#89. Find and read from cover to cover a magazine or newspaper whose content is about a cultural, religious, or gender group that is not your own

IDEA #89. Go to a library or bookstore and find and then read from cover to cover a magazine or newspaper whose content is about a cultural, religious, or gender group that is not your own: The Advocate, Essence, Savoy, Ebony, Latina, aMagazine, or a local or regional paper or magazine devoted to the Jewish or Roman Catholic religious community. If you are a member of a cultural or ethnic minority, you might look at “mainstream” publications like Time or The Atlantic or even Outside or National Geographic. How does the publication that represents or focuses on a culture different your own seem different from and the same as—content, layout, advertisements—magazines or newspapers that you normally encounter?

Like viewing films or television broadcasts from other cultures, looking at magazines with a specific ethnic, cultural, or spiritual focus opens, for many of us, a window into a hitherto little-known world. Along with explorations of the aesthetics at work in these publications—their graphics, their layout, the nature of the images displayed in both editorial and advertising copy—there is also an opportunity for thoughtful content analysis. What issues are being addressed? What editorial stance can be discerned? How are the topics of articles like or unlike articles in publications that one might commonly read that represent that majority culture or that would be readily associated with one’s own culture?

In addition, some analysis of the advertising content would be interesting. What “mainstream” products are being advertised, and how are the ads for these products like or unlike products in mainstream publications? What products seem to be unique to or directly connected with the culture or group at whom the magazine is aimed? How are these products advertised?

As we live in a society in which the dominant, white, European culture makes up a shrinking majority of our population, reading about and understanding the concerns of other groups as these are represented in their own media can be a powerful tool for building cross-cultural understanding. It can also be reassuring to know that the same brands of automobiles one drives or cottage cheese one eats are equally a part of the experience and aspirations of other Americans whose “differences” are often more emphasized in society than the characteristics we all share.

The possibility exists here that the young reader may encounter editorial opinions or content that will surprise or even unsettle. We would hope very much that this activity would be undertaken entirely in the spirit of empathy and open-minded curiosity, but it is true that historically marginalized or oppressed groups may express positions in their publications that may be hard for complacent or untutored readers to digest or appreciate. The reader and his or her adult guides must be ready to discuss what the reader encounters and to work hard to understand and make sense of unfamiliar or unsettling points of view. This, after all, is the point of the exercise: to build the child’s capacity to recognize, understand, and respect other viewpoints, even if they conflict with his or her strongly held beliefs or unexamined positions. But history demonstrates that nothing kills real thought and the prospects of a truly democratic society more effectively than allowing the survival of unquestioning intolerance.

#77. Shoot a series of photographs with the goal of capturing one wildly beautiful image of something (or someone).

IDEA #77. Shoot a series of digital photographs (or a roll of film) with the goal of capturing one wildly beautiful image of something (or someone).

Any camera, from a cellphone digital to a single-use disposable camera (although the combination of initial cost and film-processing fees can run up a significant tab) can be used to take award-winning photographs. If the youngster has little experience in the visual arts, the first step might be for him or her to simply become accustomed to looking at the world through the viewfinder, not snapping pictures but getting used to the idea of the visual world broken into smaller units, framed.SMO Library view

Another first step might be to look at great photographs. Any issue of the National Geographic magazine is a miniature museum of photographic excellence, and many art galleries display photographs. The public library should have photography magazines as well as books of photographic art. Simply looking at beautiful photographs is a wonderful way to begin to understand the potential of the medium to do more than record snapshots of friends and relations.

Landscapes, candid, portraits, close-ups—all kinds of subject matter lends itself to beautiful, even moving photography. The child may want to ration the images he or she creates (especially if a film camera is involved), or perhaps the exercise of taking a series of photographs of a single subject would be worthwhile. A photodocumentary, although not quite fulfilling the notion of a single beautiful image, could also be a great project—a series of photographs or friends at play or of a neighborhood activity, or a family portrait gallery showing relatives at work.

If the child has access to a digital camera, the ability to capture a huge multiplicity of images can be used to help the child develop an “eye” through self-critique. Which images “work,” and which do not? What are the elements of a great photograph?

When in the end the beautiful photograph has been made, the final and perhaps most satisfying project will be to decide where and how it will be displayed, or to whom it might be given. (And do not forget that there are any number of photographic competitions in which to enter the image. Some are even for young photographers only.

#59. Plan and then take an imaginary tour around the world

IDEA #59. Plan and then take an imaginary tour around the world. Discover or imagine places you would like to visit, and then, using the internet or resources found in a library or perhaps at a travel agency, plan out the details of a trip that would take you there. Make a detailed itinerary and a record of the things you want to “see;” you could even make a budget that included travel, lodging, and food.

A virtual or fantasy trip can liberate the young spirit to imagine what it might be like to be somewhere else as well as encouraging speculation along the lines of “The ten places I would like most to visit are … because ….” It doesn’t matter what the draw of each destination might be—historical, cultural, culinary, sheer curiosity—what matters is that the child has picked it out.

Many schools assign students to plan a trip of this sort and combine it with mathematical and geographical instruction by giving students a budget and by requiring the development of a detailed itinerary and estimate of expenses. This might be a bit more than most children would see as fun, but the idea of adding to the child’s level of reflection and engagement by suggesting that the young traveler keep a journal or even illustrate and write (to him or herself or to a friend) seems within reason. Some time with a pile of National Geographic magazines might be a good source of ideas for this virtual adventure.

Although travel agencies are undergoing a transition in the age of on-line reservation systems, their offices are still good places to find brochures and posters to excite the traveler. Travel offices may also have the Official Airline Guide, which contains schedules for most airlines across the world. (Of course, most of this information is available freely on the Internet.) A friendly agent might even be a good resource in setting up a globe-trotting itinerary.

And who knows but what a particularly well-designed trip plan might become inspiration for later travel, like a circumnavigating gap year between high school and college; such odysseys are the norm among university-bound students in many European countries, and many colleges smile on and even encourage gap year travel or service.

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