Do The Right Thing

I guess it’s been a long, but inspiring day. Tonight after getting home to Seattle, I attended a lecture by Michael Sandel, author of many books including Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

It was a great talk on philosophy, Aristotle’s view of justice, and how our political discourse today has become empty shouting matches. He engaged the audience in various moral and ethical issues, but the one thing that stood out in this lecture was that in order to have a functioning democracy, we need to start listening to each other and engage with those who disagree.

What is the purpose of what you are debating, and what is it’s value and qualities that make it worthy were questions he came back to for every question he posed to the audience.

I think this can be done with second graders too. They can debate what are difficult questions that are related to them such as: do zoos belong in a community? Which is better paper or plastic? Teaching kids to listen actively to opposing views can deepen their ability to think critically, and appreciate differences.

Even as adults, when we are engaged in something that we are emotionally tied to –  being able to listen and be rational, will bring us closer to justice.

Planting the Seeds of Opportunity

I had the pleasure today to be in Vancouver to hear Sir Ken Robinson talk about the schools of the future. But where to start? There were so many great nuggets.

The thing that stuck with me most was the idea of stripping education down to its main purpose and then ask what is essential. If you strip away everything, the school building, the text books, the standards, the politics, and so on, what you are basically left with is a student and teacher. That teacher can be a parent, a professional teacher, or another peer. In essence, education relies on Relationships. Anything you add to that, if it doesn’t improve it – get rid of it. He said all the rest of it is noise or distractions.

Education, especially in the public schools are bloated with a lot of things we don’t need or do not improve education. Organizations like schools are not machines. They are about people and feelings.

The other thing he mentioned is that everything happens at the ground level between student and teachers and that we are going through an education revolution.

He said he cannot predict the future, but asked us to imagine what the processing power of a computer 10, 15, 50 years from now. Just think about it. If you could go back in time to the 1950s, would they believe you could have all the computing processing power in your pocket? We don’t know what kind of jobs these kids are going to have (most haven’t been invented yet). So as teachers, we need to try new things, take risks, be creative, and in turn nurture the same thing in our students. We cannot continue using practices from the 19th or even the 20th century. Change happens, it happens slowly but it is increasing. Sir Ken mentioned that if you asked Queen Victoria if she would have imagined the British Empire gone within one generation, do you think she would have believed you?

The first words of my school’s mission statement is: “Through innovative teaching … ” That means we should be trying new things in our classrooms all the time, and while some may work, others might not. And it isn’t just in math and language arts, which are the subjects that tend to be the major things that get measured on standardized tests. True, they will need some of these skills to be successful, but standardized tests only measure one kind of skill and are designed for kids to identify one correct answer, rather than look at a novel way at solving a problem. Would you evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness by giving him/her a standardized test in pedagogy or observe how they interact with their students?

Sir Ken Robinson mentions that there are two factors that are facing us in the future – one is technology, and the other is the growing population and our limited resources. I mentioned imagining what computers would be like in 50 years (there are predictions that they may emulate an adult human by then), but what will our population be in the year 2050 (There are estimates of over 9 billion)? If we consumed like the people in the subsaharan do today (oil, food, etc.), he mentioned that there’d be enough to sustain about 15 billion people. If we consume like North Americans do today, we could sustain 1.2 billion people. We are already over 6.5 billion as we speak.

People who are going to solve these problems along with climate change will need to be good at math and science, but they will also need to be innovators. They will need to take risks, and try new things – as crazy as they may seem to some people.

What we also need to do is help students find and develop their passions. Yes, literacy and numeracy are important goals, but there are some who never discover high levels of achievement and personal satisfaction in the the thing that they do well naturally. In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, he calls the element ” the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.

At this point, he says something similar to Yong Zhao, we have to give these kids opportunities to develop their talents, whatever they may be. Sir Robinson is an incredible speaker, had a slide show prepared, and chose not to use any images. His talk was compelling enough.

He recalled an anecdote about Sir Paul McCartney who was told by his music teacher that he didn’t have much talent. George Harrison was in that class too and told something similar. Here was a teacher who had half the Beatles in his class, and missed it! What are we missing in our students.

If you look at the biographies of many people who changed the world. Many did well at school, but many did not. Somewhere along the way a teacher, peer, or parent, spotted this different aptitude and that child’s love for it, and the rest they say is history.

He summed up is talk by saying there were three things he thought were important to education of the future:

  1. Person (relationships) – People learn from people. Find the talent in your students. Help your students find the talent in each other.
  2. Diversity is crucial. Different cultures take different things for granted and our thinking is not homogenous. It leads to new ideas. We need to see the other as friend, not foe. If kids feel they are not good at something (like math or reading) they may inadvertently suppress their “element.”
  3. Economics – we need to stop investing in models of the past and look toward the future.

I could go on – I’m still grasping a lot of what he said. It was inspiring. So get into your classrooms, and if something isn’t working try thinking about it differently. Adapt and innovate. Visionaries don’t necessarily know what the future will hold, but they continually ask questions, make predictions, and try new things. Many have called Sir Ken Robinson a visionary in education.

His book is absolutely fascinating, and I’m only part way through it, but  I’m sure I will post more about it as I finish it up.

On a side note – One thing I enjoyed was that the sold out audience included the BC minister of education, administrators, teachers, parents, but al so high school students. Thanks for inviting me, CR.


Children Will Listen

Earlier this week I went to a play called God of Carnage. Having won the Oliver in London for Best Comedy and the Tony for Best Play in 2009. I don’t know if it’s because bullying is such an important topic right now, but the play, even though it was a dark comedy, left little for me to laugh at.

I’m about to give away the premise of the play, so stop reading if you intend to see it.

It’s starts out with two couples who have gathered at one of the couple’s home to talk and resolve a conflict about one of the boys bullying the other. What happens over the course of the evening (a 90 minute one-act with no intermission) is that the adults end up bullying each other (including their own spouses) and devolve into child-like behavior themselves.

It reminds me of a song from South Pacific called “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

Short and simple, but very powerful the lyrics (written by Hammerstein over 50 years ago) are as follows:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I also happened to stumble across a post by a parent at my school who wrote about a personal story about what parents/teachers/adults teach our own kids. You can read it here at her website.

Schools cannot necessarily undo everything, but they can work at creating a climate of safety and make learning spaces ones where ALL children feel they are welcome, belong, and add value.

If you’re unfamiliar with the song, here’s a video of Mandy Patinkin recording it.

Being Welcome into Another’s Home

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending my very first Bar Mitzfah, a former student of mine. Without ever stepping inside a temple before, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. And if you try to search the internet and do a little research, the variety is almost endless.

I think it’s a great growing experience to step outside ones familiar surroundings, and I think it varies what each person learns.

Detail of a window at the Temple Di Hirsch Sanai in Seattle

First, my anxiety was eased by a feeling of welcome. There was never a feeling of ‘you’re not one of us’. The synagog/temple was stunningly beautiful and did not look too different from some of the Catholic churches I grew up with.

Second, the ceremony was clearly a rite of passage steeped in thousands of years of tradition, and one that obviously involved a lot of preparation on the part of a 13-year-old.

What I really noticed was that all the passages and readings from the Torah (even if you took out the religious references) were ones that any human could relate to. Having faith in oneself to take risks, make good choices, and learn from mistakes were a common theme. Another message was that we strive to do good with the intention to leave the world a better place than how we found it. Yet, we  are human and will sometimes make mistakes. In essence – we learn.

I was really touched throughout the ceremony, but mostly because I was very proud of my former student’s success and his mom’s as well.

Finally, the reason this experience is appearing here on this blog is because it reminds me of the importance of the tenets of multicultural and diversity education. Whether that diversity is in religious beliefs, culture, orientation, political ideology, the most important thing is to ensure a feeling of belonging. Today I was a little worried that I was going to be an outsider peering in, but I felt welcomed instantly.

Our schools, classrooms, and curriculum need to be places where everyone feels like they belong. The act of learning itself, from taking risks and making mistakes, or wanting to work to make this world a better place for future generations, are values that cross cultures and beliefs. The more we explore differences, it’s not surprising that we often find many similarities.

CS and MS thanks for always being so welcoming and including me in your special day. It was wonderful and I enjoyed every minute of it. You both should be very proud.

Shabbat Shalom!


Yong Zhao at PNAIS: Children Are Like Pop Corn

Dr. Zhao’s presentation at the PNAIS fall conference today was great. With the main premise that American education promotes innovation and entrepreneurship. When asked where the next Microsoft, Apple or Google would come from, the answer was the US.

With the former president’s NCLB and the current administration’s Race to the Top, where test scores are the main measure for student success or teacher accountability, they are actually doing more harm.

The world is changing and it’s the creative class that are going to be the most successful. He joked that if you asked kids in India or China what they aspired to, they answered engineer, scientist, etc. and that they wanted to go to Harvard or MIT. Americans would answer the same questions with answers like Perdue, or another school. And then he joked about the time he asked his 5 year-old daughter about what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she said, “an elephant.”

It was a great story to say that as Americans, we dream big. We aspire to more than being competent in calculus. We have a broad education and we nurture our children’s talents.

While we have a goal that every third grader will be able to read proficiently, it’s not high enough. We want them to dream. We want them to dream big.

What is important in American education is innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, passion, purpose, and pursuits. The more diverse your place of work, the better it will be. Not because those who are diverse have better ideas, but they will have different ideas to bring to the table and from the combination of several ideas may even emerge a novel one. This would apply to children in a classroom as well. He said technology, talent, and tolerance will lead the way.

He then recalled a first grade teacher that said to him, “Children are like pop-corn. The all pop at different times.” And when we expect children to fall within a line on a chart by measuring them through a standardized tests, we are not teaching them to be innovative, create,  and be entrepreneurs.

“Where’s the hope?” Zhao asks. Then his next slide is a picture of Madonna. She probably didn’t have the highest scores in elementary school, came from a small town in Michigan. Sure she has a niche audience. But that niche exists all over the globe.

Like Daniel Pink said in his book A Whole New Mind, Design, Story, Symphony, Empathy, Play, and Meaning are the skills that will guide the leaders of the 21st century.

As our current president endorses extending the school year, China is looking to shortening it.

So what can we do to acheive this?

Personalize Education toward “the drive to tailor education to individual need, interest and aptitude so as to fulfill every young person’s potential” (Department for Education and Skills (UK), 2004)

We need more kids aspiring to become elephants.



Follow Up to Yesterday’s post on Singapore Math

I was re-reading Yong Zhao’s book this weekend, Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization since he is one of the keynotes at our conference in Portland on Friday. I came across a short passage of where he describes Singapore engaging in curriculum reform. One of them is titled: Thinking Schools, Learning Nation which aims to “develop all students into active learners with critical thinking skills and to develop a creative and critical thinking culture within schools.”

There was also another policy document from Singapore “which called for a more varied curriculum, a focus on learning rather than teachin, and more autonomy for schools and teachers.”

So while schools jump on the latest bandwagon to adopt Singapore math (well it’s been around for a while, so it’s not that new) they need to ask themselves: Will it improve learning?

I’m excited to hear him speak. Born in China, Zhao is an advocate for American education and warns us not to emulate China or other Asian education systems.

Here’s his website. Enjoy.

Boys will be Boys…

… or does this attitude perpetuate bullying? We have to be careful what those things are. With girls, it can be more subtle, but just as powerful. There is a huge difference between a little rough housing and purposefully picking on someone.

The story out of Rutgers this week is a tragic and pointless one, both for the victim and the perpetrators, and who knows if it could have been prevented. Nonetheless, it’s important to try.

Kids need adults to step in and stop anything that doesn’t look right. We have to help both the victims and the agressors.

At our school, from pre-K to 2nd we use the Committee for Children’s “Second Step” program, and from 3rd to 5th, their “Steps to Respect” program. Besides empathy training, impulse control and problem solving, and anger management, it also focuses on affirming, asking, assessing, and acting. That final piece is one that is crucial. Words are empty, if we don’t act. If we are to train our kids not be bystanders, we as parents and teachers also need to stop being bystanders.

It’s never too early to teach a kid empathy and how to be accepting. The classroom or school climate is one where every kid has to feel valued rather than isolated.

Below, Ellen Degeneres’s  comments are touching and moving, but mostly an important public service announcement.

Last week I was at a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and although the Senator’s speech was great, and the main guest speaker’s talk was fun, it was the speech from a female minister of an accepting Christian church that talked about how children come to her door because their own families have shunned them. Many never find a resource and end their lives. You would think that doesn’t happen today, but it does.

A coworker brought to my attention some of the work the HRC is doing to help stop this cycle in schools. The resource is called “Welcoming Schools“.

It is not surprising that two of the journals I read have articles on cyberbullying in their first issue of the school year. Let’s not be bystanders and stop the senseless cycle.

Click here for an article from Instructor

Click here for an article in Teaching Tolerance.

Alternative Uses

There’s a great park in my neighborhood who’s tennis courts turn into dodgeball and bicycle polo late at night. I haven’t witnessed any of it, but a coworker has mentioned the diverse community that show to watch or play. It’s a really positive use of space and until now hasn’t really been covered by the media.

Image taken from the Capitol Hill Blog

Here’s an article the captures some of what goes on at Cal Anderson Park late at night.

Our new campus has amazing spaces and we’re just finding out how to use them. Obviously with little children, safety comes first. Then they should have fun alternative ways to use the space. Yesterday we brainstormed some great ideas with our faculty and hopefully this conversation will continue to make this an enjoyable experience for all.

Building Bridges

This weekend Seattle celebrates gay pride. Like many cities in this country, the weekend in June is chosen to commemorate the Stonewall Riots which were a series of protests and demonstrations against a police raid that took place on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. It is considered by many to be the catalyst that began the gay rights movement in the U.S.

Whenever a minority group is marginalized because of laws, it takes several brave souls to step forward and make their voice heard. I think about Susan B. Anthony and others in the women’s suffrage movement who never got to live to see the day women got to vote, or Martin Luther King Jr. who didn’t get a chance to witness Barack Obama’s inauguration. With any of these movements, it also takes the building of allies and learning that we are all better because of our differences. Men supported the suffrage movement, for example. My first reaction a few weeks ago to the news that Elton John had performed at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding was to be incredulous, but if finding common ground moves us all forward, then kudos to both of them.

What does this mean for educators? It means that we cannot be bystanders to name calling, bullying, or taunting for whatever reason. When kids single other kids out for being different, teachers need to stop and use that opportunity as a ‘teachable moment’, singling out the behavior. It means teaching kids to care enough to recognize whether they or their peers are treated fairly. Also, multicultural education and social/emotional education needs to be woven into our curricula. Of course, what this looks like for a 2nd grader will look very different to what it might look like for a 9th grader.

There are many organizations with rich resources to help educators and families. Here are a few:

Teaching Tolerance (a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center)

GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) – the group behind Gay Straight Alliances in high schools (by the way, this was a straight person’s idea)

Amercian Civil Liberties Union

Rethinking Schools

PFLAG (Parents, Families, Friends, or Lesbians and Gays)

Personally, I’d like to thank those in 1969 who stood up and began to speak out. My life may have been very different without them. I would also like to thank all my straight allies as well, without whom progress towards equality would be much slower. There are many other groups all over this country and the world who have it much worse. Let’s teach all our kids to build alliances. Happy Pride!

Differentiating by Ability and Heterogeneous Grouping: Aren’t These Conflicting Terms?

Differentiating curriculum by ability and having children work in heterogeneous groupings are considered two important strategies in meeting learners where they are. I’ve always struggled with this, especially in math. Can both strategies be utilized simultaneously? A child entering second grade who is still counting on his fingers needs very different instruction from another who can use repeated addition to multiply 3-digit numbers by a single-digit number (in his head). How can you group these students so their learning is maximized?

First, I’m learning that not everything has to be differentiated, nor does every grouping need to be heterogeneous. Knowing the objectives and your students are key. Second, depending on the lesson or concepts being taught, one strategy may be better than the other. There are times, however, when you can do both.

As a culminating math activity, we adapted a unit where the second graders had to set about building a village. Reusing half-gallon milk cartons, brown paper bags, scrap paper, students created their homes, businesses. They had to create budgets in order to get supplies, work together to solving the problem of how lay out their own town quadrants based on very strict city codes. Throughout this unit, they were working in heterogeneous groups. As the unit progressed, we started to differentiate the math. While some were figuring out the area and perimeter of a piece of land 2 square units by 8 square units, others measured each square unit to find out their actual size (4″ by 4″) and found the area and perimeter of the same piece of land using square inches. 2 x 8 is quite different than 8 x 32. It was great to see one student count out the actual squares and to observe the other solve the problem by writing 64+64+64+64 vertically and begin to solve.

Not every math lesson or unit lends itself as well, but the same two children were able to work cooperatively to create and solve problems together, and yet were still given math learning opportunities that suited their learning needs. Differentiation and heterogeneous grouping are not mutually exclusive of each other, but they often seem that way. Hopefully, when I recognize those two strategies working together, I can make a few notes with the chance that I may replicate it elsewhere.

tea, eye, sea … What Comes Next?

We had a great in-service today about keeping our accelerated math students engaged. Of course many of the strategies presented would motivate ALL kids. One thing that was stressed in this presentation: kids need to learn to engage socially and have the necessary skills to collaborate. Teaching kids to value each other’s expertise, opinions, and ideas, whether they are similar or completely different should be one of our main goals in educating these minds for tomorrow.

Something new I learned today (according to the National Cancer Institute):

The improvement in survival for children with ALL over the past 35 years is one of the great success stories of cancer treatment. In the 1960s, less than 5 percent of children with ALL survived for more than five years. Today, about 85 percent of children with ALL live five years or more.

This did not come about because of one person, but because of collaboration among many doctors and scientists.

Kids will need to learn to work together if they are going to solve today’s global problems. But to work together, they will need to share and value each other’s ideas.

Diversity is such a gift when we recognize the efforts, ideas, and talents others offer. Some seem to be so threatened by other people’s ideas that we often forget to see that we have so much in common. Without getting too far into politics, one only has to look at the theatrics on both sides that recently surrounded national healthcare legislation. People are naturally attracted to those with similar interests and affinities. If one of those affinities was recognizing what people of differing backgrounds bring to the table, we could get so much more done. The presenter, Kay Law, described a teacher who made every kid believe they could learn algebra. That teacher valued each child’s ideas. The answer to this post’s title, by the way, is that there are many possible patterns and we need to validate each one.

A little unrelated, but we were shown a video put together about 21st century learners and their needs. This is how a group of teachers from a school responded.

PNAIS Fall Conference 2010: Featured Speakers Announced

I’m really excited about the lineup for the PNAIS fall conference this year. The featured speakers are Dr. John Medina, Dr. James Banks, and Dr. Yong Zhao. I’ve written a little bit about all three speakers on this blog and you can read more by clicking on each name above.  You can also click here to read the promotional flyer. In addition to these great speakers, PNAIS is looking for you. So if you have something to share and present or an affinity group to lead, go to this part of the PNAIS website and click on the “And YOU” graphic for more details.

2010 Census: Think Outside the Box

Having attended James Banks keynote earlier in the week in addition to a few diversity sessions at this years NAIS conference, I had to chuckle when I saw the boxes listed under the question, “What is this person’s race.” A couple of coworkers found it pretty amusing too. I wonder how many white Americans will check the box ‘Some other race’ and fill in Norwegian Irish if that’s what they are?

It says to mark one or more boxes, but for someone like me who is Chinese, Portuguese, and Irish, I’d check the Chinese box, but am not sure what other box to check. I’ve never identified with white and the ‘other Asian’ box doesn’t really fit Portuguese and Irish. This just made me think that when it comes to creating an inclusive classroom community, I hope the kids I teach can identify with whoever they think they are and can laugh whenever they are asked to check a box or two about themselves.

The race question for me is actually easier than the question before it: “Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?” Read more to find out why. Continue reading


One of the sessions I attended at the NAIS conference that I hadn’t written about until now was called: What Are You? The Changing Face of America.

It featured artist Kip Fulbeck who’s newest book: Mixed: Portraits of Multicultural Kids features wonderful images of children of multiple ethnicities who answer the question: What are you? Some of the children are young and one of their parents answers that questions.

I could relate to Fulbeck when he talked about filling in forms (standardized tests, job applications, etc.) and they asked you to check a box: White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Other. What if you were white and black, could you check both boxes or just other. By asking a child to choose one, you are essentially asking them to pick one parent over another.

Being a mix of Chinese, Portuguese, Irish, and other ethnicities, it was refreshing to see images of people who don’t fit any of the ethnic boxes that are often provided. In the end, to me, what it really is about is who you think you are. Make your own box.

One of my favorites is a portrait of a boy called Olivier who is listed as French and Japanese. His mom writes: We plan on telling Olivier that identifying with one race would be impossible. We hope that he embraces Bollywood, dessert wine, bagpipes and kilts, kimchi, four leaf clovers, and wooden shoes.

You can learn more about the book at this website.

An exhibition of images from his new book starts next week at the Japanese American National Museum.

The book is due to be released this week, but Fulbeck had copies available at the conference. I picked one up if anyone is interested in taking a look.

The Challenge is in the Moment

I attended a keynote address by Dr. James Banks at Seattle U earlier today. James Banks has been called by some as the father of multicultural education in the United States. His talk was titled: Human Rights, Diversity, and Citizenship Education in Global Times – just imagine trying to do that in an hour. I won’t even attempt to summarize his talk, but he definitely hit on some key points.

He began his keynote by referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (you can read the whole thing here). And though it is easy to talk about all its promises, it is not so easy to implement in the classroom. We have to recognize that students are citizens themselves and not citizens in waiting. Students must experience human rights and therefore they themselves must have an education in which their identities are affirmed and empowered through their experience.

Banks talked about assimilation and how through shame, immigrants historically shed their culture in order for the hope of a better life. White ethnic groups were successful at assimilating, but Hispanics, Natives, and Blacks were not. They could not ‘deculturalize’. Do schools today still ask kids to be more like the dominant culture? Are there still schools in the country that have signs in the hallways saying, “No Speaking Spanish”? Rather than make kids feel shame about their culture (or identity for that matter), we need to validate that experience and then give them context.  James Banks used Black English as an example. Do not place judgement on Black English, don’t make them feel shameful about it. They are going to speak it at church on Sundays anyway. Instead, validate their context, but also point out other contexts. Banks example was, Black English is not going to get you a tenured position at the University of Washington.

He then continued about the following identities overlapping: global, cultural, national, and regional. Most important though is that of the individual.

It was humbling how much more there was to learn and do with regard to multicultural education and Banks, insisted we write down the names and authors of books that we needed to add to our reading lists. Scholars in the field of justice, law, human rights, education, and such. Banks then told us what we had to do (besides all that reading): We had to Know, Care, and Act.


He asked us to simply think about the words pioneer or settler and then to think what words the Sioux might have used to describe the same people. Think about the term ‘westward expansion’ and think which group that simple terminology empowers. He mentioned that someone in another group he had been speaking to changed the term ‘pioneer’ to ‘illegal immigrant’ which got a laugh from the crowd. But just think about it for a second. Just knowing enough to challenge the language in our history books would be a great starting point.

Caring: Banks then cited Dante:

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.”

…and quoted MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN - “Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.”

and mentioned Audre Lorde, the American feminist, who wrote: “Your silence will not protect you.”

Acting: We need to have the courage to act. What Banks talked about here reminded me of Irshad Manji’s talk at the NAIS conference of having the moral courage to speak up for what is right. Here is a quote from MLK Jr.:

“Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”

Banks closed with a quote from James Baldwin: There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”


NAIS Diversity Leadership Award Recipient 2010

Each year at the NAIS conference, there is a Diversity Leadership Award given out. This year’s recipient was Reveta Franklin Bowers. She began her acceptance by saying, “Stories shape the way we are, particularly those that are passed down in families.” I attended a different session at this time, but a colleague who was able to attend that session told me how moved he was by her family’s story. You can read it here (start 6 paragraphs down). Stories like hers are inspiring and demonstrate how important it is to listen to each other’s stories. We will find similarities and differences, agree with some and disagree with others, but we need to be able to set aside our biases and notice that many of the things we want are really the same, just viewed from different lenses. Many have written how humans are naturally drawn to people who are like themselves. Wouldn’t it be great if that likeness was a belief that because of our differences, we all have something unique and valuable to contribute towards making this world a better place for all.

Another source for great stories is the Greater Good Science Center out of UC Berkley which promotes the study and development of human happiness, compassion, and altruism. Here’s another powerful story related to diversity from their December ’09 issue. If you get tired of news about all the crises in our world (financial, health, education, climate, disasters), their online magazine is a great alternative.

Another source for great stories told in 5 minutes or less is NPRs Story Corps. There have been a few that have made me tear up enough that I had to keep driving past the coffee shop in the morning to regain composure.

I think that’s the problem I had with the movie Avatar. While I was blown away by the stunning effects and the way the movie was able to make me feel like I was on Pandora, the story wasn’t new to me. I’ve seen Romeo and Juliet, Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, West Side Story, and such. I want to see the story of what happens next, what struggles they encounter, and how they overcome those. Perhaps that is why The Hurt Locker won the Oscar for best picture. I haven’t seen it yet, but I suspect its story was a little fresher.

Ishrad Manji: Asking Questions and Speaking Truth

The closing session of the conference featured Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith. She is a muslim who believes that there is room for debate and critical thinking in all things. She challenges fundamentalist thinking which uses fear rather than dialogue. She encourages girls throughout the Islamic world to speak out, be curious and critical, and most of all, ask questions. Irshad Manji is the director of the Moral Courage Project at NYU and is frequently featured in the New York Times, BBC, CNN, PBS and other prominent media sources. You can read more about her at her website. With continued death threats, she continues to speak about how meaningful diversity embraces different ideas and not just identities.

Regardless of your beliefs or position on this issue, the main message was for us as individuals as well as independent schools to continue to ask the hard questions and, with respect, get over the political correctness and speak up.

Unfortunately, the message I got from her presentation about finding the courage to speak your truth seemed to be lost on some. During an informal Q and A at the end of the presentation, most who went to the microphone focused on her political message rather than the idea of courage. I cringed as one educator attacked Manji’s mission. This teacher who was coming from an emotional place, entered an intellectual debate with a very polished scholar. Unfortunately, the match was one sided and I felt like this poor woman was tackled by a 250 pound football player in front of an audience of thousands. Ouch!

Whatever our beliefs or convictions, she urged us to start with ourselves and find the courage to ask questions and engage in intellectual curiosity. My school’s mission wants to challenge every child to be a confident, curious, and courageous learner. Manji says we can’t really do that if we don’t start with ourselves.