Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Summer reading response

Last year, my 36th as a teacher, I extended my (art history) classroom far beyond the school's walls by leading the group on a ten-day trip abroad, a first for me. The focus of our journey was Venice, where we spent every night, but we also took two day trips within Italy and traveled by public boat, bus, and rail exposing the students to the ordinary lives of people in a culture similar in many ways to the United States but foreign in many others. While Venice is probably most closely associated today with romantic getaways, for much of its history it was one of the greatest naval and economic powers in the world (and was, before its conquest by Napoleon, the longest lived republic in history). Its power derived from its position at the intersection of East and West, and it employed global strategies to maximize that power. Venice thrived, while comparable cultures like the Byzantines failed, because of its embrace of the world around it.

   Even before departing I found myself frequently consulting colleagues in our language department, which made me more fully appreciate them as friends and as professionals who cope with the significant complexities and risks of venturing thousands of miles away to teach some of the most enduring lessons of a high school education. During trip preparations I was also impressed by BB&N's commitment to overseas education for our students, including years or semesters abroad, language trips, and periodic chorale trips. In Venice itself I was struck by the eagerness with which my students threw themselves into the experience experimenting with unfamiliar foods and customs and picking up bits and pieces of a language none had ever studied. I hope to offer this opportunity again and in an ideal world would require it of my students and build much of my course around it. I was struck more than ever by the interdisciplinary nature of my subject and wonder if the time approaches when we will need to expand our departmental approach to learning to include interdisciplinary studies, a number of which (economics and religion, to name two obvious examples in addition to my course) already exist and fit somewhat uncomfortably within our current framework. Howard Gardner's Introduction and the Reimers essay points us in this direction by advocating "knowledge and skills to…integrate across interdisciplinary domains…." And to Reimers's list of ways for developing student "values and attitudes" I would add developing an understanding of art, since art is perhaps the primary expression of human culture.

   Reimers's idea of living the values we teach also resonates with me and reminds me of BB&N's growing emphasis on sustainability. The Asia Society volume makes repeated reference to the importance of environmental concerns in adopting a global approach to learning. These publications should encourage the movement we have made in this direction.

   Finally, Reimers makes interesting points about the differences between schools within the United States itself, especially as a result of the "localization of education." I wonder if BB&N has more in common with the schools abroad with which we conduct exchanges than we do with many schools in our own country, in the Deep South in particular. Should our efforts toward globalization extend toward those communities as well? We would need to do so without being paternalistic, a challenge in itself. Without successful communication within our own deeply divided nation, our country will not be able to help advance any of the important goals these two readings endorse. For example, the Common Core, cited approvingly in the Asia Society volume, seems poised to become the latest political football by opponents attacking it as "ObamaCore."



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