Las Misiones Pedagógicas

burros

Traveling libraries

As we’re about to set off on a trip both to explore and to discuss progressive education, I’m thinking about the example of the Misiones Pedagógicas in Spain in the early 1930′s.

My colleague, Iván M. Jorrín Abellán, just sent a link to a digital copy of the 1934 report: Patronato de Misiones Pedagógicas : septiembre de 1931-diciembre de 1933, in the collection of the Bibliotecas de Castilla y León. It tells the story of the Misiones  through text, photos, and a map. Even if your Spanish is as poor as mine you can enjoy the many photos and get enough of the text to appreciate the project.

Some of the photos of uplifted, smiling faces are a bit much for today’s cynical eyes. Still, it’s hard to deny that something important was happening for both the villagers and the missionaries.

el-teatro

Watching theater

The Misiones Pedagógicas were a project of cultural solidarity sponsored by the government of the Second Spanish Republic, created in 1931 and dismantled by Franco at the end of the civil war. Led by Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, the Misiones included over five hundred volunteers from diverse backgrounds: teachers, artists, students, and intellectuals. A former educational missionary, Carmen Caamaño, said in an interview in 2007:

We were so far removed from their world that it was as if we came from another galaxy, from places that they could not even imagine existed, not to mention how we dressed or what we ate, or how we talked. We were different. –quoted in Roith (2011)

phonograph

Listening to music, outdoors

The Misiones eventually reached about 7,000 towns and villages. They established 5,522 libraries comprising more than 600,000 books. There were hundreds of performances of theatre and choir and exhibitions of painting through the traveling village museum.

We are a traveling school that wants to go from town to town. But a school where there are no books of registry, where you do not learn in tears, where there will be no one on his knees as formerly. Because the government of the Republic sent to us, we have been told we come first and foremost to the villages, the poorest, the most hidden and abandoned, and we come to show you something, something you do not know for always being so alone and so far from where others learn, and because no one has yet come to show it to you, but we come also, and first, to have fun. –Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, December 1931

There’s an excellent documentary on the Misiones, with English subtitles. It conveys simultaneously the grand vision and the naïveté, the successes and the failures. As Caamaño says, “something unbelievable arrived” [but] “it lasted for such a short time.”

Watching a film

Watching a film

In her study of Spanish visual culture from 1929 to 1939, Jordana Mendelson (2005) examines documentary films and other re-mediations of materials from the Misiones experience. Her archival research offers a fascinating contemporary perspective on the cultural politics of that turbulent decade, including the intersections between avant-garde artists and government institutions, rural and urban, fine art and mass culture, politics and art.

I’m struck by several thoughts as I view the documentation on the Misiones. Today’s Spain is more literate, more urban, more “modern”. But although the economic stresses are different, they have not disappeared.  There are still challenges, in some ways greater, for achieving economic and educational justice.

Iván and other educators are asking how the spirit of the Misiones might influence community-based pedagogy in current times. Their experiences have lessons for those outside of Spain as well.

References

Mendelson, Jordana (2005). Documenting Spain: Artists, exhibition culture, and the modern nation, 1929–1939. State College: Penn State University Press.

Roith, Christian (2011).High culture for the underprivileged: The educational missions in the Spanish Second Republic 1931 – 1936. In Claudia Gerdenitsch & Johanna Hopfner,  (eds.), Erziehung und bildung in ländlichen regionen–Rural education (pp. 179-200). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Walker trail

Map of WCT lands

Map of WCT lands

Wellfleet Conservation Trust logo

Wellfleet Conservation Trust logo

The Wellfleet Conservation Trust has been very active recently, securing land for conservation, guiding walks, and building trails for anyone to enjoy. Their website gives a good idea of their many projects. As you can see from the map on that site, the WCT land complements that of several other organizations, making a wide variety of environments available for protection of plant and animal life and preservation of the fragile land, as well as helping the people have healthier lives in every sense of that word.

Walker trail pond

Walker trail pond

I was fortunate to get to assist with some of the trail clearing, including at the recently established Walker trail. The site is nearby, one that we can visit on the way to swim in local ponds or after a trip to the transfer station.

The trail minus foliage

The trail minus foliage

The trail runs through land donated by the Walker family. It’s short, but surprisingly varied, with some ups and downs, views of a few houses, and a small pond. Making the trail included installing some benches and rustic steps for the steeper portions. There was also a major project to remove a large dead branch that was hanging over the trail. Members of the WCT, young workers from the two Wellfleet residences for the AmeriCorps Cape Cod program, and other volunteers all contributed to the effort.

Hung branches

Hung branches

The WCT mission is “to assist and promote the preservation of open spaces and natural resources and to protect the rural character of the town of Wellfleet…The Trust acquires land by gift or purchase…develops walking trails and encourages the study and implementation of sound environmental practices.”

Start of trail

Start of trail

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

WCT bench

WCT bench

Log steps

Log steps

Journal series on progressive education

The International Journal of Progressive Education (IJPE) has now published a series of three special issues on “Progressive Education: Past, Present and Future”:

  1. Progressive Education: Antecedents of Educating for Democracy (IJPE 9.1, February 2013)
  2. Progressive Education: Educating for Democracy and the Process of Authority (IJPE 9.2, June 2013)
  3. What’s Next?: The Future of Progressivism as an “Infinite Succession of Presents” (IJPE 9.3, October 2013)

I worked on these journal issues with John Pecore, Brian Drayton, and Maureen Hogan, as well as article contributors from around the world. We’re now exploring options for developing some of the articles along with some additional material into a handbook. The series is timely given current debates about the purpose and form of education in an era of rapid technological change, globalization, demographic and political shifts, and growing economic inequities. It asks, “What have we learned about pedagogy that can support democratic, humanistic, and morally responsible development for individuals and societies?”

Progressive education is a pedagogical movement that emphasizes aspects such as learning by doing, student-centered learning, valuing diversity, integrated curriculum, problem solvingcritical thinking, collaborative learning, education for social responsibility, and lifelong learning. It situates learning within social, community, and political contexts. It was promoted by the Progressive Education Association in the US from 1919 to 1955, and reflected in the educational philosophy of John Dewey.

But as an approach to pedagogy, progressive education is in no way limited to the US or the past century. In France, the Ecole Moderne, developed from the work of Célestin Freinet, emphasizes the social activism side of progressive education. Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education demonstrates the importance of art in learning, a key element of the holistic approach in progressive education. Paulo Freire’s work in Brazil on critical literacy, highlights the link between politics and pedagogy. Similarly, influenced by his experiences in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi’s conception of basic education resonates with progressive ideals of learning generated within everyday life, cooperation, and educating the whole person, including moral development.

It is worth noting that progressive education invariably seeks to go beyond the classroom walls. Thus, the work of Jane Addams and others at Hull House with immigrants fits, even if it is not situated within a traditional school. Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School focused on social activism with adults, exemplifying the progressive education ideals. So too is the Escuela Nueva in Spain, Colombia, and elsewhere. The informal learning in museums, libraries, community and economic development, and online may express progressive education more fully than what we see in many schools today.

We hope that these issues will prove to be a useful resource for anyone interested improving education for a healthier world.

Tromboncini strombazzaree

The tromboncini have welcomed August with a fanfare. And now, they’re threatening to take over.

Invasion of the squash

Invasion of the squash

Thanks to starter plants from Daniel Dejean, we now have vines encroaching on our house.

Vines attacking house

Vines attacking house

But the fruits of the plant are delicious, tastier than zuchinni. They’re huge, enough to feed the army we’ll need to defend the house against the vines.

Squash love

Squash love

As Daniel says, and illustrates, it’s the “hit of the summer.”

Tromboncino and tomato

Tromboncino and tomato

The hit of the summer

The hit of the summer

Squash fashion, by Daniel Dejean

Squash fashion, by Daniel Dejean

Trombones become harps, by Daniel Dejean

Trombones become harps, by Daniel Dejean

Tromboncinerang

Tromboncinerang

Tromboncino forest

Tromboncino forest

Is resistance futile?

Is resistance futile?

Lac-Mégantic: beauty and death

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams –W.B. Yeats

284px-Mont-Mégantic-2About six weeks ago, Susan and I canoed in Maine, then made a brief excursion into Québec.

Nature around Mont Mégantic

We planned to visit the area around Mont Mégantic, a monadnock about 15 km north of the border. It’s in the middle of the Parc national du Mont-Mégantic and is the terminus of the Sentiers Frontaliers, a hiking trail that connects with the Cohos Trail in the US, which runs north from Crawford Notch, NH to the border. The trail is in a beautiful area, and represents an even more beautiful cooperation among volunteers on both sides of the border, who are working to make ways to enjoy, but tread softly, in the forests and rivers.

Image 1The treasuring of the environment is even more evident there because the Mont Mégantic Observatory is the first site to be recognized as an International Dark-Sky Reserve. Lighting within a 50 km radius is strictly controlled to minimize the impact of artificial lighting on astral observations and on wildlife. Again, international cooperation will be needed to sustain the dark sky, but already a rare resource has been created in which both professionals and amateurs can enjoy seeing the Milky Way and know that at least in this one small region respect and love for nature prevails.

Down the grade into Lac-Mégantic

lac-meganticWe came to the Mégantic area from the east, and actually slightly north, having visited Saint-Georges. Traveling on back roads we reached the village of Nantes, at a small elevation and a few miles from Lac Mégantic.

From there we descended into to the beautiful lakeside town of Lac-Mégantic, following the little used rail line along Rue Laval. We walked for a while around the town and in the parc des Vétérans. If we had not had a B&B reservation, we might have stayed longer to enjoy the lake and the small town atmosphere, which fit so well with what we knew about the peace with nature in that region. But unlike so many who have suffered there, we were fortunate to be away when disaster struck.

On July 5, a Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway train engine near Nantes caught fire. That fire was extinguished and the train was left unattended, parked on the line. Hours later it rolled down the grade towards Lac-Mégantic, derailed, exploded, and turned the town into an inferno. There were soon photos of the physical destruction, but accounting for deaths has been slow due to the extreme destruction.

The cost of cheap energy

Aujourd’hui, nous sommes tous des citoyens de Lac-Mégantic.

The story has moved to the back pages of US media, even as the death toll has risen to 38, with many still unaccounted for. As awful as some more publicized recent bombings, explosions, fires, plane crashes, etc. in North America have been, this disaster is already more deadly than all of those combined.

Lac-Mégantic explosionOf course, the tragedy might not have affected me so much if I hadn’t felt some kinship with the area. But it has made me both sad and angry. It’s impossible to imagine how people can cope with the loss of loved ones and the destruction of their town.

I’m glad that people are asking questions, starting with some basic ones such as: Why was a train with 70 full tanker cars left unattended? and Why weren’t the brakes set?

It’s good that some are moving on to bigger questions: Why do Canada and the US still carry 70% of oil using a tanker car design that was deemed unsafe over 20 years ago? Why is it allowed to send dangerous cargo on regional (Class II) rail networks, which have fewer safety mechanisms and less thorough safety checks?

Maine lawmakers noted recently that “in the last year alone, crude oil shipments have increased fifteen times over” and “there have been three derailments of trains carrying hazardous materials in Maine just during the last six months.”

For some people, the answer to all of these questions is to build more pipelines, which destroy the environment more when they rupture, but may kill fewer people directly. The rail disaster will also give support to defenders of nuclear power, e.g., the aging Pilgrim, Mass. plant that uses the same design as the Fukishima reactor and strangles any possible escape route from Cape Cod. Others might call for renewable energy, which still needs to be transported at great environmental cost.

I wish that there were a moment when we might ask: Why must we design our society around cheap energy? Must every politician in every party declare that cheap gasoline is their first priority? Would it be so awful to minimize the loss of life and environment, and possibly even lessen the imperative for war? Is “cost” only what we see on a bill for goods and services?

Could we reduce energy use so that areas such as Mégantic could remain unspoiled, or at least less spoiled? And that no Lac-Mégantic would ever experience such a disaster again?

Summer clarinet and piano

Photos courtesy of Luz Zambrano

Photos courtesy of Luz Zambrano

Like the TARDIS, Wellfleet seems bigger on the inside. The array of activities seems impossible for a town its size.

Last night I saw that the array was not just in quantity, but in quality as well. Monika Woods on clarinet and Deborah Geithner on piano offered a concert worthy of any featured event in a major city. The full house, the standing ovation, and the encore were testament to the beautiful music.

coverIt is easy to understand why Monika was the first prize winner at the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra Soloist competition this year. You can listen to one of her performances here.

The programme yesterday evening featured Bach, Schumann, Saint-Saëns, Vaughn Williams, and Massenet. Every piece was a pleasure to hear, not something I’d say about many concerts. The feeling of a special event is enhanced by the fact that each attendee’s copy of the programme is individually penned, as is Deborah’s tradition.

The Saint-Saëns Clarinet Sonate in E-flat major, Op. 167, which he composed in his 86th and last year of life, was a highlight that elicited wows and bravos. The Allegretto first movement was especially ethereal and welcomed when its theme returns in the fourth movement. The piece as a whole was captivating.

The Sonate showed off the dialogue of clarinet and piano, as did Massenet’s Méditation from the opera Thaïs (Andante Religioso). That was another very moving selection. but it’s futile to make too much of any one piece, since every offering was excellent.programme

It was no surprise that the audience would demand an encore. The reward was Este a székelyeknél (Evening in the Village), by Béla Bartók. It’s a simple, lyrical piece, with two contrasting themes, which balance beautifully.

Drawing on elements from Transylvanian folk songs, Este a székelyeknél completed the evening’s theme of familiar, entrancing melodies, revealed by great composers and two great performers.

Monika Woods & Deborah Geithner

Monika Woods & Deborah Geithner

The concert was part of the Summer 2013 Concert Series at the Wellfleet United Methodist Church. This series has been a big plus for the community, drawing in people even while it’s still light enough for beach-going. The sanctuary last night was filled with nearly 100 concert goers.

Bow Trip

The Bow Trip, near Jackman, Maine, has to be near the top of any list of great canoe adventures. It’s usually completed in only three days, or just one without camping gear, but it packs in lakes dotted with islands, hidden bays, squiggly peninsulas, and watchful mountains, balsam fir forest with beech and birch tree stands, bogs, wildflower gardens, and giant boulders. There are loons, cormorants, moose, and bears. At this time, the white trillium is in bloom, along with many other wildflowers.Image

We just finished the circuit, starting from the outlet of the Moose River on Wood Pond, crossing Attean Pond, portaging to Holeb Pond, then down Holeb Stream to the Moose again, and back to Attean. A nice feature is that one can put in at various places and return to the starting point, in our case, a rustic cabin on Wood Pond.

The Bow Trip calls for flatwater river and lake paddling, rips and falls, lining, carries, eddy turns, and even sliding canoes down an incline or pushing under fallen trees. We had a scare when we rounded a turn under the one bridge, an old railroad trestle, to discover a downed power line. Parts of it were in the water, and it rose up to ensnare canoes.

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There are always surprises on a trip like this. We timed ours to be at the cusp of the transition from black fly to mosquito season, managing to have plenty of both. But they had to wait their turn behind the gnats and midges.Image

In our case, the big surprise was the high water. It made pull-outs and camping challenging. The portage trails looked more like streams than pathways. Our Tripper canoe has somehow gained weight over the years so that flipping it overhead while standing in muck and swatting flies seemed less fun than it once did. Because of the high water, we managed to run Camel Rips without noticing it and Attean Falls, which usually requires a carry.Image

We heard and saw birds everywhere. I unwound a little, floating down the lovely river, rediscovering muscles and bones I’d forgotten about. The clouds were a fantastic and ever-changing background to the lush Maine forest. The rips and falls were exhilarating. Image

The Bow Trip is a special treat, a highlight of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. We were alone most of the way, seeing a friendly group from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics at a couple of points, but mostly enjoying alone a precious resource that some people know well, but most will never experience.

See additional photos from our Bow Trip.