Street Smart Chicago

Hawaiian Punch: Lanialoha Lee Puts Aloha into Chicago’s Ukulele Scene

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DSC_0282By Zach Freeman

It’s a typical early November fall-leaning-toward-winter day in Chicago; most of the trees have shed their leaves, the wind is blowing and pedestrians are pulling their jackets tightly around themselves and dreading the upcoming cold. But inside a small, brightly painted studio space in the Old Town School of Folk Music’s East Building in Lincoln Square, a group of fifteen students are circled around an exuberant instructor, carefully strumming and plucking the strings of miniature guitars as if the weather report were seventy-five and sunny with a slight chance of rain.

The instruments are `ukuleles (which you should absolutely never refer to as miniature guitars) and the instructor is Lanialoha Lee (Lani to her students), a buoyant Hawaiian woman who laughs loudly, easily and often and takes both her Pacific Island and Midwestern roots seriously. She’s been playing the `ukulele (among other instruments) for decades and teaching at Old Town for sixteen years now, slowly expanding her repertoire from a single `ukulele class in the fall of 1996 to almost a dozen Polynesian-centered offerings this fall, including a range of hula and `ukulele classes at different skill levels. The class I’m visiting tonight is beginner-level `Ukulele 1 and this is their first lesson (which is why most of the strumming doesn’t sound exactly melodic). Read the rest of this entry »

Fish Out of Water: Learning to Swim Among the Writers

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By Cathy Beres

It was with some trepidation that I enrolled in the two-year certificate writing program at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Studies. I was fifty-seven, widowed two years; with zero writing experience. I kept a blog during my husband’s twenty-two month battle with inoperable stage IV brain cancer and thought this was enough to support an application to a writing program. What possessed me? Ever the pleaser, the planner, the sometime over-achiever and often-time dreamer, a program held such appeal; weekly classes filled with heady discussions of literary works from the masters, in-class exercises, homework, workshops, critiques and annotations (“Excuse me, what’s an annotation?” I asked during the first evening’s class. I thought the question perfectly acceptable coming from someone who graduated with a BA in Advertising some thirty-three years prior.) I was enthralled with the idea of the final project, the graduation requirement and culmination of the program. An opportunity to work with an esteemed faculty member on a one-hundred-page project of our choosing. I signed on to write the story of my husband’s illness and death. I wanted to tie up the bits and pieces of the blog in a neat package with a bow. Maybe I could throw the grieving in with this package too. And yes, I also wanted something to do to fill the empty evenings that stretched before me with no end in sight since my husband’s death. Read the rest of this entry »

A Hopeful Inquiry: Teaching Sophocles in the Community College

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By Alli Carlisle

I laughed out loud when I walked into my first college classroom as a teacher. I couldn’t process the disjuncture—three months earlier, I’d been sitting in the back of the room, terrified of public speaking, and now I was at the front. And not only that, but these people expected me to have something worth saying, worth being paid to say (well, worth barely being paid to say).

So when I walked into the classroom that first day, everything—the doubt, the insecurity, the idea that I was supposed to talk to thirty people at a time—rushed up like pressurized lava out of a subterranean vein, and bubbled into the air in the form of giggles. Yeah, I was pretty sure they were going to respect me.

That first day, I passed out little pieces of paper printed with excerpts from the radical Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”:

…in the last analysis, it is men themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system… Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Untangling the Web: Learning to Speak Geek

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By David Wicik

As a millennial and the holder of an upper-five-figure student-loan debt, unemployment is no casual matter.  Coming out of school during what has widely been touted as the worst economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression, competition for the kind of career-track positions that the college-grad has been taught to expect is fierce.

So what is a young, would-be urban professional to do if they ever want to move out of their parent’s house?  As a man once said, if you can’t beat them, join them; and right now, they are all online. Web design and web development are not just the growth areas of the last decade, but also major growth areas for the foreseeable future.

Opportunities abound for the technologically literate as mobile computing and social media continue to integrate into the everyday experience of the American consumer. Whether it’s a tech startup, or a local business looking to foster a relationship with its market, a capability to work with the programming languages that underwrite online interchanges makes an individual more attractive to a broad array of potential employers.

I contacted Abby Hunt, head of public relations at GrubHub to get some more information about how a novice could best go about acquiring these skills and what specific areas of expertise the tech sector is seeking. Read the rest of this entry »

An Infection with Art: Reflecting on the German Way

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Beate Geissler is a German-born artist and educator. She joined the faculty of UIC’s School of Art and Design in 2008, and is currently assistant professor of photography. In Karlsruhe, Germany, she taught at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung, a school founded in 1989 on the premise of integrating the Bauhaus method with emerging technologies of computer and network industries. Geissler has taught studio art practices at the graduate level in both her native Germany and in the U.S. Below are excerpts from an email interview in which she reflects on the difference between art education in the U.S. and in Germany. Both countries have notably complex traditions of art education and dynamic contemporary art markets. (Jason Foumberg)

Higher education in Germany, besides a rather small tuition fee, is basically free, and most of the universities are public institutions supported by the government. There are only a few private institutions. This theoretically supports the idea of an equal education standard and quality level across universities and academies. But with an increasing demand for global education standards this system becomes more and more difficult to maintain and finance. I think it is possible to say that German students take a lower risk, which creates less pressure, and American students take a higher risk. The stakes are in general higher here, which in turn creates a lot of pressure on the part of the students and on the part of the privately funded institution. The reputation of an American university can provide an easy start on the job marketplace in the US, but the education itself appears to be more geared toward formulaic content, which in the arts can be counterproductive. On a master level, American universities seem to provide very good research environments because of their proximity to the industry, but this also dominates research goals, which seem to be more detached from their industrial applicability in Europe and therefore provide greater freedom. Read the rest of this entry »

A Ball of Baby Snakes: A Victorian Love Story

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The coiling byzantine “arc” of my collegiate career is often thought of, by me, as something not unlike a ball of writhing baby snakes slowly finding their way out of the heat and discomfort of the nest and into the space of the open world. It began when false promises of an athletic variety delivered me to a tiny, haunted Catholic campus on Philadelphia’s Main Line, an alien amongst astronauts (the school ran thick with admittedly gorgeous girls who, when freed from the monotony of their fantasy-fueling Catholic school-girl uniforms, would overcorrect and swaddle themselves in sweatpants, thighs once exposed between pleated skirts and bobby socks now covered by comfortable heather gray and emblazoned vertical brands demarcating where they came from, Prendie, Ursuline, Sacred Heart, that they would tuck in to any manner of expensive Ugg boots—that is the astronaut part—which were adored above near all other possessions for their ability to provide individual statement to the aforementioned uniforms; (North Face fleece tops, hair wraps, designer sunglasses and Burberry scarves often completed the uniform) and buried in the demands of an exercise science degree, most notably the dreaded A&P, which required that one not only learn both anatomy and physiology and participate in a lab, but was a two-semester course so that, upon completing one half of it, one went home for the holidays with the chilling notion that, stacked like textbooks in black garbage bags, preserved cats, chest cavities gaping like pink, fleshy clutches, awaited you. Read the rest of this entry »

Walking the Atomic Dog: Realizing the Power of Youth Work

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beacons first muralA few years ago I needed a job but was sick of waitressing. An acquaintance, Hayley, suggested I work for her at her afterschool program, Beacons. We were sitting in the back patio of a bar where our friends DJed, drinking beers. Though I repeatedly vocalized my self-doubt about being responsible for an entire herd of children, she insisted I’d be fine.

It wasn’t until my interview that I began to think maybe I’d actually make a decent youth worker. Hayley and I discussed how we’d both gone to afterschool programs growing up. All at once, visions of past counselors resurfaced with sweet memory.

There was Steve, the lanky long-haired goofball, who talked like Scooby-Doo whenever he saw tears. He and another counselor, Paul, were in a funk band called Elmer Funk. Read the rest of this entry »

Toward a More Stable Life? Learning Some Horse Sense

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horseIn the words of a t-shirt I once owned, “Life without horses? I don’t think so.” For a few girls I know, horseback riding is an urban luxury. With all the unbelievably cultured classes and workshops Chicago has to offer, sometimes the one that takes your interest most is slightly out of reach. Luckily, the suburban stables are just a short Metra ride away.

Local writer Robyn Pennacchia and friend Melissa Fisher are frequent riders who commute the brief distance from the city to the country in search of satisfying their itch. After going to Memory Lane in Willow Springs for the first time this year, both enthusiasts agree it’s one of the best stables the suburbs have to offer. Read the rest of this entry »

Stranger Than Fiction: What’s Going on at Columbia College?

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Photo: Marla Seidell

By Marla Seidell

Friday afternoon, I arrive at a Columbia College Chicago building on South Michigan Avenue to talk with Fiction Writing Department Chair Dr. Randall Albers. Dressed elegantly in jeans and a French blue shirt with black stripes covered with a brown corduroy blazer, Albers’ height and distinguished presence make him slightly intimidating. Yet he smiles and greets me warmly, ushering me into his spacious office with a killer twelfth-floor view of the lake, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Read the rest of this entry »

Experienced Learning: Overcoming the Obstacles to a Midlife Career Change

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"The Schoolmaster," Adriaen van Ostade

By Jack Helbig

Everyone agrees that teachers are central to the learning experience. And everyone—teachers, administrators, union officials, school-board members and state legislators—will agree that we should have the best teachers available for our children. But the reality is that the system currently in place to prepare, and more importantly, to credential teachers is gamed against older students.

If you are a returning student, someone with some knowledge and experience in the world—experience that might be important in the classroom—there are institutional roadblocks in place that make it almost impossible to get a teaching certificate.

Ten years ago, I returned to school at forty-three years old to become a teacher. I succeeded, and have been teaching since the fall of 2005. I am not writing this to settle scores, or to whine, “They didn’t let me in.” They did let me in. And I love teaching. Read the rest of this entry »