Last weekend I attended the one-day TEDxWestCVancouverEd event at the spacious and always pleasant Kay Meek Theatre in, yes, West Vancouver. It was the second time that a TED licensed event with a focus on education took place on Vancouver’s north shore and some three hundred people of all ages turned out for this event. Compared to last year’s one hundred that probably was some advance evidence that it probably would be a worthwhile get together.
And it was. There were some twenty speakers who each took on education from their perspective, all interspersed with a few 4-minute power talks about the changed meaning of the word 'smart'. It would be beyond the scope of this review to highlight and review all speakers, but a few stood out for me. One of the school district’s own librarians, Arlene Anderson focused in on the changing culture of reading and how mobile devices and other trends have basically disrupted the art of reading in a negative sense. Arlene argued we have to find our way back to immersive and deep reading and she ended her talk with the much needed statement ‘print is an elegant medium’ which brought home the essence and importance of reading to all. Things got a bit more serious with the very personal account of Olympian Silken Laumann who encouraged all to bring in the ‘vulnerability-quotient’ in order to show a bit more of ourselves, weaknesses and all, so that we can learn more from each other. It reminded me of the well-known American venture capitalist Brad Feld who only a few years ago stunned the world with his open account of his struggles with depression.
The afternoon speakers that stood out were Judy Halbert and Kris Magnusson, both of whom focused on how we can help students overcome obstacles and Judy’s case specifically was, at least in my mind, one of the best. In her talk entitled 'Getting beyond No' she challenged the traditional ‘no’ many students get when they try and carve out their own learning route and that it is crucial that we listen to them when they indicate where their interest levels and learning routes are. The video of Clifton, the boy that was finally allowed to show the piano playing skills he had learned on his own from YouTube, was a fitting, uplifting and somewhat emotional moment to close the day.
As mentioned, the clever thing about the day was the four short chats about the term ‘smart’ and how it had evolved over the years. They acted as a central theme running through the day. Former lawyer and now actor Josh Blacker educated the audience on his struggles as an unhappy lawyer and how making hard and often financially challenging choices delivered him from the constraints that his original career driven education had put upon him. In one swoop Blacker tied together the separate pieces that most speakers had given us, namely that it is the individual student, no matter what age, who in the end sets the curriculum and its ultimate direction. Bringing this into practice is of course harder, but as the attendees strolled away in the early fall sun it was clear that there is no shortage of thought provoking ideas to help us propel in the right direction. Kay Meek has a capacity of five hundred and so there is a good chance the place will be sold out at next year's TEDxWestVancouver Ed.
Photo: organizer and West Van educator Craig Cantlie opens the day at the Kay Meek stage. Other organizers were Cari Wilson, Brooke Moore and Garth Thomson.