Tag Archives: Activism

For Esther

If you are reading this post it could mean one of two things:

  1. I have sent you a link directly via Facebook or Twitter. You are a good friend, family, or a member of my online network
  2. A friend has shared this link with you via Facebook or Twitter or email and you have no idea who I am

Either way Team Raisdana is asking you for some help. Please watch the short clip below for some explanation. Then meet me on the other side for some context, links, and instructions.

That’s the gist of it, but as promised here are some links for those of you who have never heard of Daraja:

  1. Watch this award winning short film by BrickDoc
  2. Read some of what I have written about the school here and here
  3. Watch the video I created after a visit to the campus
  4. Check out their website, follow them on Twitter @daraja, or like  them on Facebook

How can you help with the Bay To Breakers event? Sorry for the bulleted post, but I see this post as more business If you are looking for the poetry of Daraja please read and watch the links above. Back to business. What can you do?

  1. Go to Esther’s Crowdrise page and donate any amount you can afford at this time.
  2. Go to Esther’s Crowdrise page donate and share the link to this blog post with everyone you know on Twitter and Facebook and email
  3. Go to Esther’s Crowdrise page donate and share the  link to this blog with everyone you know on Twitter and Facebook and email, and join The Team. Write your own post, make your own video and let’s raise some serious cash.

Esther has a strong will that is encompassed in sadness. She is from a single mother with 5 older brothers, and a younger sister. Esther was fortunate to attend a primary school for needy children that gave her a solid educational background and of all the new Form 1 students, she scored the second highest on her 8th grade examination. Although Esther had a great education, she was pressured and abused by the headmaster of the school.

Esther has overcome a great deal. To see her at Daraja Academy, she is smiling and there is hope in her eyes. Because of the many good people supporting her, Ether has learned to communicate her needs to others, and to take care of herself. Esther has found people who love her and support her, and she has embraced this new family from the beginning despite the hurt she has had the past.
We are always talking about the power of the network; let’s see if it can raise $1000 for a girl who would could use it and appreciate it more than any of us will ever know. In the next few weeks, I will be in touch with people at Daraja and try to get some video or a Skype all with Esther, but in the meantime let’s get together and raise some cash.

Education as Opression

I just read William Chamberlain’s post and subsequent comments about Education Reform and Technology, in which he ponders this idea:

There are not enough teachers in my community with a large enough audience to drive education reform toward student-centered learning and away from high-stakes test driven curriculum.

and I feel a like a bit of a hypocrite because much of the conversation revolves around the inability of the Ed-tech community through their (our?) involvement in conferences to make much of a difference. And here I am in Hong Kong getting ready to give a workshop at an international school conference. I am reading through the comments, by people I respect and agree with on many issues, and wondering if my session is too focused on sharing tools or if it is based in pedagogy. I ask myself if David Wees would cross my session off his list. Am I focusing too much on tools or actually sharing student led ideas? More importantly am I presenting this information in a learner focused manner or am I like John said, “Acting like the expert.” All very important questions for sure, but not important when it comes to the question of what the Ed-Tech community is doing to reform education.

There is no doubt that there are thousands of passionate teachers working tirelessly worldwide to create new educational environments, but I agree with Will, “So why is nothing happening?” My answer is that  reform is not an educational issue, but a political one. We do not need Ed-Reform, we need an educational revolution. Before you shake your head, and brand me an idealist ineffectual revolutionay clad in a Che Guevara shirt, let me explain.

I think we need to shift the question from what or how do we educate people to why do we educate them. What is the purpose of compulsory education for most of the world? Do we want kids to take over and control society or to be passive participants? I think there is a great gap between what we say and what we do. We have known for a century what we should do: John Dewey, and Paulo Freire believed:

A strong case for the importance of education not only as a place to gain content knowledge, but also as a place to learn how to live. In his eyes, the purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good.

Education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change

Education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction

No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption

The oppressors must also be willing to rethink their way of life and to examine their own role in the oppression if true liberation is to occur; “those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly”

Freire believed education to be a political act that could not be divorced from pedagogy. Freire defined this as a main tenet of critical pedagogy. Teachers and students must be made aware of the “politics” that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers, themselves, have political notions, they bring into the classroom.

Now read most missions statements from schools around the world and you will see terms like: global citizen, critical thinker, change makers, caring, collaborative etc…This all sounds well and good, I think most teachers participating in the Ed-tech movement would agree that they got into education as way a to help move the world forward in some way. To help arm the next generation with the tools to be more kind, responsive and responsible than past generations have been. To guide students to understand these values we must understand that, “Teachers and students must be made aware of the “politics” that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers, themselves, have political notions, they bring into the classroom.” So what is going on? Dewey was saying these things a hundred years ago, we still can’t educate children to educate themselves? With all the “tools” and community creators, why are we sill left asking them say questions? Why are we no closer than Dewey was a century ago? I think this is the crux of Will’s question, and the answer is that Ed-Reform is not yet a political movement anywhere in the world.

We need to ask ourself who would suffer from such a truly educated society? Who would lose power should poor kids from Missouri connect to Mexican immigrants in Arizona, to young people in Egypt, to Iran, to Africa, to The Bronx? Who has the most to lose should the oppressed gain a voice, have a vote, get a piece of the power? Another question: who has gained the most from the traditional educational system? Who controls the wealth, the media, the arms, the airwaves, the text books, the technology, your school boards, the lobbies, our congress? Would these forces gain from a generation of educated revolutionaries with a collaborative, empathetic awareness? Next time you are at a conference ask the corporate sponsors what they think? Email your textbook companies and ask them? Next time you are at a school board meeting ask the chair of the meeting? Ask the people bankrupting schools systems so they can sell your gym to Coca-Cola and privatize your school? Ask the people deconstructing your teacher’s union? Ask the Secretary of Education if he is truly ready for the oppressed to be educated. To storm the streets and demand a piece of them pie. Tell them to look to Egypt if they are still not convinced that things will change soon enough. Ask your students if they would prefer to wait another hundred years while we go to Tech conferences, or if maybe organizing themselves and taking to the streets may be more effective?

Power never relinquishes power and educational reform is no different. Education is the most powerful tool of oppression and the people who have the most to lose will not give it up without a fight. We can go to conferences till our faces turn blue, we can blog and tweet, and struggle in our individual classrooms, but until we educate ourselves, our peers and most importantly our students to  stand up and be heard, nothing will change.

But I am sitting in a nice corporate hotel room in Hong Kong wearing a plush white robe as I type on my shiny MacBook getting ready to share how Google Docs is “revolutionizing” my classroom , which happens to be in a for-profit school run by a corporation in Indonesia. So what the hell do I know?


Brave New Voices

In the media and information saturated world in which we find ourselves, it is not always obvious what to do with the bits and pieces of digital content, fragments of knowledge, or pieces of learning that filter through our network feeds. I receive hundreds of links to articles, blog posts, jokes, youtube clips, bands I must check out, photos, and 8-Bit Computer Games That Do Not Exist a day!

Drinking from the fire hose, on any given day, can be exciting, exhilarating, or down right exhausting. I have to choose which Tweet link to follow, which Facebook recommendation to actually read, or which RSS blog post to skim or save for later. Not sure when this quiet reflection time is ever going to come, but I am assuming some day I will have time. Ha!

Anyway, sorry, I know you are busy, so let me end this verbose introduction. I received the clip you are about to see from @wmchamberlin a few days ago attached to a Tweet that said, “You are going to love this.”
He was right. My immediate reaction was to RT it and post it on Facebook, because I wanted to share it with as many people as I could, but after reading @cogdog‘s blog post about Are You Liking the Like Web, I got to thinking. I tell my students that they are welcome to embed Youtube clips into their blogs as long as the content does not conflict with our AUP, which they have signed. But I tell them, never to simply post the clip.

Anyone can watch a clip on Youtube, why is watching it on your blog different or special?

Well the answer is that if you are sharing a link of any kind, it would be nice to frame a conversation around the content. So watch this clip and I will meet you in the other side in 2:06 mins.

A lot has been written about education reform. Hundreds if not thousands of teachers around the world are trying to see public education in a new light, and for your effort I applaud you, but here is my question- What if the system is not broken? What if the educational system we have in the US is exactly what the people who designed it want it to be? A system that trains and produces low level, non-critical-thinkers who will be happy non-active citizens who do not question authority and do what they are told- work hard, try to be rich and consume. It keeps minorities out of the equation all togther, by making sure they are seldom properly educated, and allows the wealthy to continue to extract the nations wealth, while the population has been “educated” to admire them for it.

What if we realize that the public education system in the US is designed for the American free market capitalistic system, and until that changes, education cannot and will not change? Why would we expect that the wealthiest 1% of the nation who control the banks, Wall Street, the major industries and corporations, who depend on the population not only for the labor we provide, but also for our spending capital as consumers, why would they want us educated?

What better way for them to stay in power than to have us running through mazes of Ed-reform and standardization, Regents Exams and yet another new scheme? Year in-and-year out, a new administration comes to Washington with the answer. But it is working?

People talk about Ed-Reform; I say we start talking about revolution.  Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggestion Maoist revolt, so before you cry red take a look at the definition of the word: a fundamental change in power or organizational structures.  You tell me what that looks like. Education is not working because the Free Market is. I think the kids in this video have the right idea. Who is their teacher? Let’s get connected. Thoughts?


The Age of Stupid

I usually post my reviews of books, music, and film on my personal blog, but the film I watched last night and am about to review seemed a better fit here. For years, I have been actively working with students who are passionate about Global Issues, Social Justice, and student activism. Helping students raise their awareness about the issues we face as a citizens of one shared planet and helping them find ways to effectively spurn action is really the only reason I got into teaching. I am a firm believer that all content and skills no matter the class should have some connection to a better understanding of Global Issues. School should be a place where our curriculum culminates on making life on Earth better for as many people as we can. Forget getting kids ready for college, I want to get them ready to save our lives! We are very to close some pretty scary times, to waste time on anything else would be criminal.  We need this generation and every generation after it to be aware, vocal, and active. If I sound panicked, it is because I am.

I was a bit apprehensive about watching The Age of Stupid. Someone had sent me the link on Twitter a while back, and the film has sat on my hard drive since. I’m not sure if it was the title or the lackluster trailer, but something about it made me feel like it wouldn’t be any good. Last night with my wife out of town, I decided to give it a try and man was I pleasantly surprised.

The blurb from IMDB reads:

This ambitious documentary/drama/animation hybrid stars Pete Postlethwaite as an archivist in the devastated world of the future, asking the question: “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we still had the chance?” He looks back on footage of real people around the world in the years leading up to 2015 before runaway climate change took place.

Wikipedia says

Amid news reports of the gathering effects of climate change  and global civilisation teetering towards destruction, he alights on six stories of individuals whose lives in the early years of the 21st century seem to illustrate aspects of the impending catastrophe. These six stories take the form of interweaving documentary segments that report on the lives of real people in the present, and switch the film’s narrative form from fiction to fact. The people who feature are:

Al Duvernay, a resident of New Orleans who stayed behind and helped in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. He reflects on what it feels like to have had all his possessions washed away in the flood, and also on his job in the oil industry and how valuable resources are being wasted.

Indian businessman Jehangir Wadia, who talks about the start-up of his low cost airline GoAir and his democratic vision of a world in which all people, rich and poor, are able to afford air travel.

Two Iraqi children, Jamila and Adnan, who fled with their family to Jordan during the Iraq War, who tell the story of their father’s death and of their desire to be reunited with the older brother they left behind.

Fernand Pareau, an 82-year-old man who works as a guide on the Mont Blanc glacier in France – he takes an English family on a tour of the glacier and explains how he has seen the ice recede massively in his lifetime. The guide is also shown taking action against expanding road infrastructure in his area.

Wind-farm developer, Piers Guy who talks about his efforts to bring sustainable energy to an English village, and how he is being blocked by people who profess a commitment to fighting global warming but do not want wind turbines destroying their views. His family takes action in reducing their carbon footprint and contemplate the effects of air travel.

Layefa Malemi, a Nigerian woman who struggles with poverty despite the wealth of oil in her country. She talks about her ambition to study medicine and the everyday impact of the exploitation of oil by Shell Nigeria on health, security and the environment in Nigeria.

These glimpses into the lives of a disparate group of people all affected by the oil industry are a perfect backdrop to the main message of the film. Which are: that it highlights the fundamental causes that have brought us to where we are as a species- A species that is rapidly destroying its own habitat. One of the most frustrating factors about working with young people who want to learn about global issues is that we rarely dig deep enough to truly understand the core causes that connect so many issues like climate change, poverty conflict etc…

We work on projects to educate students about recycling and green living, or maybe discuss the state of a world where most people live on a dollar a day, but at the end of the day most students, as least the ones I work with, will return to their world of blind consumerism that has been drilled into them since birth by the ever expanding global free market, because they are never asked to really look at the source of the problems. It is one thing to lead a recycling program at a school or help build schools in Africa, but no sustainable change, not the kind we need to save us from extinction, will come from such surface level actions without true understanding.

We need to help kids look deeply at why the world’s wealth is horded by a small number of its citizens, while so many people suffer. We cannot be afraid to examine concepts like colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. We cannot expect a student to understand why Africa is “always so messed up,” without understanding the rape of the continent by European countries centuries ago. Student can never understand the root causes of terrorism and conflicts in the Middle East without having a basic understanding of imperialism and the implications of fossil fuels on the world’s military powerhouse’s need for it.

One site I recently found that does a great job of helping kids look beyond simple living green platitudes is Dropping Knowledge. Covering a range of ideas from gender equality to animal rights, the site does not shy away from asking questions that most teachers would avoid, and the best part is that student asks the questions themselves.  If you really want a deep and robust Global Issues program I suggest you have your students take the time to ponder a few of them.

Back to the film. The Age of Stupid does a great job of getting to the source of many of our problems. White its focus is on the effects of climate change, there are a few animated segments that highlight the concepts I mentioned earlier. Cause of the perfect length and simplicity, I highly recommend you use them with students as discussion starters. This clip highlights how nearly all human conflicts have been a result of human beings’ need for resources, played perfectly over the backdrop of colonialism and imperialism, it subtly segues into the role of oil in current conflicts.

This clip could lead to great discussions about how the world’s imperialistic need for resources and control is not something we simply study in history, but that this lust for goods is the source of our problems today.

The second clip illustrates how our casual attitude toward consumerism stems from the impetus of the same capitalistic motives. The clip does not shy away from putting capitalism in the spotlight and questioning how we are expected to understand a system that is based on infinite growth using finite resources. That very question, alone,  could lead to some intense discoveries for young people.

They are told everyday, everywhere they look that there is one system that epitomizes progress, and this system demands that they must consume to be successful. It must be our goal as Global Issues facilitators to not only change how they act by doing futile recycling drives, but how they think about their own roles as consumers and global citizens. We must allow young people to consider alternative economic systems and ways of life. Before I get a rash of comments telling me that Stalin and Mao didn’t work, and the free market system is the best we can do, let me say, “I get it.” I am not championing communism here. I am saying that we must have a completely new system. New ways of thinking. We cannot continue to believe that we will survive within a system that demands progress and growth as if we have infinite resources. We need today’s young people to help us, and they cannot if the do not understand the past and are blinded by the false hype of capitalism. It cannot be considered blasphemy to criticize and examine a system that is in crisis. A system that is literally leading us to extinction. Now is the time.

The Age of Stupid reminds us that we are headed for some dark times. It also points out the terrible suffering endured by many of the planet’s citizens so that we can live in the comfort and ease we have come to expect in the “developed” world. Nothing will change until young people are exposed to the underlying causes of our planet in collapse. This film is a great first step to getting them to think about these causes.


Dazed, Amazed, and Determined

Every teacher probably has their own unique reason for getting into education. Somewhere our motives our probably interconnected in some sort of inspirational lattice, but I am not here to conjecture on why you teach. I want to share a story that elucidates why I got into the business.

Every once in a while, a student does something, or says something that shows the teacher that the hours spent wondering if anything he/she said made any difference in the student’s life. We speak so much about learning and where to find it, and what it looks like, and how to assess it that we have lost touch with any sense of what it means to the life of the children we are dealing with everyday. So consumed are we with skills and content and curriculum that we have forgotten that learning is a long slow process with results we may never see. We plant seeds and tend them the best we can a few hours a day, a few years and then hope that sometime in the future they will bear fruit.

I am here to say that one of my young seedlings from last year just blossomed. James was always mature beyond his age. I always had a hard time understanding how his brain works the way it does, seeing he just finished the seventh grade. Understanding, kind, and deliberate with his learning, he was a pleasure to work with.

In class this past year we struggled with certain themes regardless what we were official meant to be studying.

  • We looked at the environment and the relationship humans have with it.
  • We looked at class and how it dictates our relationships.
  • We looked at how we can work to make the world a better place.

You tell me; how can you assess to see if a 7th grader has learned anything about these insurmountable ideas? Is there a standardized test that can show growth in the field of developing an environmentalist consciousness? Is there a I can give to see if my students are learning that their lives are tightly interconnected with the lives of people spread across the planet? Can we assess the understanding that the way we view the most mundane aspects of our lives is what poetry was meant to do?

Well, today I got a clue. James wrote his first blog post upon returning to his homeland, Nigeria. The fact that he has chosen to carry on with his school blog makes me so proud. It demonstrates that he understands that writing is more than an exercise made monotonous in school. He understands that when faced with emotions that may appear difficult or euphoric it is natural and important to write.

But what did he write, you may ask? The post was not simply a teenager writing about the minutia of his day. You can read the entire post here, and I encourage you to leave him comments. I was also very pleased that he used a CC image and cited it correctly.  Without further ado I will share my favorite lines:

I am sitting at the table with the soft music of nature- the wind, blowing in through the windows. I wish I can share in detail how much nature is showing her wonders. From the rustling of the trees up above to the cry of the insects down below. From the whistling of the wandering wind up above, to the hypnotic voice of the woman as she chants while she works, down below. These things cannot just be told, to be understood. They need to be felt to appreciate the remarkable wonders nature as got.

I feel sad and dazed of how much life has changed. Looking back to where I came from and then looking right now to where life’s journey has brought me, there are definitely some differences. I have been here for just a short while and already, I can see the different social classes and their style of living.

Trying to answer that, I started changing my perspective of where I am. Then I started to see the hidden beauties it has. Every time I look outside the car’s window, there are stories all around, stories just around the corner. Stories shown by the way people live, the way people bustle about the streets with emotions that can’t be explained in a thousand words. Stories waiting to be told.

I nearly cried pasting these passages above. Here is a young man who is thinking critically, asking important questions, using a fluid and simple prose to help guide him through his emotions. He sees the poetry in his life and understands it is wrapped in politics and art.

Thank you James. Thank you for listening. Please stay in touch we have important work to do in the years to come…