Letter to Senator Purdue: Please Do Not Support Trump’s Bullying & the Paris Cancelation
I received a reply to my recent letter to Georgia Senator David Purdue regarding the firing of James Comey from his position as F.B.I. Director. I was impressed with the specific detail that was included in the letter from Senator Purdue. It was not a form letter reply.
I followed up with this letter, and urged him to continue to press on with investigating the Trump administration’s connections with the Russian government.
However, my main concern in my reply was the decision of Trump to cancel the US participation in the Paris Climate Agreement. I described my collaboration with teachers and students across the globe on ecological issues, and urged the Senator to reach out to researchers at Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, or Georgia State University. Each of these universities has schools or departments that do research on climate science, and the researchers could be very instrumental in helping Senator Purdue develop the rationale to oppose the Trump decision.
Dear Senator Purdue,
I appreciate your responding to my concerns about the firing of James Comey. I agree with you that who ever is president can remove the head of the FBI. However, in this case, there is evidence that Mr. Trump was “bullying” Comey, and trying to get Comey to go light on the investigation into Russian. There have been reports that Trump asked Comey to lessen or stop investigating Gen. Flynn. If these are true, then its possible that Trump was trying to influence the investigation into Russian meddling with our election, and trying to establish lines of communication with the future Trump administration. A backchannel was possibly being arranged by his son-in-law, Mr. Kushner, from within a Russian facility located in the United States.
Now, Mr. Trump’s decision to drop out or cancel US participation in the Paris Agreement. I hope that you do not support this idea. It’s a bad idea to drop out of this important agreement that will affect not only those of us in the later stages of our lives, but our children and grandchildren. The US joins Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not signing to the agreement.
Eighth Article in the Series, Artistry in Teaching
In this article I am going talk about a project that grew out of personal and professional relationships among teachers from different countries. Through reciprocal exchanges among educators in U.S. (most of whom where from schools in Georgia) and Russia (most of whom were from Moscow, Pushchino and St. Petersburg) a project emerged from the ground up to creation of the Global Thinking Project, a project steeped in inquiry and humanistic education.
Thirty years ago, a Russian train left Helsinki for Moscow carrying psychologists and educators from North America who were participants in the first citizen diplomacy project sponsored by the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP).
That train trip was the start of a 20-year Track-II Diplomacy Project (coined by Joseph Montville–non-officials engaging in dialog to resolve conflicts and solve problems), and evolved into a global teacher and student environmental activist project that brought together hundreds of teachers and students not only from the United States and the former Soviet Union, but colleagues and students in many other countries including Australia, the Czech Republic, and Spain.
The 1983 train trip changed my life, and the lives of countless science and social science teachers, school principals, researchers, students (ages 12 – 18) and their parents in several countries.
Citizen Science and Youth Activism
At the center of this environmental project was the idea that citizens from different countries could work together to solve problems by being open to using inquiry and humanistic thinking. Dr. Jenny Springer, principal of Dunwoody High School, in DeKalb County, Georgia was clear about how this could happen in a speech at the Simpsonwood Conference Center, in Norcross, Georgia.
We must be scholars and activists. It is simply not enough to be scientists–that is to measure and calculate, but rather we must be willing to dedicate ourselves to causes–to be activists who are willing to commit to environmental and humanitarian issues.
Citizen diplomacy, citizen science, and youth activism are not new ideas, but the forces that shape contemporary education around the globe are based on issues related to work and economics. In our capitalist system, conservative and neoliberal policies are making it more and more difficult for educators to create environments that foster the kind of inquiry and freedom needed to engage in activist projects. Put to the side in the words of Henry Giroux (2011), “are questions of justice, social freedom, and the capacity for democratic agency, action, and change as well as the related issues of power.”
During the period of 1983 – 2002, a project rooted in citizen science, youth activism, and global collaboration emerged and developed into the Global Thinking Project (GTP), a kind of hands-across-the-globe program. It became an environmental education program based on “education for the environment,” a model that embodies the principles of Deep Ecology (library copy).
Deep Ecology, coined by Arne Naess, is a deeper approach to the study of nature exemplified in the work of Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson (Devall and Sessions 1985). In this sense, teachers encourage their students to engage in projects that help them experience the connections between themselves and nature as well as advocating a holistic approach to looking at environmental topics.
Engaging students in ways that enable them to take actions and experience environmental science as education for the environment (Michel, 1996) is what Aikenhead (2006) define as humanistic science. This definition of humanistic science was the core of the approach to teaching science that was discussed and argued among American and Russian science teachers.
The Global Thinking project was a citizen diplomacy project that integrated citizen science, Eco justice and activism, involving hundreds of teachers, researchers and students who believed it was important to work together with people in other cultures to try to take action on important environmental questions that are both local and global.
The Lessons Seen Around the World
Visiting schools is a common practice when foreigners want to learn about a nation’s schools. But what would happen if instead of observing teachers and students, foreigners taught lessons in science, social studies, and ecology to students in schools they were visiting?
American teachers began demonstration teaching in School 710, Moscow, a school with about 800 students from pre-school through high school.
It made all the difference in the world. Who would have guessed?
We had visited School 710 the previous year, and at that time, an agreement was reached with the teachers and school’s head, Mr. Vadim Zhudov, that the demonstrations would:
Establish classroom environments where students would learn through inquiry;
Enable students to explore science topics in earth science and physical science;
Create learning situations where students would work in collaborative and cooperative learning teams
We didn’t realize how significant it was for us to teach lessons in School 710. Those that taught lessons were naturally nervous and hoped that things would go well. Each room was packed with observers, teachers, the Director, and researchers. The lessons involved hands on activities and demonstrations, and small group discussion, artwork, and a take home packet of materials and a booklet in Russian for the students to share with their parents.
Our goal in these demonstration lessons was to present an approach to teaching that involved inquiry, cooperative learning and hands-on experiences to create dialogue among American and Russian teachers. In this case, we wanted the students to take part actively in learning, a practice that was not common in Russian schools (or in American schools, for that matter).
Over the next 15 years, there were many exchanges of teachers and students, and it became tradition to have teachers conduct lessons in schools they were visiting and working with in the Global Thinking Project. Many Russian teachers taught in schools in Metro-Atanta, the Walker County School District and schools in the Savannah region of the state.
Teaching in each other’s schools was one of the most important aspects of our exchanges. By doing this we were willing to be vulnerable not only with our adult colleagues, but it opened our collaboration to students, as well. This personalized our work.
It also built trust. Trust that lead to a collaborative venture of designing and implementing inquiry-based environmental lessons and projects.
The GTP fostered an inquiry approach to learning by involving students in problems in their own communities, and extended inquiry to include dialog using email, bulletin boards, and videoconferences—thanks to Dr. Wayne Robinson. In each project, students were asked to wonder and to ask questions that were relevant to environmental issues and problems in their own communities. The GTP focused on helping students to become capable citizen scientists, or in the words Dr. Galina Manke, biology teacher at School 710 and researcher at the Russian Academy of Education:
The ideals of humanistic psychology and education were put into practice by involving teachers and students in the development of the curriculum. The context of the GTP was dialogue among teachers, students and researchers. Although the project began with the exchanges of teachers, administrators, and researchers, by 1992, student exchanges had begun, and during 1995 – 1998, more than 300 students and more than 75 teachers were involved in exchanges between U.S. and Russian schools.
Fostering inquiry among students and teachers in different countries lead to a problem. How could we engage kids in distant classrooms with each other? Today, there is an easy answer: The Internet.
But in 1990? What’s a group of teachers to do?
Using the Internet to Foster Collaboration
In 1990, the Internet, as we know it today, was primitive. The World Wide Web in its present configuration did not exist. But even more so, none of the schools in Russia were connected to the Internet. Even worse, the only phone lines we could find in Russian schools were in the Director’s (Principal) office, often times more than 1000 feet from the science classrooms.
Our vision was to somehow set up a telecommunications network among the ten schools that were in the project by 1990 (5 American and 5 Russian). With a telecommunications network we could link schools, and use communication technologies (e-mail and bulletin boards, we also experimented with freeze frame television, and later video conferencing). But in 1990, we still had no computers, modems or printers on the Russian side.
Our view was that a telecom network would enable students to collaborate with each other. They could ask questions. They could tell stories about themselves. They could share information, indeed they could share “data” that they had acquired through their own inquiries.
The teachers in the project had strong beliefs about the role of collaborative and cooperative learning. The GTP curriculum (a series on environmental project-based units) was organized in such a way that teams of students in each class worked together to solve problems, and then shared their collective data with students in classes in other schools, and in other countries.
But still, we had no computers in Russia. How would we get computers in their schools? Here’s how we did it.
Phil Gang and I went to the local Apple Computer office (in Atlanta for us), and were accompanied by five Russian colleagues who were with a larger delegation of Russian educators, and explain to Apple executives that we had developed this “global” project, but we didn’t have computers in the any of the schools in Russia. We asked if they could help. They gave us six Macintosh SE 20 computers and printers! But we also needed modems. We made a phone call to the Hayes Micromodem Company in Norcross, GA, and told them the same story. They gave us six very high-speed modems (2400 baud). We were all set with the technology we needed to connect all the schools.
Two months later, ten Americans flew to Moscow with the computers, printers and modems in tow, and then set up the technology in five Russian schools (2 in Moscow and 3 in St. Petersburg).
At each school, Gary Lieber (an engineer from Apple who accompanied us throughout Russia) set up the technology that would enable teachers and students to logon to a network to send email using AppleLink, as well as post and read messages on bulletin boards we set up in the Apple Global Education network. Each computer and modem had to be programmed to connect with a service in Moscow, which connected to an interface in Western Europe and then to the U.S. through standard telephone lines. Amazingly, we got the system to work in every school in Russia (only blowing out one printer, e.g 220), and by the end of the two-week trip in December 1989 we had established the first Global Thinking Project Network.
The Global Thinking Project first telecommunications network using networks in the Soviet Union, Western Europe and the U.S. AppleLink accounts were set up on each Macintosh SE20 in the Soviet Union. American schools were able to provide their own computers. By December 1989, the GTP network was running.
When the GTP began, we only had e-mail and bulletin boards to communicate with each other. Over the next ten years we incorporated new technologies to include video conferencing, an interactive website, and software to enable students to post and retrieve data.
Over time, the GTP project, with no funding, expanded to other countries including Australia, Czech Republic, Argentina, Spain, Singapore, Japan, Canada, and others.
Online Projects Begin at Home
The Global Thinking Project curriculum was organized into eight online project-based experiences designed for elementary through secondary schools. The instructional materials are based on learning through inquiry and make use of cooperative learning as the core learning strategy. The original GTP curriculum was published in English, Russian, Catalan, and Czech.
Three inquiry-based projects that are included here to give you an idea about the nature and instructional design of the GTP curriculum projects. You are welcome to make use of the projects in any way you wish. When you visit any one of the websites for these projects, you will find all the activities, as well as online forms to give you an idea how these activities work.
In these projects, students study a problem locally, and then use the Internet to share results with others. The projects are online, and can be used by teachers and citizens around the world.
Project Green Classroom invites students to assess the environment of your classroom by examining and monitoring a variety of indoor parameters.
In Project Ozone, your students monitor ground-level ozone at your school, their home, or other designated sites. They observe and make measurements of related variables such as temperature, humidity, and wind speed.
In Project River Watch, you and your students investigate the quality of the water in a local river, stream or body of water.
But what makes these projects interesting is that you can post your data on fillable webpages linked to the projects so that your data can be shared with others around the world. You can also click on a link in each project to reach all the data, and download the data into Microsoft Excel, or other similar programs for data analysis.
Inquiry in the Service of Social Action
The three projects included here are examples of using an inquiry approach to teaching in service of involving students in action taking on science-related social issues. We worked with students and teachers for nearly two decades engaging them in global thinking with face-to-face collaboration and online communication using a primitive Internet.
Today there are some projects that use the same philosophy in which the Internet is used to foster inquiry and action-taking on the part of K-12 students. Here are two projects that I highly recommend.
The Flat Classroom Project was developed by teachers Vicki Davis, and Julie Lindsay. The Flat Classroom supports and encourages global collaboration. Davis and Lindsay are cutting edge educators who use Internet-based technologies to inspire global collaboration among teachers and students. Check it out.
iEarn is one of the most accomplished Internet systems promoting social action projects by bringing together schools around the world to work together on a wide range of teacher inspired projects which value communication among teachers and students. I think its worth visiting the iearn website.
There are many stories of inquiry-based Internet projects that have been developed by teachers. What story would you like to share?
Why is the United States moving toward a centralized reform of education in a society that is based on democratic principles, and at a time when other countries are moving in the opposite direction? In his book, Catching Up or Leading the Way, Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, the University of Oregon, compares and contrasts the changes that are taking place in the United States and China. He points out at the beginning of his book that China wants an educational systems that America seems to trying to destroy. China is moving toward an educational system that:
respects individual talents, supports divergent thinking, tolerates deviation, and encourages creativity; a system in which the government does not dictate what students learn or how teachers teach; and a culture that does not rank or judge the success of a school, a teacher, or a child based on only test scores in a few subjects determined by the government.
According to Dr. Zhao, China is moving to transform its educational system that will create individuals that are capable of working in an innovation-driven knowledge based society. And according to Zhao, the Chinese education is actually changing from a “test-oriented education” into “talent-oriented education.” Finally, China searched the world for a model or system of education that might exemplify innovation, and guess what? They identified education in the United States as the show-stopper.
During the time that China has been moving from a centralized, government-dictated education to a decentralized, locally organized education, what have we been doing in the United States? We’re moving in the opposite direction. Dr. Zhao puts it this way:
An increasing number of states and the federal government have begun to dictate what students should learn, when they should learn it, and how their learning is measured through state-mandated curriculum standards, high school exit exams, and the No Child Left Behind Act. There are calls for even more centralization and standardization through national standards and national testing, as well as through rewarding or measuring schools and teachers on test scores.
And why is the United States moving in this direction. I agree with Dr. Zhao when he says that we are in the process of destroying much of what is good in America’s approach to education in order to “catch up” with other countries in test scores. Every time international test results from TIMSS or from PISA are released, American politicians, organizations and corporations that will benefit from a test oriented culture use the same refrain: America’s educational system is failing; we need to raise the bar, and make each student accountable for the same standards in a few subjects.
Yet, we have a choice, and as Zhao says, that choice is to keep our educational system that is based on innovation and creativity, and move forward to making improvements, and developing schools that are widely diverse, and based on the aspirations, goals, and needs of the students and teachers at the local and community levels.
From China to Russia
For more than 20 years I traveled with many North Americans to the Soviet Union, before and after Perestroika (restucturing) and glasnost (openness) under the auspices of the Association for Humanistic Psychology’s (AHP) Soviet Exchange Project. During our early visits to the Soviet Union, we entered a very structured and closed system of government and education, but because we were intent on forming relationships with peers, we created opportunities for us and our Soviet colleagues (educators, researchers, scientists, psychologists, therapists, teachers) to collaborate and work together to open lines of communication, and build trust. We did this year after year, for half a decade, in Russia and in the United States through people-to-people exchanges. We did this without government funding; it was financed exclusively by the individuals that traveled with the AHP groups each year.
For myself, and others who worked with me, our experience focused on schools and learning in American and Russian schools. We developed a series of teacher and researcher exchanges from 1987 – 1995, and during that time visited and worked in each others schools. It was evident that the Russian educators (teachers and researchers) were eager to learn about American education and the pedagogy that we practiced, and indeed, experimented with such ideas as cooperative learning, constructivist learning, inquiry-based science, and project-based learning. It was also quite evident that American educators (teachers and researchers) were eager to learn about Russian pedagogical approaches. We uncovered much to admire, and even discovered a group in St. Petersburg that had developed a model of cooperative learning that cognitively based.
The GTP was based on a student-centered and innovative education model, and the Russian teachers, and researcher were eager to implement the program in their schools. In fact, when the USIA started funding US/Russian exchange projects, the GTP received three major grants from 1995 – 1998 to exchange teachers and students (grades 7 – 12), and engage in not only Internet based learning on computers that Apple Computer had donated to the Project in 1991 (Mac SE 20s). So at the time when the United States was intent on developing national standards (National Science Education Standards were published in 1996), the Russian educational system was moving in such a way that more and more control of curriculum was being left to local schools.
The move to centralize education in the United States is one that has gained momentum over the past ten years. Americans are being convinced that its school system is broken, old, and in crisis. Zhao puts it this way in one of his blog posts:
in short, the argument goes, to save America, to retain America’s preeminence in the world, to ensure America’s global competitiveness, we must dismantle America’s education system and import policies and practices from other countries.
The core group of “reformers” who want to create a single test-based curriculum have oddly suggested that we ought to import educational ideas from other countries since their economies are improving or better than ours, and their students do so well on PISA and TIMSS international tests. As Zhoa writes in his blog post entitled The Grass is Greener: Learning from Other Countries:
The belief that education in certain other countries is superior has mostly started with and reinforced by a myopic perspective of what constitutes high quality education. This perspective easily leads to the tendency to quickly jump to the conclusion that when a country rises economically (in the case of Japan and China) or militarily (in the case of the Soviet Union), it must have an excellent education system. The same perspective also leads to the conclusion that high test scores indicate educational excellence. As a result, observers rushed to Russia, Japan, China, Singapore, Finland, and Korea to search for their secrets to educational excellence and of course found what they wanted to find: standardized curriculum, focus on academic subjects that “matter,” teachers prepared and incentivized to deliver the prescribed subjects efficiently, and well-disciplined students devoted to mastering the prescribed content, with parental support.
The mistake we are making in educational reform is taking away from local educators and local systems the ability to make the policy decisions that will affect the students they know best, and of course they are the students in their own schools. We need to stop enabling the “think-tank mentality” as evidenced so well by the Fordham Foundation, and Achieve, Inc. and their view that all kids should learn the same stuff, at the same time, and in the way that are defined by a collection of central common core standards.
I recently received an announcement of an ecology program from John Kamman whose organization sponsors field science and cultural exchange projects. The organization is Ecology Project International and has projects and programs in Montana, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Galapagos. Their website describes many opportunities for students and teachers in the field of ecology and environmental education. The email couldn’t have been more relevant given the Gulf Oil Spill disaster is wrecking havoc on the ecosystems and people in the entire Gulf region.
The Ecology Project International reminds of the work that we did with the Global Thinking Project which brought together teachers and students from several countries, and supported environmental science and cultural exchanges, and teacher education programs.
I recommend that you take a look at the Ecology Project International website, and see if there are some opportunities for you and your students.
In 1987 I met Sergey Tolstikov, who at the time was the lead English teacher at Moscow Experimental Gymnasium 710. Sergey, along with many of his colleagues at School 710, and other schools in Moscow, St. Petersburg (Leningrad at the time), Pushchino, Yasoslav, and Chelyabinsk teamed up with American teachers to create the Global Thinking Project, a hands-across the global environmental science and education program. Over the years we supported exchanges of secondary school students and their teachers, researchers from the Russian Academy of Education, Georgia State University, & Agnes Scott College. The project expanded to include Australia, England, Czech Republic, Argentina, Spain, Singapore, Canada, Japan, & Botswana. Hundreds of students worked together on one of the first Internet-based environmental science projects used a project-based and inquiry program: The GTP: Environmental Science on the Net.
We involved students in conducting research on topics that focused on Earthday-like themes or projects including: The Green Classroom, Project Clean Air, Project Solid Waste, Project Water Watch, Project Soil & Project Earth Month. Students worked with their teachers to investigate these projects locally, and then used the GTP website to collaborate and share data with each other. We were also fortunate to obtain grant money from the U.S. Government (USIA) to support three major exchanges of secondary students and teachers from Russia and the U.S. Students lived in each others homes, went to each others schools, and participated in research, as well as global conferences held in Moscow and Atlanta.
About a month ago I heard from Jessica one of the former U.S. GTP students who had participated in the first USIA funded exchange in 1995. She asked if I could help her come in contact with her host Russian family—a family she had lived with 15 years ago. I contacted Sergey in Moscow, and asked him if he could help find Jessica’s Russian host family. We had her host’s name and school (Moscow Experimental School 91), and the lead teacher in the exchange. Yesterday, Sergey emailed me with the email address of the Russian student, and today on Earthday, the American student was able to email her host family in Moscow. I received this note from Jessica:
Thank you so much for your help, and I also want to thank you for all of your work with GTP. It was the experience of a lifetime for my husband and me. We both look forward to traveling to Russia again someday! I remember Sergey speaking at our summit meetings. I also wanted to tell you that I work with another GTP student, that traveled to Russia the same year that my husband and I did. She (Brooke) and I were hired at Battlefield Primary School the same year. We recognized each other from the GTP experience immediately, even though she was from another school! I teach 2nd grade, and she is our Speech-Language Pathologist. She and I often talk about our experiences, and that was 15 years ago! Wow time flies! Again, I appreciate everything!
As Sergey said in one of his emails, it is always great to hear from one of your former students, and learn a bit about the impact on their lives.