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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, September 26, 2010

New Haven Institute, National Seminars, and White House STEM Report

There is news about the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute and the work of its FellowsVolumes of curriculum units from national seminars are also available.

In addition, a Report to the President on K-12 STEM Education, released by the White House, cites the Teachers Institute in the following way (on pages 101-102 of the pre-publication version of the full report):

"A variety of programs attempt to bridge the gaps between public schools and the STEM professional community, but not all such programs provide teachers and schools with resources that are useful in their classrooms. Nonetheless, several programs demonstrate the potential for such connections to benefit K-12 schools. For example, Teachers Institutes, which began in 1978 in New Haven and have since expanded to cities across the country, pair universities and school districts, allowing teachers to identify the topics on which they would like to collaborate. University professors then guide these teachers through inquiry-based learning in a STEM subject area. More recently, National Lab Day (described in Box 8-4) has linked STEM professionals with K-12 teachers and schools for projects and lab experiments using a technology-based matching service similar to that used for online dating. The United States is home to more than one million STEM professionals over age 60, many of whom have retired and could constitute a vast cadre of volunteers for K-12 schools. It is important that we find way to harness these sources of partnership and expertise in a committed, sustained way relevant to K-12 teachers and students."
. . .

A July 10 post to this blog contained news of Congressional legislation to create a grants program to establish Teachers Institutes in states throughout the country, modeled after the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute®.

Online is some background on recognition over a 30-year period for the Teachers Institute approach.

7:57 am edt 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Science Saturdays: October 2, 9, 16

Science Saturdays resume at Yale on October 2.  Ainissa Ramirez is the faculty member who directs this series of public lectures.

9:10 am edt 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Organizing Schools for Improvement

I recently read Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, whose authors identify five “essential supports” or “ingredients” for successful school reform.  From effective leadership to the learning climate, from curriculum and instruction to a school's ties to parents and the community, these factors are interrelated and interact.  Among them is “professional capacity.”

1:07 pm edt 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Constitution Day, 1787 and 2010

Yesterday, Yale University recognized Constitution Day, with information about resources including lectures by Yale Law School graduates on the First Amendment and the media and on campaign finance law.

Robert Burt of the Law School faculty has led Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute seminars, local and national, on subjects such as the Supreme Court in American political history.

12:53 am edt 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11: Remembering and Reclaiming the Day

The Christian Science Monitor as well as the New Haven Independent covered yesterday’s celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a holiday with resonance for my wife, who warmly remembers many such occasions with her family and friends.  (This year we were not able to participate in an Eid gathering, but it’s a cultural tradition to which she plans to return.)  The coincidence of Eid this year with events to remember victims of the September 11th attacks has led some Muslims to mute or at least more publicly explain their celebrations and has increased non-Muslims' awareness of Islam.

Susan Campbell's Hartford Courant column describes the “intersection of the feast of Eid (the end of Ramadan), the Sabbath of Repentance (the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and the anniversary of 9/11.” West Hartford Rabbi Debra Cantor will mark these occasions “by sharing her pulpit at… Congregation B'Nai Shalom with Aida Mansoor… a board member of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut and a member of the Connecticut Council for Interreligious Understanding.” Today, “the women will share holy texts and teachings about fasting as Jews prepare for their Day of Atonement, and Muslims celebrate the end of their holy month of Ramadan.”

In Nicholas Kristof’s Times column on "The Healers of 9/11," he praises the activism of two September 11 widows who are supporting advancement for Afghan women.  He writes, "Will all of this turn Afghanistan into a peaceful country? Of course not. Education and employment are not panaceas. But the record suggests that schools and economic initiatives do tend over time to chip away at fundamentalism -- and they're also cheap."

. . .

Today is the ninth anniversary of September 11, 2001.  Having been on 26th Street in Manhattan that morning when the World Trade Center towers were attacked a few miles to the south, I have reflected each year since on that experience – and in memory of the victims and their families.

This year, the sobering anniversary of that horrific occasion includes an affirmatively happy event: the wedding of a friend of mine and his bride, a journalist who has reported for years from places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan (after they met in Russia).  

Her reporting has included, for example, a May 2009 article on madrasas, Pakistan's Islamic Schools Fill Void, but Fuel Militancy .  She wrote: "Pakistan's poorest families have turned to Islamic schools that feed and house children while pushing a militant brand of Islam."  The article noted that "only about half of Pakistanis can read and write, far below the proportion in countries with similar per-capita income, like Vietnam. One in three school-age Pakistani children does not attend school, and of those who do, a third drop out by fifth grade.”  Education of girls is especially deficient.

The wedding today represents the enduring power of reason, tolerance, freedom and love as a counter to violent hatred.  Let’s toast the couple's marriage, and the work she has done to illuminate our world– its dangers, its frailties, its humanity, its hopes.
. . .

In November 1990, another journalist reporting from Pakistan wrote about Afghanistan...

"Praise Allah and pass the ammunition: As Moscow and Washington try to end the Afghan War, the mujeheddin turn up the heat" in U.S. News & World Report:

"Rebel commander Massoud Ahmed Shah trekked back to...Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley last week after conquering Islamabad. The best known and least seen of the mujeheddin warriors, who claims to control a 1,000-mile-long swath of territory along the Soviet border from China to Iran, was received like a head of state on his first visit to Pakistan since the Afghan War began. Everyone from the President and Army chief to the American ambassador took time off from Pakistan's political machinations to hear his warning: Don't gamble away the gains of our 12-year war.… 'An Afghan settlement is bound to be a messy process that could take years,' notes a U.S. negotiator. The State Department likes to compare Afghanistan to Cambodia, where the United Nations Security Council subscribed to a peace formula a year before it was accepted by the warring parties. Yes, but. A senior U.S. official concedes that 'Afghanistan makes Cambodia look easy.'"

More than a decade later, in a New York Times article published the morning of September 11, 2001, the attempted assassination (later confirmed) of that same military commander Ahmed Shah Massoud was discussed; reports initially disagreed on whether he was dead.  In retrospect, Massoud’s killing was linked to the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.
. . . 

Finally, an excerpt of 2008 recollections, posted on this blog:

"On September 11, 2001, I was on Manhattan's West 26th Street when the planes struck the World Trade Center just a few miles downtown.  Astonished concern soon turned to horror upon news of the second, third, and eventually fourth planes.  As we left our offices by mid-morning, the smell of explosive chemical fire and spread of dust were becoming evident.  By nature a fast walker, I sped with particular vigor uptown to meet my girlfriend at the landmark location we'd hastily arranged by phone: Zabar's on Broadway, just north of H & H.  (She was evacuating the Citigroup Tower in midtown, which seemed a plausible terrorist target.)  It wasn't the comfort of bagels and lox but merely a familiar rendezvous we were seeking.  We didn't have cell phones, and land lines were rapidly failing, too.  So Zabar's it was.

The experiences of those initial hours were surreal, as the magnitude of the attacks and their impact emerged, the human losses strained imagination, and we worried about what might come next.  Some memories remain vivid.  The next day's newspaper included photographs of people leaping to certain death to flee the flaming towers.  Posters with pictures of missing people were everywhere.  Shrines grew to honor fallen firefighters.  We explicitly thanked the police officers patrolling the streets.  The stir of helicopter surveillance overhead could be heard for nights to come. Images of the American flag roused a sentimental patriotism, immune to efforts by politicians -- then and since -- to exploit the attacks to divert attention from our national insecurities.

In some measure I will forever be a New Yorker, even years after returning to my home state of Connecticut.  Peace to those families who lost loved ones . . . years ago.  Those of us who walked away from the shock of September 11 will always remember it and them.  In living there is greater purpose, to savor our days and try to help make the sober brutalities of the world a little less brutal."

5:41 am edt 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Recognizing and Defusing Bigotry Toward Muslims

Today a New York Times article, “American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?  ” notes that “The furor over a proposed center near ground zero has many worried about their place in American society…. The great mosque debate seems to have unleashed a flurry of vandalism and harassment directed at mosques: construction equipment set afire at a mosque site in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; a plastic pig with graffiti thrown into a mosque in Madera, California; teenagers shooting outside a mosque in upstate New York” – a troubling flare of ignorance-fueled hostility.

Connecticut 18-year-old Tasmia Khan wrote in a September 1 Hartford Courant opinion piece about bigotry she encountered while volunteering at a hospital and wearing a headscarf.  A practicing Muslim and a daughter of immigrants from Bangladesh, she asserted: “Across America, Islamophobic hate speech and political grandstanding have painted Muslims antagonistically, creating deep negative impressions among those who do not know Muslims personally. We need to change that and promote peace. The work could start here in Connecticut with more schools, colleges and institutions making a commitment to diversity and organizing events that promote ethnic, religious and racial tolerance.”

Yale faculty member Zareena Grewal, in an August 23 Huffington Post piece, lamented: “What alarms me most is the way misinformation about Islam and Muslims, and in many cases hateful disinformation, dominates the media coverage…. I wish more Americans would reconsider what they think they know about Muslims and Islam, interrogating why they think they know it and who they take as an expert.”

Interfaith Youth Core and 100 People of Faith are two promising organizations.

Eboo Patel of Interfaith Youth Core spoke at a September 2008 Ramadan dinner at Yale, where encouraging cross-cultural developments include the Slifka Center for Jewish Life’s hosting of an 'iftar' break-fast dinner during Ramadan days ago.

8:43 am edt 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Reading, Writing, and Rigor in High Schools--and Before

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post recently featured commentary by Will Fitzhugh on her blog, The Answer Sheet.

Earlier this year, her Post colleague Jay Mathews cited Will Fitzhugh and the Concord Review in a column on encouraging reading of non-fiction in high schools.

A December 3, 2009 post to this blog quoted Jay Mathews in his November 19, 2009 article on "High School Research Papers: A Dying Breed":

"The leading U.S. proponent of more research work for the nation’s teens is Will Fitzhugh, who has been publishing high school student papers in his Concord Review journal since 1987."

. . .

A couple of years ago, I attempted to sketch "The Roots of Rigor: Early Learning, Reading, Teacher Quality" -- since to demand radically more from most high-school students without their being further motivated, supported, and prepared in earlier years would be a limited strategy.  Higher expectations at home, at school, and from the community must not begin only when students are adolescents, even if we can do better by students -- and students themselves can do better -- wherever they may now be.

7:13 am edt 

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