Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stress on Liberal Education

As the former president of Yale University, Bartlett Giamatti, once stated, “A liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart of a liberal education is the art of teaching.” OI’s educational approach stresses both a liberal education — “Liberal Arts in Action,” as per Tokyo’s incomparable International Christian University — and a strong faculty. Science, music, theater, English, Indonesian, history, geography, math, economics, anthropology, and psychology will be required, preparing our students for college majors related to medicine, law, seminary, business, the arts, the humanities, or the social sciences. The purpose is to combine both the classical educational model found in the tradition of the German “gymnasium” — similar to the Indonesian high school — and the independent thinking within the American tradition of education. The concept of Cultural Area Studies will be stressed in all venues, from class syllabi to the organization of our libraries.

Harvard University scholar Stephen Jay Gould writes of “one of the most common fallacies in human reasoning – the elevation to universal status of a local, limited, and potentially false belief held by an individual or culture.” Through Cross Cultural Studies, we can focus on using the social sciences and the arts to better understand significant regions of our world. Orphans International Worldwide could focus on themes such as Southeast Asian Studies, French Colonial/African Diaspora Studies, and Latin American Studies.

“Education Mamas” (Or Papas!) Houseparents, both male and female, will be expected to serve as “education mamas” to the children in their care, guiding them to achieve in the same way that the kyoiku-mama mothers of Japan work intensively with their children from pre-kindergarten through graduation. The role of our houseparents will include keeping the children well fed, maintaining their school uniforms, guiding them in their homework and ensuring lively conversations around the dinner table each evening.

Language Curriculum. Children at each of our projects will learn English, in addition to the language or languages of their country. English has been taught as a second language at certain Indonesian elementary schools since 1994, following a curriculum created by Indonesia’s Ministry of Education and Culture. French is the official language of Haiti, but Creole is more widely spoken; Orphans International Haiti will stress French parity with Creole. Children at projects in Spanish-speaking countries such as El Salvador and Peru will study Spanish as well as English.

Living History Projects. I wrote in the Initial Report ten years ago and still believe that one of the most important academic aspects of OI Worldwide would be our Living History Projects organized in each country. Through this program, akin to the Foxfire Project in rural Tennessee in the 1970s, we will teach our senior academy students to interview the older residents of the community, capturing photos, tape recordings and written recollections of the history of their countries for use on our website and other venues. Preserving this legacy will not only contribute to a better understanding of our world, but will teach our students valuable study and research skills.

Our Chautauqua Programs. In the Initial Report I dreamed that we would offer an abundance of adult educational programming for visitors, residents and staff, and this is another goal for the future of Orphans International. The programs will be modeled after the Chautauqua movement in the U.S., which had its beginnings in a summer training program for Sunday School teachers, started on Lake Chautauqua, New York 125 years ago. It was described as “a cultural playground of concerts, ballet, opera, theater, and art exhibitions.” Our Chautauqua programs would include the visual arts, such as painting, sculpture, print-making, photography, film, video, decorative arts, and the performing arts such as ballet, theater, opera, and orchestra. Our academies will also encompass the sciences of biology, chemistry, and geology, as well as mathematics, language, history, sociology and anthropology. Our Chautauqua programs will also one day incorporate indigenous arts. The freedom to discover and build a distinct tradition has encouraged artists to develop a pride in their own folk-traditions and to build a society with a thriving artistic and intellectual community.

Artists-in-Residence, Arts & Crafts, and Vocational Studies. In the Initial Report I also envisioned on emphasis on fine arts, theater, music and dance on our campuses. Guitar-playing is extremely popular in North Sulawesi and is featured in most church services there: It is the most popular of all student instruments. We plan to have a strong arts component, with artists from around the world working with the children. Artists would be chosen from around the world as well as from the project nations themselves. Although the average age of our children today is only nine, we will need vocational classes when they start to become teenagers. Classes will include house construction, pottery making and bamboo craft (two of the largest indigenous crafts), and agriculture. Local villagers will be invited to participate in these classes free of charge.

We will offer three core programs for our teenagers: Technology, Arts & Crafts, and Agriculture. Vocational programs will be structured with a system of majors and minors, such that exists within the traditional university structure, and all of our kids will be required to minor in a field in which they are not majoring. Our Technology Program will encompass computer literacy and Internet expertise. Everyone, regardless of their major, will be computer-literate. The Arts & Crafts Program will focus on four primary areas: pottery, bamboo, furniture, and construction. Construction will focus on creating housing for the disadvantaged, using either local lumber, or in its absence, earth blocks. Agriculture will consist of forestry, rice production including terraced rice paddies, and bamboo cultivation. In Indonesia the agriculture program will include fruit and spice tree propagation. In Guyana this will include forestry, sugar cane, rice, coffee and cacao, as well as how to raise and care for cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens – the common farm animals in the region. The agriculture program will also tie in with the animal shelters to be built on both campuses.

Sports Programs.
Athletic activities such as baseball, bicycling, badminton, soccer, ping-pong, fencing, ballet, swimming, and gymnastics will be available to our children as well. In Guyana and Sri Lanka there will be a special emphasis on the national sport of cricket popular throughout former members of the British Commonwealth. All of our children today have their own bicycles. In addition to sports teams, including the popular Indonesian, Haitian and Guyanese sports of badminton and soccer, there will be Girl Scout, Boy Scout, and Junior Scout programs imported from America. Scouting already exists in Haiti, where it is often coeducational, and in Indonesia.

These were my hopes and dreams, first written in 1998-99. Matt was four and then five years old. We would go for walks in the park with our four rescued dogs, have dinner and read, then he would go to bed and I would write until two or three in the morning. Three hundred and fifty pages of ideas. The next step was to learn how to present my ideas to the public, and then implement them; it sounded so simple. Years later I look back and smile. Although my get-up-and-go has yet to get up and leave, I move slower than I did then. I can no longer carry Matt on my shoulders around Central Park, but then he is a little bigger. I realize now that my dream of helping children is the most difficult dream I have ever embraced. The writing, of course, was the easiest part. Although we are still far from realizing many of these projects and programs, we grow closer every day with the support of many generous individuals.

1 comment:

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