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The Nerd Walk
Thursday, January 27, 2005

informal learning

This email arrived last week:

Walkers and Talkers,

We're multitasking once again, exchanging ideas while expending calories up the stairways and paths of the Berkeley hills for an hour-and-a-half walk. Meet at 10 a.m. this Saturday, at Peet's, corner of Vine and Walnut Streets, in Berkeley, just around the corner from Black Oak Books. I'll provide maps but if you're anxious, feel free to bring your favorite GPS device. All pace levels welcome.

Vine & Walnut is where Alfred Peet taught America that there's more to coffee than Maxwell House and Folger's. The folks who founded Starbucks apprenticed here. Peet's is fifteen minutes down the hill from my house. Saturday at 10:05, Sylvia, Lucy, Kristan, Ann, Ann's sister's frisky dog Rusty, and I set off up the hillside.


Ten minutes into the walk, we paused in front of a house with painted windows. A fellow out front asked if we had any questions. I asked, "Isn't this the former home of Alexander Calder's sister?"

"Yes," he repled, "Margaret (Peggy) Calder Hayes lived here. Would you like to look inside?"

Light fixture in the living room, mobile in the kitchen

Peggy Hayes was born in Paris in 1896 and died in Berkeley in 1988. She was instrumental in the development of the UC Berkeley Art Museum and conducted art classes for children in her home for some 18 years. Nearly 30 years ago, then in her eighties, Peggy wrote
Three Alexander Calders, a reflection upon life with brother Sandy, her father, Alexander Sterling Calder and mother Nanette Lederer Calder (a talented artist in her own right) and her grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder.


Walking on up the hill, Kristan told me she counsels children having a hard time coping with school. Schools think learning happens from the outside in; true learning comes from within the learner. Eastern philosophy is more open and forgiving in this: you are who you are; you do what you do. Skip the value judgments and tests; you live with what you are given. If a child is anxious, you don't deny it. Rather, you cope or go around it. Take a teddy bear with you if you need support. Or pretend you have a magic hat which empowers you to do what you have to do.

School administrators act as if 99% of their students are mischievous and unruly -- and treat them as such. In reality, it's the other way around. Most kids are innately good. They live up (or down) to expectations. Many corporate leaders look at their employees the same way. Absent monitoring and control, the bosses fear quality would drop through the floor and competitors would eat our lunch. This is one reason why people are such innovative, productive, can-do individuals except for when they are at work. Of course, these negative attitudes provide a rationale for the jobs of school administrators and pointy-haired bosses.

A nerd walk is a play within a play. Sylvia emails people when she feels like getting a group together. Unlike hikes, talking is an integral part of a nerd walk. Professionally, Sylvia promotes authors and causes at the nexus of technology and culture (hence the nerd part). Sylvia's walks are a great way to learn about the unexpected (Calder), to bounce ideas off other people in conversation, or to share local stories.


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