…unfortunately, society does not generally invest enough in innovation—especially in areas where it would help the poor (who aren’t an attractive market) and where there isn’t an agreed-upon measure of excellence. In the U.S., that means we have not invested nearly what we should in innovation for education.
-from "My Turn: Bill Gates on Education and Innovation" in the recent edition of Newsweek.
This brief commentary by Bill Gates’ nicely accentuates a point made by Jacqueline Novogratz for our show to be released this Thursday (via podcast). She sees an opportunity for social investors to take risks in these unattractive markets abroad that actually might serve as new models for how we operate here in the States.
Perhaps this experimental work is going on now in more places than many of us realize. It’s just not funded properly or recognized. More directly, I’m thinking of two recent conversations we’ve had with Adele Diamond and Mike Rose. Both are challenging the stagnation in the U.S. education system that Gates’ later mentions — Diamond couples scientific knowledge of the brain with observations of children in classroom settings; Rose pairs his decades of teaching and education at all levels with his conversations with folks in all parts of the country.
Are we really listening and paying attention to what’s going on in our backyard (including Canada)? And, how are we willing to give those ideas a fighting chance of going mainstream?
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Being Educated in Not-So-Obvious Places
Krista Tippett, host
Wonderful reactions to our show on the meaning of intelligence with Mike Rose. Here’s a line from his book Why School?, which didn’t make it into my interview or the script, but that I love:
We are driven — as surely as we are driven to survive — to find meaning in our lives, to interpret what befalls us, the events that swirl around us, the people who cross our paths, the objects and rhythms of the natural world. We do this instinctively; it is essential to being human. So we do it with or without education. But we are getting educated all the time, of course: by family, community, teachers, pals, bullies, and saints.
I’ve been on a bit of a trajectory of realization about that process — of being educated in not-so-obvious places — through my conversation this past fall with Adele Diamond, and now Mike Rose. They’ve given me a whole new appreciation for aspects of my experience that I had always characterized as on the sidelines of my education — debate teams and theater productions and choirs that kept me thinking and creative even as I was woefully under-challenged by schools in a small town in Oklahoma where advanced classes in everything were cut to keep up the football budget.
I’ve told myself that I had a failed primary and secondary educational experience. Now I can glorify joyful and energizing possibilities that did come my way with the word “education.” Adele Diamond even gives me scientific language to explain the fact that debate and drama quite legitimately gave me the tools to “learn how to learn” and to use what I learn into the present.
I’m also watching my children’s education with new eyes in ways that surprise me. I’m grasping why my daughter’s two years in a Waldorf School were so fundamentally transformative. Waldorf’s focus on storytelling, drama, handiwork, and music could come prescribed from the new science that Adele is part of. But I’m even appreciating my son’s touch football games where so much negotiation and strategizing goes on alongside the physical.
And so life, and education, come full circle.
Jacqueline Novogratz’s Favorite Teachers
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
In response to Krista’s interview with Mike Rose, many people shared stories of teachers who noticed a talent or interest and encouraged their students to develop it in ways that opened up doors of possibility. Likewise, Jacqueline Novogratz, an upcoming guest on SOF, tells stories about three of her most influential teachers on My Teacher My Hero.
Novogratz runs the Acumen Fund — a philanthropic venture capital fund that invests in scalable entrepreneurial businesses in developing countries. Krista’s interview with Novogratz will serve as the next installment in our evolving "Ethics of Aid" series. We had our pre-edit listen yesterday and are planning to put the show on the air in late January, so stay tuned.
I look back at the fork in my road and often wonder if I should have, could have, taken the vocational, farming route. But, at the time, nobody valued that route. Everyone valued ‘education.’
Kindred Spirits: Studs Terkel and Mike Rose
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
In our program with Mike Rose, we are asking you to share your memories of school — moments when your mind came to life in a new way and shaped who you are in terms of becoming, longing, hope, and possibility. One of the memories that came up for me as we produced this program was reading Studs Terkel’s American Dreams: Lost and Found in a college sociology class.
That book inspired me, in the same way I feel inspired by Mike Rose, to consider the meaning of intelligence, to look below the radar and across lines of race, class, and occupation for what’s real, and to grasp how the reality of American lives often defies stereotypes I may attach to them. It also influenced my a love of storytelling, of oral history — Studs style — and an appreciation for the beauty that can be found in matters and people our culture often considers “average.”
So, it was fun for me to discover an interview that Studs Terkel did with Mike Rose in 1996 for Studs’ radio program out of Chicago. It’s classic Studs — filled with curiosity, passion, and his signature chatter. They wander through Rose’s book, Possible Lives, highlighting the public school teachers that Rose chronicled in four years traveling across the U.S. There’s a kindred spirit in their work, and even though it’s over a decade old, I found their conversation about imaginative educators defying the odds still very inspiring for today.
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Anoushka Shankar performs at the Wychwood Music Festival in 2007. (photo: Damian Rafferty/Fly)
"…when you’re improvising, it completely forces you to be in the moment, and every bit of your mind and your heart has to be involved with nothing but the melody that you’re playing, the time cycle you’re playing, and what’s happening with your musicians. And that being in the moment is, I think, one of the most important things you can possibly do, whether it’s through meditation or music or studying religion. And that’s always the goal of any meditator is to be in the moment always and not to have your head stuck in the future or stuck in the past. And when you’re able to do that, that’s the whole idea of Zen, I think, as well. And so that’s really beautiful."
I’m taking an an introductory Everyday Improv class right now, and it’s been a delightful challenge to step out of my thinking brain and trust that I don’t need to script or plan into the future — that what I blurt out in the creative rush of the moment will be better and truer than whatever I might concoct in anticipation. I relish the central tenets of performance improv, like accepting every idea as a gift, saying “yes and” to whatever manifests in a scene, trusting my gut, and staying authentic in the moment. It’s not always easy to live up to these principles, but I’m having fun trying.
We’ve heard recently from some listeners about improv is enriching their daily lives. Jim Martinez, a former Wall Street IT professional and teacher in the South Bronx, responded to our recent program with Adele Diamond about how he’s helping schools to meld performance improv and technology in ways that are playful and collaborative.
I hope that we can devote a full program to the theme of improvisation in the future. I see this building on past shows like "Play, Spirit, and Character" and our Repossessing Virtue series on the economic downturn where some of you shared how you’re learning to live improvisationally in the face of greater financial uncertainty.
Moving to Think
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
Listening to neuroscientist Adele Diamond’s conversation with Krista, I couldn’t help but think of the talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson has written several books on education, the arts, and creativity, and he’s on our “big list” of potential future guests.
One thing Diamond mentions is a lifelong love of dance, which brought to mind Robinson’s story about Gillian Lynne, who’s best known for choreographing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. He tells the story about how Lynne’s “learning disorder” turned out to be her life’s calling (jump to 15:15 in the video for the story, or read the transcript below):
"… Gillian and I had lunch together one day and I said, ‘Gillian how did you get to be a dancer?’ And she said it was interesting; when she was at school she was really hopeless. And the school in the thirties wrote to her parents and said, ‘We think Julian has a learning disorder.’ She couldn’t concentrate, she was fidgeting. I think now they’d say she had ADHD, wouldn’t you? But this was the 1930’s and ADHD hadn’t been invented, you know, at this point, so it wasn’t an available condition, you know. People weren’t aware they could have that.
Anyway, she went to see this specialist in this oak-paneled room and she was there with her mother and she was led and sat on this chair at the end. And she sat on her hands for 20 minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems Gillian was having at school.
And at the end of it — because she was disturbing people and her homework was always late and so on, a little kid of eight — in the end, the doctor went and sat next to Gillian and said ‘I’ve listened to all these things your mother has told me. I need to speak to her privately.’ So he said, ‘Wait here. We’ll be back. We won’t be very long,’ and they went and left her. But as they went out of the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk, and when they got out of the room, he said to her mother, ‘Just stand and watch her.’ The minute they left the room she said she was on her feet moving to the music and they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, ‘You know, Mrs. Lynn, Julian isn’t sick — she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.’
I said, ‘What happened?’ She said, ‘She did. I can’t tell you, sir, how wonderful it was. We walked into this room and it was full of people like me; people who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.’”
SoundSeen: Dramatic Play + the Developing Brain
by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
For this week’s show "Learning, Doing, Being: A New Science of Education," Krista interviewed neuroscientist Adele Diamond, who studies how social dramatic play can build “executive function” (EF) skills in children’s brains. As Diamond explains it, EF is a container term for capacities like inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. These are skills that are lodged in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which Diamond calls “the new kid on the block” because it’s the part of the human brain to develop most recently through evolution. As we grow from babies into young adults, the prefrontal cortex is the last brain area to mature. When we age, it is the first to falter.
While producing this show, we learned that Diamond serves as an advisor for a nearby charter school that incorporates some elements of social dramatic play into its curriculum. We visited the school a few weeks ago and one result is this narrated slideshow pairing Adele Diamond’s explanation of the nuts and bolts of EF with 5th and 6th graders demonstrating some of the principles she describes through improvisational theater games.
If you have the chance, check out Krista’s full interview with Adele Diamond or listen for more of this ambient audio in the produced show. I don’t know what brain area is responsible for creating an audio slideshow but mine certainly got a workout putting this together.
And, a special thanks to the teachers and students at Quest Academy for their participation in this project.
Neil deGrasse Tyson Interview
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Neil deGrasse Tyson is a name that’s been bandied about the office in the last several weeks as a potential guest. While scanning RSS feeds, one keys in on keywords one may not have paid attention to previously.
In this interview with The Humanist, the popular astrophysicist has some intriguing things to say about beliefs, education, and communication. When asked if he’s a humanist:
I’ve never identified with any movement. I just am what I am and occasionally a movement claims me because there is resonance between my writings and speeches and what they do, and that’s fine; I don’t mind that. But no, I have never been politically or organizationally active in that way. Astrophysics—that’s what I identify with.
I gave a talk to the National Science Teachers Association. That is an important group of people, K-12 educators in science. I asked by show of hands how many people—because I knew it would get an interesting reply—didn’t own a television. Half of the hands went up. Of those who owned a television, I asked how many only occasionally used it to watch a movie, and half of the hands went up. So fully three quarters of that audience whose job it is to teach the next generation science don’t watch television, yet the average American watches thirty or forty hours of television a week. That disconnect is pedagogically fatal.
…and when I say pop culture I don’t mean only the TV shows that are kind of cool and interesting. I also mean the hit shows. I’m talking about Dancing with the Stars. I’m talking about the reality shows most educators thumb their noses at as being of no educational or intellectual value. Yet clearly millions of people watch them every week so there is a disconnect. Once there is a disconnect, you’re not communicating.
On a new atheist’s style of communicating science:
In the category of worst practices, there are occasions where people—either humanist or atheist—are just completely obnoxious in a conversation with others. I even had a tussle with Richard Dawkins (I think it’s my most viewed YouTube clip) in which I accused him of being completely ineffective because he is so sharp of wit in the service of his point of view, and he is so well educated that he may fail to fulfill the directive of his title, which at the time was Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. That implies that your conversation with another person is an act of persuasion in some ways, not hitting them over the head. You want to understand what is going on in another person’s mind and meet them there. Otherwise, you’re not as effective as you could be.
Language Reclamation, Not Just Preservation
by Rob McGinley Myers, associate producer
What inspires a person to learn the language of his ancestors, even though he didn’t grow up speaking that language himself? And what inspires him to join a school where he can teach that language to children? What do those children think about the language? And what affect can the effort have on an entire community?
These were a few of the questions I had for Keller Paap, a teacher in an Ojibwe immersion school program called Waadookodaading (We Help Each Other) on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation in north-central Wisconsin. I got in touch with Paap while I was working on our recent program "Sustaining Language, Sustaining Meaning." You can hear his story in the embedded audio above. He begins by introducing himself in Ojibwe.
What I gleaned from talking to Paap was that this language revitalization effort is doing more than merely preserving the language. It’s literally keeping the language alive so that it can continue to grow and change, with new words and new ways of saying things. I love the way he describes his students’ relationship to the language. They aren’t dwelling on the long-standing U.S. policy of forcibly educating Native Americans in English. They aren’t learing Ojibwe as a political act or even as a cultural act. They’re just living in it, and making it their own.
This audio piece was produced with help from Trent Gilliss and Mitch Hanley. Music by Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band. Keller Paap took the photo of the Ojibwe road sign, which translates as “The Dam.”