Wednesday, March 10, 2021

In tribute to my friend, Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (@langwitches)

There is no better way to understand your own biases than to travel. Traveling gives you insight into perspectives you might have never considered. It opens your mind to new opportunities for humanity and connection. It gives you experiences that are indelible and lifelong.

Bruce Chatwin, author of The Songlines, wrote that “Travel doesn't merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind.” The Songlines resonated with me and helped me understand my identity in the world and why it mattered that I belonged to a community of people, a community that was made up of the entire planet on which we all live. Experiences matter. Perspectives matter. And I must invite those experiences and perspectives into understanding my own purpose.

I first met Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, @langwiches to many of you, at the annual Curriculum Mapping conference in Saratoga Springs, NY many years ago. We were quick friends and documentarians, sharing our experiences with documenting learning and pushing teachers to connect, collaborate, and create. Silvia called herself a Third Culture Kid...born in Germany, raised in Argentina, and settling in America. She was really an All Culture Kid--a child of the world...the whole world.

I’ve traveled internationally with her several times as well as around the United States and Canada on many occasions. She’s a great travel partner--open to all perspectives and actively seeking opportunities to experience the world’s point of view on our work. How does the world inform what we do? That essential question has driven my own work for years. Silvia got it. She knew that enlightenment came from experiences. She knew that to fully realize the awesomeness of humanity, we had to experience what it meant to be human in a multitude of circumstances. 

Being a global citizen didn’t mean just knowing about the world. That was a strong prerequisite but not the thing itself. Being a global citizen meant being an experiencer of what the world has to offer. It meant learning WITH the world rather than just about it. And Silvia was adamant that this was a focal point for education. Math and Language weren’t the most important subjects, Geography was. Understanding Geography was a pathway to understanding all other subjects better. 

We can’t be better people if we only interact with small slices of populations. Experiences that are similar to our own don’t challenge our thinking, they reinforce our biases. To open our minds and hearts we have to open our passports. 

There is an old African proverb that has been bouncing around in my brain for the last few days… “when a person dies, a library is lost.” I’m paraphrasing, but I’m thinking about this in relation to Silvia and realizing that her library will never close. She documented everything she did for the benefit of teachers and learners. She shared in so many ways that her library will forever be open. Her contribution to the collective efficacy of all of us remains available online--a fitting legacy for someone I consider to be a true global media specialist.

I’m going to miss my friend as she travels on to places I can’t yet go. I’m going to miss her pragmatic ideas on what the must-do’s are in education in relation to globalizing learning and learners. I’m going to miss the challenge of blending experiences with priorities in educational endeavors. She was a really good thought partner.

In The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin introduced me to The Dreamtime, the Aboriginal stories of how everything came to be. He wrote of his experiences to understand and explore The Dreamtime and how reluctant the Aboriginal people were to talk to him about it. He was documenting his journey, for sure, but he was also sending a message: Just because we want the knowledge doesn’t mean we deserve it. In a larger sense, I think he was telling me, as the reader, that it’s not enough to just be interested. You have to be immersed. Immersion and the willingness to journey beyond your comfort builds trust and camaraderie and forges relationships built on shared understanding. Silvia was my globally connected mentor for this and I’m so sorry that the world has lost her.

I intend to lift her lamp. 

I want her light to continue to shine. 

I hope others will do the same.

Into the West, by Annie Lennox:


  1. A wonderful tribute, Mike! You captured her beauty and perspectives that have shaped your (and my) world! I especially resonated with your African proverb analogy - may our library card to her imagination and documentation never expire!

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