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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, October 23, 2011

Teachers Institutes, Locally and Nationally

Yesterday the seventh Annual Conference of the Yale National Initiative concluded.

Locally, the curriculum units that New Haven teachers developed as 2011 Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute Fellows are online.  Fellows produced these units in seminars in the sciences and the humanities to complement the district's standards-based learning goals for students.  Volumes from national seminars are also available.

The New Haven Public Schools recently posted a news release that – in the full version – quotes each 2011 seminar leader from the Yale faculty, as well as the superintendent of schools and the president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers.

9:14 am edt 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Early Childhood Education

This week, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a column on the importance of early learning, citing several Harvard scholars, landmark studies on the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian Project, and renowned economist James Heckman.  

Heckman’s spring 2011 article, The Economics of Inequality: The Value of Early Childhood Education (based on a July 2008 article he wrote), includes these conclusions:

“Creating a positive early environment through parental support and/or formal early childhood education shapes abilities, capabilities, and achievement.  Knowing this, it is imperative to change the way we look at education.  We should invest in the foundation of school readiness from birth to age 5 by providing early childhood education for disadvantaged children.  We should build on that foundation with high-quality elementary and secondary education to sustain the development of successful lives.  Providing that kind of equity will build a more productive society for all.”

In a letter he wrote the Bowles-Simpson commission, Heckman urged that the U.S. better “braid funding streams,” saying: “Effective early childhood development cuts across the silos of education, health and economic development—as well as local, state and federal programs and funding for child education, health and welfare. Current spending is inefficient because it is not coordinated and comprehensive, nor is it focused on a single approach with singular goals.”

More effectively integrating such “funding streams” is part of what Connecticut is now trying to do, as a Connecticut Mirror story on the state's latest federal Race to the Top application reports.
. . .

A September 2008 opinion article addressed related issues – nationally, locally, and personally – with references to James Heckman et al.

7:04 pm edt 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Men and Efforts to End Domestic Violence

The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence recently held an event to recognize men working to counter domestic violence.  The event marked the beginning of October and a month of awareness-raising activities.  Among the men honored were Richard Blumenthal, Christopher Donovan, and Burton Weinstein.  As attorney general and now U.S. senator, Richard Blumenthal has spoken on this issue many times across the state, including at the 30th anniversary of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven (DVSGNH) in 2007.  Most recently, on October 12 of this year, House Speaker Christopher Donovan (along with Judge Susan Connors and Attorney Michael Jefferson) participated in the annual Sound of Hope occasion held by DVSGNH, now teaming with The Umbrella, a sister organization in the Naugatuck Valley.  In 2008, Attorney Burton Weinstein was among the speakers at the Sound of Hope.

Blog posts on July 18, 2010 and September 24, 2009 – along with a 2008 account of the Sound of Hope event – provide context, as do 2010 and 2008 opinion articles on this site.  Prosecutor Marc Ramia, physician John Leventhal, and educator Ronald Herron are among the men whose work against domestic violence has been noted.

Earlier, Connecticut Judge David Gold was the featured speaker at an April 2004 event – summoning men to address this problem – at New Haven City Hall.  A similar event was held there in 2005.  Mayor John DeStefano spoke both years.  The 2005 occasion also included then-Attorney General Blumenthal, along with NHPD Sergeant Ricardo Rodriguez, artist/activist Delmance “Ras Mo” Moses, and Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Tony Rescigno. 

In spring 2006, Tony Porter of A Call to Men was among the panelists when N’Zinga Shani hosted a two-part television program on domestic abuse in the New Haven region and beyond.

Fund-raising to counter and prevent this violence remains difficult.  There may be a tendency to blame victims, as well as limited understanding of the good that service organizations can do in offering safety planning, shelter, advocacy, counseling, and a route to better lives for survivors and their children.  Still, in recent years – particularly with the Connecticut Speaker’s task force and the legislature’s support of various measures – awareness of and action against domestic violence has grown substantially.

While public and nonprofit budgets are as strained as ever and unemployment has worsened some cases of abuse, women are somewhat more likely to come forward.  Police departments have had a quarter century to adapt to more protective laws and to implement them more effectively.  There’s recognition that men can be victims of domestic abuse, that elder abuse as well as child abuse is a problem, that same-sex partners can be abusive.  Men are more conscious of the injustice of abusing women and children, and increasingly likely to speak out against this injustice.  Yet a great deal remains to be done.

People of all political stripes can agree on the need to prevent domestic violence, and on the role that men have to play in that effort.  Let's get to it, understanding this is not just a private problem but a public challenge – and that public and philanthropic dollars must work together to meet this challenge.

10:44 am edt 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

New Haven Teacher Chris Willems Named Connecticut's Outstanding Biology Teacher

Chris Willems, a teacher at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, has received the 2011 Outstanding Biology Teacher Award (OBTA) from the National Association of Biology Teachers, Leica Inc, and the Connecticut Association of Biology Teachers.  This honor identifies a teacher from each state “who has made valuable contributions to the profession and to his/her students. Criteria for the award include teaching ability, experience, inventiveness, initiative, inherent teaching strengths, and cooperativeness in the school and community.”

According to a release from the Connecticut Association of Biology Teachers, “Mr. Willems … grew up in New Haven, and graduated from Wilbur Cross High School in 1985. He received bachelor's degrees from the University of Connecticut in 1990 and the University of Massachusetts in 1997 and a master's degree from Lesley University in 2002.”

The statement notes that Chris Willems has been active at Yale University with both the Peabody Museum of Natural History and the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.

He was honored last night at a ceremony sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Biology Teachers and Manchester Community College.  He will also be recognized by the National Association of Biology Teachers at its National Convention in Anaheim, CA on Saturday, October 15.  “The National Association of Biology Teachers and the Connecticut Association of Biology Teachers are extremely proud of Chris Willems and his accomplishments. Such accomplishments not only make Wilbur Cross High School proud but the entire state of Connecticut proud as well. He is a priceless member of the education community,” said Sharon Gusky, Director of the OBTA program in Connecticut.

Congratulations to Chris Willems for this well-deserved recognition.  I first met him some eight years ago, when he returned to New Haven and worked initially as a middle-school science teacher.  He then moved to his alma mater, Wilbur Cross H.S., where he has been a contact for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute for years.  He has participated as an Institute Fellow twice, including in a 2006 seminar on “Engineering in Modern Medicine” in which he developed a curriculum unit on “The Challenge to Deliver Insulin.”

The Yale faculty member who led that 2006 seminar, W. Mark Saltzman, has proceeded to lead New Haven Institute or national seminars related to medicine, health, and engineering every year since.  The subjects of those seminars include “Health and the Human Machine,” “Nutrition, Metabolism, and Diabetes,” “The Brain in Health and Disease,” “Nanotechnology and Human Health,” and “Organs and Artificial Organs.”

3:17 pm edt 

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