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.


. . . and I can taste and smell the sweet, sweet breeze of a dream

April 7, 2015

Frankie looks out on the life he's living. Film image by Peter H. Reynolds

Frankie looks out on the life he’s living. Film image by Peter H. Reynolds

Is your bus coming?

Will you get on it?

Or will you be late to that “meeting?”

Details:

A powerful tale written by Peter H. Reynolds. Animation and Direction by John Lechner and Peter H. Reynolds. Executive Producer, Gary Goldberger.

What can you do to let that kid out? Will you?

(Just who the hell is Peter H. Reynolds?  Why isn’t he more famous?)


Quote of the moment: Calvin Coolidge, on building America: “Look to service, not selfishness”

March 3, 2015

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding).  History.com image

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding). History.com image

Referring to progress in the U.S. after World War I, Coolidge said:

With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision, nearer, clearer than ever before, of a life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision of a nearer, clearer than ever before, the  [of] life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. Education will tend to bring reason and experience of the past into the solution of the problems of the future. We must look to service and not selfishness, for service is the foundation of progress. The greatest lesson that we have to learn is to seek ever the public welfare, to build up, to maintain our American heritage.

Candidate for vice president Calvin Coolidge, “America and the War,” 1920

Digging a little deeper, I discover that the first part of this quote also appeared in Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 27, 1919, when he was  Governor of Massachusetts.  Knowing a good turn of words when he wrote it (I’m assuming he didn’t have ghost writers then), he used the same words in making phonograph recordings of speeches to be distributed in the election campaign of 1920, before radio was available to carry speeches to voters.  I have made minor corrections in the transcript, from the earlier text and the audio delivery.

According to Talking History, the 78 rpm record and audio version were saved and made available by the Library of Congress.

You may want to listen to Coolidge say the words himself. Mp3  RealPlayer


Founders on education standards: James Madison

February 25, 2015

Photo of inscription to the left (north) of the main entrance on Independence Ave., of the James Madison Building, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Library of Congress photo

Photo of inscription to the left (north) of the main entrance on Independence Ave., of the James Madison Building, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Library of Congress photo

Madison said nothing against a federal role, but much which supports Common Core standards, and everything in support of public schooling (spellings and other longhand affectations of Mr. Madison left as they were in the letter; emphases added here):

Letter to William Taylor Barry

James Madison (Aug. 4, 1822)

Dear Sir, I received some days ago your letter of June 30, and the printed Circular to which it refers.

The liberal appropriations made by the Legislature of Kentucky for a general system of Education cannot be too much applauded. A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.*

William Taylor Barry was, in 1822, Lt. Governor of Kentucky (one of many posts he held in his lifetime of public service), and the author of the Barry Report, which proposed a system of free public education for Kentucky. Image from Kentucky Secretary of State, at Kentucky.gov

William Taylor Barry was, in 1822, Lt. Governor of Kentucky (one of many posts he held in his lifetime of public service), and the author of the Barry Report, which proposed a system of free public education for Kentucky. Image from Kentucky Secretary of State, at Kentucky.gov

I have always felt a more than ordinary interest in the destinies of Kentucky. Among her earliest settlers were some of my particular friends and Neighbors. And I was myself among the foremost advocates for submitting to the Will of the “District” the question and the time of its becoming a separate member of the American family. Its rapid growth & signal prosperity in this character have afforded me much pleasure; which is not a little enhanced by the enlightened patriotism which is now providing for the State a Plan of Education embracing every class of Citizens, and every grade & department of Knowledge. No error is more certain than the one proceeding from a hasty & superficial view of the subject: that the people at large have no interest in the establishment of Academies, Colleges, and Universities, where a few only, and those not of the poorer classes can obtain for their sons the advantages of superior education. It is thought to be unjust that all should be taxed for the benefit of a part, and that too the part least needing it.

If provision were not made at the same time for every part, the objection would be a natural one. But, besides the consideration when the higher Seminaries belong to a plan of general education, that it is better for the poorer classes to have the aid of the richer by a general tax on property, than that every parent should provide at his own expence for the education of his children, it is certain that every Class is interested in establishments which give to the human mind its highest improvements, and to every Country its truest and most durable celebrity.

Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty. They are the nurseries of skilful Teachers for the schools distributed throughout the Community. They are themselves schools for the particular talents required for some of the Public Trusts, on the able execution of which the welfare of the people depends. They multiply the educated individuals from among whom the people may elect a due portion of their public Agents of every description; more especially of those who are to frame the laws; by the perspicuity, the consistency, and the stability, as well as by the just & equal spirit of which the great social purposes are to be answered.

Without such Institutions, the more costly of which can scarcely be provided by individual means, none but the few whose wealth enables them to support their sons abroad can give them the fullest education; and in proportion as this is done, the influence is monopolized which superior information everywhere possesses. At cheaper & nearer seats of Learning parents with slender incomes may place their sons in a course of education putting them on a level with the sons of the Richest. Whilst those who are without property, or with but little, must be peculiarly interested in a System which unites with the more Learned Institutions, a provision for diffusing through the entire Society the education needed for the common purposes of life. A system comprizing the Learned Institutions may be still further recommended to the more indigent class of Citizens by such an arrangement as was reported to the General Assembly of Virginia, in the year 1779, by a Committee appointed to revise laws in order to adapt them to the genius of Republican Government. It made part of a “Bill for the more general diffusion of knowledge” that wherever a youth was ascertained to possess talents meriting an education which his parents could not afford, he should be carried forward at the public expence, from seminary to seminary, to the completion of his studies at the highest.

But why should it be necessary in this case, to distinguish the Society into classes according to their property? When it is considered that the establishment and endowment of Academies, Colleges, and Universities are a provision, not merely for the existing generation, but for succeeding ones also; that in Governments like ours a constant rotation of property results from the free scope to industry, and from the laws of inheritance, and when it is considered moreover, how much of the exertions and privations of all are meant not for themselves, but for their posterity, there can be little ground for objections from any class, to plans of which every class must have its turn of benefits. The rich man, when contributing to a permanent plan for the education of the poor, ought to reflect that he is providing for that of his own descendants; and the poor man who concurs in a provision for those who are not poor that at no distant day it may be enjoyed by descendants from himself. It does not require a long life to witness these vicissitudes of fortune.

It is among the happy peculiarities of our Union, that the States composing it derive from their relation to each other and to the whole, a salutary emulation, without the enmity involved in competitions among States alien to each other. This emulation, we may perceive, is not without its influence in several important respects; and in none ought it to be more felt than in the merit of diffusing the light and the advantages of Public Instruction. In the example therefore which Kentucky is presenting, she not only consults her own welfare, but is giving an impulse to any of her sisters who may be behind her in the noble career.

Throughout the Civilized World, nations are courting the praise of fostering Science and the useful Arts, and are opening their eyes to the principles and the blessings of Representative Government. The American people owe it to themselves, and to the cause of free Government, to prove by their establishments for the advancement and diffusion of Knowledge, that their political Institutions, which are attracting observation from every quarter, and are respected as Models, by the newborn States in our own Hemisphere, are as favorable to the intellectual and moral improvement of Man as they are conformable to his individual & social Rights. What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty & Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual & surest support?

The Committee, of which your name is the first, have taken a very judicious course in endeavouring to avail Kentucky of the experience of elder States, in modifying her Schools. I enclose extracts from the laws of Virginia on that subject; though I presume they will give little aid; the less as they have as yet been imperfectly carried into execution. The States where such systems have been long in operation will furnish much better answers to many of the enquiries stated in your Circular. But after all, such is the diversity of local circumstances, more particularly as the population varies in density & sparseness, that the details suited to some may be little so to others. As the population however, is becoming less & less sparse, and it will be well in laying the foundation of a Good System, to have a view to this progressive change, much attention seems due to examples in the Eastern States, where the people are most compact, & where there has been the longest experience in plans of popular education.

I know not that I can offer on the occasion any suggestions not likely to occur to the Committee. Were I to hazard one, it would be in favour of adding to Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic, to which the instruction of the poor, is commonly limited, some knowledge of Geography; such as can easily be conveyed by a Globe & Maps, and a concise Geographical Grammar. And how easily & quickly might a general idea even, be conveyed of the Solar System, by the aid of a Planatarium of the Cheapest construction. No information seems better calculated to expand the mind and gratify curiosity than what would thus be imparted. This is especially the case, with what relates to the Globe we inhabit, the Nations among which it is divided, and the characters and customs which distinguish them. An acquaintance with foreign Countries in this mode, has a kindred effect with that of seeing them as travellers, which never fails, in uncorrupted minds, to weaken local prejudices, and enlarge the sphere of benevolent feelings. A knowledge of the Globe & its various inhabitants, however slight, might moreover, create a taste for Books of Travels and Voyages; out of which might grow a general taste for History, an inexhaustible fund of entertainment & instruction. Any reading not of a vicious species must be a good substitute for the amusements too apt to fill up the leisure of the labouring classes.

I feel myself much obliged Sir by your expressions of personal kindness, and pray you to accept a return of my good wishes, with assurances of my great esteem & respect.

Careful readers will note Madison assumed public schools; he had been one of those who contributed to the Northwest Ordinances, which set aside pieces of every township, which land was to be used to create public schooling on the frontiers of America.  If you think Madison’s description of what was to be taught and how sounds an awful lot like Advanced Placement (AP) courses, or the International Baccalaureate curriculum (IB), you’d be in good company.  As opposed to those yahoos who oppose AP or question IB.

_____________
* This line was a favorite quote of Education Secretary Bill Bennett when I published his works in the area. I cannot say whether he still favors Madison’s view, but once upon a time Bennett was rational on these issues.

 

More:


The Testing Camera. Really just a fable?

February 16, 2015

In reality, few kids get the pep talk Daisy got from her father.

About Peter H. Reynolds and Fablevision:

Peter H. Reynolds, creativity advocate and best-selling author and illustrator, and co-founder of FableVision Learning, has created a new animated short called The Testing Camera — a whimsical poke at high-stakes, standardized testing and a reminder that real assessment is as easy, and — at the same time — as challenging as getting to really know the gifts and talents of every child.

“We’ve gone through a very test-centric decade which, in my opinion, has consumed a lot of time, energy, and resources,” Reynolds shares. “Many teachers have had to adhere to new mandates and measures that require a ‘teach to the test’ approach. Public schools redirected funding for art, music, theater, libraries, field trips, and more. It’s a discouraging picture for those trying to reach all children in creative, engaging ways.”

Reynolds, who is known for his books encouraging creativity, The Dot, Ish, Sky Color and The North Star among many others, penned this whimsical and poignant story about a young girl named Daisy who, dismayed at her art class being canceled, nervously faces her turn with the “Testing Camera.” This huge apparatus snaps at her with a few blinding flashes of light. Weeks later, her father’s reaction to the test results surprises Daisy in a most wonderful way.

“This is my gift to educators to remind them to follow their instincts and remember why they got into teaching in the first place: to see the potential in every child, to nurture those emerging gifts and talents, and to change lives,” Reynolds shared.

The film was produced by FableVision, the transmedia studio in Boston founded by Peter and his twin brother, Paul Reynolds, author of Going Places and the Sydney & Simon series. The Testing Camera was directed by John Lechner with music by Tony Lechner, and animated by a team of young animators interning at FableVision for the summer. Broadway actor Chester Gregory lends his voice to the project.

Reynolds offers this as a poster for downloading at his site.  Teachers, do you have the guts to put it up in your room?

Peter H. Reynolds poster,

Peter H. Reynolds poster, “I am not the Test Score.”

Tip of the old scrub brush to Rick Gilson.


Ravitch cites Yohuru Williams: Why education privatization is not what Dr. King wanted

January 21, 2015

I can’t improve on this with explanation, really, so I’ll just quote completely the post from Diane Ravitch at her blog.  Ravitch wrote:

Yohuru Williams, professor of history at Fairfield University, has written a brilliant and powerful piece about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the current effort to privatize large sectors of public education, especially in urban districts.

He scoffs at the idea that turning public schools over to private management is “the civil rights issue of our time,” as so many “reformers” say. He cites a number of statements by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that claim the mantle of civil rights for policies that actually exacerbate segregation.

He cites Dr. King at length to show that he would  not have supported the use of standardized testing as a means of “reform.”

Dr. Williams writes:

Dr. Yohuru R. Williams, Professor of History, Fairfield University

Dr. Yohuru R. Williams, Professor of History, Fairfield University

“We must remember,” King warned, “that intelligence is not enough . . . Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” He asserted, “The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

King saw the goal of education as more than performance on high-stakes tests or the acquisition of job skills or career competencies. He saw it as the cornerstone of free thought and the use of knowledge in the public interest. For King, the lofty goal of education was not just to make a living but also to make the world a better place by using that production of knowledge for good. “To save man from the morass of propaganda,” King opined, “is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” The notion that privatization can foster equality is fiction.

Dr. King understood the dangers of privatization, writes Dr. Williams:

King saw how school privatization was used to maintain segregation in Georgia. He witnessed the insidious efforts of Eugene Talmadge’s son, Herman, a distinguished lawyer, who succeeded his father in the governor’s office. Herman Talmadge created what became known as the “private-school plan.” In 1953, before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, Talmadge proposed an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to empower the general assembly to privatize the state’s public education system. “We can maintain separate schools regardless of the US Supreme Court,” Talmadge advised his colleagues, “by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision.” The plan was simple. If the Supreme Court decided, as it eventually did in Brown, to mandate desegregation, the state would close the schools and issue vouchers to allowing students to enroll in segregated private schools.

What we are seeing in the name of “reform” today is the same plan with slight modifications: brand schools as low-performing factories of failure, encourage privatization, and leave the vast majority of students in underfunded, highly stigmatized public schools.

This effort will create an America that looks more like the 1967 Kerner Commission’s forecast, two societies separate and unequal, than Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community.

Dr. Williams says that the corporate education reform movement is the opposite of what Dr. King sought:

For King, the Beloved Community was a global vision of human cooperation and understanding where all peoples could share in the abundant resources of the planet. He believed that universal standards of human decency could be used to challenge the existence of poverty, famine, and economic displacement in all of its forms. A celebration of achievement and an appreciation of fraternity would blot out racism, discrimination, and distinctions of any kind that sought to divide rather than elevate people—no matter what race, religion, or test score. The Beloved Community promoted international cooperation over competition. The goal of education should be not to measure our progress against the world but to harness our combined intelligence to triumph over the great social, scientific, humanistic, and environmental issues of our time.

While it seeks to claim the mantle of the movement and Dr. King’s legacy, corporate education reform is rooted in fear, fired by competition and driven by division. It seeks to undermine community rather than build it and, for this reason, it is the ultimate betrayal of the goals and values of the movement.

Real triumph over educational inequalities can only come from a deeper investment in our schools and communities and a true commitment to tackling poverty, segregation, and issues affecting students with special needs and bilingual education. The Beloved Community is to be found not in the segregated citadels of private schools but in a well-funded system of public education, free and open to all—affirming our commitment to democracy and justice and our commitment to the dignity and worth of our greatest resource, our youth.

When President Obama talks about “the long haul,” part of that involves increasing the investment in our public schools.  Are we up for that?

Be sure to check Dr. Ravitch’s blog for comments — she gets more readership than I.  But feel free to comment here!

Dr. Diane Ravitch. Photo by Ed Darrell

Dr. Diane Ravitch. Photo by Ed Darrell

More:


Politician’s phrase went viral, perhaps not as he hoped

November 17, 2014

Mexico’s Attorney General said he’s had enough.

(Reuters) – After weeks fielding questions about the abduction and apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers by corrupt police in league with drug gang members, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo has had enough.

He’s not the only one.

  Mexico's Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam listens to a question during a news conference in Mexico City November 7, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Tomas Bravo

Reuters caption: Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam listens to a question during a news conference in Mexico City November 7, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Tomas Bravo

Facing a grilling over the details of the case, which has sent shockwaves across Mexico and triggered outrage at impunity, Murillo sought to wrap up a news conference on Friday evening, arching his eyebrows with the aside “Ya me canse”, or “I’ve had enough”.

The phrase came shortly after he told the press that the trainee teachers were apparently incinerated by drug gang henchmen and their remains tipped in a garbage dump and a river.

Murillo’s words have gone viral, with #YaMeCanse and #estoycansado (I’m tired) among the most trending hashtags on Twitter in Mexico.

Protesters who have railed against the government’s handling of the case sprayed the phrase “I’ve had enough .. of fear” on the entrance of the Attorney General’s office overnight.

Many Tweeters said that like Murillo, they were tired – but of impunity, injustice and corrupt politicians.

Some tweeted that if Murillo was so tired, he should resign.

That was over a week ago.

What’s happened since then?

In no particular order:

Protesters at Mexico City's National Palace Pedro Mera/Xinhua/ZUMA. Via Mother Jones

Protesters at Mexico City’s National Palace Pedro Mera/Xinhua/ZUMA. Via Mother Jones

Image from Fox News Latino

Image from Fox News Latino (photo actually prior to Mexico Attorney General’s press conference)

David De La Paz/Xinhua/ZUMA, via Mother Jones

David De La Paz/Xinhua/ZUMA, via Mother Jones

I wonder:

  • Who has had enough?
  • Enough of what?
  • Demonstrations are worldwide; it’s not an Arab Spring, but some of these actions are eerily similar to events in the summer of 1968.  Do we sit on the cusp of significant change?
  • Do parallels exist between the loss of the 43 students in Mexico, and the loss of one man in Ferguson, Missouri?
  • Do these events have any effect on, or are they affected by, education reform efforts in the U.S.?  Other political events in the U.S.?
  • What are we to make of these events?
  • Is this enough? Ya basta? #YaMeCanse?
  • What should we do, individually, and together?
Cartoon by Marent

Cartoon by Marent


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