Saturday, May 24, 2008

All The World ... in the Classroom?

The NY Times had an interesting article about schools that are focusing on a "global" education. They are talking way beyond cultural exchanges, diversity night or internationally themed schools.

From the article:

"But the high-performing Herricks school district here in Nassau County, whose student body is more than half Asian, is taking globalization to the graduate level, integrating international studies into every aspect of its curriculum.

A partnership with the Foreign Policy Association has transformed a high-school basement into a place where students produce research papers on North Korea’s nuclear energy program or the Taliban’s role in the opium trade. English teachers have culled reading lists of what they call “dead white men” (think Hawthorne and Hemingway) to make space for Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-rae Lee and Khaled Hosseini. Gifted fifth graders learn comparative economics by charting the multinational production of a pencil and representing countries in a mock G8 summit.

Starting this year, every sixth grader at Herricks Middle School is required to take art in French, Spanish, Italian or Chinese, a dual-language approach that the school is considering expanding to gym as well. Preparing to create a Haitian-style painting in one French/art class last week, the students reviewed indigenous plants and wildlife in photos of Haitian rainforests and beaches projected onto a screen."

Exciting and problematic. Exciting because it is pushing kids to learn geography, to learn about economics and international trade and having one subject all in another language seems an interesting idea. However, the "dead white men" literature doesn't have to be entirely pushed aside. I've seen some of this happening at both Eckstein and Roosevelt and I hope we don't lose a lot by trying to expand horizons.

We had this as a bit of an issue in the recent debate of AP Human Geography at Roosevelt. There was concern over students not getting enough Western Civilization study in favor of a bigger global emphasis.

This perked my interest:

"The global outlook at Herricks comes amid an $8.4 million investment by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others in a nationwide campaign by Asia Society to create new public schools with an integrated global focus; 10 have opened since 2004, including two in New York, and up to 30 more are expected by 2013."

I wonder if one school might be considered for Seattle. Maybe a Board member could find out.

Also from the article:

"During a social studies lesson last week about rebuilding the South during Reconstruction, Neepa Shah asked her fifth-grade students, “Where else in the world did people feel like they were not heard?”

“Kenya,” one boy said.

Just like that, an American history lesson morphed into one about modern problems facing an African nation trying to rebuild after tumultuous elections. Ms. Shah called up a map of Kenya on her computer screen and pushed students to delve ever deeper into the comparison. “We’re looking at this through the lens of what we just learned in our own history,” she told her students."

Of course this kind of change is never without disagreement:

"While many parents support the approach, some have expressed concern that as the district teaches about world cultures, no particular one should be emphasized over another. Those parents boycotted a fund-raising dinner-dance for adults held by the Parent Teacher Association last year because they believed its theme of “A Whole New World” from the Disney movie, “Aladdin,” complete with belly dancers, was overly focused on Eastern culture.

Other parents worried when school officials decided in 2005 that teaching about different religions had to be part of its efforts to investigate world issues. It was a significant shift for a district that was the subject of a important Supreme Court decision in 1962 overturning school prayer.

“I don’t remember anyone saying Pandora’s box, but it was like that, people saying, ‘I think it’s a good idea but I’m nervous,’ ” Mr. Bierwirth said."


Maya said...

We parents are the ones who stand in the way of a more relevant global education for our kids. Those who express dismay about emphasizing "world cultures" in school curricula are simply ignorant about the world our children will be inhabiting in the years ahead. We cannot expect the education we had to prepare our students for the integrated global economy in which they will live and work.

Schools like the ones mentioned in this post are but one solution--sadly, there are too few to have a significant impact and there is too much resistance (largely from parents) to assure that they will be multiplied to the degree needed.

Savvy parents have already figured out that they must take responsibility for their kids' global education.

That's the subject of the book I'm writing for Random House, due in spring of 2009. For more info, visit http://www.TheWorldIsYourCampus.com

TechyMom said...

This sounds like a really interesting program, mostly because it allows students to explore similarities and difference between different times and places, and to follow an intellectual thread. However, I think we need to understand the role that "dead white men" have had in shaping the world in which we now live. Africa, Asia, and America for that matter, would be very different places without colonialism. Regardless of whether you regard this as good or bad (and I would say it's some of both) any curiculum that ignores it is distorting reality.

Surely there's room in 7 years of middle + high school to read both Hemmingway and Hosseini? Perhaps students could compare some of the similarities between the war zones that both describe, much as was done with Reconstruction and Kenya...

Dorothy Neville said...

I have nothing against my kid learning world history and cultures and resent the sort of folks that suggest that I do. (Hence, I will not be one purchasing Maya Frost's book.)

What I find dismaying is the watered downedness of it all. There isn't room to include dead white men because they hardly do any work at any depth at all.

My 9th grader in World History was just learning about the Middle East, including the formation of Israel. He claims that the formation of Israel was discussed without ANY mention of Europe, WWII or the Holocaust.

Most of their study of the Middle East consisted of the students creating travel brochures of the various countries and regions listing such things as climate and cuisine and attractions.

This "savvy parent" has indeed already figured out that I must take responsibility for my kid's global education.

Maya said...

Ah, see, taking offense doesn't help. :-) In fact, that's the problem. We (all of us) need to step back and look at the big picture. When I say "we parents" I am speaking of the general population, and it's absolutely true that parents are the ones pushing the curriculum direction in schools in the US, in many cases by refusing to accept a more international curriculum in favor of pure rigor (hence the popularity of the AP program versus the IB program, which is met with resistance from those who fear greater emphasis on international topics). Yes, we can incorporate ideas and authors from other cultures--but not when parents show up at the principal's office demanding courses that are more "American". Nobody is saying we should ignore the "dead white men"--but plenty of folks are saying we should ignore everything else. So, yes, take responsibility for your son or daughter's global education, but don't stop there--join the voices in your district that are encouraging a more global approach in your local schools.

anonymous said...

I have absolutely no problem with my child learning about world cultures and world issues. In fact I love that schools offer such a broad global perspective. My son can tell you all about the Darfur genocide, the lost boys of Africa, and many other current global events.

But I also want him to learn US history, which in elementary school was a joke. It isn't on the WASL so it wasn't taught. I had to teach my child who the first president of the US was, what the Declaration of Independence was, what the Constitution is, what the Boston Tea party was and why it happened, about the civil war, the cuban missile crisis, WWI and WWII, etc, etc, etc. It wasn't until an honors class in 7th grade that they touched a bit on US history, but it was treated as a whirlwind 2 month topic in an honors social studies class.

So, no I don't mind my child's schools having an international focus, but I would like it to be in addition to, not instead of US history.

Maya said...

You are absolutely right. I think the bigger issue here is not which authors to read or which era of history/area of the world to study, but how to incorporate as much as possible given the constraints. When more emphasis is placed on math and reading, history tends to get short shrift or is watered down and turned into, as Dorothy mentioned, more of a tourist approach rather than a more relevant understanding of the culture. How do we teach about the whole world--and do it well--with so many competing categories worthy of our attention? Well, there are several ways to do this, but they require (as we're seeing here) a commitment by parents who are taking it upon themselves to teach their kids whatever is slipping through the cracks. It's far from ideal--what about the kids whose parents aren't willing/able to do this?--but it's a bandaid approach that many parents are relying upon at this point. The reality is that if you want your kids to develop a more global perspective, the single best thing you can do is send them abroad, preferably for a year when they are in high school. Lots of good brain-based reasons for this, but the bottom line is that your student's brain will be hardwired for langauge learning, flexibility, and a sense of ease in unfamiliar places. No need to spend a ton of money, either--there are excellent programs that cost less then $1500 for the entire year and give students a wonderful foundation for global awareness that will transform their perspective forever. Any exchange student--especially one with access to students from many other countries--will tell you that they learned more about the world during that one year than they did the rest of their life put together--and this is true even decades later! Of course, sending your high school student abroad for a year is not easy--it's not meant to be--but it is, hands down, the single best option for an outrageously relevant global education. Going abroad in college? Good. But it doesn't hold a candle to spending the same amount of time abroad at a more malleable age. Unfortunately, a lot of parents are worried about their students getting off track by spending their junior year of high school abroad, so they are reluctant to pick this option. They need to know that not only are students able to "catch up" with their peers but that are actually catapulted forward both academically and personally by spending a year abroad.

anonymous said...

I'm sorry, I just don't buy into your theory regarding what it takes to teach kids about the whole world "a commitment by parents who are taking it upon themselves to teach their kids whatever is slipping through the cracks." What else can we give schools a pass on? What else can they elect not to teach? It is the schools responsibility to teach US History, and teach it in a relevant, meaningful way.

Sure, I fill in the holes for my kid as best I can. Not everyone can do that, and that's what stinks about your comment. I do what I can at home and take every opportunity to teach what I can, but it is piece mealed at best. If we watch a biography on Abraham Lincoln we talk about the US presidents. When we see a documentary on WWI we talk about WWI. When he has a book report due in school where he can use any topic, I encourage him to pick a book on The Boston Tea Party or some other topic of relevance. But, again, my efforts are piece mealed. This should be taught in school following a curriculum.

We can't and shouldn't rely on parents to do the schools job. On the same note, we shouldn't rely on schools to do parents jobs .

Maya said...

Yes, it IS the school's responsibility (in a perfect world), but when kids don't learn what we hope they will learn, parents are put in the position of having to do the best they can to supplement.

Other countries around the world are ascending in terms of both education and economic power PRECISELY because the parents are supplementing the school curriculum with other kinds of academic programs and learning at home. It's not that their schools are necessariy superior--it's that they have a stronger commitment to education outside of the classroom. Watch the documentary "Two Million Minutes" to learn more.

Listen, I'm a parent of four kids who attended public schools, and I know what it's like to feel frustrated by what is not covered in schools but I also understand that it's my job to step in when something's missing.

Obviously, we can and must voice our concerns, but we are misguided if we think that the schools will EVER provide all of the educational opportunities our kids will need to thrive in the future. While we're fighting over whether our kids should learn about the Boston Tea Party in elementary school, parents in other countries are making sure their kids know all about it AND all about their own country's history as well--and it's not considered a hardship but a chance to engage their kids in meaningful learning experiences.

Maureen said...

I feel the need to point out here that Maya Frost lives in Buenos Aires and knows absolutely nothing about public schools in Seattle.

If she did, she would know that Seattle has enthusiatically embraced IB programs and multilingual immersion schools. That the issue with World History followed by World Geography at RHS is in large part an issue of reduced rigor, not purely content. That the issue of content arises because the WA state EALRS (does she know what those are?) require a certain amount of European and North American content by 10th grade.

She is assuming, based on no real experience or knowledge, that the parents in Seattle are reacting to the same issues in the same way as parents in Skokie (or wherever).

She certainly doesn't seem to be aware that the focus of this blog is Seattle Public Schools and that we all spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out how we can provide quality educations for all of Seattle's children, not just our own. In any event, her book appears to promote international travel, not deal in any substantial way with curriculum requirements. I think I'll be skipping this thread from now on--I feel like she is marketing not discussing.

hschinske said...

"I feel the need to point out here that Maya Frost lives in Buenos Aires and knows absolutely nothing about public schools in Seattle."

As Josh Billings remarked, "I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than tew know what ain't so." Surely that's always apposite when it comes to global education?

Helen Schinske

Maya said...

(Moderator--please don't block me!)
Thank you so much for the discussion. I am very sorry if I offended readers here.

I was directed to this blog by a former Seattle student (now a professor at a university in South Korea) and a member of a group of Seattle educators/parents with whom I have been corresponding. It was not my intention to promote the book--instead, I hoped to get a read on things for myself as the group has expressed frustration with what they see as a "provincial" attitude among some parents in the Seattle school district. I appreciate getting a chance to be part of this thread.

For the record, I spent over 30 years in the Pacific Northwest, graduated from U of Puget Sound, my mother still lives in Seattle as do numerous relatives, so I'm not completely ignorant about the issues in your area. In addition, I am profiling two former Seattle students in my book so I felt it would be good for me to read this blog on occasion, as I do with education blogs in other cities across the US.

I am sorry if my presence here has been unwelcome.

Best to you all.

Dorothy Neville said...

LOL! that's just it, you weren't being offensive. More like irritating. And now apologizing for being offensive shows you still don't get it. I'd explain but Maureen and Helen explained it very well in a way accessible to anyone with strong critical thinking skills.

Maya said...

Wow. And to think that I questioned those who suggested that some Seattle parents were harshly critical rather than open to viewpoints beyond their own perspectives! Thanks for providing a very clear example. Good luck to you all--and to your children.