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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pursuing “Excellence with Equity,” Overcoming “Stalled Progress”

A July 2008 post  noted a book by Ronald F. Ferguson, Toward Excellence with Equity: An Emerging Vision for Closing the Achievement Gap.  Among numerous other publications, a decade earlier he wrote two of the chapters – on teachers and schools – in a related 1998 book (Jencks and Phillips, editors).

This weekend I finished reading Steady Gains and Stalled Progress (Magnuson and Waldfogel, editors), to which Ronald Ferguson contributed the concluding chapter.

He “expect[s] that the focus of attention concerning schools over the next decade will shift. Like high-performance organizations in the private sector, the driving goal will need to be quality improvement at the point of production.” He continues, “To produce more high-performance schools, I expect a closer focus on issues of teacher selection and retention and on the identification, refinement and implementation of effective instructional practices. These will require stronger school cultures and leadership, supported by public policies that allocate resources with these purposes in mind.”

Summing up examination of such factors as early learning, school desegregation, parenting, culture, economic inequality, and teaching quality, Ronald Ferguson writes:

“The chapters in this volume do not explicitly articulate any particular menu of activities for raising achievement and closing gaps. . . . Nonetheless, they implicate all of the following as ways of raising achievement levels and of reducing the likelihood that future progress will stall as often as it otherwise might:

  • augment family resources, including but not limited to income, in ways that strengthen capacities for successful parenting  
  • avoid isolating children of any racial group in schools that serve only others like themselves
  • avoid or offset huge income inequities
  • provide children with competent and caring teachers who are willing to work hard
  • help young people cope with social forces that might distort their judgment and support young people’s efforts to cooperate and behave in ways that enable themselves and others to learn
  • strengthen early learning environments to equip children with social, emotional, cognitive, and noncognitive skills that support kindergarten readiness
  • connect children with adults and other youth who will care for them as part of an extended, nurturing community.”
  • 7:54 pm est 

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Michelle Obama, "Let's Move" toward Better Health

    A report by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, available at www.countyhealthrankings.org, rates counties nationally  for their “health outcomes and health factors and also for the four different types of health factors: health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and the physical environment.” A February 17 Hartford Courant article by Arielle Levin Becker pointed to the report’s Connecticut findings. 

    Residents of New Haven County fare the second worst and those in Windham County score the lowest on various health measures, including rates of premature death, teen births, smoking, obesity and environmental quality. 

    . . .

    Nutrition, exercise, and obesity among young people are major concerns Michelle Obama is highlighting, with coverage from the NYT: “Childhood Obesity Battle Is Taken Up by First Lady .”  The campaign is called "Let's Move."   There is also “A Federal Effort to Push Junk Food Out of Schools.”

    The First Lady will be teaming with an interagency federal advisory task force President Obama is appointing to make “recommendations to meet the following objectives: (a) ensuring access to healthy, affordable food; (b) increasing physical activity in schools and communities; (c) providing healthier food in schools; and d) empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.”

    . . .

    New Haven Public School teachers, as Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Fellows, in recent years have prepared curriculum units regarding insulin, metabolism, diabetes, cardiovascular health, fitness, and nutrition, among many other topics.  Fellows developed these units in seminars that Yale faculty members W. Mark Saltzman and William B. Stewart led. 

    Mark Saltzman’s New Haven and national seminars have addressed "Health and the Human Machine,"  "Engineering in Modern Medicine,"  "Nutrition, Metabolism, and Diabetes"  and “The Brain in Health and Disease.”

    Bill Stewart’s seminars have included "Depicting and Analyzing Data: Enriching Science and Math Curricula through Graphical Displays and Mapping," as well as “Anatomy and Art: How We See and Understand” and “How We Learn about the Brain.”

    A few examples of specific units are those by
    Marisa (Ferrarese) Asarisi, Sheila Martin-Corbin, Nicholas Perrone, and Chris Willems.
    . . .

    According to this Edutopia article, Baltimore’s new food service director Anthony “Geraci isn't simply changing food service. He's trying to reinvent it as an integrated, sustainable farm-to-fork enterprise, and his initiatives extend well beyond the traditional realm of school food-service director. He got the Great Kids Farm up, running, and selling produce through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project and a farmers' market. In July, he opened the first of three Great Kids Cafes, converting a bleak employee lunchroom at district headquarters into a plant-filled cafeteria dishing up organic foods from the farm. (The other cafés will be located downtown and open to the public.) Students work on, and eventually will run, all these projects through various programs that provide stipends, class credit, community-service hours, internships, or a combination. For the moment, the district's farm-grown food isn't delivered to school cafeterias. . . . the district has to follow very strict procurement policies -- such as moving food at a certain temperature -- in order for that to happen. The farm grows 20 or more varieties of tomatoes, five kinds of eggplant, and potatoes, beans, corn, squash, and herbs, as well as four types of berries, plus flowers for color and beauty. Students keep bees and have eight goats to clear the grass and chickens for fertilizer. They put in a pumpkin patch last fall and plan to plant an orchard. . . . Growing, processing, shipping, and preparing food -- particularly the kind Americans typically eat (and schools typically serve) -- requires huge amounts of energy and produces tons of waste: Animal agriculture contributes nearly one-fifth of the greenhouse-gas emissions . . . . 1 pound of beef generates the equivalent of 36 pounds of carbon dioxide, according to researchers. Long-distance produce hauling -- fruits and vegetables in the United States are transported an average of 1,500 miles -- emits greenhouse gases, spews diesel exhaust, and consumes fossil fuels.”

    . . .

    John Wargo, Professor of Environmental Risk Analysis and Policy and author of the recent book Green Intelligence, has led several Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminars.  For example, see volumes of curriculum units that public school teachers have developed as National Fellows:

    Energy, Climate, Environment

    Urban Environmental Quality and Human Health

    In a 2005 New Haven Institute seminar that Oswald Schmitz – like John Wargo a member of the Yale Environment School faculty – led on “Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation,” Fellows developed curriculum units including the following by Pedro Mendia-Landa (then a bilingual elementary school teacher and now supervisor of bilingual education for the New Haven district):

    Cycles of Life in an Urban Habitat: Changes in Biodiversity

    . . .

    Other resources include:








    10:19 pm est 

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Herbert Sturz: “A Kind of Genius” for Social Innovation

    Tonight I finished an inspiring book by Sam Roberts, A Kind of Genius: Herb Sturz and Society’s Toughest Problems (PublicAffairs, 2009).  Focused on the New York efforts of Sturz over five decades, the book traces the rise of the Vera Institute of Justice and numerous ancillary endeavors.  Working mostly along with but outside of government – except for major stints leading criminal justice policy and city planning during the mayoral administration of Edward Koch – Herbert Sturz was an accomplished social entrepreneur well before that term arose in common parlance.  His work continues as his eightieth birthday approaches.

    The subjects of the book resonate with current challenges in New York, New Haven, and around the country: from drug and prison policy to the re-entry of former prisoners to society; from unemployment and homelessness to worker training, housing, and economic development; from domestic violence and juvenile justice to national service and after-school learning.

    . . .

    Early in 2001, Herb Sturz – having helped to launch The After-School Corporation – spoke to a graduate school class on “The After-School Child” taught by Gil Noam.

    Months before, this op-ed piece discussed New Leaders for New Schools as an example of social entrepreneurship:

       2000 October 30 Boston Globe "Don't Mistake a Low Youth Vote for Apathy"

    11:00 pm est 

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