Friday, August 29, 2014

Hurricanes Are Global, 2014

When I was in elementary school in New York, the beginning of school was associated in my mind with the possibility of hurricanes.  It's not unusual--New York is frequently the target of what we called "the tail" of hurricanes roaring up the East Coast just about this time every year.  And usually we heard that the big bad storm had first come ashore at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Now I live in North Carolina, and I've got a different perspective on those hurricanes. Yes, the jutting point of Cape Hatteras is frequently the first landing.  But the storms come from much farther away  They usually form off the coast of West Africa, and churn their way across the Atlantic, where some of them menace the Southeastern coast before making their stormy way northward.

So I've come to understand that the East Coast storms of early fall are indeed global.  I ruminated a bit on this point, as well as memories of Floyd and Fran, in this blog post from awhile back, at just this time of year

While Marie and Cristobal churn up the waves on both coasts, and we wonder about what our season might bring in the way of tropical storms, give a thought to the global nature of our weather. (One update from my original hurricane blog post. I'm happy to say that WRAL continues with its great hurricane tracking, but the link has changed.  Here it is:  Interactive Hurricane Tracker Map)

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Friday, July 25, 2014

In the Mall

You may have seen this video of a little American girl hearing the Muslim call to prayer for the first time in a mall in Dubai.

If you don't speak three-year-old, you may have a bit of difficulty understanding her first two comments ("That's a good voice."  and "That's a good one.").  You'll probably recognize the American cultural reference she makes (Muslim friends think that one's pretty funny).    

Well, who doesn't love seeing children being "totally adorbs," as one commenter put it?  

But I say the appeal goes deeper than that. Here's a very young person experiencing a culture not her own, and giving it all the attention and consciousness she's got. The real appeal here is the complete, rapt immersion, the opening of eyes and ears and heart. What wouldn't we give, as adults, to experience a new (to us) culture in that intense and beautiful way?

We can try.  Let's resolve at least to try. 

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Study Abroad--Y Not?

Last week, I went to a two-day orientation at the college my youngest will be attending in the fall.  Of course everyone was subjected to a deluge of information, most of which we're still numbly paging or scrolling through.  (Meal plan decision when? And they register for courses--how many courses again?)

But I particularly perked up when they came to the study abroad presentation.  Impressive.  So many opportunities and ways to make study abroad happen for all students. So much enthusiasm on the part of the staff.  And such a big change from a generation ago, when I (for one) had to make arrangements for a year abroad on my own, because there was no Study Abroad Office at my college.

The number of US students studying abroad has tripled in the last twenty years.  So now everyone goes abroad sometime during college, right?

No, not quite everyone.

Y should I study abroad? 
Anyone who's worked with college students realizes (and struggles to overcome) the many remaining barriers to study abroad for students--lack of funding, unfamiliarity with travel, the challenge of majors (particularly STEM) that require specific courses at specific times, the feeling that "people like me (minority, LGBT, first generation college, with disabilities, low income) just don't study abroad." 

I understand how those barriers can seem insurmountable, and I've worked with colleagues in the ongoing project to eliminate them. But one underrepresented group puzzles me.



Male students fall far behind female students in study abroad by a wide margin.  Even given the fact that there are more women in college than men (about 7%), the numbers are still shocking.  According to a study by the Institute of International Education, in 2011-12 the breakdown by gender across the US for students studying abroad was 65% female and 35% male. That's almost a 2 to 1 ratio. And in some colleges and universities, the difference is much greater.

Is it genetic?  Does that Y chromosome mean "Y should I study abroad?"  

Okay, that's just silly.  But the gap may indeed have something to do with how young men perceive gender identity.  If study abroad is (mostly) associated with female students, especially those in the humanities, male students may (falsely) determine that it's not for them. They fall into the "people like me just don't study abroad" fallacy.  And they lose out.

But there's hope. The University at Texas at Austin is examining how messaging about study abroad can better acknowledge what male students value in education.  Duke University is determined to involve more male students in study abroad by offering more international opportunities in engineering and the sciences, disciplines that include a larger percentage of men, and working on recruiting for foreign language studies, which is a strong predictor for study abroad.

These are good strategies, and a good start.  If we believe that study abroad is a valuable, life-changing experience, then we should make sure that all students can see that "people like me study abroad."

Y not, guys?

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Free EU online course

We're at it again!

The UNC European Union Center of Excellence and LEARN NC will be offering The European Union – An Introduction for Teachers, an online professional development course. The course, which runs for four weeks (June 25-July 22), provides two CEUs and lots of online resources for learning and teaching.

The goal of this course is to introduce in-service teachers to the history and the function of the European Union, as well as to digital resources and methods for student learning. By the end of the course, teachers will understand the EU as an essential part of European history, government, economics, and culture, and will be able to facilitate learning about the EU through use of technology.

The final project is a standards-based technology-rich lesson plan incorporating online EU resources for each teacher’s class. Lesson plans will be submitted to the UNC European Union Center of Excellence for possible inclusion in the online lesson plan database.

For more information, contact Dr. Regina Higgins
Register here.  

Human Family

We lost a great poet this week.  Maya Angelou, whose brilliance in writing, activism, and just plain straight-out living left us gasping in admiration, has been described as a "global renaissance woman."

And how.

Worthwhile to take the time to trace that extraordinary life through Stamps, Arkansas, to Egypt, to Ghana, and beyond.

And even more worthwhile to listen to the poet's voice, her testimony to what she learned about our humanity through her world travels and her extraordinary gift for living.

You can read the poem, "Human Family," but I suggest you listen instead.

Peace be to her valiant spirit.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Africa is Not a Country, But It Has Only One Book Cover

Right now you're dashing for the end-of-the-year finish line.  But make some time to take a look at this great post on the Africa is a Country site and the follow-up article by Michael Silverburg in The Atlantic, "Why Every Book About Africa Has the Same Cover."

Well, perhaps not every book about Africa has the same cover. But Simon Stevens of Columbia University collected and offers as evidence quite a boat-load here, enough to make you ask why Africa's design short-hand has to be an acacia tree against a dramatic sunrise/set just . . .  so many times.  And it was his brilliant graphic and comment that got this discussion going most recently.

It's not the first time publishers have been called out for stereotypical images on their book covers. (Take a look at this post about how publishers package translations of Middle Eastern books.)  Nor will it be the last. But is there anything we, as teachers, can make of such a discussion?

Don't judge a book by its cover, we've been told. But the cover (including the title and author) is the first piece of information a book offers us. That cover is intended to have an effect on us--i.e., "ooh, I must buy this book!" The images publishers choose are meant to connect with us emotionally and aesthetically as well as intellectually to produce this "ooh, I must buy this book!" effect. So the question the Africa is a Country post raises is, do publishers actually think that "Africa" can be positively linked in our hearts and minds to only one image (h/t @meowmusiq) ?

It's time to include book covers in book discussion. Not as an add-on or extra credit option, but as an essential part of coming to terms with a literary work. Maybe whenever we give students a book (especially a popular one) we should assess that book's cover, ask ourselves and our students why that particular design might have been chosen. What does it tell us about the story inside, even before we've opened the book? Do they think the image works? Or would they have chosen a different design?

Teachable moments.  There are just so many of them.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The World's Fair--Or Is It?

Lately, we've been inundated with images and memories of the 1964 World's Fair in New York. Understandable, since it's the fiftieth anniversary of "the Fair" (as organizer Robert Moses insisted everyone call it in his hearing).  As a predictor of the future, it was so-so. Yes, we're all tapping away at computers (then imagined as necessarily ginormous), but no jet packs. Not yet, anyway. (Too many Belgian waffles, maybe?)

Despite the publicity, it wasn't even officially a World's Fair. Because the Fair violated several international guidelines on the length of the exhibition, scheduling, and fee charging, the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris refused to sanction it. And on top of that (probably because of that), a disappointingly low number of countries actually participated. The Soviet Union declined (okay, it was the Cold War). Indonesia came, but withdrew (again, political tensions).  But Canada and Australia didn't show up, and most of Western Europe gave it a pass. When both Germanys gave the Fair the cold shoulder, a "West Berlin" exhibit suddenly popped up. Guess that showed 'em.

Oh, well.  The party went on anyway. And the international theme was carried forward most memorably by America's number one showman, Walt Disney, in the exhibit "It's a Small World."

Here's the charming story of how it happened. Pepsi-Cola, overwhelmed with respect and love for the world's children, hired Disney to create a ride/show in honor of UNICEF.  The promise--to celebrate the children of the world in each culture, and globally.

And here's the result.

To be honest, I have to admit that when I recall seeing "It's a Small World" at the Fair as a child, all I remember is the experience of total sensory overload. That, and the child seated in front of me, who kept asking "when can we get out?"  At one point, she leaned toward a nodding and dancing animatron and screamed "I hate you!"  So much for peace through understanding.  But I'm sure they sold a lot of Pepsi.

Now, of course, all I can see is the almost unbelievable cultural craziness in this round the world tour.  "The wooden-shoe children of Holland"?  Really?  And "exotic Asia," of course, with its mish-mash of China and Japan, followed up by flying carpets over the Taj Mahal. And "the mysterious dark continent of Africa." And let's just stop there.

Because we could go on and on about how clueless we all were fifty years ago.  The point it, where are we now?  How do we introduce our young students to their peers around the world?  Is it any deeper and more authentic an experience than a ride through a tunnel populated by animatronic dolls?

Still not there yet.  Jet pack, anyone?

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