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Education Tourism in Kuala Pilah | Danielle Strollo

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Rebecca Beasley-Cockroft and Danielle Strollo with a teacher from the school.

Rebecca Beasley-Cockroft and Danielle Strollo with a teacher from the school.

During our recent visit to Malaysia, we spent one great day on a strange historical quest in Kuala Pilah, a town about one hour south of Kuala Lumpur. We went to find the school where my wife’s dad had taught during his three-year stint in the Peace Corps after college from 1964-1968. We didn’t know what we would find when we got there. It was an educational adventure for us, one in which we learned that quintessential lesson of travel: no matter where you go, things are more similar than they are different.

We got there by taking a commuter train to Seremban, then caught a bus to downtown Kuala Pilah. We started by walking around the town, taking pictures of places Tim might have traveled: The main street, with its KFC and Pizza Hut, some of the side streets with the Chinese-owned businesses, and the bus station. Then, armed with our GPS-enabled cell phone, we began the walk along the road up to the school, which was about a mile away.

The security guard at the school’s main gate didn’t speak any English, and after taking our names down on the visitor sheet, let us go without any hassle, hugely different from what we would have experienced in the US, given our heightened fear of kidnappings.

After a few minutes, we began attracting some attention from the students, who approached us and asked us where we were from. “California, United States.” Kind of like saying, “I’ve come from Mars to see you go to school.” What the heck were we doing there, they must have wondered. We tried to explain that Rebecca’s dad had taught there, but we’re not sure it got through.

Ultimately we walked up to the main school building to peer into classrooms, at which point we finally ran into a teacher, Ms. Ying-Ying. She was doing a homework session with some students, but she was gracious enough to find someone to cover for her and take us to the principal’s office. There it was arranged for another teacher to show us around while Ying-Ying finished up with her students.

Our tour guide, whose name eludes me now, showed us all around the school grounds. I took pictures of everything, including some of the curious students, who waved and smiled at us like crazy. Most of these kids had never met Americans, much less young American women, before, and were excited, shy, and happy to practice some English. Apparently the first thing people in Malaysia learn to say in English is, “Where are you from?”, because every single one of the kids we encountered asked us.

The teacher explained that this school was now a regional, or “state,” sports academy, essentially a boarding school where boys and girls who excelled at sports from around the area were sent to develop their skills. The best students were then plucked for the national sports academies, where they did the same thing, and the teams they were on then played the state schools. So the state schools lost their best players, only to have to play them later — pretty unfair.

The students had to qualify, so they didn’t have to pay, but with the kids’ schedule and emphasis on sports, the teachers lamented that the kids didn’t really learn anything but sports. They went to class during the day, did sports practice in the early afternoon, and then they were basically too tired to do homework. So the teachers would assign homework and then do it with the students, since they didn’t have time to really work on school outside of school. Not much of an opportunity to let that class work sink in.

We met a second teacher, who was a teacher/soccer coach, and he explained about the problems the school had. And here’s where the similarities to the American school system really started to become uncanny.

“These are kids who really need more time in school, and less time playing sports,” he complained, “since they aren’t the best students to begin with. But we put them in a school that emphasizes sport, so they don’t become better students.” Emphasizing sports over education? No way.

Another problem — and stop me if you’ve heard this one — is that schools are underfunded in general, and in the sports schools like theirs, the money that does come is for better sports equipment. The stadium and the field was brand new, and gorgeous, while the classrooms that we saw were the exact same ones that Rebecca’s dad had taught classes in 50 years ago. On top of that, the Malaysian equivalent of the Department of Education keeps coming up with new theories on how to make students do better, and keeps changing the curriculum and increasing the number of standardized tests to make it “better.” Without consulting the practitioners, who, despite years of experience, are regarded not as professionals, but as babysitters. Teaching isn’t respected in Malaysia, he told us; teachers are underpaid and disregarded by the government. No kidding!

The teacher/coach saved us a bus ride and drove us back to Seremban, since he lived out there and was headed back for a break before soccer practice. He talked to us the whole way about education, and teaching, and how he loved it despite the obstacles. “The students that remember you the most were your worst students. The good ones go off and forget their teachers, become lawyers or doctors, someone important.” Of course he was really looking forward to a time when he didn’t have to work anymore, since it was getting harder each year to deal with the bureaucracy of Education.

So we had to travel thousands of miles to hear the same story we hear from all of the teachers we know. As they say in Asia, “Same same, but different.” It’s too bad that our worst habits are becoming the norm all around the world, while some countries like Korea and Finland, countries that invest in education, see test scores and literacy rising. I wish I could say that things are looking up, but I don’t know that it’s going to get better in the next however many years before we have kids. So I guess we’ll be forced to supplement school with stimulating activities at home, the way our parents did for us.

One thing is for sure, though: we will be traveling with our kids, so they get the same kind of quality experience we had in Kuala Pilah. That’s how they’ll learn that even though people may look and sound different, that really, we’re all the same and deal with the same kinds of problems. After all, that’s the most important thing for someone to learn anyway.

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Danielle Strollo is free-lance writer, traveler, and development officer. She is currently looking for a good job in the Bay Area.

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June 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Those Who Can, Teach | Julia Beers

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Julia Beers is a Mills Alumna who currently completed her credential program in Teaching through Mill School of Education MEET Program.

Julia Beers is an educator, alumna and completed her teaching credential at Mills College in the School of Education MEET Program. She is currently working on her Master’s.

“Teachers must recognize in a conscious and deliberate manner their own worth as an interpretive community” (Fecho 1993).

Somehow, the pervasive and ridiculous saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” had escaped my ears until I was in my mid-twenties. I remember hearing it in a movie while working on my credential at Mills and couldn’t believe that this quote could possibly be so widespread. I knew at that point, from first hand experience, what a complex art it is to be a teacher, how deeply one has to know one’s subject, students, and self in order to teach well. This quote seemed profoundly mistaken to me.

Over the years, as I have talked about my work with friends and family, I have been struck by their common misconceptions of what teachers do. When I arrive at a dinner date with friends and say, “Sorry I’m late. I was at work until six today,” I am often met with inquiring gazes, and sometimes asked, “so…what do you all afternoon? Don’t the kids leave at 2:15?” I am continually surprised that many people do not know a teacher’s job goes on long after the bell rings. And so I bring my busy and yet unseen afternoon into the light, telling them about the thought and preparation that goes into each lesson, my assessment of student work, collaboration with colleagues, and communication with parents. Amidst these daily components of my job, I may also share about the unexpected challenges that have arisen on that particular day, working to get Medical set up for a family, keeping a student late to re-teach an important math concept, or gathering classroom materials for a newly admitted student. In telling these stories of what it truly means to be a teacher, I can do my part to slowly debunk the oppressive and mistaken portrait of the teacher that has been drawn in our minds.

So often teachers are overworked and have little extra time to be involved in the creation and critique of education discourse. It is a marginalization cycle that perpetuates itself: policy-makers are removed from the classroom and so do not seek to change the circumstances that teachers face, and since the public is not familiar with the reality of teaching, many continue to believe stories about the lazy or ignorant teacher. Seeing themselves reflected as such in the public eye, teachers often internalize these erroneous concepts, and then remain further silenced. If we are to break out of this system of teacher marginalization, we as teachers must recognize our own worth. Our voices must extend beyond our classroom walls, as we confer and deliberate within teacher communities. We must share our stories with others and develop a language for challenging misconceptions when we hear them. By bringing our expertise into the formal and informal arenas of education discourse, the meaningful, difficult, and activist work that we engage in daily can be more publicly seen and understood.

 

Written by collegialconnections

May 28, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Perspectives from an ESL student | Zubin Hu

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ImageZubin is a student in Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools. For two different classes, Zubin was required to select a student (ELD student preferred, but not required) from the classroom where he student-teaches. Zubin wrote the piece below in response to case studies he did in those classes. He chose the topic because he had not seen anyone mention anything on it and wanted others to be aware of the differences between the terms.

 

Some definitions (from www.pps.k12.or.us/files/curriculum/ESL_Terminology.doc):

ELL/ EL- English Language Learners/ English Learners

ELD- English Language Development is a system of instruction focused on teaching ELLs to use English proficiently to communicate for various purposes in four language domains – speaking, listening, reading, and writing. ELD is also a class period that all students placed in the ESL Program are assigned.  It has its own curriculum and state standards.

ELP- English Language Proficiency are levels of English language learners’ fluency based on their stage of language acquisition and characterized by specific student language behaviors in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The levels are determined by State ELPA Test. Level 1 is Beginner.  Level 2 is Early-Intermediate. Level 3 is Intermediate.  Level 4 is Early- Advanced.  Level 5 is Advanced.

ELPA- English Language Proficiency Assessment is the annual state exam for assessing English learners’ growth in English proficiency

ESL- English as a Second Language

To many people, the phrases “ESL”, “EL”, “ELL”, and “ELD” are the same thing. However, to me, they are different. I am an ESL student, and “ESL” is the only one among the four definitions listed above that I’d love to be identified as. Being an ESL student implies that I can speak another language and may have language barrier. On the other hand, being an EL, ELL, or ELD basically means one has language barrier.

For my case studies on language, I found two students whose home languages are not English. However, they both refused to participate. I felt that they both were anxious about English being their second language. One student even lied. He told me that he was born in Berkeley, and he only speaks English at home. I mentioned this to my roommate, who is also an ESL student, and he said that when he was in school, he didn’t want people know that he was in the ELD program because he was worried people would look down on him. When I asked him if he wanted to be identified as an ESL student, he said that would be better for him because he would have the privilege of speaking two languages.

I understand that some other people don’t want to be identified with any of the four terms above. However, we, as educators, should affirm students’ identities and encourage them be proud.

One day while I was talking to my case study student, she reminded me that teachers often tell ELD students to write the definitions in their native languages. I followed this method myself when I was in school and wrote the Chinese translation of the words I didn’t know. I used to read each article at least three times. The first time reading the article, I basically just looked for the words I didn’t understand and wrote down the definition. The second time reading the article, I just tried to make sense of the article. If I found any definition didn’t make sense, I would go back to the dictionary and find an alternative. The third time reading the article, I was trying to understand it. My reading speed was slow. I spent much more time than other students to understand an article. After doing this for a year, I got tired of it and found that it wasn’t very helpful. English is such a complicated language because so many words have more than one meaning. Also, if a word is used in different context, the definition may be different. I then stopped writing the definition for every word that I didn’t know. Instead, I just tried to figure out the meaning through the context. If I still really had no idea what a word meant, then I look it up in the dictionary and choose the one that makes the most sense.

To many ESL students, especially in high school level, math and science are their favorite subjects. Maybe favorite is not very accurate, and I should use easier-to-catch-up-to instead. We come in with some understanding of those subjects. All we need is just to translate them into English and make sense of them.

Math class was very important to me in high school. I built my confidence in speaking and working with native speakers. Even though I didn’t understand much of the language, I did understand the examples or content. When I got home, I just focused on the vocabulary. Eventually, I was able to understand most of the things talked about in class. This approach may be limited to only a small number of individuals, but this definitely works in some cases including my own. I believe that vocabulary instruction is essential to effective math and science instruction. It not only includes teaching math or science specific terms such as “mean” or “percent,” but also includes understanding the difference between the mathematical or scientific definition of a word and other definitions of that word.

How ELL students feel about themselves is directly affected by the education policies put in place for English Language Learners.  Education policy makers set strict English language standards and push for ESL students to acquire English language proficiency at a rapid pace.  This urgent focus on language acquisition creates anxiety for ELL/ESL students.  Are there any influences we, as educators, bring to ELLs?  If teachers are not sensitive to or responsive toward ELLs’ cultural identities, ELL students can be pushed further toward the fringes of the classroom until they ultimately withdraw from the learning process.  If teachers focus so much energy on mainstreaming ESL students, they will place little or no value on students’ ability to speak two languages.  Acknowledging and affirming all students’ cultural identities in the classroom strengthens individuals’ sense of value, and their academic performance in the long run.  Teachers who understand and support the cultural norms of diverse learners help create a nurturing environment for those students, and can then encourage those students to feel more comfortable in taking the risks that can lead to so much learning and development.  By incorporating the wealth of students’ cultural backgrounds into the curriculum educators can advance the learning of all students, meeting the policy makers’ goals and fulfilling our obligations to all of our students.  The question, then remains: how do we build a curriculum that integrates multicultural backgrounds on an ongoing basis, and not just as a one-time multicultural event or activity?

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February 5, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Thinking Outside the Box Part II: How One School Is Doing Things Differently| Laurie Grassi-Redmond

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Laurie Grassi-Redmond earned her Masters in Education at Mills College in 2002. While there she was asked to work as the head teacher of the combined fourth and fifth grade classroom at the Mills College Children’s School.

Laurie Grassi-Redmond earned her Masters in Education at Mills College in 2002. She was also the head teacher of the combined fourth and fifth grade classroom at the Mills College Children’s School.

I wrote a post for this blog back in February, when I was planning to open a new school in Freedom, Maine. Shortly after writing the post, I held some informational sessions at local public libraries in the area. I wanted to see how many families might be interested in this type of school. It’s really outside of the box: three days a week, half of every school day spent outside, a truly multi-age setting of 5-10 year-colds all together, two full-time teachers, preparing and eating meals together made from local, organic foods… I just didn’t know if there would be enough interest to make a go of it.

At the first information session, one person showed up.

Students documenting what they learn.

Students documenting what they learn.

Three came to the second, and three came to the third. I paused to reconsider the idea. I thought deeply, talked to all my people, and decided in the end to go ahead with it. Even if I could get ten children, I figured, at least I would have a wonderful school environment for my own two daughters, and I would be able to provide what I feel is the best that education has to offer to another eight local children.

Students at the Mill School working in their classroom during a lesson.

Students at the Mill School working in their classroom during a lesson.

Well, The Mill School opened its doors on September 10th, fully enrolled with twenty local children, ages five to ten, and another eighteen on the waiting list. As it turns out, a lot of people are interested in exactly this kind of school. And so far, things are going as smoothly as can be expected at a brand new school. My colleague and I have changed the daily schedule about five times already. But the children are relaxed and happy, the parents are so supportive, and we have time to really get to know the children, as people, and as learners. Our first place-based curricular unit has begun, our food is delicious, and we are spending a lot of time outside, building strong bodies and connecting to the natural environment. The children are learning the daily routines. It feels to me as if this outside-of-the-box school is blossoming. As one student said to me yesterday, “It’s so weird. At my old school, the teacher was the enemy. But here, you’re just not. You two, like, seem to really care about us.” I smiled, and she paused before she added, “And the food here is so good too!”

I am always interested in hearing about other schools where things are being done differently; please let me know if you have a story to share. You can contact me, and learn more about The Mill School, at www.themillschool.org

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October 10, 2013 at 10:51 am

School Gardens | Elizabeth Baker

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Elizabeth Baker is the Associate Professor of Practice TTS/Math-Science 4 + 1 Program Director at the School of Education at Mills College.

A “Stumpery” in an English Garden.

“What we observe is not nature itself but nature observed to our method of questioning.” –Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy

In 1995, California launched the “Garden in Every School” program, and since then the Department of   Education has provided standards, curriculum, and evaluative research for school gardens. In addition, the legislature has enacted several bills that promote and (partially) fund school gardens. In 2003, when I was hired to work on an NSF grant using a garden-based mathematics curriculum, there were 3,000 public edible school gardens in California. By 2008 when our grant ended, there were 6,000 schools participating in the edible school garden movement (http://cns.ucdavis.edu/news/index.cfm). Currently, the California School Garden Network reckons that there are close to 10,000 schools participating.

Our state continues to emphasize nutrition education and health through the CA Nutrition Services Department, which now manages the Garden in Every School program. Consequently, we see many raised bed vegetable boxes on typically asphalt-covered or flat green space. School gardens in public urban areas generally do not contain intimate spaces, wild spaces, or even much digging room. Often there is no place to sit or gather a group of students together. There are exceptions, most notably The Edible School Yard at the MLK garden in Berkeley, and two of my favorite spaces: Franklin Elementary and Joaquin Miller in Oakland.  Although there are detractors, the most incendiary being Caitlin Flanagan (Cultivating Failure in the January 1, 2010 issue of the Atlantic Monthly), incorporating a school garden into elementary and some secondary schools continues to be on the side of the angels, and research backs up the academic and social/behavioral merits. (See, for example, Lieberman and Hoody, Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning, a 1992 paper presented at the State Education and Environmental Roundtable San Diego; D. Blair, The Child in the Garden: An Evaluative review of the Benefits of School Gardening, in the Journal of Environmental Education, Winter, Vol. 40, issue 2 in 2009.)

Another example of a “Stumpery” in England.

I recently returned from an inspiring trip to England that included visits to gardens, including school gardens. I was struck by the diversity and creative use of small school garden spaces for academic use. Perhaps because there has been a long history of gardening as a national pastime, of small home gardens, and of community vegetable allotments, the educational use focused more on creating interesting, diverse, and/or beautiful spots for students to be in –in other words, the emphasis was more on wonder and less on fava beans.For example, some schools, taking their lead from the British Natural History Museum, and perhaps less worried about bee stings or law suits from bee stings, kept bee houses if they found bees near the school. If there was a source of unwanted timber, typically tree stumps, schools made “stumperies”. When I asked what were the best kind of stumps for stumperies, I was told “the ones available!” These are seeded with ferns and soil then left to be; as they decompose, they become a great habitat. Schools emphasize increasing wildlife and diversity, and the students are counting, year after year. Counting the rain, the sun, the clouds, the insects, the arachnids, the birds, the ferns, and the plants that appear. The students use data from past years’ classes, and as the years add up so do the questions and evidence about what new has arrived and in what quantities, what the climate is up to, and what change is happening. Elementary gardens don’t look so elementary. They are intensely local just as the students are.

A home for bees made out of a tree.

I know that some of our schools are doing these kinds of things too: creating habitat gardens for butterflies; bee- and pollinator-friendly plantings that may include vegetables too, and other naturalized and native plant areas. But even though we live in a place where we can harvest strawberries in November, it is hard work and most of the work falls on the shoulders of teachers. I can attest to the community building and wonderful things that can happen on “community garden days” (a euphuism for weeding) in our local public schools, but I am hoping we can opt for a certain spaciousness of thinking and planning in our school garden spaces that allow for things to emerge –a constructivist approach to school gardens, if you will. Let’s resist the pressing urge to align all of the garden work to the standards, guidelines, and benchmarks, and justify it with the test scores. Resist imposing specific questions with correct answers. Resist imposing order to the planter boxes. Let’s instead create spaces that invite paying close attention, welcoming places for students to be idle and just observe and develop their own method for questions.

 

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August 28, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Teaching and Learning Collaboration in Haiti | Katherine Schultz

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A fifth grade boy reading to several kindergarten children.

A fifth grade boy reading to several kindergarten children.

This July, I went with five educators—including Linda Kroll, Fredi Breuer, Serena Clayton and Regie Stites—to Haiti to work with teachers from three different schools supported by Sionfonds [http://www.sionfondsforhaiti.org], an NGO founded by Annie Blackstone. Sionfonds works with local communities to construct buildings for schools in locations with few, and sometimes no, educational opportunities. Once the schools are established, Sionfonds pays teacher salaries and provides medical and dental care for children and families in the school community. During the past two years, the organization has also provided professional development to improve teaching, a crucial matter in Haiti where literacy rates are alarmingly low among children and adults. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Haiti]

We spent a week at the Sionfonds school in Cavaillon, a small rural community about four hours from Port-Au-Prince. Together with 25 teachers from the three schools, we ran a week-long summer school for about 190 children that focused on community building, reading, writing, and bookmaking. Our goal was to introduce collaborative methods while teaching the children and teachers. We first spent the first day working with the teachers. For the rest of the week, the teachers spent each morning in classrooms, teaching in teams of two and three; in the afternoons, they met with us to reflect on their experiences and learn new methods for collaboration and teaching literacy. They used this knowledge to plan the next day.

We wanted the teachers to be captured by the excitement of collaborating with one another to learn new methods of teaching.  We also wanted them to learn new ways to talk about reading, writing, and making books. We knew they would learn differently if we set them up to learn with and from each other. We hoped teachers would then bring these same methods into their classrooms, so that students could learn with and from peers as well as from teachers. We also wanted teachers and students –many of whom live in homes with no books—to feel that they were readers and writers. Overall, we wanted to convey that school is much more than preparation for tests, and education can allow children and adults alike to dream and imagine new possibilities.

We were pleased to find that there was already lots of collaboration in the school. The classrooms were partitioned off by small poles and narrow strips of canvas, with as many as five classrooms in a single open space. The voices of teachers and children from all the adjoining classes mixed together, sometimes creating so much noise it was difficult to hear. Great teaching ideas traveled between classes along with and through the sounds.

We built on this collaboration as we paired teachers from different schools to teach in a single classroom and then introduced literacy practices that could be taught using collaborative methods. One more formal collaborative practice is called “collaborative mentoring,” and we introduced it to the teaches as a way they could observe and provide feedback for each other’s teaching. Teachers shared their classroom experiences and observations in powerful conversations, and over the week we saw them try out practices they observed in their partner teachers’ classes.

Similarly, although the children often worked together informally, we showed the teachers several formal strategies they could use to help students collaborate. In Haiti, as in much of the world, teachers ask questions and the whole class responds – hopefully with the answer anticipated by the teacher.  We showed teachers how they could instead engage the students by having them turn to a partner to discuss the ideas in the book rather than by searching for a correct answer.  We suggested that they ask students questions to elicit more details in their writing, rather than simply demanding that they fill a page. Further, we encouraged them to teach pairs of students to try this same process with each other.  During the week, each teacher and student made two different kinds of books, one for poetry and one for narrative writing; at our celebration at the end of the week, younger and older children shared their stories with one another, illustrating another form of collaboration.

A week of literacy and collaboration was a powerful experience for the teachers and students.  During the time we were in Cavaillon, we saw so much change. We saw adults and children learn the pleasure of reading stories with unexpected endings and of arguing about their meaning. We saw them experience the delight of seeing poems and stories unfold, of writing in books they made themselves, and sharing those books with their families and friends. They learned to view themselves as readers and authors.  On the last day, a fifth grade teacher told us, “We know a lot of stories but I never decided to write them down. Last night I wrote a beautiful story in French. I will ask the children to make predictions when I read it in September.  I think the story will go far and I am very happy.”

Our work in Haiti illustrates how important it is to create opportunities for teachers and students to work together and learn from one another. In the United States we have largely eliminated such opportunities for collaboration in our relentless push to raise test scores and close the so-called achievement gap.  We forget how important it is for teachers to learn from one another and share their expertise, which reinforces the professionalism of teaching. In a world consumed by high stakes educational reform, we have become blind to how collaborative practice improves the quality of teaching. I suggest we pause, reflect, and learn from efforts such as our work in Haiti, where we saw teachers and children learning from and with each other, and joyfully and proudly changing their practices.

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Katherine Schultz is the Dean and Professor of Education at the School of Education at Mills College.

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July 31, 2013 at 9:52 am

The Intersection of Business and Education Meets at the Huddle | Parijat Tanna

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MBA/MA in Educational Leadership student, Parijat Tanna

MBA/MA in Educational Leadership student, Parijat Tanna

In the fall of 2012, a group of students in the MBA/MA in Educational Leadership Program (a joint program of the School of Education and the Lokey Graduate School of Business) came together and realized an opportunity for an ongoing space to discuss the intersection of the worlds of business and education. Thus the Huddle was born, providing joint degree students with resources and opportunities to learn and participate in this emerging field.

The Huddle met and formed three Tiger Teams to take on the specific tasks necessary to expand the scope of the Huddle. The Career Tiger Team presented a mind map of the education industry, highlighting the vastness of the industry while recognizing the sectors in which the joint students were interested in working. The Huddle Tiger Team invited in a professor from the Graduate School of Business and a professor from the School of Education to debate the topic of opportunity costs in education. They also heard from Professor Tom Li, who shared his experience of sitting on a school board to which he brought his knowledge as a CPA in order to address school- related issues. Students’ opinions and thoughts regarding the both the Huddle and the MBA/MA joint program are also welcomed and valued.

The Huddle has recently added the Business and Education Action Team (BEAT). BEAT will be an outward facing component of the Huddle, with students volunteering with schools and educational organizations, and providing business consulting and supplemental workshops to students.

The Huddle is a great resource for the MBA/MA joint students at Mills. It offers a motivating site for students to synthesize their classroom learning with real life situations. The group also allows students to explore career paths which align with the joint degree.

For me, the Huddle is a meeting place for my peers and me to reflect and examine the new connections being forged within the areas of education and business, as well as the challenges that may arise from that relationship. To be a part of something that is creating a significant impact is empowering, and it is amazing to be able to bring that to Mills. I hope that we can carry this conversation into action, especially through BEAT. I look forward to the continuing progress and ripples of success we will make, not only at Mills, but also within the Oakland community.

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March 7, 2013 at 10:51 am

On Poverty and Systemic Collapse: Challenges to Education Research in an Era of Infrastructure Rebuilding | Gregory K. Tanaka

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Greg Tanaka, Visiting Professor to the Educational Leadership Program at the School of Education at Mills College

Greg Tanaka, Visiting Professor to the Educational Leadership Program at the School of Education at Mills College

In this essay I argue the economic inequities of today carve out a very large social condition that is orders of magnitude greater than can be conveyed by the term “poverty.” This condition derives from a massive theft of public wealth and abandonment of the principles of representative democracy.

There is a silver lining: on encountering “systemic collapse” (a breakdown of society’s largest social institutions), we as education researchers are presented with a challenge for which we are uniquely well suited. We do applied work and as such, are predisposed to building something new. But will we be ready to make contributions that match the human need in an “Era of Democratic Renewal?”

Most Americans have become poorer and not as a result of a four-year cyclical downturn. This is systemic. From 1972 to 2012, U.S. hourly earnings adjusted for inflation dropped from $20/hr to just $8/hr (Nielson, Bullion Bulls Canada, 2/7/11). While social welfare benefits made up 10% of all salaries and wages in 1960, today it is 35% (Economic Collapse, 4/16/12). Where in the 1970s the top 1% earned just 8% of all income, this year they earned 21% (Id). In 1950, household debt as a percentage of disposable income was 30% but by 2011 rose to 120% of personal income (Tanaka Capital Management, August, 2011). By 2011, 100 million out of 242 million working age Americans were not working (Seabridge Gold Annual Report, 2011). Today, one-fourth of all children in the U.S. are enrolled in the food stamp program (Economic Collapse, 4/16/12). And since being established in 1913, the Federal Reserve (representing the largest U.S. banks) has destroyed 96% of the dollar value of U.S. family savings by printing money (Economic Collapse, 2/9/12).

Meanwhile, the 1% has truly become “the elites” by boldly stealing from middle and working class Americans. During the 2007-2010 financial crisis, $27 trillion in bailout money was given to U.S. banks that was “off-budget,” meaning it was not derived from taxes but rather taken from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid accounts paid into by taxpayers over a 40-year period (Catherine Austin Fitts, 9/4/12). In 2009-2010, 93% of all new U.S. income went to the top 1% (U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, 6/29/12). A simple solution is available but Congress won’t act: a return to the tax rates of the 1950s-1970s would result in a 50% tax on the top 96-99% and 75% tax on the top 1%. This alone would cover ¾ of the current U.S budget shortfall.

The net result is that the U.S. is stuck with $150 trillion in debt and unfunded liabilities, leaving U.S. taxpayers with more debt per capita than citizens of Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain (Economic Collapse, 7/14/12). Worse, the global overhang from debt, derivatives and contingent and unfunded liabilities and pension accounts is now a whopping $1.5 quadrillion (Greyerz, King World News, 7/20/12). With global GDP at $50 trillion, the financial “overhang” is systemic and irredeemable.

Is this the end of democracy as we knew it? All three branches have certainly failed the American people. It was Congress that reduced the elites’ income tax from 75% to just 15% (for long-term capital gains). The White House authored NAFTA (exporting millions of manufacturing jobs offshore), launched two oil wars and gave trillions to bankers. Most appalling, it was the U.S. Supreme Court that sanctioned in Citizens United the ability of the super rich to “buy” U.S. elections, thus bringing to an end the “representative” characteristic of representative democracy.

To restore democracy, a massive project of social change is now needed that can model the contours of a democracy that is participatory and might include the following kinds of ideas. (I invite others to offer ideas of their own.)

  • Exempting full-time preK-12 public school teachers from having to pay federal income taxes;
  • Paying off the U.S. bonds with low yield (and later, cheaper) dollars, followed by a re-linking of the dollar to gold at $300/ounce, absolving U.S. citizens of all debt (Iceland model), letting banks restart as utilities, seizing illegal accounts held for Americans in the Cayman Islands, etc, and closing down the Federal Reserve;
  • Paying for this renewal by deploying already available technology that can produce far cheaper, clean energy—e.g. artificial photosynthesis, splitting water molecules to create ethanol, and passing cars over electromagnetic rods in roads (like charging an electric toothbrush);
  • A second Constitutional Convention that is, this time, “by, for and of the people,” redefines a “person” as a human being, includes term limits, and enacts a participatory democracy; and
  • The creation of independent think tanks that are in the public interest and can conceptualize, operationalize and evaluate initiatives like those above.

To renew this country, and its democracy, education researchers will need to do several things differently. We will need to broaden our work from a tendency to perform narrowly at the “mid-range level” of change in organizations, schools or programs—to a concerted effort to combine three registers in one analysis (“macro” systemic change in the largest social institutions, “micro” reformulations of the self, and “mid-range” change in organizations).

We will also need to shift from “assessment overdeterminism” to an emphasis on infrastructure rebuilding. This will mean more large scale, longitudinal, participatory projects; theorizing the connection, if any, between performing social change and development of the self; replacing NCLB/RTTT with policies that teach critical thinking, creativity, science, history, the arts, and coming into being by helping others also to come into being; new epistemologies that unite a diverse country; and change in reward systems to prize the above.

The question, then, is whether we as researchers in the public interest will be caught in a propitious moment worshiping old research epistemologies and methodological registers—or be willing instead to alter the reach and aim of our work to match the magnitude of the task before us.

This paper was presented by Greg Tanaka at the American Educational Research Association Conference, September, 2012.

Written by collegialconnections

February 28, 2013 at 10:09 am

Student Silence, Introverts, and Classroom Participation | Katherine Schultz

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Katherine Schultz, Professor of Education & Dean of the School of Education at Mills College

Katherine Schultz, Professor of Education & Dean of the School of Education at Mills College

Jessica Lahey, a high school teacher and writer, argues in the Atlantic magazine (February, 2013) (that introverts should be required to speak in class. She claims that classroom participation grades are not only fair; they are necessary. Drawing on recent work on introverts (e.g., Susan Cain’s popular new book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking), she suggests that in order to be successful in today’s world, it is imperative that introverted students be taught and coerced through grades and expectations to participate in class.

I disagree. Lahey paints students who are quiet in her class with a broad brush, calling them all “introverts.” The truth is that there are many reasons students may choose not to verbally participate in school. Some students are painfully shy and perhaps even introverts.  Other students choose their moments to speak carefully, participating in silence for long periods before they decide to speak aloud. Some are quiet in school and loud in other contexts. Sometimes a student’s silence protects her from ridicule or bullying. In many cultures, silence is a sign of deep respect and more highly valued than talk. I would argue that Lahey’s advocacy for grading or counting classroom participation ignores the value and uses of silence in the classrooms, overlooking the myriad of other ways students participate.

Lahey also locates students’ silences in individuals rather than understanding them as a product of group interaction and situations. The students she worries about are ones she labels as “introverts”, assuming it is a characteristic of the student rather than the circumstance that creates the silence or reticence.  I would suggest, instead, that it is useful to look at how classrooms and other contexts create silences in youth.  Rather than punishing the so-called introverts for their silence or forcing them to speak by grading their classroom participation, teachers like Lahey might inquire into the silence of certain students in their classrooms, looking into the reasons for their silence, the places where are they more vocal, and imagining other ways they might be encouraged to participate.

In my own work, I suggest that we redefine what we mean by classroom participation. Teachers often define classroom participation as a verbal response that fits into a routine that the teacher has established. (Typically, the teacher asks a question, the student responds and the teacher affirms the correctness of the answer. Students are then said to participate.)  But can students participate without speaking out loud?  Should teachers consider the times that a student gives silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation?  Are these useful forms of participation?  It is important to note that one student’s silence can enable another student to speak.  Do students have a responsibility to contribute to the silence of a classroom so that others can talk, along with a responsibility to contribute verbally to the discussion?  How might silence be re-framed as a “productive” or useful contribution to classroom classrooms?  Finally, how to we create other contexts for participation such as multimedia projects where students “speak” through recorded text.

Lahey claims that she wants to prepare her students for the future where verbal participation is critical for their success. I suggest instead that we rethink how we understand students’ silences. I want us to remain cautious about labeling children as introverts, rather than understanding the larger contexts of how and why they choose to participate in certain ways. Otherwise, the particular contributions these students make to the classroom community may be unheard, unrecognized, and discounted.  The absence of talk might lead a teacher to assume the absence of learning.  It may be difficult for a student to escape the label of the “silent” student or the “introvert.”

There are potentially grave consequences for students when teachers do not understand their silence as a form of participation.  Narrow interpretations of the meanings of silence can lead to false assumptions about student participation in classroom activities.  For instance, students who are silent might receive low grades for classroom participation, when in fact they are actively engaged in learning. Rather than working to fix or change “introverts” I suggest we understand the various reasons students choose to participate verbally in classrooms or to refrain from such participation. Shouldn’t our goal as educators be to rethink our classroom as places that support all students to learn?

Note: I elaborate these ideas in my book, Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices, Teachers College Press, 2009.

This originally appeared on the Washington Post’s education blog: The Answer Sheet on 2/12/13.

Written by collegialconnections

February 19, 2013 at 11:30 am

Thinking Outside the Box: How One School Is Going To Do Things Differently | Laurie Grassi-Redmond ’02

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Laurie Grassi-Redmond with her students at the Mill School

   Laurie Grassi-Redmond with her students at       The Mill School in Maine

When I was taking graduate classes at the Mills School of Education over ten years ago, Anna Richert challenged me and my colleagues to “imagine schools otherwise”. Our student teaching placements left us with many questions, and when we met with Anna on Wednesday afternoons, our frustrations and concerns often bubbled up and out. We questioned standardized tests, teacher to student ratios, school schedules, moral dilemmas, content standards, prescribed curriculum, assessments, and more.  Anna would listen to us, facilitate our discussions, and then push us to imagine what schools could look like, if we took the time to imagine them otherwise.

Years later, having taught at the Mills College Children’s School and in public elementary and middle schools, and having stepped outside of the classroom for five years to raise two daughters, I am now in the process of founding a school. Holding in my heart and mind what I know to be best for children, I developed The Mill School.

The Mill School will help children tap into their capacity for learning so that they are confident and successful while maintaining a true sense of self. Located in Freedom, Maine, The Mill School will serve children ages six to ten in a three-day program. Academics will be taught through integrated projects. Assessment will be on-going and authentic. Through place-based learning, The Mill School will advance environmental stewardship and foster the growth of children who view themselves as participants in the life of their community. The Mill School will prepare children to be valued members of society by emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, curiosity, and imagination.

At The Mill School, children will spend half of each school day outside. The outdoor environments will provide the roots for the curriculum at The Mill School and they include the falls, stream, pond, forest, wetlands, and adjoining family farm. Snacks and lunches will be made from whole, local, organic foods and served family style.

The Mill School will partner with families to educate children. Constructivism and place-based learning will guide the curriculum. One day we may offer a five-day program so that we can try to become a “school of choice” – that means that families in the surrounding area could attend the school for free. For now, we will actively work to keep tuition as low as possible while still valuing our teachers and providing a safe and enriching learning environment where children can thrive.

I would like to thank all of my Mills professors for preparing me for this venture. Collectively, they planted a seed ten years ago that has now blossomed into one school where things will be done differently: a school rooted in what is best for children.

To learn more about the school, please visit www.themillschool.org

Written by collegialconnections

January 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm

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