Distant and difficult classrooms: Syria, 2016

September 17, 2016

How do others outside the U.S. go to school?

Foreign Affairs featured a gallery of photos of a school in Syria, in a zone of war. School is still important. Students attend class in a cave, offering some protection from some bombs.

Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria, March 27, 2016. Photo by Khalil Ashawi; Foreign Affairs photo

Internally displaced children attend a class inside a cave in the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Idlib province, Syria, March 27, 2016. Photo by Khalil Ashawi; Foreign Affairs photo and caption

Learning the Hard Way in Syria

In the rebel-controlled village of Tramla, in Syria’s Idlib province, the dusty stone steps to the town’s only primary school lead down to a damp cave. In February, a strike on two schools and five hospitals in Idlib province left 50 dead, many of whom were children. Before that, in April 2014, barrel bombs killed 25 students at a school in opposition-held Douma near Aleppo. This has forced Syria’s teachers to turn trailers, poultry farms, and other unusual terrains into classrooms in the war-torn country where more than two million children remain out of school.

More photos at Foreign Affairs; go look.

Should teachers make videos for classroom use? Economics edition

January 15, 2016

Mary McGlasson teaches economics at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona.

She makes videos for use in class, and out of class, and by others, on key economic concepts. I’ve used her videos in economics with great results.

Recently she was recognized with a teaching excellence award; she wrote: “The kind folks at the League for Innovations at the Community College asked each Roueche Award recipient to create a 1-minute video, so here it is. Mine’s a bit of a fail, because it’s 1:25… hope they like it anyway!”

Good on Mary McGlasson.

You want to see the real stuff? It’s all there on McGlasson’s YouTube channel. Here are a couple of examples.

Scarcity and Choice


Congratulations to Mary McGlasson — and thanks! Economics teachers, go see what she’s got.

Can you do better? Can you adopt these methods for different subjects? Please try.

Learning economics on Christmas vacation: What’s a bank run?

December 25, 2015

In education we miss out on most information technological innovation. Textbooks were notoriously dull when books were the chief medium found in schools. Schools took 60 years to make progress in showing film. Television, which started out commercially as a great education tool — what was arguably the best orchestra in the U.S. used to play every Sunday on NBC way back when. Then video, then computers, then the internet and personal data devices penetrated modern life, but not yet schools.

So I am always pleased to hear after Christmas break the questions high school economics and history students came back to class with, especially after “having to watch” that hoary and venerable old movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Frank Capra’s film cuts through the fog on some important history and economics issues.

Not that you find it used much in U.S. schools. What follows is a blog post I did for my U.S. history blog some years back, to answer some of those student questions.

New York -- a classic

George Bailey (played by actor Jimmy Stewart) works to deal with a run on the Bailey Savings & Loan Association in Bedford Falls, New York — a classic “run on the bank” — in the 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” by Frank Capra. Image from Warner Bros., via Our Values blog.

“What’s a bank run?”

Whenever we get to the Great Depression, somebody asks about bank runs. What is a “run on the bank?” Why would people suddenly rush to get their cash out of the bank? And why can’t the bank just pay it out?

Frank Capra showed and explained it best, probably, in his 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But first, my weak attempt:

Banks don’t keep all the money deposited there in the vault. Banks make money by loaning out to others the money put on deposit. The people who get the loans must pay interest on the loan, and that allows the bank to pay interest on the deposits people put there (precious little today — my first account paid 5.25% on my first $5.00 deposit; today you’re lucky to get 1%, and you have to have a sizable minimum, generally. But I digress . . .).

So, if you and a hundred other people each deposit $100 in the bank, the bank turns around and loans out as much as they can. Of the $10,000 deposited, say, they loan out $9,000 to the guy who lives next door to you, so he can put an addition on his house. He’ll pay it back, with interest.

But, that loan means that there is only $1,000 left in the vault. Generally a 10% “reserve” will cover all the cash transactions a bank makes in a day. That is, if they have 10% of their total assets sitting in the vault, making no new money for them, it is highly unlikely that in a normal day there will be a demand for more than about $1,000 of that $10,000 on deposit. (The actual reserve amounts vary; last time I looked, several months ago, the Federal Reserve Board required member banks to hold about 7% of their total assets in cash on hand.)

You can begin to see why a bank run is a problem. If, in one day, every depositor showed up and demanded their deposit, the bank couldn’t pay them all. This is a death sentence in the banking world, for a bank to be unable to meet obligations, and generally that would mean that the bank would be out of business. But of course, that’s rather unfair to the bank — they have their money (your money, really) loaned out to dozens of other people. When those loans come in, the bank will have the cash to pay.

A run on the bank puts a kink in those careful, conservative calculations of how much cash a bank needs to have on hand to cover all the transactions of a day.

Banks fear a run. That’s what killed banks in 1932 and 1933, in the last year of the Hoover administration. Even a good bank could be doomed by an unjustified run — no bank could repay all of its depositors, in cash, on any one day.

Roosevelt’s bank holiday, just a week after his inauguration, stopped the runs for that week. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insured deposits, so that even were there a run on a bank, a depositor could get his or her money back. Those measures essentially stopped runs on banks for decades.

Frank Capra’s 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” tells the story of a man who manages a small town savings and loan association, which is similar to a bank in that it accepts deposits and loans money, but different from a bank in that it is chartered for the benefit of its depositors, or members, and not for a bank corporation. In fact, the antagonist in the film is the town banker, Potter, who does what he can to bring the savings and loan to ruin.

In one memorable scene, a rumor that the savings and loan is about to fail prompts dozens of the members to make a run — indeed, there is also a run on the bank at the same time. Jimmy Stewart explains to the members why he can’t pay everybody . . . but he also has an infusion of $2,000 cash he plans to cash for his honeymoon. This is what a bank run looks like, with a smart banker (savings and loan manager in this case) who can keep his organization going:

This film clip is undoubtedly copyrighted by the current owners of the film’s intellectual property. I wish they would make it available for classroom use without heavy copyright fees, in the interest of the public.

It’s another case of a fictional film portraying history better than any history book, and economics, too. Licensing the film for classroom use costs more than teachers can pay — plus, in the dog-eat-teachers world of the War on Education, few administrators stand the use of fiction in history and economics classes. That’s before a teacher even gets to the issue of whether there is technical support to show the film.

School in distant, difficult classrooms: Kenya

December 4, 2015

Photo from Heidi Totten, who is spearheading a campaign to get desks for schools like this one in Kenya:

Tenkees School, in the Mau region of Kenya. Photo by Heidi Totten

Tenkees School, in the Mau region of Kenya. Photo by Heidi Totten

Ms. Totten, working with a group called 100 Humanitarians (Entrepreneurs Changing the World), posted this in November, for a November 27 fundraising project.

Our next $5 Friday Fundraiser will be for additional desks for this school in the Mau region of Kenya. This is a very remote area that we visited. The school serves over 300 students with very few desks that they cram into.

They also have two latrines for each gender. With 300 kids you can imagine the sanitary conditions.

*   *   *   *   *

Our hope is to start with adding more desks, then rebuilding the kitchen and adding latrines. Just $5 can go far!

Please feel free to click over to this group and contribute.

How well would you or your kids learn in this school?


Difficult classrooms: Sierra Leone, after Ebola

May 9, 2015

Schools in Sierra Leone closed during the Ebola crisis, and stayed shuttered for nine months.

In early April 2015, schools started to reopen.

Al Jazeera photo:  Sierra Leone schools reopen after nine-month Ebola shutdown http://alj.am/1DEqOKU

Al Jazeera photo: Sierra Leone schools reopen after nine-month Ebola shutdown http://alj.am/1DEqOKU

Education is important. Children in tough, crisis-riven parts of the world, do what they can to learn.  It’s not easy.

CBS News:  More than 8,000 schools reopen in Sierra Leone after Ebola outbreak http://cbsn.ws/1JH6k52

CBS News: More than 8,000 schools reopen in Sierra Leone after Ebola outbreak http://cbsn.ws/1JH6k52 “Sierra Leone health officials check passengers transiting at the border crossing with Liberia in Jendema, March 28, 2015. Getty”

Al Jazeera assembled a report from wire services:

More than 8,000 schools reopened for the country’s estimated 1.8 million students, whose education was interrupted by the health crisis. Sierra Leone’s government and the U.N.’s children’s agency, UNICEF, have promised to check temperatures regularly and promote hand washing to discourage the spread of Ebola in the schools.

“This marks a major step in the normalization of life in Sierra Leone,” said Roeland Monasch, UNICEF’s representative in Sierra Leone. “It is important that all children get into school including those who were out of school before the Ebola outbreak. Education for all is a key part of the recovery process for the country.”

Though few children returned to school in the capital Freetown, government workers and aid workers were optimistic that attendance would increase in the days ahead, according to Leslie Scott, national director for aid agency World Vision.

“The skepticism is based on fear of Ebola because people are not very confident of sending their children if schools are not well prepared,” he said.

At the Prince of Wales secondary school in the west of Freetown, hundreds of pupils showed up in a compound that medical charity Doctors Without Borders used as an Ebola care center just a few weeks before. The compound has been decontaminated but classrooms are still being prepared.

“Some of the kids are standing here (in the sun) because their classrooms are still being painted,” said school principal Rodney Coker, who added that the turnout was impressive.

By contrast, Emmanuel Caulker, principal of the Jaiama Secondary School in Kono district, said only 13 children showed up, compared to an expected 500, a turnout echoed by other schools.

“We have also not received our teaching and learning materials promised by the government,” Caulker told Reuters.

Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology said it hopes that the year’s academic curriculum can still be covered before the end of the school year. A small number of junior secondary schools have been open since late March for exams.

UNICEF and World Vision said they had trained teachers to support children affected by the virus. In all, more than 9,000 children were orphaned by Ebola in Sierra Leone.

No air conditioning in your classroom? Maasai school in Tanzania

August 20, 2014

Maasai school in Tanzania. Photo by Noel Feans,

Maasai school in Tanzania. Photo by Noel Feans, “We rule the school.” September 2009; Creative Commons copyright, Wikimedia image; also on Flickr

Another photo illustrating classroom technology in different cultures.

Colorado schoolhouse (1895 vintage)

August 18, 2014

A few miles from the New Mexico border, in Chromo, Colorado:

East of Durango, along U.S. Highway 160, a school building with a sign suggesting it was built in 1895.

East of Durango, along U.S. Highway 160 84, a school building with a sign suggesting it was built in 1895.  The map said it was Chromo, Colorado.  Photos by Ed Darrell; use with attribution is encouraged.

Difficult to tell how many rooms; it could have had up to four classrooms at one point, I reckon.  The belfry is still there, but the bell is long gone — a prize for some scavenger if it was not removed for re-use, or for a museum.

Bigger windows that many modern schools, windows students could use to actually look outdoors.  Modern school architects seem to want students to be unaffected by the outdoors, or light from outdoors, often.

Off in a field by itself, there was plenty of room for kids to run around, at recess.

Off in a field by itself, there was plenty of room for kids to run around, at recess.

In this photo the sign is legible:  "Colorado State Approved School, 1895."

In this photo the sign is legible: “State of Colorado 1895 Approved Standard School.”

Was this a standard design, or does “standard school” refer to the program of instruction offered?

There were a few homes and farms close by.  The community has always been small.  How many students learned to read, learned how to handle numbers, read the greats of American history and literature in these walls?  Who were they, and where did they go?

How big a mark can a school, or a teacher, actually make?


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