Category — Education
Re: The Common Core
by Jim Palombo
I just recently made a drive from central Mexico to upstate New York – most likely the last time a trip of this nature will happen for me. In any event, there were plenty of stops and starts along the way and certainly no shortage of thoughts that occurred as the miles passed. In short, one can’t help but fall into a reflective state as places and faces go by.
The day following my arrival in New York, I was reading the Sunday New York Times and was struck by a piece titled, “Common Core, Through the Eyes of a 9 Year Old,” by Javier Hernandez. It was an excellent review of the new curriculum effort for secondary students, one primarily aimed at increasing their critical thinking skills through a modified series of math, English and social studies courses. As an educator myself, I could readily attest to the need for such an effort. Unfortunately, what seemed to be happening more than anything else was a significant amount of frustration and anxiety among the students, teachers and parents involved, particularly in regards to the amount of testing occurring that was meant to measure both the students’ progress and the Core design itself. In brief, and despite the fact that the problem of improving our future citizens’ thinking skills demands a great deal of “work in progress” patience, it seems the initiative is already receiving a failing grade.
Now you might be wondering what my cross-countries’ drive has to do with the reading of this article? Well, the connection is that in reading the article, and still in somewhat of a haze from my mini-odyssey, I started to visualize the Common Core effort in terms of a vehicle, one being driven by “thinking tools” through the chaotic countryside that is American education. Of course along the way, and much like my trip, there would be a myriad of experiences in the offing. In this instance, one would encounter teachers and administrators at both secondary and post-secondary levels, some of whom are well-versed in critical thinking but many who are not. And there would also be the parents, some who are well-versed in critical thinking, but many who are not. And then there would be the overall “general public,” who show no hesitancy in offering opinions at a moment’s notice, yet who also fall into the same “many who are not” category in terms of critical thinking. And finally, there would be the numerous educational and governmental agencies, most of which seem to be suffering from their own gap in clear thinking while continually trying to justify the significance of their existence. In essence, then, this imaginary trip by the Common Core vehicle would be uncovering a slew of “thinking related” shortcomings that reached well beyond the substance of what was actually at focus – shortcomings that coincidentally could well be tied to the frustration, anxiety and impatience being exhibited.
With this image in mind, I began to consider other like journeys, i.e., if similar “vehicles of thought” were driven along other institutional highways, like down the roads of our justice system, or social service processes, or the government, or the military, or the media. They would surely encounter much the same result: people/agencies being upset based on their own shortcomings; people/agencies feeling attacked by something new they really aren’t sure about/comfortable with – in essence people/agencies struggling with doing something (or not doing it) that would make them “think.” In other words, and as the Common Core initiative is doing with the educational process, the systems would be being exposed in more ways than anticipated.
Although I found these parallel thoughts intriguing, I may not have chosen to write about them in an article. However, the next day there happened to be a related piece in the Albany Times-Union, titled “Returning to the beginning for Common Core” by Fred Lebrun. Mr. Lebrun’s focus was on re-examining the pitfalls of the Core effort, especially the rush to put the program into effect in New York. It seemed, especially for the public, that what was occurring in the State provided validation for the assumption that the entire initiative was ill-fated and poorly planned.
The article was well written but, a bit like the New York Times’ piece, it didn’t seem to go far enough in terms of referencing how deep the problems at hand might run, or that a particular “work in progress” patience would be required, or as important, how we might have gotten into the situation in the first place, i.e., what were the motivating factors that fueled our distraction from things like critical thinking and reinforcing our citizenship skills? And this brought me back to again considering not only the Common Core “drive” but also the essence of what the other “vehicles of thinking” trips might uncover.
So the two articles gave rise to this article whose point is that in considering the Common Core initiative, one must be aware that there is simply more to consider. In this light the Common Core experience can be seen as bringing to the surface how change, particularly when addressing deep-rooted issues, should always be considered a long term effort, one that will be riddled with hurdles and one that will be painstakingly intensive and time-consuming. After all, it took us a long time to get where we are today.
And we must keep in mind that the educational arena is not our only area of concern. Despite many well-intentioned efforts most of our social infrastructure (including the public, non-profit and private sectors) is decaying, sagging under the weight of bloated bureaucracies, bloated egos and bloated paychecks, the inconsistencies of policies and procedures, the effects of under or misdirected worker education, and under served clients. And, as with Common Core, we must be willing to absorb the re-tooling tasks, taking special care in not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, especially as it may not be clear as to the substance of either.
As a “last but not least” thought, there remains another important consideration. It appears that with all the problems on our collective table, problems that most of us elders have been part of creating (and continue to perpetuate) we tend at many turns to try to hold the least responsible party responsible for the difficulties we are now facing – the children. In other words it appears that we like to point to them while saying that it’s their turn to take on the concerns of the world. And this is usually done without the requisite acknowledgement of the mess that we have put them in. This of course makes little sense to them, and it also opens the door for them to ask us directly, if by nothing more than intuition, what exactly we have been doing in terms of addressing our own lack of critical thinking skills – the lack of which is much more a part of what’s on our country’s problem-table than are the tests now sitting in front of them.
**The article following Mr. Hernandez’s piece in the New York Times deserves attention. It is titled “Graduates Cautioned: Don’t Shut Out Opposing Views” by Richard Perez-Pena and it highlights several commencement speeches made at the graduations from several of our country’s post-secondary institutions. In short, the speeches all seem to underscore the notion that “thinking,” both on emotional and intelligence levels, is a point of particular importance, something that seems to have gotten lost along our collective way. Comments suggest the need for tolerance of ideas, openness, not being afraid to fail in thinking or in action, in taking a stand and even getting in trouble – all within the context of reaching toward purposes larger than individual gain. So, as with the Common Core initiative, and consistent with what the young college graduates are now facing, the suggestion seems to be that “more” will be required to contend, given what the world has now become. And, hopefully for the better, and hopefully with our legitimate help, they will be up to the task of thinking through what this “more” will actually be. And this certainly spells a special kind of fuel for the “vehicles of thinking” that will need to hit the road on the daunting effort’s behalf.
About the author:
Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
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August 29, 2014 Comments Off on Politics/Jim Palombo
Oil & Gas
by Jim Palombo
In watching the Sunday morning news on BBC, CNN and FOX, I was once again struck by how important it is for our public to understand a broad range of topics in order to understand what is happening in the country and the world. Simultaneously I was again reminded of the rather poor job that is being done by our educational system in this regard, with not much help given by the political and media-based dialogue that fills the air.
Be that as it may, the three networks were referencing the problems in the Ukraine which included the divide between Western and Eastern Christianity, vis a vis the forceful historical differences among Catholics and Orthodox Christians, as well as the differing market interests at work in the region, best symbolized by the potential competition between the German-directed European Union and the Eurasian Union concept (the USSR reborn?) being proposed by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It seems that for those so inclined to think about the situation, the religious and market differences are being used to fuel each other in ways that may not be the most beneficial to the actual people.
In short, the elements involved make the situation in that part of the world extremely complicated, chaotic and combustible. And although it seems we in the U.S. must do something, it appears highly unlikely that our involvement, diplomatic or otherwise, will have any appreciable, long-term impact. (Do the contemporary Middle East conflicts, ongoing for more than 50 years, come to mind?)
In any event it just so happened that I was watching these broadcasts in a coffee house in Queretaro, Mexico with a friend of mine who is a lawyer-lobbyist from Alaska. As we sat and listened and then chatted about how geopolitical conflicts seemed to be popping up everywhere, our focus shifted to talking about somewhat related situations tied to his work. Noting that it might come as a bit of surprise to most, he began to tell me about what was occurring in regards to the Arctic Summit and Arctic University – two organizations I had theretofore never heard of. And as I listened to his comments, and later proceeded to investigate them a bit more, I couldn’t help but want to pass along what I think are some very intriguing considerations.
First, the Arctic Summit represents a gathering of players from across the Northern part of the globe, including Russia, China, U.S./Alaska, Mongolia, Canada, Norway and Finland, all of whom are interested in the development of the resource rich Arctic. As one might guess, these interests have been tweaked by the ever-growing access to oil and mineral resources as the region thaws due to climate change. In essence, and amid conversation about environmental concerns, the situation represents a grand example of business/profit motive efforts capitalizing on a social concern, while trying not to be overly insensitive to what happens as a result.
The Arctic University is a loose knit cooperative network of universities and colleges with many of the same Summit players involved. Through university research endeavors, the objective is to keep developments in the region beneficial to the indigenous population. This of course sounds admirable but when coupled with the Arctic Summit efforts, it tends to make one wonder a bit about what might be seen as “beneficial” to the people who may actually find themselves at odds with the potential financial gains on the table.
Now what caught me off guard about all this was not so much that this was going on, but rather how little I knew of it. In short, it seems at times that there is a world of interests moving around the globe that is operating at another level from that which most of us are involved. And this of course lends itself to the idea expressed by many who when challenged that we need to better understand the world (as I tend to do) remark “what difference does it make anyway.”
In short, it was an afternoon of talking about how the world is changing, how interests are being aligned, how a geopolitical fog seems to have developed over the goings-on of big business and what the bulk of the population actually knows or doesn’t know, and if indeed this really matters. So this piece was offered not only in the sense of reviewing a few current events, but to also point out that we seem, at many turns, in a real knowledge pickle – almost as if we are damned if we do know and damned if we don’t. As always, your comments in this light are most welcomed.
** As two other follow-up “dots” – Alaskan Public Media reported that John Kerry announced the appointment of a special envoy/counsel/ambassador to the Arctic region, out of concern over potential environmental problems. Clearly there will be environmental problems but one has to wonder to what extent our government’s action is more about our lessening control over global financial interests and what may come from the on-going economic development of oil and mineral resources in the Arctic. (Keep in mind that Russia is the major supplier of oil to China. What develops via the Arctic Summit could well fuel even more power in terms of this relationship. ) And Joshua Keating’s article in Slate magazine highlights what is occurring in the Antarctic, with its estimated 203 billion barrels of oil, the third largest reserve in the world. The gist of Mr. Slate’s piece is that although there are international restrictions in place in terms of actually developing the Antarctic resources, research stations with their obvious link to future economic development, are permitted. And although countries like Britain, Argentina, Australia, France and the U.S. have research stations there, it is China that outdistances them all, with four already in place and a fifth on the way. As the current developmental restrictions come up for review in 2048 this obviously raises a number of speculative possibilities. Certainly speculation, but given what is happening in the Arctic, it appears that it’s left to the public to connect the dots accordingly.
About the author:
Jim Palombo is the politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
June 28, 2014 Comments Off on Connecting a Few Dots/Politics
The Addiction and Art Project
by Julie Bowen
In recent years art and art therapy have become very popular forms of treatment for drug addiction, often in combination with more traditional treatments such as medical intervention and ‘talking therapy’. The most well-known project for raising awareness about the success of art in treating recovering addicts is the Addiction and Art Project, started by the former Innovators Combating Substance Abuse, a National Program Office of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at The John Hopkins University School of Medicine.
The Addiction and Art Project has two objectives. First, it promotes art therapy as a form of treatment and mental release for those suffering from addictions. Second, it looks at addiction based on recent scientific research that has proven that addiction is not a “moral weakness” or a “human failing,” but is in fact a disease of the brain, and one that changes the chemical structure of the human organism. However the wider press and general consensus promotes addiction as a moral weakness in the addict, leaving him or her subject to scorn and disapproval. The premise of the project is that “Artworks about addiction and recovery can stimulate dialog, can teach, and at this crucial point in history, can support contemporary scientific research for our world’s well-being.”
Whether you abuse alcohol, are suffering from heroin withdrawal or are in an OxyContin detox program, if you are an addict then you are part of a system that costs approximately “one-half trillion dollars per year in health care expenditures and lost productivity.” By putting a human face on addiction and addicts, rather than ostracising and villainizing this sub-sector of society, we can learn more about addiction and seek to overcome it. Addiction is one of the biggest public health issues of our time, and the Addiction and Art project is seeking to mitigate this through a combination of both art and scientific research. Addiction art is presented as a powerful complement to addiction science.
So How, Exactly, Does Art Combat Addiction?
When talking about art therapy to combat addiction, the first question many people ask is how it works. Surely if you’re addicted to a drug, medication (i.e. another, replacement drug) would be the best way to cure you. But addiction is a much more complicated process than that, and the creative therapies can be very helpful in dealing with the mental, rather than the physical, effects of addiction. When you are expressing yourself through art you are able to get in touch with your inner self, explore your internal thoughts and feelings that are often difficult to put into words, and can even find a new way to relax and enjoy yourself without the emotional crutch of drugs. Art therapists often ask difficult emotional questions while their clients are engrossed in their art work, as it frees their mind and enables them to express difficult thoughts and feelings they may not be able to explore in a traditional therapy environment. Art therapy can be supported by the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous to create programs for assisting in alcohol recovery. The American Art Therapy Association best describes art therapy as “a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.”
Art therapy can be practiced almost anywhere, meaning it can be used as either an outpatient’s treatment in the comfort of your own home, or an inpatient treatment for those patients who need to be contained within a recovery center during the course of their treatment. Whether you are a recovering addict or have just had a bad day, we can all acknowledge that creating art can help you relax, lift your spirits, and make yourself feel better about yourself and your ability to create something tangibly beautiful.
It’s important to remember that the thoughts and feelings you have around art and around difficult emotions are the same as those an addict would feel, but much more amplified. The final word here goes to Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former U.S. Surgeon General appointed by President Ronald Reagan, who, when talking about art and addiction, asked Americans to “fight the disease and not those who have it.”
About the author:
Julie enjoys being able to combine her twin passions, the worlds of art and literature, with her personal quest to use both to help people overcome their addictions. She believes that art not only can help addicts, but also address their destructive behaviors, and help their victims.
Contact Julie: firstname.lastname@example.org
November 2, 2013 Comments Off on Addiction & Art/Julie Bowen
Second-grade-teacher Jon Schwartz with his students.
Kids do like the Blues
A interview by Ginger Liu
The Kids Like Blues Band is a performing music group that uses The Blues as a thematic teaching tool to teach kids language arts, technology, history and the visual and performing arts. It’s comprised of 30 second-grade students in Oceanside, CA, and their classroom teacher Jon Schwartz.
Q) What is Kids Like Blues and how did it start?
A) The kids are regular children doing extraordinary things. They have 15 blues songs in their repertoire and can play a 35-minute set as a self-contained unit or with an accompanying rhythm section. They have played on TV, at street fairs, talent shows, and college campuses.
Last year I had an extremely creative class. When we grew tired of “Old McDonald” and “Pop Goes the Weasel” I decided to take a chance and play some of my own favorite songs on guitar – blues songs like “Deep Elm Blues,” which happen to be rich in symbolism and rife with opportunities for lessons in phonics, diction, phrasing, and even exploring US History – all academic standards that we’re required to teach.
The first time I played the song, one of my students, who I’d already identified as GATE (gifted and talented) through her expressive art samples, spontaneously got up in front of the class and made up a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers type of dance to my playing. The other kids were transfixed. The next day I broke out the song, she started right in with more moves, and a few other girls – who were usually shy and reserved in class – joined her and started singing along and dancing.
I shared our work with Professors of Education at Cal State San Marcos, and they were thrilled at how we were using the songs to teach academic content standards like reading, writing, speech, US History, technology, and build classroom community, self confidence, and self esteem, and the whole class was invited to play at Cal State San Marcos for the College of Education’s staff and teachers-in-training. They wanted to show their students – teachers-in-training – what integrated, creative, thematic teaching could look like.
Q) How has your teaching in music, communication and digital helped your students?
A) I write for many outdoors publications, am an accomplished marine photographer, and do a lot of video, web, blogging, and Photoshop work. I use these disciplines to engage my students, and I teach them how to use these programs as educational tools to enhance their learning experience. Over 90 % of my 30 2nd grade students have their own personal blogs, and they know how to perform internet searches, are aware of how to safely navigate the net for quality information and images, know how to scan their own hand-drawn visual art into the computer and edit the images in Photoshop, and then upload them to their blogs.
I involve students in all phases of our many audio and video recordings. I show them how to storyboard our music videos, and then they participate in the filming and editing of the footage. They see how the final products made in quality high-tech programs like Garage Band and iMovie are the result of individually recorded scenes and tracks that have been planned, staged, edited, and synthesized.
Q) How good is the band?
A) It’s actually an awesome band! We’ve evolved into a legitimate gigging band with a 35 minute 15 song set that features original choreography. The students have played enough gigs to where they have moved past the point of fear and we can have a great time commanding the stage for our own enjoyment. Once they played for 300 kids, 1000 at a street fair, the CSU College of Education, and on live TV, to them it’s just another gig. Personally I get a lot out of it musically because the kids and I have developed a real musical relationship, we have an actual unspoken report where I have developed a style that fits with their vocals. I never play the exact guitar parts twice, so it’s a living, breathing musical organ, where we are playing off of each other in subtle ways. They have an incredible vocal mix this year and their moves are spectacular. Thankfully we have several natural-born choreographers in our class that are happy to devise all of our stage moves, because that’s never been my forte.
Q) You have a background in music. Why is it blues music in particular that has connected with your students?
A) The blues has a natural song structure and down to earth content that kids seem to crave. A lot of what they hear on the radio is overproduced and lacking in lyrical meaning. The songs that we are using aren’t just cute rhymes sung over synthesized tracks, they are the golden road to our collective culture and speak to the kids on a deep level. It’s like they are connecting to their ancestral history for the first time. These songs speak about immigration, hard labor, westward migration, the industrial revolution, the building of the transcontinental railroad, and the songs use imagery that resonates with the kids and provides a great launching point for ventures into art lessons, discussions of genre and author’s purpose, and comparisons of the past and present.
Q) How did you recently help a Japanese student?
A) Last January a student entered our class. Her family had fled the aftermath of the tsunami and the nuclear disaster. Understandably, she was very shut down. I tried to engage her using my iPhone by speaking English and having it translate it and then speak, in computer speak, the translated version of what I said into Japanese, but that is very impersonal and only worked in short phrases like “Now we are going to line up” and then she would nod her head.
When I first played that blues song on guitar for the class, she was one of the first students that got up and started dancing and singing the words. Here was a student that would stare at the floor with no expression, and then we’d play blues songs and she would get up in front of the class with a few others and dance to the song – and most importantly – sing the words!! Other than “Yes” and “No,” the words to “Sweet Home Chicago” were probably the first English words that she ever spoke! And she took to the music like no other student. She turned into a fearless stage performer and memorized all of the songs quickly – and she’d sing them at home, to the delight of her parents. Not only was she stealing the show at that first performance in front of 300 students, when we played a street fair for a thousand strangers, she leapt right onto the stage and started practicing her moves before the music began, looking right into the eyes of the crowd. She found herself in our blues band work. t each other’s cultures and use of music.
Q) You have brought your young students into the 21st century with digital teaching, such as blogging and digital photography; why do you think some schools are still hesitant in teaching these fundamental skills?
A) A lot of the younger more tech-savvy, progressive teachers lost their jobs when the economy tanked and the school districts were forced to make draconian budget cuts. This is especially true in areas where the tax base didn’t have a cushion to absorb the decline in revenue. Wealthier districts could more afford to keep younger teachers who know how to integrate tech into the curriculum.
Most comparatively younger teachers like me who choose to teach in less affluent areas either lost their jobs, lost their tenure, while the more senior teachers were left. Private schools and public schools with a flush PTO might have a huge computer lab full of the best equipment and tech savvy teachers. Schools in less affluent areas like mine work with what they can afford, which is often refurbished, donated computers that can barely handle basic software.
Q) What public performances do you have planned for the Kids Like Blues band in 2013?
A) I think we’ll have a good shot at playing the huge Del Mar Fair in June, and I’m talking with the professors at CSU about having us play there again, plus we have all the gigs we want at local senior centers. I’ve struck up relationships with prominent figures in the world of the blues and we hope to have some collaborations, even if it’s just jamming with the kids.
Ginger Liu is a Los Angeles-based photographer, writer, blogger and publicist. You can read more about her in About Us.
March 2, 2013 Comments Off on Kids Like Blues/On Location-LA