Nisarga Batika School

Learning math through games

Learning math through games

On the US Thanksgiving Day, I was sorry to be away from family and friends, and looked in vain for a stuffed turkey. But i had something else to be thankful for.

I was hosted for the day at Nisarga Batika School. I was thankful for the warm visit and also that there are at least some schools like Nisarga Batika. At the same time it made me sad that not all students have such great opportunities.

Teachers at the school are eager to find ways to improve, but as of today, the school would be the envy of some of the best progressive schools in the US.

Backpacks of the little ones

Backpacks of the little ones

The school’s philosophy statement begins:

is a thriving community of learners who engage in education that is holistic, relevant and meaningful. As an experiential learning school, Nisarga Batika offers an environment where each individual looks upon the world as their classroom and values self-motivated learning as a way of life.

Discussion about paper money

Discussion about paper money

I visited every classroom and talked with children there and on the playground, where diverse activities were underway. Although that’s just a small sample, it made me feel that the school is doing as much as anyone can to realize the philosophy statement, including seeing teachers as facilitators towards goals of critical thinking, self discovery, and creativity.

If you click on the photo below, or here, you can see a series of additional photos that convey the flavor of the school, including field trips in natural settings and the vegetable market created by children for the plants they grow.

Recognizing Roma

Akdeniz University project

Akdeniz University project, grades 5-7

A remarkable, but little noticed event was reported on April 7 in the NY Times (with limited coverage elsewhere). Rick Gladstone’s, ‘Roma poisoned at U.N. camps in Kosovo may get apology and compensation‘ relates the findings of a human rights advisory panel of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo. The panel found that the mission failed to protect Roma families sent to camps after war broke out in 1998 between Serbia and Albanian separatists.

Hundreds of Roma were placed in three camps in Mitrovica, Kosovo, after ethnic Albanians had seized their homes. The camps were within 200 yards of enormous piles of industrial waste from a lead-smelting factory. Soon after the camps were set up, many Roma died from lead poisoning. Others suffered stunted growth, irreversible brain and nerve damage, suppression of the immune system, anemia and renal failure. There were associated speech, language, and behavioral problems. Some of this is described in the film Gypsy Blood: The Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian IDPs of Mitrovica, Kosovo (2005).

Turgut Reis school

Turgut Reis school

The panel’s findings are significant in two ways. First, the U.N. rarely apologizes for anything, often denying allegations or asserting diplomatic immunity. Forced to enter difficult situations with limited resources, it is understandable that mistakes can be made. But even as the organization of last resort, it is important for it to acknowledge errors and where possible provide remedies. That’s a necessary first step before encouraging member countries to do likewise.

Perhaps more significantly, the finding recognizes a harm done to Roma people, one in a long series over many centuries. During the Second World War, the Nazis exterminated hundreds of thousands of Roma. This was the Baro Porrajmos, or Great Devouring. After the war Roma experienced killings, forced sterilization, segregation, racial discrimination, evictions, and extreme poverty.

Roma are widely misunderstood. People who would never say something similar about other groups often casually offer ignorant and offensive comments about Roma people. They are seen by many as rootless (“gypsies”). It’s true that they are widely dispersed, but most are settled, or would choose to be if they could find work. They are seen as unwilling to participate, even though as with any group, some assimilate well to dominant lifestyles while others maintain distinctive ways. It’s a final insult that they are widely blamed for petty crimes with little evidence other than an often mistaken ethnic identification. (And yes, they do commit some crimes, just as do members of any group.)

My own experience with Roma people has been limited. There were Roma in Illinois, especially in the southern areas. I met Roma people during a year in Ireland. Amongst a large number of immigrants, they were often misidentified based on quick judgements about behavior. I’ve met Roma in the US and in various other countries in Europe. I learned about librarians in Bucharest working with Roma communities. I visited “Roma schools” in Turkey. I wouldn’t pretend to any great personal knowledge, but what I have experienced loudly confirms what I’ve read from thoughtful sources, e.g., The Roma and open society or Dimitrina Petrova’s ‘The Roma: Between a myth and the future.’

To take just one example: The Turgut Reis middle school in Çanakkale, Turkey (see photos above) is set in the midst of a 600-year old Roma community. To residents of the neighborhood, the Turks, Arabs, Europeans, and so on are the itinerant ones. Students in the school are bright, energetic, focused on sports, music, and each other They’re sometimes unruly, but fun to be with. They fit well to my stereotype of middle school students .

The needs of the Turgut Reis community are familiar in other urban settings–job opportunity, education, affordable housing, and overcoming racism. The history of the people undoubtedly shapes their situation today, but that situation is not determined by being Roma. Attaching a label, such as “Roma,” may provide a starting point for conversation, but it ultimately tells us little about any individual.

I’m glad that the U.N. panel found a failure to comply with the applicable human rights standards in the Kosovo camps. It also urged a public apology and payment of adequate compensation. I hope that doing so nurtures the growth of a greater understanding of a complex and fascinating culture.

 

Sharing reading across generations

I recently had an enlightening day reading with middle schoolers. It was definitely more fun than when I had to be in middle school myself. I had volunteered for an intergenerational reading group, part of Project Read. This meant that adults in the area would read the same texts and do the same homework as the students. We would then meet with them in small groups during regular class hours to discuss the reading.

On this particular day, we had all read Shirley Jackson’s story, The Lottery. This classic of secondary school has long provided fodder for discussion, confusion, and in some cases distress. I know at least one person my age who says that she’s still disturbed by it. It’s interesting to read the reactions of readers as shown in their letters to the New Yorker, where it was first published in 1948.

There were four class periods with small reading groups, then whole-class discussion, so I was able to hear a variety of responses and share my own:
  • Many students were excited to discover the similarity of the story to that of The Hunger Games novel/film, and even more to learn that others had made the same discovery.
  • I was surprised to hear one boy say that the story must have been set very long ago, because “the heads of household were all men.” Another added that “the men did all the talking and mostly talked about the women, rather than letting them talk.” I don’t believe that middle school boys from my time would have said the same.
  • One student said that the stoning in the story was wrong “because there were only 300 people in the village.” (One death would make a big difference.) We then talked about whether stoning someone to death was ever justifiable.
  • A big question concerned why people in the story, especially Mr. Warner, didn’t want to change. Several students agreed that the people who resisted ending the practice of stoning were similar “to the people who resist allowing fast food restaurants into Brewster. People are afraid of new things.” I didn’t do a poll, but I imagine a sharp generation divide on the fast food issue, with the older ones opposed. The students were right: The older folks don’t want change. Nevertheless, I was uncomfortable equating stoning people to death with opposing fast food.
  • A volunteer adult added, “sometimes you’ve been doing something your whole life and it’s hard to admit that you were wrong.” I doubt that the 13 year-olds have that same feeling about doing something their whole life.
  • I was dismayed to hear two girls in separate groups describe incidents in which boys had thrown (multiple) stones at them.
  • Another student said that Tessie Hutchinson was stoned because she was engaging in protest. The usual reading is that her cry that the stoning was unfair was disingenuous since she never said anything until after she’d been selected. But in the context of Ferguson events I can now understand the interpretation the student made.
  • My best contribution was to bring up Martin Niemöller’s famous First they came… statement. This much-quoted passage reads all the more powerful for me knowing Niemöller’s own earlier national conservative views and anti-semitism. And it makes his analogy to Tessie Hutchinson more telling. The statement is quoted in a book that the students will be reading later in the year in their Holocaust unit.

Like any good learning experience, this one was shared broadly. The teachers, volunteers, and middle school students had to cross some boundaries, but all learned something about the story and about each other. A quote on the classroom wall seemed especially a propos for this intergenerational encounter:

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” –Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

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.

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.

Youth planners in Richmond, CA

I was fortunate to have a visit with youth planners at the Kennedy High School in Richmond, CA on Wednesday this week. These were students studying their own community and developing plans to improve it. They’ll be presenting these plans to the Mayor next month.

What I saw is part of Y-PLAN (Youth — Plan, Learn, Act, Now), a city planning program run by UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities & Schools. Deborah McKoy is the creator of Y-PLAN and the center’s founder and executive director.

Sarah Van Wart from the UC Berkeley I School was my guide. She and two undergrads, Arturo and Sarir had been leading the high school students in a community planning exercise. They first examined their current situation, using dialogue, photos, and data. They then considered alternatives and how those might apply to a planned urban development project.

The development will include schools, housing, a park, and community center, but the questions for city planners, include “How should these be designed?” “How can they be connected?” “How can they be made safe, useful, and aesthetically pleasing?”

On the day I visited, the youth had already developed general ideas on what they’d like to see in the development. Now they were to make these ideas more concrete through 3-D modeling. Using clay, toothpicks, construction paper, dried algae, stickers, variously colored small rocks, and other objects, they constructed scale models of the 30 square block development. One resource they had was contact sheets of photos of other urban environments. They could select from those to include as examples to emulate or to avoid.

I was impressed with the dedication and skill of the leaders of the project, including also the teacher, Mr. G. But the most striking thing was how engaged the young people were. I heard some healthy arguing about design, but I didn’t see the disaffection that is so common some high schools today.

My only regret is that I wasn’t able to follow the process from beginning to end. But from the rich, albeit limited, glimpse I had, the project is an excellent way to engage young people in their own communities, to use multimedia for learning and action in the world, and to learn how to work together on meaningful tasks. It’s a good example of community inquiry.

Sara Bernard has a more detailed article on the project on Edutopia, which includes an audio slide show:

Audio slide show: Putting Schools on the Map Slide Show
Putting Schools on the Map

References

Bernard, Sara (2008, October). Mapping their futures: Kids foster school-community connections.

Bierbaum, Ariel H., & McKoy, Deborah L. (2008, Spring). Y-PLAN: A tool for engaging youth and schools in planning for the future of their communities. IMPACT: A Multidisciplinary Journal Addressing the Issues of Urban Youth, 2(1).

McKoy, Deborah, & Vincent, J. 2007. Engaging schools in urban revitalization: The Y-PLAN (Youth-Plan, Learn, Act, Now). Journal of Planning Education and Research, 26, 389-403.

ReadWriteThink

Since 2002 ReadWriteThink has provided literacy educators with access to a large and growing collection of free educational materials. There are hundreds of lesson plans, calendar resources, printouts, and interactive tools.

The site has become one of the most used web resources for educators and students, and has just released a much-improved design. The content is now browsable by type, grade, learning objective, theme, and allotted time. Out-of-school resources for parents and afterschool providers have been consolidated into an easily accessible section.

ReadWriteThink is a partnership between the National Council of Teachers of English, the International Reading Association, and Verizon Thinkfinity. Bringing these organizations together has been an important contribution of the project in its own right.