Friday, August 26, 2011

"Do you care?"

We had a diversity PD day this week with illustrator E.B. Lewis as one of the speakers. He told some stories about his early life and struggles in school. A couple of things really stood out to me. First was his statement, "My trademark is hugging." There is someone hugging in every one of his books.

The emphasis of his whole talk was on caring. He told a story of speaking at a middle school assembly of around 400 students. He asked the students at the beginning of his talk if they cared. He said that only about 50 students raised their hands. He went on to explain what he meant about caring and having a purpose in life. He asked again and had the same hands. Unfortunately he did not share what the rest of his speech was about but based on what he shared with us I would assume it was his life story.

At the end of his speaking to the students he asked again, "Do you care?" Everyone that he could see raised their hand. Then he made the statement that really hit home with me:

"Hopefully, I saved a life that day."

Think about the power of that for a minute. Saving a life. He was only there one day. We get students for a whole year. We have a great opportunity in front of us every day.

I feel very good about my #1 goal for the year: love students.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Goals for the Year

Ok so I have a new job at a new school (Kent Innovation High) at a new level (high school) teaching a new subject (world history) in a new style (PBL) while part of a team implementing new assessment methods (standards based assessment) as part of the New Tech Network. I am basically creating all of my curriculum from scratch (which I love!) without a textbook.

With so many changes I have been thinking about all of this and what I want to focus on in my first year at this school. Here are my goals:

  1. Love students-I want to get to know my students as individuals: their strengths, weaknesses, and passions. My curriculum is never as important as they are.
  2. Help students love each other-I want my room to be a place where students are safe and encourage each other. True collaboration will be when students support each other.
  3. Love of learning-I want students to enjoy learning for the sake of learning.
  4. Serving-I want my students to care about the world and want to make a difference in it NOW.
If I can accomplish these four things I will know I have had a GREAT year!

What are your goals for the 2011-12 school year?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

PBL challenges students to think, then do.

I wrote a short article for the Grand Rapids Press today explaining/defending Problem Based Learning. It was in response to a commenter ripping PBL and innovation in the classroom. I think it is important for all of us to promote authentic learning at the local level whenever we get the chance. If you are interested in PBL check it out.

If you are coming to this blog from the article please check out this post about Personalized, Passionate Learning to learn more about my philosophy of learning.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What do you know about the history of the Congo?

I have been doing a lot of reading this summer preparing for my World History class this fall. Here is what I have read so far:

As you can see it was focused on indigenous peoples, imperialism, and the effects of it. I also watched the excellent documentary The Canary Effect.

But my most recent book has been the most disturbing to me. How much do you know about the killing that happened in the Congo from 1890-1920? Conservative estimates put the number of Africans killed at least 10 million or over half of the population. 

I must confess that I knew nothing about this before I started reading King Leopold’s Ghost . Everyone knows about the Holocaust but this history is mostly ignored. This book disturbed me on many levels: the cruelty of the Europeans toward Africans, the racism, brutality, torture, rape, and forced labor. But this book also presents "heroes" who fought against the evil acts of the Europeans. But even the "good guys" are flawed often criticizing the Belgians but ignoring the same imperialistic acts being perpetrated by their own country (Britain and the United States) against other indigenous peoples around the world. The Africans are not totally innocent either as many of them worked as soldiers for the Europeans committing terrible crimes against their own people or neighboring tribes. It was also very disturbing to me that I had never heard of these events before and I know that most Americans know nothing about it.
Africans cut off hands of people murdered to prove that they did not "waste" ammunition on animals by Gastev
I find myself a bit depressed by this book (but I highly recommend it). The more I research and learn about the history of the world I find it is full of powerful, greedy people who abuse others and endless wars. Evidence of corruption, bribery, and coverup is in every government. The United States often pretends to act for democracy and "the common good" from a moral perspective, but when the truth comes out money, power, and personal advantage in the world are the true motivations of its actions. 

Mankind never seems to learn from its mistakes and disease, poverty, wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocide continue to this day. Meanwhile the wealthy hiding behind multi-national companies build their wealth while the poor fight their battles in the name of democracy.

The only redeeming people seem to be outside of the government working for missions or human rights organizations. I want to give students a positive view of the future, but the patterns seem eternal to me. The best I may be able to give them is the power of a few strong voices to bring change. Certainly the United States has improved its treatment of many people over time but there is still much work to be done. How do you balance the truth with a positive view of the future?