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My Memories of Dean Brown - by Ted Kahn
picker of buttercups
And the big bullying daisies
through the field wonderful
with eyes a little sorry
also picking flowers"
n e.e. cummings
Dean was my teacher, my first real mentor, my friend and a friend of my whole family, a fellow student of Torah and Kabbalah,, my colleague and business partner, and a member of our extended family. In addition to all the different forms of involvement he had with me for many, many years, he also introduced both my wife, Frona, and my mother, Zelma Kahn, to Transcendental Meditation-a gift of timeless, infinite value.
It is said that when a student is ready, a teacher will appear. I first met Dean when he was directing SRI's first Education and Technology Lab in 1971. I had just helped start the Math and Computer Education Project at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, and a woman I only met once, named Ruth Miller, happened to be visiting the Lawrence Hall one day-and she gave me a copy of an SRI report about a pilot experiment in the use of computers for education and learning in the affective domain, which was co-authored by Dean (Ann McCormick mentions this same project as having influenced her work, as well). I still have this paper to this day, as well as many others that Dean wrote from his work at SRI from 1967-1974)-and so began a learning journey (Dean called this a"wanderjhare") that lasted nearly 18 years and for me, covered three continents.
In those days, there were no answering machines or voice mail. I had just entered graduate school in psychology at UC Berkeley and I remember that when I read Dean's paper, it didn't feel like any of the other typical research papers or articles I had seen about computers, education, psychology or learning; there was something that called to a deeper part of myself at a time when some pioneers (such as psychologists, Abraham Maslow, Bob Kantor, and Carl Rogers, all of whom Dean knew well) were calling for a more holistic and higher level of human functioning and aspirations-e.g., education for self-actualization.
I called SRI and miraculously connected with Dean the first time I called-and thus began a series of meetings and discussions that were to introduce me to whole areas of thought, philosophy, and people whom I had never heard of or read (funny how I had accidentally found myself in education and didn't know who Maria Montessori or John Dewey were at first-but then, remember, these were still the days on behaviorism, dominated by B.F. Skinner, Patrick Suppes and Computer-Assisted Instruction, etc.).
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour"
--William Blake, Auguries of Innocence
My first conversation with Dean had a quality of relaxed focus and intimacy I had almost never experienced-I remember walking out of his office at SRI feeling like someone had just talked with me as if I were the most important person around?and I discovered this was one of Dean's gifts, that he could make people feel recognized, that their thoughts and ideas were important and worth discussing with you, often reflecting them back to you in ways you had never considered, like small gems or gleaming seashells.
Over the next two years, I visited Dean at SRI frequently. He introduced me to Eastern modes of thought, including the three gunas (rajas, tamas, and saatwa), as well as teaching stories from Idries Shah and others (e.g., "Wisdom of the Idiots") which reminded me of stories from the Chassidim from my own Jewish tradition. One visit to Dean from that period stands out in my memory: SRI was experimenting with the use of new eye-tracking technology to try to understand what was really going on in people's minds when they looked at different visual stimuli and pictures. Dean turned this technology around into a means of creative expression: Focusing on a blank piece of paper and while hooked up to the eye-tracker, he imagined (visualized) a peaceful scene at Echo Lake-and the eye tracker proceeded to draw a picture from the traces of his eye gazes. A recognizable picture, drawn straight from Dean's mind onto a blank cavas, through the use of technology. To this day, I tell this story to everyone because it never ceased to amaze me-and it reflects how deeply Dean understood the potential of technology as a means of human creative expression from the earliest days.
I lived in Israel from 1973-75 and there, rediscovered a deep personal connection to my own Judaic tradition, while also becoming fluent in Hebrew. This was to become an important bond between Dean and me, as well as for many others, years later.
After I completed by PhD work at Xerox PARC, I worked as a consultant for Atari, where one of my proudest accomplishments was to create a commercial product based on the PILOT authoring language-the same language Dean had implemented at SRI as the basis for so many of the interactive teaching and learning programs he and others created. We had used PILOT at the Lawrence Hall with both teachers and kids, and I remember how happy Dean was that (thanks to my brother, Bob, me and others) this became one of Atari's first educational products. At the same time, I married Frona and she became (thanks to Ann McCormick) one of the co-founders of The Learning Company. In 1981, founded the Atari Institute for Educational Action Research and Dean was one of the most important members of our national advisory board, which also included the late Heinz von Foerster, Herb Kohl, Sam Gibbon (from Children's Television Workshop), Karl Zinn, (University of Michigan) Sandy Wagner (a co-founder of Computer Using Educators), Paul Trachtman (Smithsonian), Tim Gallwey ("The Inner Game"), Roger Faxon (Lucasfilm), Marian Wright-Edelman (Children's Defense Fund), as well as Hugh Downs and, believe or not, Judy Collins (to whom Dean and I introduced the wonders of interactive videodiscs). Together with my friends and colleagues from Atari, inclujding Steve Mayer, my brother Bob, Kristina (Hooper) Woolsey, Alan Kay, and Peter Rosenthal, the Atari Institute years from 1981-83, especially our advisory board meetings, were very among the most creative, energizing, and intellectually stimulating times of my early professional career. Through Dean's contacts, I met some of the most wonderful people and projects we supported together-and we had many meetings with Frona, Ann and others from The Learning Company, as well.
"A blinding spark flashed
within the concealed of the concealed,
from the mystery of the Infinite,
a cluster of vapour in formlessness?
Under the impact of breaking through,
one high and hidden point shone.
Beyond that point, nothing is known.
So it is called Beginning."
n Zohar (translated by Daniel Matt)
"'God' is a name we give to the oneness of it all."
Daniel C. Matt, God and the Big Bang
But what stands out most from that period was that Dean introduced me to Kabbalah, the mystical and spiritual dimension of Judaism which I had never known. Kabbalah is based on a "cosmic" tree of life/tree of knowledge with 10 dimensions of creation, known as sephirot, and this became an ongoing learning and teaching part of our work together for the next 7 years. Using this as the basis, Dean began to re-study Hebrew, with me, my friend, Rabbi David White, and it later became ongoing evening learning sessions in which we dug deeply into the Hebrew from the Torah and other Judaic literature, but this time, with an intent to really understand the Hebrew roots of the words and get down to deeper underlying meanings. This was a game Dean called "Notion and Diction," which was part of all of his learning and interactions. On airplane trips, he used to carry a set of index cards that had individual Hebrew words or phrases, and we would talk about their connections-and the links to Kabbalah. This gift of Kabbalah, which I had never had from my own rabbis or Jewish teachers, was one that has been a major influence in my life ever since.
I left Atari and joined Dean, "JJ," Wendy and Doug (Crane) at Picodyne in 1983 (as well as Jean Millay, and later, Marvin Zauderer and Ann McCormick), and our work together for the next five years was a unique experience in working with a small company. In addition to all the visionary ideas we discussed, we produced real products and systems that were at least 5-10 years ahead of their time-from interactive hypermedia training systems for Syntex pharmaceutical sales reps, to some of the first educational software for the National Geographic Society?and even a game called "Integration" (with Jean Millay's help) based on using one's own GSR responses as the basis of game moves for a game based on ancient teachings. (More than 13 years later, I visited IBM's Almaden Research Center where a young post-doc was proudly showing me what they called the emoto-mouse, a mouse hooked into one's GSR responses for which they were so proud of this innovation-I had to chuckle because I still had the game in my garage which ran on an IBM PC in 1987). We also developed an "associative browser" for multimedia databases that was at least 10 years ahead of its time, since the Internet and Web didn't even exist in their form today at that time-as well as one of the first applications of CD-based audio, which led to the formation of DynEd (Doug and Lance Knowles' company, which still flourishes to this day).
Our older son, Yoni, was born in 1986 when I was still at Picodyne-and this became a key part of our work together, since now, Frona and I had our own child to be able to really personally understand the legacy of the work we had all done together in computers and learning?and this legacy was carried forward later to our other son, Aaron, as well. Music was also a major part of our shared interest and life then-CD audio was just coming into the market, and Dean had one of the first CD players, which sounded heavenly with the music we all listened to together.
There are so many other memories and stories I want to tell-and was hoping to bring together a 10th anniversary reunion of the Atari Institute group this past year-sadly now, two of our most valued advisors and friends have passed on, but I will do this in any case in their memory.
After the study of Torah, there is a special version of the Kaddish is said that praises G_d and prays especially for teachers and their students. This Kaddish is a variation of the same Jewish prayer said at several times during the day, and especially in memory of members of one's immediate family or close relatives/friends who have died. Following (a translation of the Aramaic) of the special section of the Kaddish De-Rabbanan (Rabbanan has the same word root as "rabbi" = "our teachers"):
"Heavenly Father, grant lasting peace to our people and their leaders, to our teachers and their disciples (students), to all who engage in the study of Torah in this land and in all other lands. Let there be grace and kindness, compassion and love for them and for us all. Grant us the fullness of life, and sustenance. Save us from all danger and distress. And let us say: "Amen." ("May it be so.").
Ted M. Kahn, Ph.D.
President & CEO
DesignWorlds for Learning, Inc. and
Principal, CapitalWorks, LLC
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