Saturday, March 8, 2008

TED Prize - Part 2

The second prize winner, Karen Armstrong, told us of her own path in life. A nun for many years, she left the convent to study English literature. She was drawn back to religion after a visit to Jerusalem which awakened her interest in all the monotheistic Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Her view is that religions should focus on behaviour rather than belief. She points out that the Golden Rule is part of many if not most religions, even though the belief systems differ. She fretted that many religious people were more interested in being right than being compassionate. Her TED wish was to create a Charter of Compassion which could be endorsed by many different religious leaders, to focus people on what was common between religions rather than what was different.

Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, spoke about his commitment to provide one-on-one writing and tutoring for young people. Starting at 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco, he created an unusual place with a small publishing company in the back, and tutoring space for kids. After discovering that the area was zoned retail, he satisfied the zoning regulations by creating a Pirate Supply Store at the store front. He recruited a huge corps of volunteer tutors, with the goal of providing every kid with one-to-one attention. He was able to attract armies of volunteer tutors by being flexible about the number of hours and scheduling of the tutoring. Besides helping kids with basic skills, many from homes where the first language isn’t English, they have uncovered some tremendous writing talent and Eggers believes that writing is a powerful learning and motivation tool. The publishing company has published collections of their work, and seeing their work in print has been very inspirational.
The movement has spread to many cities, all of which have the one-on-one tutoring, and the quirky storefront retail space. His TED wish was for the formula to be extended to more cities, to get more tutors involved, and to reach more kids.

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