Category Wonder

“Why do we need to know this?” [Connecting the classroom to the real world]

This past week the rethinkED team participated in a day-long think tank on how to re-invent the American High School, in an effort to develop a proposal for the XQ Super School Project. While I am excited to share some of the ideas we had, today I thought I’d start by thinking about one really powerful idea that kept me thinking long after our session ended:

“Why do we need to know this?”

^ This question is one that often pops up in the classroom. Quite frankly, students often do not see a connection between the abstract and tedious work done in classroom and their lives outside of school, both future and present. This lack of connection is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. Without this vital connection, we often encounter the “inert knowledge” problem; students learn something but they don’t know how to use it. This relates more broadly to issues of transfer: how can we help students to use something they have learned in one context, at one time, or on one type of task in a different context, time, or on a different task? I am currently taking a course about Transfer of Learning. While transfer is arguably a main goal of education, research has generally found weak support for transfer. Students often do not learn content in ways that facilitate applying knowledge later in life or in different situations (I hope to talk about this more in upcoming weeks!).
  2. A second issue is the lack of value assigned to content learned in school. Without understanding potential applications of a skill, students see little value in learning it in the first place. If I don’t value what I am learning, I am less motivated and engaged.

Connecting classroom and community through project and problem based learning…*

With this in mind, I loved hearing this TED talk by Cesar Harada: How I teach kids to love science. He connects science to real community problems, both local and abroad. From developing an invention to estimate plastic in polluted oceans to analyzing seabed radioactivity near the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was damaged in 2011, Harada’s students work on real and relevant work problems in their science classroom. This sort of problem and project-based experiential learning can help students see the relevance of science education. Furthermore, Harada is cultivating a generation of innovators and problem solvers. His classroom is a workshop. Through rapid prototyping with tools, his students have become scientists and inventors. As he says,

“So citizen scientists, makers, dreamers — we must prepare the next generation that cares about the environment and people, and that can actually do something about it.”

THE POWER OF CONNECTION

By connecting science skills to real-world issues, we can increase the relevance of school education and give our students much needed experience in using skills in a meaningful way. As illustrated by Cesar Harada, connecting schoolwork to real life problems has benefits beyond increasing value and transfer; we can empower students to be innovators and problem solvers.

This process of embedding learning in the community and in real, complex problems is something that we hope to include in our XQ proposal. By providing students with a variety of contexts in which their knowing can be directly applied, we can create a more engaging and useful education that has applicability far beyond the classroom…*

 

On Emotions, Cognition, and Comedy: An Introduction

Hello everyone! My name is Melissa Cesarano, and I am a new member of the rethinkED team for the 2015-2016 school year. To introduce myself, I’d like to begin by stating that I’m quite an eccentric human with eclectic tastes and talents. I’m a yogi, actress, comedian/improviser, poet, and cognitive scientist! I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (Quakersssss!!!) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Cognitive Studies and Philosophy of Mind, and a minor in Poetics. Currently, I’m a PhD student at Columbia University in Cognitive Studies in Education. I also work at a biotech company, Evoke Neuroscience, where I serve as the company’s science writer, lecturer, and research associate. At Evoke, I’m also training to receive a certification in biofeedback and neurofeedback, which will help me acquire a more holistic approach to emotional and psychological wellness, in addition to my more academic brain expertise. Additionally, I’m attending comedy school at The Peoples Improv Theater and The Upright Citizens Brigade. I’ve co-founded my own NYC sketch comedy group, Laundry Day Comedy, and believe strongly that humor, play, and creativity are essential to our epistemic growth and self-realization as life long students; as Ludwig Wittgenstein so elegantly stated, “If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.”

My research as a Doctoral Candidate focuses on emotions. In undergrad, I felt that the cognitive realm was academically interesting, yet lacked the poetry, color, and humanity that I yearned for as an artist and creative. Admittedly, there seemed to be a lack of understanding as to where/how to fit emotions into a cognitive framework. Therefore, about two years into graduate school education, I resolved to undertake the task of understanding emotions from a cognitive perspective.

Emotions are difficult to comprehend intellectually even though they’re an integral part of our everyday lives. Nevertheless, they certainly color our interactions with others, motivate our behaviors, elucidate our passions, and are essential to our experience as humans. To clarify, they are a phenomenological manifestation of the things that matter to us. For a brief introduction to emotions (What Emotions Are (and Aren’t)) I recommend reading this riveting article in The New York Times by Lisa Feldman Barrett, the head honcho in Emotion Research (I like to call her ‘The Big LFB’):

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/opinion/sunday/what-emotions-are-and-arent.html?_r=0

Specifically, the research that I’ve been conducting at Columbia, along with my research partner Ilya, relates to teaching people abstract models of the Human Emotion System (HES). Creating accurate mental models of our own emotional functioning and grounding these principles in tangible real-life emotional situations, seems to increase self-regulation through increased self-awareness of emotional functioning in a variety of different experiential contexts. The topic of my dissertation, however, deals with the ‘naïve’ mental models that people acquire intuitively through everyday life experience prior to explicit learning of the HES. Arriving at a deeper understanding of people’s HES intuitions and misconceptions (and the cognitive processes that underlie them) through careful epistemological inquiry, should thus allow for a more effective teaching of the HES model and other social-emotional learning (SEL) concepts.

Basically, I think it’s really insane that students are taught things like ‘the laws of physics’ in school, but are never taught the ‘laws of emotions’, the causal relations and principles of our own emotional functioning. Instead, we are left with the difficult and daunting task of pretty blindly dealing with these powerful and mysterious forces. Interestingly, emotionality is delegated to ‘higher learning’, a Psych 101 lecture in the hallowed spaces of America’s college halls.

Finally, I would like to join Ali in saying that it is an absolute privilege to be a part of such an inspiring community here at Riverdale. We hope to enlighten you and to contribute to the ever-evolving educational landscape at this prestigious school. Keep a lookout for upcoming posts from the rethinkED team!

With gratitude and an abundance of smiles,

Mel

{ On “Doing” Philosophy with Children } Philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back

{ On "Doing" Philosophy with Children } Philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back | rethinked.org

“By encouraging children to examine the world from perspectives other than their own, philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back.” – Giacomo Esposito

I was thrilled to discover the work of The Philosophy Foundation through Giacomo Esposito’s deeply relevant article, Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools. The Philosophy Foundation is a UK based, award winning educational charity raising aspirations and attainment through doing philosophical enquiry in the classroom.

Our aim is to make ‘Reasoning’ the 4th ‘R’ in education – by giving children the tools to help them think critically, creatively, cohesively and autonomously we aim to fill the gaps in education and consequently benefit society as a whole. 

Philosophy can help to shape the way we think and live in the world. Learning to think clearly and creatively helps in many ways – the most obvious being the effect it has upon one’s actions.

At the core of The Philosophy Foundation ‘s work is the belief that thinking is a capacity–a habit of mind–and that thinking well requires learning and practice.

It is the job of our specialist philosophy teachers to identify and draw out from the children philosophical material, and to encourage them to adopt a philosophical attitude. Our aim is to cultivate the habit of thinking and we do not believe that this will come about simply by giving them the opportunity to think. Like anything else it needs to be learnt. So the facilitation should include teaching and guidance. Philosophy is not something that can be learnt by being told a list of propositional facts about what it is, it is best learnt by modelling. In other words, the children will learn how to do philosophy best by seeing it done well on a regular basis by a skilled philosophy teacher.

Head over to The Philosophy Foundation website to learn more about the fantastic work they are doing and check out their many excellent resources to start doing philosophy with the children in your own life.

Below are some highlights from Esposito’s article, first published on The Guardian, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety.

THINK, LEARN, DO . . . * 


The sessions I run usually begin with a story or short “stimulus” which draws on a traditional philosophical problem, but reframes it to make it more engaging for a younger audience. The story then ends with a question, and a discussion ensues. Throughout the class, I try to take a backseat; I’m there to help draw out the children’s thoughts, but it’s really for them to decide where the discussion goes and, crucially, what they think. In fact, rather than teaching philosophy, a more accurate description of my job is “doing” philosophy with children.

Children can be fantastic at doing philosophy. Their natural disposition to wonder at the world is given free rein during lessons. Recently I was running a session about time travel. In response to the claim that “time is a feeling”, a 10-year-old boy thought hard for about a minute and then said: “Time is different for us than it is for the universe, because 100 years passes in a flash for the universe, but seems a long time to us … so time is a bit like a feeling.”

[ … ]

At its core, philosophy is about thinking and reasoning well. It’s about learning how to be logical, present arguments, and spot bad ones. Yes, this is often done through strange, improbable examples, which can feel removed from – and therefore irrelevant to – the real world (like the tree in the forest). But these exercises in mental gymnastics train the mind to think more clearly and creatively, which benefits all aspects of life.

As well as learning how to naturally construct arguments, the children are also invited to question them – both their classmates and their own. When it seems like there’s a firm, unwavering consensus across the class, I only have to ask them to put themselves in the shoes of an “imaginary disagreer”, before a flurry of hands appears.

. . . *

Source: Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools by Giacomo Esposito via The Guardian, published July 13, 2015

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco …*

Dear rethinkers,

An apology is in order as we’ve gone rather silent on the blog these past two weeks! We’re back to our regular posting schedule and you can look forward to our daily posts. To jazz up our apology, thought I’d share a “lost and found” poem I’ve made from assembled graffiti spotted around San Francisco. Excuse the dubious image quality, all photographs were snapped on the go with my aging and tired phone.

Enjoy & rethink …* 


Kill your TV and read

Dream

Ask questions

Listen

Comfort kills

Travel this young moment in pursuit of magic

Create a glory ride

Expect a miracle

Why?

I hope

Love can outlast everything


A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

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A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

. . .

Dedicated to Grateful Greg & Pierre, whoever and wherever you are, and rethinkers …* everywhere

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

A Poem Lost & Found in San Francisco ...* | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman Randolph

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps …*

{ The Zigzag Walk } Rethinking Google Maps ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

The starting point of my Zigzag Walk …*

 

Last week I wrote about Stephen Graham’s delightful little game of the Zigzag Walk, which is a framework for exploration that enhances opportunities for discovery and serendipity. The rules are quite simple: you select a starting point and from there turn left and then right at subsequents crossroads. Being in San Francisco for the first time, I was eager to try out this exercise for myself and spent part of Monday morning going on a Zigzag walk. I started at a corner a few streets down from the apartment where I am staying where, on the pavement, was engraved the phrase: ‘ask questions’. It seemed a particularly appropriate starting point.

My Zigzag Walk was a delightful experience which allowed me to get lost in the best way, discovering new streets and neighborhoods. It was also the perfect antidote to Google Maps. Since I’ve never been to San Francisco before, I have been relying pretty heavily on Google Maps to get me to where I need to be but I’ve noticed that whenever I ask it to lead me home it always highlights the same, and rather boring, route. I’ve since come to realize that this may be to help me avoid San Francisco’s many (and often ridiculously steep) hills. But I’m only here for a short time, I don’t want to keep going over the same route, even if it saves me from a few hills. I’d rather endure the slight discomfort of huffing and puffing my way up hills for the tradeoff of discovery and serendipitous discoveries in this beautiful city (sounds like a metaphor for something else…*) Until Google Maps puts out a “Serendipity” option on its routes (which, by the way, Google, please take note), the Zigzag Walk is a brilliant and free way to discover a city and its many hidden treasures.

e x p l o r e   &   r e t h i n k   . . .

{ The Zigzag Walk } The Adventure Is Not the Getting There, It’s the On-the-Way …*

{ The Zigzag Walk } The Adventure Is Not the Getting There, It's the On-the-Way ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I’ve just finished reading Stephen Graham’s splendid book, The Gentle Art of Tramping that Alastair Humphreys recommended in his interview. The Gentle Art of Tramping, which was first published in 1927, is a delightful meditation on the themes and values of the vagabond and, more broadly, on the gentle art of living (or the art of living gently). In the last chapter, Graham describes what he calls the “Zigzag Walk” – a little set of constraints he designed for himself to allow for chance and serendipity to guide his explorations. I’ve just arrived in San Francisco, where I will be staying for the next month and can’t wait to give the Zigzag walk a go in this lovely city.

g e t   l o s t,   e x p l o r e   &   r e t h i n k   . . . *

A frequent wish of the traveler and wanderer is to obtain genuinely chance impressions of cities and countries. He would trust neither his own choice of road, nor the guide’s choice, nor the map. But if he goes forth in aimlessness he inevitably finds himself either making for the gayer and better-lighted places, or returning to his own door. The problem is to let chance and the town take charge of you, for the world we travel in is more wonderful than human plan or idle heart’s desire.

One day in New York, wishing to explore that great city in a truly haphazard way, I hit on the following device–a zigzag walk. The first turning to the left is the way of the heart. Take it at random and you are sure to find something pleasant and diverting. Take the left again and the piquancy may be repeated. But reason must come to the rescue, and you must turn to the right in order to save yourself from a mere uninteresting circle. To make a zigzag walk you take the first turning to the left, the first to the right, then the first to the left again, and so on.

[…]

How unusual and real and satisfactory were the impressions obtained by going–not the crowd’s way, but the way of the zigzag, the diagonal between heart and reason.

[…]

At the same time, it may be said that you will not know the name of the place until you get there. You can put no destination label on your rucksack, and if anyone asks where you are going, you may tell him in confidence, whisper the dreadful fact in his ear–“honestly, you do not know.” The adventure is not the getting there, it’s the on-the-way. It is not the expected; it is the surprise; not the fulfillment of prophecy, but the providence of something better than prophesied. You are not choosing what you shall see in the world, but are giving the world an even chance to see you.

I am still on that zigzag way, pursuing the diagonal between the reason and the heart;

. . . *

Source: The Gentle Art of Tramping by Stephen Graham

{ virtual reality & empathy }: using technology to enhance the human experience

Earlier this year in a series of posts called “On Being A Cyborg“, I wrote about various technologies that enrich and assist us in living our lives. The defining quality of these technologies is that rather than pulling us away from the core human experience, I argued that they actually help make us more human.

Today I’d like to add to this list. After watching Chris Milk’s TED2015 talk – How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine – I believe that virtual reality technology could be a solution to getting us to care, specifically about the people living in realities so far removed from ours that they are hard to imagine.

Milk wondered if there was a way that he could “use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways and tell different kinds of stories that maybe [we] couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for 100 years?” As he explains, “What I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine.

One such experiment in empathy machines is the interactive short film entitled Wilderness Downtown, a project with Arcade Fire that has an avatar running down a street, that you quickly realize is the one you grew up on. I actually used this little bit of virtual reality a few years back when he made it, and myself was delighted by the results. You can try this one using the link above.

His next attempt was an art installation – The Treachery of Sanctuary. In this piece, people were given the power to transform themselves into birds and bring them into flight using triptych technology.

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http://jamesgeorge.org/Treachery-of-Sanctuary

Perhaps most impressing is the film Clouds over Sidra. In this United Nations sponsored work, he uses virtual reality to create empathy for those living in a refugee camp in Jordan – placing them in three dimensional spaces while a 12-year-old refugee named Sidra tells the story of her life. As Milk explains

…when you’re sitting there in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window, you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.

Milk’s team is now making more of these films – currently shooting one in Liberia. And these films are now being shown to the people at the United Nations who can change the lives of those inside these virtual reality worlds.

The power of this medium to enhance human empathy is incredible. I’ve spoken before about multimedia literacy and about the problem with our society’s primacy of text over other modes of communication. Milk’s work is demonstrative of the power of other mediums beyond text to communicate things such as empathy – something that can be communicated in a written story, but may be communicated better in a virtual reality world.

As Mlik explains,

It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other.And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world.

So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected.And ultimately, we become more human.

I would love to view one of his virtual reality films. Wouldn’t you?

{ whimsical urban spaces } for fostering play

live from AERA…*

I am currently attending the 2015 AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference in Chicago, and I have been attending and participating in a variety of exciting presentations, roundtables, and poster sessions about the many types of interesting research around education and its unique challenges. I am still making sense out of all I learned, and I hope to share some of the interesting talks with you in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, today I want to talk about this amazing playground I spotted here in downtown Chicago.

Fostering Play…*

Last week Elsa wrote about the importance of play in our ever-changing world, reminding us of the essential nature of play. Perhaps this was on my mind because during my free afternoon this weekend I was walking near Millennium Park and couldn’t help but stop to admire this incredible play space.

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Photo Eric X. via Yelp

Maggie Daley park is a $60 million, newly opened 20 acre recreational space, opened in 2014. It was designed by architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as “a counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of Grant Park… with..  curvilinear forms, dramatic topography, and many whimsical elements.” As described in this article, there is a 3-acre play garden designed in the spirit of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is the piece of the park I stumbled upon . I was immediately enchanted by the surrealist, cartoon-like environment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that the play garden “will allow kids to challenge themselves and do things they didn’t know they could do“.

In a world where I worry about childhoods lived behind a screen and enacted through highly constrained, scripted environments, I am so excited by this notion of fostering unstructured play. The rich narrative and creative potential of places like this is endless, and I find myself envious of the young children who will be enjoying the play garden this spring.

More pictures of this play space below. I will report back on my more academic experience at this conference next Monday!

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Children loved running up and down the rubbery foam hills, rather than using the stairs.

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A giant bridge connecting two towers. When I crossed, three young boys were working together to shake the bridge, excited at the prospect of making me fall (I remained upright, to their extreme disapointment).

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My colleague from Teachers College taking a turn on one of the slides.

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A web made of wires and ropes, where young boys created a clubhouse to call home.

{ Wondrous Wednesdays } Using Painting to Keep Zoo Animals Happy & Healthy …*

{ Wondrous Wednesdays } Using Painting to Keep Zoo Animals Happy & Healthy ...* | rethinked.org

Artist: Jack, Western Lowland Gorilla | Source: BioParkSociety.org

The abstract masterpieces of such unlikely artists as Prehensile Tail Porcupines, goats, hissing cockroaches and vinegaroons (had to Google that one) are sure to infuse your Wednesday with a hefty dose of wonder and delight. This budding art collective is the result of an enrichment program from the ABQ BioPark Zoo. The therapeutic and enriching benefits of painting, it would seem, extend to animals. “Getting them to use their brains and to figure things out keeps them happier and healthier,” says zoo manager, Lynn Tupa.

The animals at the ABQ BioPark Zoo have learned to paint as an enrichment activity, purely for their own pleasure and mental stimulation. To ensure that painting remains enjoyable for the animals, the opportunity to paint is an occasional treat, not part of their daily routine.

From primate Picassos to buggy Botticellis, our stable of talented animal artists has increased this year to provide an even greater variety of original masterpieces that will thrill collectors and animal enthusiasts alike. Choose from a number of genres and styles that include (but not limited to) elephants, gorillas, parrots, marsupials, alligators, insects and more!

Head over to the Bio Park Society website to view (and perhaps purchase) the paintings (all done with non-toxic tempera paint) by this unlikely band of artists. All proceeds from the paintings directly support that animal’s program at the ABQ BioPark. You can also ‘meet’ some of the artists through their endearing online bios. From Shona the Warthog, who has found the activity “very therapeutic since her mate, Chip, recently passed away,” to Sarah the Orangutan who, “reserves her favorite colors, like silver, to paint her hands and feet and uses her least favorite colors on the canvas,” (a girl’s gotta have her favorite things), you’ll learn about the unique manner in which each artist approaches his or her craft and some intriguing facts about their species. Some of the animals, like Crocket the Raccoon, have instantly taken to the activity while others, like Tonka the Orangutan, are more reticent. “His appearance is very important to him. He will pick up his very long hair as he tries to avoid mud puddles. This is why we are still working on his painting. He goes to great lengths to avoid getting his hands dirty and will continuously wipe the paint off them.”

delight, wonder & rethink …* 

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Artist: Calloway – Banded Armadillo | Source: BioParkSociety.org

Finding Inspiration In A Tiny Radical Act of Rethinking …*

Finding Inspiration In A Tiny Radical Act of Rethinking ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

This Tuesday, on the corner of 16th and 7th, I found fully deployed that yet unnamed cluster of capacities that animates the rethinker * A dynamic mix of courage, hope, curiosity, grit, and childlike wonder. It came in the form of a woman wearing a Post Office uniform. She was walking a few steps ahead of me, each of us braced against the strong gusts of wind blowing down Seventh Avenue. Right as we reached the corner, she bent down to pick up and examine a discarded lottery ticket that was blowing down the street.

I was struck by that tiny act, which to me encapsulates the essential impulse of rethinking…* What are the chances that someone would get a winning lottery ticket and throw it away or lose it? It seems the odds would be lesser still than actually getting a winning lottery ticket. Yet she picked it up in a glorious leap of faith, a radical act of rebellion against the status quo. In that tiny action was an infinite and definitive stand against believing that things will be as they have always been, that they should be as they are. Probably not, but what if? Fortune could be found floating on the corner along with the plastic bags and other detritus of the city. You won’t know unless you check.

R E T H I N K  . . . *

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