Removing Symbols of Hate

I am not trying to erase history when I support the removal of Confederate Monuments.I am history. I am the great grand-daughter of slave owners and the African and Indigenous women they oppressed and raped. I am not the exception but the norm among African Americans. Slave owners bred their slaves with their own seed. Despite what you have heard, Black and Native women did not choose these relationships, they had no control of their bodies.  I have major skin in this game of History of the United States of America. I can trace my history for 500 years.


History can not be erased. We are all smart enough to know this. There is always evidence of the past in the present and we are intelligent enough to be able to discern what happened even millions of years ago. We understand evolution. Scientists know how to collect these pieces and put them back together to tell the story or in this day we have books and photos. We do not teach history in schools accurately. We tell history from the perspective of the story writer.


Most of the statues that you see would not make the cut of being important and exemplary service in American History. This is about exemplary service in American history. Committing treason and getting thousands of people killed in the process does not equate greatness.


Increasing your knowledge is always a good thing and it will change you in profound ways. I apologize for my fellow Educators who have not been teaching history because it is not a “test subject”. Clearly you are showing us that history is important. You deserve to know history. Now you are learning about Nazis and why we fought a war to defeat them. Find someone who fought in this war or was impacted personally by this war and interview them while you can.


Now you are learning about the KKK and their legacy in our great country which is horrid. They are the original home grown terrorist whose entire existence was based on depriving other American citizens of their life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Learn these lessons well and fight hatred on our soil.


There are wonderful Democrats, wonderful Republicans, wonderful Independents and wonderful non political people. I hope you get to meet all of these wonderful people. Talk to them, listen to them, make up your own mind and vote your conscience. They will have different views and perspectives. This is the American way.


Yes there are people who want to kill us. So what. We have killed a lot of people in our wars. We are professional killers. We are learning that killing people to change attitudes, beliefs and ideas does not work. It actually makes them stronger. We need diplomacy more than ever. Peace is more than the absence of war. Diplomacy is not doing nothing. Killing others isn’t the only option.


Every generation has attacked something from the previous generation since the beginning of time. I will allow you to do your own research to show this. If you want to remove symbols of hate, go right ahead. This is your legacy. Remember that if you are fortunate enough to live to old age, the youth of that era will remove some of your prized symbols. It is called progress. We tore down a monument to George III when we declared our freedom. We know that we were here.


You are responsible for yourself and we are responsible for each other. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. No one does it alone. Let your learning continue throughout your life. This is one Elder who supports your request to release the toxicity of hate in our country. And So it is

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Defending Education for Girls in East Africa

2014-06-20 02.23.45I spent 5 weeks in Tanzania, East Africa There were many places that I wanted to travel. I love Lamu, Kenya and would have liked to spend a few days there. I wanted to spend a few days in Nairobi, Kenya and also Kampala, Uganda. I realized in the middle of my trip that I would not be having a holiday and doing any of these things.


I came to Africa with fear. I allowed my largest donor to influence me with her fear. I knew that I had to get sustainable funding for my program in the US or I would not be able to move forward. I understand the power of focus and I understand the power of perseverance. My Assistant and many funders kept telling me that I needed to focus on gardening or academics and not the two. I knew that I would not do that. Education needs to be relevant and meaningful. I insist upon it.

2014-06-20 03.19.53When I started working with the girl’s in Tanzania, I recognized that they feared the past that they left. They feared that being supported in education was something too good to be true. I recognized that a lot of their dysfunctional actions stemmed from this fear People tend to act out fear and create the very circumstances that they fear. They couldn’t believe that the support would last and be sustainable. It was not; one needs to generate enough income to support a program in order for it to be sustainable.

I wanted to uncover some of the issues they feared. Many girls feared female genital mutilation and early marriages. There families were poor and a nice dowry of cows and other livestock would help sustain the family by providing food and a source of earning. Many Westerners wrongly identify this as selling their daughters.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAFemale genital mutilation is not considered much in the United States. Parents forcing their daughters to get married to an older man with other wives is not an issue . Young girls are valued for their bodies. They perform most of the physical labor and they are more desirable as sexual partners. Many older men seek out young girls for this reason. Older men may have more wealth, which means they can provide security. Parents seek to improve their own living conditions as well as security for their daughters. The cultural practice of mutilating a young girl’s genitals to prepare her for marriage as her security continues despite opposition. Every parent wants a secure future for his/ her child.

An Egyptian friend once compared female circumcision to male circumcision. This is a lie. Male circumcision involves cutting off the foreskin, which makes the penis less likely to become infected . This compares to women who have their hymen cut in order to allow for less painful first intercourse. The hymen is naturally broken during intercourse to allow for penetration. It can also be broken due to vigorous physical exercise like horseback riding or riding a bicycle. The discomforts in both instances are temporary and does not interfere with the functioning or pleasure centers in the genitalia.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAFemale genital mutilation may vary across cultures. One thing is certain is that the clitoris is removed so that females never enjoy sex or achieve orgasm. More than 125 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation and 3 million girls in Africa are scheduled to undergo this procedure unless something is changed. Girls bleed to death from this procedure and many suffer frequent infections and excruciatingly painful childbirth. Mothers tend to participate in this ritual. So the person that the girl trusts the most violates her in the most intimate area. The girl child becomes reminded of this intimate violation every time she has sex for the rest of her life.

Men were castrated at one point in order to around the King’s wives and concubines. Eunuchs existed in biblical times. The Spanish started the practice of scalping their captors with the Moors and later continued with Native Americans. These practices were considered barbaric and were discontinued as we evolved. Nowhere in the world do any culture practice castrating males to make them safe for work around females or scalping their victim in war. Female genital mutilation needs to follow as one of those barbaric practices that we no longer perform or condone.

2011-01-01 11.00.00-7FGM affects both the physical and psychological health of girls, directly impacting their attendance and performance at school by 25%. This negatively impacts their right to equality, economic potential and security. Girls have lower literacy rates and face pressured to marry early. They become vulnerable to HIV/Aids transmission, and childbirth complications such as obstructed fistula. With poor access to healthcare, they die. Yet people often shrug their shoulders and say it’s cultural. The guillotine was cultural at one time, everything cultural was not meant to move forward.

Female Genital Mutilation affects girls psychologically. It really doesn’t matter whether it is your culturally practice or not. When you live in a community where girls are raped and molested frequently, it affects you because you are a girl. When you know girls who are mutilated it causes you to feel less safe in the integrity of your own body.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAI admire African cultures for maintaining the sanctity and importance of marriage. 54 countries in Africa and all value marriage as the most sacred human institution. I wish Americans valued marriage to the same degree. There is no reason that a girl should not finish secondary school and even college before considering marriage. Modern problems require solutions that combine the best of indigenous and modern practices.

New problems require new solutions. Energy, food security and technology challenges dominate the 21st Century. The girl child needs to work alongside the boy child to receive the best education possible to tackle these issues. Girls need an education. They need access to these same opportunities without worrying about having their genitals assaulted. Let’s see that they get them.




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In Defense of Girl’s Education in East Africa


I sent my concept paper to a Tanzanian friend, Daniel who lives in the U.S. He texted, “Call me”. I expected some minor clarifications, I called him with the document in front of me ready to make the changes.   He answered, “This is nice but it is not going to get you any money”. My heart hit the floor. I took a deep breath and braced myself for what he would say next.

He has been in the US 6 years. He told me emphatically that I had to talk about the negative. He started to rattle off reasons that people should donate money to help girls in Tanzania. I have to talk about female circumcision, albino killings and forced early marriages. I sputtered that I didn’t see any of these things while I was in Tanzania ,“ How can I talk about them and how long ago was this?”. He responded briskly. “Go to google and check it out for yourself, nice doesn’t get you money”. I was so uncomfortable. He was adamant. The conversation left me unsettled.
2014-06-24 09.07.11I remembered my experience in Ethiopia. When I talked about the lack of sanitation people became very angry and unsettled. It created a firestorm of insults. Most people admitted and acknowledged that everything that I said was true. Natives informed me that it was rude and unacceptable to share such information with the general public. The described it as shameful.

Daniel spoke the truth. We can talk about our aims and objectives but unless we clearly identify the problem, we can’t raise funds. Using words like vulnerable girls and not specifying what makes them vulnerable doesn’t touch the hearts of donors.

Female genital mutilation still exists in Tanzania even though it has declined to 15%. I don’t use the term female circumcision because the entire clitoris is removed along with other vaginal tissue. It is excruciatingly painful and it causes urinary tract infection. Sex is extremely painful. There is an increased risk of HIV infection. Many families are quite poor and want to marry their daughters off to receive the dowry of cows. Many Masaai men have refused to marry when they discovered that there fiancé was not circumcised.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAWhen a girl is circumcised, she is considered ready to be married. Some girls are circumcised as young as 9 years old. Some girls die from the procedure. Some girls who choose not to be circumcised are ridiculed and ostracized by their friends. The ritual is generally initiated by the mothers who fear that there daughters will not get a suitable husband without this procedure being performed. Despite the frequent recurring infections that traditional practice signifies modesty and purity.

Tanzanian law gives parents the rights to marry their daughter off at the age of 14. Most girls marry men much older who can afford to give the parents a decent dowry. The parents consider the girls to be a financial asset. A 2008 survey on child marriage by Children Dignity Forum shows that child marriage is a huge problem in Tanzania and is more prevalent in its Coast, Mwanza and Mara regions.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAThe survey found that child marriage was driven by the desire of a girl’s parents to get a dowry because they are poor, and maintaining culture and tradition. In 2010, The World Bank conducted research which showed that ¼ of Tanzanian girls had experienced a pregnancy or given birth between 15-19 which makes Tanzanian adolescent fertility rate to be the highest in the world. The Tanzania Women’s Media Association estimates that between 20 to 40 % of Tanzanian girls are married before they reach adulthood. Early marriage, premature motherhood, higher risk for disease leads to massive poverty. Girls who marry young tend to be at a higher risk for domestic violence.

UNICEF (2004) report indicates that educating the girl child leads to more equitable development, stronger families, better services, better child health and effective participation in governance. Research findings indicate that girls’ dropout rate from school is higher than that of boys. Tanzanian girls, for religious, cultural, socio-economic and school related factors, are not given a fair chance in the educational sector. In Tanzania, about 7.3 million children do not go to school, of which 62% are girls (UNICEF 2004). The same UNICEF report indicates that girls’ primary school completion rate trails boys, at 76% compared with 85% for boys. Millions more girls drop out of school each year to work, keep house and get married. The majority of children not in school are girls. Mohammed (2004) reported that a girl may be withdrawn from school if a good marriage prospect arises. Early marriage is a sociocultural factor that hinders the girl child’s access to school. Some parents give their daughters to wealthy old friends for a dowry and for the girls security.

GE DIGITAL CAMERAAfrica isn’t called the dark continent because of the color of people’s skin. There is major exploitation of females and marginalized tribes as well as violence along religious lines. We focus on the progress made in Africa but we have to address the ugliness as well. The disparity between rich and poor is huge.

I like to present information regarding girl’s education from the benefits to the society. The truth is that not educating girls negatively impacts their society as well as negatively impacts the world as a whole.. The time has come for me to step up and talk about why it is important to support girl’s education in East Africa. The sociocultural factors which impede African progress stem from the exclusion of it’s girls in attaining a relevant and meaningful education. When girls receive an education they educate their children and the entire society benefits and moves forward.

No society can move forward when it oppresses half of it’s population. Girls need to be educated and participate in the forward movement of the society. Evolution is happening in Africa now, we must be a part of the change. What affects one affects all.





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African Languages on My Brain: Communicative Intent

GE DIGITAL CAMERAGE DIGITAL CAMERAIMG_0528I started my day with Swahili. I practiced the sounds with the Youtube video. I became annoyed with the explanations.  I didn’t want to hear explanations. I wanted to hear the sounds of Swahili with the symbols and repeat them. I played a number game. The game involved addition and I kept messing up. The time clock created anxiety for me and it interfered with my focus. I decided to create my own game. I downloaded addition from the computer. I decided to add and subtract using Swahili. My activity was untimed. I relaxed and read the problem and answer in Swahili.

I remembered that my friend Emmily had pronounced some Swahili for me, which I recorded with my phone. I could listen to her voice in Swahili, which I recorded from Skype on my phone. I really had more options learning African languages than I had with European languages 10 years ago. I simply needed to utilize them to learn the language.

Learning a new language opens a door to new worlds. Once you get past the initial greetings and pleasantries, you learn about a people from their worldview.  Swahili people ask each other “What’s the news”?  I like that worldview. I see it as “What are you going to tell me that I don’t know. It sounds less self-centered than the American greeting of How are you?

I listen to my friend Kulman Sam’s videos on youtube. There are many videotapes on youtube but his are the best. He tends to be direct, focused and to the point. I like that. I see songs for free in Swahili along with movies and subtitles. So the tools to learn Swahili are there.

I listen to the language tape to the workbook in my car. One of the problems with people who try to teach language without a language background is that they include too much politics. They proceed rapidly through the words without supporting and scaffolding each lesson. Each lesson should have 80% of information, which has been introduced prior, and 20% new information.  Many programs choose to introduce a lot of cultural elements and fail to include sufficient exercises to reinforce concepts.

Language must meet the needs of the speaker.  The speaker needs to know how to take care of basic needs in the language, seeking food, shelter, health and safety. The model for language learning should follow the Maslow hierarchy of needs; one has to be able to communicate their physical needs. The second level of need is safety needs. People communicate to ensure that their safety needs. Maslow’s states that the next level of needs involve love and belonging.  Esteem follows love and belonging and self-actualization tops the pyramid.

Amateur language teachers start at the top of the pyramid. They want you to know their culture and values. They want to make sure that you don’t insult the speakers of their language who share their culture. People learn to communicate to meet their needs and not yours. Infants learn to say Mama and gesture to get fed. They cry to get something from the caregiver, not to meet the esteem needs of the caregiver.

I practice the sound today and then the greetings. Any person who speaks the language can be your caregiver. I get most of my information to meet my needs from children. So I need to be able to greet all those I meet. I focus on numbers.

Numbers are such a part of your life when traveling to a foreign country. Everything has a price and you need to know the price. You cannot leave the country with too much cash.  When you arrive at the airport, you need the address to where you are staying. You also need the flight number. You need to exchange currency when you arrive. So the exchange rate is important.

As you travel through the country, you must learn what everything costs and decide if it is overpriced or worth the money. You need a budget and a budget is filled with numbers. Language learners must learn to recognize the numbers when natives speak them as well as be able to articulate the numbers clearly to venders.

Knowledge of numbers satisfies my need to communicate on all levels. It assists me to communicate my physical needs for buying food, transportation, accommodations, etc. Numbers allow me to fulfill my safety needs, directions, distance, exchange rates etc.  Communicating numbers allows me to fit in and belong as I navigate my way in a different world. My esteem becomes boosted as I gain more independence. I train teachers so being able to teach math and show others how to teach math satisfy my self-actualization needs.

Numbers are Universal and so are needs. Numbers provide me with an anchor. Understanding numbers gives me the comprehensible input to make sense of issues attached and associated with numbers. It provides me with the confidence to make mistakes and stumble through a culture and language quite different from my own.

Anxiety is the greatest inhibitor to learning. Anxious people experience fight or flight and find it difficult to integrate new information due to a perceived threat. Once you feel confident about a certain aspect of the language then you can move forward with other areas.

The songs in Swahili add rhythm, which facilitate memorization of the language. The brain likes harmonies and melodies. Information can be easily integrated into long term memory. Humming a song triggers the emotional aspects of the memory and allows recall.

I realize that I have simply been lazy. The new ways of learning a language are just as effective as the old ways. I have just as much control of the information as I have had in the past. Technology adds a broader dimension to language learning it allows for more natural exposure in the language. Amateur videos can be just as effective a tool as professional videos. The key is to practice.

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African Languages on My Brain: Swahili Sounds in My Head

GE DIGITAL CAMERASwahili and I resume our love affair. We try to spend time together every day. We spend the night together, I in my bed and Swahili through the speakers of my computer. Swahili soothes me as I awaken during the night. The foreign sounds stir my imagination and remind me of the sights, sounds and smells of Africa. Swahili becomes my bedtime companion.

I listen to Swahili in my car. I  place the CD in the slot and listen to it without awareness. Sometimes I speak along with the CD but most of the time it is simply background for my thoughts. I don’t like to share my car because I don’t want anyone to change the audio in my vehicle.

By the time an infant has reached 8 months gestation in the womb, s/he has learned to recognize the sounds of his mother’s language. When  this infant is 12 months old, s/he begins to lose the ability to hear some  as s/he attaches and refines the process of making sounds in the mother’s language.

We like to point out that children learn language easily. They make it look easy. It is not unusual for small children to mispronounce words as there mouth matures. It is not  odd for them to struggle with 3 letter blends such as “street” pronounce “yellow” as “lello” or add vowels at the end of words that don’t end in vowels.

We tolerate children’s mispronounciations as they learn to speak. They develop the muscles in their mouth and upper respiratory system. Many of us can tell the difference between a two year old speaker and a ten year old speaker and we take the two year old speaker who expresses hunger no less serious than a 10 year old who expresses hunger. We learn to accept approximations and move on.

Second language learners face a different challenge if they are older. People focus more on how you say it rather than what you say. It takes the relationship into another direction when people judge how you speak rather than focus on the communication process.

Children don’t need to know what a word or phrase means in order to repeat it. People assume that they know the meaning if they pronounce the word or phrase well. They repeat words over and over again just to hear the sound. They often don’t understand what a phrase means and the adults would not know this unless they asked for a definition.

I believe in practicing the sounds. Many of my Kiswahili friends encourage foreigners to listen to the words and “catch’ them. However as an adult, I can read so if I can associate the proper intonation with the letters then the language acquisition process occurs  more quickly because you add visualization to the process.

When I learned language in the past, I spent the first hour of each day sitting at the computer and practicing the sound of 7 languages so that my upper respiratory system could make the sounds and that I would recognize the language when I heard it or saw the words. I practiced this activity for years. I upgraded my computer and my program was no longer compatible with the upgrade.  I mourned the loss of my program.  I loved the control of getting up and getting on my computer and pronouncing the words without any download issues or glitches.

So change comes hard. I am learning to use social networking to improve my language skills. I practice the sounds of Swahili every morning to prime the pump. Train the ear and flex the muscles in the upper respiratory system to make the sounds. This process resembles a singer who practices the scales before singing the song or the musician who simple focuses on playing the notes to warm up for the performance. I find that I need a warm up to switch the brain from English to Swahili. It makes it easier to move into the language, so there is less anxiety when trying to communicate.

Adult learners fear ridicule. People mimic language learners as they struggle with the sounds. Struggling with new sounds, replacing sounds with the familiar sounds of the target language, adding letters is part of the journey which lead to better pronunciation. As children learn their first language, they make us developmental mistakes. The worst thing that adults can do is ridicule their efforts and refuse to meet their needs. The child becomes frustrated and withdraws or tries to meet his/her needs in another manner.

When the language learner engages in any of these behaviors, instead of ridicule or correction, the target language speaker should simply pronounce it correctly and move on and complete the necessary action.  There is no need to make the target language learner repeat the word of phrase over and over again until the language learner’s speech matches the target language speaker. Accept this stage as part of the process and allow the language learner to make mistakes.

The language learner can hear the difference between their speech and the native speaker.  Making them self conscious about pronunciation only inhibits the language learning process. It takes patience and perseverance to interact with a emerging language learner. I find that most of the amateur videos used in social networking sites such as you tube etc. spend too much time explaining. It shows me that the teacher doesn’t understand linguistics and second language acquisition.

I complain about the process but Chanel Iam on facebook seems to be acquiring the language quite nicely using social media. So I need to do what I advise other people to  do all the time, let go of the old strategy and embrace the new strategies.  I can still use a lot of strategies that I used before. I have workbooks with exercises, and CD’s and language programs but incorporate that with Skype and social media. So I listen to the sounds , practice them first and move forward.

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African Languages On My Brain: Returning to Kiswahili

GE DIGITAL CAMERA GE DIGITAL CAMERA GE DIGITAL CAMERARecently I returned to Swahili, contrite about my absence. I always feel that I lost a window of opportunity when I didn’t go from listening to Swahili for long periods of time and speaking the language more. I chose to study Swahili and then switched to Amharic and Oromo. So my  receptive language included all three languages, yet my expressive language really included none of the languages. I understood some of all three, enough to know when people were scamming me in front of me.

So I returned to Swahili, the language of my original desire. I kept thinking that I would be fluent now if I had stuck with it.  But I didn’t stick with it. I learned lots of other things which proved to be useful. I need to rid myself of this feeling that it can ever be too late to learn.

When I learned languages before it seemed that life was much simpler. I studied the language using computer programs repeating what the native speaker shared. I listened to lots of tapes and CD’s and went to sleep listening to tapes. I listened in my car as I drove allowing the language to sink into my subconscious.  I checked out movies in the language from the video store. I bought workbooks in the language and practiced the exercises. My full time job for at least 8 weeks involved studying or using the language. I traveled to the country where the language was spoken with one objective, to use the language in a natural setting volunteering to work in refugee centers or teaching street children.

I listened to the radio in this language and read magazines and books in the library. I visited the University and started conversations with people at my guest house and in the coffee houses.  I avoided Americans unless they spoke the language well enough to carry on conversations in the target language. I traveled to various parts of the cities  or regions and interacted with locals at every opportunity.

I loved the novels in each country. The novels tell you things about the culture that the locals never share. The newspapers and magazines give another layer to the culture.  I loved this part of my life. It allowed me to acquire a language to intermediate level of fluency in 3 months. I loved sharing ideas about my profession or current events.

I miss this part of my life. I carried so many books and tapes, compact disks in my luggage. Then I bought more books while in the country.  I traveled with 2 suitcases and a carry on and most of them were my language learning materials.  I traveled throughout the Western Hemisphere and I explored so much of the countries.

Africa proved to be more complicated. I learned some German in Namibia. But Namibians shared such a painful history with German that it made me feel bad to force them to practice with me.  In Benin and Senegal, people often attempted to use the language to manipulate me. The consciousness of lack permeated the television, movies, radio, magazines, newspapers and daily conversation. Generally once we got past the greetings, the conversation turned to Americans giving them money. So Quebec proved a more reliable place to learn the language and Africa a place to practice the language.

So now my life is different. I need to earn a living and interact with lots of people who speak only English and have no appreciation for people who speak other languages. I write competitive  proposals in English and find it difficult to pull out of English and engage in other languages. I don’t relax a lot in African countries.  I understand the disparities in income and social economic status but it does not make it any less comfortable.

When I interact with people whose income exceeds mine over 100 times, I intend to get intimidated. My response would be to withdraw but then I am still financially independent so even then it is not the same. I know that I am viewed as a gateway to a different life. So you wonder if people might choose the short way to prosperity rob you or set you up to be robbed or the long way, manipulate you out of your resources. Not exactly the foundation for trust and learning something new. The brain’s ability to learn may be dampened in fight or flight.

I don’ carry tons of  language books, CDs and tapes  to Africa. I  load them on my tablet and Iphone. I can use youtube  and facebook but somehow this doesn’t seem as efficient as my previous method. I need internet connection or electricity which may not be always available. After a struggle, I don’t engage in language learning for the same amount of time as before.

I must say that I don’t have the energy left over after dealing with all the aspects of managing a non profit and creating curriculum for an afterschool program. The brain often feels saturated which isn’t a good element for learning.

I don’t find Mp3s on the phone or the computer to be as easy to control as the cassette player or the CD.  My routine varies a great deal. I need to be in a place with internet to access you tube. I find that a lot of the material tailored to foreign language learning is not as scaffolded as the professional material by linguists. So there is a huge gap that the learner needs to leap.

Swahili is a great first African language to learn. Swahili became the language of East African trade long ago. Native speakers strive to meet foreign speakers half way because they want the trade relationship. Learning Swahili reminds me of learning Spanish. Spanish speakers encourage people to learn their language and demonstrate a lot of patience with foreign language learners. So do the speakers of Swahili, plus there is a greater variety and diversity of language programs in Swahili.

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Defending Public Education in the United States

2013-03-11 15.35.00I have tested thousands of students in my lifetime. Testing  provides useful information, showing students and teachers  students knowledge. Scores can be used to diagnose learning problems. Test scores form a part of the equation not the whole equation.  Over reliance on  test scores create more problems than it solves for students, teachers, and schools.  We restrict the curriculum to what is tested, cheating students out of a well rounded education or lowering standards to inflate scores. School districts across the nation have been reduced the time available for the arts, physical education, history, civics, and other nontested subjects.  This does not improve education and  teaches the wrong long term lesson..

No nation in the world  eliminated poverty by firing teachers or by handing its public schools over to private managers; nor does research support such tactics. The new   school reformers, Wall Street hedge fund managers, foundation officials, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and policymakers, consist of too  few experienced educators.

The new reformers lack the balance which seasoned educators provide. The reformers’ detachment from the GE DIGITAL CAMERAreality of providing education for all and their disregard for research allow them to ignore the important influence of families and poverty. The United States, the largest and  most successful economy in the world, owes this success  to public school which  educated 90 percent of Americans.

Finland borrowed many of its most valued ideas from the United States, such as GE DIGITAL CAMERAequality of educational opportunity, individualized instruction, portfolio assessment, and cooperative learning. Finland borrowed the work of  John Dewey.  Finland’s  teacher preparation program forms  the core of  school reform . Eight universities  prepare teachers for a  highly competitive program:. Future teachers  enter the University with a strong academic background. Every candidate prepares to teach all  students, Every teacher must complete an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in education. Teaching is a respected and prestigious profession .  Every teacher is well prepared. Teachers enter the profession with a sense of purpose. We can recapture this spirit in the United States.

American teachers face the most diverse group of students in the world. They face students from all 2011-11-22 09.51.56socioeconomic, racial, religious, and nationalities. The U.S.  attracts more immigrants than any country in the world. These students educated at the public expense span the full range of academic achievement. I don’t see any other country with such a multicultural that has achieved the level of success. We don’t need to follow Finland or Japan or Korea who followed us. We need to continue to innovate and create.



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Education in Developing Countries: International Testing and Its Value

GE DIGITAL CAMERAThe World Development Report on Making Services Work for Poor People” [World  Bank, 2004] illustrates the tension in the public conversation about primary education in developing countries. The report embraces universal primary  education and describes in detail the dismal quality of the educational services that  developing countries offer  the poor. Policies which promote school enrollment may not promote learning.  The recent evidence suggests that many interventions which increase school participation do not improve education for the average student. These interventions consist of buying materials for the teacher without showing the teacher how to use the tools effectively.

Students do not to learn more in the additional days that they spend at school. Efforts to get children into school must be accompanied by significant improvements in the quality of schools that serve these children.  The first step is to change the attitude of the teacher who may or not be engaged in facilitating the learning process. Lecturing  from a textbook and having students memorize for exams does not increase learning. Learning has to engage the teacher and student.

The people in the educational process are central to the success of students. The crucial role of  the teacher’s determines whether students feel that they can learn. Many teachers in poor schools don’t prepare lessons adequately and expect the students to be silent and regurgitate on command what has been spoken by the teacher is not education. The problem is that  we don’t want to hurt teacher’s feelings by telling them that they have to undergo a fundamental shift in attitude and ensure that the provide their pupils with quality instruction and facilitate the learning process.

In the case of the poor, they generally come from an ethnic group which the teacher considers inferior. The pedagogy, nor the curriculum, has been adapted to take into account the influx of children and their characteristics which may require different teaching strategies.  Many first generation learners must work to help support their families and need practice activities to reinforce learning which may include games and oral learning, rhymes, songs etc. to remember academic concepts. Their parents can’t help them with academic work and feel embarrassed by the challenge. They may berate the child for making them feel inadequate with the demands of school.

In many countries, the school system  continues to operate as if it were catering to the elite.  When one digs further, we discover that the teachers want to only teach to the elite and feel that teaching poor children from lower socioeconomic groups lowers the teacher’s prestige and social status.

We can  improve school quality in a cost-effective way through the use of technology. Technology allows students to practice without judgement or condenmnation. The child can watch the video as many times as it takes without the video losing patience. The child can complete the problems until she gets them correct without feeling like she has disappointed the computer. The key is making these tools available to poor children and allowing them to use them in they are designed to be used.

Textbooks are important. Practice makes perfect. Application requires teachers to challenge their students in ways that differ from past relationships. Many teachers never interact with the ethnic group of their pupils outside the school setting. They may judge the child’s culture as backwards or uncivilized. Outsiders view the teacher and student as sharing the same race and therefore no cultural issues exist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Until the school system address cultural, ethnic and language differences between the student and teacher, no real progress in terms of increasing education can exist. Students and parents know when educators tolerate them in order to receive a paycheck. When teachers face a classroom of students from different ethnic, language and cultural backgrounds, the teacher has a responsibility to address the gap.

So I can’t get excited about comparing test scores in countries where 1 out of 5 children die from unclean water. I don’t see the value of focusing on some artificial index which may not assist solve the  live or death problems in the immediate environment.

When one works with Educators from around the world, people constantly compare educational systems on the basis of International test scores.  Test scores tell a part of the story.  There are a sole criterion and should not be used as the only measure. Finland, with a population of 5.3 million boasts of some of the highest test scores in the world. The homogenous populations seems to enjoy a high quality of life and they place a high value on education. I don’t see myself giving up my citizenship and moving to Finland.

Countries must focus on the problems that interfere with their quality of life not some artificial index which compares their country to someone else. We overwork the data collection process. Test scores measure  performance on a sole criterion which many feels gives them a chance at the lottery “the coveted government job”.  This mentality becomes the problem and not a part of the solution. Education should be coveted because of it’s influence expanding one’s fund of knowledge to creatively solve the problems of today and tomorrow.

The 21st Century graduates must accomplish more than being able to pass an exam. Creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship and sustainability rank as key components. Education,  a tool to be used, not just a piece of paper to be proudly displayed on the wall. When one discusses education for the poor in developing or developed countries, one  addresses the primary determinant of what happens in the classroom, the teacher and the problems which the students need to address in the environment.

Education must be meaningful and relevant or it is worthless. Education must facilitate people improving the quality of their lives and allow them to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. So once people can manage their existence in their own environment, can I turn my attention to comparing test scores.

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Global Urban Education

IMG_1110­ Six Education for All Goals

1. Expand early childhood care and education

2. Provide free and compulsory primary education for all

3. Promote learning and life skills for young people and adults

4. Increase adult literacy by 50 per cent

5. Achieve gender parity by 2005, gender equality by 2015

6. Improve the quality of education

Most people take the high road when it comes to Africa and state politically correct facts. Some take the low road and deem the continent to be beyond redemption. The truth lies someone in the middle, ever shifting ever changing, ever flowing.  I wonder how much time decision makers spend in the actual schools observing educators at work. I wonder how many have the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said.

Nigeria heads the list with 1 out of 6 of the worlds out of school population. In Nigeria the richest 20% spend more that 10 times as much as the poorest 20%.  In Uganda 97 out of 100 children from the richest entered primary and 80 reached the last grade. In the bottom quartile 90 out of 100 entered primary and 49 reached the last grade. Nigeria ranks 30th in GDP and places as an emerging economy instead of as a developing country and yet the lag behind in access to education. So why hasn’t Nigeria led Africa in school enrollment.

The same comparisons can be made in Egypt, which ranks 27th in GDP. In Egypt the richest spend 4 times as much as the poorest.  As an emerging market economy why wouldn’t Egypt invest more in education for all?

Many countries hide behind culture to excuse lower rates of school attendance. Abolishing school fees has been a fundamental step in increasing enrollment. Research shows that for many children 6 years of school are not enough to build literacy. Poorly prepared teachers contribute to the low literacy rates in schools.

Africa is a continent of contrasts. In gender parity Angola and Eritrea have gone backwards. Burundi and Uganda have reached parity in education. Sub Sahara Africa has the world’s lowest total secondary enrollment ratio at 40% in 2010.  Knowledge of HIV and AIDS is low in countries with high prevalence rates. UNICEF states that youth do not feel empowered to take the right action at the right times. This politically correct term fails to address the issue of rape and the fact that women are blamed for rape and men experience little or no punishment.

160 million adults have poor literacy skills. There are 120 million children who fail to reach grade 4.  When I presented my proposal for blended learning in Ethiopia in September 2013, Ethiopian scholars were offended when I pointed out that 20% of children dropped out between Kindergarten and First Grade.

We must focus on the 130 million who are in school but failing to learn the basics. Teachers are the most important resource. Lack of training proves to be a major obstacle.  Many teachers in Ethiopia and Kenya became teachers when they couldn’t find any other job.  They miss at least 1 day a week and spend more time outside of the classroom than they spend inside the classroom I have explained from Benin, Senegal, Nigeria, Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso to Ethiopia, Kenya and Namibia, that teachers can not leave their classes unattended to visit sick relatives at the hospital or help their brothers buy a house. Children as young as 3 years old are expected to “behave” themselves when the teacher leaves the school and beat if they “act out” in the teachers absence.

Teachers need to be aware of learning differences and be prepared to adjust their teaching and assessment methods accordingly. It became obvious to me that most teachers failed to prepare for class. They completed lesson plans during instruction time. Other teachers didn’t plan at all. They received lesson plans from a teacher coordinator. They understood their subject but had no knowledge of child development, learning styles, pedagogy or motivation. They didn’t believe that they needed to know any of these subjects. They seemed to feel if students didn’t learn it was because they lacked the aptitude or ability.

Children miss a lot of school in developing countries and it cannot be explained away by saying that they need to work. Children don’t want to come to school. Teachers come from the elite. In the case of Ethiopia they are the less than 6% who have access to a college education. The children in government schools come from the lower socio-economic groups. No one in the literature addresses ethnic rivalries. They children come from a different ethnic group that their elite teachers and so parents with some means try to find private schools where the teacher and staff come from the same ethnic group or at least respect that ethnic group.

I spoke with a dean of a major teacher training college in South Africa. She admitted that her professors sat through lectures and exams through their bachelor’s, masters and doctorate program. Then they stayed at the University and became teacher-training professors and had never taught before a class full of school children. When she asked the primary and secondary feeder schools if I could observe them teaching, they responded that they were not interested in some “Westerner” telling them what to do in circumstances that we could not imagine.

There are 510 living languages in Nigeria and 83 living languages in Ethiopia. There are at least 6 languages in Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in Africa with lots of ethnic conflicts. Uganda has 40 different languages. 30 distinct languages are spoken in Kenya. Unless there is a concerted effort to make sure that the child is proficient in the school language and the teacher is fluent in the same language, education lags behind.

In Benin, the children in the public pre-school were completely bilingual by two years of age. Their parents taught them French as well as their native language. When they entered school, it mattered less than the teachers came from the elite even though the teachers demonstrated clear prejudice against students from the less dominant ethnicities.

In countries like Ethiopia and Kenya where the two languages of instruction are Amharic and English and Swahili and English, the children and parents speak other languages, which are not addressed.  All parents are not proficient in Swahili and Amharic. The three dominant language ethnicities in Ethiopia are Amharic, Oromo and Tigrinya. In order to progress in school, children must learn Amharic in kindergarten or first grade. They beat children who perform poorly in school.  So if a child has not acquired Amharic by first grade they usually drop out. Teachers or any other educated person has no interest in speaking anything but the languages of commerce which tend to be English, Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya in the north and maybe Somali in the south. People don’t feel a need to speak the language of “lower class “ people.

Tanzania provides education in primary schools in Swahili and secondary school in English. Tanzania has 100 languages. The effort to teach children and parents in the school language is limited. Parents and students must take responsibility for learning the school, government and commerce language. A consciousness of lack pervades these cultures and language can be perceived as a barrier to protect assets for a select few.

So Education For All chose the right six goals but needed to add Learning and child engagement can be the seventh goal. The number of students and teachers who attend school irregularly must be addressed. The mind set and attitude that school is a lottery and if you are not going to be able to afford secondary school they don’t waste their time properly educating the children.

Parents need to understand the value of educating all children and not just the one perceived to be the most intelligent. School becomes a lottery with the goal being a government job, which helps the child, supports the family.

Culture plays a role in securing education for children in developing countries and lower socio-economic groups in developed country.  Children from lower socio-economic groups resent educators.  They feel that teachers can’t meet them where they live.  Parents who suffered during their own school years, teach their children to resent authority figures.

Educators in developing countries felt that I spoiled children in the classes that I taught because I allowed them to go to the board and work problems. They felt uncomfortable when I insisted that every child participate in the lesson and answer questions. They informed that I violated their culture norms by creating a classroom community where every child was judged on the basis of performance and given an opportunity to learn and achieve.

Teachers felt uncomfortable and pressured to spend more time with students. They claimed that children would demand more from them. I can’t say that I appreciated their perspective.  I enjoy working with challenging children. I enjoy convincing parents to send their children to school. Educators must take responsibility for educating children and stop blaming everyone else.

I don’t advocate communism, but I think Cuba has something when they chose to eliminate illiteracy. Africa has never taken ownership of the problem of education only for the elite. They basically said that I would educate more people in my country if you pay me to educate the people in my country.  They have made huge strides in a short period of time. In order to go to the next level with 100% completing primary school, they must look outside their cultural boundaries and take responsibility for every child in the country.

Cuba shut down the University and sent the students and professors throughout the countryside to make sure that every family received education and basic literacy and numeracy. The students and teachers worked the farm alongside the farmers during the day and taught during the evenings and weekends. So everyone received education and assistance with living. There were no huge salaries with lots of bureaucracy.

African countries could do the same thing and then the most promising students allowed to go further with their education and become teachers. If every ethnic group and language was represented at the University level then they become the torchbearers of tomorrow.  This strategy could be supplemented with technology as well.

The other option would be to design Instructional materials that are relevant and meaningful and solve daily problems such as access to clean water, energy and food needs. If the children came to school and learned something that they could immediately take home and use, parents would demand more from schools and ensure that all of their children became enrolled in school. There must be more options for working adults to use the knowledge acquired in school. Then school could be viewed as something other than a lottery that few can win.

Countries in Africa must address the issue of language and ethnic differences. The divisions over ethnic differences manifest themselves in the schools with students receiving substandard instruction. Curriculum has to be meaningful and relevant and delivered in language that students understand. So issues like technology access, parental support and high expectations need to be managed within that context.


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African Languages on My Brain: Monkey Brain

GE DIGITAL CAMERAToday I awakened to study my languages with a major case of monkey brain. Monkey brain happens when your thoughts jump from one topic to the next without focus. Morning is peak time for me to learn something new. I concentrate and focus better in the morning. I find that my cluttered mind won’t attach to new words in Amharic.

I own at least 10 books in Amharic. Most of them consist of dull dry memorization. I waste a lot of time on information which fail to meet my needs. I finally see how to write the fidel and find that I am learning sound symbol relationship in Amharic to be frustrated with a book that has over 50% of it’s content to be worthless. My mind keeps jumping to ways that I would improve the book.  I decide that I need to rewrite this workbook and implement my ideas.

I decide to feed my monkey brain and quiet the distraction. I know that this brainless activity of copying should be done when I am tired so that I can optimize my learning. I spend the morning copying parts of the book to make changes to fit my learning needs. Good learning materials facilitate language learning. Developmentally inappropriate materials to learn a language are like using a hammer to chop down a tree.  Eventually you will knock down the tree, but a good chainsaw could have accomplished the job quicker and more efficiently.

I designed seven steps to learning a language . I know what I should be doing and when I should be doing it to maximize language. I just simply need to do it.

The Seven Keys to Learning a Language

  1. Select a program for Adult Learners.
  2. Learn the nouns of the language , hobbies, professional areas of interest, travel words that you will use, monetary system, food, bathroom, etc.
  3. Learn key phrases that you need in introducing yourself and talking about your interests.
  4. Set up a speaking  practice schedule. Respond to family member and friends in the target language. Find a study buddy.
  5. Use whatever tools are comfortable and convenient for you, workbooks, CD’s audios, textbooks, computer programs.
  6. Read items of interest to you in the target languages, books, magazine, newspaper etc.
  7. Don’t allow people who speak the language better to inhibit you in speaking the language with overcorrection.

So, I am stuck on step 1 selecting a program for adult learners which means that I must create my program for adult learners. I want the creative side of my brain to focus on translating words from English to Amharic. I settle for photocopying and reading fidel and listening to Amharic C D’s in the background.  My mind wanders to the entrepreneurial enterprise of publishing an Amharic learning program. I need to learn Amharic before I can write a book about it.

I like  the Semitic script. I like Arabic, Hindi, Chinese and Japanese script as well. If I didn’t have to earn a living, I would organize them all in my brain at the same time. I need my frontal lobes to ensure my financial independence which leaves less brain real estate to learn new information.  I struggle with managing my daily work related activities and studying the language.

I listen to the recordings of Amharic while I drive my car and before I go to bed at night. I need to open my mouth and train my upper respiratory system to make the sounds. I need to talk to myself in Amharic or a study buddy who has better things to do with his/her time than to overcorrect.

It amazes me what the brain attaches itself to while learning a language. I wish that my brain would simply memorize words and phrases. I understand why many Ethiopians misspell English words. I think that we don’t enunciate the sounds well enough and they spell them phonetically. Because we see the words so much, we recognize the spelling instantly. I find myself struggling with some of the writings of my Ethiopian friends.  When I try to say them using  several phonetic spellings, I can determine their meaning.  So once I understand the sound symbol relationship, I will have an easier time learning.

I don’t find any language harder or easier to learn than any other language. It depends on what is going on with me. When I need to focus on earning a living or taking care of my health needs, then my acquisition skills suffer. Sometimes life gets in the way and I don’t have the real estate in my frontal lobes to learn something new. I have rote activities that I engage in during this time. I listen  to audiotapes of the language, practice writing the script or simply practice the sounds. These minimalist activities get me over the hump. I accept that I am learning less than when I can apply myself 100%.

It takes time to learn to communicate effectively. Two people speaking the same language often suffer misunderstandings. The cultural differences play a role as frustration due to lack of agreement on spoken words stifle communication.  People in Ethiopia often say  that they are at a location when they are not physically  present. I learned that when people stated they were there, they actually meant that they were on their way. So it is important to stay open to the connotation of the words. The key is to ask lots of questions and listen to the answer.  So today, I move forward with my intention even if I don’t take much action. The Monkey brain has been stilled.


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