Monday, June 30, 2008

Departure day...(for Austin)

I leave today for Austin, TX for our training at UT- Austin. At this point, I just hope my bag weighs less than 50 pounds because of all the presents (i.e. really heavy coffee table books with pictures of America) I am bringing. I am also bringing a lot of school supply items to give out to kids so they take up some serious weight! I will wear extra clothes today or something if I have to.

So, we leave as a group (there are sixteen of us) on Thursday for India and our route will be Austin-DC-Frankfurt-Delhi and it is a LONG way. Yesterday my dad and I figured out that by the time I get back, I will have about 19,000 frequent flier miles! There is one other person from Colorado and I know she is on my plane to Texas but I haven't met her, perhaps I will just wander around the gate yelling her name, perhaps not.

As our training begins this week and as I participate in many seminars on India culture by academics at UT, I will continue to be my annoying teacher self and post some informative blogs about India although won't it be fun to see how my perspective changes after getting there! Also, I am excited to meet everyone with whom I will travel for the next 5 weeks. (Please notice, Mom, that I did not end that sentence with a preposition!)

Hasta lasagna!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Walking medicine cabinet...(plus a social studies lesson)

Well, today I took my first official dose of Larium, the malaria medicine for my India adventure. I have not gone completely psycho as of yet, although, I am sure that really depends on whom you ask. I have heard that feeling a little crazy is a side effect but my friends Tami and Mark took it for two years while in the Solomon Islands for the Peace Corps and they were okay. I am also taking baby aspirin to combat the whole "blood clot while sitting on the plane" issue and of course, my normal amounts of anti-squirrel medicine. For those who don't know, I am actually a squirrel on the inside or at least I have the blood pressure of a squirrel without the anti-squirrel meds!

So, when I got home from DC, I had a huge stack of books in the mail to read about India sent to me by the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Texas-Austin. This is where I have my training and meet all the other Fulbrighters. (I am not just inventing this title to brag, all of the emails that I have gotten from UT-A are addressed to the "Fulbrighters.")  

Yesterday, I read all day and finished a book entitled, "In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India" by Edward Luce. It was ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING!!! It traced India from the time it gained independence from Britain in 1947. (Again, remember, I am a teacher and must do some teaching here!) The remarkable thing about India's independence is that it did not come through a bloody revolt as most former colonies of European powers did (i.e. the Revolutionary War here in America).  India had peaceful protests led by Mahatma Gandhi and the British basically just packed it in and went home. So, when they were setting up their post-colonial government and constitution, they weren't dealing with the aftermath of a huge war. Those setting up the Indian government were adamant about keeping it secular and democratic. 

This fact is especially remarkable when you think about the variety of religions and belief systems in India. India is populated by Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jainists, Sikhs, Christians, and even some Jews and though there are occasional conflicts between them, they have largely been able to peacefully coexist. According to Luce, there is actually more violence between different castes than different religions. 

When discussing India, it is imperative to discuss the caste system. In the caste system, whatever caste (level) of society you are born into, that is the one you will stay in until perhaps your "next life." There was (and still is to some degree if you are poor) huge amounts of discrimination against people of the lower castes. In fact, they used to be referred to as "Untouchables" although this has now changed to a slightly nicer word. Only people in higher castes had access to any education or jobs and there was not any social mobility for people. Luce discussed that this is changing in the urban areas but is still quite evident in the rural parts of India, of which there are still a lot. 

One of the other really interesting pieces of information in this book was how India is developing today in the world market. Traditionally, societies go from agriculturally-based societies to industrial/factory production societies to finally a service based economy like we have here in the United States. (To all my social studies teacher friends, please let me know if I am not getting this correct!) As we all know,  China is in a HUGE manufacturing boom and we can see that they are in the midst of their industrial/factory production step in economic development. There are a large amount of low-skill requirement jobs available in China and people can raise their standard of living without a great deal of education. The interesting part is that in India, they are kind of skipping the industrialization step and jumping straight to being a society based on the "service industry." This fact can be seen in all of the software development, call centers, pharmaceutical research, etc. 

So, in order to raise your standard of living significantly in India, you cannot just get a low-skilled manufacturing job, you have to have an education, and a pretty extensive one at that. However, access to education is still rather limited to people who have monetary resources and so the very poor have much less of a shot at being able to get out of their situations. Interestingly, China put their educational money into elementary education while India put their money into universities. So, as you can imagine, China has much higher basic literacy rates than does India though India probably produces a lot more PhD's. 

So, as I am going to India with teachers to meet other teachers and study their educational system, this is a really interesting dichotomy to examine. I have three more books to read before I leave (fat chance!) and I cannot wait to keep sharing all of the interesting things that I am learning. I will close with an interesting quote from the book that as an educator who is constantly thinking about ways to motivate seventh graders, really struck me. There are always reports about how the US is falling behind in world education, markets, etc. Well, read this quote and I have a feeling we can start to see why...

"To the majority of Indian villagers, a government job is in the first place, an instant leapfrog into a much higher standard of living. One might say that it is the difference between a rickety hut built with buffalo dung and a house that is furnished with the finest marble from Rajasthan." (Luce, 62). 

How's that for motivation to do well in school?

Monday, June 23, 2008

DC Debacles...

I am now back from DC and had an awesome trip. It was inspiring, encouraging, and validating to attend a conference of other schools who have the same values and beliefs as my school. It was a conference of all middle level educators who are members of schools who have been selected as "Schools to Watch" which means they are doing really cool things in the areas of developmental responsiveness, academic excellence, organizational structures, and social equity in middle schools. 

We were originally designated in 2005 and this year we were re-designated as we have kept up what we are doing. The part that was the most amazing was seeing schools who are in really dire circumstances (90% of kids on Free/Reduced Lunch with huge English Language Learner populations) scoring 90% proficient on their state tests. That is not an easy thing to do and instead of just writing off their kids, they have figured out ways to make them excel. 

We got to meet our senators (Salazar and Allard) and had a policy meeting with an aide to our congresswoman. It was a really cool experience to meet them and realize that even though they are senators, they are still just people from Colorado. Allard grew up in Fort Collins and went to CSU so we all laughed about being CSU Rams. Not to mention, my teammate Natalie Dudley has family connections to both of them and we felt like VIPs being with her!

It was also fun to be in DC and to see all the sights again. This time I went on the capitol tour that you can only go on with a congressional aide. That was cool but the really great part was when a few of us found the senate offices of Clinton and Obama. Hillary had all women working in her office, as one would expect. 

And as always, when in DC, one must go to Adams Morgan and have Ethiopian food. It was good and always interesting (and allowed me to practice what I have heard I am supposed to do in India and eat with only my right hand) but unfortunately this time, it brought back my typhoid-like symptoms and I had to stay in bed the last 15 hours I was in DC. 

But upon my return, my AWESOME friend Natalie had a 30th birthday party for me, despite the fact that she had a temperature of 103 degrees, now THAT is friendship. A bunch of my very closest friends who do not live in Fort Collins came to the party (and my mama and my former nanny) and it was a great day. So, as of today, I am officially flirty, THIRTY, and thriving. 

I leave a week from today so as my preparations continue this week, I will try to stay updated. 

Friday, June 13, 2008

The traveling teacher travels (but not to India yet)...

Tomorrow I embark upon a wonderful journey...just to Virginia and DC. I am going to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Richmond, VA and then going to DC for the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform conference. Our school was invited because it was a Colorado Trailblazer School to Watch. But, since this blog is for the traveling teacher and I am going somewhere on an actual airplane, it deserved a blog. 

Will keep updating as hopefully some really good adventures unfold. I do get to meet Senator Ken Salazar and Representative Marilyn Musgrave while in DC. For those who know me well, you will know that meeting Marilyn Musgrave is going to be a test in verbal self-control for me. If you don't know why, research some of her beliefs and it will become quite clear.

See you in Virginia!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Very thought provoking....


This exciting fact is mixed with my nervousness and anxiety about traveling to India. I took my first malaria pill (test run) last night and didn't have trippy dreams like I was promised- kind of disappointing! Maybe tonight it will happen!

The purpose for this post is to share a video with everyone that my former principal (a brilliant woman!) shared with me. It is about the fact that American students spend a huge amount of time on things other than academics while in their high school careers. It discusses this not so much as a teacher issue but more as a problem of American society. So, check it out, and see what you think.

I leave in 27 days! (But first I have to turn 30 which is WAY scarier than going to a foreign country!)