Thursday, December 20, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Monday, October 29, 2012
Friday, July 6, 2012
Familiar tunes from On the Town and Candide roused the audience as a packed house settled into the coolness of Lincoln Center, avoiding the intense heat of New York City outside.
There can be few scenes that stir the soul of a former military person than the sight and sound of a precision drum and bugle corps blaring forth from bright silver horns and philharmonic field drums very strong cadences that reminded me of my favorite march of all time, “The Guadalcanal March” from Richard Roger’s World War II suite, Victory at Sea.
Following these selections conductor Army Lt. Colonel Jim Keene invited all current and past service personnel and their families to stand during the playing of their respective anthems, “Semper Paratus (Coast Guard), Anchors Aweigh, The Marine Hymn, The Caisson Song (Army) and The Wild Blue Yonder (Air Force).” Men and women, young and old, stood in silent attention at their seats as the corps musicians in crisp blue uniforms brought all of us to memories of having served this great nation, and of those who paid the last full measure.
Most memorable, perhaps, are the words that each of us is endowed by our “Creator with certain unalienable rights, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Derived from writings of John Locke--who championed the pursuit of Life, Liberty and Property--Jefferson changed Property to Happiness, a word for which he then invoked civic virtues of courage, justice and, perhaps, service.
Another thing that struck me was that “imposing taxes without our consent” was listed by Jefferson in the middle of a much longer list of grievances, commencing with “He—[King George III]—has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. . .” and ending with references to “Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us. . . suspending our own Legislatures. . . excited domestic insurrections amongst us” and caused the impressment of our sailors at sea.
What I remember from high school US History are the grievances about taxes, the Stamp tax, Tea Party and the like. How time has faded our memories of original causes.
We were reminded once again that freedom comes with high costs; that thousands have given their lives that we might breathe free and speak our own minds. A little sign on the walker of a WWII veteran and friend of my mother’s says it all, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading it in English, thank a GI."
Every year we need to be reminded of how we came together to establish this great country on the ideas of Liberty, Equality and the Happiness of those civic virtues--courage, justice and public service. And how on so many occasions our parents and grandparents sacrificed as necessary on all fronts--abroad and at home--to preserve, protect defend these rights.
Friday, May 18, 2012
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
As Tom Friedman noted a while back in his NY Times column (7/13/11), employees of the future will survive depending upon their ability to add value to their jobs, in other words, to think beyond defined expectations, to be able to innovate. Employers are looking for people “who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.” (p. A47)
More recently we’ve had
research on successful countries, developing nations that are growing prosperous largely because of their abilities to do the same thing, innovate, to create new ideas, products and ways of living.
In Why Nations Fail (2012), authors Acemoglu and Robinson note that the US, Britain and European countries prosper when compared to other countries. Why is the US so much richer than, for example, Egypt? In part because we rid ourselves of dictatorial powers and shared control with all citizens. “We, the people. . .” are in charge.
As noted historian Niall Ferguson observed about this book, “Without the inclusive institutions that first evolved in the West, sustainable growth is impossible, because only a truly free society can foster genuine innovation and the creative destruction that is its corollary." (emphasis added)
What does this “free society” mean? That we as citizens have a good measure of control over our lives and ways of prospering. Some have less than others.
When you can take a plot of land and carve out space and time for your own plantings and ingenuity, you will invest more in it, rather than, as serfs during the middle ages, having to give all products to the lord of the manor. We have a stake in our future
What does this have to do with schools?
In our classrooms we as the educators have opportunities to do what Pat Burrows does in her Catalina Foothills 8th grade English class does. Provide students with choices:
I give my students choices on a regular basis. Those choices range from choosing from menus to demonstrate their proficiency in a skill/knowledge to making decisions about using technology or other resources. Bottom line here: if my students do not feel that they have any power when it comes to what and how they learn, they don’t `own’ their learning and become`bystanders.’ (Barell, 2012)
It’s the same way with emerging nations. If the people feel they have control over over access to and use of certain natural resources and can devise ways of making money therefrom, then it stands to reason that this country can grow and prosper.
Innovation is also fostered by an educator’s creating a more authentic problem-based curriculum wherein all students can pose good questions, conduct purposeful research, making findings, think critically and creatively and draw reasonable conclusions.
Students in Mary Darr’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) middle school classes (Sandusky, OH) have been, for the past two years, been learning how to collaborate with friends in order to solve problems such as:
How to attract `Tweens to the Cleveland Indians ball park
How to use vacant properties along Lake Erie for profit.
How to rebuild the Cedar Point roller coaster rides to attract more customers.
During these intensive learning experiences, students often struggled with collaborating and learned that “TEAMWORK” was the most important ingredient for success. They were also able to create novel solutions to well-stated problems, solutions that often intrigued the adults who reviewed their ideas (e.g. using mood indicating colors on the roller coaster handle bars, “Acting cool in front of friends would be difficult if the lap bar turned a color that showed nervousness.” ).
As we are learning from books like The Idea Factory (Gertner, 2012) about how Bell Labs created/invented the transistor and laser, it’s vitally important for creativity to have people with diverse experiences and backgrounds working with each other. The best solutions come when people with different perspectives collaborate with each other. Hence, problem solving in schools should be conducted with students with different experiences and talents. Diversity of input is key.
In addition to having some control over decision making within a problem solving context, and having problem solvers with varied talents, another element within our educational systems that can foster innovation is our openness to mystery, novelty and, of course new ideas. Not all adults are comfortable with the new thinking of our children and students, new thinking reflected in such questions as:
Do you think that angler fish think humans are fish sometimes? (kindergarten)
How big will space be when it stops growing and when will it stop growing? (kindergarten)
Why are mountains necessary? (grade four)
What if a planet spun out of the solar system? (grade four)
How much g force can a person bear during a coaster ride? (grade eight)
What if there were no gravity on the moon? (grade nine)
Suppose Holden Caulfield (Macbeth, Jefferson, Marie Curie, Cleopatra) lived today? (mine)
These are just a sample of the kinds of questions we might encounter when we provide students with some control over their own educational destinies within a problem-oriented curriculum.
There’s little or no preparation for such innovative thoughts. What we need to do is respond in ways that encourage the original thinker’s creation, urging him or her to share their thinking, to take it further and suggest the kinds of resources that might be necessary to find answers, if there are answers. For some this might take gradually moving beyond our comfort levels into those domains where novelty prevails. As one teacher in the STEM projects noted, “We were out of our comfort zones!”
So, countries and classrooms thrive on innovative thinking, when citizens in both environments have choice, emotional and intellectual support and are confronted with challenges of a high order wherein all can participate in their own fashions.
I never realized while I was a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University in Dwayne Huebner’s curriculum theory class that his introduction of the concept of who controls which decisions, when and how would be so vitally important to my work as an educator and to the prosperity of persons as well as developing nations.