Urdaibai Bird Center

The Urdaibai Bird Center is a nature museum for enjoying the world of birds. It offers a unique observatory of marshland in the heart of Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve in Euskadi in northern Spain.

The Center is called a “living” museum because what it has to show depends on the life of the marshland and the birds who choose to visit. You can see some of that in the webcam below.

As the Northern Hemisphere winter approaches, food supplies for birds dwindle and most begin to migrate south. Coming from as far west as Greenland and as far east as Russia, they head towards western Europe, then down towards the border between France and Spain. With the Pyrenees blocking their path to the east and the Bay of Biscay a barrier to the west, they funnel through a narrow path that takes them through Euskadi, the Basque country of Spain.

Education programs linking children throughout the world

Education programs linking children throughout the world

This is the East Atlantic Flyway, a bird migration system linking breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra with wintering grounds in Mauritania, and stretching from northern Russia to southern Africa.

The Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve preserves an age-old oasis for these birds. From here, they head south through Spain, many going to the Doñana National Park in Andalusia, across the Mediterranean to Morocco, then down the west coast of Africa to wintering grounds in the Senegal and Niger deltas, with some going as far as South Africa.

The constructed marshland

The constructed marshland

The Urdaibai Bird Center has exhibits, AV shows, interpreters, and more to explain all of this. In addition, they have observatories from which you can see the birds who are there on a given day (as in the webcam).

The birds are wonderful to see and their stories are often amazing. The migration routes sometimes extend thousands of miles. One especially interesting case is the red-backed shrike.

Red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio)

Red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio)

Like other birds this shrike heads south from northern Europe, stops over at Urdaibai, and then goes to southern Spain. But instead of heading directly south to the west coast of Africa, it turns east to Italy, or even Greece, then turns south through central Africa. Further breaking the mold, it returns by a different route. It goes further east, through the horn of Africa, Arabia, and Turkey, before turning west.

After exploring a bit in some ornithology journals, I learned that individual red-backed shrikes break the pattern even more, often following idiosyncratic paths and ending up hundreds of miles apart in South Africa.

It’s behavior like this that makes the work of a bird center like Urdaibai both challenging and wonderful.

International Handbook of Progressive Education

International Handbook of Progressive Education cover I returned from Newfoundland to a pleasant surprise. There were three large boxes containing contributor copies of our new International Handbook of Progressive Education (Peter Lang, 2015)The book represents a project involving over 60 authors and editors from countries around the world.

Mustafa Yunus Eryaman and I are editors, aided immeasurably by Section editors John Pecore, Brian Drayton, Maureen Hogan, Jeanne Connell, Alistair Ross, and Martina Riedler.

The International Handbook of Progressive Education engages contemporary debates about the purpose of education, presenting diverse ideas developed within a broadly conceived progressive education movement.

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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.

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.

Garrotxa and Collsacabra

Before going to the conference in Girona on the future of the university, we spent a few days in the Pyrenees (Pireneus in Catalan), mostly in Garrotxa county (camarca) and in Vall de Sau Collsacabra. Collsacabra is a high plateau in the north-east part of Osona county; it’s also called Cabrerès.

Here are some photos; click on any photo to enlarge it.

mas-el-solanotgarrotxa

Following a night in Barcelona, we traveled north past Vic and Rupit to a beautiful stone house high on a mountainside. You can see here the view from our room in the Gestió Mas El Solanot (see additional photos). Notice the tabletop mountains and cliffs, as well as architecture going back to the Middle Ages and even Roman times.

We were staying on the edge of La Garrotxa, which is about 1/4 the size of Champaign County in terms of area and population. It looks very different because of its 40 volcanoes and many cliffs, not to mention the medieval architecture, Mediterranean flora, and red tile roofs.

Volca MontsacopaMontsacopa

We traveled to many of the volcanoes in Garrotxa. Here we are climbing up to look at the crater of Volca Montsacopa, in the center of Olot.

The photo on the left is from the Route of Les Tres Colades, with its spectacular basalt cliffs. It shows the results of the cooling of the lava as it flowed towards the site of what is now Sant Joan les Fonts.

On the right is a 12th-century Romanesque bridge in Besalú with a portcullis in center. It was partially destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, then rebuilt in the 60’s.

Rupit A view of Rupit and the nearby Salto de Sallent, a 100-meter waterfall. The photo below shows a cascade upstream from the main fall. There was an iron cross embedded in the rock, presumably marking the spot where someone had come too close to the edge. I decided not to go up closer to investigate. But it was impressive to see that the unpaved road crosses the stream above the main fall, going through six inches of water just a few feet from the 100-meter drop.

Salto de Sallent

Scenes from Girona, where the conference was held. The cathedral perches on a hill in the center of the beautiful old town (Barri Vell), which lies just across the Onyar River

The student as the axis of change in the university

Univest 08 I just returned from the Univest 08 conference: The student as the axis of change in the university, which was held on June 2-3 in Girona, Spain. There were excellent presentations and discussions, for me aided considerably by simultaneous translation from Spanish or Catalan into English.

I thought that it worked very well to have students respond to the major presentations. It’s also hard to think of a more pleasant place to hold a conference than Girona, with outstanding restaurants, a beautiful old city, large parks, rivers, and great museums.

Girona wall, cathedralOne motivation for the conference was the European Convergence Process, a scheme to make Europe competitive with the United States in tertiary education. Beginning in 2010, more than 40 European countries will participate in the European Space for Higher Education, in which students, professors, and researchers will be able to move about without borders.

The aim of the process, which began in 1999 in Bologna is to produce a higher-quality, more homogeneous system, which is also more competitive in its teaching methods. A hope is that it will help build a society based on European knowledge, manifesting in culture and education the convergence that is already underway in the political and economic arenas.

The conference brought together teachers, students, administrators, and people from government and industry around topics, such as:

  • Student-centered instructional planning
  • Learner self-regulation
  • Student supervision and tuition
  • Student participation in university life
  • Experiences outside the classroom

My own talk was on student-centered learning, particularly on helping students by getting them to focus not on themselves, but instead on their communities.