The Brooklyn School Alternatives Conference will be held in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on May 9th and 10th, 2015.
Peter Gray, the author of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, will present his research on free play and self-directed learning.
The conference is open to all, including families who are thinking about leaving the traditional school system and those who are already using family and community-based approaches to learning, including homeschooling, free schooling, and cooperative schooling.
The event will be held over two days. The first day will feature a wide array of school alternatives. The second day will take place outside in Prospect Park, and will feature a DIY picnic, free play, as well as some informal outdoor activities.
$20 registration here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1294670
May 20-24, at LIU/Post, near New York City!
You can download the Conference flyer HERE.
We feel that this is the time for the education revolution, to empower all students, to make learner-centered education possible everywhere. This year we will again have keynotes and presentations that are connected to our mission “to help create an education revolution to make learner-centered education available to everyone.” As always, we will have many workshops that explore and demonstrate effective programs in educational alternatives. This includes any learner-centered approach, such as home education, Montessori education, Waldorf education, democratic Education, progressive education, charter schools, magnet schools, etc. If you would like to join us as an attendee and a presenter! If you are interested in hosting a workshop, see below for instructions on how to submit.
The Long Island University/C.W. Post campus is located at 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville, NY 11548.
AERO was founded in 1989 and this will be our 12th annual conference.
AERO networks all forms of learner-centered educational alternatives. The AERO conference is unlike any other conference you are likely to attend in the USA. Many attendees have described the conference as “life-changing,” so you won’t want to miss it!
The 2015 AERO conference will run from May 20 to May 24th.
There are a couple of things sitting on my brain today. Most of them are directly about my brain. My brain is in serious question right now.
There are a number of things, very personal things, I am going to share with you today. Some of them may be uncomfortable truths, that you might share, but have not confronted. I am trying to confront my uncomfortable truths.
Part of this line of thought began with the viewing of this video by Dr. Amit Sood. It is about how to have a happier brain.
I like to walk to clear my head. You have heard many people say that, but I really, really walk to clear my head. I try and get a handle on the shit rolling around inside it, and then I try to bang one side of my head really hard to knock the crap out of the opposite ear. So as I am walking, it is treated as a meditation. The process begins by searching, as I am walking for a more relaxed gait. But with all meditation, the realization that the head never stops becomes acutely apparent. So the relaxation needs to expand to the head. And here is where the uncomfortable repetition of nonsense goes around over and over again like your laundry on an eternal spin cycle.
The fact that these thoughts have an emotional component is just another truth that reveals itself.
This has been a difficult year for me and my family. We are in the midst of serious paradigm shifts in the way we live, and money is always a difficulty. The work that I have done for the past 20 years also seems to going bye bye. We are living on fumes. It is not helped by the fact that there seems to be pockets of people just having a grand ole time while my wife and I try to figure out how to get on with our lives. So I begin to question whether the reality being painted in my imagination, needs to be supplanted by one of acceptance and tolerance. And this is where bearing my own contradictions are revealed.
As I am walking down one of the local strips here in Ditmas Park, I overhear some well fed white couple saying something about the housing that strikes me as completely naive and entitled. And the first thought that pops into my brain, in the midst of searching for this “acceptance and tolerance” is, “We really need a fucking virus to kill off all these fucking bastards. Really.” and as this thought manifested itself, I was faced with the contradiction of it. Then my mind went off on an evaluation of racism, classism, economic disparity etc. And I began to have a few insights as to why the world is locked in a downward pattern.
The thoughts of a hungry man are very different than one who is well fed. As Stephan Colbert once said “There is no hunger in the world, because I just ate!”
In the face of these truths, how can we expect anything to change. We know many things about the world.: climate change is real, and if at the very least you do not believe that, the impact of man on the planet is undeniable—with all the garbage on the streets, do we have any doubts of the impact of our consumerism? We know that air quality is bad and needs to be improved, but people now drive and buy cars more than ever. I can keep citing examples, but you get the idea.
So back to my brain. Trying to live a happier life, change my worldview in an instant, and accepting my own contradictions. This is what is at the core of real change in the world. And realizing that the pain of the world is affecting me at every moment. The change will never come from the outside. It never has. It has always and will always come from within.
Another book I recently cherry picked off my book shelf is “The Millionaire Mind.” I am not advocating for this book, nor do I agree with most of it. But there were a few very useful exercises. One was to recall the events in my childhood where those around me influenced how I thought about money. I wrote down some of these and had to also remember how I felt in response to those events. In review, I did not get a whole lot of encouragement. Everyone around me succeeded in passing on their fears and doubts—and those tapes have been replaying themselves on loop ever since. But the writer encourages us to expose, and then replace these tapes with a more positive imagining. This is where it gets hard for me. Do I replace one load of bullshit for another just so I can acquire more wealth? Exposing the painful thoughts for me is very useful. It reveals to me that I live under the auspices of a lie. I am filled with doubt because that is what I was taught by the adults in my life. And they were taught that by their elders and so on and so forth back to Moses.
I am not sure I can wrap this particular rant up in a nice neat package. It is what it is. Soon winter will give way to more sunny days, and my outlook may become more hopeful. For now, I offer my own mental purging in the hope that maybe we can begin to have a meaningful conversation. Because that is what I truly wish for. That is the beginning of community. In a real community, no one goes hungry or uncared for.
Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction —William Blake
Yesterday I completed yet another drawing. The output of work from my pen tends to be constant, but without reflection as to what I have done, or why I do it. The most recent piece, simply titled RaMaYaNa was posted yesterday, and I feel that for once, it needs a companion piece to explain some of the story reflected in the 6 panels. so first here is the piece in total.
The Ramayana has a long story with me. I have been enamored with this epic for almost 30 years. It started rather innocently. About that time, I was in a group of men, which used to gather once a week for dinner. This gathering was connected to other activities I was engaged in, namely the ideas of GI Gurdjieff. Our coming together socially was a form of camaraderie, but also, our group leader, Jerry Brewster, used it as a form of teaching.
After dinner (usually at Tripoli diner on 3rd Avenue) Jerry would invite us to tell jokes. But after a while he scolded us “your jokes need to come out of High School. Maybe now it is time to learn to tell stories.” So this became our task. To find good stories that had the ring of inner truth to them.
Everyone began to search the usual sources of Mullah Nasar Adin stories, or the Wise Men of Chelm, but my very good friend and brother, Andy de Santis topped everyone—he would memorize sections of the Mahabarata, names and all, and relate them to us each week. I do not remember if he ever finished the story as it is the other great epic of India, but he really had me going.
Andy and I always had a kind of friendly competitiveness, and not wanting to be outdone, I became obsessed with finding one better. This is when I discovered the most popular English translation of the Ramayana by William Buck. The story so engrossed me, that I soon forgot about my feelings of competitiveness. This started a long love affair with stories, folktales and so on in general, but especially this enigmatic epic. There are dozens of drawings scattered among my old sketchbooks that attempted to pay homage to the Ramayana.
The Ramayana is probably the most studied epic among Hindu peoples. There are many Bollywood films based on it, puppet shows, art etc. paying homage to it. There is a computer animated version released in 2010 by Warner Bros India (http://youtu.be/ERMy9CPjSQg). It is reputed to be from sources dating back 5000 years. Many of the modern epic tales we know of such as Lord of the Rings are highly influenced by it. I cannot say that I even come close to doing it justice within a 6-paneled drawing.
Just briefly, the story is full of royal ascension, betrayal, armies of enlightened animals, gods, demons and romance. To quote wikepedia “The Ramayana consists of 24,000 verses in seven books (kāṇḍas) and 500 cantos (sargas), and tells the story of Rama (an avatar of the Hindu supreme-god Vishnu), whose wife Sita is abducted by Ravana, the king of Lanka (current day Sri Lanka). Incidentally the first letter of every 1000 verses (total 24) make the Gayatri mantra Thematically, the Ramayana explores human values and the concept of dharma.”
When I start all drawings, I have no idea as to what I am about to do. I just work. I had a vague idea of a flying figure, dream like, dancing on the air. The figure at first seemed to be unbalanced, so I began to add heads, and arms. In so doing, the character began to resemble a main player in the story of the Ramayana. The demon lord Ravana. At least my version of him.
It was then that I decided to turn the piece into a 6-panel starting with the words Ra_Ma_Ya_Na placed around the page. From this point on I am relating how I remember the story. There is much contention over translations as there is with any ancient work. And tales change over time. William Bucks version was only one variant and the only one I have read.
What I remember of Ravana was that he was born out of the belly button of Brahma. He had ten heads and ten arms and each head was black as night with red eyes, lashing tongue and fangs. Your traditional demon. He is not always depicted like this.
Ravana decides that he wants the power of a god. So he begins a 10,000 year meditation. Every 1000 years, he takes a sword and shears off one of his heads and tosses it into the fire. At the end of the 10,000th year he is about to shear off his last head, when Shiva appears before him and confesses that his will is so great, that he can have a boon (favor) granted. Ravana’s request is that he can be killed by no god.
This sets the demon king off on a path of destruction across the heavans. He lays waste to many of the deities palaces. In so doing the gods convene and try to decide what can be done about the demon king. How can he be stopped?
This takes us to the first upper left panel. Above the clouds sits Narayana, an incarnation of Vishnu. Supreme lord. It was decided that Narayana should incarnate himself as a man, who then would be able to defeat Ravana (as a man). King Dasaratha is chosen for this task. He is given a rice cake by his priest and in turn is supposed to choose one of his wives to receive it. But when the moment comes, he breaks the cake in half and gives it to his first and favorite wife. He breaks the remaining half in half again and gives it to his second wife and the remaining quarter he breaks again and gives the two pieces to his third wife.
Rama is to be king, and this is an accepted fact, but wife number 2 calls King Dasaratha on a promise he made—that her son, Bharata would be promised the throne, and that Rama must go into exile.
Now keep in mind that I have no intention of trying to depict every detail of this vast story. For me it is merely a meditation. The drawing gets me to start thinking about the story. Panel 2 quickly represents Rama’s exile. He will leave with his brother and guardian Lakshamana, and his wife Sita. Bharata feels the injustice of this decision and tells Rama that he will never take the throne, but instead places Rama’s sandals in his place for when he returns. The exile is to last 14 years.
As we go to the 3rd panel, we see some of the symbols of Rama’s exile. What happens here is that Ravana spies Rama’s wife from above and falls in love with her. He decides he must have her. So he and his attendant, Marucha, hatch a plan. Marucha will transform himself into a deer to distract Lakshamana away from Sita, Lakshamana succeeds in killing Marucha, but then realizes that he has wandered far from camp. Ravana seizes Sita and flies off with her.
The bird in the panel is Jadyu, the vulture king who tries to stop the demon and sacrifices himself in the process.
At this point I have to confess that in telling this story, even in brief is daunting. There is so much that is important that is not even hinted at in the 6 panels. The major omission is the introduction here of the most important supporting character, namely the monkey god Hanuman. This is one of my favorite characters from all of folktale, and I feel he deserves his own meditation. It is during the battle with the vulture that Sita drops her necklace intentionally. It is discovered by two monkeys which sets off the alliances between Rama and the animal kingdom.
Panel 4 is a bit enigmatic (an enigma wrapped in an enigma.) The image alludes to Rama’s meeting with Agastya, the forest mendicant who gives Rama an indestructible bow. This after breaking Rama’s own bow. This is very symbolic. It is suggested that Rama will now use “Dharma” arrows. Dharma in simple terms translates as “the principle of cosmic order’ for Hinduism and in Buddhism is considered the whole of the teaching. The way I interpret this is that Rama is using his inner understanding to be able to defeat the demon army.
At the lower portion of the panel are bears representing Jhambavan’s army. Rama is marching to Lanka to rescue his wife and defeat the demon armies. He will do so with the assistance of bears, monkeys and other forces of nature. The lower left part of the panel alludes to the bridge built by the monkey architect Nala. This is the bridge that will connect the mainland to Lanka.
Panel 5 attempts to portray the battle between Rama and the demon army. Rama is surrounded by a force which represents his astral presence out of which his arrows are launched. This would be a grand painting in itself as it involves massive images of slaughter.
Which brings us to the last panel which shows a Botticelli like Sita being consumed by flames which are being sucked up by an earth goddess. Though Sita remained faithful to her husband during her abduction, Rama could never let go of the idea that she had been violated by Ravana. His rejection not only lost him his wife, but his future sons, who return to his kingdom many years later to sing to him his very own exploits.
It was never my intention to try to tell this story in pictures. Maybe I am too lazy or unfocused for such an undertaking. But I do love this story and it came out in this particular work. I have never tried to explain anything that I do. As I have stated in interviews, my work just happens. But this particular piece represented a bit more. Once I was involved, I had to see it through. The symbols of the Ramayana have been alive for me for many years. And I am not from the culture where this was an every day story. Hindu’s are intimately familiar with these characters. There are statues of Hanuman all over Asia and are revered by the local inhabitants. This is merely one of my homages to a story which for me, conveys a sense of the sacred and the mysterious. Plus it is really a cool tale.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
The vision to reject
I am Man, lording it over all the lands. I piss in your rivers. I pollute your skies. Obliterate your mountains. Where I walk, the stench of death and decay abound. Oil and waste leak from my skin, and drip onto the soil. Into your bays and oceans. For the world revolves around me. I am Man.
For me, the differences of race are like the difference between animals. Between plants and minerals. My role is to seek dominance. to rule over all existence. Everything is here for the taking.
There is no “I.” There is no time. There is no race. Colors are merely part of a spectrum of light. Everything is light. The existence I participate in is to integrate with the existence of everything else. To become one with the light. But I am weighed down by material existence. My desires. My judgements. My opinions. My reactions. Thoughts. The endless river of mental verbiage. This is the nature of my slavery. I am a slave to illusions. The purpose of this life is to free myself, little by little of these illusions, all past down to me through time.
We are engaged in a search for the true “I.” The one that tells us that every end is a beginning. Every beginning an end. That my purpose is to integrate into a level of awareness that will connect my small cell of energy to that of the grand force that is the mega-verse. My breath seeks alignment with the cosmos—with spheres greater than myself.
With this vision, there is no race. There is no difference between us and everything living. It is all life.
For me this is the only cure to racism. Without this realization, we will be in a continual loop to validate our pitiful existence. It will always be about who has more. Who deserves more. Who is entitled. Today you persecute the one. Tomorrow you persecute the other. Eventually, it will be you who are persecuted.
When my understanding grows beyond the desires of the materialistic world, then a new process can begin. One that reaches beyond accepted boundaries of existence. If more of humanity could be infected with this way of thinking, our violence toward each other would slowly disappear. Then our energy could be turned toward this great planet we all share.
And today I express thanks to this great planet and the opportunities it provides. May we some day learn to embrace that. —BZ
In response to a blog forum called Wake Up World; 5 Big Signs The Global Engine of Deceit, Lies and Control Are Coming To End | Wake Up World— I posted this response.
Yes, in a perfect world I would agree. But what I see around me in actuality is the opposite. The more we are aware that things are no longer relevant, the more I see neighbors who are addicted to the things that have created this paradigm in the first place. People still love their cars and treat them better than they treat their children. There is still an overwhelming addiction to shopping in our culture. The majority has still not embraced the concepts of sustainability. Education is a disaster in the USA and still works off of old coercion based industrialized models. Yes the Global Engine of Deceit may be crumbling, but those in power are merely shifting their focus in order to position themselves as rulers when a new sustainable model takes the place of the old unsustainable one.
The recent divestment of the Rockafellers in oil is a good example. They will just reposition their wealth in order to stay on top. They created the oil industry and now they get to move on without any consequences.
Awakening is a much deeper occurrence than this article can illustrate. Consciousness has never been embraced by the many. It has always been the province of the few. I hope for a world that is awakened and striving for human endeavors that connect us to the greater universe. But the truth is much different than we hope for.
In 1997 my brother, Edward Louis Zeines, passed away after a long and painful struggle with ALS. It is this experience, and maybe a few other things, as to why I will not accept the ice bucket challenge.
My brother was an interesting guy and had a great deal of influence on me (both good and bad) when I was growing up. To get the bad stuff out of the way: he was 8 years older than me and used to terrorize me on a regular basis. He would often want to rough house with me which more times than not, which mostly resulted in some form of serious injury. To get a clearer picture of our age difference, when I was 5 years old, my brother was 13. Just imagine what it would be like for a 5 year old to be in a wrestling match with a teenager. It made me tough. He taught me judo which we learned from a book and I would practice flipping him in the living room, but somehow at the end of it all, I would end up getting hurt.
Another thing about my brother Ed was that he had a knife collection. He was a bit obsessed with weapons in general. When he was 12, he took an old plastic snorkel and refashioned it into a blow gun with darts made from sewing needles. One day while we were playing around, he accidentally launched one of these into my face missing my eye by a mere inches. The knives and swords he collected adorned our shared bedroom wall. He even made a few machetes himself carving out the handles and molding the metal blades from scratch. He would also make wooden guns for me which had a rubber band mechanism to launch cardboard squares as bullets. He was inventive to say the least.
But the thing that I feel most influenced by, was his creative streak which showed up as drawing early on. His sketches of crazy men and spaceships got me interested in the fun that is drawing. So to this day, I owe my own obsession to him. One that has given me great insight and pleasure.
In 1987 my brother told me over the phone that he was having trouble with some pains in his arms and legs which he at first thought were Charley Horse. It was soon thought to be MS (multiple sclerosis) but soon the death sentence of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) was the prognosis. At age 39, he was given five years to live (he lived 10). When he showed up at my daughters first birthday party in April 1987, we were shocked to watch him walk across the room on stiff legs.
As the months passed, we would speak on the phone, his voice became increasingly strained. His home care was becoming more and more difficult to manage. There are many things I will not even trouble you with here because there is a measure of shame in coping with a disease like this and I just don’t think all the details would be useful. In truth, you can never do enough for someone in this condition. As his life was transferred to a nursing home, that became even clearer.
He spent his last years at Waterview Nursing Home in College Point, Queens. It was here that he began to write poetry on a small voice computer. This man was no longer my brother. The disease had transformed him. He became a prisoner in a failing body. As a result, he was difficult to be around. He was frustrated and angry. Communicating became very difficult. During the course of his time there, we visited him less and less. It was a difficult place to bring oneself to go to. This is not something I am proud of, but it is the truth. To boot, my brother had young children of his own who would never know what it was like to have a normal family. As his life neared its’ end, my own family broke up through separation and divorce. Late one night in early 1997, I got a call from his wife saying that he had passed away from complications resulting from pneumonia. I had the sad duty of calling my mother to give her the news.
You would think after hearing my story, which is brief and leaves out a whole lot of facts that I do not wish to share, that I would be the first to jump on the bandwagon and take up the “Ice Bucket Challenge” which has swept like wild fire through the internet. But I will not. Throughout the years of my brother’s illness, there was never any help from any organization. The presiding charity at the time was Jerry Lewis’s organization MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association). At the time, ALS was seen as a minor province for them, but I now see the Ice Bucket challenge displayed boldly on their sight.
Disease charities have a long history. But in my view, none have done much to cure anything. The current CEO of MDA, Gerald C. Weinberg pulled down a reported 400K in salary. MDA raises in the vicinity of 175 million in donations a year. Why would an organization like this want to cure the disease they profess to represent? I am not accusing MDA of anything, and there are no reports that I can find, but I am not fully convinced, at least in the case of my family, of their merit.
This type of behavior is nothing new. It has been proven true of cancer where innovative and natural cures are proposed, and then squashed because it threatens the American Cancer Society. Pharmaceutical companies would fold if such an event were to occur. Their mission is to treat disease, not cure it. I have mentioned in the past that if illegal drugs were suddenly to become legal, it would have an impact on the Drug Enforcement Agency, the prison industrial complex and drug companies. It is in their best interest that this never happens.
I am not going to back up my argument with facts or references. There are plenty of stories around the internet that can verify my point of view and if you really wanted to, the reader is free to research them. This is my gut feeling. It may not be entirely rational I admit, but my experience supports a basic mistrust of large charities.
Maybe the reasoning behind my feelings comes from reading about how other things do not happen due to large corporate interest. A good example is the resistance to the legalization of hemp. If hemp growth (NOT Marijuana) were to be legalized, there are about 200 different corporate interests that would be impacted. Cotton, dairy, fuel, fiberglass, plastics, paper, construction and lumber are among the areas that would be threatened by the legalization of hemp. These areas represent corporate power houses who have lobbied for years against our better interests.
This is what I feel about disease charities. They play on our emotions. They make us feel that if we do this small thing, send in our $100 check, we will be doing so much to help find a cure for this most horrible disease. And yes the disease is most horrible. But more times than not, your check will never reach a laboratory or a scientist working on a cure. It will go to keeping the giant corporate structure that gets on television every year at Labor Day, parades a group of afflicted children around to stimulate your sympathies, and then funnels the cash to keep the glass giant alive.
So in my view and as someone who has actually had to bare the consequences of ALS, that the “Ice Bucket Challenge” is extremely naive.
Of course if you like to pour ice water over your head and video tape it for your friends, I say all power to you. But please do not nominate me or any of my family members. We have suffered enough at the hands of this disease and would like some real solutions.