Archive for the ‘education’ Tag

Torn Over #EdReform: Belief Analysis

If you are like me, you have been following the debates surrounding choice education, Common Core State Standards (CCSS), Teach for America, and education inequalities.  All of these issues, according to my perspective, are interrelated and fall under the umbrella of education reform.  The rhetoric on both sides of the debate have some validity to them.  People like Diane Ravitch argue that the CCSS are basically a one-size-fits-all approach to education that is being forced on educators and students without sound proof that they are appropriate.  Dr. Steve Perry, another heavy hitter in education reform, is an advocate for full open choice for families as a way to remedy what he sees as a broken education system.  Of course, there are many more players involved especially those with business and/or political interests.

All of this debate has me torn over education reform and in the spirit of reflection and introspection I have analyzed and listed my core beliefs of education in order to frame further analysis of the education reform movement.  Please note that this list is not in order of importance.

My Core Beliefs:

  1. All students have a right to access a safe, rigorous, relevant, and free education that builds both competence and confidence for future success.
  2. Our democracy and society depends on equal access to quality education.
  3. The purpose of education is not solely preparation for careers.
  4. The purpose of education is to prepare students to be critical thinkers and active citizens with the diverse skills and the habits of mind necessary to navigate an increasingly complex world.
  5. All students, and their families, want an opportunity for success.
  6. Although education is vitally important, one institution, working alone, cannot remedy societal ills stemming from generations of injustice.
  7. Most, if not all, educators and policy makers have good intentions.
  8. Policy makers and educators at all levels sometimes suffer from clouded judgement due to their personal values and interests.
  9. Highly qualified, trusted, valued, and supported school-level educators are a critical component to preparing students for future success.
  10. Elevating student voice and choice within the school and classroom environment will equip students with the skills and habits necessary to navigate an increasingly complex future.
  11. Decisions regarding education policy should be made with a mindset of doing what is best for students.

The State of Social Studies in CT

The state of social studies in Connecticut mirrors and amplifies the state of social studies education in the rest of the nation. Some of the major issues include an unapproved, draft curriculum frameworks, no social studies consultant at the Connecticut State Department of Education, and no official position statement from the state at all. This is a dangerous cocktail for apathy. Without these three critical components, Connecticut champions mediocrity when it comes to social studies education. This is especially concerning when you consider that the purpose of social studies is to produced an engaged citizenry endowed with skills such as critical thinking, empathy, and collaboration.

However so much that it seems like the Nutmeg State is disinterested with social studies education, there is hope. First, the state recently convened a committee to craft a curriculum framework based on the recently released College, Career, and Civic Life social studies framework. The forthcoming CT document is slated to put inquiry at the heart of the social studies classroom and provide students with an authentic social studies experience that will benefit them long after they graduate high school. If this committee holds true to their charge, this will be a giant step forward for the state of social studies in the land of steady habits.

Another layer to this silver lining lies with the efforts of the Honorable Secretary of the State, Denise Merrill. Social Studies has a true friend in Secretary Merrill. At a recent Social Studies Conference held at Central Connecticut State University, Merrill touted the importance of Social Studies education and her commitment to a quality social studies education for all of Connecticut’s students. With such an important person in our corner, Connecticut should be able to attain a social studies position statement to guide instruction and policy at all levels, a curriculum framework that promotes purposeful and powerful social studies education within our schools, and a social studies consultant to assist districts and teachers in meeting the demands of the 21st century.

In order to meet this goal, social studies education in Connecticut needs your help. First and foremost, contact Denise Merrill’s office to express your support for purposeful and powerful social studies education. While you are at it, contact your state representative and senator. Then, go to the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies Public Affairs Committee website to sign up for updates and to participate in one thing per month to promote social studies education. Finally, spread the word that we need a better stated of social studies education in Connecticut. Our democracy depends on it.

For your reference:
Office of the Secretary of the State
State of Connecticut
30 Trinity Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Telephone: (860) 509-6200
Twitter: @SOTSMerrill

CRELI Team Project Promotion

CRELI Team Project Promotion

In this photo, a rising Sophomore and a rising Freshman are creating a banner to recruit people to tell their story on video as a way to honor and sustain diversity. They will collect a variety of personal accounts to highlight the diverse backgrounds represented in CRELI and CT River Academy.

CRELI Expert Lessons

In the second day of the CRELI program, we had experts teach lessons to the scholars related to the group roles. We had a person come in from CT Humanities to teach the Reporters about marketing and using social media to reach an intended audience. We had a local artist come in to work with the Creative Directors on texture, form, and beautification. We were also fortunate to have a person come in to work with the Stewards to develop their project managerial skills. The video above features Bryan Ribas’ group of engineers working with Google SketchUp. Working together, these four group members will create something that honors and sustains diversity.

CRELI Student Leader Communication Training

CRELI Student Leaders participated in an activity to develop their listening and communication skills. Watch as the students struggle to communicate and persevere through the challenge.

CRELI Summer Program

This summer I am running a program called Connecticut River Extended Learning Institute (CRELI).  It is funded by a Nellie Mae grant and the focus is student-centered learning.  This is my third year working as a teacher in this program, but this is the first year that I am a program manager.  The theme for CRELI this summer is “honoring and sustaining diversity.”  The students will work in small groups to create a product that fits this theme.  Since the program is student-centered, the educators do not know what the final products will be or how they will be created.  In many instances, this would be nerve-racking for educators, but through the process of this program, we will all learn how students at the center of the learning experience can be engaging, challenging and rewarding.  Follow this blog to see how the program develops over the next two weeks.



The title of this post is the file name for a book that I recently scanned and added to my digital collection. Written by the late Bruce Fraser in 1988, Land of Steady Habits: A Brief History of Connecticut is an important work in the Connecticut history literary cadre.  According to the Publisher’s Note, The Connecticut Historical Commission produced this booklet claiming that it “provides the essence of Connecticut.” At the time of publication, the Commission hoped that Land of Steady Habits would stimulate further study and “provide a wider public appreciation” for the states historical heritage.  This work does all of the above and should be a standard in every history classroom across the state.

Fraser’s Land of Steady Habits is especially accessible to middle and high school grades because of its concise nature.  The entire booklet is eighty pages including title page, table of contents, postscript, timeline, images, and a four page listing of CT’s national historic land marks.  The body of the essay is fifty-two pages broken in 15 sections.  This is the equivalent of 3.4 pages per chapter, very manageable for readers at any level.  Although Mr. Fraser’s work is short, it is packed with not only the story of Connecticut, but also connections to the national historical themes.  Classroom history and social studies teachers could use this work to teach history through the lens of the local story from the time “before the Europeans” to the social unrest of the 1960s.  The basic premise behind this book is that the history of Connecticut is important, a message that we need to teach to the youth of the state.

One of the perennial concerns for Connecticut for the last several decades is the lack of local attachment. It is evident in the disjointed nature of the cities and towns and most prominent in the capital city.  Go to downtown Hartford on a weekend day and it is a ghost town.  People come in to work and they leave to their towns in the suburbs and beyond.  This scenario was just as true at the time of Land of Steady Habits publication as it is today.  Fraser and others, myself included, would accredit this lack of connection to suburban crawl and white-flight of the post-War period.  Nutmeggers now have their own enclaves a world apart from the deteriorating and increasingly diverse cities that they left behind. They lost their connection with the culture and history of their surroundings and they are unattached.

Raising our state’s future generations with knowledge and experiences of local culture and history is needed to create attachment to the region.  Students who are exposed to the culture of the state today will contribute to the local community tomorrow.  If we teach about the history and take students to experience Connecticut culture at places like the Wadsworth, Goodspeed, or Peabody and historical sites such as the Old State House, the Soldier and Sailors Memorial Arch, and Tapping Reeve House and Law School, then they are more likely to participate in cultural offerings when they reach adulthood.  Remarkably,  I am seeing a rise in interest in both state history and local connections.  This may be the time for institutions to market themselves to education institutions to increase their presence in the classroom and curriculum.  I am not talking about marketing to schools so you can charge $6 per person to offer a writing program.  Cultural institutions should look at schools as a way to market to future consumers or customers.  The more exposure the better.  Maybe these institutions should take the advice of the Connecticut Historical Commission and work to “provide a wider public appreciation” for the culture of CT…for the future of CT.

*Please note that my mentioning of cultural and historical centers in this article are not an endorsement of any institution or a discredit to those not listed.

Wadsworth image credit: Wikipedia.

In the beginning…Hist 521

The noun “intern” traces its origins to 1879, near the beginning of the Gilded Age, a time of industry and growth, Jim Crow and immigration, writers and Robber Barons.  This time period is also important because it was in the midst of the centennial of the birth of the United States as a sovereign nation and the wave of revolution throughout the Atlantic world.  With the growth of the insurance industry and international maritime trade, Connecticut was in boom and Hartford was entering its height.  Writing with Charles Dudley Warner, Mark Twain labeled the time period with the novel, The Guilded Age, lampooning Washington D.C. and many contemporary leaders.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “intern” is an American English word describing ‘”one working under supervision as part of professional training” especially “doctor in training in a hospital.” The word comes from the French word interne meaning “assistant doctor.”‘  By 1933 the usage evolved to include a verb tense offering the terms “interned” and “interning.” This usage coincided with the beginning of the New Deal.  In 2012, I am beginning a new interning experience as a part of the Public History program at Central CT State University.  Although I am not interning to be a medical doctor or any sort of doctoral degree, I did make a deal with the department to conduct research on behalf of two private clients.  This is a very interesting endeavor that seems to meld several professional interests into one experience.

The first aspect to this internship is researching for a land use history for Goodwin College in East Hartford, CT.  According to their website, “Goodwin College is a nonprofit organization and received accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.” Over the past several years this institution has purchased large tracks of land on the east coast of the CT River, which now houses its River Campus and its environmental-themed magnet school, Connecticut River Academy.  Much of the developed land in Goodwin College’s riverside holdings are brown fields.  These lands along what the River Tribes termed the “long tidal river” were damaged by years of pollution from home heating oil spills.  Coincidentally, the environmental movement sparked major efforts of reclamation of polluted lands in the 1970s, just about 100 years after the first use of “intern.”

The other piece to this internship is contributing to the beginning stages of a teacher resource section on the Connecticut Humanities website  In this research project I will find resources and write short descriptive essays for a section entitled, “Connecticut and the New Nation.”  As the title indicates this was a time of beginnings.  This period was a time of manufacturing and good feelings, the triangle trade and immigration, British invasion and Manifest Destiny. Many CT towns have a rich history from this period.  There were canal projects to circumvent the Enfield falls and others to circumvent the entire lower Connecticut River.  The maritime tradition of the CT River and coast connected the state to the Atlantic World and beyond.  This was a burgeoning region with a bright future.

New beginnings are always filled with similar optimism and uncertainty that Connecticut faced at the beginning of the new nation.  The same can be said for beginning this internship experience.  In some ways this experience will be blazing a new path and in other ways it will be practicing old methods. This internship will expand my knowledge and provide new skills to navigate the professional road that lies before me.  According to Mark Twain, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”  Now that this blog post is finished, I am ready to start on the next task.  If you are reading this, I guess we begin this journey together.

The Internship Begins

I got word this week that my public history internship was accepted by CCSU.  This is a huge step forward for my career in many ways.  First, I will gain a deeper understanding of local/regional history.  Next, I will further develop my writing skills, especially when crafting a interpretation about the past. Finally, these first two developments will increase my effectiveness as an educator.  Overall, this internship is a melding of several projects that I am involved in and points me in the direction of a long-term sustainable career.

In the coming weeks and months look forward to insights, troubles, and triumphs as I work towards achieving this goal.

Creating a Multicultural Learning Environment

Educators teaching in a multicultural setting may be unsure of how to create a classroom environment that will ensure that each student will reach their full potential.  Perhaps some of these educators have had little contact with people outside of their culture.  Another possibility is that they are just not confident that they can effectively reach all students because of cultural barriers.  Educators, however, do not have anything to fear because they are most likely incorporating the necessary characteristics on a daily basis.  The first characteristic of a successful multicultural classroom is a safe and inclusive learning environment.  Also, teachers with a focus on democratic ideologies will instill dignity and respect for all students.  Finally, incorporating a student-centered, collaborative, project-based curriculum gives all students the opportunity to succeed.  In short, a safe and inclusive classroom that focuses on democratic ideologies while incorporating student-centered, collaborative, and project-based curriculum will successfully foster a successful multicultural learning environment.

One of the first steps to creating a successful multicultural classroom is fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment.  A safe classroom is one where the students and teacher have respect for one another.  Respect for each others differences and respect for each others learning.  Not only do students and teachers need to respect the diversity of the classroom, but everyone must respect that all learners are unique in their abilities and that learning, especially when mistakes are made, is a process free from ridicule.  Students who feel safe in the classroom are more likely to be academic risk takers, which will encourage a greater understanding for the curriculum.  Along with creating a safe environment, a classroom must also be inclusive.  It is not enough that all students participate in the class assignments. Educational materials should be inclusive of diverse voices and perspectives.  Including a multitude of perspectives shows the students that all voices are heard in the class, not just the dominate, mainstream culture. Students who are able to think critically about a wide range of resources and feel safe in doing so will be successful in a multicultural setting.

In addition to creating a safe, inclusive classroom, a multicultural classroom must focus on the democratic ideologies on which United States was founded.  Schools should not promote the ideologies and political goals of any specific group, but should promote democratic ideologies to facilitate societal change that enhances human dignity.  As suggested by the National Council for the Social Studies, “students should be encouraged to examine the democratic values that emerged in the United States, why they emerged, how they were defined in various periods, and to whom they referred in various eras.  It is also important to look at how those values have not been fulfilled and the conflicts that ensued surrounding competing values and interests.  Students who recognize that all Americans had to fight for their freedoms at various points through our nation’s history will understand why it is vital that all cultures work together in support of our democratic society.

In addition to the classroom climate, or the hidden curricula, students in a multicultural setting thrive under a student-centered pedagogy where learners work collaboratively to meet learning goals.  According to Harry and Rosemary Wong in their book The First Days of School, research shows that collaborative learning is the most successful means for fostering student achievement.  In an ideal multicultural setting, student’s voices and experiences are brought to the forefront of the classroom  Students who work together bring a host of experiences and ideas to the table.  Working in a safe and inclusive environment gives students the opportunity while working in groups to hypothesize, test, and implement solutions to problems posed in the classroom.  Collaborative work is also important in a multicultural classroom because after graduation students will enter an increasingly multicultural workforce.  A successful multicultural setting must provide an opportunity for students to showcase their strengths while working to solve a common problem just as many Americans do in the workplace.

In conclusion, a safe and inclusive classroom that focuses on democratic ideologies while incorporating student-centered, collaborative, and project-based curriculum will successfully foster a multicultural learning environment.  The foundation of any successful classroom, especially a multicultural one, is a safe and inclusive learning environment.  Teachers and students in a safe and inclusive multicultural setting are then able to honestly and openly analyze society through the lens of our nation’s democratic ideologies, giving students a common sense of ideals such as liberty and equality.  Finally, much of the research on student learning, in or out of a multicultural setting, indicates that students are most successful when they work collaboratively to meet common goals.  This is important because according to the late president John F. Kennedy, “in America there must be only citizens, not divided by grade, first and second, but citizens, east, west, north, and south.”  It is up to educators to facilitate this type of learning environment to effect positive social change in the years to come.

Further Readings:

Larri Fish. “Building Blocks: The First Steps of Creating a Multicultural Classroom.”

David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson “Making Diversity a Strength”

Lee Knefelkamp. “Effective Teaching for the Multicultural Classroom”

“Creating a Multicultural Classroom Environment” Teacher Enrichment Training Solutions Newsletter, vol. 3, issue 12.