Monday, September 30, 2013

HEAR Chicago Talk Fall 2013 Edition: Schuba's Will Set You Free

On Wednesday right around rush hour, menacing clouds gathered and released an angry sheet of rain; the downpour only let up to allow hail to move in. So we were a small but mighty crowd at Schuba's, for HEAR Chicago Talk.

We had three presenters (I was one of them; my goal is to make it so it's not me giving a presentation every time, but, until the event gets steadier on its newborn legs,  I'll carry it).

My question was a broad one: What is the most effective path to educational equity and quality? If we could answer that, we could Solve All The Things, so I don't think it was a very good question, but it's the one that I've been chewing on, or that's been chewing on me.

 To answer, I talked about Finland's school improvement strategy of increasing the standardization and rigor of teacher education while simultaneously decentralizing control of the actual schools, leaving curriculum, instruction, and assessment up to the teachers.

 It could be that there is little causative relationship, that their impressive achievement does not result much from their approach to teacher preparation and work, but I thought it well worth introducing this difference between the United States' system and Finland's.

My ending question for the audience was, How can our country take the long view required to get this done, and what do we do in the mean time to mitigate teachers' working conditions and disengaged students? I got some great questions from the audience--ones that were as chewy and complex as the ones I presented them with.

Dennis Anthony Kass, a former lawyer and current sociology teacher at Little Village High School, asked us, "How do I teach students to be free thinkers?"

He took us through the topics his students tackle in their first semester of his sociology class, using as metaphors and touchstones The Matrix, Fight Club, television show Family Guy, and other popular media.

His ending question wasm Having exposed students to the Matrix (that is our society, how free should I expect their thinking to become? Questions for him centered around the relationship of the class to the rest of the school, the principal, and parents.

The third speaker was Don Whitfield, Director of Great Books Discussions, a literature-based discussion program developed by the Great Books Foundation. Don is my former colleague, from my days directing the K–12 side of the Foundation's work. His question was, How do we get veterans to love their books more than their M16s?

Don recently led the publication of an anthology of short writings and discussion questions meant for veteran's groups.  The hope is that the discussion groups open up other ways to think and learn about the world--and to access emotions, memories, and hopes.

Don's ending question was, How do we know if these groups have a lasting positive affect or not? Audience questions centered around his ending question as well as the possibility of applying this type of program to groups with other challenges or traumas.
 I ended the night with a couple brief clips from the Green Bronx Machine talk from the Big Ideas Fest 2012 (3:17–4:58 , and 9:36–9:52).

If the theme of the June HEAR Chi Talk was Everything Old Is New Again, I'd say the theme of the September one was Let My People Go. How can we free educators to do their jobs artfully and effectively? How can we release students from the oppression of preconceived destructive patterns? How can others' experiences help veterans move out from under the siege of memories?

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