Friday, October 9, 2009

Oklahoma's Senator Inhofe or Israel's President Peres?

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman.

Those were the words of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. Pretty simple and clear. The American public decides who wins American Idol or Dancing with Disgraced Republicans but Alfred Nobel appointed a committee of scholars to decide the recipient of the Peace Prize. As a friend of mine likes to say, "It's their spoon so they get to stir."

This year they decided to base the award on words, not achievements. Words matter. The committee honored President Obama's willingness to to engage in dialogue and negotiations
"as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts."

World opinion matters. Of course the yokels and the haters believe our country should be the world enforcer because we are the biggest, strongest and richest. Lacking knowledge or understanding of world history they laugh at the idea that there is value in respectful listening and peace making. The truth is that we will not always be the biggest, the strongest or the richest country. Even if our empire were to last longer than the British Empire, (it won't) we would still need more open hands and fewer clenched fists because the world is more crowded and more connected than at any time in history.

So I am delighted that the Nobel Committee honored my country by selecting our President. I understand that it is a symbol given at the beginning of long journey. I also understand that the people who are angry or spiteful about the award care more about petty politics than about the values that make democracy possible.

Jim Inhofe, Rush Limbaugh, Hugo Chavez and Khaled Al-Batsh, a leader of the militant Islamic Jihad in Gaza stand together in disagreement about the award. President Shimon Peres of Israel and Desmond Tutu endorsed the announcement. I know which side I prefer.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

From Tulsa's Holiday Hills To San Francisco's Mission

Wednesday is the first day of school. I always love the sights and sounds of children, teachers and parents greeting each other with anticipation for the new year. I am keenly aware of how lucky I am to work in a vibrant and diverse San Francisco neighborhood. I am privileged to own a home nearby where I hope to live again. Neighborhoods shape our view of the world and our place in it.

Throughout my life I have lived surrounded by affluence. The typical 50's- 60's subdivision, Holiday Hills, of my childhood, Tulsa's upscale enclave of Maple Ridge where I spent my Junior League years, the gold paved streets of Palo Alto, the beautifully manicured neighborhood where I raised my children when they were in elementary school and the exclusive estates which surround my current home in Woodside have all been filled with people like me. My neighbors in these places have been mostly white, well educated Americans who have never known hunger,faced discrimination based on color or creed and don't worry about obtaining adequate housing, education or health care. Life presents everyone with challenges but throughout my life I have enjoyed opportunity and support. It is very easy to be a conservative when one is privileged. I assumed that everyone had similar opportunities and that social programs coddled people. I was very uncomfortable with anything that veered from the norm, whether it was landscaping with native plants instead of pansies or men and woman who found love with same sex partners. When everyone you know well is like you it is easy to label people who are different as wrong or weak.

I am still an affluent, white woman with a country club membership and business class seats on airplanes but my life is much richer because of my contact with the wider world. As I walk to work on streets where grime is mixed with beauty and where I am surrounded by people whose path is very different from my own I feel more connected to the world than I ever felt in my 'hood. Everyday I realize how much I don't know about the world and how much I want to learn. It's all good.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Educating for Their Furture Not Our Past

Today was the first day of school for my seventeen year old son. I think this is the very first time on his academic journey that I did not shed a tear at the launch of a new year. I am not sure why my eyes remained dry. After all today is a milestone in several ways; he drove himself to school and is starting college a year early while he earns his last few high school credits. Yet for the first time since he toddled off to "Mommy and Me" I am not nostalgic. I am excited about his new adventure because Middle College is a unique opportunity to escape the four walls of traditional high school and transition to more responsibility and academic rigor. I don't expect the program to be perfect or believe JW will have a flawless year but I am grateful to be part of an alternative that is not reserved for scholastic stars or designed for drop-outs. We need more alternatives for "regular kids" like JW.

I believe the next generation of parents will demand transformation of schools. I am not talking about more detailed standards or increased high stakes testing. I mean deep change in how we reach students and in what we want them to know and be able to do. There won't be one perfect model of a 21st century school. There will be many types of learning communities that will enable our society to what Robert Epstein describes as
"mass education on an individual basis."
Epstein, former editor in chief of Psychology Today, has a great take on what today's teenagers need and why they are not being well served in the traditional high school.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wordle Middle School Movie Reviews

Synergy Summer film club for middle school students. We are using wordle to review movies. The word clouds spark discussion and are sometimes used as the foundation for writing projects.

All images were created using Wordle @

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What Are We Doing

I love schools. I thrive on the energy in the hallways and classrooms. I am delighted by the chatter on the play yard. I adore talking to children and watching excellent teachers work their magic. I believe in the possibilities. I'm an optimist. I buy that cheesy bromide "children are the future," and I know that educators have a tremendous opportunity to influence the future through guiding children. I admire most of my client schools and treasure every day I spend at Synergy but the truth is I fear that too often we fail to effectively reach children. I am sure that schools, all schools, need to change. Formal education, from elementary school through grad school, is in need of transformation.

Public schools will change last because state legislatures and federal mandates never drive authentic transformation; at best they follow the lead of others and more often, as Sir Kenneth Robinson says, they look to the past for direction. In theory independent and other private schools have the freedom to define their own metrics of success, try new teaching methods, take risks and tilt at windmills. Sadly exciting innovation and authentic educational reform is too rare in non-public schools but that's another post- hell that's an entire book!

Eighteen years ago John Taylor Gatto wrote,
A few years back one of the schools at Harvard, perhaps the School of Government, issued some advice to its students on planning a career in the new international economy it believed was arriving. It warned sharply that academic classes and professional credentials would count for less and less when measured against real world training. Ten qualities were offered as essential to successfully adapting to the rapidly changing world of work.

Here are the ten qualities Gatto attributed to Harvard:
1) The ability to define problems without a guide.
2) The ability to ask hard questions which challenge prevailing assumptions.
3) The ability to work in teams without guidance.
4) The ability to work absolutely alone.
5) The ability to persuade others that your course is the right one.
6) The ability to discuss issues and techniques in public with an eye to reaching decisions
about policy.
7) The ability to conceptualize and reorganize information into new patterns.
8) The ability to pull what you need quickly from masses of irrelevant data.
9) The ability to think inductively, deductively, and dialectically.
10) The ability to attack problems heuristically.

Are these the qualities that a well educated person needs for the 21st century? Think you can come up with a better list? Please share- I'd love to see it.

How would you answer any of the following questions?

What is the curriculum of necessity for the 21st century?

What should schools do to prepare today's students for their future?

What does a well educated 21st century person need to know and be able to do?


Sunday, April 26, 2009

100 Days- No Regrets!

Early in 2008 I decided to support Barack Obama for president. It was not an obvious choice. As a woman and mom I was attracted to Hillary Clinton but the more I listened to the debates and watched Barack Obama navigate the campaign it became obvious that he had the temperament and the intelligence to be the leader we need. Dreams of My Father is one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. It is a remarkable story about families, cultures and self discovery and it is honest and elegantly written. When I put down the book I was certain of two things. First, I wanted my children to read the book and second, for the first time in my life, I wanted to work in a campaign.

One hundred days into his term I have no regrets. My life and expectations for the future have altered in the past eight months but my certainty that Barack Obama is the right president for these difficult times has not changed. I believe he is atransformation leader in a time that calls for transformation.

My strong desire for societal transformation may seem strange. Like many of my generation, the early 50-somethings, I am lucky. We were too young for Vietnam, we benefited from opportunities made possible by the Civil Rights and Feminist movements and have, for the majority of our adulthood, enjoyed low interest rates and soaring stock values which allowed us to travel, shop and dine in a manner once reserved for the super rich. But the legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren is shameful.

Our self-absorbed consumptive practices have contributed to planetary peril. Our low tax, big spending ways made our social entitlements unsustainable long before the stimulus bill. Ignorance of science and history has left the masses susceptible to manipulation of fear mongers, hate groups and corrupt leaders. Our culture of desire celebrates the Gordon Gekko philosophy, greed is good and it is rare to hear religious or political leaders inspire people to work for the greater good.

In his inauguration speech, which I like more every time I read it, President Obama described the transformation we need:

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

I am glad we have a president who reminds us of our duty instead of deriding the role of government. I will pay my taxes without complaint because that it is the way I support armor for tanks in Iraq, surveillance technology for soldiers in Afghanistan, hot breakfasts for poor children, health care for those less fortunate than I, steel beams so bridges won't fall down and engineering fees so levees don't break.

Through the stock market's roller coaster ride, the dismal reports of job losses and home foreclosures, the threats from Iran and North Korea, the alarming situation in Pakistan and the sickening affirmation that our worst fears about CIA torture are undeniable, through it all, Barack Obama has been the leader I hoped he would be. With no regrets and belief that we are gradually building a better future for our children and grandchildren I am glad Barack Obama is our president.

There will be a lot of commentary about Obama's first 100 Days. Here are links to some of the most thought provoking, from both sides of the political spectrum:

Conservative David Brooks and more liberal mark Shields discuss Obama's approach to the torture memos and his first 100 days here.

Reagan biographer, Lou Cannon, writes of the similarities, both good and bad, between Reagan and Obama here.

My favorite blogger and commentator Andrew Sullivan does not opine on the first 100 days but discusses the difficulty decisions ahead for Obama here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Nothing Is Better On A Warm Spring Day......

Gavin Newsom, the politically ambitious San Francisco mayor, once again proved that he is not afraid of smashing barriers in areas once considered taboo. Today he announced that his office was issuing an edict to decriminalize the consumption of edible cannabis. Medical marijuana has been legal since Prop 215 was passed in 1996 but usage and possession for non-medical purposes has remained technically illegal. The state's extreme budget woes have prompted discussion of legalizing all forms of cannabis. Fearing that former supervisor Tom Ammiano was scoring political brownie points by pushing legalization in Sacramento Newsom announced his bold move today.
San Francisco has a long history as a culinary capital so it is only fitting that our fair city launch the legalization of edible marijuana. Many of our star chefs and world renown restaurants will inaugurate new dishes that incorporate the slight blueberry flavor of ganja into old favorites. We look forward to new adventures for the palate and the mind.

Our family debated where to sample the new San Francisco treat. We thought we would try the new version of It's It but did opted instead to visit Mitchell's, a family favorite famous for unusual and tasty flavors. Mitchell's offers free samples and I welcomed the opportunity to give the kids their first experience in a small amount and while under my supervision. Claire, always a the picky eater, declared that the odd color(green tub pictured above) was unappetizing. JW, always ready to take a risk, gobbled down her sample and his own before enjoying a double dip of his old favorite Ube, or purple yam, pictured above. I was going to ask him his opinion of Cannabus and Cream but as soon as he climbed in the back seat he went sound asleep while listening to Michael Franti's Ganja Girl on his iPod.

I don't smoke and wine is the only mood altering substance I imbibe but I am grateful to Mayor Newsom (see his news conference here) for his latest burst of creativity. What a great way to celebrate the first day of April!