Archive for Articles

Freedom in Schools

School children are increasingly under pressure (e.g., documentary on pressures).  However, in contrast to this trend, we also see movements in other directions (e.g., student-ruled schools, teacher-training by students, new free school).  As we believe that intrinsic motivation (e.g., our blog entry) is the key to learning of practically anything, we acknowledge the important of freedom in schools.

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On Charity

The charity season has come again.  Of course, charity exists because of people’s good intention (except for certain cases of possibly selfish motivations).  But, now, let us see some critical views (other than the well-known issue of overhead), referring to several articles in the relevant/interesting links section of our web site.  One problem is the lack of knowledge about the recipients and their situation, esp. applicable to international charity (Zegers, also relevant point in Shiva).  Some people propose alternatives: e.g., take less (again, Zegers; note the subtitle), focus on job creation (Slim), promote a financial infrastructure appropriate for the recipients’ culture (Moyo).  Maybe, it is time for all of us to re-examine what we can do, with wholesome motivations, the awareness of reality, and open mind.

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Declining Empathy

According to a New York Times article From Students, Less Kindness for Strangers?, “college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago, with the numbers plunging primarily after 2000.”  While the notion like “empathy” cannot really be measured, this does not seem to be a good sign, along with the Creativity Crisis (as discussed earlier).  The author of the article speculate that the trend is caused by the mixture of hyper-competition/individualism in the evolving virtual social context.

Empathy is, naturally, about considering others.  However, it is also possible to make a connection betwen the ability to consider others and the ability to consider ourselves.  For example, it has been pointed out that the ability to emotionally attune with others is tightly linked with the ability to attune with ourselves (see, e.g., Daniel Siegel’s The Mindful Brain).  In this regard, we may actually need more of self-compassion to begin with (Christopher Germer’s The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion).

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Facilitator Comment: Healthy Kid & Parent Cooking

I truly could not have hoped for a better experience facilitating a program for MFS! I have been teaching and coordinating programs in the Princeton/Mercer County area for over a year now, and am used to dealing with various complications and obstacles that arise along the way. I can say without exaggeration that my program with MFS was a wonderful exception to the rule. The process of scheduling the class could not have been smoother, and the class itself was a true delight. The children were engaged and excited, and it is so fulfilling to provide a service, especially for children, and have it so thoroughly enjoyed. I cannot wait to schedule another class to facilitate, as I can already anticipate the continued joy I will experience with working with MFS.

Anthony Dissen

Mercer Free School home page

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The Money Delusion

In his article (The Money Delusion, May/June 2008), Satish Kumar points out the following: (1) money is not wealth, and (2) instead of money serving us, we are serving money.  His argument equally applies to the case of education.  First, money is not education.  Although some people might think that the more we pay, the more we get, this is hardly true.  How many of us would think the skyrocketing cost of higher education is fully justified?  Second, while money is supposed to be used to enhance our education, the unfortunate trend is that education is increasingly serving money.  That is, commercialism has been creeping into genuine educational opportunities.

By suspending the involvement of money in our learning process (except sharing material cost), free schools are trying to bring back the essence of education in the modern context.  We are not denying the benefits of using money.  We are just denying becoming its servant.

Mercer Free School home page

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Facilitator Comment: Calligraphy for Beginners

On Saturday August 14th, the Mercer Free School held a calligraphy class at the Ewing Public Library. There were 5 attendees in addition to the instructor, Pravin Philip. Two of the attendees were children and the other three adults.

Calligraphy is not just about making your handwriting look good. It brings into play two little known
aspects. The first is that it is a form of meditation. In ancient times Buddhist and Christian monks, meditated over their scripture as they reproduced them calligraphically.

Today, in the age of computers, the idea of extruding an idea, gradually and mindfully is refreshing and indeed for many eye-opening.

The other aspect of course is self expression. Young people or adults who are troubled and lacking in self esteem can use calligraphy to open up their prospects and re-define the way they are perceived by the world.

Calligraphy is a great confidence builder because it helps the user see an aspect of himself or herself that has never been seen before.

Last but not least calligraphy has been enjoyed and practiced by virtually every civilization under the sun.  From the Arabs to the Japanese and the Chinese.   The Europeans as well as the Hindus in India.
Thanks to the Mercer Free School for being the conduit that beings so many new insights and skills to
the good folks of Mercer County.

Pravin Philip

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Experience as the faciliator of sushi cooking classes

I have shared sushi making process with my friends in the past, but this summer through Mercer Free School, I was able to share this joyful traditional cooking with total strangers in our own kitchen!  Total strangers who are curious, warm, kind, and enthusiastic about home cooking and learning!!  As a facilitator, I wasn’t certain what to expect much, but both classes were energizing and rewarding experience to me for certain.

The first class consisted of 2 young mothers with good experience of sushi dining.  We made avocado rolls and inari sushi.  One of them tried even a flip over rice outside roll.  We not only made sushi, but also talked a lot about organic natural food, ethnic traditional cooking, as well as home grown herbs and vegetables.  As you may well imagine, the facilitator learned a lot more about variety of topics from the group.  Out of our conversation, we thought that home gardening and cooking club sharing diverse ethnic food preparation may be of interest to many.

Our second sushi class was a family of 3, a couple with his sister from the West.  Two of them had long history of sushi eating, one of them had made sushi on her own before and the other never had sushi before.  So, talking about mixing rice in a wooden bowl (to reduce moisture) made a lot of sense to one experienced participant, who remembers her rather soggy vinegared rice.  This time, I added Shiitake mashroom and kanpyo that happened to be in our refrigerator that day to the original avocado roll and inari sushi.

I hope that our participants enjoyed as much as I did in both of these classes.   There are other classes that I would love to attend as well, such as music reading, calligraphy, etc.  Mercer Free School has been eye opener for me.  Hurrah and thanks to the founders!!

Sachiko Komagata

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