Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ebola Virus & Geo-Literacy

Please read and/or watch the video for this news story: News9 Link.

The absolutely irrational and erroneous fears associated with the Ebola virus are driving me crazy. It is clear that the following are lacking in our country:

  1. basic geography comprehension or "geo-literacry"; knowledge beyond simplistically knowing that "Africa exists",
  2. understanding of who is at risk of catching Ebola (or other diseases) based on where current cases have been documented, and
  3. over logic and critical thinking skills.
Current documented cases of Ebola (source: US Center for Disease Control)
  1. Guinea (west Africa): 1553
  2. Liberia (west Africa): 4665 ... epicenter of outbreak
  3. Mali (west Africa): 1
  4. Sierra Leone (west Africa): 3896
  5. United States (North America): 4
  6. Nigeria, Senegal, and Spain have been declared "Ebola free"
Distance between Blackwell, Oklahoma and Dallas, Texas (location of closest confirmed case) is 304 miles. Distance between the location of the Blackwell teacher's location in Rwanda to Harper, Liberia (location of closest confirmed case) is 6862 miles. By traveling to Rwanda, the Blackwell teacher was actually 22.57 times further away from the closest Ebola case than her students are staying at home in Blackwell, Oklahoma.

Americans, and many within the western and/or developed world, have so many erroneous misconceptions of "Africa". Africa is the world's second largest continent (behind Asia). Africa has 54 countries recognized world-wide, with another 2 whose independence is partially recognized by a limited number of other countries. There are significant cultural, economic, language, religious, political differences between each of these countries and, often, within countries (reason for so many civil wars in the based few decades). Yet, despite this, so many Americans have too simplistic of an image in their minds when they think "Africa"...the comments in the news report bare this.
“This just concerns me, they would want to take the risk of allowing the teacher to go over there and then come back and come in not knowing if she is infected for not and put other kids at risk,” added Reba Newton.
I don't know Ms. Newton. While I feel like her heart is prompting her comments, I can tell that her mind is devoid of the true complexities of the situation. If she fears "proximity" then she needs to realize that the risk of this teacher catching Ebola in Rwanda is BY FAR less than the risk of her children, even 304 miles away from Dallas, getting Ebola right there in Blackwell; yet such risk would be near impossible even if her children were actually in Dallas. I'm ashamed that the administration of Blackwell Public Schools even entertained the idea of asking the teacher to quarantine herself upon her return; they should have used FACTS to educate their local population. It's sad when school willfully choose to not support education.

Please, please, please people...think, think, think before acting and speaking. Reality depends on it.

One who does not fear traveling the roads of land remote in an effort to learn and explore.

Monday, July 21, 2014

GILPP...And We're Off

I am in Geneva, Switzerland and the Geneva Instiute of Leadership and Public Policy is underway. There are delegates from around 30 countries (USA, UK, Ethiopia, Nepal, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Ecuador, South Africa, etc).

Here are my take-always from day one...

Why Geneva? Tom Bloomer (Dean of the University of these Nations) shares about Geneva's historic linkage to transformation:

1) John Calvin...his efforts in the Reformation, yes, but also those things that grew out of his teachings' focus on the value and dignity of the individual: decentralization of political power and origins of modern democracy, support of universal access to education, focus on initiatives of individuals for economic development.

2) Henry Dunant...founding of the International Red Cross

3) Conntections to home of League of Nations, European headquarters of the United Nations, Geneva Convention on Human Rights, and other international gatherings often focused on humanitarian causes

4) home of numerous humanitarian outreach organizations and efforts

Transformational Leadership Development--Mike Shea (Director of GHNI's Leadership Development) 

Leaders need to ask the following of themselves:

1) Who am I? Are you self-serving or are you servicing? Is your focus on the people (customer, citizens, etc.) or yourself? Do you lead because of your position/title through commands or through the influence of the relationships that you've developed? When evaluating success do you legitimately analyze/evaluate yourself as the leader or do you solely evaluate "them"?

2) Who are you? Am I responsive or resistant to the people around me? Racial bias? Gender bias? Economic bias? Do you build within your people a spirit of dependence on you as the leader or do you develop their capacity/talents for success?

3) Who are we? Works with others to help bring the positive change. Work creatively to solve problems.

Role of Rule of Lawn Nation Building: Jerry Regier (Resource Director & Policy Ambassador for Water4)

1) definition: "nomacracy"...nomas (law) + kratos (power or rule). "Principle whereby all members of a society--including those in government--are considered equally subject to public ally disclosed codes and processes" ~Oxford
-Aristotle (350), "Law should govern"
-Samuel Rutherford (1644) Lex Rex "the law is king" vs. Rex Lex "kind is the law"
-John Adams (1776), a government of laws not of men
Rule OF Law is different than Rule BY Law

2) How is Rule of Law demonstrated in a country?
--through its constitution
--through its institutions
--through its leadership

3) Benefits of Rule of Law?
stability, safety, continuity, peaceful pursuit, economic development

The rule of law creates an enabling environment for human dignity, freedom, and opportunities to flourish.

More details on these and other topics will be addressed over the next several days.

AP US History Exam/Course Redesign

This post was written during a recent 8-1/2 hour flight from Minneapolis to Paris.

I don't like for this blog to get political; that's not it's purpose. Sometimes discussions of exploring new things may end up touching on political issues, but the focus is the new experiences...the roads of lands remote. Well in my professional career a new/remote road has become a political hot button in parts of the country. Two colleagues have each shared a recent Dallas Morning News article which relates to the College Board's redesign of the AP United States History course. I've seen other blog posts and smaller scale articles but this seems to now be coming mainstream news. With this course being one of my teaching passions I feel compelled to address some of the eronious misinfortion that is out there.

One: all of the Advanced Placement (AP) courses which are overseen by the College Board have at their heart the goal of equipping high school students to think and mentally process information in such a way as to help expand their horizons and open doors to the college and/career paths of these students in ways far beyond the traditional public high school experience. College credit which can potentially come from a qualifying score on an AP exam is NOT the ultimate goal...citizens with independent critical thinking skills is THE purpose.

Two: the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has become a hot topic over the past few years. While CCSS was designed under the leadership of the National Governors' Association they have become highly politically controversial within both the left and the right. Numerous indicators, some with validity problems and others which may not provide legitimate comparisons of student success across the country or around the world, suggest that American public schools have not had the academic rigor which is considered ideal. CCSS was designed to provide a skills framework to help state departments of education and local school districts with guaranteeing that their students graduated high school with a minimum of basic skills which correlated directly with college and/or career readiness. However, the political left has come out objecting primarily that large cooperate interests and wealthy "educational philanthropists" have a disproportionate economic incentive in CCSS; the political right, skeptical of anything supported by the Obama administration object to CCSS because Obama/Arne Duncan (Sec. of Education) have identified CCSS usage as the guaranteed way to get "Race to the Top" monies to help states prepare students for the accountability assessments required under "No Child Left Behind". The sad part, to me, is that none of these political interests object to the standards themselves.

Three: CCSS is a list of skills standards and NOT content curriculum standards. Throughout the reading and writing literacy skills for English/Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science there is no prescribed content to teach. Teachers, schools, districts, and/or states have the freedom (based upon their own guidelines, to teach or not to teach: don't like Hucklebrry Finn? Don't teach it. Love Beowolf? Go for it! Climate change ideas? Consult your state's curriculum requirements. Pick any, all, none of the various underlying "causes of World War I. The CCSS literacy skills can support any of those content decisions. The Mathmatics skills are a little tricky in that certain skills are historically linked to specific courses; while CCSS suggests grade ranges for teaching certain skills it doesn't specially say Algebra Ii must be taught at grade 11. My point, if you're against, the influence of wealthy individuals, Obama, standardized testing, the bias behind lessons created by independent for profit publishing companies then be against those specifically and don't bash the standards (unless you can show me a specific skill standard that you find so ungodly and objectionable. 

Four: the claim of this particulate Dallas Morning News article is that the head of the College Board, which oversees AP courses, is linked to the CCSS design and that he is intentially using the AP United States History course and exam redesign to force even those states which never signed on yo use CCSS (I.e. Texas) and those which signed but have since rejecte it (I.e. Oklahoma) into using CCSS by embedding CCSS into the new AP course requirements. The fact is that AP courses have been producing students with critical thinking skills so far beyond their peers in regular education classes that the National Governors' Association actually looked at AP (and IB--International Baccalaureate--and other similar programs in the US and around the world) when designing CCSS. The reason that the College Board redesigns its courses and exams is that it recognizes ways to do better.

Five: the new curriculum framework for AP US History is not designed to omit significant personalities and events from the teaching of American history. A vast quantity of proper nouns are not used within the identifying characteristics of the eras of history. Complaints have been raised specifically about the absence of "Benjamin Franklin". I'd challenge any person to show me how I can effectively teach the Emlightenment within colonial North America without teaching about the inventive and philosophical spirit of Mr. Franklin. Do it; I dare you. Others want to complain about the course's focus on theme of identity and its focus on issues of ethnicity, race, and gender within the historic narrative. A) this theme is not new...it's been a significant focus of credible American history courses for the past five plus decades. The list of topics which is the previous guide for teaching the course is filled with proper names of ethnic and racial minorities and women. B) are such complainers actually asking me to tell the story of the American narrative without the presence of representatives from these groups? That would be about as appropriate as me attempting to tell the story of my family without ANY of the women (there goes my precious mom, five beautiful sisters, spunky Baton Rouge aunts, and cousins/nieces galore), leaving out my ethnic brackgrounds (German, Irish, French Acadian/Cajun, etc.), or the new racial composition through an unlce's wife (and my wonderful cousins) or the father of my great niece and nephew. I love those elements of my family and would NEVER seek to tell my family's story without them; just as I would find it a travesty of truth and historic integrity to do so from the larger American narrative.

Six: the request of teachers to provide the only official sample version of the new test is NOT evidence of some covert operation to undermine students and parents. Did you ever stop to think that when a new test design comes along you have not yet had the chance to create a large test bank? This is the ONLY official sample test out there and as such if it becomes too widely circulated them hoe can I as a teacher legitimately use it for diagnostic purposes or other teaching strategies within in my classroom. If it's totally public, how can I keep a student from downloading it to memorize all of the answers? If a parent wants to come in and see it...I'll show it to them with no risk of losing my teaching position. But due to my personal integrity of not letting that exam ruin the opportunity of other teachers using it for teaching purpose (a courteously I'd appreciate from them) I won't let those parents leave with a copy. FYI...the College Board routinely releases versions of all of its AP subject area tests; they have actually been releasing one for AP US History annually for the past three or so years. The "secrecy" isn't a hidden agenda...it's so teachers can use those released questions to guide their own in class instruction...to meet the needs of their students...you know, that whole purpose of education. This new test format does a much better job of accessing a student's ability to critically evaluate the historic record and prove herself as an analytic thinker. Is education about regurgitating a list of facts or using your mind to think and evaluate information?

I'll close by saying that I embraced the remote road of CCSS and still see its value even though Oklahoma has done away with it. Further, regardless of the obstacles I'll have in meeting the in class challenges of a revised course and exam, I embrace the remote road of the new curriculum framework and exam for AP US History.

May you too always welcome the opportunity to roam the roads of lands remote, both physically and figuratively. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Visiting Kenyan Dignitaries

In 2010, the country of Kenya (eastern Africa) wrote a new constitution to restructure its government for the sake of efficiency. Despite Swahili and English as common economic and political languages, this country of 580,367 square kilometers experiences significant cultural, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. Since gaining independence from the United Kingdom in 1963, Kenya has experienced less cultural conflict than many other African countries. Yet, a country with such diversity of peoples often had difficulty of fully meeting the needs of such a diverse population. Thus, the new constitution created a system of federalism (similar to the United States) in which the national government would share power and responsibilities with 47 county governments (comparable to the 50 U.S. states).

With not having had a background in federalism, various international leaders, including my friend Jerry Regier, have been invited by the Kenyan government to lead seminars the political ethics involved within democratic federalism. Kenyan leaders have also made a variety of study tours within the United States. One such study tour has brought a delegation of Kenyan Governors to Oklahoma.

Tonight, I had the opportunity attend a reception held at Express Ranch (home of Bob Funk) and sponsored by Water4 in honor of this Kenyan delegation. It was an honor to meet:

Wycliffe Oparanya Ambesta, Governor of Kakamega
Peter Munya, Governor of Meru
Mohamad Ahmed Abdulahi, Governor of Wajir
Joshua Irungu Wakahora, Governor of Laikipia
Rutto Isaac Kiprono, Governor of Bomet
Johnathan Mueke, Deputy Governor of Nairobi
Evelyne Aruasa, Deputy Governor of Narok
and their associates holding other governmental offices

This delegation arrived Sunday evening. They then spent Monday touring agricultural sights and the Water4 production facilities. Today they met with several Oklahoma government officials at the Capitol and will meet with others, including Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, tomorrow. Jerry Regier has facilitated their visit to Oklahoma and is already planning a return trip to Kenya in hopes of taking some other Oklahoma leaders with him.

Personally, it was great to visit in-depth with a couple of these delegates and share my own experiences of having visited Kenya in 2001 and 2002. I've been invited back...so perhaps that can happen sooner than later.

pavilion at Express Ranch
His Excellency Wycliffe Oparanya Ambetsa,
Governor of Kakamega & Delegation Head,
presents formal greetings on behalf of the delegations

Monday, June 30, 2014

Doors and Windows

There is a saying something to the effect of "Sometimes when God closes a door, He opens a window."

The Door:
In February I applied for a five-week summer institute/study tour of China through the Fullbright-Hayes program funded by the U.S. State Department. I've had a couple of other teacher friends participate in previous versions of this program, along with other Fullbright-Hayes seminars in other countries, and it was highly recommended. A friend who went last summer received her acceptance in late March of last year; when March came and went and April was nearly over I began wondering what was going on. Contact with the program's organizers communicated that there was a delay in letting people know about acceptance into the program but that it would be coming. I had not applied for any other programs, including domestic teacher professional development, in that I didn't want to have to turn something down if accepted into multiple programs. Finally, in mid-June, I received a letter letting me know I had not been accepted into the China program. While the information provided information to help make a future application stronger, it did seem as if a door was closed into an international trip for Summer 2014.

The Window:
Through my church, I attend a Sunday evening Bible study and fellowship group. Although we are on a summer break, we did meet last night for dinner. In our discussion. I mentioned that my summer plans were now wide open and if anyone had any trip suggestions to let me know; this was fairly "tongue-in-cheek" and several laughed or smiled. Before leaving we made some prayer requests until we were to meet again. One of my friends, Jerry Regier, asked for prayer as he traveled to Switzerland for an international conference. He has been heavily involved in government work and consulting, especially on an international level, and currently works for Water4, an NGO seeking to equip areas within developing countries with the means to hand-drill their own fresh water wells. At the Geneva Institute for Leadership and Public Policy, organized by Global Hope Network International and held at the UN's building in Geneva, Jerry will be speaking engaging development and growth through public policy, including a session called "Rule of Law and Nation Building."

It was humorous that as Jerry is making his prayer request faces/eyes from several in the group start darting back and forth between Jerry and me. As if those looks sparked something, Jerry says "hey David, you should go with me!" We spoke for a few minutes after we dismissed. He then emailed me some information last night and we had another conversation by phone. The conference looks like it will have some great connections with the AP Human Geography class I teach and visiting Geneva sounds just awesome. So, as of my purchase of airline tickets today, a window has opened!!!

This video is from last year's institute:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Aventura Spa Palace

Let's just say that as an all inclusive adults only spa resort, Aventura is AWESOME in so many aspects.  I enjoyed some pool time each day (except for the day of the long field trip to Chichen Itza).  Additionally, I enjoyed the hydrotherapy treatments four separate times (dry sauna, cold shower, steam room, cold shower, hot tub/whirl pool, cold pool with waterfall, warm water foot massage, relaxing on chaise lounge chair).  Additionally, I enjoyed...and I do mean enjoyed...1) a rejuventating massage with sea weed wrap, 2) a relaxation massage with aromatherapy massage, 3) a nearly 2-hour deep tissue massage with hour long facial, and 4) a manicure/pedicure treatment.  Aventura Spa Palace knows how to make you relax!!!

full moon in the background
sunrise in the Caribbean

Chichen Itza, not Chicken Pizza

Every time I head the name of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza my mind kept thinking about Chicken Pizza and I'd get hungry...anyway...

Built earlier than the coastal city of Tulum, Chichen Itza is another prominent Mayan city.  Its central location allowed it to become one of the most significant economic, political, and religious centers within the height of the Mayan civilization/empire.  Artifacts founded within the complex indicate an extensive trade network encompassing most of Central America (not simply eastern Mexico).
map of Chichen Itza from its wikipedia.org page
Platforma de Venus
top of stairs at Plataforma de Venus
Cenote Segrado (alleged location of human sacrifices)
Templo de los Guerreros
idol at top of stairs in Templo de los Guerreros
Columnata Oeste
blocked tunnel at Columnata Norte
side wall of Plataforma Aguilas y Tigres
Juego de Pelota
Chichen Itza (not Chicken Pizza)

Tulum in Full Bloom

Tulum, located just south of Cancun and the Riviera Maya, is a pre-Colombian walled city from the Maya civilization.  It's coastal location made it an ideal location for both land and sea based trade within the larger Yucatan Peninsula, especially for obsidian (volcanic glass or "lava rock").  It is believed, based upon murals and structures at the site, that Tulum was a central location for the worship of the Mayan "Diving" or Descending God.
map of Tulum from its wikipedia.org page
north west gate

the surrounding wall

Temple of the Frescos

the main (west) gate
El Castillo
the Great Platform
turtle egg nests

north east gate
stairs to the beach
view of the Caribbean Sea

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Iguana Scare You

Today has been a relaxing day here at the Aventura Spa Palace Resort.  A wonderful breakfast buffet followed by pool time which included an invigorating session of water aerobics.

The weather has included lots of time with sunshine yet still somewhat cloudy.  A couple of times it looked like rain.  There is a 30% chance for rain showers for each of the next several days.  Around 2:00 we did hear several bouts of thunder and could see lightening out over the waters off in the gulf.

One of the things about this resort that I hope to explore more is the wildlife which lives on the property.  As we arrived yesterday, I noticed a sign indicating some iguanas and a couple of varieties of monkeys.  While walking the main grounds and along the coastal rocks I have seen almost a dozen iguanas so far.  Sometimes you just stumble upon one popping its head out from the hole it's burrowed under the side of a sidewalk.  It can startle you!!!!  I hope to take one of the nature walks later and maybe see some of these alleged monkeys.