Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

PERSPECTIVES

November 5, 2017

Perspectives

 

Last week, I had been invited to be the guest speaker at a luncheon for alumni for all graduation classes from my high school. The luncheon, one of four held tri-monthly each year, I had attended for the first time last July. Naturally I was curious about why I had been invited to speak, but as I mentioned in the beginning of my speech, I found out they couldn’t get Sean Spicer, so I was all that was left.

When I asked what they wanted me to talk about, the organizer said “anything you want.” Well, people who know me could have told him that’s a dangerous move, particularly since I’m not known as an outstanding public speaker, and I know that. One of his colleagues suggested, “Oh, talk about your memories of things in high school, and beyond”. I guess she was unaware how much “and beyond” encompasses, but at least it gave me a start. One caveat caused a problem, this was to be contained within a maximum 30 minutes, given that everyone in the audience had probably attained Medicare eligibility and individually has difficulty remaining in place for even that long. Some of them appeared to have Parkinson’s symptoms, and I’m sure that the majority probably wore hearing aids.

Over several weeks ahead of the luncheon, I started and discarded numerous attempts—They were either too long, not only for the allotted time period but also I doubted that they could hold anyone’s attention beyond the scheduled time unless I could come up with some interesting elements. I even tried to soften the atmosphere by telling them that years ago, while I myself was in the audience at a “keynote” speech, the speaker had commented on some research that indicated that at any one time during such a speech, about 20% of the audience were thinking erotic thoughts. They loved that statistic, and later I asked if anyone was in that percentage.

But back to my preparation. As I grew increasingly frustrated, I finally turned to an old friend who is a retired journalist, for help, and help she did! She said that everyone in that room has had a career, and probably wouldn’t find mine any more interesting than their own; we all had shared quite similar experiences in high school, and to some extent, “and beyond”. She said “what has been the most unique major event in your life that no one else in that room has experienced, and talk about that!”

And so, it became simple. I had been among the first group of Peace Corps Volunteers to go overseas, and certainly had lots to tell! Weaving in anecdotes from my two years as a volunteer, from meeting President Kennedy in the Oval Office at the White House through the travails of my travels to Timbuktu, to living during my second year in the most isolated location in the country of Ghana, and to a final ringing down of the curtain in a private session with former President Harry Truman, I was able to use my Peace Corps experience as a vehicle to emphasize a concern which is of great importance to me.

It begins with the Native American poem, “Judge not thy brother until you’ve walked in his moccasins”. I strongly believe that the rampant polarization in our current society has its roots in the inability of various groups to appreciate or understand perspectives of other groups. The key word here is “perspectives”, or in less formal terms, opinions.

Those who have followed my blogging over the years will recall my concerns about people, and politicians in particular, stating their opinions as if they are facts. And as I took a closer look, I emphasized that most decisions are not based directly on facts but rather on opinions derived from filtering the facts through an individual’s or group’s background of education, culture, and experience. Given this screening, it’s to be expected that there will be differences in opinion, and greater differences the more divergent are the filters that form the opinions.

My Peace Corps experience opened my eyes to a multitude of things, not the least of which was a changing perspective of our own country. I had entered into my service with the belief that “America does no wrong”, and up to that point had never experienced anything from my white middle class background to cause me to reconsider that viewpoint. Now, suddenly I was immersed in an all-black culture, albeit one having a smattering of leftover British merchants, and a black milieu probably quite different from ones “at home”. But at various times during my two years, the early 60’s, events were occurring in the United States that were being featured in the local Ghanaian newspapers, complete with pictures of white policemen using clubs and vicious dogs against peaceful black protestors, of soldiers called in to provide black students access to schools, of persons seeking equal rights for all Americans regardless of race, and being murdered —- and I was being asked to explain “Why?”.

This was my first personal recognition of bigotry; I had had only minimal contact with other races while growing up, and our family avoided the use of any “bad language” including what I came to know as racial epithets. Now I was being asked, as a representative of the United States, to defend something that Intuitively I knew was wrong and not in accord with the declared values contained in my country’s virtually “sacred documents”, The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. I had a new Perspective.

Why this is important to me could be seen later, when another PCV and I were meeting with President Truman. He asked, “Well, what did you learn over there in Africa?”. I replied, “Mr. President, I got a different perspective of our country. I saw some things that are wrong with it.” He bristled and said, “You’re in helluva shape if you think there’s anything wrong with this country!”. I responded, “I don’t mean to argue with you, Mr. President, it’s not the country, it’s some of the people in it!”. A different perspective.

That was 60 years ago. My perspective has continued to undergo revision as each new experience in each new location appeared to toggle my beliefs and attitudes. I worked in the first integrated public boarding school in the U.S., in Winston-Salem, N.C.; later with the Black Panthers as I was picked to establish an education program in the inner city of Gary, Indiana under a Model Cities grant. I taught math in a Kansas City, Missouri all-black high school, such having changed from an all white school as people moved away and others moved in. I had three years as a principal in a Native American elementary school; I taught Anthropology in a Southern Baptist University where students were demonstrating for the right to wear shorts on campus, while other schools were crusading for civil rights. I supervised student teachers in NYC schools while helping in a Peace Corps program training teachers for Nigeria; I evaluated schools in rural Wyoming, where I’ve lived for 45 years, and on military bases and in private international schools around the globe. Most of the last 50 years I’ve been involved toward improvement in education, treating it as a subculture and applying the principles of Applied Anthropology to change and development. I have perspective! (and it’s still changing).

I’ve either lived in or used as my home base for 45 years a small town of 3000, overwhelmingly white, and many of its residents have never even been out of the state. Given my background, my attitudes and opinions are quite different from many of those I see around me. Controversial topics such as those arising from the furor over athletes kneeling during the National Anthem raise many hackles among the locals, even though in most cases they haven’t stopped to really understand what it’s all about. They get their news from conservative talk radio and television; almost any waiting area in a service provider has a television continually tuned to Fox News, for the entertainment of the clients. Local perspectives are, in general, highly limited in the scope available to use in making decisions, particularly those dealing with long range and widely-encompassing policies. And given the insularity of most Wyoming communities, there’s little pressure to change.

These, my meeting with former President Truman and my long-time residence in Wyoming, are just two examples of many from my personal life that illustrate how peoples can become “poles apart”. I could add a lengthy and enlightening email correspondence with an Islamic colleague, made more illuminating by her outstanding writing ability, that has helped me to not only have a better understanding of her religion but also aided me in clarifying my own. But I’m not aware of many other persons seeking to enhance their personal perspectives regarding this topic. Mosy merely “reject”, as they’ve been told to do.

Finally, I want to say a few things about Patriotism.

I hear people often saying, “You must be proud of America”, or “You must be proud to be an American”. In truth, I’m not quite there yet. I’m proud of the ideals written by Jefferson and his colleagues in establishing this country, but I’m not proud of the way those very ideals are being trampled and set aside in favor of personal greed and grudges for and against persons supposedly being fellow citizens entitled to the same rights and privileges as all of us. I think in that, I share to a degree the aims of those athletes kneeling peacefully, without disrupting, events in which they are a part. My perspective on that is that they are merely saying, as I do, “We’re not there yet”. More accurately, at least in my personal beliefs, I’m lucky to be an American, and proud that we have in our established governmental system the means to create that pride.

I’ve thought a lot about pride, and come to the belief that most simply it comes down to “a warm feeling” in seeing something good happen, whether it’s your children achieving a goal, a successful program in which you had a part, an action taken by our government to ease the suffering of people here at home and around the world, or just about anything showing positive outcomes toward the improvement of The Human Condition.

I would like to see The Pledge of Allegiance broadened to specifically state the ideals drafted by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence, and that in reciting the Pledge each of us is committing to incorporate those ideals into our personal lives, and to act in accordance with them. That, to me, would be true Patriotism.

So, in conclusion I return to that Native American poem for help. I believe that if we all “would walk in our brother’s moccasins” we would have a better understanding of each other and perhaps cause polarity to become only a bad memory.

Always Be Happy            To Our Youth

 

 

 

 

 

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MARHABA!

February 26, 2014

MARHABA! (Arabic for Hello)

Well, here we go again! It’s time to get out my Arabic language cards and refresh all those important words and phrases. I fly back to Cairo on the 13th of March to assist on one of our AdvancEd accreditation visitations to a small high school in the Heliopolis area of the city.

When our team finishes on the 18th, some Egyptian friends are taking me to their country/weekend home a few hours from Cairo, to a small town that is known for making excellent pottery. Undoubtedly my father’s flea market gene will raise its head and I’ll return home with a number of new artifacts. I fly home on the 23rd, realizing that the 3:30 a.m. flight is not punishment, only a schedule necessity, and as all of my flights are aboard Lufthansa, my so-far favorite carrier, it’s not all bad.

So far, I’ve selected MaSalaama (good bye), thayib (it is good), mumtaz (excellent), La (no), naam (yes), Shookran (thanks), Afwahn (you’re welcome), Kem?(how much?) and perhaps the most practical of all, Wain al hammam? (Where is the bathroom?). These should be enough to deal with bell hops, taxi drivers, and general interaction although I think all of them fall short when one becomes involved with unwelcome incursions. Hopefully nothing of that sort will occur but if it does, I shall likely resort to using language more familiar to me, generally consisting of a string of four letter words and for my personal enjoyment.

As is usually the case, the school is placing us in a luxurious hotel, at least my Googling indicates that the Heliopolis Fairmont deserves my attention. And it couldn’t be more welcome, given the disastrous winter we’ve had throughout the U.S. I’m just glad I don’t live anywhere from Chicago eastward. I understand that the March temperatures in Cairo linger around 85 F., a cause for rejoicing.

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A recent visit to begin the spoiling process for our new grandson was highly successful; we managed to spend a bunch of dollars in getting him off to a good start, and were pleased to hear that he has a voice which could guarantee him at least a career as a star in one of Wagner’s operas. Loud is important. My wife and I struggled to recall what we used to do with his father as an infant, to achieve some mellowing out from the crying and yes, some bellowing. Even if it could be reduced to a mild whimper, would be an improvement. So, we took turns walking the hallway and bouncing up and down, meanwhile counting the minutes until his parents would return from a two hour outing. I think we used to go for rides in the car, and phenol barbital was available ostensibly for cold symptoms. Nowadays, at least in Colorado and Washington State, there are other nostrums.

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Next week, I shall be attending the Wyoming School Improvement Conference in Casper, a semi-annual affair that brings lots of national speakers to provide resources for our state’s educators. Usually, anywhere from 700-1000 attend, depending upon weather conditions and local finances. During the conference there will be presentations to prepare school personnel for AdvancEd visits to their own districts during the coming spring and fall, and “refresher sessions” for those of us leading teams to schools and districts both at home and abroad. Next fall, the conference will be in Cheyenne at the Little America complex.

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In late April, I’ve been invited back to be a volunteer at the Wells Fargo Championship Golf Tournament in Charlotte, N.C. Relying upon my background and experience, I’m assigned to monitor children up to the age of 12, as they stand behind the ropes in the practice range area. I try to herd them to placements so that they can get autographs from the players, all of whom seem happy to comply with all of those pens and articles being thrust toward them for signatures. Last year, it was usually raining lightly, but still enjoyable. I hope to have my clubs with me this time and play with my son and other grandsons, who live in Charlotte, and I’ll make a trip down to Atlanta to play with one of my colleagues from our Peace Corps Days, 51 years ago. They had best beware; I think I’ve finally solved the shanking and chipping issue that’s plagued me for five years! And it was just a minor adjustment!

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Sobering thoughts are more frequently invading my mind as I realize how lucky I’ve been, at least to some extent. In the aging process, a variety of diseases, conditions, and downright deterioration begin to work their tools on one’s body, and in many cases we’re only held together by a cluster of pharmaceuticals and supplements.

In looking back over the years, most of us would have died years ago from one thing or another, if not for modern medicine and its continuing advances. I recall having scarlet fever and measles simultaneously when I was about 8; without medicine I would have passed on at a very early age. But during the past year, more and more of my friends and colleagues have died, many of them much younger than I (I’m 75); at the same time I also see younger persons fighting to survive a variety of terrible diseases, and I try to count my blessings that mainly I have only back pain from arthritis, numbness from neuropathy, and a number of other non-terminal conditions that only make daily living uncomfortable. But at least I can still travel, walk, play golf, and I remain vertical most of the time. And most of the 10 pills I take daily are merely OTC supplements for Iron, B-12, and to relieve other irritations.

So instead of worrying about which of the several unwelcome intrusions into this former cathedral of health is going to get me, I will try and ignore the possibilities, just as I do in returning once again, to Cairo.

MaSalaama!

Always Be Happy   To Our Youth

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

March 27, 2013

Well, travel fans, it’s that time again! I leave on April 8 for some more far flung places, once more a test of this battered, once magnificent body now suffering the ravages of age.

As most of you know, both my wife and I are volunteers for AdvancEd, the organization having the responsibility for accreditation of over 32,000 schools around the globe. Most of them are in the U.S.A.; most of the public schools in 43 of the states rely on us to take a good look at their programs and make recommendations about how they can continue to improve. Each school or school district is visited every five years and, as it turns out, my assignment this time is to a school that my wife visited five years ago on her first overseas assignment, to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. To this point in time, we’ve never been to the same school together; as a matter of fact, while I’m in Bahrain she will be in Tokyo, which is not “just around the corner”.

The main benefits that accrue to us as volunteers include seeing something new and effective at each site we visit, and being able to tell others about it. At the same time, once our official duties are completed, we may take side trips on our own funds to experience places of personal interest while on our way to or from the assigned location. Last year in fact, I circumnavigated the globe, evaluating schools in Japan, South Korea, and Cairo, and was able to take a five day river trip on the Nile before proceeding to London and visiting Stonehenge. Both of these items were near the top of my personal “Bucket List”, although as I get older that particular term holds some unwelcome nuances.

In previous years, I have had three trips to Germany, a trip to Saudi Arabia, and another to Cairo, on official business. These provided me the opportunity to have a few days of April in Paris, a week with my niece in Prague and the village from which my grandparents came, Istanbul and the Bosporus, and Amsterdam and Delft, in Holland.

Venice and Bahrain

So, what are my Bucket List items this time? Well, as it turns out my colleague and I have to stop over in Venice, Italy, on the way, for a briefing about the Mediterranean District of the Department of Defense Education Agency, a structure within the Department of Defense that supervises all the schools attached to military bases around the world. At present, there are about 197 of those schools, but there are forecasts of some being closed down during the next few years. The Bahrain School is somewhat unique as it is not physically located on the military (Naval) base; it is a short distance away. At the same time, it has students from more than 40 countries studying alongside our American kids, in a K-12 English-speaking instructional program. I am indeed excited to immerse myself in this school, as I have long been a proponent of multicultural educational programs. And although Venice was not on my list, I can’t turn down this opportunity for a couple of days browsing the pigeons in the famous square, and water skiing wearing a Speedo down the Grand Canal.

Immediately after our briefing, we fly on to Bahrain, having to change planes in Dubai after a six-hour flight, then an hour back to Manama, the Bahrainian capital. The first school we visit is the Middle/High School, having a bit fewer than 300 kids, and our duties begin on a Sunday and conclude on Wednesday. The school operates on the Islamic week, which is Sunday to Thursday; Friday and Saturday are the weekend with the Friday focus being on religious activity. We then have several days before repeating the activities at the Elementary School, a school of 300 children. During our “break”, we are free to become tourists, and I’ve already noted that there are some archaeological sites to visit on the various islands that make up the Kingdom. I know that I’ll spend at least one day preparing my report. There’s also a causeway connecting Bahrain to the Saudi peninsula, but my Saudi visa is expired so I probably won’t be able to take advantage of that location. Rather, I’ll probably spend a lot of dinars in the Souk, the bazaar that masquerades as my dad’s flea market space. My wife said that they emphasize the selling of gold objects, something quite foreign to my personal tastes. I’ll probably get overcharged (i.e. screwed) again for some kind of textiles, as happened in Istanbul and Cairo.

Scotland

On April 26, my Bucket List once again raises its head, as I fly to Glasgow, Scotland for a three-day stopover on my way back to the U.S. Why Glasgow? Well, it’s a short 40 mile train ride to Troon on the West Coast, and a 100-mile bus trip to St. Andrews on the East, the birthplace of golf and possibly the final resting place of the real Holy Grail (somewhere I read that the word “Titleist” is engraved on the Grail). I discovered that the famous “Auld Course” is shut down on Sundays except during major tournaments, in order to allow the townsfolk to stroll across the landscape. The club’s representative informed me that “yes, the course will be closed on the 28th, and you are quite welcome.” Well, there’s a lot more $$$ to be left to help out the local economy. I’ll also visit the Golf Museum and the town of St. Andrews before returning to Glasgow.

On the 27th I will go to Troon, and hopefully meet the father of a friend of mine with whom I became acquainted last summer during my London stopover. As I understand it, the father is a friend of the Chairman of the Royal Troon Golf Club, another of the courses that have been used for The Open (i.e., “British Open”) Golf Tournament. Perhaps we will be able to lunch there, and spend some quiet time in the town and looking at the coastal scenery. If I’m feeling up to it, I may try to arrange a return to Troon on the 29th, for a 9-hole round of golf.

Next stop, the U.S. of A.

I leave Glasgow on April 30, my destination being Clayton, North Carolina near Raleigh, and my brother’s home. After a brief stop, I proceed to Charlotte where I’ve been accepted as a volunteer for the Wells Fargo Championship, a fairly major golf tournament. I will be working at the event on May 3rd and 5th, reserving the 4th for my son and grandsons to do the “spectator thing”. On the 6th I head to Atlanta for a couple of days of golf with one of my close friends from Peace Corps days in the early ‘60’s. Then, it’s back to my brother’s, through the 12th; taking a few hours to attend a friend’s son’s Law School graduation at Duke. Finally, it’s back to the Center of the Universe (Wyoming), the place I’ve chosen as home.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, now you can decide whether to open any of the travelogue emails I send out as I move about the world; you’ll have an idea as to whether it’s something you’d be interested in, or not. Or, you can read them on the blog site, rkrisko.com (Bob’s Muse).

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this five-week Odyssey is really in the nature of a test of my physical state; many of you are aware that I have an ailment that is intent on slowing down my activity, and for which I’m scheduled for a visit to the Mayo Clinic in late May to see what treatment options may provide some relief. In other words, this might be my last extensive trip at least until we can resolve the health issues. I sure hate to let someone else use all those Frequent Flyer miles (170,000)!

Always Be Happy & Heartily Healthy!  To Our Youth with Vigor & Rigor!

SOME EDUCATION THOUGHTS AND A VENT OR TWO

February 25, 2013

Some Education Thoughts, and A Vent or Two

During the past few years, I have become increasingly disturbed relative to the directions that both local and national emphases have taken toward the demand for educational accountability. As a matter of fact, our state legislature this month stripped the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of most of her duties and responsibilities, arguing that under her management of the State’s Department of Education, she had not effectively carried out the legislature’s dictates toward establishing a productive system for measurement of school effectiveness and student achievement. Instead, they are creating a Director of Education position within which the legislature’s directives constitute a major focus. The existing Superintendent will retain some comparatively minor responsibilities and function with only a relatively small staff. It needs to be mentioned that there were some other concerns expressed by Wyoming educators through their legislative representatives, so it was not only the accountability issue that precipitated the action.

As a part of this upheaval, the role of assessment played a major role in decisions about how schools should be held accountable. During the past 20 years, Wyoming has been a leader nationally in establishing high standards within assessment programs. In the early 90’s, school districts were directed to individually establish standards for graduation, a difficult task especially when most of the school districts are quite small and have a limited number of staff members having the time to accomplish such a complex assignment. Many of our districts looked to the three largest ones, ones that were well-staffed with specialists and having significant funding to support the “movement”. Materials that were developed in these “anchor districts” were shared across the state, but as they differed somewhat one from the other, there continued to be a lack of consistency in the measurement of student achievement throughout the state. Ultimately, the state offered standards in nine subject areas, that could be adopted by districts, and most did so. Unfortunately, the state left the task of developing assessments of those standards to the local districts, we were still left with the difficult issue of inconsistency throughout the state, and the problem of not having enough staff to create effective, well-aligned measures.

The district in which I was the Curriculum Director attacked the initial assignment in two directions; first, we hired two consultants to provide leadership in developing and aligning assessments with our district’s curriculum objectives, by subject area and by grade level. Second, we formed a committee of school personnel and community representatives to establish requirements for graduation.

That first direction was relatively straightforward, I doubt if there is any school district anywhere that doesn’t rely to either a greater or lesser extent on test data. But it was the second activity that was the most exciting; I’ll try to give a brief overview here and expand upon it at a later date. Here’s what we did:

Instead of looking toward tests and grade points as the foundation of decision-making, we asked the question, “What do we want our students to be able to do when they leave our high school?” This led to discussing what background a student needs in order to be successful, regardless of which path is chosen. This led further toward one of the main points included in a blog I just read, High Performing Educational Systems (in “It’s a Halal Life”, by Susan Labadi). I summarize some of her reasoning by stating that Learning and Living should not be separated, knowledge and performance are not conveniently divided into separate little cubicles but must be taken together. She goes on to provide strong support for not removing the so-called “liberal arts” from the curriculum in favor of providing more math, reading, and science; the areas which are the “usual” focus for assessment. To be really “educated”, students need to know that the liberal arts are the fertile ground from which most of “who we are” has grown; the Humanities represent the all-encompassing universal that brings it all together. Math and Science do not exist in a vacuum.

I was further excited to see that she, along with our current President, are making the case for students to graduate from high school with a marketable skill, something for which I was a proponent 20 years ago, but to deaf ears. I think that there has been too much emphasis on “going to college” when in fact there are lots of careers that do not require a college degree. Our state, for example, has a host of high-paying blue-collar jobs related to the mineral and fossil fuel industries. It seemed a bit ironic to me that a number of years ago, recognizing that our state often is “rolling in dough” from the mineral, gas, and oil extraction, our legislature established a scholarship program which would provide for many students’ tuition to one of our state’s higher education facilities. The advertised intent was to keep more of our Wyoming college graduates “in the state”. What they ignored was that there just aren’t that many openings for college graduates within our hiring community; in fact, the coal and oil companies have had to set up their own schools to train new persons for the specialized requirements of their industries.

To return to my overview, we wanted students to demonstrate that they could competently apply what they had learned from their four years of high school. To do this, we identified seven areas, each of which emphasized the interaction of subjects rather than their separation. The seven areas were Communication, Citizenship, Global/Environmental, Health/Fitness, Career/Vocational, History and Culture, Independent Learning. Within each one, a student was to make choices about topics and skills to use and select modes for communicating; the areas were stated in terms of what the student would do. An example would be “Health/Fitness: The student will use a research-based assessment to determine the state of his/her fitness, establish personal fitness goals and implement a plan of action toward meeting those goals.” A variety of evidence was to be used including portfolios, projects, videos, etc.

Note that we didn’t mention, math, science, or reading; since graduation also required meeting certain numbers of course credits, we assumed that the students had had their fill of testing of those topics within their classes. We were interested in seeing if they could use what they were to have learned. An interesting series of discussions focused on Writing; instead of requiring Writing as one of the areas, we recognized several things—First, most people don’t use actual writing as part of their jobs. Second, what they do need to learn is how to organize their thoughts in order to communicate effectively whether it’s through writing, speaking, use of technology, art, etc. Our graduation requirement allowed the student to choose a format with which he/she was comfortable; to choose a topic to either narrate, describe, evaluate, critique, etc.

Another example came from Global/Environmental; we wanted the student to be able to demonstrate understanding of how changes on one part of the planet affected things elsewhere not only environmentally but also economically, politically, and culturally. To be effective, the student would have to draw from a variety of courses. They might choose the Brazilian rain forest as a topic; it’s deforestation in order to grow sugar cane for ethanol has caused a spike in coffee prices throughout the world, due to the loss of coffee growing regions, and added ozone to the atmosphere. Here we see economics, agriculture, politics, and etc. woven together.

Unfortunately, our plan all went by the wayside in the mid-90’s, when the state decided to have everyone write assessments and use them as the basis for graduation along with the usual class credits and GPA. I still hope to resurrect it in some form, somewhere.

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Odds and Ends

Social Networks—-One current issue is the florescence of the “social networks” over the Internet. A trustee of our major university expressed his concern about the lack of involvement of students with creative writing; these short “tweets” and facebook texting are “dumbing down” good communication and, in my opinion, interfering with the thought processes that allow for any kind of in-depth introspection either personal or in one’s surroundings. I need to add that I’m also skeptical of all the “distance learning” programs; I’ve yet to see one that even somewhat approaches the effectiveness of a good classroom teacher having the skills described in Ms. Labadi’s blog.

Whom to Blame? A note about an issue in assessment—our legislature has been tussling with the whole “Teacher of Record” problem. If indeed student performance on the usual math, science, and reading tests is to be used to measure teacher effectiveness, then how do the shop teacher, the P.E. teacher, and the Social Studies teacher fit in? Who gets the blame for poor performance? The question remains unresolved!

School Resource Officers—I don’t think they should be expected to be able to deter one of these maniacs from doing terrible things to kids in school. After all, if the SRO has several schools to patrol, the perp only has to wait until the SRO goes to another building. Furthermore, even if there is an SRO for each school, I am of the opinion that if someone really is intent on malicious acts, they can do them. I would rather consider the SRO to be someone who coordinates activities that help to identify youngsters who might have the tendency to become a problem, such as loners, un-involved, social outcasts, bullies. I recall a film, “Cipher in the Snow”, from the BYU film library, which really brings home how some kids are “part of the wallpaper”, with sad results. Many of the recent killers are documented as not having “fit in” when they were in high school; perhaps if someone had made an effort with them they would not have gone “to the Dark Side”. I recall that in evaluating six alternative high schools, when I asked students “Why are you successful here but you weren’t at the regular high schoo?”, I always got some version of the same answer. “Because an adult took an interest in me and wouldn’t let me fail.” Identifying these kids and having activities to address their interests would go a long way to resolving these issues. The SRO could coordinate all of these.

Bridging the Gap—Last week, I referred a young teacher at a Christian elementary school to the series of blogs that I mentioned, written by a leader in the Islamic education community. It’s not much, but maybe a good start. “A journey of a thousand miles begins……..”

Core Curriculum—I think this is a good move because it will promote consistency nationally. At the same time, it raises standards by requiring students to be able to tell “why” along with the traditional “how”.  The latter is based only on the first two levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy instead of promoting knowledge and skills as tools to use in navigating through the avenues of daily living; the “why” moves toward the Applications, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation levels.

Travel—I’m still scheduled for accreditation visits to schools in Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, in mid and late April. I cancelled a following stop for a school in Kosovo, needing to spend some time with a family member with major health issues. I may drop down to L.A. and Phoenix sometime in March, to deliver some items to my son and to see if I’m still capable of destroying a golf course. It’s become an issue that I’m now required to file an Environmental Impact Statement before setting foot on a course. I’ve been accepted as a volunteer worker at the Wells Fargo Golf Championship in Charlotte, NC, in early May after I return from Bahrain. I’ll also hit the Duke Law School graduation where a close friend’s son is finishing.

Health—-I was disappointed to learn that my correct diagnosis, MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance) is not treated, unless it turns into multiple myeloma (5%-15% of cases). I’ve requested a referral to Mayo, but my doctor hasn’t gotten back to  me about that. Perhaps I’ll hear something by next week, when I attend the Wyoming School Improvement Conference in Casper, where the neurologist is located. I’m still on one 10 mg. prednisone on alternate days for CIDP, and daily doses of the alpha lipoic acid supplement which may or may not help. Less feeling in feet, and maybe some loss of leg strength although I continue my thrice-weekly workouts.

Politics—-I’m tired of Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Chris Matthews. And I have concerns about Chuck Hagel. And how do some of these other idiots get elected—Is the citizenry that stupid?

I hope that the blogs I’ve read recently and referred to are saved for a book–they are extremely well-written and provide thoughtful insights into the educational process. I highly recommend them.

Always Be Happy!       To Our Youth!

Korea Day 2–AND NOW TO WORK

April 24, 2012

Well, today dawned, sort of, with a heavy fog obscuring any stray sunlight that happened by. I actually got a few hours of sleep last night, from  9 p.m. until 3:30 a.m., certainly not enough. Tonight I’m going to try to stay up later and ease wakeup toward 5 a.m. Maybe by the time I head for Cairo it will be properly situated so that it can get screwed up again after another 12 hour flight.

As it appeared to have promise of a cool day, I wore my corduroy slacks, a long sleeved shirt, and a Travel Sport Coat, as we headed to the school to begin our work. Little did I know that a lot of that would come off later, when the temperature climbed into the 80’s. Momentarily, I thought I had been transported already to Egypt.

We met with a variety of groups throughout the day, including the school’s steering committee, students from grades 3-5, and the teaching staff after school. In between meetings we roamed the buildings, visiting classroom briefly to get an idea of student involvement and classroom management styles. The fifth grade classrooms are in the middle school, two blocks away and on the third floor. A barrier has been erected in their hallway to prevent them from contamination from the middle school kids. I met their counselor, an attractive, 6’1” lady blonde from Cheyenne, certainly not a person I would have expected to see here. I also was asked by the Korean Culture teacher if I knew a lady from Wyoming who is now in Germany; I immediately knew he was referring to Barbara Mueller, from Buffalo, Wyoming, and whom I had met two years ago on another of my assignments. Thus, one enters the World of DoDEA! It’s actually a small community where folks know each other in many places, and which turnover is not only among students (50% a year at this school) but also among staff (25%). I met with a group of a dozen teachers, the matriarch of the group has been at the school for four years; most of the rest only one or two years.

Given this situation, one of the problems faced by these schools is maintaining continuity, and in having an effective mentoring process in place to train the new folks. On the plus side, all schools in the system use the same materials while most professional development is dictated system-wide in recognition of all the transiency. All schools use the same curriculum, which does provide a strong element of security and comfort to those who move from place to place. One of my team was being interviewed late this afternoon for a potential move to somewhere in Bavaria, having been in the Far East for many years in Okinawa, Japan, and Korea.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) and Thursday will complete our visit to this school; we then have a few days of rest before doing the same thing at the high school, next week. Our plan to visit the DMZ is on hold, as we are on a waiting list for the tour this Saturday. If we don’t get that, we’ll go on one of the other offerings, either a special cave and lake, or the flower gardens in Seoul and a temple or two. Oh, I almost forgot, there is a golf course here, too.

I’m really wanting to get out to the countryside, and see the rice paddies and other local cultural settings. It may be difficult, given that I have lots of report writing to complete this weekend, but I need to make the effort. I do know that it’s comfortable to be back in a civilized place, one where people drive on the proper side of the road. And are not courteous drivers. Japan was totally opposite!

I’ll let you know if they follow through from North Korea with their threat to burn South Korea to ashes, in just a few minutes of time, and soon. I was trying to find their email address to ask them to hold off until after I leave, and I’d like to send them the name of a good hairdresser.

Always Be Happy                                                                           To Our Youth…Always

The Eagle Has Landed

April 22, 2012

After once again having to deal with United Airlines, I’ve finally made it to Korea. We landed among severe turbulence into a dismal, drizzly landscape, just like those pictures I still have in my mind from the Korean War days of G.I.’s struggling through mud, water, and snow toward their objectives. Speaking of that, I’m to travel next Saturday to the DMZ.
I shall be writing United sometime this week, to express my displeasure. First, the plane was two hours late leaving due to a problem discovered with the air conditioning after everyone had already boarded. We were directed to leave the plane and take our belongings with us, a lengthy, time-consuming process. With my usual optimism, I was able to find “the Sweetness in Adversity” by heading to the men’s room in the airport, for a lengthy rest. After about a half-hour, we were told to once again load, and then sat there for over an hour. It was well that the AC had been fixed; some passengers had personal hygiene issues that cried out for resolution.
I had a window seat, deliberately chosen in order to view San Francisco Bay on departure, the Aleutians at Alaska, Northern Japan and Kachatka Peninsula, and finally Korea, as we flew over. My “seat mates” were a Korean young couple who have exceptional bladder control; neither left their seat during the whole 12 hour ordeal!
Those of you who have read some of my previous entries recall my comparisons of U.S. airlines with Lufthansa and Turkish Air; my comments hold even more truth after this flight. Generally, the flight attendants were grumpy, non-smiling older folks as compared to younger, energetic and friendly individuals on the other airlines. At one point, I had my window shade up about to 2 inches so that I could occasionally check to see if we were flying over one of the previously-mentioned landforms; one of the harridans snarled at me to “Shut that window down!”, apparently either extremely exasperated or mildly perturbed. I asked why and she responded, “So that all those people over there (She waved toward the middle section of the passenger area) can sleep!” I looked, and all seemed to already be with the Sandman, but I complied with her “order”. Being naturally passive aggressive, I occasionally raised the shade not only to peek out but to irritate her if she happened by. Only two of the attendants smiled, the rest seemed resentful that we were even aboard. I could understand that in my case, but the rest of the passengers seemed to be pleasant and compliant, even a bit tolerant. At 73, I don’t feel I still need to be tolerant.
Now, let’s look at the entertainment. I was embarrassed about the perception that foreigners were receiving about the US, given the TV shows selected for viewing during the trip. The worst tone, in my opinion, was “Two and a Half Men”, the Charlie Sheen fiasco. All of the trailers I’d seen actually grossed me out from the perspective of decorum and good taste, this one was no better. It was about him appearing on a kids’ TV show and teaching children songs about “cutting the cheese” and “boobies”. Very bad taste. The next TV show was about a British soccer coach, and featured multiple uses of the “f-bomb” by the players and fans. The other offerings were fine, “30 Rock” and “Everyone Loves Raymond” with an episode that I’d never watched. And the movies were good ones—Sherlock Holmes, The Actor, Bad Robot, and The Tower Heist. I actually managed to doze and snooze briefly on this trip.
And now for the food. I still don’t know how Lufthansa does it. United offered only one meal on this 12 hour trip; and when I was offered the choice between chicken or beef, I chose beef. I got chicken. And it was not good, especially when coupled with the stale, whole wheat roll wrapped in cellophane, and a packet of spread. I missed my Lufthansa camembert cheese, real butter, and french baguette. A limp lettuce salad accompanied by a package of dressing completed the offering, along with a brownie. There were two other food occasions, one was a banana and stale roll wrapped in cellophane, which I refused, and a choice just before arrival of a turkey sandwich or fried noodles as a snack. The sandwich felt stale in its blanket of foil, and the noodles appeared unappetizing. This was affirmed by my seatmate, who chose the noodles and couldn’t eat them due to their gluey consistency. When The Snarler asked what I wanted, I told her that “What I wanted was a meal” and turned down both choices. She’s probably not lying awake nights worrying about it.
Fortunately, my next several flights do not include United. Turkish Airlines, from whom I had a good experience, and BWI are the next major carriers. I’ve been warned however, about Egyptair which will be my transport to Aswan. I was told that they spray for bugs just before you embark, and tell you that the spray is not harmful to humans.

Marco Polo
Always Be Happy     TOur Youth…Always

KOREA 1–THE FIRST DAY

April 22, 2012

I awoke to a repeat of the previous evening—a misty drizzle mildly attacking the blooming cherry blossoms, producing a carpeting of pink petals on the walkways throughout the airbase. The base itself is very unmilitary-appearing, more like a modern city built on and among the many hills in the area. Numerous apartment “towers” are interspersed with military office and service buildings, but all constructed to a similar theme of beige and modernity, and meticulously landscaped with a variety of trees, shrubs, bushes, and lawns. I walked to the Osan Elementary School, to gauge how long it would take to get there if “my team” and I decide not to ride; it was about 15 minutes. (more…)

On Leadership

April 11, 2012

On Leadership

                A colleague and I exchanged a series of emails focusing on topics for which we each were seeking some kind of “revelation” in order to enjoy personal satisfaction and potential closure. Examples included such concepts as Faith, Love, Destiny, and now Leadership; we found as we ambled through our verbal interactions that in each case, in order to internalize the concept, our understanding needed to be reduced to identifying “The Essence” upon which the idea is based. (more…)

BBC Interview

March 26, 2012

Recently, I was interviewed for a BBC World Service radio program, “Witness,” which talks to people who have been involved in sometimes-momentous events throughout recent history. I was interviewed for a short program about the Peace Corps, my having been a member of the first group of volunteers that went overseas. Although the interview lasted more than an hour, only about 8 or 9 minutes were used for the 10 minute program. They probably decided that I didn’t say too much that is significant. In any event, you can access it on this URL,   www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p004t1hd   if you’d like to listen.

Also, I’m working on a short commentary about “Leadership,” including some questions for the reader to ponder. I hope to finish it this week, AFTER I do my income tax! Much of the content was created in concert with a valued colleague, whose expertise and insights often coincided with mine. This spark of scholarly discussions resulted in the decision to publish our musings.

There will be some new travel notes beginning toward the end of April, when I depart April 20 for South Korea, to evaluate two schools at Osan Air Base. Then, on May 4 I fly to Cairo, Egypt, changing planes in Istanbul. I will work at two more schools and, upon completion, am scheduling an air/cruise visit to Luxor and Aswan before heading to London for two days to see Stonehenge. And then home. I hope this body can withstand the cumulative jet lag!

For those of you in the Chicago area, there is what appears to be an excellent Educational Forum at the O’Hare Westin in Rosemont, April 6-8, sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America (http://www.isna.net/Conferences/pages/Education-Forum.aspx), with numerous non-religious presentations on current educational topics. Check their website for program information.

Always Be Happy!                         Here’s To Our Youth, Always…

Japan 3 “All Work and No Play”

February 7, 2012

Japan 3—All work and no play

Beginning Monday, we plunged into our assigned tasks, starting with two “in-briefings” at the two military sites, the Naval base at Atsugi about 12 miles away through narrow streets and massive traffic, and the smaller Army facility at Zama. The former is primarily a maintenance resource for the planes from the aircraft carrier George Washington; we will get a tour of that base next Monday when we move our responsibilities to the school located there.

All  movement was under a light, steady drizzle, but the temperature was very acceptable. The area of Japan where we are is sub-tropical; snow and continued freezing are rare, sort of like my Wyoming home—in July. The other  members of our Quality Assurance Review team arrived from their schools elsewhere in Japan; their schools will be undergoing these same processes next year and this gives them an introduction in order to effectively prepare. We will be looking at the school’s Vision and Mission, Governance, Teaching and Learning Processes and Results, Use of Data in Decision-Making, Supplemental Resources, Involvement of Stakeholders, and Plans for Continuous Improvement. Our team spent several hours Monday evening going over our schedule and the specifics of the review process and preparation for the final recommendations. My role at this school is Chairperson; the Vice-Chairperson and I will reverse roles next week. This is the normal sequence of leadership in these circumstances.

Tuesday began with a meeting with the school’s leadership team, the principal, and a small tremor. I would have paid no attention if the principal hadn’t leaped to her feet, ready to evacuate the school if the shaking continued. It lasted maybe five seconds or less, but was enough to jangle the nerves of those who had been through last year’s tragic circumstances. The main concern had been the prospect of the nuclear facility blowing up; and the military began evacuation activities for dependents and personnel. Our interviews with the garrison leadership and parents praised the school staff and principals for being an outstanding stabilizing force during all the uproar, becoming the most reliable source of accurate information as opposed to many rumors flying about through the civilian and military communities. The school’s communication system to parents allowed them to know that their children were safe, and in fact provided the military with an additional resource for information exchange to units needing timely updates about potential issues.

The rest of the day was a mixture of classroom visits, interview sessions with teachers and parents, and consumption of lots of sugary goodies provided for our comfort. One of the negatives of these visits is the availability of exceptional food bargains—Saturday had been “prime rib special” evening, Sunday was “$10 t-bone night”, Monday morning was the “all you can eat Super Bowl Breakfast”, all of which demonstrated my personal lack of will power. I  noticed its effect yesterday when I had to button the waistband of my recently-purchased new khakis, done in recognition that I’ve maintained a slimmer profile for 6 months. I did manage to do my upper body workout yesterday evening, followed by a tuna sandwich for dinner, but It looks like I had better get my tastebuds under firm control for the next few days.

Today we begin with student interviews, garrison liaison interviews, and further meetings with teacher groups. This middle school is only a few years old in concept, having been separated from a 7-12 high school into a 7-8 program. The relatively small enrollment (196) and progress toward a self-contained staff has eased the transition process and at the same time established significant ownership of the program by the staff, parents, and students. Today will be our longest work day, and will include sessions among ourselves to begin drafting our recommendations about the school’s eligibility for accreditation, and for Thursday’s oral exit reports in the afternoon.

These QAR visits have been “longevity feasts” for those of us retired from careers as educators. Each visit demonstrates that there are other ways to achieve satisfactory results, and provides us with insights to take to other schools, either those from which we retired or for other schools that we are asked to visit. We are finding that most schools do things fairly well, but at the same time even the best schools can improve. From my perspective, the most productive recent trends have been formats like Professional Learning Communities (PLC) which establish ownership of programs by all the participants, and thus enhance the chances of success, and brain-based research exemplified in professional formats such as Quantum Learning. Add the effective use of data in decision-making, and a school will have “a complete package” toward attaining identified goals and maximizing student performance.