David W. Orr's "Goal of Education"

Tidepool JellyMy sister showed me a quote from David W. Orr she came across during an Environmental Education course this summer. When study is meaningful, the subject is often not what is learned.

The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter, but mastery of one’s person. Subject matter is simply a tool. Much as one would use a hammer and a chisel to carve a block of marble, one uses ideas and knowledge to forge one’s own personhood. For the most part we labour under a confusion of ends and means, thinking that the goal of education is to stuff all kinds of facts, techniques, methods and information into the students’ minds, regardless of how and with what effect it will be used.

And while many have come around to this way of thinking with regards to content not necessarily being the center of a course, but the means by which to drive critical thinking and a sense of pride and individuality into the curriculum, we have yet to entirely address these ideas in terms of technology. The use of more technology is not a golden ticket to ‘better’ learning, as it must serve the larger goals of creating community, and helping the members of that community to realize their potential. As with content, technology is merely the tool which may – or may not – allow this type of growth and awareness.

Twitter Week for BC Educators

This afternoon I was sitting in the wonderfully rustic Minnekhada Lodge, discussing Formative Assessment with my colleagues for our school based professional development day. And as the day drew to a close, and our pro-d hosts encouraged the “continued discussion” of the day’s aims, I thought, “How I wish that everyone at our school used Twitter.”

If everyone at my school used Twitter, each of our individual voices could continue to be lent – even with minimal frequency – to the conversation surrounding our staff’s development. As classroom educators we are often Minnekhada Lodgestarved for dialogue with our colleagues, whom we often work within mere meters of and yet never engage with each others’ practice. The most valuable members of our learning networks are those with whom we share a personal connection, and this is easily (and perhaps most productively) forged with members of our school and district communities.

And so this afternoon I was happy to begin a week of Twitter education for BC Educators, where 150 of our province’s teachers and administrators (and others?) have come together to begin a dialogue uniquely possible through the use of the microblogging tool. The brainchild of James McConville & Grant Potter, the week promises to be an engaging opportunity to expand our local community and its conversation online.

Register now by clicking this link, and follow the conversation on Twitter under a search for #edtechbc!

Eminent Person Wrap Up & Student Examples

As the final week of our class’ Eminent Person Study draws to a close, my RSS feed from our blogs has filled with reports on interviews, summaries of learning centers, reflections on the Night of the Notables itself, and the students’ work continues to astound. Though the grade tens in the class are busy at work drafting a letter to future participants in the project (on how to best tackle the intrinsic curriculum in such endeavors), I am taking this opportunity to share the collected triumphs of our students’ work. If the grade tens’ letter will cover the intangible, I propose that this post serves as a collection of the tangible results of this year’s project.


Learning Centers

We say that it’s “not your average poster,” when we talk about learning centers. But even when the traditional posterboard comes into play, the results are seldom conventional. Students’ centers are set up during forty-five minutes of gallery viewing on Night of the Notables, and their authors are encouraged to engage their audience in conversation – about their learning journey, about their eminent person’s life and works – or activities – building parachutes with materials available to Leonardo DaVinci, posing for Rolling Stone cover photographs, or walking a mile in the shoes of a blind librarian.

Some excellent examples reported on thus far:

  • Kiko’s Les Paul-itoriumWith the excellent added-touch of an authentic blacktop Les Paul.
  • Andrea’s “Secret Room”To represent the compartment in her Eminent Person’s Dutch home which sheltered escaping Jews from the Nazis, Andrea had guests squeeze into a similarly shaped (and scaled) hideaway and endure the cramped space, too many arms, legs and strangers’ breathing (not to mention audio recordings of shouting Gestapo officers.



It has been mentioned on this blog the momentum the class’ grade nines gave to the proceedings on Night of the Notables. As well, the grade tens’ dedication to helping one another form compelling, vivid speeches – and having drafts of their own work available almost a week before Wednesday evening’s presentations – brought an element of teamwork and unity to the proceedings that contributed to master turns of rhetoric and oratory as students took on the following notable personalities:

There is no shortage of other great pieces of student work on the class’ efforts to obtain interviews, construct learning centers, and otherwise reflect upon the rigors of the project to be found on the Shared Feed of the class’ blogs (especially as the examples here merely represent the early-submissions and work will continue to be added to the RSS feed throughout the weekend). I am still planning to post a collection of interview summaries once they are completed, but this could – in the interest of time – be left to the EminentPerson tag on my Delicious Account, where I have been compiling student examples throughout the course of the project.

Once the grade tens letter is posted, we will ultimately have bid adieu to the Eminent Person Study for this year, and the watershed occasion it has marked, and embark upon – as Andrea so eloquently put it – “the next project:”

Representing Democracy: an Introduction to Revolution, Confederation & Collaborative Research, Writing and Performance.

Alan November Video: Marblehead, Ma in 1629 & the Global Future of Education

Find more videos like this on NL Connect

As I sit over a lengthy edit of a post of student examples of recent eminent person projects, I was glad to find this November Learning video on Wesley Fryer’s blog. Alan walks around Marblehead, Ma, and speaks about the necessity of engaging the world in a collaborative, networked existence, citing examples of classrooms able to employ Global Researchers, Communicators, Tool Builders, and Internal Collaborators as places of today’s most relevent learning. “As we move from an environment where the teacher-is-boss,” Alan says near the conclusion, To one where the students, or workers, are collaboratores, self-directed, self-motivated and lifelong learners, we are creating a learning environment which directly mirrors the demands of the 21st century workplace.

If a student asks a question in a classroom, how many people hear it?

Lone Backlit TreeAfter a busy weekend I finally have a minute to share an experience with the sheer logistical aid offered by social networks – chiefly blogs and Twitter – during one student’s journey in writing her eminent person speech on Margret Rey, author of the Curious George books.

During our conference last week concerning her plans for both Night of the Notables address, as well as her ideas for a learning centre on Margaret Rey, Katie expressed an interest in using her speech to focus on a particular aspect of Rey’s life. After discussing ways to frame both the evening’s performance aspects and learning center, Katie set out to brainstorm ideas for each, and blogged a modest request to aid in the writing of her speech:

What people don’t know is that Margret Rey was Jewish and born in Germany in the early 1900’s. By the late 1930’s she was living and producing books in Paris with her husband. In 1941, Paris was proclaimed an open city, just waiting for German invasion. Margret and H.A Rey needed to get out of France fast.

They set out on what would became the biggest adventure of their life, carrying only some food, clothes, money, and the manuscripts for their books. Riding a couple of used bikes, the two rode South through France, eventually getting on a train to Lisbon, Portugal, then boarding a steamship across the Atlantic to Rio, Brazil. After four long months of travel, they reached New York where they began getting their childrens’ stories published.

I want to zero in on the moment when the couple realized they had to leave their home in France and journey to New York with their few possessions. I am looking for input on what this moment would be like. Escaping the Nazis, pedaling into the distance, not sure what you will find… I live in Vancouver and have no idea what it would be like to realize that you have to flee your home to escape war.

That same afternoon I sent a link to Katie’s post out to my Twitter followers, asking that they retweet the message to anyone who might help (in all fairness, I zeroed in on three particular Twitterers I believed to live and work in Germany, and sent the request specifically to them (again asking that the message be retweeted)).

Now, I have approximately 230 Twitter followers, which is perhaps above average for teachers new to Twitter, but the result of being an active member of a community of educators that encircles the globe.  I RT content from the people I follow, comment on their blogs, and link to them in my own blogging; if their classes are involved in projects, I “point” to them on Twitter or the blog. In short, I try to Pay It Forward, in some small way, every day. So when I come to ask, on behalf of a student like Katie, as I did last week, for people to help send a message to aid in someone’s learning, a few people do. In fact, three people do.

Out of more than 200, maybe not so impressive. But to add in the prospective audience of those four people brings another 4000 eyes into the fold.

And in the end, Ms. Anne Hodgson was able to join our class’ discussion (as were a few others), and lend a personal touch to Katie’s research of the Holocaust:

My mom was born In Germany in 1922, my dad, an American, came over in 1945. My (anti-Nazi) German family went into what is called “inner immigration” during the Nazi era, an option simply not open to the Reys and the millions and millions of Jews throughout Europe.

I don’t think we can really imagine what it means to have your entire life pulled from under you as the country that was your only home slowly but surely turns into a hostile environment. At first you know who is out to get you, those men and women in uniform with a clear directive. But later it all becomes very precarious, as people get “infected” by the apathy or opportunism that a totalitarian regime causes in those not strong enough to take a stand.

The timeline on this development was less than twenty four hours, involved five people doing something that took each of them a matter of minutes – once Katie had written the original post – and carried a message which introduced a student in Coquitlam, British Columbia with a personal connection to World War Two and the research of a children’s author in Munich, Germany.

Thanks to Anne for adding to our classroom last week, and to Karenne SylvesterDaniel Eisenmenger for helping to spread the Word!

Grade Nine Eminent Person Speeches: Day I

Paris from the Eiffel TowerToday our class began presentations of the grade nines’ Eminent Person speeches. We were treated to diverse and captivating presentations by Liam, Meghan and Nick on Niccolo Machiavelli, Florence Nightingale and Winston Churchill respectively. As the nines are challenged to deliver 8 – 10 minute addresses from the perspective of someone who would have known their eminent person, we heard from:

  • Two widely differing perspectives on Machiavelli (performed in different accents, with dissimilar mannerisms, and to wildly opposing effects by the solitary Liam) issued by the Dukes of Lion and Florence.
  • Florence Nightingale’s mother, written by Meghan as deliriously deliriously disappointed in her daughter for choosing “the Devil’s profession,” nursing, as her life’s work.
  • And FDR speaking of his tumultuous, yet always respectful wartime relationship with Nick’s eminent person, Winston Churchill.

The rest of the week – Rememberance Day Wednesday notwithstanding – will see the remaining grade nines present their epic speeches, and raise the bar for their grade ten classmates who will present three-to-four minute speeches as their eminent people at next week’s Night of the Notables. It never fails to amaze me that faced with eight minutes of speech to deliver to older peers and new teachers at the end of the year’s first term, our grade nines’ ability to swing for the fence in tackling this first of the class’ major projects. In setting out to create original, challenging and risktaking works of research, writing and performance, the younger members of our class create a tone for the remainder of the project that is one of a trusting community that enables across the board individual achievement.

Thank you to the three of you who volunteered to get the ball rolling today, and to those of you who will help set the tone throughout the week. It is an awe-inspiring experience to be an observer during such feats, and one I am truly grateful to share in.

On Seeking Eminent People

Every year our class participates in an Eminent Person Study to fulfill components of English and Socials curriculum. As well, the project’s culmination in the Night of the Notables, where our grade ten students (the class is almost evenly divided between grade nine &  ten gifted students who attend our school from all over the district) become their studied people and answer questions in a 30 minute wine-and-cheese style banquet, and then deliver brief addresses – remaining in character – on any aspect of their eminence or life for peers and parents, as well as friends, teachers, administrators and the odd school board trustee.

Needless to say it is a big night, and one of the rites of passage in our two-year program (along with the class’ Fall Retreat, In-Depth Study and Adventure Trip) that calls upon our students to truly explore their potential in the face of hesitation, fear or momentary lapses in confidence. As with these other keystone hallmarks of the program, the Night of the Notables dates back to the original incarnation of gifted education in our district – a locally developed curriculum I was lucky enough to be a part of in 1994-1996 – and the resources handed down to our classroom: yellowed pages of brimming binders, contain programs for the evening dating back to the early 1980’s.

In my own participation in the project, I remember my own teacher going into detail as to the importance of the young women in our class studying eminent females, citing the lack of Herstory (a term I was hearing for the first time at fourteen) in our classrooms and media and a handout I photocopied yesterday.

But since I have been teaching the program – the last three years – I have noticed an increasing fervour around the notion of females wishing to study men. Though a certain amount of this has much to do with the gulf of understanding that exists between any adult and teenager (where each believes they are acting reasonably and rationally, and yet comes across to the other as someone born quite literally yesterday, without prior experience in human interaction),  I marvel at the energy with which their opposition to studying eminence along gender lines grows.

This year there are four students (out of 28) wishing to study eminent people of the opposite sex; three females wishing to study men, and a young man wanting to study a female. In my estimation it is the highest number yet.

Knowing that a good many female students historically faced with the prospect of studying a historical person will (reflexively?) select a male is a matter of historical authorship than a lack of female accomplishment, I generally approach such ambitions by proposing that the student make a case for the person in question as the best available choice.

Criteria arrises out of many things: chiefly, the potential to teach the student about the world, the nature of giftedness, and achievement based on one’s own individual measurement of success. Even in other cases – if I feel a student’s choice is arbitrary, or hastily made – I follow a similar line of questioning. But gender, as an identifying characteristic and means by which our society continues to intrinsically marginalize women, remains a major factor in the selection process.  The research on this is extensive, and it is astounding on many levels that nearly every female in my class (with any prediliction for debate) so vehemently opposez the recognition of different cultural expectations for women.

It could be a matter of age, my teaching partner and I agree. As does The Happy Feminist, who blogs:

Back when I was an adolescent, I militated against the idea that the lack of female role models in certain disciplines is a problem for young girls.  I felt vaguely insulted at the notion that I was expected to identify only with people of the same sex as I.  At thirteen, when I had to write an essay about my role models, I made a point of including Leonardo da Vinci as well as Elizabeth I.   I felt that there was no reason I shouldn’t be just as inspired by or identify just as strongly with a man of achievement as a woman of achievement.

And so inevitably I am “pitched” female studies of the likes of Walt Disney, Marilyn Manson or Charles Darwin, and have yet to rule against the students’ final decisions, one way or the other.  Merely, I make a practice of asking the students wishing to cross the gender line demonstrate passion for their choice in writing or conversation, a description of one of the following:

  • A letter or essay outlining the student’s choice as the only acceptable person worth studying; or
  • A list of five people of the student’s gender who could be considered members of the same field as the original selection, and why they are unacceptable for study. 

I tell them to enter such discussions knowing that I will be supporting the women on their lists because I believe it is important for them to have strong female role models. And yet  a group of a dozen or so (most of whom have no vested interest in the cause as they are studying members of their own sex, but who – as do nearly all of my gifted wonders – rabidly devour any and all topics of debate and argument at all times) hang around until four debating the motivations and underpinnings of my seemingly Draconian and arbitrary regulation.

But it is not all so bad. I tell them that in the end the choice is theirs; I only want them to make their decision with consideration of as much surrounding information as they can, and to make the one true to themselves. Sometimes it even works out.

Resources for Seeking (Female) Eminence

Women’s International Centre | Biography Index – Women’s International Center [WIC] was founded in 1982 as a non-profit education and service foundation [501c3] with the mission to ‘acknowledge, honor, encourage and educate women’. Since its inception WIC has fulfilled its purpose in many ways. Beginning in 1983 the LIVING LEGACY AWARDS began to ACKNOWLEDGE, HONOR and ENCOURAGE WOMEN.

Canadian Mathematical Society | Women’s Biographies – Many biographies of women mathematicians may be found at the extensive History of Mathematics collection, at St Andrews University, Scotland. Others (many modern) are listed at the Women Mathematicians Project, at Agnes Scott College, U.S.A. 4000 Years of Women in Science lists several women mathematicians (with photos). A few biographies of women mathematicians have been published in mathNEWS, the University of Waterloo Faculty of Mathematics student newspaper. A text called Math Odyssey 2000 by Clem Falbo for a liberal arts course provides a few others. For a print listing, see Biographies of Women Mathematical Scientists and History of Women in Mathematical Sciences from the Women in Math Project (directed by Marie Vitulli). Another list: Distinguished Women of Past and Present: Mathematics, a collection by Danuta Bois. 

The Collective Biographies of Women –  This is an exhaustive annotated bibliography of the more than 930 books published in English (in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere in the Anglophone world) between 1830 and 1940 that collect three or more women’s biographies. Two selective chronological bibliographies feature all-female collective biographies published before 1830 and after 1940 (the list is exhaustive through 1950). These books, written by more men than women, feature a surprising range of historical, legendary, literary, or biblical subjects, of many ages and lands and many kinds of achievement.

 Know of any resources that would be of further use to this discussion? Add the tag eminentperson to any Delicious bookmarks to share!

What is School's Job?

Nabokov“So here we have three different worlds—three men, ordinary men who have different realities— a world completely different from the rest since the most objective words tree, road, flower, sky, barn, thumb, rain have, in each, totally different subjective connotations.  Indeed, this subjective life is so strong that it makes an empty and broken shell of the so-called objective existence.  The only way back to objective reality is the following one: we can take these several individual worlds, mix them thoroughly together, scoop up a drop of that mixture, and call it objective reality.  We may taste in it a particle of madness if a lunatic passed through that locality, or a particle of complete and beautiful nonsense if a man has been looking at a lovely field and imagining upon it a lovely factory producing buttons or bombs; but on the whole these mad particles would be diluted in the drop of objective reality that we hold up to the light in our test tube.  Moreover, this objective reality will contain something that transcends optical illusions and laboratory tests.  It will have elements of poetry, of lofty emotion, of energy and endeavor (and even here the button king may find his rightful place), of pity, pride, passion—and the craving for a thick steak at the recommended roadside eating place. So when we say reality, we are really thinking of all this—in one drop—an average sample of a mixture of a million individual realities.”

Nabokov’s Metamorphosis

In teaching social studies I marvel at the simple yet powerful notion of democracy, as it allows the expression of each of our subjective opinions in within Nabokov’s “one drop.” I revel at the opportunity to teach the act of communication, and be a member of a global, professional body of individuals whose goal is the exercising of the above-described ‘objectivity.’

For Nabokov’s objectivity to be realized though is to realize the paradox of Einstein’s relativity (one degree of separation between Nabokov & Einstein: a productive Monday morning!): the more we know about the object’s speed, the less accurately we know its location, and visa versa. Any definition we seek – for Truth in the religious sense, to the tenor of our elected officials and the implementation of our education systems – must be constantly reevaluated, recalibrated and ready at every moment to be torn down to make way for the New.

In the above vein, I hereby open this blog to the ongoing discussion of the question which fuels the pursuit of Educational Truth, and provides the title of this post: What is School’s Job?

A few answers in the form of an initial “Best of the Web” style posting:

A. Literacy 

·         McSweeny’s Syllabus: Writing for Non-Readers in a Post-Print Era

·         The Elements of Style Turns 50

·         21stCentury Literacies and the Direction of our Schools

·         Qu’est que c’est? Diigo

·         How the e-Book will change the way we read and write

B. Creativity

·         Sir Ken Robinson says Schools Kill Creativity

·         Tim Brown links Creativity and Play

·         Genius = Creativity

C. University?

·         Globe and Mail is Skeptical about Students being College-Ready

·         Japanese Pre-Schoolers Experience Exam Hell

·         You Talkin’ to Me? High Schools not doing their job

D. Represent & Maintain Culture

·         Technology Generation Gap: Gen Y vs. The Boomers

·         Network Education @ Golden Swamp

·         Jeff Utecht on the Culture of Availability

·         Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

·         Book ATM Changes Face of Book Buying

·         The Georgia Straight on Artists’ Copyrights

·         Dave Eggers on Public Schools