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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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Monday, February 28, 2011

Literacy Forum: Learning in the 21st Century, in Ways New and Old

Today the New Haven Independent published my account of a recent Literacy Forum on "21st Century Learning."  In the spirit of Howard Gardner's notion of a "synthesizing mind" (something he discusses in the first chapter of a 2010 collection of essays, 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn, treated in the article), the piece is an attempt to complement a recent presentation by the associate  commissioner for teaching, learning, and instructional leadership at Connecticut's Department of Education.  The article surveys some related literature and local literacy organizations.

This forum followed several prior such occasions, such as a spring 2010 Family Literacy Forum and fall 2009 forum, sponsored by the Literacy Coalition of Greater New Haven.

9:11 pm est 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Azim Premji and Education in India

Vikas Bajaj of the New York Times had an article the other day – “Skipping Rote Memorization in Indian Schools ” – on education transformation efforts that Wipro founder and major philanthropist Azim Premji is backing in India.

Last month, the Times quoted Premji in a Reuters article on how Wipro is "shaking up its outsourcing unit."

The BBC’s Soutik Biswas wrote a December 2010 post about Azim Premji's philanthropy in broader context.

This blog discussed aspects of education in India in a May 23, 2010 post.

8:12 am est 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Science Fairs, Science Education

School science fairs are underway in New Haven, in preparation for the annual city-wide science fair in May.  Working with teachers (of science and other subjects), having participated in these fairs several times as a judge, as the husband and son-in-law of scientists and grandson of an engineer, and as a parent and citizen, I have been interested to follow related developments.

Amid concerns about science proficiency, the New York Times reports that science fairs are struggling to survive budget constraints, even as their potential value is recognized among competing priorities.  Advanced Placement exams in biology (and soon, U.S. history among other subjects) are undergoing revision to emphasize larger concepts, fewer facts, and more analytical inquiry.

At the same time, home labs are growing, and technology is facilitating activities including the Google science fair and National Lab Day (now Network).

A 2010 Report to the President on K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education refers to National Lab Day and the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute among other resources.  The report includes in Recommendation 7-1 a call for “Local, statewide, and national STEM contests, including increasing the number of such contests, extending participation to more schools and communities, and supporting programs that prepare instructors and participants.”

That 2010 Report to the President  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. … 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 number of Teachers Institute Fellows have developed curriculum units to support their students’ development of New Haven science fair projects.  Examples include 1996 and 2005 units by Waltrina Kirkland-Mullins, a 2002 unit by Joseph Lewis, and a 2004 unit by Pedro Mendia-Landa.  These teachers developed their units in seminars led by Yale faculty members Sarbani Basu, Alessandro Gomez, Sabatino Sofia, and John Wargo  – who is also among the leaders of the Institute’s New Haven seminars for 2011.

A June 20, 2010 post to this blog addressed “Engineering in the Elementary and Secondary Grades.”

7:55 pm est 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Even Heroes Are Human: Gandhi, History, and Moral Ambiguity

The January 30 anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s assassination inspired these reflections, with photos from a December 2009 visit to a museum in New Delhi (see also blog posts from January 1 and January 15, 2010), and a series of comments including my own.

My aim in posting the brief reflections and the photos ["Gandhi's Legacy: To Strive for Peace"] was to encourage thinking about Gandhi and about history's relation to the present.  The comments of neighbors [on the New Haven Independent website] are appreciated.  They add to the modest scope of my original post and may help to generate further consideration -- in the spirit of historical inquiry -- of the complex, often contradictory and dynamic nature of humanity and of heroism.

Racial or ethnic prejudice is, unfortunately, a nearly universal problem.  Though fitfully easing, it remains pernicious.

We should be wary of absolutes, good or bad.  Ambiguity is sometimes as close as we come to truth.

*Was Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, a slave-holding hypocrite?

*Was Abraham Lincoln bigoted, despite evolution in his views and all he did to preserve the U.S. and counter slavery? 

*Did John F. Kennedy display reckless judgment in certain instances, as effectively as he managed the Cuban missile crisis?

*Did Lyndon Johnson's racial attitudes progress, and was he eventually pushed by Selma marchers and other civil rights activists to declare, in calling for the Voting Rights Act, that "we shall overcome"?  (Johnson's handling of the Vietnam War is another matter.) 

*Did Malcolm X return from Mecca with changed views and come to regret some of his earlier loyalties and statements? 

Many observers would say yes.  These men were figures of great historical significance.  We should study them, their accomplishments, their flaws, and the contexts in which they lived.

My personal opinions about all of these historical figures are mixed.  But the assassination of Gandhi -- like that of King, of (Robert as well as John) Kennedy, of Lincoln and of Malcolm X (not to mention Lumumba et al.) -- merits remembering. 

Martin Luther King and Barack Obama have regarded Gandhi as a hero.  W.E.B. Du Bois made this forecast: “It may well be that real human equality and brotherhood in the United States will come only under the leadership of another Gandhi.”  Nelson Mandela wrote that Gandhi’s “strategy of noncooperation … and his nonviolent resistance inspired anticolonial and antiracist movements internationally.”  According to Mandela, “Though separated in time, there remains a bond between us, in our shared prison experiences, our defiance of unjust laws.”

Gandhi himself invoked these ancient prayers from the Upanishads:

“Lead me from untruth to truth, From the darkness to the light, From death to immortality.”

See Gandhi's Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, by Stanley Wolpert (Oxford University Press, 2002), especially chapters 25 and 26, in which the Du Bois and Mandela quotations and the Upanishads prayers are cited.

11:54 am est 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Americans More at Ease with Plural Realities

A New York Times article on interracial families (with a focus on students at the University of Maryland) noted how many “young adults of mixed backgrounds are rejecting color lines that have defined Americans for generations.”

Posts to this blog on March 22, 2010, December 2, 2009, and earlier treated related issues.

6:45 am est 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Governor Gives Blood

New Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy recently gave blood and encouraged others to do so, amid a need for blood donors that a December 31 post to this blog had discussed.

9:33 pm est 

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