BBC News – ‘World’s fattest man’ Paul Mason looks to the future

An extraordinary story of a man determined to reclaim his life despite challenging circumstances. I liked his realistic comments at the end acknowledging that when you’re doing something as challenging as losing 2/3 of your body weight you’re going to have some tough days and days when you doubt yourself or your ability to achieve the goal.

The Aakash Tablet – Shame What’s that old saying? Shame me once, shame on you. Shame me twice, shame on me. I wrote earlier about the woeful mess that occurred with the Aakash 1. However, when news came a couple of months ago of Aakash 2 I really wanted to believe that the HRD Ministry was going to spate its own blushes and make it work. This story update suggests strongly that we ASL got fooled again – even the United Nations. I also suspect that the Texas University professor quoted is right when hire says this isn’t the way to improve education in India any way. Heads ought to roll if this is a complete washout, but will they?

Women Hold Up Half The Sky

There is no evidence in the world that a country with 1/6 of the world’s entire population can sustain itself on agriculture. If India had intended to be the industrial/ manufacturing hub of the world, then it would have had to take steps like those taken by China 10-15 years ago to make itself a cut-price industrial and manufacturing centre of the world. That didn’t happen, so we have to conclude that in the next 30-40 years India’s destiny and future economic growth is intimately entwined with the world’s ‘knowledge economy’. For that to work the country must educate, develop and refine its best brains. It must then enable and equip the people with those brains to master the tools and the skills to utilize their minds to compete against the very best in the world.

And here’s the key point – at least half of those ‘best minds’ are walking around right now in female bodies!

Harnessing the potential and economic strength of those minds cannot happen in an environment in which women are seen as adornments to be ogled and objectified. On the day when the tragic news came that the Delhi gang-rape victim lost her fight for life, the newspapers are full of advertisements for New Years Eve parties where men are encouraged to go to leer at scantily clad women. I am not, for a moment, suggesting that men of all countries of the world don’t ‘look’ at women, view pornography etc. However, there is a fundamental difference in terms of where the line is drawn – looking doesn’t get extended to touching in public places, in public transport etc. How much does it say that metro and other trains have to have a separate carriage for women?

The world over, young men see young women they like, flirt, make suggestive comments to elicit interest. However, the ultimate power and freedom always lies with the woman to accept or reject the advances. If advances are rejected, then the men know to back off. When I was growing up I would often hear a phrase – ‘playing hard to get’. It implied that a woman would pretend to be saying ‘no’, but she really meant ‘yes’. Did such things happen? Yes, of course. But, what happened was a shift in cultural values that meant that if a man approached a woman and she indicated ‘no’, then he would back off and make no further move towards her. If that spoiled a ‘game’ she was playing, well that was seen as a small price to pay to err on the side of safety, to err on the side of not intimidating a woman who had the right to say ‘no’ and be taken at her word. To err on the side of caution was/ is to respect the woman’s right to the sanctity of her body.

There’s a long road ahead. Where women are seen as chattels, where girls have to leave education because nobody can be bothered to provide them with basic bathroom facilities, where men think it is within their right to dictate to a woman about what she should/ should not wear, where a woman is denied her fundamental right to say ‘No’ (within or outside marriage), where a woman who goes out for an evening to enjoy herself with friends is seen as ‘asking for it’, where sexual harassment is dressed up in the innocuous term ‘eve teasing’ and portrayed as ‘a bit of harmless fun in popular entertainment – then such a society will find itself wanting, suffer shame and humiliation and fail to actualize its potential.

In tribute to that brave girl, and all the others who have suffered through sexual violence and rape I found myself pondering on Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali. Tagore’s dreams for India can only begin to be realized when the female mind is without fear and the female head can be held high as an equal. Until that time, much tireless striving is necessary.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is lead forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action β€”
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.


~ Rabindranath Tagore ~



Education Apps Galore

When I talk with teachers who are actively using IT resources in education, or those who are thinking of doing so, one thing that is often commented on is the daunting array available, keeping up with what’s out there and figuring out ‘the wheat from the chaff’. Therefore, I’m always pleased when I come across ways to help teachers cut through all the confusion. Here’s a superb resource that lists 1,000 education apps (for iPad) pre-vetted and reviewed by the Texas Computer Education Association:

Edudemic Article with App Listing

So, for any educator looking for a suitable New Year’s Resolution – how about committing to genuine integration of ICT in your teaching in 2013? There are materials here for working with all age groups and subject areas.

Bang Bang, You’re β€¦β€¦β€¦β€¦..

Shortly after my son was born, I issued a polite request to all friends and relatives that, whatever toys and gifts anyone may wish to buy for him, I didn’t want him to have guns. To me, the equation was a simple one – if nobody can prove to me that toy guns are NOT harmful, why should I take the risk with the wellbeing of my child? I came to this position having grown up in a home where there were guns around (my father was in the army).

That sad part of the story is that whatever wishes I had expressed fell on deaf ears, were ignored and my son was given toy guns. It was frustrating to learn that even as his parent I didn’t have the right to express such wishes, or would be treated as a fussy freak for expressing such a wish. The fact is that sometimes we get glimpses that reveal to us just what a cynical world we live in. When I learn that American companies that manufacture guns have invested in and been directly engaged in the production of violent video games in which guns play a prominent part (wow, the ultimate in product placement). Then, I can’t help suspecting that those same vested interests have worked tirelessly, long before the rise of computer games to make enough adults believe that there was no harm in guns being an active part of children’s play.

I can’t help seeing the irony now, as people especially in the US grapple with the full horrors of the Newtown massacre of innocent children that people are openly willing to question whether it’s such a good idea to place replica guns in to the hands of children with young impressionable minds. On this, see this article from . Reading the article, I still felt queasy at the thought that the writers were so desperate to not lose their gun-crazy readers so went out of their way to make it ‘balanced’ by highlighting the views of some people who didn’t feel toy guns cause harm (i.e. the sane people in the world must prove they DO cause harm, rather than requiring them to prove they DO NOT cause harm).

On the basis that we couldn’t necessarily PROVE they don’t do harm, here are a few new toy ideas those people might like to get their heads around;

a) The build your own abattoir kit, complete with electric stun prod to blast teddy’s brains, followed by the rotating saw to slice off his head and cut him in to pieces (not recommended for those who might be susceptible to inhaled teddy fluff),

b) The 9/11 Game – Fill the tall towers with thousands of little lifelike people, pull back the model airplanes, aim them at the buildings and see how much damage you can cause. The advanced, more expensive version comes with smoke pellets and a superstructure that can be melted to give that authentic collapsing appearance.

c) Child Soldier – the genuine replica of a child, approx 10 years of age, with interchangeable bandanas and a nice big gun. Collect enough of hem and you can send away for a model tin-pot dictator with transcripts of his brainwashing speeches in 25 different languages.

If these are in poor taste, before anyone would like to complain, perhaps they can provide the rational explanation as to why these would be wrong, but the guns are right. Quite frankly, I think they will have a hard job.

(For the record, I also have an objection to the portrayal of children in camouflage fatigues with guns as part of ‘performances’ in schools, masquerading as learning history – in which, of course, they will always be ‘the good guys’ (ours), wiping out ‘the bad guys’ (theirs) in the cause of justice and right. To me, this is not just unnecessary, but it also perpetuates the very prejudices that caused the bloodshed in the first place).

Mindfulness in the Killing Zone

I’m beginning to wonder whether there may be a time in the future when we will wonder why mindfulness training and awareness development wasn’t an essential and fundamental part of training and development for all professional people (in fact, all people), regardless of profession. When that day comes we may laugh at any idea that an article like this one from Washington Times was in any way strange;

Washington Times – Marines Use of meditation Training

My guess is that as more and more studies find clinical evidence for the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, they will become a standard part of how we all live our lives. So, we won’t find it at all strange that the military (as well as other professions) include it in their training regimes.

By the way, I’m all for mindfulness practices being a simple, short, regular aspect of school life for students and staff.

As interesting as the article is, I would recommend that readers skip reading the ‘reader comments’ at the end – not a very enlightening reflection on some of the military-background readers of that newspaper! The words ‘our lives in their hands’ and ‘gulp’ went through my mind!

Why It May Not Always Pay to Be the Good Guy

If you find a team within which there is no tension, where everyone is getting along wonderfully and there’s a high level of cooperation, generosity and selflessness – the chances are that you have found a team that will be under-achieving, failing to fulfill its potential and within which some people will be feeling surprisingly uncomfortable!

Here’s a fascinating article from Fast Company that I read a few months ago that reports on some research containing the findings indicated above and seeks to find explanations.

Fast Company – Greed is Good, Trust is Bad

Reading the article, I couldn’t help thinking that it had some relevance for schools. There tends to be a culture that suggests that because schools are meant to be nurturing, caring environments for children, then absolutes of these traits should be the aspiration for all the adults. What results is a climate within which people become reluctant to be frank and open with each other, where many would rather compromise than tell someone where their performance is falling short, where showing ‘strong feelings’ is considered a cardinal sin – all to be suppressed in the cause of ‘getting on nicely with each other’. When things get like this, regrettably, we find that all those compromises add up to an acceptance of ‘less than best’ performance, a diminishing level of creativity and innovation and ultimately, stagnation.

Ultimately, after reading the article, I found myself concluding that in every organization we need to find an optimum point as leaders along the scale between trust and tension. Where that point lies might vary between organizations. Probably, within nurturing professions like education it will always be further towards trust than in industrial or commercial organizations. However, there is a clear responsibility on leaders to ensure that the inclination to swing or deviate too far away from that optimum point is resisted, even if that means an occasional injection of tension!

Changing Education

Here’s an interesting article published a few months ago by the Mindshift Blog Site, profiling a boom by Dr Madeline Levine, called “Teach Your Children Well”. It makes an all too familiar case for why school education must change; obsolescence, lack of relevance, stifling of creativity, disconnect with needs of children, mismatch of skills for today’s jobs and loss of ‘caring and connection’ in schools. While Dr Levine may be setting out the case effectively for what’s wrong, I am a little mystified as to her level of tolerance for the status quo and the painfully slow pace of change. It’s particularly worrying that she suggests that the real change will only happen when it is dictated/ mandated from on high by those who sit in the ivory towers. I believe if those of us in education wait for that, we will fail a generation of children:

Mindshift Article – Why Kids Need Schools to Change

Science of Persuasion

An excellent, thought-provoking video on the subject of how people get persuaded (of anything). If it was seen by more of the people who sell to us day to day, there would be far less bad selling going on!!

What Does it mean to be β€˜Smart’?

Please take a little time to read this article from Fast company, first published a few months ago: Fast Company Article – Too Smart for Your Own Good

There are a number of levels on which I want to disagree strongly with this article and to suggest that some of the underlying assumptions on which it is based are not only wrong, but dangerous and unhealthy.

When an article like this is published in a top business publication, then we don’t need to look to far to know why we are in trouble in the educational field. The first, starting assumption that underlies the story is that intelligence/ smartness/ IQ (used interchangeably by the writer) are inherently innate, fixed and ‘you either have it or you don’t’.

As was made very clear by Dr Carol Dweck in her book, ‘Mindset‘ and in many recent works on the mind, intelligence and learning – intelligence is not a fixed commodity, but is actually highly flexible and ‘growable’ (even when we are talking about it in the purely IQ sense rather than Dr Howard Gardner’s concept of Multiple Intelligences).

So, the first basis on which we need to challenge the writer of this article is that there isn’t somehow someone in the room who by some quirk of nature has a higher IQ/ intelligence than everyone else in the room.

Then, going beyond this, we come to a point I find even more troubling – when we say that one person in the room is ‘smarter’ than everyone else, keeping in mind the growth mindset, then by my reckoning we are saying there is someone who has put more effort in to being more knowledgeable, doing more research, getting to a position through training his/ her mind to be able to use it more effectively. In such circumstances, what right does anyone have to tell that person that they must somehow ‘hide their light under a bushel’?

Does anyone tell Ussain Bolt to run slower, so as to not embarrass his competitors or make them feel uncomfortable? Did anyone tell Einstein to pipe down, keep all his cleverness to himself and ‘dumb down so that those who had put in less effort or had been less effective in developing their minds would not be made uncomfortable?

To me, this advice is a recipe for mediocrity and under-achievement. I’m sure that any company CEO or organization head would feel terribly disturbed and disillusioned that their best minds are being gagged and made to ‘pretend’ somehow that they are less capable than they really are. We’ve all worked in organizations where there were people who somehow ‘got away with’ the minimum amount of effort, came to meetings ill-prepared and yet still spoke and expected to be heard and listened to. This article appears to be in defense of such people as if the protection of their right to ‘wing it’ is all important.

Yes, I acknowledge fully that we all have to work in teams and need good working relations with others to achieve meaningful, good work. However, to suggest that somehow the best performers, those with the best contributions must somehow mask and conceal their abilities is not something I can feel comfortable with.

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