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

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.

Citizen Science in Wellfleet

Herring River estuary

Herring River estuary

The current habitat for communication between science and the public is dysfunctional. One need only look at the “debates” about climate change or disease prevention to see the problem.

Scientific findings are regularly misrepresented and sensationalized in the mass and social media. Even when well presented, those findings are ignored or distorted, attacked through faulty arguments, or tied to unsupported inferences. At its best, current science/public dialogue tends to be one-way, with the occasional enlightening article, book, or video, followed by public commentary. This rarely serves to deepen  understanding, much less lead to enhanced inquiry.

State of Wellfleet Harbor Conference 

Wellfleet marina

Wellfleet marina, note osprey nest, upper left

The 10th Annual State of Wellfleet Harbor Conference held yesterday at the Wellfleet Elementary School represents an alternative to that typical dysfunctional science/public relationship. One refreshing note was an effort by scientists to explain not only the results, but also the assumptions, methods, and theories behind them. People asked about the selection of factors to study, or about habitat assessment in tidal river versus bay sites, not to discredit a finding, but to understand more about how results were achieved. The conference was itself a small data point for the case that ordinary citizens can engage in science-based discussions, given enough time and well-crafted presentations, displays, videos, and other materials.

Poster session

Poster session

You can see from the schedule that there was a wide variety of presentations and posters. There was talk about dolphin mass strandings, bathymetry, auditory evoked potential, sentinel species, estuaries, cross-shore sediment transport, salt marsh backup, turtle gardens, terrapin clutches, brumation, eutrophication, cultching, winter/spring blooms, quahog seed, anoxic shellfish, temperature-dependent sex determination, anthropogenic effects, and many other topics related to the diverse ecosystems of the Outer Cape.

There were some good videos from the Friends of Herring River and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Brian Sharp complemented the latter with a talk and a tour of the IFAW van used for marine mammal rescues. This was especially salient given the mass strandings of dolphins in Wellfleet Bay in the early part of the year.

Mayo Beach, with groin

Mayo Beach, with groin

These presentations emphasized the interconnectedness of ecosystems, with humans as an integral part. Mark Borrelli from the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies talked about how groins and revetments prevent local beach erosion, e.g., to protect a house, but shift the erosion elsewhere. Thus, they are simply “erosion relocation structures.” Sarah Martinez from the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary presented a poster on the consequences for horseshoe crabs of their use as bait for conch and eels. Moreover, the revetments that relocate beach erosion also disturb the spawning, much of which occurs above the high tide mark.Vincent Malkoski from the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries spoke about the data on horseshoe crab fisheries. These findings have led to harvesting closures for five days around the new and full moons in May and June to allow lunar spawning. Diane Murphy from the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and Woods Hole Sea Grant spoke on the relation between oyster and clam growth and the wide variety of habitats they find in Cape Cod Bay.

Avoiding Either/Or Thinking 

Fishing boats

Fishing boats

One consequence of creating the forum in this way was that discussions avoided the either/or kind of thinking often expressed in mainstream media. For example, although most of the participants shared deep commitments to preserving natural environments and generally opposed rampant development, I heard statements such as “you can’t say that dredging is always bad or good; the decision is about choices and values.” There would then be productive dialogue that critiqued human-made alterations of the shoreline, estuaries, ponds, and so on, but acknowledged values others might hold for commerce, recreation, or housing. Zero-based planning  is no longer an option in the Wellfleet area: Every change today, even one that seeks to undo earlier construction, interacts with a myriad of alterations over centuries and can have unintended consequences for the environment.

Interactive map

Interactive map

Multilogue

Through Q/A, posters, and ample time for informal discussion, the conference fostered one to many, many to one, and many to many conversations among participants including scientists in the same and other disciplines, students, and general public. There was an interactive map on which people could write their hopes and concerns and peg them to a geographic spot. The map activity will be continued at the library to solicit input from those who did not attend the conference. I saw numerous examples of scientists taking seriously the concerns or knowledge of the public.

This was perhaps enhanced by the fact that many of the projects involve direct citizen science participation , e.g., the river herring count, the horseshoe crab spawning assessment, terrapin sightings, and the dolphin rescues. Others involve coordination with local activist organizations, such as the Wellfleet Conservation Trust.

Some were of special relevance to those involved in commerce, such as oyster farmers. Jessica Smith and Barbara Brennessel from Wheaton College had an interesting poster on a study of genetic diversity among hatchery versus reef oysters, showing, as one might expect, a greater diversity for the reef oysters. This provides indirect support for seeding oyster beds with pelagic, rather than hatchery, veligers. Some oyster farmers still collect these wild larvae for seeing their beds, despite the method being considered slower, difficult, and old-fashioned. A quahog farmer of 30 years was able to add comments about changes over three decades that was missing from most of the shorter-term scientific studies.

Sustainability

IFAW van

IFAW van

Perhaps a meeting like this requires a supportive habitat such as Wellfleet in order to thrive, just as the terrapins, horseshoe crabs, eels, dolphins, ospreys, and other creatures do. Would it fail to survive elsewhere?

Richard Lewontin points out in The Triple Helix that no organism can survive without a supportive environment, but also that no living environment exists without organisms. In this case, the conference organism succeeds because of the town environment, but also shapes it to become more supportive of exactly the kind of discussion heard today.

The conference was well-organized with good snacks, including clam chowder. I came away with a renewed appreciation for the special beauty of Wellfleet, but also sadness about what we’ve done to destroy this, and so much else of the natural world. The fact that a conference such as this is so rare punctuates that sadness. How much did you hear from political candidates or mass media this year about protecting the environment we all live in and depend upon?

Small but good things are worth preserving. I hope to make the conference an annual event.

The New Jim Crow

US incarceration timeline

US incarceration timeline

In his now classic analysis of the criminal justice system (The Crime of Punishment, 1966), Karl Menninger wrote, “I suspect that all the crimes committed by all the jailed criminals do not equal in total social damage that of the crimes committed against them.” That was at a time when the number of people in the US who were in jail or prison amounted to around 300,000. Today, that number is well over two million. The US has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world, well ahead of the #2 jailer, Russia, or that of many regimes considered to be dictatorships, police states, backward regimes, failed states, or otherwise democracy-challenged.

In a piece originally published in and recently updated for TomDispatch, “The New Jim Crow: How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American UndercasteMichelle Alexander writes,

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow

If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

I just finished reading her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010), which piles on the stunning and depressing statistics. But the book does much more than to amplify a sorry state of affairs that most of us know about, but rarely talk about. Several points came through strongly for me:

  • Through actual case stories, the book shows what these numbers mean for the felons for life, their families, their communities, and our democracy. In many cases the people so labeled are innocent, coerced into a plea bargain, or at most convicted of a minor crime.
  • Those who subsequently become subject to legalized second-class citizenship are disproportionately African American. Large numbers are convicted of drug crimes, even while their White counterparts are bigger users and sellers of drugs.
  • The mechanism by which this happens is a maze of laws and court rulings, which have severely compromised civil rights for all of us, even though their impact is primarily on people of color. One more item was added to the maze this week, when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that correctional officials may without cause, strip-search a person arrested for the most minor offense. Albert W. Florence was strip-searched twice after being wrongly detained over a traffic fine. Florence said at the time, “It was humiliating. It made me feel less than a man. It made me feel not better than an animal.”
  • The interlocking system including bias, laws, police procedures, courts, prison industry jobs and profits, has created a shameful justice system, far worse than the one lamented by Menninger.
Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander

Alexander says that she had several specific audiences in mind for the book. One is “people who care deeply about racial justice, but who for any number of reasons do not yet appreciate the magnitude of the crisis faced by communities of color as a result of mass incarceration. In other words, I’m writing this book for people like me, the person I was 10 years ago.” Another was for people “lacked the facts and data to back up their claims” about how the criminal justice system was operating as a third mode of racial caste making (following first slavery, then Jim Crow). I felt I fit in both of those camps, and fortunately not in the third, that of people trapped in the system.

Following her work on an ACLU racial justice project, Alexander says “I had come to suspect that I was wrong about the criminal justice system. It was not just another institution infected with racial bias but rather a different beast entirely…Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”

Coming to appreciate that system in a deeper way makes the book powerful for me. It doesn’t in any way try to excuse crime, or to lay the blame for it on lack of employment, poor education, or inadequate housing, as many liberals might do. Nor does it link the injustice of the system to individual bias per se. Furthermore, it debunks accounts of individual responsibility, moral failure, or familial inadequacy as some conservatives might propose. Instead, it shows how the system operates, how it developed and grew, and why it will be so hard to change. Yes, better Supreme Court justices matter, but they won’t dismantle the system. Affirmative action is helpful, but it’s far from a solution. All of those explanations for crime and incarceration matter, too, but they’re not the central narrative.

The book is disturbing, and depressing at times. It cannot be said to end on a happy note, but in the last section, “All of Us or None,” there is at least a vision of what could make a difference. Alexander calls for a conversation on race in which “us” means “all of us,” or as Martin Luther King said, that a shift was needed from civil rights (interpreted simply as rights for those who are dispossesed) to human rights.

This means, among other things that

Whites should demonstrate that their silence in the drug war cannot be bought by tacit assurances that their sons and daughters will not be rounded up en masse and locked away. Whites should prove their commitment to dismantling not only mass incarceration, but all of the structures of racial inequality that guarantee for whites the resilience of white privilege. (p. 244)

The book closes with an excerpt from James Baldwins’s letter to his nephew in The Fire Next Time. That entire letter is worth reading and re-reading many times, but I’ll just end here with a small excerpt from that excerpt:

this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…It is the innocence which constitutes the crime…They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it…those innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality…And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.  For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.

Parallel universes

The Sunday Doonesbury strip nailed the problem:

The 400 richest families in America now hold as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the country combined!

So, in the midst of an economic crisis, how do our leaders (nearly every Republican and most of the Democrats, including the President) make use of this information?

They celebrate two things:

  1. Cut that “waste” in government, especially the bit going to spending on job training, education, food, housing, and healthcare for that no-good 150 million, and
  2. Absolutely, under no circumstances, allow any new taxes, especially on those 400 families, who provide so much for the rest of us.

There is an parallel universe, one with people just like us, an economic downturn, and people out of work. But there are two differences: People there believe that increased spending now is actually vital to get the economy going, put people to work, and in the long run actually reduce the deficit. (This by the way is the view of most economists, liberal or conservative in both of these universes.) So, point #1, austerity now, is considered an extremely dumb and ill-timed idea.

Second, those people think that the short-term deficit and the long-term debts are very real problems that need to be addressed intelligently and comprehensively. That means management of spending, but also fair contributions from all, including what middle class we have left and even those 400 families. They don’t believe that all of the economic sacrifice ought to fall on the bottom 50%. So, point #2, no new taxes ever, is also viewed as a wacky idea.

In that parallel universe, people would like to

  1. Get the economy going.
  2. Develop a thoughtful plan for revenues and spending, one that involves shared commitment from all.

Is that parallel universe possible?

People of the rebus

Camp family, 1900

Camp family, 1900

If you’re curious about the rebus baby announcement––Who sent it? Who was the baby? Who was Dorothy?, this may help a little.

Camp family, legend

Camp family, legend

The picture to the left (click to enlarge it) is of the Camp family, around 1900. In the center is Samantha Ann Harris Camp (11), who was known to the others in the photo as “Grandma.” She was born in southern Pennsylvania on July 3, 1835. When she was one year old, her family went down the Ohio by flatboat, then up the Mississippi and Illinois to the beautiful area of Sharp’s Landing, not far from where I’ve done some youth media work in Beardstown and Virginia.

Sharp's Landing area, by JaySRT4

Sharp's Landing area, by JaySRT4

Samantha Harris taught school in Vermont, Illinois, then married Sterling P. Camp and moved with him to his farm in Walnut Grove. They had five children: Thomas (5) William (12), John R. (21), Frank (1), and Anna (13), who surround her in the photo. They later moved to Bushnell. John R. Camp became Editor of The Bushnell Record, the local weekly.

Unfortunately, Sterling died young. One consequence was that Samantha outlived him by more than 40 years and had to raise the five children mostly on her own. She died on January 10, 1913, thirteen years after this photo was taken in front of their family residence in Bushnell.

By the time of the photo, Samantha’s son William had married Jennie Daniels (4), who came from Spokane. Their children were John (20), Glanville (19), and Dorothy (18).

Fannie Daniels (not shown) was one of Jennie’s siblings, the others being Minnie, Annie, and Willie. As far as I know, none of them married or had children. (Aunt) Fannie was the one who created the rebus for Dorothy, about five years after this photo.

What did Dorothy think of it? Did she decode it on her own? Was Fannie in the habit of making rebuses for her nieces and nephews? The Camp family seemed adept at producing offspring; why not the Daniels? How did William from rural Illinois connect with Jennie in Spokane? I need to find a flatboat and go back in time to find out.

Can a community stop fracking?

Photo courtesy creative commons by Helen Slottje

Mari Margil and Ben Price have a detailed article in Yes! magazine this month about Pittsburgh’s recent ban on natural gas drilling, which uses the “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing technique. Pittsburgh is the first major city in the US to ban corporations from natural gas drilling.

The ordinance has a direct impact on Pittsburgh, but as they point out, its implications go much further:

Provisions in the ordinance eliminate corporate “personhood” rights within the city for corporations seeking to drill, and remove the ability of corporations to wield the Commerce and Contracts Clauses of the U.S. Constitution to override community decision-making.

Community decision making is essential in this arena for two reasons: First, exemptions to the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act for the oil and gas industry, expanded even further in 2005, mean that the burden of proof is now on communities to prove that any drilling practice is unsafe. This, it’s essential that communty decision making be supported and seen as the proper venue for judging the value of any drilling. Second, no individual landowner can have much impact on the drilling. The horizontal drilling methods mean that the fracking can proceed, regardless of landowner approval. All the landowner can do is decide to forego any royalties. This effectively grants all power to the corporation doing the drilling.

This issue hits home for me, since Fort Worth has been a major site for fracking (Smith, 2010). Although the oil and gas industry has asserted that fracking does not pollute underground water supplies or air quality, does not cause earthquakes, and is all in all a benign way to produce clean energy, it’s difficult to accept the assertions when they continually seek exemptions to EPA review and refuse to release data on the chemicals and procedures they use.

References

Turkey’s Village Institutes

One of the goals I had for my recent trip to Turkey was to learn more about the Village Institutes (Köy Enstitüleri) there. I knew that they represented an innovative approach to expanding opportunities for learning, but that they had come to an abrupt end in the late 1940’s.

I’d read several articles about the Institutes (see below), and also knew that they had been influenced by John Dewey’s report on the Turkish educational system, but I wanted to hear firsthand from Turkish people who had been involved with the Institutes, or had studied them from a Turkish perspective.

The Village Institutes were created to meet a serious educational need. In 1928 (the year of the introduction of the Latin script in Turkey), 82.5 per cent of men and 95.2 per cent of women were illiterate. For 13.6 million people, there were only 4,894 elementary schools and most of those were in the towns, not the villages where most of the people lived (Vexliard & Aytac, 1964).

Between 1939 and 1946 twenty-one co-educational boarding schools were built to prepare primary school teachers. Much of the construction work was done by pupils and teachers. Youth of both sexes, aged twelve to sixteen, who had completed a five-year village primary school, qualified for admission. Their education was free following a pledge to teach in an assigned village for twenty years after graduation.

The duties of the new teachers included:

  • primary education
  • adult education in the villages
  • raising the cultural level of the villages through the distribution of books, educational programs, radio, and vocal, dance, & instrumental music education; the photo above (by George Pickow/Three Lions/Getty Images), shows Turkish teenagers in an Institute presenting a mass concert on the saz, the Turkish national instrument
  • promoting progressive agricultural techniques in the fields, the orchards, and kitchen gardens; the raising of  livestock; rural handicrafts such as ironwork, carpentry, leather work, mechanics, and electricity
  • instruction for adults in child-rearing, housekeeping, needlework
  • the creation and development of rural cooperatives

The graduates of the Institutes were to return to their villages as leaders and reformers. Teachers, students, and villagers in general were to learn practical skills, mostly related to their agricultural economy, new tools for life, and general education.

The Institute approach embodied ideas of Ataturk, Dewey, and others such as integrating theory and practice, focusing on the underserved, working across institutions, and a systemic approach to building a stronger society. Classical education was to be combined with practical abilities and applied to local needs.

The Institutes had a major impact, and many people regret that they were shut down. But there was resistance against this secular and mixed education. Some feared that it would educate ‘the communists of tomorrow,’ a damning statement during the Cold War. Traditionalists questioned the coeducational and secular aspects. Powerful landlords did not appreciate the goal of educating children who could ask “Why?” questions. There were also questions about the organization and preparation of the teachers. By 1953 the Village Institutes had been completely shut down.

I heard strong statements from people who knew about the Institutes and decried their closing. An artist we met, who had been born during the Institute period, said “They killed the Turkish children! They murdered Turkey’s future!”

Others were more reserved, but still felt that a crucial opportunity had been lost. There are estimates of major losses for Turkey in terms of general literacy and economic development still being felt today because of the closings.

From the little I know, it appears that the Village Institutes demonstrated a successful model for education that could be applied anywhere after suitable adjustment for local needs. I’d like to learn more, and have many questions.

For example, all the photos I’ve seen show only (or mostly) young men, even though the Institutes were coeducational. How did the young men and women get along? How did they each experience the Institutes? The graduates would now be in their 80’s. How do they think about that experience today? What did their training mean for the villages where they went to teach?

How do the Village Institutes compare to other grassroots, community-based education initiatives, such as the school at Weedpatch Camp in California, Foxfire, the Misiones Pedagogicas (village literacy program in Spain, which was shut down by Franco), Paulo Freirean projects in many countries, Paseo Boricua, the Reggio Emilia Approach, or the school set up by the schoolboys of Barbiana?

Perhaps most importantly, could or should the Institutes be revived? Or, are there principles we can derive from them that would be valuable for the more urban populations of today?

References

Ata, Bahri (2000). The influence of an American educator (John Dewey) on the Turkish educational system. Turkish Yearbook of International Relations (Milletlerarası Münasebetler Türk Yıllığı), 31. Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi.

Bilgi, Sabiha, & Özsoy, Seckin (2005). John Dewey’s travelings into the project of Turkish modernity. In Thomas S. Popkewitz (ed.), Inventing the modern self and John Dewey: Modernities and the traveling of pragmatism in education (pp. 153-177). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dewey, John (1983). Report and recommendations upon Turkish education. In Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), The Middle Works: Essays on Politics and Society, 1923-1924. Vol. 15 of Collected Works. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press.

Eğrikavuk, Işil (2010, April 9). Anniversary marks unfinished story of Turkish village schools. Hürriyet Daily News.

Stirling, Paul (1965, 1994). Turkish village. Canterbury, UK: Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing, University of Kent at Canterbury.

Stone, Frank A. (1974). Rural revitalization and the Village Institutes in Turkey: Sponsors and critics. Comparative Education Review, 18(3), 419–429.

Uygun, Selçuk (2008, November). The impact of John Dewey on the teacher education system in Turkey. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 36(4), 291–307.

Vexliard, Alexandre, & Aytac, Kemal (1964). The Village Institutes in Turkey. Comparative Education Review. 8(1), 41-47.

Wolf-Gazo, Ernest (1996). John Dewey in Turkey: An educational mission. Journal of American Studies of Turkey, 3, 15-42.

Yılmaz, Omer (1977). Schools for developing countries: The Turkish Village Institutes. Educational Planning, 3(4), 72–80.