Thursday, April 10, 2008

Professor Paulston

This is not my usual blog theme but it's about the power of teaching and I needed to speak to it.

Yesterday, April 9, we held wonderful ceremony in the School of Education, Pitt, to honor and remember one of our fallen lecturers Professor Emeritus Rolland Paulston, who died from leukemia two years ago. What a tremendous experience it was as past students and his colleagues tell their stories about him and their interaction with him. We had asked for students with stories who could not make it to send them in , We had stories from China, Finland, Dominica, Nigeria, South Africa, and all over the US. It demonstrated the power of the influence of a teacher and reminds me that teachers should never take their jobs lightly and its not about the money. It's about influencing lives. There were real tears from students who did not get to say goodbye and who recalled the unflinching support he gave during their dissertations. He loved students voices. He always wanted our points of view on what we read and discussed and he was the master social cartographer. He mapped ideas, thoughts, discourses and debates and in so doing he mapped minds and that is why he became a master at shaping them. He knew them and so he knew how to make them. Yesterday, you should have seen those minds he shaped. As a policy analyst, meta-discursive mapping became useful as I trying to develop options for responding to policy problems in education, understanding first, the thinking and ideas of policy makers. Once I approximated these, it became easy to structure my approach in sync with their ideas and thoughts. It worked every time - seeing the world thought the eye of others and with other text. Simple but he made it powerful. I was pleased to know that his work is being taught in Harvard and UCLA. That says something about Pitt, doesn't it (this is me, gloating). Dr. MCClure reminded me "he was influential because he was compassionate" This is what every student needs "a teacher with compassion." He taught me during his final semester prior to retirement in 1999 and I said to him, that "he would never really retire because parts of him that he had passed on to his students would remain to be passed on to generations and so who is and what he stood for will live on. It was like Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, 1986 said, " I touch the future, I teach."

Bomb threat at the Cathedral of Learning

Yesterday, I received a Pitt alert on my cell phone and email that there was a bomb threat in the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt and that I should tell the rest of my class so that we could evacuate the building. Luckily we were not in the Cathedral but there were about 20 of us in the class including our lecturer. Unfortunately, I was the the only one who apparently received the alert. The others may have had their phones turned off. So I told them. I could have walked away but as a student of education in emergencies, I had the responsibility to let them know that there is the potential that we could be in danger. It is these simulation-like exercises and real threats (This was was real. I saw the police with flashing lights and their dogs) that prepare one for the really real one and yesterday proved that many students may not have been prepared and that continues to bother me. What if. we were in real danger? What if we were in places without that alert? What if there was no way to get out and what if all our phones were off?

Safety is important and things fall apart when we are not precautions. We think it may not happen to us until it does and hindsight is always 20/20. Good job to the alert team but alerts work best when people cooperate and collaborate. Sign up for an alert. It may just save your life and that of your friends, colleagues and lecturers. This one came home to me. I was happy the way it came and I remain aware that it does not always come in ways that make one happy. Sign up for an alert... NOW

Friday, April 4, 2008

Disasters of another kind

Last night there was a fatal fire in which a mother, a family friend living with them and their eight children and grand children died. Their gas had been turned off since 2005. They could not pay for it and according to the news report, they used space heating to stay warm. It has not been confirmed but the speculation is that it may have set the house ablaze while they slept. This seems like a simple mishap but the news item showed a pattern of these disasters occurring because utilities are turned off when people cannot pay. A situation made worse since the law was changed. I think of the eight children and the one little body who described the hard time one of them had been having at school and that nobody was nice to him. A child should never have to walk away feeling ostracised. Our schools need to become gentle, kinder places. We need to purposely seek out the hurting ones, the ones on the fringes of our institutions and reassure them that the world is not a bad place. After all Children still learn what they live. They give us what we give them. And please do not think I am about to set up a child rights movement. I want only a child caring movement because every small human being deserves to be loved, cared for and to feel wanted and appreciated. When home is not what it should be, for every child a school should be a soft place to fall. I am sure you feel that way. Children need us to teach them how to become adults. This is probably the best learning we will ever provide. The worse kind of disaster is to wake up and find the next generation never learnt to care for each other because we never "showed" them how to care.