Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why Museums Don't Suck

My son, nephew, niece, and daughter,
Louvre, Paris, France (2012)

Some teenagers think that museums "suck," and, in part, they'd be right. Museums can suck when you don't have a storyteller guiding you through the magical land of cultural heritage to help bring a museum to life.

The walls that house the spoils of war and treasures of the world, when seen with an Alice In Wonderland-like perspective, can indeed feel a bit strange. 

Transplant an urban, American teenager from their natural habitat and drop them unprepared into the jungle of history, and it might look and feel a little like this: 

In Night At The Museum, Hollywood, on what I consider a rare occasion, actually imparted - in their classic, stylized way - a valuable idea, unleashing onto the general public knowledge early western scholars and church leaders fought so hard to keep hidden from the masses, namely: the idea that there's more knowledge out there than we realize. 

Everyone likes a good story and museums are filled with them. Still, like anything worth excelling at in life,  we can't just "show up" unannounced and passively expect the environment to edify and enlighten us; to tell us its deepest, darkest secrets without our first doing a little digging, decoding, and deciphering of our own. 

My Daughter, Puebla, Mexico (2011)

Just as an athlete makes sacrifices, getting up every morning at the crack of dawn to head out to practice when they could have easily stayed in bed for another hour or two...

...we have to go to great lengths to bring the museum to life. Like anything worth doing or learning, it is us who have to make the effort if we want to see results. We've got to hitch a ride on a jeep and explore the jungles of Mexico (or the outskirts of wherever we live) to appreciate the treasures that were found in the region, hauled across large distances without the means of modern transportation, finally finding their way into museums where they are now visible to the demanding public all over the world. 

Becan Mayan Ruins, Mexico (1994)

The next best thing to taking a voyage for ourselves is being swept away by someone's story about a grand journey they took. 

My daughter, son, and me
Puebla, Mexico (2011)

Museums hold the treasures ancient peoples either created or looted from all over the world: from Solomon's temple to the cave that hid the treasures of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, many of these objects are still finding their way out of obscurity, away from the hands of private collectors, and into the museum environment, the public custodians of humanity's history. 

If you are a book lover, a person with an affinity for the written word, you might consider a trip to Puebla, México, to Palafox's Library, the first public library established in the Americas (1646), as a trip worth making. Just like museums, libraries, national monuments, churches, cathedrals, abbeys, and ruin sites preserve something of importance.

We all, at some point in our life, question our origins and our future trajectory, we make sense of both uncertainties by connecting ourselves to what is certain, to the tangible aspects of reality, to our collective humanity. In the absence of a physical or existential servitude, we connect and serve one another. 

My daughter, Palafox Library,
Puebla, Mexico, 2011

In doing so, we uncover a world that unleashes our imaginations back to the sheer flamboyancy society previously lavished upon treasures of the mind, objects of worth, and those so-called creations someone labeled "treasures". 

The sensitive piety, the ostentatious monuments decorated by Michelangelo and Raphael, and the reverence that was displayed in the past were the reasons why these palaces, châteaus, and cathedrals were erected in the first place - to house the treasures and spoils of war for enjoyment and reflection. 

Museums continue to offer both of these qualities in abundance. A quiet place for contemplation as well as a meticulously perserved environment whereby treasures are safeguarded for the continued enjoyment of future generations. 

Once upon a society, all property - tangible and intellectual - had a deeper value because of the worth we ascribed to it, to its significance, to the progress it inspired, or to the reverence it revealed within us. 

Sold in 2004 at Southeby's auction for $104.1 million, 
Boy with a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)
Pablo Picasso, 1905.

In 1994, Microsoft founder Bill Gates purchased Da Vinci's historic manuscript for $30,802,500. 

In 2007, Artemis and the Stag became the highest priced sculpture ever sold at auction when an anonymous buyer purchased the relic for $28.6 million. The sculpture is over 2,000 years old and hails back to the Roman empire. 

The Back Story: 

In the 1920's, a team of construction workers stumbled upon this sculpture while digging in Rome. I bet they wish they'd had been the ones to sell it at auction! You might enjoying knowing that the auction house thought the piece would only go for about $7 million. Boy were they wrong! 

It has been my experience that anyone who has experienced a degree of profundity in their lives, automatically embarks on a road of appreciating it - in its many forms - in others. 

Kyoto, Japan (2007)

As we find this quality in ourselves, our exploration of the world takes us further. 

The works of art we have the privilege of viewing in museums inspires our minds beyond the mere spoils of war, beyond the wildly adventurous treasure hunts about which we love to read, they inspire our imagination in a way that yields to newer human creations. 

Jules Vernes Nautilus Inspired Metro Station
Paris, France

The love child of history and technology was science fiction. Jules Vernes' Nautilus (the impetus for writing we have George Sand to thank) was inspired out of Vernes' imagination - a combination of his appreciation for history combined with his love of futuristic technology (as seen in the gadgets he included in his tales; gadgets he saw at the various World Fairs he attended). 

Vernes didn't have the many adventures about which he wrote, but that didn't diminish the profound appreciation we had as a society for his writings ... for we, too, took those adventures with him. He took readers along on the rides of their lives, from the comfort of their own home. 

Seeing old things in new ways is at the heart of science fiction. For a generation captivated by the possibilities inherent in the technological advancements of our age, the museum is a rare gem, a cultural landfill offering a plethora of material from which to create humanity's next greatest science fiction story. Science fiction we love to turn into reality. 


In the days of Jules Verne, ordinary citizens understood more about the worth of an item, the craftsmanship that went behind the making of an object they held in their hands, and the difficulty one must undertake to come into possession of one of these items in the absence mass production. 

In response to the concept of 'museums sucking,' I'd have to say that, in all reality, it is mass produced items that 'suck' the life out of this generation's knowledge of the true craftsmanship that goes into making what we consider ordinary objects. A craftsmanship dying out faster than I can write this article. 

My son and daughter

On a side note, I have made a point to visit many of these 'last mastercraftsmen and women' of Europe, trade families who have survived generations and sometimes centuries of political unrest. Taking my children along for the visit, they often times leave with mixed emotions. Appreciation for the value of the work, the opportunity to learn more about our global history as it relates to culture, society, the arts and material progress, as well as the sobering recognition that they might never see it again. That few people will have the opportunity to traverse in their shoes and gain the personal appreciation they have for our past, for the collective history of humanity from whence even the most technologically driven among us derive. 

My son
Versailles (2012)

Perhaps it all comes down to a matter of taste. If you enjoy the plasticiness of pop culture, don't leave home, don't go to museums, just sit back and experience the world digitally - online. There will be less people for me to wait in line with in these locations if you do. 

However, if you, like me, enjoy a good story about a treasure hunt, intrigue or mystery; if you value the history of humanity, our collective history...

...then pay homage to your local museum by going for a visit. Not for the sole purpose of making fun of those who are there in search of their own adventures, but to explore - for yourself - the furthest regions of our world from the comfort of your own community. 

Hiking with the kids
Tepoztlán, México (2010)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Map Your Mind Lesson Plan

Adapted from the post: The Top 10 Mental Shortcuts

In a world of extreme technological advancement and change, it's often times difficult to know just what information we should hold onto in our minds and which information we should let go of. The most solid educational platform we can provide students is one that helps them understand how they make decisions, why they make certain decisions, and how to make the necessary adjustments that will help them lead happier, more successful lives.

More than anything, people want to know more about themselves and their place in the world. As such, understanding our responses and the reactions that are involved in formulating those responses is of infinite interest to us all, students in particular.

If you read the original post, The Top 10 Mental Shortcuts, you know that a bias is an inclination, temperament or outlook we hold. When new information is introduced, we rely on these biases, sometimes in order to save our mental energy for more tasking situations, and sometimes because we just can't help ourselves - or so we think.

Students are very familiar with the concept of bias, prejudice, and bigotry. They have been dealing with issues of this nature since elementary school when one child dislikes another child for what seems like "no real reason at all."

Most kids today understand that their computers have a processor inside, what they don't realize is that they, too, have a processor - their brain. Everyone's brains process information differently. Varied responses arise due to the variations in life experience. Even identical twins react differently to different stimuli.

Mapping how the mind processes information by looking to common biases is one way students can learn more about themselves and have fun in the process. It is also a very dignified way for students to learn how to adjust their thinking in a way that modifies their behavior toward more collaborative or positive outcomes. Since conflicts arise early in life, this lesson plan could be modified to the needs of younger students.

Intellectual goals can be more easily achieved when an individual is emotionally intelligent. Understanding ourselves is a pillar in the foundation of becoming a confident, competent citizen of the world.

For more information or sample lesson plans, contact me via email.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Raising Funny Kids 16: Cultural Edification

In the United States, cultural edification for kids has been the least successfully cultivated of all the departments of speculative sciences. The age of Technology is too intent upon its immediate tasks, and too completely absorbed in its newest updates, to pause reflectively over the history of its own creative or ingenius working. 

Cultural edification has for its object the wide domain of human ingenuity, or more precisely, the entire history of human ingenuity. 

Exploring the world through the discovery of artifacts and objects of worth in their relationship to ourselves and society is the ultimate children's story. 

When seeing a new painting or object of worth, the creativity we apply to understanding it evokes the feeling of wonder within us; this is where the fun lies. We can play games with ourselves (and our children) that help us delve deeper into our philosophies about any manmade object, irrespective its origin or distance from our own life experience. 

Our first impressions, unbiased by theory or context, allow us to experience the world for ourselves. After which, we are intrigued by the theories of others (as they relate to art, religion, sociology, or the nature of the material universe) because we've had the opportunity to FIRST formulate our own memory or experience of something. 

Whether you travel the globe to culturally edify yourself (and your children) or choose a location closer to home, getting out of the house "to go off exploring" is every bit as educational as traditional educational approaches whereby primary emphasis is placed on quantity of information rather than quality or synthesization (of it). 

Traveling (and exploring our surroundings) for the distinct purpose of cultural edification not only makes for wonderful family memories, but also for wonderful family photos. 

Instilling within our children an aesthetic appreciation of works of art, with knowledge of the historical circumstances conditioning their production, when undertaken with consideration and insight, supported by meticulous historical documentation (and a little creative imagining), is a particularly unique, thoroughly enjoyable hands-on method of parenting a future global citizen. 

It's nearly impossible for most people to learn how to communicate in every language, and also to travel to every country in the world whereby they can communicate with locals in meaningful dialogue about what is important to other cultures. It is for this reason that we can look to our common global history as seen through objects of worth. 

From abstract principles to concrete productions coming from insight or talent, this mode of examining the world distinguishes itself from the present educational systems which are falling apart faster than I can write this post. 

Considering the trajectory of what we're building today as it relates to what we've made in the past demonstrates the universality of our species' desire to create objects outside ourselves and - with the advent of modern medicine and technology - inside ourselves, too. 

A determining principle of edification is our understanding of self with respect to our own inwardness as well as to our place in the growing world community. Whether or not we ascribe spiritual meaning to material form is an inward permeation not discussed in this post. However, what constitutes a whole in education is our understanding that individuality is a human passion, action and event; the wide domain of human feeling can be found in objects we've created. 

These objects are on exhibits around the world in varying modes of formative expressions (paintings, sculpture, jewelry, tools, music, instruments, letters). It is my belief that education is meaningless and devoid of understanding until we leave home - so that we can explore, ask questions, make observations, have experiences, and finally, when all is said and done, come up with a few theories of our own. These naturally derived theories are far more meaningful to me (and dare I say to many others) than are the theories of those held by (educated) strangers. 

I enjoy seeing the world from my own eyes rather than through the digital lens of a film maker. You just never know what you're going to discover about the world - or yourself - when you leave home. 

Classification, clarification, and organization can occur within the confines of walls (libraries, schools, research laboratories), but the content is usually outside these walls, without which we'd have nothing to classify, clarify, and/or organize or synthesize into meaningful textbooks. 

Go outside and become a part of living history. Walk in the footsteps of those famous persons who came before us, climb pyramids and cathedral stairs, delve deeper into the symbols and significance of historical objects of worth, and most importantly, formulate (and allow your children to formulate) their own opinions about the world and their place in it - this is the role of an educator: guiding others to knowledge where they can, for themselves, formulate a personal opinion based on a unique, meaningful experience with the topic at hand. 

Original Post