Monday, June 27, 2011

Getting Centered

 Last week, while puttering around in my kitchen, I had the PBS evening news show, NewsHour,  playing. A story came on that caused me to pause and pay attention. It was about a ninth grade English teacher in New York City who created a five week learning experience for her students so they would better understand the plight of the world's refugees.  The teacher, Lauren Fardig, used a curriculum designed by the Morningside Center, an education nonprofit, and began her course just as waves of protests were spreading across the Arab world.

Lauren's students lived in a poor community, burdened by all the social problems of the inner city, and their basic knowledge of the Middle East and other parts of the world was pretty limited.  The students began with some basic research to gain an appreciation that there are over eight million refugees in the world, moved on to some exercises to help them gain an understanding of what it is like to be a refugees and finally learned about some specific refugee families, complete with photos. By the end of the five weeks, students had gained a deeper appreciation of life.

What caught my attention was one of their exercises. They were told to imagine that they were woken up at 2 am and told by their parents that they had to leave in five minutes and to pack up. They could take 10 things and to make a list of what those things might be. Items like IPods, laptops, luggage full of clothes, sneakers, game systems, and  phones showed up on the list.

In an interview with PBS, Lauren explained that then they told, "You guys are trying to drive to a place where it's going to be safe. All of a sudden, the car breaks down. There's other things that you have to carry as well. So, they [your parents] brought some water. They brought some bedding for you guys, some food, things like that." And the children were asked to get rid of five of the things on their list of 10 so that they could help their family carry some of the other things that are really necessary. It started a process of prioritizing for the children about what was really important. Things like brother, sister, Mom started showing up on their lists of five.

I actually had to get out of a vacation condo once, years ago, in the middle of the night, due to a fire. After, I realized, that I had left behind a draft of a book I had been working on. It was irreplaceable and fortunately wasn't damaged by the fire, but I remember being fascinated back then that it never entered my mind to grab it as I was leaving. It wasn't important in a moment of crisis.

Often, because of that experience, I imagine what I might grab from my home if I had to suddenly vacate. Or, if a room or closet is starting to get cluttered, I wonder how important the stuff really is.

I think I will add this refugee exercise to my mental games when I am getting clear on priorities, or feeling a bit lost and need a kick in the pants to remember just how fortunate I am in life!


  1. Judy,

    Sounds like some great food for thought. Good to know that someone out there is trying to teach kids important life lessons.


  2. Such a wonderful story...truly an exercise in clearing out the clutter. Thanks for sharing this, Judy!

  3. Great story! It really does put things into perspective.

  4. Hey Judy, This is Lauren, the teacher in the PBS segment you mentioned. First of all, I wanted to thank you for watching the segment and thinking about how it could apply to you, and secondly, thanks for your compliments about the work I do in my classroom. It's amazing how we all get our priorities straight once we're in a crisis zone, but why can't those priorities be other human beings, loved ones, our passions in life all of the time? Why does it take destruction to get us to realize what life is all about? This is what I constantly ask myself, and try to get the kids to ask. Tomorrow is never promised, so I ask them to try to seize this moment to make their voice heard. I appreciate your support so much. Blessings!