers and my friends. I paid 5000 francs — around $10 USD — for the bus and I filmed inside the bus but we didn’t have any prior rehearsal at my house because the bus had to make one circuit around the neighborhood with us, so we had to do three takes to be sure that we got it. RAES lent me its camera and I edited the film at my house with the program Sony Vegas 7, so the fim cost around $10 USD.
LAUREL: Combien de temps est-ce que tu as pris pour creer ce film?
TIDIANE: Le film m’a pris une journée de travail. LAUREL: How much time did it take you to make this film?
TIDIANE: The film took me one day of work.
LAUREL: Expliquez plus sur le forum au Geneve. Donnez-moi le nom entier du forum et direz comment tu est arrive a ce point-ci d’y aller et présenter ton film.
TIDIANE: Même si j’ai pas gagner je suis content de voir que film a été projeter et que des décideurs de même que d’autre jeunes du monde entier l’on regarder.Et ça s’était mon objectif.
Voici l’e-mail que j’ai reçu sur forum…
[see below] LAUREL: Explain more about the forum in Geneva. Give me the whole name of the forum and tell me how you got to this point to present your film there.
TIDIANE: Even though I didn’t win I’m happy to see that the film was screened and that the panel and youths from around the world saw it. And that was my objective.
Here’s the email that I received about the forum:
Congratulations! Out of the 240 video submissions we have received your video has been chosen as the top 15! Unfortunately due to tough competition your video has not made it to the top 3. Nonetheless, the great news is that your video will be featured on the ILO website and the ILO Facebook page (What about young people?). Also your submission will play in a video montage in the Cinema room during the Forum. In order to do this we ask you to send:
Your video file (not link)
For confirmation, provide your full name, age and nationality
In case you’re wondering, the winners of the ILO video contest will be kept as a surprise for the Youth Employment Forum 23-25! Once the three winners have had the chance to present their videos, the videos will be published on the ILO website and Facebook page (What About Young People?).
Thank you very much for participating in the ILO video contest! We look forward in sharing your video to youth around the world!
The Youth Employment Programme
LAUREL: Tu as a choisi a donner le sagesse au personnage qui vient du paysage et qui porte les vêtements traditionnels. Partagez plus sur tes motivations pour cette choix. Est-ce que tu as voulu faire une déclaration sur les normes de genre aussi?
TIDIANE: Lui, c’est mon grand frère et il n’a pas de travail donc je savais qu’il était le mieux placé pour restituer tous ces sentiment des jeunes sénégalais qui sont dans la même situation que lui.Le problème dans nos pays est que le secteur primaire qui devait porter notre développement est reléguer au second plan et les jeunes qui habitent dans ces régions sont obligés de venir dans les villes à la recherche de travail, on appel cela l’exode rurale alors que si l’état avait mis l’accent sur l’agriculture, la pêche et l’élevage cela ne serai pas arrivée. J’ai donné plus la parole à cet homme parce que les dirigeants pensent que ces gens ne savent pas ce dont ils ont besoin parce que la plus part d’entre-eux ne sont jamais aller l’école donc ils doivent écouter et appliquer les politiques des intellectuels qui sont complétement déconnecter des réalités du terrain.Alors j’ai fais du sunukaddu, il faut que les principales concernés c’est à dire les jeunes puissent dire de quoi ils ont besoin. LAUREL: You chose to give the wisdom to the person who comes from the countryside and wears traditional clothes. Share more on your motivations for that choice. Did you also want to make a statement on norms for this type of person?
TIDIANE: Him, he’s my big brother and he doesn’t have a job, so I knew that he was the best suited to voice all of the sentiments of young Senegalese who are in the same situation as he is. The problem in our country is that the sector that most needs development is relegated to the second tier, and the youths who live in these regions are obligated to leave their villages and look for work [in the big cities] — we call that the rural exodus. If the state focused on agriculture, fishing, and raising livestock, then this wouldn’t happen. I’ve given voice to this man because [the nation's] leaders think that the [common] people don’t know what they need since the majority of [these common people] have never gone to school. So, [the leaders] think that they should listen to and apply the policies of intellectuals [instead of the hardworking Senegalese, even though the intellectuals are people] who are completely disconnected from realities on the ground. That’s why I do Sunukaddu, because its main principle is that youths [know and] can say what they need.
LAUREL: Quels roles ont-t-ils jouent tes experiences avec RAES (Sunukaddu, Clic Info Ado, etc) dans la realisation de ce projet?
TIDIANE: Beaucoup, j’ai fait preuve de conscience sociale pour pouvoir écrire le scénario, j’ai utiliser intelligence collective pour réaliser le film et je suis entrain de faire du réseautage pour que plus de monde puisse accéder au monde et le partager. LAUREL: What roles did your experiences with RAES (such as youth programs Sunukaddu, Clic Info Ado, etc) play in the direction of this project?
TIDIANE: A lot. I showcased social awareness in being able to write the script, I used collective intelligence to direct the film, and I’m in the middle of networking so that more people in the world can have access to this film and share it.
LAUREL: Decrivez tes reves: 1) pour ce film; 2) pour la question d’acces a l’emploi; 3) pour les jeunes de Senegal; 4) pour ta carriere/vie.
TIDIANE: Il y a un grand penseur américain du nom de John Barth qui disait que : Ce n’est parce que tes rêves sont hors de porter que tu ne dois pas te donner les moyens de les atteindre.Mon rêve ce n’est pas de changer le monde, je sais que je ne pourrai pas mais je ferai de mon mieux pour aider le maximum de personne.Mon rêve est de voir ces jeunes se permettent d’avoir des rêves, de croire à l’Afrique .Mon rêve pour ce film est que les bailleurs qui aident nos pays puissent le voir et orienter les aides vers les populations surtout des zones rurales.Et cela les américains l’ont déjà fait avec le MCA (millenium challenge account) qui intervient dans les zones rurales.
Personnellement, je rêve de faire de grands film, qui seront diffuser dans le monde entiers parce que je pense que nous avons beaucoup de chose à partager avec le reste du monde .
Et pour ma vie de raconter une femme qui partages les mêmes rêves que moi, les rêves d’un monde meilleur ou toutes les personnes auront des rêves. LAUREL: Describe your dreams: 1) for this film; 2) for the question of access to employment; 3) for youths in Senegal; 4) for your career/life.
TIDIANE: There’s a great American thinker named John Barth who said that, Just because your dreams are beyond your grasp doesn’t mean that you don’t have the means to attain them. My dream isn’t to change the world, I know that I can’t, but I will do my best to help the most people possible. My dream is to see that youths can realize their dreams, can believe in Africa. My dream for this film is that the donors who help our country can see it and direct their aid towards certain populations, especially in rural zones. And that’s what the Americans already did with the MCA (Millennium Challenge Account) that goes to rural zones. Personally, I dream of making great films that will be distributed around the whole world because I believe that we have a lot to share with the rest of the world. And, for my life, [I want] to meet a woman who shares the same dreams as me, dreams of a better world where everyone will realize their dreams.
To say that I feel the utmost respect for Tidiane Thiang is a woeful understatement.
He is a great filmmaker…
a great teacher…
and a great human being.
It is my honor to have made Tidiane’s acquaintance and to follow his brilliant trailblazing from afar.
Tidiane, you are an inspiration. Thank you.
P.S. An email from Tidiane, dated February 6, 2012
Je pense que l’école dans laquelle vous avez expérimenté le projet [Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Los Angeles] à les
mêmes caractéristiques que la plus part des écoles aux Sénégal.Les jeunes
quittent l’école très tôt au Sénégal parce qu’ils n’aimes pas le cadre
formel dans lequel ils sont confiné, alors ils préfèrent allez dans le
secteur informel pour apprendre des métiers artisanaux ou devenir des
vendeurs à la sauvette dans les rues de Dakar. Dans les salles
informatiques des écoles au Sénégal, ont interdit aux jeunes aussi d’aller
dans les réseaux sociaux comme Facebook est cela a entrainer une baisse de
la fréquentation les salles informatiques.Je pense qu’il faut réfléchir
sur comment adapter les nouveaux technologies à l’éducation formel.Les
jeunes sont de plus en plus exigent et adapter leurs besoins au secteur
formel sera le pari des années à venir.C’est dommage qu’avec le taux
échantillonnage faible que vous avez, une évaluation fiable n’a pas pu
être fait mais ça serai intéressant de tester cette approche novateur sur
beaucoup plus de jeunes et voir l’impact.
Je pense que nous allons intégrer dans nos prochaines sessions de
formation les 4c(connexion-création-collaboration-circulation) je trouve
que c’est très intéressant de renforcer la culture participative mais
surtout en se basant sur le ORID qui incite les jeunes à discuter .
C’est très gentil à toi de partager cette expérience parce qu’elle nous
ouvre d’autre perspective d’exploration local avec des jeunes de condition
sociale similaire mais de culture différente.