Sunday, August 5, 2012

"The Bold and the Beautiful" - Inspiring Youth

Sometimes us “older or more experienced ” people can get a little cynical about up and coming younger expertise. We can yawn widely and say “ yeah  - seen that” or “not fully thought out - so won’t really last”. 
I must admit I get excited and stimulated  by younger people who either appear to have their @#$ together or come up with some enthusiastic and original idea. I had the privilege  of working with two young teachers who had their craft together so well, and displayed such enthusiasm for the job that they were granted  with awards for excellence in teaching within the first 5 years of teaching. They certainly deserved it.
When we look at what is thrown at us in the media - I often wonder what sort of society we are striving for. There is a strong desire to become famous - for “being famous” - and someone has to be “voted out” to make your achievement worthwhile. Sounds like I need a Bex and a good lay down ! But - thankfully not all youth see the world that way. I would like to share some of the youth I have come across (not personally) who I find quite stimulating.
The first one is a young man who I have followed since he was 15. Joey Lawrence is a young Canadian who has a keen eye for the visual. I first came across him on a photographic site -  dpchallenge. Young Joey was competing with the grown ups (and winning ) with a reasonably cheap camera. He was a master of both photoshop and photography at quite an early age. The thing I loved about this kid was he wasn’t afraid to experiment. He also made little videos with his friends and posted them for people to look at. I tipped at the time (and I still feel this will happen) that this guy will someday be a very well renowned film maker. One day (as a 16 yr old - I think ) his camera got broken/lost/stolen - can’t remember which, but he decided to make a DVD of his photoshop techniques and sell it (for $25) to people on dpchallenge to raise money for a new camera.  It , of course was an instant hit - and gave him money for a new camera. The rest is history  (which I will fill you in on in a moment). As an educationalist - this boy intrigued me. Although I think he thought his formal education was rather immaterial to where he was going in life , I couldn’t help feeling - if I taught this boy - I would be extremely proud of where he was going - he had the concept of “life long learning”. Isn’t this what we are trying to achieve ? It isn’t about what academic qualification - it’s about a curiosity to life - a desire to learn new things. This is the real world ! Not the one judged on whether you have your Masters in Educational theory or macramé !
Joey started to get a reputation for himself and picked up work in the US as a professional photographer. A lot of the younger people would be aware of his work as he did the promotional posters for the “Twilight” movies. He started to travel a lot - visiting far off and remote locations. He developed a “National Geographical “ type interest in portraiture but unlike the approach of someone like Steve McCurry (remember the Afghan Girl - National Geographic) who took everything in natural light - Joey thought - “if I was to do a portrait of someone in the west , I would use studio lights to achieve the best outcome for myself and the subject. Why not do the same for the back woods warrior in the outback of Somalia ?” He went to very out of the way places carrying battery powered lighting to produce stunning images of people who would not be normally photographed in this manner. His work is certainly breath taking and inspirational. This young man seems to be living life to the fullest, following his dreams and continually evolving and learning. As an educator - these are the aspects I would love to instill in students. Unfortunately, we often fall short of the mark. 
See Joey's work here:
The second young person to inspire me is a young lady from India. Shilo Shiv Suleman is an illustrator, storyteller and iPad book creator from Bangalore in Southern India.This young lady combines “conventional” art with technology in an interesting and beautiful way. This lady used the technology of the ipad to create a beautiful piece of art - combining  story telling, art, interactivity and technology. Her app Khoya " is a fantastic combination of all these aspects. Armed with pencils, paper and an ipad she has travelled India collecting and making art and story. As she says herself "I'm allowed to be a digital gypsy of sorts. My office can become a small little grove under a giant banyan tree." Shilo seems to have gained her resilience, enthusiasm and love of learning from her mother rather than any school situation. But then again, as educators we should be endeavoring to enhance, foster and encourage this style of learning. Have a look at her TED talk and play with her app “Khoya” and you will understand what I mean. A combination of the traditional, spiritual, artistic and digital - the new India.

The third young person I will mention is a young fellow from Newcastle (Australia) who has travelled the world (mainly in troubled spots) photographing the people affected by local events. Connor Ashleigh developed a strong sense of social justice when he went on a school excursion to Cambodia helping with house building. Maybe here we have a direct link to an effect generated by his formal education. I would like to think so, but with education we can never know for certain. Connor has combined digital storytelling with travel and a strong sense of social justice. He developed a love of photography on a visit to India. He has reported stories from the birth of a nation (Southern Sudan) to the suffering in Palestine and a slice of life from his own home town.

You may notice a personal theme here. These three people combine the visual, travel and a love of learning. They also combine these with a sense of sharing. They are educators in their own right. Joey L has made teaching DVD’s to help people master Photoshop as well as sharing techniques on his blog. Shilo has taught children art, shared her knowledge at TED talks as well as designing a fabulous teaching aid in the app “Khoya”. Connor has conducted classes sharing his stories as well as his images. He has presented classes to young High School students to help inspire and share techniques.
None of this really has any connection to the traditional classroom - but despite the shortcomings that we have to work with in education, at the end of the day we hope to give  our students a few basic skills (more attitudes than skills). To develop resilience, a love of learning, an ability to share a story  and a sense of connection with real people. These are the things I hope for my students. It has no connection what-so-ever to their NAPLAN results or academic qualifications. 
Can you imagine the classroom with these three ! “Joey - stop fiddling with the blind to see where the shadow falls ! Shilo - stop scribbling on the cover of your exercise book and Connor be quiet and stop chatting to Mary about her having no friends !”    Interesting ! 

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