Tuesday, December 30, 2008

ABOVE THE ATLANTIC

by Madeleine Kando

I am comfortably sitting in my airplane seat on my way back home to the United States. I spent two weeks in Holland and now I have all these thoughts racing through my head, speeded up by the glass of red wine which I just consumed together with the memorable airplane food.Europe... what can I say? With all her shortcomings she still holds my heart, like an old long lost lover. Even in her old age she has managed to rise to the peak of her career. The level of success she now enjoys is astounding. Do I, as an immigrant to the United States,feel a touch of resentment? A feeling that I have it rough and Europe has it easy? And why on earth am I comparing myself to an entire continent?

At 65 years of age, after having raised a family in the US, I am still trying to give my relationship to Europe a proper place, a place of rest and acceptance. I don't know how other immigrants feel, but in my case, I have never lost the feeling that I am trying to bridge the gap between two continents, like a giant standing on two floating icebergs in the middle of the Atlantic. If you ever tried to balance on two wobbling structures, that is how I feel about me living here in the US, but part of me also being in Europe.

I sometimes look at my relationship to Europe as a daughter's relationship to her mother and as we all know, a mother/daughter relationship is very complex. It boils down to the fact that Europe (the people back home) and me, the immigrant, we are both under the illusion that we are the center of the world.

But there is a difference between me and the people I left behind. I realize very clearly that ultimately, I am not all that important, because I am only one link in a long chain. My American children will continue (delete "on") bearing American children of their own (unless they emigrate of course). I was just the seedbearer of a new immigrant plant. Whereas my European friends, Well, would it be presumptuous to compare them to the inhabitants of the two-dimensional beings in the story of Flatland? That, since they have never experienced being immigrants, leaving their homeland, they are totally unaware of a third dimension? An immigrant dimension? They are not aware of what it is like to live anywhere BUT Europe? The world is a small place for those who do not travel. It is a safe place, nothing frighteningly big to compare yourself to. Hence you are more important.

So where does this feeling of resentment stem from? Partly because America is no longer the country I came to a long long time ago. My new found lover has not kept his word, he is no longer taking care of me. America has given me many things, the need to be strong so I could survive, to be creative and inventive so I could fulfill myself. It has always given me the freedom that Europe never did and probably still does not offer. But it gets harder and harder to stay in love with such a dysfunctional lover.

Now I am flying back to my life, my children, my husband, my job. My continent. Being an immigrant makes you resilient. On the one hand it makes you aware of how small and unimportant you are, on the other hand it makes you proud of the fact that you started out in the new world with just one suitcase and a hundred dollars in your pocket. And I had the most valuable asset one can have as an immigrant: I was young. And after all, we all turn to dust, become food for the worms, immigrant or a flatlander alike.

Bye Europe. I do love you though. I guess I will have to accept being part of two worlds until the day I die.
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Theories

by Tom Kando

It’s amazing, the theories one hears these days, based on reasonable starting points. People know something that is true or at least plausible, and then they get carried away to incredible conclusions. I am talking about points of facts, not opinions. A lot of this is on the Internet, which is rapidly replacing talk radio as the wacko forum. Examples:

1. Today, America’s rate of imprisonment is by far the highest in the world. Also, America passed the 19th amendment in 1919, giving women the right to vote. This led to more emotional voting and more permissive policies in child rearing and in the control of anti-social behavior. Ergo, the fact that women acquired the right to vote is the cause of today’s high crime rate, and imprisonment rate. Jumping from point A (the 19th amendment) to point Z (our high lock-up rate) is quite a leap, don’t you think?2. Because it is the Christmas season, there is a lot of “Christianity” around. At the same time, there is also a lot of political correctness around, e.g. we should say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas,”etc. Half the western world is now not only indifferent to Christianity, but hostile to it. You know, Christianity was the abominable centuries-long totalitarianism responsible for the Inquisition, for auto da fes, witch burnings, obstructing scientific progress, still opposing birth control today, etc., etc.
Personally, I am not hostile to Christianity. I am indifferent to it, and I don’t believe in it. That’s all.
But some anti-Christians, again, get carried away: There is now a voguish opinion circulating that Jesus never existed! It’s the same pattern as my first example, above: Starting with the reasonable premise that Jesus was NOT the son of God, some people now have to assert that he never existed at all.
Can’t one laugh at those childish stories about walking on water and the immaculate conception, and yet understand that Jesus was a real historical figure, about 2,000 years ago? There are such things as facts. Jesus was a minor Jewish political figure who never even made it to Rome. His following somehow managed to outlive the innumerable other sects of that period, and so we got Christianity, with all its warts and all its glory. The point is, even if you feel that Christianity sucks, why argue the absurd?

3. “Barack Obama is not a true American, he is an agent for subversive foreign forces, maybe for Muslim interests, etc.” There was a lot of this on the Internet during the campaign, and there still is. Again, you start out with some true facts: Although Obama is officially totally American and American-born, it is true that his background is very international - Kenyan father, raised in Indonesia and in Hawaii, etc. And yes, his middle name is Hussein.
But how does this lead some people to conclude that he will therefore not be good for America, not protect the interests of the American people, etc.? Again, a huge stretch, don’t you think?

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy wacky theories. I have thought of many myself. But in general I recognize the difference between them and those which are more likely to be true.
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Friday, December 26, 2008

You Are What You Speak

By Madeleine Kando

I have a confession to make. I suffer from multiple personality disorder. It is the fate of many people like me who grow up bilingual or multilingual. But you know what? I LIKE it. I like being French one day, Dutch the next and American the rest of the time. I find myself being able to put on many different attires.I grew up in Paris and, to tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings about it.
Don’t misunderstand me: I admire the French culture: French movies, French cuisine. And French literature is absolutely mindblowingly beautiful. But I have the advantage of looking at things from a ‘cosmopolitan’ perspective and my personal experience in France as a Hungarian refugee after the Second World War was not exactly what you would call a positive one. I don’t suppose the French would agree with me, but at the time, the French didn’t fit my definition of a welcoming society. And because all one’s memories are so intertwined with the language one speaks, when I put on my French attire I definitely don’t feel like it fits me all that well. I put it on for special occasions, when I meet the parents of my French students for instance (why not teach French when you speak it fluently?). But I don’t feel all that comfortable in it. I am glad when it’s time to take it off, and slip into something more comfortable.

Now let’s see.. what else is in my wardrobe? Oh yes. My Dutch attire. I like that one probably even less, only because I was being fitted for it at a very critical age in my life: my puberty. In fact, I would’nt even call it an attire. I would call it more of a prison uniform.

Again, I have to apologize to all you Dutch nationals out there who are reading this. You DO fit the definition of a welcoming society, you have a time honored tradition of welcoming the oppressed and persecuted, including me, poor Hungarian refugee. But my personal experience growing up in Holland has revealed a lack of ‘broad mindedness’ on a personal level which resulted in my extreme dislike for wearing this particular attire.

You already have guessed what I am getting at with this metaphoric allusion to ‘attires’. I am talking about a country’s culture. The act of speaking goes way beyond expressing words. Speaking a certain language not only gives voice to your thoughts, it also expresses the nuances of those thoughts through the filter of the society that that language belongs to. And there is something uniquely extraordinary about people who grow up with different languages, they can step out of the mold of a particular culture and see it in a much more objective light. That gives someone a very special perspective.

Language is a verbal representation of a whole society’s history, culture, social norms... We, as individuals, are in fact an amalgamation of everything that a society is made up of. And of course, a society is the sum of the individuals that it encompasses. It’s not just a matter of language: the entire culture associated with that language is really what we are talking about. Parents who wish to teach their children their own native language, see it as a way to pass on their ‘cutlure’, a piece of themselves. In my case, I was so busy trying on my own new found American attire that I didn’t really focus much on passing on the other hand-me downs to my children. They are monolingual individuals. I have not managed to pass on my own 'cosmopolitan culture'.

But let me continue with my wardrobe metaphor and present to you my PIECE DE RESISTANCE, my American attire. If there is a favorite in my wardrobe it is definitely this one. It fits me like a glove, but at the same time it does not constrict me in any way. It is a designer piece, designed by ME in fact.

I learnt English as an adult, and I am sure I must speak it with a foreign accent which I blissfully cannot hear myself. To me this attire represents American know-how, American pragmatism, American friendliness and openness, not to mention the fact that I have a suspicion about the English language itself. I suspect it has become the dominant (second) language on earth because it is innately suited to do so.

As a non-native English speaker, I sometimes look at the English language from the outside in. Like a Neanderthaler would look at a car. Let me give you an example: At times, to cope with the feeling of depression that inevitably sets when one listens to the news, I find myself counting how many 'action' words are being used by the newscaster. It's a fun game to play. Action expressions can not really be translated accurately in other languages. How do you translate ‘jumping to conclusions’ in Dutch? Or ‘all the figures lined up correctly', 'He beat all odds', ‘ out of reach’,’taking steps’, ‘take charge’… How do you say those things in French? I could go on forever. I am not sure why American English is so action oriented, but it is. And that makes it a dynamic and easy to learn language.

Now, I won't start on the written part of a language because that would take another few pages to cover, but let me just allude to it here: when I read a Dutch newspaper I feel like I am walking through molasses. Slow and cumbersome. And even though French is a beautiful, poetic language when it comes to matters of the heart, it is archaic and convoluted in a practical sense. The plasticity of the English language is missing. No wonder English has become the dominant language of the world. The French feel threatened by English to the point of forbidding certain words in the French language. You cannot say ‘computer’ in French, you have to say ‘ordinateur’ or else they’ll get you. This is just as absurd as our attempt at boycotting the words ‘french fries’ during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Did YOU ever order ‘freedom fries’ at McDonalds?
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Diet And Fasting

By Madeleine Kando

Most people are disappointed when they give up a diet. They feel that they have failed somehow. But they don’t realize that every day of their diet, their body has had one extra day of r and r. They have given their stomach a well needed rest.

Could it be that our modern-day obsession with dieting serves as a replacement for the regular fasting and other restrictions of food intake that many religions practiced in the past, and some still do. A Mormon fasts on a regular basis and does not feel like a failure when the period of fasting is over. He goes back to regular eating with a sense of accomplishment. A new beginning, if you will. It has been a period of cleansing and purification.So, why not consider dieting, even if it is for a short period of time, a success? Why do we feel like a failure when we stop our diet? I say: diet as much or as little as you want, and take each dieting day at a time. Consider each day a success story.

I have gotten into the habit of fasting every 3 months or so. Just not eating for a while. I mean, we take a break from work, from exercise, from almost everything that we do on a daily basis. So why not take a break from eating? Eating is a very energy consuming activity. If you are serious about eating you have to think about what to buy so you can plan your meal, cook your meal, eat your meal, do the dishes, usually put the leftovers away.. my, what a chore. Wouldn’t it be a relief to take a break from all that?
And, not to be too blunt about it, but not eating is really giving your stomach a well-needed rest. I know, some of your organs are meant to work non-stop from the day you were born to the day you die: you cannot expect your heart to go on a vacation, or your liver to stop doing it’s job. But your stomach.. well, your stomach does need periods of rest. At night for instance. The problem is that stomachs are so overworked these days with our hectic life style and all, they don’t get a chance to fully rest. So that’s why they need to be sent to rehab once in a while.

If we could have a heart to heart with our stomach, the conversation would go something like this:
You: ‘Hey stomach, how you doin today?’
Stomach: ‘Oh, I don’t know, I’m really stressed out you know. Had a double shift yesterday. Your midnight snack really did me in. Couldn’t punch out till 1 am!’
You: ‘Oh, wow. That’s bad. You must really be exhausted.’
Stomach: ‘Yeah. I hear that I am in for a real whammer tomorrow too. Aren’t we going to a conference where there is a free buffet?!’.
You: ‘Yes, sorry about that. I feel bad for you. Anything I can do to help?’
Stomach: ‘Now that you mention it.. could you hold off on the hot sauce tomorrow? And maybe cut back on the french fries a little? I don’t think I’ll be able to handle it without a serious doze of antacid.’

Gosh, you wouldn’t do that kind of thing to your worst enemy. Let alone your OWN stomach. But stomachs don’t complain until the damage is fairly serious. Heartburn, colitis, ibs..

So, not only do we need to give our stomachs a little break but another benefit of fasting is the time you free up by not worrying about food. Religious fasting frees up time for praying. I happen to be agnostic, so praying is not in the cards for me, but I am free to smell the roses, go for a walk, read more. . .

But the best part about fasting or dieting is knowing that soon you will be eating again. Trust me, eating after a fast or a diet ranks way up there with winning the lottery, having great sex or seeing President Bush enjoy a long-overdue and well-deserved retirement.

Why don’t you give it a try?
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pronouns

By Tom Kando

Do you realize that some pronouns are nicer than others? Think of their usage in informal conversations, in speeches, in newspaper articles, or in any other context.

You are having dinner with friends and you chit-chat. About the weather, the presidential election, your hometown basketball team, a guest’s new job, the children’s college graduation, a recent trip someone took, whatever. For example, you ask, “hey John, are you planning any trips this holiday season?” I
John starts his answer with, “I....” - as in “well, Tom, I’m flying to Hawaii for ten days next month. I own property on several of the outer islands...”
Someone else butts in and says, “I can’t stand Hawaii. I think it’s a phony tourist trap.” So here we have bragging (which can cause gagging), self-importance, and opinionated negativity.

Another example: you and a buddy may be discussing politics or sports, for example the economic crisis, or the likely Superbowl finalists. He’ll say, “I find the federal bail-out plan a crock,” or “I’m sure that New England can only get to the Superbowl by cheating...” Again, use of the word “I” is associated with asinine behavior.
More often than not, the pronoun “I” is annoying!

YOU
What about “you”? At a stoplight, someone may say, “Hey you! Whatchya doing driving that big gas guzzler?” or a colleague may say “you always talk too fast. Why are you so uptight?” People who talk to someone and begin with “you” are often meddling, criticizing, opinionating, bloviating.
You” can also often be a drag.

THEY and THEM
What about “they” and “them”? Like in: “Guess what they do, in Saudi Arabia? They cut off thieves’ hands.”
Or “those damn immigrants, we should send them all back to where they came from. They bring nothing but trouble.”
When we talk about “them,” we often generalize about an out-group, and it is frequently to make prejudiced, stereotypical and negative pronouncements about “the other,” those who are not like “us” and who don’t belong with us. We don’t usually say nice things about them.
They” and “them” are often not so nice, either.

HE and SHE
He” and “she”? Maybe talking about an individual third person is less harmful than generalizing to entire out-groups, although negative gossip is also bad.
“He” and “she” might be okay, depending.

US and OURS
How about “Us”and “ours”? As in “leave us alone,” or “our music is the best.”
Us” and “ours” can be awfully exclusionary, which is annoying.

WE
Last but not least, “we”: Your friend says, “we should get together for dinner and go out to see a movie.” Or a leader says “we, the American people, should help each other through this crisis.”
Or my wife and I remind each other that “we” love each other.
Yes, “we” can often be good. It is a lot better than “I,” and it can also be better than “us.” It’s probably the best pronoun.
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Arts in a Child's Life

By Madeleine Kando

Children start life with the potential to absorb information and learn skills of many different kinds: they can learn how to dance, talk, think, build things, play music, act (pretend) and much more.

In school, however, the emphasis is on ‘academics’, the three ‘R’s”. But we forget that children are multi-faceted in their ability and desire to learn. Even though schools will not admit this, learning does not even have to involve language. A child might tell you an endless story about what happened to them that day, but others would rather move and show you with gestures. Yet another child will draw a picture and still others will build something with a lego set to express their experience.Unfortunately, after a child enters school a lot of that rich caleidoscope is parked in the basement. Only language (writing and reading) and counting matters. I wonder how many children are left behind because they just happen to be weak in ‘verbal intelligence’?

But what is the value of a factual thought without this rich caleidoscope? Just an interesting oddity if you ask me. Yes, I am smart: I know that 2 green apples and 2 red apples make 4 apples. But what makes it interesting is whether red apples taste better than green apples. Or trying to stack 2 red and 2 green apples. Maybe drawing 2 green apples and 2 red apples.? Or carving a green apple..

Once you start applying imagination and creativity, your factual thinking about apples becomes transformational. Thinking about how to juggle apples, how they taste, how they look.. that is what the Arts are all about. And the Arts are not truly concerned about the mind. They tap into our emotions and our senses. Our taste, smell, vision and hearing.

Education that thinks that the ‘senses and emotions’ are not important in the learning process is doomed to fail. Not only are the Arts an extension of our senses, but they are like flashlights that illuminate other academic subjects. The Arts gives meaning to knowledge.

Aside from the fact that many children have intelligences that do not get addressed in a society that does not value the Arts in their educational system, the children who DO excel in those types of intelligences, i.e. verbal/mathematical, miss out on developing their other types of intelligences: kinesthetic, visual, musical and spatial.

A trapeze artist at the Cirque du Soleil who dazzles us with their triple somersaults on a tight rope. The gymnast balancing on one hand on 20 stacked chairs: are they not ‘intelligent’? Does their ability to use their ‘kinesthetic intelligence’ not border on genius? Martha Graham once said: ‘If I could say it I wouldn’t have to dance it.’

The problem might lie in the use of the word ‘Art’. It usually means an art ‘product’: a painting, a sculpture, a sonata. Yet ‘the arts’ are more than anything else a product of creative thinking. It involves problem solving and critical judgment. The process of creating a work of art is where the true value lies. Without The Arts in a child’s life knowledge is bland, like a dish without salt. Soon that child will loose interest and turn into one more ‘drop out’. Let’s listen to our children and tap into their ‘multiple’ intelligences. That is where the true success of education is to be found.

Some of the information contained in this article is based on reading the following :Boston Public Schools As Arts-Integrated Learning Organizations by Eric Oddleifson, Chairman CABC
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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Take it With a Grain of Salt …

By Madeleine Kando

It is hard these days to do the right thing to stay healthy. Every time you think you know what’s good for you, some study comes along and says that what you thought was good for you is either bad, not enough or will downright kill you.

Amongst many other things, we are told to eat more fish to get enough vitamin D, take up dancing to avoid Alzheimer’s disease and drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to flush out toxins.I happen to like fish, so for me that’s not a problem, and I run a dance studio, so if they are right I will probably die of something other than Alzheimer. But the water.. well, it makes me pee too much and I confess that I have not kept up with the ‘8 glasses of water a day’ advise. So, if they are right, I will start shriveling up like an old apple soon. I just cannot afford to leave my pre-school ballet classes every 5 minutes to go to the loo. It would be like letting the lions loose in a zoo. So I was relieved to hear that some doctors are now saying that drinking too much poses a far greater health risk than not enough.

But what makes us so gullible to all this so-called ‘expert’ advice? Are we all so insecure that we don’t trust our own judgement?

Could it have to do with fear? Fear of the big IF word? “IF I do this I will be safe from that.” “IF I drink 8 glasses of water a day I will be healthy and able to run a marathon.” This kind of reasoning reminds me of Sarah, one of my 3 year old ballet students. She barged into the studio one day beaming: “I am going to dance real good today, Miss Madeleine. I am wearing my tutu.”

There is a saying in the French language: ‘Avec des si on mettrait Paris en bouteille. (“With ifs you could put Paris in a bottle”. Also known as "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.") In fact, every country has one of those expressions to denote the IF word. Here is one from Canada: “Si ma tante en avait, on l’appellerait mon oncle” (If my aunt had any we would call her my uncle).

Think about it. If the word ‘IF’ didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be any way to experience fear. Anything you can describe with an ‘IF’ expression is not real. If something is already happening you have other things on your mind then thinking: ‘what IF this car wasn’t about to hit me?’ The car IS about to hit you and you can bet your sweet bippy that you would sprint out of the car’s way, unless you are suicidal of course.

So whenever you hear of another study that is proving your ‘staying healthy strategy’ wrong, take my advice: just wait a little while. Hold off on the fish, the water, the dancing. Soon another study will come along and prove the exact opposite of what the ‘experts’ are telling you today.

The best advise regarding your health is this: take everything coming from ‘experts’ with a grain of salt.
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Lekker Puh (Dutch for 'You cannot have it, so there!')

by Madeleine Kando

I am about to leave Holland to go back to America, wondering how I feel about my most recent visit to my Vaterland. It's been educational.

As usual I have a constant feeling of being an outside observer with a fairly critical eye tainted with subjectivity since I grew up here and have many complex emotional bonds to this clean, well-organized, little country. I like its physical beauty, the impressive vistas of bright green pasture dotted with cows, sheep and church steeples. The gorgeous farm houses with their thatched roofs. The immense Dutch sky that is so typical of Holland with its ever changing colors and texture. Yes, it is a very special place. Visually.And then there are the Dutch. If only there weren't so many of them. If only there were a few that are not so... Dutch. So lacking in imagination and a sense of adventure. I would like to meet some Dutch people who don't constantly live by the rules, who show some humor, some ability to improvise. Although the Dutch have been good to us, the Kando clan, I am constantly confronted with their unlimited capacity to conform and their total inability to think and act outside the box. And let's not forget generosity. The Dutch are generous politically, they have harbored refugees for centuries, but when it comes to small, everyday affairs, it is as if the Dutch are suffering from a split personality. They turn from Dr. Jekyl into Mr. Hyde.

As a tourist I have often experienced something I'd like to call the "lekker puh" mentality of the Dutch. By this, I mean the subtitle, above, or something like this: "Haha, I got something you want, but you can't have it. Not because it would cost me anything if I gave it to you, but because it's so much more fun to just say 'No"."
In other words, a childish impulse which most of us enjoyed up to age 6 or 7.

The lekker puh policy originated in a small establishment that actually goes by that name: the "Lekker Puh" cafe in the small village of Groet: all you need to do is ask for some extra hot water for your tea and the "lekker puh" policy is triggered automatically: '"we don't have to give you extra hot water for your tea, lekker puh."

But the "lekker puh" policy has become very popular in other establishments throughout Holland. I have had the privilege of experiencing this policy in places as far removed from each other as the Northern Province of Holland and even on some of the islands off the coast of this beautiful country. You only have to ask for some extra lemon wedges for your tea in Camperduin, a small beach resort in the Northern Province, and immediately the "lekker puh" policy goes into effect: 'we don't have to give you an extra lemon wedge for your tea, lekker puh.’

Even on the remote island of Vlieland the "lekker puh" policy is in full swing. At the famous Golden Tulip Hotel where we booked a room for 2 guests, you could find the lekker puh policy in action: "'we don't have to give you two bars of soap, you can share one, lekker puh'."

Unfortunately I am leaving tomorrow, back to America. If I could stay I could give you more examples of this very popular practice. I forgot to mention all the times that I had to wipe my fingers on my coat sleeves after I had squeezed the minuscule lemon wedges into my cup of tea, for want of napkins. This was so prevalent throughout Holland's horeca industry that I finally ended up carrying napkins of my own. I knew that the next cafe I would visit, the lekker puh policy would be implemented: "'we don't have to give you a napkin, lekker puh". In fact, I suspect that the "lekker puh" policy is one of the reasons Holland is so affluent. Compared to the United States, where napkins, cups of hot water, bars of soap are not rationed like food coupons during a famine, Holland must have saved millions of dollars by not giving those items out freely to whomever dares to ask for them. Is there a lesson to be learned for us naive Americans? Should we adopt Holland's "lekker puh" practice? You tell me.
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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Homeland Security in Action

By Madeleine Kando

My flight back was uneventful and actually went by fast. I was sitting next to a real big guy and originally thought, 'just my luck. I am sitting next to a meat head who is going to hog the arm rest for the next 7 hours'. But we started to chat and he turned out to be very interesting to talk to.

He was in law enforcement and had been a soldier in Operation Desert Storm. He lived in a small town in Western Massachusetts and had grown up in Vermont. He was returning from a 5-day visit to Amsterdam to meet some old army buddies. Read more...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The 'Duh Test

by Madeleine Kando

The older I get the more I am confronted with the problem of finding enough time to read, listen to and watch the enormous amount of information we are all confronted with over our media tools: t.v., radio, papers and the internet. There is nothing wrong with information per se, but when there is too much of it, it tends to become toxic. I mean too much information is like too much rain: some of it is good for plants, too much of it will drown them and make them rot.In other words, we are suffering from information overload. One sure sign of information overload is one’s inability to produce the appropriate emotional response to information. Here is an example: I am driving my car, listening to NPR. The newscaster informs me that serial killer X has just eaten the cut up remains of his latest victim. Without interruption, the same voice continues to inform me that we might expect some rain within the next 24 hours. I don’t bat an eye. Just waiting for the next bit of news. THAT is a true indication of ‘information overload’. I am suffering from the toxic fumes of too much information.

So I thought it might be useful to devise a test. This test will help us, poor saps, who are subject to this endless torrent of information, to protect us, like an umbrella if you will.

Here is an example of the test, which I have named the ‘duh test’.Information:‘SMOKING IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH’.

Answer this information with the test: ‘well … duh!’If the information does not pass the test, scrap that information.

Don’t you find yourself often listening or watching programs that pretty much state the obvious? Even certain books that are on the best-seller’s list would not pass my ‘duh test’. Although I admit, if a book is well-written the writing itself makes up for the content. One such book is ‘In Defense of Food’ by Michael Pollan. Yes, the content of the book does not pass the test. I have known since I was 10 years old that vegetables are good for you. That lucky charms are bad for you. But it helps to have someone who writes so well reiterate my belief for me. So, in this case the ‘duh test’ is an affirmation. Meaning: ‘see, I was right all along’.

I highly recomment this test to you. It will save numerous hours of staring at the boob tube or ruining your eyes in front of your computer. Every time you read or watch something, say that mantra: ‘well.. duh’. The time saved by applying this simple test could be applied to going for a walk with your dog, planting your garden or wondering what you will make for dinner.
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

About European versus American education

By Madeleine Kando and Tom Kando

The other day a Dutch friend asked me what 'M.Ed.' stands for, because I sent a letter to IFAW about mother's book and I signed it with Madeleine Kando, M.Ed. So this is what I wrote back:

There are three levels of higher education in the US:
(1): BA and BS (Bachelor of Arts or Science).
(2): MA, MS and MEd (Master of Arts or Science or Education) and
(3): Ph.D. and Ed.D. (Doctor of Philosophy or Education).

A bit like in the old days in Holland, when you had a Kandidaats, a Doctoraal, etc. Typically, it takes 4 years to achieve the first of these levels - the BA - so if you graduate from High School at eighteen, as most kids do, you can expect to get a BA or a BS at 22, if you apply yourself and daddy pays all your bills.

"College" basically refers to this four-year education, and it is also called "undergraduate" education. In America, therefore, the Baccalaureate refers to this four-year degree which you receive four years beyond high school , whereas the European Baccalaureat (le "bachot" in France, for example), refers to your High School degree, at eighteen. To make things even more complicated, the word "University" in the US can include a 4-year college but more properly refers to institutions that offer the more advanced degrees of MA and Ph.D.

As to me, I have the second level, the MA or M.Ed. Tom has a Ph.D. I could teach at a college but I couldn't teach upper division courses because I don't have a Ph.D. I could assist Tom but I could not teach his classes (for one thing - I know nothing of sociology). He would be permitted to teach all MY classes (although he wouldn't do a very good job because he doesn't know anything about Education).

In the US, you have to have at least a B.A. to make an adequate living. That is, you must have completed a four-year college education. This is not because you learn important job skills in college, but because there has long been an "educational inflation" whereby everyone, including employers, feels that people without college degrees are bad people. So almost everyone wants to go to college, even people who have no business doing so.

Currently American High Schools generally prepare you for College. You may opt to go to a Technical High School instead which precludes any chance of continuing in academics and prepares you for a 'vocation'. But in general the education children receive between the ages of 12 and 18 is less specialized. Children are not 'tracked' in high school as they are in Holland. Even at the College level, even though a student has to have a 'major' and a 'minor' subject, they are not required to make a career choice until much later in their development.

Because of this 'generalized' approach to education it is fair to say that European High Schools teach their students more in-depth. All comparative international statistics show this. Certainly when we went to High School in the Netherlands over 40 years ago, the education we received was far more rigorous and demanding than an American High School education. Because of the 'tracking' system in Holland, Tom for example who was tracked in the highest level (Gymnasium), had to learn six languages! This would be unimaginable in America.

Also, America has not had "eind examens," those phenomenally stressful and elaborate one-week long comprehensive exams at the end of your final year in high school. Every European country has them. And if you fail them, you repeat your senior year.

So historically, you could say that an 18-year old Dutch student who is in the highest academic-preparatory track in High School is almost as advanced as a student who receives a B.A. at 22.

But this has to be qualified: First of all, I just said "almost." In fact, an American College graduate is better educated than a European High School graduate. So I would split the difference. Secondly, I've heard that European education has deteriorated. There is no way that European High School kids today get the same quality education as what you and I received at a Gymnasium or at a HBS in the fifties. Thirdly, America is now introducing comprehensive final exams ("eind examens") in its High Schools. Finally, the proportion of Americans who go on beyond High School (to College), is still higher than the number of Europeans who go on to University. So the qualitative differences between European and American education are vanishing.

Traditionally, there has been another interesting difference between Europe and America:In the US, when kids graduate from high school and leave home to go to college, they live on a 'campus', which is basically an expensive nursery for teenagers, where they sleep, eat, party and drink booze, and if they don't have too much of a hangover, go to classes. I am exaggerating of course. Some schools are extremely rigorous and competitive, like the Ivy League schools (Harvard, Radcliffe, MIT etc). But one of the reasons that higher education is becoming unaffordable in this country is because of this structure of trying to keep children in a protective cocoon while they are still 'maturing'.

So for millions of upper-middle class kids, it's almost like the US has given their children much more time to mature than in Europe. I sometimes wonder how the US became economically so successful, with such a wasteful and indulgent system of education.

Well, perhaps there are countervailing tendencies: It's true that European students who go on to higher education after high school are not held by the hand, as they are in the US. I remember all too well how confusing things were in Amsterdam, in that regard. You were totally on your own there, at the University - sink or swim.

BUT: How did most University students behave, if I remember correctly? Well, they spent most of their days sipping coffee or beer at Reynders and or the Ouwe Herberg; lighting joints of cannabis, partying every night of the week.

European youngsters may "mature" a little bit faster, but their work ethic is weak. This, in turn, is because there is much less pressure on them to hurry up and to get a job, because (1) they are less ambitious (call it materialistic) and (2) the government is more generous, so being a little bit poor is not a problem.

Finally: Here is how I would grade the educational systems on both sides of the Atlantic:

(1) Secondary Education (= High School): Europe still better than America, although declining advantage.

(2) Four-year BA (= College): About the same. There is enormous variation here. Some private 4-year liberal arts colleges (E.g. Dartmouth, Bennington, Wellesley, etc) are outstanding. Other ones, (E.g. some impoverished 4-year State colleges) are crummy.

(3) Advanced Higher Education (= Universities): America still has the best Universities in the world, both public and private. UC Berkeley is repeatedly voted to be the best public University in the world (most Nobel Prizes, most advanced research, etc.) and Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago, etc, are all superior to all other universities in the world.

But again, it's all a matter of money. Like everything else in the universe, education is stratified. The privileged receive the best education in the world, and the rest of us go to schools and work in environments where many students (and some of the teachers) can't spell their own names.

Its' all about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

About Madeleine Kando

Madeleine Kando , MEd, is a Registered Movement Therapist and a graduate of Lesley College. Ms. Kando was educated in France and Holland. She holds a degree in Linguistics from the University of Utrecht and speaks four languages fluently. She is the co-author of 'The Kando Technique' and has written various articles on bilingual education. She is the founder and director of The SmartStars Program, a Creative Arts Program for young children.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

About Tom Kando

Tom Kando is a retired professor of sociology and an author. He has always worn two hats - that of the professional academic sociologist and that of the creative author. As the former, he has produced dozens of scholarly, refereed research articles and books. As the latter, he has written several novels, essays and articles, even publishing his own newspaper. Tom enjoys exploring topics relating to social psychology, marriage and family life, criminology, politics and social issues. To read samples of his work, please visit his Personal Publications and Professional Publications pages.

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About Us

This is a Political/Social Blog. It offers opinions on current political/social issues as well as more general topics. We are both long-time residents of the United States but we were raised and educated both in Europe and the US . We enjoy comparing the cultures and social norms of the two continents. Occasionally, we will sound opinionated, even biased. We welcome your comments and your opinions, whether they agree with ours or not. Happy reading.


Madeleine Kando is a Registered Movement Therapist and a graduate of Lesley College. Ms. Kando was educated in France and Holland. She holds a degree in Linguistics from the University of Utrecht and speaks four languages fluently. She is the co-author of 'The Kando Technique' and has written various articles on bilingual education. She is the founder and director of The SmartStars Program, a Multiple Intelligences Language Program.
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Tom Kando is a retired professor of sociology and an author. He has always worn two hats - that of the professional academic sociologist and that of the creative author. As the former, he has produced dozens of scholarly, refereed research articles and books. As the latter, he has written several novels, essays and articles, even publishing his own newspaper. Tom enjoys exploring topics relating to social psychology, marriage and family life, criminology, politics and social issues. To read samples of his work, please visit his Personal Publications and Professional Publications pages.

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