By Bryan Farha
Oklahomans were already reeling from the May 20, 2013 tornados, when several more struck on May 31. Here we go again. At about 6:15pm (central time), our local television meteorologists alerted us that a massive, mile wide monster twister was traveling east, and was projected to arrive in my neighborhood at 6:50pm. My house was dead center of the predicted path, so even if it turned slightly, I was at major risk. At least two meteorologists stated that we had a choice: get in a safe room, below ground, or head south if we could beat the projected arrival time. I knew I could beat that time if I left immediately. I decided to take the chance by getting in my car and heading south on Interstate 35 toward Norman. Several variables, however, turned this plausible decision into a very dangerous experience.
Far more people opted for the automobile choice than the meteorologists could have ever expected. Cars were pouring onto I-35 by the thousands, backing up traffic at every on-ramp. I don’t know exactly how slow traffic was, but I know we were either stopped or traveling less than 5 miles per hour a significant part of the way. It was as frustrating as it could get. Making the situation worse was the slowed traffic that already existed due to the monster twister that hit Moore, Oklahoma just eleven days prior. Moore is about 2/3 the way between Oklahoma City and Norman. So it was a double-whammy. It was now questionable if traffic could get far enough south in time.
The double-whammy quickly turned into a triple-whammy when one of the storms unexpectedly decided to take a southern turn toward Moore. It was headed in our direction with traffic moving very slowly. I improved my own situation by weaving in and out of traffic, changing lanes at every opportunity. The nasty part of the storm was behind us, so we were beating it—at least I was. When I finally made it past Moore, traffic moved better toward Norman. Combining my own judgment with the meteorologist’s advice on the radio, I decided to head west on Highway 9 just after arriving at Norman. The only sunshine I could see was to the west, so it appeared to be a decent decision. Instinct had me abandon Highway 9 for on a northwesterly track to Newcastle, Oklahoma. Eventually, however, another ominous looking storm was straight ahead traveling east, so most everyone stopped their cars and waited for the storm to pass before continuing travel. Many got out of their cars, including me, and brainstormed stategies for getting to safety. My sister called me and told me I might be headed right into a tornado. She was correct and we were wise to wait it out. But when that storm passed, it still looked extremely risky to head north toward home. Most all people did so. But the only sunshine in the entire sky—from my vantage point—was southwest. Although that’s the opposite direction from my home, instinct told me to drive toward the sunshine—so I did. Like a nightmare—and like my sister warned—more storms can pop up anywhere or change direction at any time. I quickly found more ominous clouds following me. This time, thankfully, I found Interstate 44—with no backed up traffic—so I drove extremely fast at times and was having success trying to outrun the thing. I don’t believe that overhead storm developed any twisters—and they didn’t mention it on the radio—but I wasn’t taking any chances. Twenty-eight miles later, I barely beat that storm and found myself in Chickasha, Oklahoma. But it was still coming. I saw a motel and had to make a quick decision to take the exit and check in or to continue. If I continued at the speeds I was traveling, I was certain I could beat it. There was sunshine in no other direction and I didn’t want to get off this major highway unless instructed. So I continued southwest on I-44 for 47 more miles and wound up in Lawton, Oklahoma with clear skies as the sun was setting. I was completely safe for the first time. Going back home after waiting a bit was an option, but I was exhausted and the storms dumped massive amounts of water in Oklahoma City, so flooding was the next immediate concern. I decided to check in to a Lawton hotel and I drove back home the next morning.
Many unfairly fault our meteorologists for giving the advice to travel south. They gave the right advice at the moment they made it. They didn’t know one storm was going to take a southerly turn and they didn’t realize the raw numbers that would flood the streets. Further, road construction at many junctures reduced the number of lanes, stifling traffic, and could have resulted in hundreds of deaths. I will think twice, however, before ever attempting this option again. Glad I had a full tank of gas and new tires. Time to get a below ground tornado shelter since I’m here for the long haul.
By Bryan Farha, Ed.D.
Oklahoma City University
The crises that Oklahomans have had to endure over the past few decades are mounting—from natural disasters like the tornado that just ripped part our treasured Moore community to shreds, to terrorist attacks such as the bombing of our Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when it was bombed on April 19, 1995. I counseled rescue workers for this tragedy. I am certain that many from other states wonder how we can sustain ourselves in light of such gargantuan tragedies. There seems to be something special about the way we adapt and cope with extreme obstacles. Oklahomans have developed a type of resiliency that is hard to measure—but easy to observe. When I first began witnessing how we responded to monumental challenges—such as the 1995 bombing and the 1999 tornado that destroyed much of our Oklahoma City community, I noticed there was an immediate reaction questioning how such a tragedy can happen to our community. Obviously, this response is expected, but we’ve come a long way in twenty years. Now the immediate reaction, in the face of our current tragedy of tornados, is much clearer, decisive, and measured. We get a plan of action to locate missing children and others—then we begin rebuilding. We know what we’re doing in this great state. I saw this, when the tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma on May 20 2013.
However, after so many crises, how can we possibly endure tragedy after tragedy? Isn’t the natural inclination to collapse emotionally and physically? To give up? First, Oklahomans have a lasting bond that is difficult to break. We’ve been overcoming for a long time and, unfortunately, we’ve been forced to excel at it. With each tragedy, the bond becomes stronger. Strangers will risk their lives for other strangers without even a fleeting hesitation. A neighbor will put their life at risk in an attempt to rescue another’s child. Another way we survive is by allowing our children to express emotions after a tragedy. This is essential for the well-being of young children. Some parents are tempted to simply lecture to their kids in an attempt to “explain” such crises. More often, we teach our children to freely express themselves and speak as much as they wish about the often unanswerable questions surrounding such perplexing events. This puts our children on the path to recovery—even if we have difficulty answering their questions. We are aware that the traumatic feelings will never go away, however, so we seek not to eliminate the possibility of reliving the awful feelings, but to minimize their intensity and frequency. We know that total closure is unrealistic. Next, we further anchor the connection with our existing support groups of family and friends. Oklahomans know that attempting to handle tragedy alone is not a healthy approach—so we seek our loved ones to help get us through. The more people in our support network, the better. Then we learn to say goodbye to those we have lost. Realizing that life is ultimately transitory, we do the best we can at finally letting go—as difficult as this may seem. This is the only way we can truly look to a purposeful future. Lastly, acceptance is the key to enduring. In the face of apparently meaningless events, we somehow find a way to gain meaning from tragic experiences. Oklahomans accept that we live in a vulnerable place geographically. Moreover, we know with such geography come some very hard times. We’ve become good at repeating the cycle as often as necessary. We’re prepared and good at it. The sum total of all this is resiliency.
I’ve lived in Oklahoma my entire life—and I will never move away from this great state. This is home—tragedies and all.
Yet another high profile failed prediction for Sylvia Browne. She tells Amanda Berry’s mother in 2004 on the Montel Williams show, “she’s not alive honey.” This sent her mother into understandible tears, not realizing she was beginning unnecessary bereavement. I believe this should be a criminal action, but I suppose it was a choice to seek an alleged psychic.
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE VIDEO
Invited Post by John Nail, Ph.D.
One of the ongoing conflicts in our sharply divided nation is that between religion and science. Extremists on one side argue that science is attempting to supplant God and religion. Extremists on the other side argue that science ‘has proven that God doesn’t exist’. The battleground for this supposed science vs. religion conflict involves Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (Evolution). The problem isn’t that science and religion inherently conflict, the problem is that the antagonists fail to understand science and religion.
Science is knowledge of the natural – everything that behaves according to the ‘laws of nature’. We should note that the laws of nature are generalizations based upon observations of nature. Possibly the most famous law of nature is gravity – items fall when dropped. Note that the Law of Gravity is not a theory – it does not explain why items fall when they drop, only that they do. Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was the first real theory (explanation) of gravity.
Religion deals with the supernatural, as in ‘outside the laws of nature’. Science cannot determine if God does or doesn’t exist as God wouldn’t be bound by the laws of nature. To illustrate the difference between the natural and the supernatural, we can answer the question ‘how many bacterial colonies are on the head of a pin’, but we cannot answer the question ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin’. We can scientifically study bacterial colonies; we can’t scientifically study angels. One obeys the laws of nature and the other doesn’t.
Pseudoscience are non-scientific beliefs that claim to be science. The most objective test for determining if something is science or not science is Karl Popper’s concept of falsification – every scientific theory makes predictions that can be tested. If the prediction is verified, the theory survives; if the prediction is not verified, if nature does something different from what the theory predicts, the theory must be modified or discarded. Note that the falsification concept does not mean that the scientific theory (explanation) is wrong – only that the theory is proven to be wrong if it makes wrong predictions.
As an example of the falsification concept, the theory of Evolution predicts that bacteria that survives exposure to an antibiotic will become resistant to that antibiotic. If, however, the bacteria became more susceptible (less resistant) to the antibiotic, this result would falsify (disprove) Evolution. As most of us know, bacteria do become more resistant (not less resistant) to antibiotics. The problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria is a serious issue in medicine.
Clearly, theories involving the supernatural do not make testable (verifiable) predictions. The inability to test supernatural explanations makes them not falsifiable and thus, not scientific.
Magisteria is a term for ‘teaching authority’. Almost two decades ago, Stephen Jay Gould argued that there is no inherent conflict between science and religion as science’s magisteria is the natural world, religion’s magisteria is the supernatural world and there is no overlap, and therefore, no conflict between the two. To put this in different terms, everything that follows the laws of nature can be studied by science; everything that does not follow the laws of nature cannot be studied by science. Science cannot study the supernatural and the supernatural has no place in science.
Creationism (even when it calls itself ‘scientific creationism’) is clearly not science as it 1) invokes a supernatural creator, 2) is not falsifiable as it does not make testable predictions, and 3) as per the writings of the creationism supporters, the act of creation cannot be studied. Clearly this is religion not science.
The theory of Natural Selection does not inherently conflict with religion unless one truly believes that the Earth is 6000 years old, as calculated by Bishop Ussher via a literal interpretation of the Old Testament. Note that this ‘young Earth creationism’ argument is an example of religion improperly getting out of its magisteria.
While the following is not a scientific statement, one can view Evolution (Natural Selection) as ‘the invisible hand of God working through nature’. As a scientist, I don’t find this objectionable, as long as it isn’t confused with science.
DR. NAIL is Chair of the Chemistry Department at Oklahoma City University
[originally posted in June, 2009]
Scores of prophets have predicted the end of the world or large-scale destruction. According to the Skeptic’s Dictionary, Jehovah’s Witnesses “have been wrong so many times that they’ve quit making specific predictions, but they’re still warning us that the end is near.” Among others who missed the mark were Jeanne Dixon, and John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann. Obviously, the most important thing to remember when thinking critically about this is that
EVERY SINGLE DOOMSDAY PROPHECY–WHOSE PREDICTED DOOMSDAY HAS PASSED–HAS BEEN WRONG
Well, we survived the Decmeber 21, 2012 global catastrophe (or, I’m assuming we will since I’m writing this with just over 4 hours to go on 12-21-12). I recall a student in a nontraditional spring, 1999 college class where his final exam was to occur in January of 2000. During the first few days of class he mentioned there was no need to study for the final exam since Y2K was going to wreak such havoc on the world that going to college would be rendered meaningless. I tried to talk some sense into him and on the day before the last class I asked him once and for all, “are you going to study for the final exam?” He nervously replied, “uhh, I think I should.” Do you think he made the right decision?
THE EFFECT OF TECHNOLOGY ON CLASSROOM LEARNING AND ATTENTION: WHAT ROLE SHOULD IT TAKE IN THE CLASSROOM?
Invited Post by Lisa Lawter, Ph.D. and Marshall Andrew Glenn, Ph.D.
Technology has invaded the American classroom competing evermore aggressively against traditional pedagogical practices largely tethered to the time-limited artifact of a rural-agrarian school year in an effort to increase efficiency of learning outcomes. Furthermore, these expectations are now ensconced in “core curricula” standards. Educators are faced with the perennial challenge of how to provide a depth, breadth and appreciation of subject matter that makes for an educated and informed public.
While many educators extol the benefits that technology plays in teaching, it also has its “distractors” to the point that it is getting some bad press about its deleterious effects on the attention system to the point that some teachers complain “depth and breadth” of learning are being compromised.
In order to better understand the construct of attention, it is instructive to draw our attention to the neuropsychological components of attention and their underlying brain structures likely associated with each. According to Mirsky and Duncan (2001), attention is a multifaceted system implicating several brain structures for specialization. The encode element, with supporting brain structures of the amygdala and hippocampus, mediates the brain’s capacity to hold onto information briefly and perform some mental operation on it, i.e., working memory. The focus/execute element, implicating the inferior parietal lobule, superior temporal gyrus and some structures of the corpus striatum, allows for focusing on a stimuli in the mist of distracting stimuli while executing a quick response. The shift element, with supporting brain structures of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate gyrus, allows for shifting attention from one stimulus to another. The sustain element, with supporting structures of the brainstem, reticular activating system (RAS) and the midline of the thalamus, mediates sustained focus, or vigilance. Finally, the stabilize element, supported by the other attention systems but exact structures unknown, mediates the consistency of responding to a “target” stimulus. It is clear that our attentional system is complex, multifaceted and influenced by both biological and environmental factors.
Of course it is important to keep in mind that the biological governance of our attention system is influenced, i.e., sculpted by a rapidly changing post-modern world, the effects which have not gone unnoticed. For example, Dimitri Christakis et al. ( 2004) studied the TV viewing time of 1,300 children, ages 1 to 3 years, as rated their mothers on a behavior rating scale and later evaluated their attention and behaviors at age 7. Mothers who rated their children as frequent TV viewers tended to score in the highest 10% for problems in attention, concentration, impulsiveness and behavioral control. Moreover, for every additional hour of TV viewing, the chances of experiencing attention problems increased by 10%. This preliminary study suggested an associated between early TV exposure and attention problems.
Computers were once a huge machine in the basement and now they are in our pockets. School districts are stretching budgets thin to fill their schools with the latest technology and super software. The average classroom has at least one desk top computer, a class set of laptops, iPads are appearing, not to mention that it is standard to have a SmartBoard in classes including Pre-Kindergarten. New technology is hitting the market daily. The equipment is simple to learn and the possibilities are limitless. Answers to all questions are just a click away. This all sounds good but what are teacher’s thoughts about educational technology, what do parents think about technology? And most important, what do students think about technology in the classroom?
Teachers say: According to The New York Times articles entitled “Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say” teachers are reporting that students have spent more time with screens than they spend in school. In this article teachers were concerned with a decline in student’s abilities to analyze and think deeply about a topic. Shorten attention span of students was also listed as an issue teacher feel is caused by digital technologies. In this article, Dr. Christakis remarked, that the overreliance of technology “makes reality by comparison uninteresting.” Many times schools use computer programs to assist students who need remediation. Teachers are saying what these students really need is feedback from an actual teacher and quality instruction not a bell that goes off when you get the answer correct on the screen. Teachers do credit technology with improving research skills. At this juncture, results are equivocal and more research is needed. But one cannot help but sympathize with teachers frustrated with ever challenging expectations that must be accomplished in a medial-filled, sound-bite, You-Tube media of attention-challenged students.
Parents say: Parents are worried about safety. Internet has the potential to expose children and youth to inappropriate information. One click of the mouse and children are on websites that have questionable content and may be unsuitable for their age. Some parents grew up before the age of technology so they must spend time learning how to use it. Often children are more technologically savvy than their parents. Some parents of children with disabilities embrace technology. Assistive technology devices have made it possible for their child to communicate, to participate in school and in the community. This would not have been possible before technology.
The U.S. State Department of Education is concerned about how schools are using technology. The LEAD Commission, a public-private commission created by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is charged with the task of crafting a blueprint for better use of educational technology. Teachers and parents are being surveyed. It seems the crucial component of technology in classrooms is the students. What do students think about the way technology is used in classrooms? The field of education needs to hear from students.
1. What do students think is the best use of technology in schools?
2. What do students think the roles of computers should be in the classroom?
3. What do students think about computers being used as tutors?
4. Do students want more time with the teacher or is the computer instruction enough?
5. What is a good use of the internet in classrooms?
Christakis, D., Zimmerman, F.J., DiGiuseppe, D.L., McCarty, C.A., Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children. Pediatrics Vol. 113 No. 4 April 1, 2004 Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/113/4/708.full
Mirsky, A.F. and Duncan, C.C. (2001), A nosology of disorders of dttention. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 931: 17-32. doi: 101111/j.1749-6632.2001.tb05771.x
Richtel, M.(2012, November 1). Technology changing how students learn, teachers say. The New York Times
Marshall Andrew Glenn, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Applied Behavioral Studies program at Oklahoma City University. He holds a Diplomate from the American Board of School Neuropsychology and also serves as an Examiner.
Lisa Lawter, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at Oklahoma City University. Her focus area is special education.
“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”
Great Expectations is an educational training program founded in 1991 by Charlie Hollar, a retired insurance executive from Ponca City, Oklahoma. It was developed as a teacher training model. Charlie Hollar the founder of Great Expectations educational model dedicated the last 20 years of his life to education. He made his living in insurance and was never a teacher. Hollar was known as the insurance man of Ponca City, Oklahoma. “I’m always looking for ways to increase my client base” he was quoted saying when he struck an investment package deal for retirees of Conoco Oil. Before working for Equitable, Mr. Hollar worked for Southwestern Bell telephone company. He switched to the insurance business because he admittedly liked to work independently. This is an interesting point for the creator of the professional development program for teachers. Great Expectations does not encourage teachers to be “independent.” Great Expectations includes an extensive training that encourages teachers to relate to their students in ways that contradict their educational training. Teachers are encouraged to conduct their instruction primarily in whole group, lecture style. Reinforcing student effort and providing recognition is relegated to whole group “cheers.” Schools are encouraged to become GE model schools which involve GE mentor/trainer drop-in visits. During these visits the teacher is expected to be standing before his/her seated students, leading instruction. The teacher is then critiqued by the mentor/trainer based on GE standards. Teachers quickly learn the routine, keep their doors closed and as soon as the mentor/trainer knocks, everyone drops what they are doing and moves into GE mode. Students all move to a central location in the room or go sit at their desks. The teacher locates herself/himself to the front of the group of children and leads them in a whole group lecture. If a student is called upon, they are expected to stand and address the class in complete sentences. For example, if the child is answering a calendar question about what the date is she/he is supposed to say; “Mrs./Mr. _______ and class, Today is Wednesday, November 12th, 2012.” Not only is that a mouthful for young children, it can create anxiety for them. Many students lose their thought in the process of trying to remember the correct sequence of what they are supposed to say. When the child is finished answering correctly, the teacher leads the class in a “cheer.” Cheers can vary, such as; “The Firecracker” which is a hand jester imitating an exploding firecracker. Another popular cheer is “Flip the Burger” in which the children imitate the sizzle of a cooking hamburger, flip it and say, “Well done!” These are fun to do, however; they do not offer children the same sense of recognition as an individual heart-felt compliment, using a child’s name, making eye-to-eye with a smile. Great Expectations was adopted in 2010 as the model of reform for all fifty-five Oklahoma City Public elementary schools.
I’ve never been a fan of one size fits all generic programs that are supposed to fix the ills of public schools from kindergarten to grade six, therefore; I do not support Great Expectations as a viable professional development tool for teachers. For one reason, it isn’t developmentally appropriate for young children. Five year olds learn, behave and respond much differently than a twelve year old. They have different cognitive and physical needs. Young children need to be actively engaged in their learning. This involves hands-on activities. Young children should be engaged with their learning by constructing their own understandings through cooperative learning activities. When a visitor enters an early childhood classroom they should observe children working together in small groups or with partners. The classroom should be joyous with noisy activity as children enthusiastically conduct inquiry-based learning. Children should learn reading, mathematics, science and social studies in exciting centers and small group activities. Robert Marzano a leading researcher in education affirms this. His research shows that organizing students into cooperative groups yields a
positive effect on overall learning. When applying cooperative learning strategies, he recommends keeping groups small. His research shows academic gains when instruction is designed around the core components of positive interdependence, group processing, appropriate use of social skills, face-to-face interaction and individual and group accountability. Marzano also advises student recognition should encourage students to share ideas and express their thoughts, honor individual learning styles, conference individually with students, authentic portfolios and a stress-free environment. Early childhood educators are trained to meet their students’ needs. For another reason, with the rapid advance of cognitive learning theories educators are becoming increasingly aware of students’ needs to be actively engaged in the construction of their own knowledge. This research tells us a student directed, constructivist approach to teaching motivates and engages students, helping them to understand the relevance of what they are learning and applying it to their lives.
GE represents a conflict of that training for these teachers. GE trains teachers to lead their students in whole group, mundane litanies of memorized creeds to be conducted at the beginning of each and every school day. By the time students make their way through the GE creed, school creed and class creed much of the most valuable time of the school day is lost. I prefer to make reading and writing the first thing students do each and every school day. Students should be writing in journals about things that are of importance to them. Then each student reads their journal entries to their classmates. Purposeful learning is a key element to early childhood education.
During a nonscientific survey conducted by internet, I discovered that three Oklahoma educators connected the phrase Great Expectations with Mr. Hollar’s professional development program. Responders who were not in the field of education did not associate the phrase with the program but did identify it as the name of a Charles Dickens novel. No one outside of the state of Oklahoma, from New York to Hawaii recognized the Great Expectations program. The three educators who responded did not appear to have high regard for the program. One educator said, “Once upon a time there was a rich Oklahoma oilman w/ no heirs who heard about this amazing Chicago teacher who was making a difference for poor kids, but her love, respect, and determination were hard to package, so he settled for a program of meaningless memorization masquerading as authentic classroom community.” The other two educator responses: “Two things–Miss Havisham and Pip. Or, if you live in Oklahoma, the one size fits all approach to teacher training that is sometimes used to penalize teachers who have ideas outside the box.” “…something districts will spend piles of money on rather than treating teachers like professionals.” A Google search does not readily result in finding the GE program. The first result is for the Charles Dickens novel and the second result is for a singles’ dating service. Only when you post Great Expectations Oklahoma do the results reveal the GE program. This information brings me to the realization that this program is not widely hailed for its success nor is it nationally recognized.
An undergraduate education student recently commented in response to two prompts on her beliefs about teaching. What you think children should learn in elementary school and how you think they should learn. I think that children should be learning math, science, language arts, and social studies. Even if your school doesn’t have a set time to teach each of those subjects, your lesson plans should go across the curriculum. Students should learn about life skills and how to be a positive aspect of society. How I think that students should be taught is hands-on learning and student-centered. Teachers should be having students work with partners and in groups, should be writing, experimenting and creating. Teachers should not be sitting behind their desks but should be interacting with the students at all times. But it should not be teachers doing all the talking and all the work. The focus should be on the student’s discovery. An example, students should try and experiment different ways of doing a math problem.
Your role as the teacher and a description of an interaction you had with a child that demonstrates your beliefs. My role as a teacher should be to guide the students learning not do the learning for them. The teacher’s job is to interact with the kids and be a motivator, encourager, and guider. I try and interact with students like this at all times but one example of a specific time is when I had a group of students that I was working with and I was teaching them about monuments. I did not just tell them all the facts and lecture them about monument. Instead, I asked them if they knew what a monument was, and one student did. The student told the rest of the class what monuments were. Then, I grouped up the students and had each of the groups choose a monument and they had to research some questions about the monument, create the monument, and then present the monument and its facts to the rest of the class. This allows the students to discover new learning on their own and it is hands-on and interactive with the rest of their classmates.
This future teacher’s responses reflect the research she has been exposed to during her years of study toward becoming a teacher. It shows her training to be reflective about her teaching practice and to align how she teaches with proven, researched educational models.
Schools pay a considerable sum to offer GE teacher training. The cost is $500 per teacher to attend the workshop and to obtain consultation days from a GE Mentor ($1,500 per day).The training spans four days and participants can receive two hour college credits for an additional $280.00. Great Expectations is recognized as a nonprofit organization by the Internal Revenue Service. Scholarships are offered for individual schools.
Scholarship funds must be appropriated by the Oklahoma legislature each year. The name “Great Expectations” has the R behind it, however; I have not been able to substantiate that it is a registered trademark. A trademark search with the United States Patent Office does not list it as a registered trademark. http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/index.js…
Early childhood educators enjoy a long, inspiring history that provides a common thread of active learning which fosters a strong sense of advocacy for all students. From Pestalozzi, Froebel and Rousseau to Dewey, Bruner and Freire, early childhood educators must know how and why we believe what we do about how children learn. In terms of actual pedagogy, Freire is best known for his attack on what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. He notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.” The basic critique was not new — Rousseau’s concept of the child as an active learner was already a step away from tabula rasa (which is basically the same as the “banking concept”). In addition, educational leaders like John Dewey were strongly critical of the transmission of mere facts as the goal of education. Dewey often described education as a mechanism for social change, explaining that “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”. Freire’s work, however, updated the concept and placed it in context with current theories and practices of education, laying the foundation for what is now called critical pedagogy. We’ve come full circle! “Any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest way to any (student) child at any stage of development.” Jerome Bruner
Bruner was one of the founding fathers of Constructivism. His work laid the groundwork for understanding that learning is an active process, in which, students construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. I believe students of all levels can select and transform information, construct hypotheses and make decisions that lead them to go beyond what information that has been given.
My teaching philosophy is: Teachers must capitalize on students’ prior knowledge and to develop their intrinsic motivation. Students have interests, intelligences, learning styles and talents that must be included in every aspect of their learning. Learning must be interesting and it must inspire. Instructors must provide a variety of ways to present materials so that each student engages with new information and multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge.
The wider the range of possibilities we offer students, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of learning situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with peers and instructors.
Students are autonomously capable of making meaning of newly gained knowledge by scaffolding it with their life experiences and prior knowledge through mental acts involving planning, coordination of ideas, and abstraction…. The central act of instructors, therefore; is to activate the meaning-making competencies of students as a basis of all learning. They must try to capture the right moments, and then find the right approaches, for bringing together, into a fruitful dialogue, their meanings and interpretations with their students.
Creativity emerges from multiple experiences, coupled with a well-supported development of personal resources, including a sense of freedom to venture beyond the known. Our task, regarding creative teaching, is to help students see themselves as writers, musicians, artists and actors as well as readers, mathematicians and scientists. No one can do more.
Henri Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.” Matisse was a French artist of the 20th century during the Impressionist period. Known for his use of color, Matisse is one of the very few indisputable giants of modern art, alongside Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky. Picasso, after visiting a children’s art exhibit said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” These artists exemplify what higher level, creative thinking means. In the United States I find it interesting that John Dewey’s former students, abstract expressionists, Wilhelm de Kooning and Robert Motherwell were among the participants who were inspired by much of the excitement felt in this merging of the progressive education doctrines with the openness and innovation characteristic of the arts within the Bauhaus movement. It is my educational philosophy that students should be exposed to all aspects of what we as educators have to offer. They must be allowed to discover, explore and experiment in order to become confident learners. They must learn to ask questions and how to find the answers to their questions. And, they must never stop asking questions. Children must be encouraged to be lifelong learners, seeking best practices in teaching, asking questions and seeking answers that align with their prior knowledge.
I will close with my own experiences with the Great Expectations program. I encountered GE at two different times in my career as a classroom teacher. My first experience was in 2001 when two of my colleagues became interested in the program. After receiving the training we concluded that it did not fit with our own philosophy for early childhood education and we discarded the program. My school district was not invested in the GE program and allowed teachers to choose whether they wanted to use it or not. The second encounter was in 2009 when my school district adopted GE and sent teachers to be trained. I found some things had changed but realized the basic philosophy did not agree with what I’d come to accept as fundamentally sound for early childhood education. This time, since the school district adopted the program, teachers had no choice but to use it. My beliefs about education mirrored the philosophies of highly respected experts in the field. I gleaned what I believed to be true about how children learned best and conducted my teaching practice accordingly. I was the facilitator and resource person in my classroom. I was the pedagogist and the alterista who celebrated creativity. I guided children’s learning in and through what interested them and connected their activities to the core curriculum and learning standards. We grew sunflowers and wheat. We researched and tested in order to discover what the best growing conditions were for our plants. We measured and recorded their growth. We read “The Little Red Hen” and acted out the story based on our own harvesting and baking experiences. We raised chickens and tracked their growth. We read about birds and studied their life cycles. We collected tadpoles from a nearby pond and marveled as they grew legs and transformed into frogs. We learned about the differences between amphibians, mammals and reptiles. We studied physics (how things move) and simple machines such as inclined planes and pulleys. We built our own machines and experimented with them. We learned about gravity. We sang, we danced, we painted and we sculpted. We read, we wrote, we calculated, we experimented and we worked together. We were a community of learners. I put into practice the philosophies of Dewey, Piaget, Malaguzzi and Vygotsky by implementing child-centered, cooperative learning. The children’s interests were the vehicle that drove our curriculum. My students were excited to come to school each day. They hardly ever missed. Their behavior was exemplary and our test scores were among the highest in the district.
In my opinion, the time has come to trust educators to follow science-based, trusted pedagogy for their teaching. To become a certified teacher in Oklahoma, a teacher candidate must fulfill all prerequisite coursework and complete a Bachelors Degree. She/he must complete teacher preparation, and testing requirements. Typically teacher education programs consist of a combination of curricula and fieldwork. The curricula often includes instruction on foundational knowledge and skills, pedagogy (or the art and science of teaching), and preparing students to research, design and implement learning experiences in their field of study. The fieldwork component can include field observations, student teaching, and an internship. In order to become a certified teacher, you must satisfactorily complete the Basic Skill Test requirement and any Subject Area Competence assessments needed for your desired area of instruction.
Basic Skills Test
Subject Area Competence
These are a competency-based testing program for teacher candidates. The assessment was designed to examine competency in the following areas: general education, subject area, and professional teaching knowledge. Candidates for teacher licensure/certification are required to successfully complete the Oklahoma General Education Test (OGET), the Oklahoma Subject Area Test (OSAT) and the Oklahoma Professional Teaching Examination (OPTE). Oklahoma certification examinations are based on the subject matter competencies adopted by the State Board of Education, the standards of national learned societies, and the Standards of the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC).
- · The Oklahoma General Education Test (OGET) is designed to examine and assess competency in areas associated with general studies and education in liberal arts and sciences. The OGET is distinctive from many other examinations of this type in that critical thinking skills, as well as basic skills are assessed.
- · The Oklahoma Subject Area Tests (OSAT) are designed to assess subject-matter knowledge and skills. These examinations include 41 general subject tests, 5 vocational tests, and 4 administrator tests.
- · The Oklahoma Professional Teaching Exam (OPTE) is designed to assess professional knowledge and skills needed by entry-level educators. Candidates are assessed with respect to learners and the learning environment, instruction and assessment, and professional involvement.
Teachers in Oklahoma are highly trained professionals who can obtain the results we all want for our children when they are unencumbered by untested, mandated professional development programs that inhibit their teaching practice and are able to present curriculum by way of researched based approaches. Every teacher is an individual with their own unique way of teaching. As long as teachers follow the established core curriculum for the subject she/he is teaching how she/he meets those standards should be based on her/his extraordinary talents. Every classroom is made up of individuals with unique abilities, backgrounds and circumstances. Teachers must take into account what each student’s needs and strengths are. When asked if they are happy with their child’s teacher the overwhelming number of parents answer with a resounding, “ Yes.” They believe the problem schools they keep hearing about on the news must be down the road or in a different district. Among parents with children in grades kindergarten through 12 this year, 78% tell Gallup that they are “completely” (25%) or “somewhat” (53%) satisfied with the quality of education their oldest children are receiving, while only 19% say they are dissatisfied. Since 1999, the vast majority of parents — between 68% and 83% — have said they are satisfied with their oldest child’s education.
Great Expectations website cites only two studies completed yet makes claim to extensive research supporting their program. The study does not show how many schools were involved in the studies, what the socio-economic status of the classes researched were and do not exhibit much more than a 5 point margin of error even for their highest score. Below you will find their research results.
Scientifically based research performed by The University of Oklahoma’s E-team
These findings indicate that students in classrooms implementing Great Expectations® methodology showed greater gains in student academic achievement during the school year compared to demographically similar students not exposed to GE. Findings from principal, teacher, parent, student surveys, and the classroom observations, student achievement all differed in ways that would be expected based on GE implementation.
The fact that parents noticed differences in their children’s behavior indicates that the skills students learn in GE classrooms are also being used outside the classroom. Across all three grades, GE parents were significantly more likely to report that their children show interest, excitement, and involvement in learning and enjoying learning activities. This is consistent with teacher and principal self-reports as well as observer ratings of classroom behavior. It is clear from this study that GE not only increases student achievement, but it also creates positive attitudinal and behavioral changes for principals, teachers and students at schools, in classrooms as well as in other domains.
SEDL Research Study
Southwestern Educational Development Laboratory in Austin, Texas, conducted a comprehensive year-long research study of Great Expectations®. The results of the study revealed the following facts about Great Expectations®. When Great Expectations® is fully implemented in a classroom, the teaching behaviors of teachers and the learning behaviors of students are markedly different – in positive ways – from teacher and student behaviors in “traditional” teacher-directed classrooms.
- The seventeen classroom practices represent much of what the current educational literature suggests are “best practices” of good teaching.
- Great Expectations® is unique nationally as a school reform model in that the program combines “best practices” of good teaching with the teaching of social skills to students.
- Interviews with teachers and classroom observations clearly reveal that some of the core Great Expectations® elements that substantially impact positive changes in classroom practices include:
- creating active, interesting, hands-on lessons that integrate multiple subjects and have real-world connections,
- providing opportunities for students to work in small groups to complete projects,
- providing clear classroom expectations,
- establishing positive student-centered dialogues through which students perspectives are considered and valued,
- giving students opportunities to have personal input and choices,
- teaching life principles to students as well as facilitating student-to-student dialogues that help them learn social competence and social problem-solving skills.
- The teaching of social skills has important, positive effects on students and teachers.
- Great Expectations® classroom procedures allow students to control aspects of learning by assuming leadership roles, choosing learning activities/situations in which they learn best, and self-directing their own behaviors.
- A high level of Great Expectations® implementation requires serious commitment and effort.
- Great Expectations® Mentors are invaluable resources to help teachers and principals who are in the early stages of implementation.
- Visits to classrooms in which there are high levels of Great Expectations® implementation provide powerful supports for teachers who are in the early stages of implementation.
- For systemic change to occur, school/district administrators must “lead” the reform agenda.
- For systemic change to occur, school/district administrators must provide as much support as possible in terms of on-going training (follow-up training during the school year and subsequent Summer Institute training following completion of methodology component).
- Great Expectations® training promotes teaching strategies that positively impact students’ engagement in learning activities. Great Expectations teachers maximize learning opportunities with little or no wasted class time.
- Great Expectations® training substantially impacts teachers’ instructional strategies and their beliefs about their teaching responsibilities.
- One of the most positive aspects of Great Expectations® training is that it is conducted by teachers who use Great Expectations® practices. Great Expectations® practices are modeled by the trainers so that the learning is experiential for those being trained.
- Teachers who implement Great Expectations® at a high level use whole group instruction that is interwoven with small group instruction and/or individual instruction. This approach maximizes teacher/student interactions and allows teachers to give more individualized student attention where needed.
- Teachers who implement Great Expectations® at a high level create a learning community in their classrooms. Students engage each other in learning tasks and there is a sense of congeniality and togetherness exhibited by both teacher and students. Students in these classrooms are ready, willing, and eager to take on learning activities and challenges presented to them.
- Teachers who implement Great Expectations® at a high level feel high degrees of a shared sense of purpose, collegial support, shared leadership, professional growth, and generally positive attitudes. Teachers who implement Great Expectations® at lower levels feel lower degrees of a shared sense of purpose, collegial support, shared leadership, professional growth, and positive attitudes.
- Teachers who implement Great Expectations® at a high level act as facilitators of learning rather than transmitters of information.
- Teachers who implement Great Expectations® at a high level present instruction in an up-beat, enthusiastic manner that engages students’ attention and activity.
- Teachers who implement Great Expectations® at a high level incorporate students’ prior knowledge and experience, create lessons that make real-world connections, and/or engage students’ curiosity. Their lessons are usually interdisciplinary.
- Teachers who implement Great Expectations® at a high level engage students in critical, higher order thinking. They challenge students to articulate and clarify their thinking.
- Results of the evaluation provide overwhelming evidence that Great Expectations® has both merit and worth as a comprehensive school reform model that enables teachers/schools/districts to accomplish a positive transformation in the learning and life-skill environment.
A Look at Achievement Test Scores Great Expectations® profiled thirty-one Oklahoma schools that were implementing Great Expectations® in the third and/or seventh grades. The schools varied in terms of the total number of grade levels represented at each site. Twenty-six of the schools provided only third grade data; three provided third and seventh grade data; and two schools provided only seventh grade data. The unit of measurement used in the study was the overall grade level. The study compared each school’s third/seventh grade level of achievement one year prior to implementing Great Expectations® and the grade level achievement in 1999, the final year that Oklahoma mandated norm-referenced testing in these grades. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) was the standardized, norm-referenced test used in the study. The Total Composite National Percentile Rank scores were the measures used in the comparison. To ensure objectivity, accuracy, and consistency, test scores were provided by the Oklahoma Oversight Board/Office of Accountability in Oklahoma City. It is important to note that the study was not a cohort study. It was longitudinal in nature and profiled only third and seventh grade achievement levels in each school. The overall results of the comparison revealed that 62% of the third grades and 80% of the seventh grades demonstrated increased levels of achievement following the onset of Great Expectations implementation. In an effort to better delineate and understand the results of the study, the grade levels were divided into the three categories: 1) those in the first year of implementation; 2) those in the second, third, or fourth year of implementation; 3) those implementing Great Expectations® for five or more years.
Grade Levels Experiencing First Year of Implementation There were seven grade levels in their first year of implementation. Five of them revealed gains in terms of NPR points. See Table 1.
|Grade Levels Showing Gain||
|Total Amount of Gain (NPR Points)||
|Average Gain (NPR Points)||
Table 1 – Gains for Grade Levels Experiencing First Year of Implementation It is important to note that both grade levels not revealing gains experienced insignificant declines in NPR points of 1 point and 3 points, respectively.
Grade Levels Experiencing Second, Third, or Fourth Year of Implementation Fifteen grade levels were in their second, third, and fourth year of implementation. Seven grade levels showed gains in terms of NPR points. See Table 2.
|Grade Levels Showing Gain||
|Total Amount of Gain (NPR Points)||
|Average Gain (NPR Points)||
Table 2 – Gains for Grade Levels Experiencing Second, Third, and Fourth Years of Implementation NPR scores greater than 50 are considered above the norm, therefore making gains more difficult to attain. It is important to note, all grade levels in this category not experiencing gains had unusually high pre-test NPR scores, ranging from 61 to 80. The remarkably high pre-test scores in this category provide powerful evidence that many schools implement Great Expectations®, not only for the benefits gained from increased academic achievement, but for the purpose of creating an inviting, nurturing school climate that positively impacts the social growth and ethical behavior of students.
Grade Levels Experiencing Fifth or More Years of Implementation Twelve grade levels had been implementing Great Expectations for five or more years. Ten of those grade levels showed gains in terms of NPR points. See Table 3.
|Grade Levels Showing Gain||
|Total Amount of Gain (NPR Points)||
|Average Gain (NPR Points)||
Table 3 – Gains for Grade Levels Experiencing Five or More Years of Implementation The grade levels in this category revealed the greatest average gain in NPR points. This was not surprising. These grade levels had fully implemented Great Expectations® for a number of years and, in doing so, had developed an expertise in organizing and using their knowledge about Great Expectations. Their knowledge had become deeply integrated and the sequence of their knowledge-building had been absorbed and was an integral part of their daily teaching and classroom management routine. The findings in this category are consistent with effective schools research. Changing attitudes and expectations, coupled with changing organizational and instructional practices must occur over a period of time before dramatic improvements in learning become evident. It is important to note that both grade levels (representing two school sites) not revealing gains in NPR points experienced school-level administrative leadership changes during the span of time indicated by the pre-test and post-test comparison. This evidence supports research that underscores the importance of the principal’s role in bringing about whole-school reform. Moffet (2000) asserted that, “Unquestionably, the principal leadership role is vital, and research shows that leadership turnover jeopardizes school change efforts.”
I’ve always felt that a school is only as good as the teacher a child has in the class they are in currently. She/he knows her/his students as a whole better than anyone else. The district superintendent doesn’t know them better. The school administrator doesn’t know them better. The parents don’t know the whole class better. And, a trainer/mentor doesn’t know them better. The teacher knows how they work together and what each child’s abilities are. Teachers are the child’s gateway to learning, how to learn and how to get along with others. Teachers are the gateway to receiving assistance for learning disabilities, poverty, illness and in cases of abuse or neglect, teachers help children survive. Teachers are an advocate for their children. For many children teachers are their only advocate. Teachers have to stand up in an extraordinary way and set an example of well-grounded practice. In some instances they have to stand up to laws, policies and practices that threaten students and their right to the best education they can possibly have.
“In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high . . .”
-Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Invited Post by Mark Griffin, Ph.D.
[Dr. Griffin's Personal Blog: markgriffinessays.wordpress.com]
A curious paradox greets the traveler to the American Southwest and “Heartland” –the paradox of a place that is growing more diverse yet less hospitable to outsiders. On the one hand, it’s a place where pick-up trucks are as apt to broadcast the polka-inflected “norteño” ballads of rural Mexico as the familiar twang of Alan Jackson. In small town where it would have been unthinkable a generation ago, signs welcome the business of immigrant customers with the words Se habla español, and Mexican restaurants that would’ve seemed like surreal apparitions now spice up the semi-abandoned downtown areas.
On the other hand, though, the last few years have seen a spate of harsh laws against illegal immigration (across the Deep South and Southwest, from Alabama to Arizona) that seem designed to make immigrants as a whole feel unwelcome and under siege. For, like it or not, these laws are blunt weapons that fall on the heads of legal residents no less than illegal ones –breaking up extended families an making them feel like second-class citizens. Politicians, who are now sweeping elections across the region, seem to have forgotten the much sunnier disposition of Ronald Reagan: he of the avuncular, welcoming disposition; he who’d seemed so freshly-minted from a Norman Rockwell painting.
Uncle Sam wears a scowl these days, but it’s not just a rural, red-state scowl. In the halls of academe (in Harvard, no less), Samuel Huntington has painted a dire picture of a “clash of civilizations” between East and West, North and South. Huntington would have us all believe that the Spanish-speaking workers toiling on farms and staffing its restaurants are harbingers of an alien “civilization” that, absent great vigilance, will undermine America’s “Anglo-Protestant” one. The Berlin Wall has fallen, and now we’re called to reconstruct it on our southern border. “While Muslims pose the immediate problem to Europe,” he states, “Mexicans pose the problem for the United States.” He proceeds to warn readers that “the results of American military expansion in the nineteenth century could be threatened and possibly reversed by Mexican demographic expansion in the twenty-first century.”
I maintain that this “clash of civilizations” description of our southern border is wrong on more than one level. Our Latin American neighbors, in spite of vast economic inequities that divide us, are not members of some “alien” non-Western civilization. As former colonies of Spain and Portugal, the culture of that region is as Western as ours -albeit a more Mediterranean, predominately-Catholic variant. But more to the point: even if Latin American culture were an “alien” civilization, this would be no justification for its liquidation in the American melting pot. For, like most nations in the world, the US is part of a global yin-and-yang of civilizations, not some “pure” and fortified monolith. In this essay I will examine the work of two important writers (Gloria Anzaldúa from the US/Mexico border region and Miguel de Unamuno from Spain) with a view to sketching an alternative picture to that of clashing, fenced-in monoliths : one in which the lines between rival cultures are blurred and one exists within the heart of the other.
Gloria Anzaldua: Mestizaje, Aztlán and Societal Culture
“The US-Mexican border,” writes Gloria Anzaldua, “es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country –a border culture.” (25) One might even read her entire work as the blurring and deconstruction of the boundaries erected by the likes of Huntington. And to do this she wields two strategies: the notion of mestizaje (racial and cultural hybridization), and an appeal to the most ancient historical sources.
Anzaldua devotes an entire essay of her book Borderlands/La Frontera (1987) to the concept of mestizaje and a call for a “new mestiza consciousness.” (99) She cites José Vasconcelos, the first major theorist and advocate of the concept in his 1925 work La raza cosmica, but clearly has a much more radical concept of the notion than he did. Where Vasconcelos celebrated and foresaw a racial/cultural synthesis that would produce a uniform Mexican (and perhaps even “cosmic”) consciousness, Anzaldúa writes about the embrace of difference and unresolved contradiction –both at the national and personal levels. Her mestiza is not just an inhabitant of the blurred boundaries of the literal borderlands (“where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds”) but also one who is able to live with and transcend all dualism and contradiction:
The new mestiza copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity.
She learns to be an Indian in Mexican culture, to be a Mexican from an Anglo point of view…Not
only does she sustain contradictions, she turns the ambivalence into something else. (101)
One path to this transcendence (one which the author herself describes undergoing) is a shamanistic embrace of the Coatlicue archetype, an Aztec figure that encompasses opposing forces: “Ella es el monstruo que se tragó todos los seres vivientes y los astros, es el monstruo que se traga el sol cada tarde y le da luz cada mañana.” (68)
In short, there is a figurative borderland which resides within all who embrace and transcend contradiction. It can exist anywhere and everywhere, even in the heart of a geographic culture or civilization.
In addition to blurring boundaries, Anzaldúa also turns our attention to the most ancient historical sources –in order to claim a space for minorities within the U.S. The pattern of north-south migration across what is now the US/Mexico border is, she reminds us, part of a historic pattern that goes back to ancient, pre-Aztec times. The ancestral homeland of the Aztecs was the mythical Aztlan, which is the modern US Southwest:
In 1000 B.C., descendants of the original Cochise people migrated into what is now Mexico and
Central America and became the direct ancestors of many of the Mexican people…The Aztecs
(the Nahuatl word for the people of Aztlán) left the southwest in 1168 A.D. (26)
Anzaldúa’s reference to these ancient historical migrations is not a rationale for the re-annexation of the American Southwest by Mexico –as some demagogues might fear. It is a simple reminder that the Native American and mixed-race peoples have a presence at the historical and geographic heart of what is now the U.S. Southwest. A yin at the center of the yang –or vice-versa.. It is a rationale for inclusion of the other, even when the other is not part of “Western” civilization.
We must grant, of course, that there are legitimate anxieties surrounding the question of national unity, and I am no advocate of national fragmentation, or “balkanization.” All nations benefit from a common public language (English in our case, Spanish in the case of Mexico and Spain) and some “societal culture” which links everyone together. But I don’t think that common language should be exclusive –lest we remain more monolingual than everyone else in the world; whatever unifying culture we have as Americans should be much “thinner” than the term “Anglo-Protestant” or “Catholic’ would suggest. And we’d do best not to circumscribe our societal culture within Western civilization –lest we suggest that anyone who not “Western” (or Christian) is not a full-fledged American.
To be a citizen of the US is to belong to a societal culture, and not to belong to a particular ethnic, religious group, or even to a civilization. As political scientist Will Kymlicka defines it, it is the culture associated with citizenship, with a national group it is the culture that flows from the particular set of rights, duties and historical consciousness that citizenship confers. It’s to share the symbols and rituals grounded in that narrative: July-4th fireworks and parades, the images of Lincoln and Washington on our coins, the remembrance of veterans and slain civil rights leaders. It’s also: filing taxes before April 15, voting in November (or choosing not to and still being bombarded by campaign ads), and moving around on interstate highways.
To the charge that such a notion of American culture is thin and insubstantial, we must cite the advantages of such restraint and remind ourselves of the alternative. It’s this minimal consensus that unifies us without requiring us to impose some “pure” cultural norm on minorities of various stripes. And far from “dumbing down” our culture, it has after all, made room for the peaceful flourishing of a whole range of American subcultures: regional, ethnic and religious. It has ample room for Gloria Anzaldúa’s notion of mestizaje. And it has helped us to avoid the vicious cycle of repression and balkanization that has plagued other countries, from Spain to the Balkans themselves. Where societal cultures are concerned, it is better to thinks broad and shallow, rather than narrow and deep.
Miguel de Unamuno: Spain, Ancient Sources and the “Other”
As a Hispanist, I’ve found the example of Spain to be instructive and of special interest –one that parallels ours in interesting ways. In addition to its turbulent past, Spain can be said to inhabit one of the major “fault lines” in our modern world: the border between Europe and predominately-Islamic North Africa. It is a nation of glories and defeats on a grand scale, of dramatic highs and lows.
Miguel de Unamuno, writing in “crisis” that was Spain’s loss of power and empire around 1898 (one of its dramatic lows) suggested that his country’s rich popular culture would be more vital to the extent that it was more open and porous, less politicized, and disengaged from official sponsorship. He argued in his work En torno al casticismo that the heart of Spanish tradition was fluid and dynamic, irreducible to the doings of their generals and politicians. Trying to head off the vicious cycles of repression and balkanization that he saw coming, he was setting forth in these essays a set of radical proposals (at least for his time): church-state separation, the canonization of Don Quixote as a national icon, and the re-claiming of the nation’s authentic popular/regional cultures.
It is interesting that these were not the words of jacobin trying to rid the modern world of religion, but of a passionate (if heterodox) Catholic and Spanish patriot –whose aim was cultural revitalization. He was putting to rest the notion that a more broad and minimal societal culture would lead to general cultural decline. On the contrary, he was suggesting that “thin” our nations’ societal cultures are, the more vital their popular cultures will be.
Like Don Quixote before him, Unamuno was up against a particular windmill: the idea popular in his time and, alas, still popular in ours, that a nation can and should be “pure” and uncontaminated by foreign presences or civilizations. But he knew that Spanish culture itself had never been pure and, if it had been, its grandeurs would have been impossible. The grandeur of the Alhambra and the Moorish grandeur of Seville and Cordoba, and even the European Renaissance itself, would have been unimaginable without Spain’s medieval Jewish and Islamic presences. For this reason he would later write, in a poem celebrating Córdoba, that “Rome chants through the mosque.” In places like Seville and Cordoba, the heritage of the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church fuse with Spain’s Islamic heritage: Roma canta en la mezquita .
A common intuition, then, links the work of Gloria Anzaldúa and Miguel de Unamuno: the idea of returning to ancient sources in order to make a place for the “other.” An Islamic dot in the heart of Spain and its Catholic Empire, at the same time that there is an ancient Christian (Coptic) cathedral in the heart of Islamic Cairo. An ancient Native American heritage survives in the heart of the predominately-Protestant-and-Catholic nations of the Americas. Both writers blur boundaries and point to the existence of a Tao of civilizations, not their inevitable “clash.” From both we can infer that a minimal conception of a country’s societal culture (one that makes room for this yin-and-yang of civilizations) will make that nation not just more free and equal, but also more vital.
Glance at a newspaper. Listen to the radio. Watch TV. What you see is people creating news, stories, and yes, history. How accurate is it? When does something become history? Does a fact, an event, a person become history – or do we create history by creating meaning and significance for that fact, that event, that person?
Actually, in the modern field of history, we argue the latter. Not all facts become history, although they may very well be in the past. Not all past events or people in the past become history – and therein lies the point. History is a creation of people, in all their messy glory. What differentiates rumor, innuendo, lies, spin and rhetoric from history are the methods used: and that is what historians are supposed to do. We’re supposed to apply our training and skills to gather, analyze, synthesize and interpret evidence in specific historically-appropriate ways. And the evidence has to be examined carefully before being incorporated into the analysis, so source credibility is essential. Evidence has to be respected: just because we don’t like a particular fact, event or person doesn’t mean we get to ignore it, or exclude it from our work. Being human, we have to recognize that we are going to prefer one thing (event, fact, person, period) more than another. Being professional, we have to acknowledge the impact that those preferences may well bias our work and consciously take steps to mitigate any bias. We follow certain methodologies, document our process and sources, argue our point with colleagues so that our own search for meaning is itself credible.
And that is what professional historians do. Many of us get into the field because we’re fascinated by the stories of the past: the life of a medieval miller, the arc of change brought about by a particular process, whatever. Personally, I love what I discovered once into the field of history: research and teaching. My research takes place in a government archive in Paris, France. Hours spent in those archives, reading other people’s letters, gives me intellectual stimulation and historical insights I just don’t get anywhere else.
Teaching is a whole different rush. I teach World History, Ancient Egypt & Greece (and others), European history and various isms (nationalism, imperialism, decolonization, etc.). Some stories, but mostly I help students learn to use the tools of the professional historian: analysis, synthesis and interpretation of sources and communication of that work. Students are challenged to be apprentice historians, and most love it. Most realize that history isn’t about dead men, wars, kings or treaties – that it is indeed, a creative process.
History is not just what happened in the past, it is the interpretations created by generations of historians who seek out evidence and impute importance to that evidence in relation with other evidence, interpretations and contexts. All kinds of uses are made of the evidence by non-professionals in service of other goals, such as those by politicians, leaders of business and cultural groups, religious leaders and others. Some of those people may well be ‘professionally trained’ historians, but all too frequently they use and abuse of history rather than do it. They are not acting as professional historians, they are acting in the other capacity. Recognizing the abuse of history is tricky, but necessary. Recognizing the creative aspect of historical study is vital, challenging practitioners to constantly assess their own preconceptions and limitations and how those liberate and limit their analyses and interpretations.
Linguistic accuracy plays an important role in the quality of written texts; however, the explicit teaching of linguistic form – particularly grammar – for the purpose of improving learners’ writing has generated an ongoing debate in the fields of first language (L1) composition and second language writing studies. As suggested by the following excerpt (Zhou, 2009, p. 33), some theorists consider grammar teaching ineffective, whereas others believe that grammar or language is a resource for making meanings, and thus students need to be taught how to utilize this resource effectively even though the explicit teaching of grammar does not always lead to writing improvement.
After reading the following excerpt and drawing on your learning experiences, please share your thoughts about the role of grammar instruction in helping learners to develop L1 writing proficiency.
The teaching of L1 composition has undergone three paradigm shifts within the last half
century: focus on form, emphasis on the writer, and focus on the social context of text
production. Even though at present all these focuses co-exist when a new teaching approach
emerges (Kroll, 2001), scholarly interest in writing processes and the social context of
writing has weakened the role of explicit language instruction (Frodesen, 2001). More
importantly, L1 composition researchers dispute whether explicit grammar instruction is
needed in the writing classroom. In 1996, the National Council of Teachers of English
dedicated a full issue of English Journal to grammar instruction titled The Great Debate
(Again): Teaching Grammar and Usage.
Explicit grammar instruction has been viewed as leading to little improvement in writing
(Hillocks, 1986) or even to harmful effects due to its displacing ‘instruction and practice in
actual composition’ (Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, & Schoer, 1963, cited in Kolln, 1996, p. 27).
A recent review on the effect of grammar teaching on writing development in students
aged 5–16 also found little positive effect for grammar teaching (Andrews et al., 2006).
However, the authors of this review warn that the quality of research to date is insufficient
to prove the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of grammar teaching.
A number of L1 composition educators have challenged anti-grammar teaching claims
and questioned the weakened role of grammar instruction in writing classrooms. Nunan
(2005) and Noguchi (1991) argue that grammar still needs to be taught even if the teaching
of it does not necessarily help students produce instantaneous better texts. ‘It is not unusual
for people acquiring a skill to get “worse” before they get better and for writers to err
more as they venture more’ (Shaughnessy, 1977, p. 119). Noguchi (1991) insists that ‘just
because formal instruction in grammar proves generally unproductive in improving writing
does not necessarily mean that we should discard all aspects of grammar instruction’
(p. 3). Furthermore, Nunan (2005) believes grammar rules offer students tools to form and
articulate more elaborately complex thoughts.
Martinsen (2000) and Weaver (1996) point out that grammar must be taught in the
context of students’ writing. For instruction to be effective, grammar teaching in writing
classrooms must link rules with usage or difficulties students encounter in authentic writing
tasks. Weaver (1996) argued that ‘teaching “grammar” in the context of writingworks better
than teaching grammar as a formal system, if our aim is for students to use grammar more
effectively and conventionally in their writing’ (p. 23).
Zhou, A. (2009). What adult ESL learners say about improving grammar and vocabulary in their writing for academic purposes. Language Awareness, 18(1), 31-46.