Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Archive for the tag “Reflections”

What are you celebrating?

Today is Columbus Day, and I’m not sure whether to celebrate. Despite all of the problems in the United States, I am proud to be American.  Our country is beautiful and rich with many different cultures. Columbus was one of the explorers who brought news of this land back to Europe, and a lot of development took place here as a result. This morning, as I flew back from Washington DC, I got a spectacular view of the city.

In my photograph above, you can see the Washington Monument, National Mall, and Capitol Building — they are truly a majestic sight from any angle.

A Mayan women for whom I made a balloon hat in Panajachel

I am happy to have a day of rest after a busy weekend, but I also feel sad that we are celebrating Columbus Day.  I know that Christopher Columbus killed many Native Americans in his quest to “discover” new land. Imagine what this landscape looked like during the 1400s?  After Europeans arrived, many trees were cut down and the whole landscape changed.  Hundreds of tribes have been displaced and many are gone forever. There are many people who think of Columbus as a murderer, not a hero.  Today, I was reminded of the song  1492 by Nancy Schimmel and came across this e-card on the web.  Instead of calling this “Columbus Day,” should we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day? Sadly, Native Americans in the United States do not have much land and many aspects of their original languages, cultures, and traditions have been destroyed.  In Guatemala, Mayan people still make up most of the population. Unfortunately, many of them are relatively poor and the people in the country with the most wealth often have European ancestry. When I visited Guatemala in 2006, I learned a lot about the Mayan culture, from their stunning weaving to their hearty farming practices.  This is a group of people who have a lot to share with the global community, and I hope their culture stays alive for many years to come.

Two women I saw touring the sights of Cappadocia together back in April

The issue of Columbus Day is not just about history.  We are still living in a world where people are trying to figure out how to get along with others from different backgrounds. A few weeks ago, I read a news article about a college student in Ohio who posted a photograph online of a Sikh woman he saw in the library. He made a mean comment about her appearance, and many other people online started making rude comments. The young woman in the photograph, Balpreet Kaur, saw the comments. Instead of writing something rude back, she used it as an opportunity to educate people about her religion.  She wrote, “I do not think explaining myself and the way I am is a waste of energy because storytelling in itself is a way to fight the apathy in this world… By simple interactions like this, we can better understand each other and make this world more open and loving even if it is just one person or many.” What could have been a sad situation of cyber bullying turned into an opportunity.

Students from many backgrounds who worked together in China this summer

Learning how to appreciate other cultures and work side by side is fundamental to being successful in the 21st century. Over the next 10, 20, and 30 years, more and more jobs will be multi-national, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural. Your co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family will hail from many corners of the globe, if they don’t already.  This blog is one small piece of an effort to prepare all of us to live in a “global world.”

My talk at the Teachers for Global Classrooms symposium: “Beyond Blogging”

This weekend reminded me that I’m not alone in this effort. The Department of State funds the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) program, which flew me to DC and Ukraine. I’m proud that foreign policy dollars are being spent to make sure that young Americans are prepared to live and work in a global economy. I gave a talk on this blog to Department of State representatives and teachers from more than 30 other states. A few other teachers also spoke about how they are doing global education, and each person in the room had ideas to share in break out sessions afterwards. Nobody was there because they had to be. All of the teachers in the program were clearly hungry for ideas, because we all care so deeply about this movement.

This is the end of our TGC program, but it’s just the beginning. I will soon introduce my Global Education Resource Guide to teachers at Innovation Academy, and work to share what I’ve learned throughout this past year with TGC. While I’ll probably keep adding and editing, you can check it out now in the “For Teachers” tab at the top of this page (especially if you are a teacher)!  I’m proud to introduce this video that I made to introduce the guide to teachers who might want to “globalize” their classrooms:

Let’s work together to think globally, but not because we are trying to beat China and India to the best jobs. Let’s globalize because we have a lot to gain from getting along and working together across cultures. Now that is something to celebrate! If you are a student who is reading this, I hope you grow up to make many discoveries like Columbus. And I also hope you learn some things from his mistakes.

Ukrainian Musicians (playing the bandura)

So, how should we celebrate Columbus Day next year? And what can we do before then to work towards creating the type of world we want to live in?

Love is not a Political Issue

Dear Students,

You laughed today when I mentioned same-sex marriage in class. It made me feel very sad, but I’m not angry at you.  You probably don’t know what it’s like to be teased for who you are and who you love. You are just beginning to learn about how to be in relationships that go deeper than just someone you play with at recess. Maybe you think that same-sex marriage is about sex, which is normal to giggle about in middle school. Let me assure you — same-sex marriage is not a dirty word.

Same-sex marriage means some men want to marry other men. Some women want to marry other women. They love each other and want to be legally considered family. Strangely, the government gets to decide if that’s allowed.  As we discussed in class, right now there’s no amendment in the Constitution which says anything about who can get married and who can’t. This means that each state gets to decide whether or not to let men marry men or women marry women.  This is a hot topic these days in the news.  Only 6 states in America allow same-sex marriage. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, but gay couples who get married here still can’t get the federal benefits of marriage.  For example, an Argentinian man can’t get U.S. citizenship if his husband is American.  However, back in Argentina, his marriage would be fully recognized. A handful of other countries, from South Africa to Iceland, also allow same-sex marriage.  Perhaps some day, there will be a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution to redefine marriage, but right now neither Obama or Romney is fully in support of this change.

Normally, I don’t like to share my personal political views in the classroom. If you ask me who I am voting for in November, I will politely refuse to answer.  I want all of you to feel comfortable sharing your views in class, and I don’t want to tell you what to believe. My job is to give you tools to make your own decisions.

I will, however, proudly announce that I support same-sex marriage.  To me, this is not a political issue, but it’s about respecting all people and giving everyone the same rights. Some of your parents might disagree, but that’s because we live in a complicated world.  Sometimes good people disagree and need to find ways to work together on things that they agree on.  Even if your parents disagree with my views, I bet we both want you to grow up to be strong, thoughtful adults, and we can work together to be there for you as you grow up.

Last weekend, I went to my first same-sex wedding. It was beautiful.  The couple were two women, Mary and Jan (ages 71 and 83). They’ve been together for more than 20 years, and they love each other very much.  They live in a state where same-sex marriage is not legal. They tried fighting the government and they tried to explain to officials why they wanted to marry. They were still not given a marriage license.

They came to Massachusetts and got married in a church, with a small ceremony and reception. Many ministers helped marry them, because they wanted to show that there are people out there who believe that God approves of all types of love. Many strangers came to the wedding to support them in their marriage, because Mary and Jan weren’t able to bring their families or friends. It was touching to be a witness to their love. I took a little video that I’d like to share with you:

I felt honored to share this special moment with Mary and Jan. For me, it’s inspirational to see two people who have fought so hard for love. For some of you, it might be weird or uncomfortable to see a marriage of two women, but that’s ok. When you grow up, you can marry whomever you want to marry, and you can have whatever kind of family you want to have.  You don’t need to want what they want. You do need to be respectful of everyone in our community, and whether you know it or not, some people you know are gay. I challenge you to put yourself in their shoes. I challenge you to work on finding something you can love about everyone, even if they seem different. I challenge you to stand up for those who get teased for just being themselves. If you do love people of the same sex, I want you to know that I respect you for who you are.

Let’s work together to make sure that everyone can love and be loved. Our world will be better because of it.

Climbing a Mountain

Today is Labor Day, and it occurred to me recently that I’ve worked four different jobs this year. In addition to teaching full time at Innovation Academy, I directed a service-learning summer program in China, mentored a new teacher, and entertained children with my balloon twisting skills. I also continued my education this year by taking courses with Cambridge College and George Mason University. The amazing part is that none of these felt like “work” because I was having so much fun. I feel very lucky that I make a living by pursuing my passions.

I don’t mean to imply that it’s been an easy year. There have been a lot of challenges to overcome. However, it’s been a year full of learning.  Here are a few lessons that I’m trying to remember as the school year is about to take off.  The photos are from my weekend trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

1) You don’t need to be big to create beautiful things.

2) It’s important to take time to notice the small stuff…

3) And look closely whenever possible.

4) Some paths are clearly marked and some need to be trail-blazed, but there’s no right way.

5) Even if the journey is hard, it all feels worth it when you get to your destination.


6) Even after you get to your destination, there’s always more to do (coming down can be even harder)!

7) It’s important to take some time to rest. You can’t always do everything. (I missed out on a second day of hiking because I wasn’t feeling well, but at least I got to read a good book with this beautiful view)

As you can see, you don’t need to travel on an airplane to have adventures, and you don’t need to go far to learn about the world. What mountains have you climbed this year? In your work over the past year, what lessons have you learned?

What goes viral?

News hits in China!

My friends Jack and Teresa became internet celebrities this week. It’s crazy how fast it can happen.  Basically, Jack proposed to Teresa in a creative way, enlisting a team of friends and strangers to help pull off the stunt.  Their little youtube video got picked up by some big time news stations, and it spread.  Pretty soon, it was all over the news, and the video has now been viewed by over 350,000 people.

Whoa.  The story has appeared on the Huffington Post, MSN, Yahoo!, World News with Diane Sawyer, and they were in an interview with Boston Channel 5 (WCVB).

It didn’t stop there. It went international!  We’ve seen articles in United Kingdom, China, Vietnam, Belgium, and Spain — click each country’s name to see what they are saying about Jack and Teresa.  If you don’t speak the language, you might need to use Google Translate to understand what they are saying, but you can get an idea from the pictures.

All of this is a good reminder about the power of the internet.  Information can travel much faster than even an airplane. But my big question is WHY? What makes one video go viral and another one go unwatched?

This summer, I made a lot of videos in China.  Most of them have barely gotten 100 views on youtube.  I’m not sure if I mind.  Perhaps I’d rather have a few dedicated readers than millions of adoring fans. Of all of my videos in China, this is the one that got the most views, but I don’t really know why:

What do you think? What makes something go viral on the internet, spreading to thousands of people? If I don’t measure success by the number of views, how do you think I should measure success for this blog? I’d love to hear your input.

And congratulations to Jack and Teresa!

Reflecting 100 Times Over

Happy 100th post to this site, InnovationOnEarth.com!  It’s hard to believe that I’ve written 100 entries, but it’s been a wonderful ride.  Writing these posts has been like a multi-media journal for me, and it’s an excellent way to process my experiences.

I’m finally home from China, after many hours of traveling.  Coming back from a long trip always makes me appreciate Massachusetts even more. For this special post, here’s a tribute video which shows highlights from my time in China. Enjoy!

Note: Most of the footage here shows places and activities shown in other posts. So, if there’s something you’re interested in, you can probably find more on that topic in an old post. The soundtrack is a Chinese song that Stanley introduced me to.

Who’s Dating Who in China?

Culture has an impact on many aspects of life, from what clothes we wear to what songs we like dancing to. It also affects how people think about dating, romance, and marriage.  And so I had to question: how is love different in China?

From what I can tell, everyone here has their own perspectives on matters of the heart, just like in the United States.  However, there are some interesting trends that I’ve observed:

1) Teachers and parents believe that students should not date while in school. A friend told me that high school students who fall in love are scolded by the teachers, and if they have sex they can be expelled.

2)  Boys get away with more.  A girl who smokes, drinks, or is sexually active is very looked down upon here.

3) The young people here don’t seem to differentiate between dating and being in a relationship. If you go on a date or two with someone, you are dating each other and not seeing other people. Whether or not the two people have kissed doesn’t seem to matter in defining the relationship.

4) People here think it is cute for couples to wear matching shirts. It’s very common to see couples that coordinate their clothes.  I even saw a whole family with matching outfits (see the middle photo below — this is a typical Chinese family because of the One Child Policy that puts a high tax on having a second child).

5) Homosexuality is not very accepted here. It’s relatively common to see girls who are friends holding hands in public, but this doesn’t mean they are a couple. It is extremely rare to see two men in a couple. We saw it once in the whole time we’ve been here, and my Chinese friend said that it was the first gay couple she’d ever seen.

6) In traditional Chinese culture, parents arrange marriages for their children. This still happens in the countryside, but it’s very rare in the cities today. Still, I saw these older people in a park advertising their children for other parents.  They listed the stats on paper – age, height, job, etc. – and sat around chatting in the park while they searched for suitable matches. Their hope was to set up blind dates for their kids to meet potential mates.  How would you feel if your parents advertised for a boyfriend or girlfriend for you?  I wonder if their children are embarrassed, or if this is just accepted as normal for them?

7) Fathers seem to take an active role in raising the children. It’s as common to see a man carrying a baby as it is to see a woman, and both men and women are very affectionate with their kids.

8) Divorce is not very common here, and it is looked down upon. Parents might not want their child to marry a person from a divorced family. Perhaps that means that there are a bunch of unhappy couples out there who are staying together despite difficulties? Or perhaps couples are just happily growing old together.

As I learn about love in China, it makes me wonder which of my own views about romance are due to the messages that American culture sends us through the media. If I grew up in China, how would I think differently about love?

The Jewel in the Lotus

The lotus flower is a very important symbol in China.  Even though many people are non-religious today, Buddhism still has a big influence on people’s values. In Buddhism, the lotus flower represents the beauty of the soul, and the fact that good can come from anywhere. In the real world, lotus flowers actually grow in muddy water.  One of the most common mantras in Tibetan Buddhism is “Om Mani Padme Hum” which literally means “Behold! The Jewel in the Lotus.” There are whole books written about this one phrase, but my impression is that it is kind of like saying to look deep into the center of one’s soul to see beauty.

Lotus flowers are commonly seen all over Beijing.  The flower shown in the first photo was so beautiful that I thought it was fake (and I had to touch it to believe that it was real).  You can also see lotus flowers represented in wood, stone, and plastic in Buddhist temples.  In this photo to the right, the lotus flowers are made of wax. Big statues of Buddha almost always show him sitting upon a lotus flower.

At the Summer Palace, which was the Chinese Emperor’s summer vacation spot, there are lotus flowers everywhere. It’s really beautiful. We were able to ride in a boat around this lake, and see them up close from the shore.  Some people even throw coins on the giant leaves, perhaps for good luck. It’s hard to tell in this photo, but the buds are gigantic!

When I looked at the flowers up close, I saw the jewel in the lotus! In the center of each flower, there is a kind of fruit growing!  And this fruit is edible.  It has seeds that can be eaten plain or cooked, and a pulp that is delicious when cooked up with seasoning. Once the leaves fall off, the piece in the center is visible.

When they sell lotus flowers on the street, for eating, it looks like this.  You can see how big these are:

When you eat the lotus root, it looks like this. In this case, it’s stuffed with rice and soaked in sugary good sauces:

Never tried lotus root? You can buy it all over. In Boston, for instance, I’ve seen it in Chinatown at super markets.  It’s worth trying something new. And maybe you’ll become more enlightened after tasting it!

Mao Mao Mao

Who was Mao Zedong? We see his face everywhere — on almost every piece of money, on paintings hung in restaurants, on products sold in shops, and more.  Mao was the first leader of the “People’s Republic of China,” bringing the country together despite civil war that was taking place when he came into power. To many older Chinese people, Mao is a hero, and he is almost worshiped like a God.  Many younger Chinese people (and foreigners) do not like Mao.  He brought Communism to China and forced people to give up their religions and other traditions in order to become more modern and industrial.

If you visit China, you will see Mao EVERYWHERE.  See if you can tell which of the images below are making fun of Mao, and which are showing him respect:

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As the new students arrive, I am realizing just how much I’ve learned about China since I got here.  And there’s so much more to do and see. Today, we did a lot of airport pick ups, but the new session and the real exploring begin again tomorrow.

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