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Innovation in Education!

Coming back from dinner last night, I thought maybe the internet would be faster down in the hotel lobby. All I wanted to do was to keep myself awake for a few hours before the jet lag cotton-brain descended. There were two women sitting in the lobby. I asked if the internet was faster down here and they said yes, so I grabbed the computer and came back down.

As I came into the lobby, I saw a few others had joined them and I had a second or two of,  “Aw Darn…I was planning on some nice quiet computering…” But soon I was caught up in listening to them talking about their experiences working in hospitals and doing nursing training here.

At one point, the short-haired one, (turns out her name is Kerry–same name as the woman who invited me to come to Pokhara) was telling a story about shocking a group of urologists somehow, and they caught me frankly eavesdropping. So they began to tell me what Kerry Reid Searl does, what she has pioneered as a teaching technique. She calls it Mask-ED.

She dons a polyurethane costume—they are anatomically correct and full body—and is, like Mrs. Doubtfire, transformed into a totally different person. In fact, the guy in LA who created Mrs. Doubtfire did Kerry’s costumes. Each of her characters has a full history, a whole life, and has found himself or herself in the hospital.

The nursing students or the doctors at conventions come into the room to meet Cyril or Bob or one of the other characters. These are everyday folks, with fears about what’s happening to them, but fiercely protective of their own dignity. Some of them are “retired” people from the field, so when the nurses start to practice, they remind their caregivers about washing their hands or admonish them about speaking to their patients with attention and respect.

The story about the urologists at a convention was hilarious. Cyril wandered in with his pj’s and his “bits,” as Kerry put it, hanging out of his pj bottoms trailing a catheter. “Which one of you wankers did this to me?” he demanded. “Was it you?”—pointing out to one of the surprised surgeons. From there, Cyril proceeded to tell them all the stuff they’d left out of his pre-op briefing, all the problems he was going to face, the impact on his sex life.

The doctors started off essentially dismissing him—How did THIS guy get in here, who is he to stand up there and yammer on??? But after Cyril had their full attention and they were squirming in their chairs, Kerry pulled off the mask and revealed herself as the keynote speaker they THOUGHT they were going to hear.

Everything that involves training students to be present and human in their interactions with their patients and clients can be demonstrated more effectively with MaskEd, says Kerry. She uses the full-body masks to allow students to practice procedures that, before, were practiced with disembodied plastic body parts. Because the buttocks they are tending aren’t attached to a real human, they don’t really learn what it is to nurse full human beings until much later in their training, maybe too late for the folks who need that most—the elderly, the deeply fearful….

…And, I realized, the people with disabilities. What if special education teachers had practice teaching sessions with folks who looked, spoke and moved like the students they would be dealing with for the rest of their careers?

And my mind leaped directly to the other Kerry, Kerry Bissenger, the woman who so generously and spontaneously invited me to hop on the bus with her and a group of 19 students going to teach in the schools in Pokhara, a city 200 miles away from Kathmandu. Kerry B. has been working with thought leaders in the field of disability policy, and educational inclusion for some years.

Kerry B. would have the resources to incorporate Kerry R-S’s amazingly innovative work into the toolbox of special ed teacher training. I went directly upstairs and emailed her Kerry R-S’s Ted Talk video.

Mask-ED is a kind of improvisational theatre. As a professor of prospective nurses, Kerry Reid Searl knows what students often slide past, what procedures they can give short shrift to, what topics they NEED to memorize but are perhaps weak on. With her real-people characters, she can show the young nurses the consequences of losing touch with the very real human side of nursing, of too hasty hand-washing, of poor communication. With the mask on, the professor disappears and the future patient appears—to admonish, to flirt, to show his fears and embarrassment.

Then, Kerry R-S unmasks and uses the experience her students have had with Cyril or one of the other characters to emphasize the lessons, to talk about what just happened and what could be better or different.

This is role-playing taken to the max. It’s like Candid Camera in the classroom, except that the students KNOW that Cyril is being played by their professor. It’s just that Cyril is so real, they can suspend their disbelief. That, finally, is what theater is about—convincing the audience to suspend their disbelief. Traditional actors find it difficult to play Kerry’s characters because they have been trained to project OUT, across the proscenium arch and into the back row of the balcony. Traditional role-play keeps all the baggage that comes with practicing on one’s friends or professors. Cyril replaces the history and emotional environment of one’s teachers or friends or fellow students with Cyril’s own history, his own context, his backstory.

Of course, these masks are not cheap. And getting the proper training in their use would also require an investment. But the implications for disability work are far-reaching. This is one of those—“The World Needs To Know About This” moments.

Ain’t travel just grand?


Audio: Smog and Wild Driving

I am taking some audio clips as I travel. What I learned last time is that, though I name each clip in my iPhone, these labels do not carry over when I download them to the computer. Boo-hiss!

So I’m transcribing them daily and will share them here:

On the bus: “The pollution is beginning to clear. The sun is out. Maybe we will actually be able to see the world without the gray of the smog that covers Kathmandu these days.”

I sat in the front seat of the bus and so could experience once again the feeling of utter chaos on the roads. The idea, as far as I can tell, is that one has to overtake and pass everybody going slower than you are, and it doesn’t really matter whether there is a turn coming up, or, many times, someone actually coming at you from the opposite direction. The impression is one of urgent hurrying, but when Kerry suggested that, I said I wasn’t sure. “Maybe it’s just ‘driving.’”

What amazed me about it was how closely cut are the distances between vehicles coming and going. We routinely missed the other cars by inches. Motorcycles often passed between two cars going in opposite directions with just two or three inches on each side. It felt like a different concept of Space. As if the margins we consider “safety margins” of distances, because we believe and it does seem true, that we can’t accurately judge how far away the other vehicle is—is just another refutable belief. The oncoming motorcyclists didn’t even flinch when we came roaring at them seemingly head-on, only to miss them by swerving at the last millisecond.

There are no white lines that have to be respected. They are more suggestions than rules.

Now I’m sleepy and so I need to move—do some laundry and hang it out to dry. Then see if my buddy from the airplane has arrived and wants to meet for what I’ve heard is the best lemon meringue pie in Nepal.

Road Talk

When you are on the road, it’s often the people you encounter and the kinds of conversations that make the trip.

Yesterday, we were getting ready to board the bus for the 7-hour trip to Pokhara. The trip’s local organizer had provided four bicycle rickshaws to transport the students’ considerable luggage from the hotel to the bus.

Teddy, one of the two boys in the Aussie group, struck me right away because he looked up in his phrase book, “May I?” and then went to the rickshaw driver who would be pulling the luggage to the bus and asked him, in Nepali, if he could drive the rickshaw. And then proceeded to pedal the rickshaw.

[I have a video of this, but the internet is so slow, I will probably have to wait to get back to Bhaktapur before I can upload it.]

Not sure how we got into the subject of the 60s and 70s. Maybe because he was saying that he doesn’t like just to be a tourist, that’s why he drove the rickshaw. And I said, “In my day, we called it the difference between being a tourist and a traveler.” And then he asked me to explain why his father—of my generation, I presume—would quit college and just go traveling.

The first thing I said was that we believed that you could learn more about life by living it than you could learn from books. And that travel was seen as one of the best ways to learn about life.

From there the discussion went to American politics, greed, how the Republicans were changing the voting system, and then how he felt a bit apprehensive about how this experience, teaching for 5 weeks in a Nepalese school, living with a family in the Tibetan Refugee Center, would change him. So I talked about how he would understand something much deeper about relationships after his Nepal experience. The way people do relationships here and in many other parts of the world is just different. Our more individualistic outlook on life shapes our connections to people. Here, their less individualistic view shapes their relationships. When we spend time in a place like this, we gradually begin to understand this difference, this subtle and yet quite profound alternate universe of networks and connections.

I also told Teddy that he would not be able to actually articulate what he’d learned in any meaningful way. In fact, nobody would be particularly interested in what he’d learned about himself and life. This is one of the most difficult lessons, I think. Travel, really good, close-to-the-ground travel, profoundly changes us. But we are almost completely inarticulate about what and how and why. When we get together with other travelers, we don’t need to talk about it, because we all know what happened and what it means. When we get together with our very good friends back home, we just can’t seem to get what has happened to us across.

Afterward he said, “Thank you for giving me some food for thought.”

I said, “Road talk. This is what this is…”