Thursday, February 21, 2013

National Portrait Gallery - Bound for Freedom's Light

Thanks to the power of Netflix, I enjoyed a nice marathon of movies over the holiday weekend. My favorite category these days is Foreign Kung Fu Action and Adventure. Many of these movies are period pieces and I like seeing the depictions of life centuries ago. One movie that made it into my queue was Flowers of War starring Christian Bale. The movie was set in 1937 Nanking, China during a war between China and Japan. The movie provided an extremely graphic account of civilian war casualties.  It made me count my blessings that we live in a time and place where the possibility of war near our homes is rarely contemplated.  
Not considering that there would be a connection with Flowers of War, I visited the National Portrait Gallery's Black History Month exhibit Bound for Freedom's Light: African Americans and the Civil War today to learn a little at lunch. The exhibit included photographs and prints that highlight the role of African-Americans throughout the Civil War. The exhibit featured African-American soldiers, prominent figures during the Civil War like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and a number of lesser known African-Americans that overcame great odds to escape slavery during the Civil War.

Instead of focusing on the triumphs of these African-Americans, I found myself thinking back to the movie and my impressions of war in general. First, there is always a great sense of pride for those who serve in the military. You could see it in the depiction of both Union and Confederate soldiers at the exhibit. Second, war has a devastating impact on communities.  From riots in opposition to the draft to military strategist who were known for employing tactics that were designed to cripple all aspects of the Confederacy, the exhibit clearly shows how the effects of war were felt far away from the battlefields.  Finally, I was struck by the role of women in war. Whether it’s protecting each other from harm or caring for wounded soldiers, women have always served in combat. 

Bound for Freedom's Light is a moving exhibit. We take so many things for granted today, it’s so important to have these visual reminders of our predecessors' struggles and how far we've come. An excellent opportunity to learn at lunch!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Will online learning become the norm in public education?

In honor of Black History Month, I was excited to participate in today’s Smithsonian Education Conference Online forum entitled “Civil Rights: From Lincoln to Today.”  Since reading Congressman John Lewis’ book “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil Rights movement and hoped to learn more about the struggle pre-1950s.  What I learned instead is that online education is becoming more prevalent and may play a large role in the public education system of the future.

There were a variety of participants in the forum, including professors and casual observers, like me.  I was particularly interested in the number of elementary students that participated in the program.  Some teachers signed on to the forum with their entire class.  Many of them used it to supplement their curriculum.  There were also homeschool students participating. I thought this was a great way to bring the Smithsonian programming to students who are unable to make the visits to Washington, DC.

Ironically, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education recently announced that there will be a hearing entitled “Raising the Bar: How Education Innovation Can Improve Student Achievement” tomorrow, February 14, 2013.  The hearing will focus on technology and learning at the state level, including “blended learning, online classes, and virtual schools.”

I was only mildly interested in listening to the hearing until today’s forum.  Now, I’m hoping to learn more about online learning education initiatives in the states tomorrow at lunch!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What is a "cagebusting" leader?

Today, I sat in on a fascinating lunch forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) entitled "Cagebusting Leadership in K-12 Education." The panelists were very well-respected educators, administrators, and advocates including Adrian Manuel, Principal at Kingston High School, Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, Deborah Gist, Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, Christopher Barbic, founder of Tennessee's Achievement School District, and Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of DC Public Schools. They all had experience attempting to reform struggling institutions and shared their insight on what it takes to be a change agent.  Many of the qualities they discussed are applicable well beyond the realm of education reform.   

Based on the discussion, here’s what I learned about “cagebusting” leaders (NOTE: I might need to amend this once I get the book “Cagebusting Leadership” by Frederick Hess):

·         They are visionaries.  In order to take on the laws, regulations or rules that hamper any system, you have to be able to envision what the world would look like without those rules.   
·         They don’t stop pursuing change. All of the panelists had prior experience working in a different part of the education system (i.e. from teacher to administrator, administrator to advocate, etc.). These leaders seemed adept at taking what they learned from prior positions and using it to pursue reforms once they’ve moved on.
·         They are diplomatic.  In order to make policy changes, implement them and slowly change a culture you have to be able to appease a number of interests.  While we all know it’s supposed to be all about the kids in the education system, there are a number of other interests that influence how well schools work.  Cagebusting leaders have to be able to navigate all of these interests and figure how to make them work together for the best possible outcome.
·         They don’t have to be liked.  This is probably the main reason why I’ll never be a cagebusting leader.  I remember vividly the negative press Michelle Rhee received when she was Chancellor of DC Public Schools.  She didn’t seem at all bothered by it or let it stop her.  It takes a strong person to give up being liked to pursue a greater good.  Kudos to those who can do it.
This was a lunch hour well spent.  I was inspired by the dynamic people that are working for our schools and their efforts.  I hope to one day be a “cagebusting” leader wherever I might be and be willing to fight the battles that come along with it. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Changing America at the NMAAHC

Museums are one of the best resources at our disposal for enhancing education. Schools routinely visit them to supplement their curriculum. Parents frequent them on weekends or during vacations to expose their children to history, culture, and science. Museums also provide adults with opportunities to learn new things.

Since I work downtown, I frequent the Smithsonian as often as I can at lunch. I usually go to infuse a little bit of culture and history into my day or preview an exhibit before taking my son. I’m excited to bring a discussion about my visits to this blog as part of my “Learn at Lunch” series. Hopefully, it will be a great way to spotlight educational opportunities that are free and accessible to all.
My inaugural "Learn at Lunch" visit took place today at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). I visited the Changing America - The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963 exhibit, which is currently housed at the National Museum of American History. The NMAAHC building is scheduled to open in 2015.

The Changing America exhibit includes a number of artifacts from the Civil War era and March on Washington. My personal favorite was a stunning silk shawl Queen Victoria gave Harriet Tubman. As a knitter, I appreciated the intricate design and preservation. I was also struck by how overwhelming it must have been for this woman of humble beginnings to receive something so beautiful from a queen. The exhibit also includes History Channel video clips featuring notable African-Americans like Attorney General Eric Holder and Congressman John Lewis.

This exhibit would be great for adults and middle to high school students. It requires some reading so I'm not sure I would recommend it for very young children. If I took my son, a 4thgrader, I would try to get a guided tour. It would make the exhibit more interactive and provide some perspective on the historical events.

My experience with a lovely docent at a "Touch History” station just outside of the NMAAHC exhibit perfectly illustrated the benefit of a guide. She provided a demonstration on an actual cotton gin and explained the significance of cotton to American history. This wasn’t part of the NMAAHC exhibit but clearly there is a link between cotton and African-Americans’ struggle. Museum goers could test the cotton gin and get a souvenir piece of cotton. My son would have treasured that as if it were gold. I personally enjoyed talking to the docent more than just watching videos. She really brought that particular piece of history to life.

If you are looking for ways to commemorate Black History Month, I would highly recommend this exhibit. It would be great for a solo excursion or family trip!

Friday, February 1, 2013

DC Opportunity Scholarship Program

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrel Issa, and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Todd Rokita sent a letterto Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program(OSP). The letter criticized the Department’s handling of the program. The letter also requested information regarding how scholarships are awarded and an accounting of OSP funds and funds available to D.C. schools under the SOAR Act. According to its website, the OSP “provides scholarships to low-income families residing in the District of Columbia with expanded education opportunities for their children.” Hopefully the Administration will continue to effectively utilize this program for the sake of the little ones!