On Education: A Clarion Call from Howard Gardner

intelligences

I first read this important article back in October. Since then I’ve been pondering the paradox of how, on the one hand, Gardner’s theory is truly straightforward and graspable, yet on the other hand it’s been widely misinterpreted and misapplied. This is not to say that the ideas are not complex, because they truly are. However, all educators are capable of understanding and creatively implementing them, if given the time, freedom and resources to do so. So, why, then, have these misunderstandings and misapplications emerged? What are the barriers that stand in the way of effectively implementing them?

Certainly a great many of these deviations could be simply owing to the fact that Gardner’s theories are novel ones. As with any new endeavor, early earnest attempts at execution will yield mixed results. However, it seems (as evinced by Gardner’s corrective, now 20 years later) that these misapplications represent a more fundamental disconnect from his insights. So, to me the question becomes, “What are the obstacles in today’s educational models that prevent the application of this crucial understanding?”

To answer this question, it’s important to look at the present state of education and the trajectory it’s currently on. Increasingly, the trend is toward homogenization–and not in any positive sense. This is reflected in the standardized-testing-sickness that afflicts our public schools and stifles educators’ and students’ creativity. It is also seen in the implementation of the Common Core Standards. Veteran educator Marion Brady lays out “Eight problems with Common Core Standards” that should be required reading and a focal point of conversation for everyone interested in education today.

Along with this suffocating homogenization comes degrading monetization, defined by Merriam-Webster as using something of value as a source of profit. The profit sought by the capitalists steering education today is not an exploration and realization of “the potentials of humanness” upheld as a primary goal by Marion Brady, and reflected in the hopes and dreams of most educators. Instead, it’s boiled down to the lowest common denominator of our communities being “best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy” (quoting from the Common Core Mission Statement). In other words, the inherently unequal and inhumane antagonisms of global capitalism are explicitly woven into these fatally flawed standards.

Within this framework, we can see why Gardner’s primary lessons for educators, to simultaneously individualize and pluralize, run into a brick wall. With the first key ingredient–individualization–the need for smaller class sizes becomes crucial. This enables teachers to really get to know and assess their students on a one-to-one basis, and to utilize techniques that make learning accessible to all. Gardner also cites the value of “apps” in this regard, but I’ve yet to engage the relevant research. Nevertheless, we should continue to insist on smaller class sizes, and not accept the lie that the funds aren’t sufficient or available. When the government decided to bail out the banks, no such limits were imposed.

As for the second key ingredient–pluralization–this is directly undermined by standardized testing. Teachers are obligated to “teach to the test”, and increasingly their jobs hang in the balance, depending on how well their students have been trained to regurgitate facts and figures. Little space is left, then, for educators to creatively ply their craft and bring students forward as inquisitive, optimistic human beings. Perhaps the most insidious result of this miseducation is the disillusionment with education itself fostered in students, and even in teachers.

In closing, it’s important that voices of opposition stand up and fight for a far better vision of education than the one that’s being driven by the Gates Foundation and others whose interests are located outside of the classroom. Their goal is to more fully infuse the dog-eat-dog outlook of capitalism into education and convert it into yet another arena for profit-making. We must reject this path and unite with the people of Mexico, Canada, and many other places around the world who are also swimming against the educational tide, as if the future depends on it–because it does. And it must be a grassroots movement, comprised first and foremost of students, teachers, parents and communities. A recent Washington Post article revealed that the leader of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union is joining forces with a former union-busting governor and businessman to promote the Common Core. If we want justice, we need to draw on our greatest strength: just us.

Race Matters? White Cop Who Killed Black Man During Hurricane Katrina Acquitted

Oh, hell, no! This is not that lie about “a policeman’s worst nightmare, that split-second decision”. This is the real nightmare lived by people of color daily, constantly criminalized, brutalized and killed by cops who aren’t making split-second decisions, but acting in accordance with the institution they represent. And in case there’s any doubt, the (in)justice system is there to back them up… time and again, legitimizing the murder of the innocent. Ya basta!

Bossip

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normalcy

Beautifully devastating photos from the ongoing disaster in the Philippines…

A walk with my camera

It’s exactly a month since disaster struck and now the government and news outfits have been heralding the news that normalcy is slowly being restored in the city.

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For downtown Tacloban with all the piles of debris strewn all over the streets and the shuttered businesses, maybe there is a very small semblance of normalcy for the clueless.  Sure, there are stores that are now opening, but things are still very far from normal, especially when one goes outside of the commercial area.

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This is Anibong, one of the places I frequent during my photo walks.  It is barely recognizable.  Correction, it is unrecognizable.  All the houses and sari-sari stores lining the street are gone.

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The remains of a decent house, 30 days later.  No housing relocation sites yet,  no master plans for development, nothing.  Nobody is running the show.

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Scenes like this are kept from the local news.  Everything…

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A dispatch from our “post-racial” society… or, as Flavor Flav put it best, “Don’t believe the hype!”

Thanksgiving: the keepin’ it real edition…

Roseanne Barr, one of our greatest comediennes and social commentators, has done some truly hilarious and deeply substantive Thanksgiving episodes over the years. I grew up watching her show, and I was happy to discover recently that the LOGO network has syndicated reruns on constant rotation.

In the weeks leading up to T-Day this year, I’d been hearing from a number of Spanish-speaking immigrant parents (for whom I was interpreting) that the meaning of Thanksgiving still eluded them, despite living in the U.S. for many years. They knew that families got together to enjoy a big feast, including turkey. And they knew that thankfulness was an important part of it. Nevertheless, they had a sense that they weren’t in on the whole story.

I’d been thinking about the general, shall we say, unawareness or cognitive disconnection of the U.S. populace at large regarding the origins of this holiday, which is so tied up with the genocide of indigenous peoples at the formation of this nation. And it seems to me that it’s not simply ignorance but a whole barrage of myths that are either questioned or not. And this gets to why Roseanne’s work was and is so important. On so many fronts, she was/is a fearless cultural myth-buster.

With all due respect to Dave Chappelle, this video gives us a prime example of “When ‘keepin’ it real’ goes RIGHT“. Watch, share and please tell me your thoughts in comments below. (And just to clarify, as I belatedly noticed, the above embedded video is a playlist in which video 4 of 5 [Season 8, Episode 9, titled “The Last Thursday in November”] is the episode to which I’ve referred here.) Enjoy!

The Roots of L.A., or… Grandma Mason: 38 years a slave, a lifetime of humanity

Biddy "Grandma" Mason.
Right in the pulsing heart of downtown Los Angeles is an extraordinary memorial celebrating one of humanity’s greatest heroes: “Grandma” Bridget “Biddy” Mason. By sheer serendipity, I happened upon this commemoratory wall while taking an exploratory stroll (Dora would be proud). This is a monument not to be missed. Before proceeding to the images, which will speak for themselves, I’d like to make a brief commentary based on my observations.

Downtown L.A. is the living embodiment of the Dickensian “Two Cities” melded into one. The streets are teeming with our sisters and brothers who have been deemed “useless” by the modern global capitalist system. These humans without a home inhabit the vibrant streets below the soaring lofts above. In the plaza where the monument is located, between Broadway and Spring at 3rd Street (across the street from and just south of Grand Central Market), many Spanish-speaking folks congregate to enjoy a shady reprieve from the hustle-and-bustle of Broadway, mere feet away.

Biddy was a fluent Spanish speaker. How many Spanish speakers know her story? I’m guessing not that many. I’m assuming way too few English speakers know her story (and here my bias is evident, because I sure didn’t… I think I’d heard her name, but I certainly didn’t KNOW, y’know?). I didn’t take a survey to confirm this, but I’m not sure that the folks congregated there know her story, either (I’d be thrilled to be proven wrong on all these points).

We’ve all heard where assumptions lead, but empirical evidence, in the form of apparent lack of linguistic access (i.e. no evident Spanish translation), suggested that there may be an oversight in terms of the monument’s accessibility to those who occupy its space most frequently. There is an information desk in the plaza which may offer some kind of language service, but when I was passing through there wasn’t anyone there to answer my questions. Alas, I hope that someone reading this might be able to shed some light on this question. 🙂 A cursory Google advanced search for Spanish-language results for “biddy mason” is here. [Further links in English available here.]

Without further ado, a photographic tour of Biddy Mason Park:

1781: 26/44 settlers. 1821: LA is (independent) Mexico. 1836: Biddy (18) & sis prop of R. Smith in Miss. 1849: Ord survey for U.S.. 1856: Biddy fam free in CA. 1866: Biddy buys homestead for $250 (10 yrs' savings!). 1872: Biddy organizes First AME church/ delivers 100's of babies. 1880-1890: Biddy cares. | 1885: Biddy's grandsons start stable. 1900: L.A. mourns and reveres Grandma Mason. 1989: credit.

This is not an aberration… yet.

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I encountered this scene as I was on a morning walk today. I was contemplating some of the implications of Slavoj Zizek’s thinking, having only recently been acquainted with it via his latest (and truly transcendant) film: The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. Can’t recommend it enough. See it. In fact, check out any of his stuff and I guarantee you’ll be amused, challenged and happy you did so.

Back to the picture.  Crisis is coming. Strike that. It’s here. Try though we might to forget about it, we’re enveloped in it. So, what can we do? Do we recoil from this truly tragic imagery? Seek to justify it or explain it away? Or do we allow the unbridled inquisitiveness of our inner child to go down the rabbit hole as far as is necessary to find answers? Perhaps we know that answers only compel deeper questions, the slope of the rabbit hole becoming steeper, our clinging to the rooted illusions of the surface more tenuous…

Question, we must. I mean, we couldn’t help it if we tried. We’re the questioning mammal, after all. That’s what makes us human. And just to be clear, I share the Zizekian optimism regarding humanity’s prospects for the future. This image is a problem to be solved, and there is a solution. What do you think the solution is?

Help get the word out about our farmworker sisters’ struggle!

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I’ve come across this story through several news outlets now, and I just can’t stop thinking about how glaringly outrageous this is. The whole of our society rests upon the backs of these women. They feed you, me, us, humanity. They possess vast stores of knowledge about things without which humanity would wither on the vine. And, above all, they are human beings. Just like you and me. No different. Same family. Emerging from the same cosmos. Born of the same mother Earth (although I suspect they know her better).

Here I guess I don’t really have too much to add to the journalism that’s been done so far. But I do want to provide links to some resources, in English and Spanish, so that we can help raise awareness about this issue, and to give assistance in whatever way we see fit. You can start by reading and listening to the stories of these women. Please feel free to re-post and share with all your social networks. As the three musketeers said, “All for one, and one for all!” 🙂

The first time I heard about this was about a week ago via this NPR radio report:
http://www.npr.org/2013/11/05/243219199/silenced-by-status-farm-workers-face-rape-sexual-abuse

Last night I picked up a copy of La Opinion bearing this cover story:
http://www.laopinion.com/california/jornaleras-reclaman-justicia-abusos-sexuales

The La Opinion article highlighted this 2010 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center:
http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/injustice-on-our-plates

Finally, the La Opinion article was based on the tremendous work being done by Lideres Campesinas, their website is:
http://www.liderescampesinas.org/english/

* header photo credit: La Opinion Aurelia Ventura

Back to the Present… and Beyond! :)

wolf moonMany eventful moons have passed since my last blog entry. Like many other dedicated adult educators, I ended up holding the unlucky (to not say shitty) end of the LAUSD budget-cuts stick. It’s said, however, that when one door is slammed shut in your face, another one opens. I essentially believe this, but I might just make a couple slight modifications. I think those new doors are out there to be opened, but we’ve gotta find them. And sometimes we have an overloaded keyring. And you know it’s usually the last key we try that finally does the trick. Or sometimes there’s a trick to opening that door that a friend can teach us. Alas, not to beat the metaphorical dead horse back to life… you get the idea.

While I’ve been able to continue teaching in a substitute capacity off and on, at this point I’ve begun in earnest my transition into the world of Spanish/English interpreting. It’s been exhilirating and challenging and all I hoped it could be. And best of all, I’ve found that while I may not be in a formal classroom setting any longer, the adult learning and teaching continues, and I LOVE IT!

The great up-and-coming singer-songwriter Joe Pug (one of my favorite artists doin’ his thang today) sings in a song he covers by Harvey Thomas Young called Deep Dark Wells that “As long as you’re not finished, you can start all over again.” Beautiful words to live by. And, hellz-to-tha-no, I ain’t finished yet! We jus’ gettin’ started up in here! 🙂 Stay up, y’all! 🙂

Students and teachers Bring the Noise! to join worldwide fight for the Human Right to Education


Part 2 coming Friday, 6/15 from 5 to 7 PM
Bring your pots, pans, noisemakers, friends, classmates, teachers, family, community… come one, come all, as we Unite to Fight! 🙂

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