Adj Marshall

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Reconsider Columbus Day

In Education, History on October 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm

“Commemorations sanitize further the messy history lived by the actors. They contribute to the contentious myth-making process that give history its more definite shapes: they help to create modify, or sanction the public meaning attached to a historical events deemed worthy of mass celebration. As rituals that package history for public consumption, commemorations play the numbers game to create a past that seems both more real and more elementary. “

~Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Last year I was inspired by this beautiful video asking people to reconsider Columbus Day by engaging in a critical view of the contentious holiday.  While the video urges us to visit ReconsiderColumbusday.org, a website that is no longer in operation, I will further challenge you to conduct your own research to learn more about this complex narrative.

Today many celebrate Columbus Day with little thought of  its origins. While there is much media attention given to why we should reconsider our celebration little attention is given to the historical construction of the holiday.

So how and when did Columbus Day come to have so much sway in the United States? The answer is an unlikely source.

The Tammany Society incorporated in New York 1789 consisted of gentlemen who’s taste for public attention via parades and lavish banquets inspired their celebration of any date that fit their calendar. Columbus’s landfall as they referred it was listed on their calendar as early as 1790. By what seems a historical accident the Tammany’s most lavish celebration occurred on October 12, 1792; 300 years after the initial first landing. Despite the societies promised to continue the celebration for years to come, the holiday all but disappeared again for nearly another 60 years, where it found a new cult following by the recently immigrated populations whom needed an icon to legitimize their importance within the American narrative of stodgy WASPS.

Both the Spanish, who has sponsored Columbus’s travels and the Italians, which Columbus was by birth latched on to the Columbus Day celebration sponsored by Sharpshooters Association of New York and spread it across the nation.  While 1866 marked the rebirth of the holiday and launched similar celebrations from Philadelphia and Boston to New Orleans and San Francisco the cult following was still minuscule with only 3,679 individuals claiming Italian heritage in 1850.

Silencing the Past

An unlikely population also took up the cause, the Irish American, which numbered 962,000 by 1850. Many Irish became parts of the Knights of Columbus by way of their Catholic association.  The Catholic religion which crossed national boundaries allowed these groups to find common ground outside their immigrant status in this Catholic male fraternal order. The Knights of Columbus which promoted the concept of citizen culture was just the right group to help these marginalized individuals find a home within the WASP nation.

The Catholics felt vindicated by their hero’s national recognition at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1892. By the 1890’s the US’s appropriation of Columbus had became a national phenomenon. In 1892 one of the 400 year Anniversary celebrations held in New Haven Connecticut attracted 40,000 people including 6,000 Knights of Columbus and was deemed a celebration of holiness and patriotism. As Columbus became a national icon he also became more white, this new white status  lent itself to those who claimed his history as their own including the marginalized  Italians, Spanish, and Irish Catholics.

This story holds particular importance for Rhode Island as it is the most Catholic state in the nation and the ethnic identity claimed by more people than any other is Italian.  This little bit of history I have provided was lent to me through Michael- Rolph Trouillot’s book Silencing the Past which documents the holes in the Haitian story of Revolution and Independence. The cliche “history is written by the winners” should serve as a continual reminder that history needs to persistently be reevaluated to determine the complex nature that makes up our current conceptualization of the past.

In 2009 Brown University chose to rename Columbus Day to Fall Weekend a protest to the nature of Christopher Columbus’ conquests and treatment of Native Americans. This was decayed by national icons such as Rush Limbaugh and the then Providence Mayor David Cicillini who stated ” it diminished the accomplishments of explorer Christopher Columbus, an important historical figure for Italian-Americans and As an Italian-American, I take particular offense to this decision”.

As Columbus day is reevaluated and actions taken to reconcile the new knowledge offenses are sure to be voiced.  We must remember what is true for you may not be true for me. The Columbus day we all learn about in school is one devoid of the negative repercussions that resulted from Columbus’ interactions with the Taino natives who were all but wiped out by the arrival of Columbus and his men on Hispaniola. As Columbus has become a national icon his image has been sanitized and his myth like status is all that remains.

I challenge you to complicate your own understanding of the days history take the plunge and learn more.

Interesting Articles

A 1770’s Education + A 1970’s Education = ?

In Art, Education, History on September 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm


“Goodness without knowledge is weak…yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous”

~Phillips Academy 1778 Constitution

Many of you were with me at the beginning of my journey… that is when I officially decided I was going to document my LEAP (Liberal Arts Education Plan) through the articles here on Learned Curiosity. If you were not, I have probably met you somewhere along this journey and would encourage you to check out its beginning. While I must admit I have all but ignored the documentation these past few months my learning continues to prevail. In journeying, my physical and cultural awareness has been tested inspiring my intellectual and spiritual centers. I have made it across the country and back twice by train, plane and buss, for trainings, radical marching band events, rock-climbing adventures, hiking, adventures, back packing adventures, family history research quests and of course… to share my wealth of knowledge by serving as an educational facilitator.

When I first began contemplating my LEAP over 8 months ago I was grappling with the questions of “What does it mean to be educated?” “What is a valuable education?” and “Where does one find such an education?” In choosing my LEAP I was eschewing the Americentric educational view which values concrete classrooms with credentialed instructors and standardized outcomes. Instead I was choosing community, collaboration and creativity to serve as my guides. Sir Ken Robinson, a leading thinker in the field of educational reform, states “We have to think differently about human capacity, we have to get over this old conception of ours about academic, nonacademic, abstract, theoretical, vocational” and recognize that “most great learning happens in groups, and that “collaboration is the stuff of growth”. Check out the animation below Changing Educational Paradigms.

Choosing my LEAP over graduate school last year was essential in staying true to my values. I learned long ago that by serving as an active participant in my own education rather than a passive one I could come to a more in depth understanding of our global community. Education for me, has always extended beyond the confines of a classroom, necessitating a deep-rooted engagement with community.  So when I chose to look at graduate programs this year I only selected ones that valued the expertise of community and creativity as much as I did.

I applied to two institutions neither program having exactly what I was looking for… and the truth be told I don’t believe any one program could. Each was uniquely skilled in their field of expertise and allowed enough freedom for students to explore varying interests. I felt I could be comfortable at either. Being accepted to both programs allowed me the freedom to choose the educational program best fit for me… only I couldn’t.  In the end I decided that only by creating my own blend of the two programs would I be able to delve into the issues I hope to pursue.

Which leads us to today the day before I begin my studies at both World Learning’s Graduate School for International Training (SIT) in Conflict Transformation (Brattleboro VT) and Brown Universities M.A. in Public Humanities (Providence RI).  Combined, these two institutions will give me the international perspective on the positive use of arts in conflict situations while  allowing me the resources and knowledge to understand arts impact on social interactions.  As the year moves on I will be pursuing studies focused on how marginalized communities (most likely international ones) utilize the arts in their personal struggles for justice.

The Big Adventure

In Art, Education, History, Physical Pursuits on March 4, 2011 at 9:40 am

Monkey Face part of my adventure in Oregon!

Artists are magical helpers. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives.

~ Joseph Campbell

While taking a lunch break from my welding project  last week I found myself in a discussion with a fellow band member of our need to not be tied down to one kind of work. This year has allowed me the the opportunity to search out a bunch of differnt kinds of work all of which I find fulfilling. I have facilitated community building and leadership trainings, taught rock climbing lessons to high school students and special needs individuals, designed and welded bike racks and trash cans, and am now about to head off to lead a service learning course on Health Policy at Berkley in CA.

Around this course and training I have built a 6 week adventure that will take me across the country and back. It starts in Chicago, Illinois  where I will participate in a training for the Health Policy Class and meet my co-facilitators, I will then head down to Austin Texas to meet up with my band the Extraordinary Rendition Band to participate in HONK TX for a week, from there I am headed to Bend Oregon to Rock Climb at Smith Rock for 2 weeks.

Charting a Hero's Journey

After my time camping and climbing I will head back to civilization to meet my with my co-facilitators in San Francisco, one from nevada and the other from Israel, to teach the Health Policy Class. Upon the completion of the class I will move on to Charlotte North Carolina to visit with a friend who works in the Arts field there and was instrumental in the beginnings of my artistic stirrings and questionings. My adventure I hope will open me up to many new insights and allow me to continue on my path of growth I have set out for myself this year.

I first encountered the work of David Campbell in Lina Chisholm’s Charting a hero’s Journey. The book is a publication of the International Partnership for Service Learning and Leadership and was utilized as part of my studies in Ecuador . The book serves as a guided journaling prompt for those traveling for the first time, most often abroad. While my travel to Ecuador was not my first time abroad I still found it’s content quite useful in dissecting my experience while there. It gave me the space to be reflective about my intentions and the ability to recognize the personal conversations and changes that traveling was having on me.

Campbell speaks of the Monolyth, the basic elements common amongst all myths that chart a the heroines journey, a sort of rite of passage, in which the heros undergoes separation, initiation, and return. Linda Chisholm applies this structure to the experiences of the reflective traveler. From the following description you can see the parallels that can be drawn between Campbell’s story and that of a traveler in search of understanding their sense of self and their purpose and contributions to the world.

The Basis for Hero's Journey

“In laying out the monomyth, Campbell describes a number of stages or steps along this journey. The hero starts in the ordinary world, and receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events (a call to adventure). If the hero accepts the call to enter this strange world, the hero must face tasks and trials (a road of trials), and may have to face these trials alone, or may have assistance. At its most intense, the hero must survive a severe challenge, often with help earned along the journey. If the hero survives, the hero may achieve a great gift (the goal or “boon”), which often results in the discovery of important self-knowledge. The hero must then decide whether to return with this boon (the return to the ordinary world), often facing challenges on the return journey. If the hero is successful in returning, the boon or gift may be used to improve the world (the application of the boon).”

Traveling for me opens my horizons it allows me to see the world in ways I that expand my small city nature. As a life long Providenceite I feel comfortable in the city and often times attempts to find ways to challenge myself. Climbing is a major component of this but so is just getting outside Rhode Island. As I embark on this 6 week adventure I look forward to the insights I will gain and the new found knowledge of myself and the world I will bring back with me.

Art Builds Community

In Art, Education, Photography, Uncategorized on February 25, 2011 at 2:24 am
Photo Making

“Community wisdom begins with being encountered”

-Kathleen Hirsch

Part of my LEAP this year has focused on seeking out educational opportunities that align with my interest in the intersection of art and social justice. While speaking with a friend this winter, I was informed about the class Community Lens, a joint venture between a number of departments and communities. The class is co-taught by faculty of the Public and Community Service Department and the Art Department at Providence College. The class’ students are partnering with the student artists of City Arts, a local after school arts program on the South Side. With so many moving parts this class can feel unwieldy sometimes but more often than not it creates a feeling of nervous potential, a sense of opportunity.

“Community Lens  is defined in its syllabus as an interdisciplinary course that focuses on the concept and practice of community using photography as a tool for understanding the lived reality of community among youth in Providence. Specifically students will read theories of community, learn photography skills, and teach youth in Providence to use photography to tell their own stories of community. ”

Photo Review at City Arts

The class has 3 objectives:

Creating a Learning Community– In which you can develop an understanding of the connections between art and social change with specific focus on the question “What dose community mean?”

Serving the Youth of Providence-Through a reciprocal partnership focused on teaching youth to use photography to define and understand the meaning of community.

Producing a Final Exhibition– using photographs and stories of local youth.

In a discussion about her own community of Jamaica Plain Kathleen Hirsch states. “Community wisdom begins with being encountered. Its teachers and lessons come in unexpected mostly humble forms and part of growing into a place is learning how to graft its native root system onto our hereto shiftless pattern of growth.”

Personally I love the image this quote evokes for me, that of an extensive root system, tangled and cluttered in some ways  yet beautiful and simple in others. This for me is the icon of community. A few weeks back while at a friends opening, the 2011 Newport Art Museum’s Annual Members’ Juried Exhibition, I encountered the work of an artist who’s name I do not know. Their piece was simple, a small plant with a tangled bush-like root system resembling a cloud shape, similar to the one pictured here. The plants delicate root system had been painted gold and mounted upside down so that that the plants root cloud sat atop the bush’s two main stalks. While viewing the piece I was intrigued by the new found ways in which our world can be interpreted when looked at from a different angle or through a different lens.

While I have been auditing classes this year from CCRI to Brown and everything in between few engage the community in a way that bridges the gap between the local college transplant and the local community member. As Kathleen suggestes in her piece A Home in the Heart of a City a we have to encounter our community to value its many assets. The Community Lens class is allowing its college students to graft the native root system of the community to their own learning experience finding teachers and lesson in unexpected and often times unintended situations. The Community Lens’ Class Blog chronicles these encounters, particularly the humbling lessons they gain from interacting with the City Arts student artists.

The Community Lens Blog

Pt III- Art of Environmentalism

In Art, Business, Education, Photography on February 18, 2011 at 12:42 am

Fork Sculpture

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is yet more difficult than you thought.”

-Wendell Berry

For about two years now I have been creating and selling jewelry made from silverware. Every chance I get I work to tell the story of where my creative impetus for this medium came from (See previous 2 articles).  I however have yet to convey this message of environmental awareness in any cohesive manner while selling my work. The silverware I use in my jewelry creations often times come to me from friends and family members who do not know what to do with their mismatched eatery sets. When they pass them along to me they are partaking in a form of recycling by giving their often times personal family heirlooms a new life.If I run out of silverware from friend or find a particularly alluring pattern I will sometimes purchase silverware from Savers Thrift Store (a recycling project of its own) which has had a longstanding supportive relationship with the  Big Sisters Program in RI.

My Jewelry !

After collection, the silverware is then sorted and selected for upcycling ,as a necklace pendant, pair of earrings, ring or mini sculpture. In this process I am given creative license to re-imagine a life for this silverware as a decorative ornament that will highlight the aesthetic beauty created by the previous sculptor (the silverware designer). As I stated in my last article. The silverware I once revered also holds an ugly side, one which is wrought with the environmental implications wrecking havoc on our community today.

In terms of Environmental Awareness I have begun to take creative license in the creation of a tag that will feature the following graphic of the Gorham Silverware a map dated from 1920. This map is defined as a general map which includes depictions of the Gorahm Silverware factory campus layout and the Massapaug Cove/ Pond. I enjoy the historical /artistic nature of the graphic while recognizing its connection to our environmental issues.

1920 Goraham Site General Map

With the map on one side of the tag I have decided to feature the quote from EJLRI : For the nearly 100 years it operated, Gorham Silverware factory  used the pond and land around the factory as a dump for wastewater polluted with carcinogenic chemicals…

As lead is a widely recognized highly toxic child/containment known to be linked behavioral problems learning learning disabilities, hearing and speech impediments as well as seizures and death. I have chosen to focus the facts that will be listed below the quote on the tag on lead issues in Providence. This will allow the connection between silverware production in Providence and subsequent contamination particularly to lead to be drawn more clearly in my work.

In presenting some of these facts as part of my work, I hope to raise awareness about the seriousness of metals contamination in our city, particularly amongst our youth while using my interests in silverware as a source of inspiration. The Art of Environmentalism ie the tag I have visually designed here will be made available by the end of April and will serve to create a more holistic approach to the Social Justice nature of my work.

Below is some information on Lead Poisoning in the city of Providence and State of RI

In 2006 after construction on Alvarez High school had already begun a highly toxic slag pile, with high levels of lead and copper, was found on the banks of the Massapaug cove, Gorhams former factory site part of a Brownfield which shares land with Alvarez highchool. Under court order, Textron removed the slag pile, however the toxins are still present at the Gorham Manufacturing site and are of particular concern because they put already vulnerable populations at risk. Children and young adults, like the students attending Alvarez High School, are more vulnerable to toxins than adults and the fact that the school is located just feet from unremediated land undoubtedly makes these youth more susceptible to health issues. Article 1

Click on the Map to Enlarge

RI Kids count states that children absorb 30% to 75% of lead which reaches their digestive track, compared with 11% for adults. Poor nutritional status (particularly calcium, vitamin C, or iron deficiencies) increase an individuals susceptibility to lead poisoning by increasing lead absorption. Article 2

Providence Plan found that 1:6 Providence children under age 6 were exposed to lead in 2000. Statewide, 1:11 children under 6 were exposed to lead. Nationwide, this number was 1:25. These risks are unevenly distributed within the city based on racial, geographic, and economic factors. Article 3

RI Kids Count found that core cities (Central Falls, Newport, Pawtucket, Providence, West Warwick and Woonsocket ) had an 11% elevated lead level rate as opposed to the 4% rate for remaining cities. Article 2

Three Articles and a little under 2,500 words later I conclude the story behind my interest in and impetus for creating Jewelry fashioned from silverware.

Material Referenced in Above:

1 Center for Public Environmental Oversite: Providence Rhode Island Schools

2 RI Kids Count: Issue Brief Lead Poisoning

3 Providence Plan: Providence Neighborhood Profiles Lead Exposure

Pt II- Metals Contamination!

In Art, Education, History on February 11, 2011 at 10:06 am

“Mashagaug Pong is Sick – El Lago Mashapaug Está Enfremo-

For the nearly 100 years it operated, Gorham used the pond and land around the factory as a dump for wastewater polluted with carcinogenic chemicals…

-Environmental Justice League of RI

The Gorham Silverware facility located in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood of Providence passed many hands from 1967 to the present. The Gorham Site passed from the Texton Corporation to the Winoker Group to Adelaide Development Corporation to Seaman Equity Group, and finally on to the City of Providence when the Seaman group defaulted on its taxes in 1992.

In 1987, a 55 Gallon waste drum was found at the bottom of the Massaugug pond by the Providence Police who reported that contact with the pond water was causing rashes. This prompted city, state and national agencies to conduct a variety of evaluations which found a number of industrial pollutants at the site, such as TCA, TCE, heating oil, PCE, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, PCBs and metals including barium, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, silver, and zinc. Article 1 In 1995, groundwater plumes contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pollutants that can become gas that people may breathe, and heating oil were discovered on the Parcel A site. Article 2

These substances are known/ suspected to cause the following:

Perchloroethylene (PCE): Is an industrial solvent that has been linked to liver and kidney damage and is a known human carcinogen. Found in groundwater around Gorham site.

Trichloroethylene (TCE) : Is a solvent and metal degreaser which is linked to unusual cancers of the kidneys, liver, cervix, and lymphatic systems. TCE is also found in the groundwater near the Gorham site.

Lead:Is linked behavioral problems, learning disabilities, hearing and speech impediments as well as seizures and death.

Ethylbenzene and Xylene: Are industrial solvents that can cause respiratory irritation and neurological effects as well as kidney and liver damage over time.

PCBs: Are banned by US Congress in 1979, PCBs are part of a class of organic pollutants known as endocrine disruptors, meaning they disrupt hormone functioning in the human body. PCBs can cause rashes, birth defects, and cancer in humans.

Barium: Barium compounds can be poisonous, affecting nervous system function in some individuals.

Cadmium: Is classified as a probable human carcinogen, cadmium is known to cause kidney damage. Article 3

ADD

Despite the sites designation as a brownfield by the DEM, and knowledge of the sites contaminants, the City of Providence proposed and built Adelaide – now Alvarez High School upon this land which opened its doors in 2008. Currently over 500 students attend this school daily. The high school is located on Parcel B of the brownfield site, just  14 feet from the unremediated Gorham production site, which features an uncovered stockpile of contaminated soil. Dust and dirt from the site’s mound of pollution blows across school grounds and throughout the neighborhood on a regular basis. Article 4

The DEM subsequently sued the city of Providence, which is now under court order to maintain a well-signed barrier around the non-remediated parcels. Even this task however has proven difficult for the city.  It took 2 months, after community requests, for holes in fences to be mended and missing locks to be replaced on the site. The signs which the community had also asked be replaced were not and as a result the community took the matter into their own hands creating hand made signs warning of the lands contaminated status.  Article 5 With the work of the DOH (Department of Health), and Artist Holly Ewald organizer of  UPP (Urban Pond Procession)  new permanent and visually appealing signs (See the header photo of this article) in the three main languages of the community have replaced the old signs which were written solely in English despite the communities diverse constituency.

The former signs that disappeared

 

Since my humble and naive beginnings in a tiny 6ft x 4ft garden bed at Paul Cuffee School my research on metals contamination has taken me across across the city’s many neighborhoods and connected me to a variety of local environmental and community based organizations while reinforcing the essential place art holds within social justice movements.

Silverware’s aesthetic beauty and delicate design were always a fascination of mine. Who came up with this pattern, what inspired them, what were they hoping to convey in the design or the name? Now this same silverware I once revered also holds an ugly side, one which is wrought with the environmental implications wrecking havoc on our community today. To raise awareness about the this issue and quench my thirst to find artistically creative solutions to local issues I began to design jewelry from silverware, giving new life and value to these lost artifacts of our past.

Stay tuned for next weeks article on the creation of Silverware Jewelry and Environmental Awareness and my new initiative to connect  the two more concretely.

Material Referenced in Above:

1 EPA Article: Waste Site Cleanup and Reuse in New England :Gorham/Textron Disposal Area

2 RI Future Article: Still Contaminated Gorham Site Frustrates Residents

3 EJLRI: CARE Environmental Health Assessment

4 EJLRI Article: City’s Nonchalantness to Contamination Frustrated Residents

5 EJLRI Article: City Slow to Warn Neighbors of Toxic Contamination

Additional works of interest

Department of Environmental Management’s Document Index for the Gorham/Textron Site

Textron Newsletter: To Inform Public About Remediation Activities

Brown Student’s Environmental Blog on UPP

Pt 1-Environmental Justice

In Art, Education, History on February 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm
The Gorham Manufacturing Company 1897

Art is indeed all around us.  We just need to take the time to do three things, stop, breathe and open our eyes to see.

-The Society for Creative Sustainability

Last week in my article the Creative Impetus I spoke of my interest in upcycling, the act of taking something with a well worn past and giving it a new life through reincarnation as something new. One of the major elements in my upcycling work is silverware. Often times I am asked Why silverware? Most times I say Why not? But the truth is my fascination with silverware is a long and involved  story which requires so much context that It will be a 3 part article.

Paul Cuffee Namesake of the School

My interest in the material emerged from my work at Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School where I was in charge of implementing an environmental art project incorporating, recycling and gardening and crafting. The School’s small stature is overshadowed by a matrix of industrial revolution mills including the ALCO Mill buildings, a steel transfer station, the local Coca Cola distribution plant and the Woonasquatucket River former dumping grounds for many of the local mills.

While meeting with the South Side Community Land Trust to gain insight into their community gardening initiative I was informed that due to the location of the school we would not be able to eat any of the vegetables/plants grown on sight. The vegetables  would be contaminated with the hazardous chemicals they absorbed from the ground in their growth process particularly lead, an already pervasive issue for the youth of Providence.

As I began to research this issue further I came across the term Brownfield referring to an abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for re- use.  Paul Cuffee was formerly a old bus depot maintenance facility for the city. A Brownfield is a  property for which the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of is complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant” via EPA website. In order for brownfields to be turned into viable land use spaces they either need to be capped with concrete to prevent further groundwater infiltration as Paul Cuffee did or re-mediated as The Steel Yard a neighboring local arts organization did.

Gorham an Empire Disappeared

Providence prides itself in its industrial history particularly its metal work. Remnants of this history are left behind now mostly in deteriorated facilities and name sake only. The jewelry and flatware factories of the Jewelry District have all but been replaced by medical administrative/research facilities like Brown Med School and Woman and Infants Hospital.  The Steel Industry of the Valley, where Paul Cuffee is situated, is still slowly gentrifying with various mills turning into upscale condominiums each year. While not all the buildings remain the contaminant metals surly do. Most industrial revolution revolutionary companies like Gorham Silverware Manufacturing have skirted their responsibilities by leaving the state before the time of environmental laws or selling their property to others who pick up the burden of the contamination.

Since my project with Paul Cuffee in 2005-2006 I have come to work with various educational, community and environmental institutions throughout the state, each in some way struggles with the chemical legacy our industrial history has left behind. Currently I am working with the UPP the Urban Pond Procession which began in 2008 as a collaboration between Rhode Island State Council on the Arts and the Department of Health to create new signs around Mashapaug Pond warning local residents against eating the fish and swimming in the water.

Providence Public Library Archives Gorham

Mashapauge pond area is the former site of Gorham Manufacturing which began in 1890. As one of the premiere silver and bronze flatware facilities for most of the 20th century, it gained both national and international recognition. The company situated on the banks of the Mashapaug Pond was composed of 30 buildings on a 37-acre facility which ran three shifts of 1000 workers each. Gorham’s manufacturing processes used “heavy metals, cyanides, corrosive stripping agents, lubricants, solvents, lacquers, thinners, and metal degreasing solvents”. Some of these are responsible for the pollution the pond and community is facing today.

Stay tuned for next weeks article on these chemicals impacts on the environment and local community.

Classism

In Communication, Education on January 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm

When I was in poverty day in and day out, I often heard people say things like, “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s such a ridiculous image– If you actually lean down and pull on your boot straps nothing happens.”

-Ellen Smith

On Monday evening a crusader in the Classism movement lost the battle against cancer. Felice Yeskel was the co-founder of Class Action, a non profit based in Boston, which  “inspires action to end classism by providing a dynamic framework and analysis, as well as safe space, for people from across the class spectrum to explore class and to identify and begin to dismantle classism.

I first heard of Felice’s work through Class Matters, a book I assigned my students to read for a community organizing class, I co-taught at a Private Liberal Arts College.  Class Matters: cross class alliance building for middle class activists, by Betsy Leondar-Wright, was the first piece of writing I encountered that was grappling with the difficult task of class dialogue on a grassroots level. While I had spent much time studying various class theories and models for change there was little to no material available on cross-class dialogue. As I delved further into the subject I came to realize these women were at the forefront of work in this field in 2005 and still are today as little conversation has materialized on a national scale in this subject.

Felice’s short two page piece in the Class Action book chronicled the issues that arise on college campuses when class is not included in diversity training. In facilitating support groups for poor and working class students at the college level, Felice stated she came to notice “If you’re white and you come from a poor-working class background, you show up on these [elite private college] campuses and you are having your mind blown hundreds of times a day, and your reality is never noticed or validated by anyone.” The piece gave voice to my own struggles as poor white undergraduate and became the impetus for my submersion in the classism work.

Class Matters

In teaching community organizing, I pushed my students to recognize the class differences that existed amongst themselves as co-organizers, before working towards solutions to break down barriers existing between organizers and the community. All too often my students would assume that their classmates /co -organizers were of the same background as themselves, making blanket statements about “common” values they all most hold as like minded college students. What they didn’t realize was that issues of class needed to be recognized within their own ranks before they could move forward with the important work of supporting their community in organizing itself.  Felice poignantly stated in her piece that “Diversity training on college campuses is problematic without classism because education itself functions as a primary access channel for transitioning across class” As much as education acts as a bridge between class divides one never looses the class lens with which they were raised. This is an essential element that is often times overlooked in class based advocacy.

My work in the classism arena has continued over the years in various forms, first serving as a proponent of class based affinity groups at an elite prep school in MA and then in the creation of a support structure for low income first generation students of RI entering college. In 2009 I saw a posting by Class Action, the organization that Felice had founded, soliciting short pieces for an anthology speaking to the experiences of individuals across the class spectrum. With the support of a number of friends, in particular Keith, I submitted my own story for inclusion. The suspense was unbearable as I waited nearly a year before being notified this past May that my piece will be published in the Class Action Anthology entitled: Caviar, College, Coupons and Cheese. My selection for inclusion in this anthology served as validation that my experience warrant reproduction and can serve as a learning experience for others.

Class Matters

At the moment I am reading Class Matters: Correspondents of The New York Times a book that was given to me by a college a few years back. I’m not particularly sure why I haven’t set myself down to delve into this book yet, despite owning it for over 2 years now, but  I would like to think it is because I knew it was important and I wanted to give it the full attention my LEAP is currently allowing.

The opening chapter of the book entitled : The Shadowy Lines That Still Divide opens with “One difficulty in talking about class is that the word means different things to different people. Class is rank, it is tribe, it is culture and taste. It is attitudes and assumptions, a source of identity, a system of exclusion.” This comment intrigues me because it is ripe with the ambiguity that makes class the taboo subject of our times. Despite the fact that class is becoming a larger factor than ever in determining who moves ahead in the pecking order and who doesn’t, the understanding of class mobility by society is the exact opposite. A Gallup Poll conducted in 2005 by the NYT found that most Americans believe class backgrounds has less of an impact on social mobility than it did 30 years ago.

These statistics are not surprising to me as I have repeatedly viewed the denial of class impact in numerous workshops I have led over the last 4 years. Despite the workshops varying topics including: understanding social class vs. socioeconomic class, cross class dialogue facilitation, and the impact of class on education, there is always an initial rebuff to my statement that we are all impacted by class in negative ways no matter whether we reside at the top or the bottom of the spectrum. It is this gut reaction that worries me. If we are not able to come to the table with open minds and hearts, to discuss in supportive ways the impact of class on our families, our communities and our institutions, will continue to suffer in silence.

In my research for this piece, I have found limited resources from which to draw upon for inspiration, as the conversation on this topic has advanced little in the last 5 years. When this is the case it becomes our responsibility to take action, to serve as that inspiration, becoming the change we want to see. I hope one day we will make this a topic one that is discussed openly. For without open and honest discussion there can never be change!




Musical Activism

In Communication, Education, Music on January 6, 2011 at 11:49 am

ERB at Riverz Edge Fundraiser with Big Nazo

Any note is better than no note !

– ERB motto

As a bunch of costume wearing, alien fraternizing, activists, you may call us crazy we call it love… a love of music and community.  When or where you may ask did we fall in love, well the answer is different for all of us but one thing is for sure most of us had not played music in a decade or more if ever before joining the band.  The Extraordinary Rendition Band was formed in the fall of 2008 with an activist bent in mind, this is evident in the name that was chosen to represent the band. If you don’t know what I am talking about click here: Extraordinary Rendition. The Extraordinary Rendition Band or ERB as we like to refer to ourselves in short is a local activist marching band that calls Providence its home. I have been part of the ERB for just over a year now and am so thankful to have had the opportunity to learn and grown from such an amazingly diverse and wonderful group of individuals.

New Years 2011

How did I come to be part of an activist marching band…? My musical journey began at a table in my jr. high cafeteria where entire 7th grade took an aptitude test. I remember clearly the small dual cassette boom box that played notes as we all furiously scribbled onto our blank score sheets where we thought the notes belonged. The outcomes of the test would determined whether we were invited to be part of the band or not. Despite the alienating experience of not being invited I did not hesitate petitioning to be part of the band. My time with this group would however be short-lived, lasting a mere 10-month school year.  I bowed out quietly before having to put myself through the  chair test auditions (musical ranking process) that was to come in the fall.

I would avoid instrumental performance for close to 15 years before being introduced to the ERB by a friend at Wooly Fair 2009. I fell in love at first sight and defaulted to a position of groupie, as I continued to see myself lacking any musical skill. The fear of judgment and failure from my jr. high experience still lurked within me. The leap from groupie to official member came only after 5 months of steady encouragement from various band members.

Initially when I joined I knew very little about the intentional activism the band engaged in from its open band policy and democratic structure to its support of specific causes, now these are the things that endear me most to the band … and well of course all the amazing personalities that make up our awesome group. We have played in support of labor rights, queer rights, environmental awareness, arts and community organizations.

Here is an awesome short documentary of Activist Marching Bands from the HONK Fest: No Noise is Illegal !

Last years reading

Saul Alinsky, in his book Rules for Radicals, states “The spirit of democracy is the idea of importance and worth in the individual, and faith in the kind of world where the individual can achieve as much of their potential as possible”. In the ERB, we work to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential through our democratic structure, where people are expected to contribute whether it be leading practice, managing gigs or composing music.

Band Practice !

Often times the term activist  or radical is associated with crazy. In many ways we are no different than most of you. In our professional lives we are engineering professors, art professors, college counselors, college students, music teachers, high school teachers, speech pathologists, graphic designers, toy designers, editors, and much more. Our open band policy attracts individuals of all ages spanning the gambit of early 20’s to early 60’s. In our society we so rarely find ourselves in inter-generational situations. On many levels this has alienated us from our elders and reinforced the concept of older generation as “out of touch” relegating them to a place of marginalization. For us the intergenerational element of our band’s make up is an essential piece of our musical creativity.

Our open band policy also means there are no “try outs” we accept individuals of all musical backgrounds. While a goal is to operate as one coherent group that eventually produces recognizable music our first and foremost goals is sharing the love of music with others. We work to break down the barriers between the performer and audience whether that be avoiding stages or inviting the audience to be an integral part of our band.  In many ways we attempt to break the mold of a Marching Band redefining for our selves and hopefully others who a musician is and what musicianship is while making saving the world just a little bit more fun and weird.

Websites of Interest:

The ERB

HONK Fest

Marching for Change: Street Bands in the U.S. Podcast by the National Radio Project on Activist Marching Bands:

No Noise is Illegal: Documentary on Activist Street Marching Bands




A World of Education

In Education on January 3, 2011 at 9:50 am

“Schooling isn’t worth anything unless it creates for people the capacity to believe that they can change the world. If our kids don’t believe they can change the world then I think we ought to say that our education has not been strong enough”.

-Jean Piaget.

These past 8 years my life’s work has been Education. As a firm believer in service learning & experiential education I have come to embrace this methodology as my own teaching pedagogy. In particular I appreciate the pedagogy’s focus on the instructors learning  in the process of guiding others learning as well as utilizing education as a means for creating change.

In my past work I have had the opportunity to partake in and guide  service learning and experiential education programs across the country and globe. In the states, this has included programs in San Francisco CA, New York NY, John’s Island SC Jamez Pueblo NM, Lawrence MA, and Providence RI. Abroad I have worked with the communities of Mindelo Cape Verde, Guayaquil Ecuador, Wellstead Australia, and Ermera East Timor.

Oliver Hazard Perry RI (OHPRI)

Last week while surveying the local news I came across an article in the lifestyles section of the Go Local Prov news detailing RI Commissioner of Education, Deborah Gists’ approval of the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry to serve as the states At Sea School Ship upon its completion in 2013. The program is described as a “floating classroom” that will  “Incorporate at-sea, on-shore, and classroom experiences that transcend regional and cultural boundaries, OHPRI will bring students together to learn about the oceans and the marine environment and it will expose our young people to exciting maritime and oceanographic careers.”

I find the OHPRI project particularly exciting as it will take learning outside of the classroom. In the wake of RI’s educational crisis, I view learning methodologies that challenge the current practices of standardized testing as a  means to a more human centered and fulfilling educational experience.

While I was living in Australia I had the opportunity to partake in a month long experiential educational program upon the Leeuwin II  similar to what OPHRI hopes to offer. After my voyage upon the square rigged tall ship, I chose to volunteer as a crew member for 6 months, where I served as an experiential educator and honed my skills as a rigg climber. My experience instilled in me an affinity for sailing, which I don’t get to do very often, and also spurred my interest in rock climbing an integral activity to my current life. Below is a video detailing the experience of what a Tall Ship Classroom experience might be like.

I often ask students in my service learning/experiential programs  to share with one another their greatest learning experience. When we have completed the exercise I work with the students to find the commonalities and differences amongst their experiences. The one commonality I can be sure of with certainty is that their greatest learning experience will have happened outside the confines of a classroom.

Climbing the Rigging on the Leeuwin II

While no where in the article is the term experiential education mentioned what is being proposed  by OHPRI is exactly that.  The individual championed as the father of Experiential Education is John Dewy. I am currently reading Education in Democracy and skimming Experience in Education. Dewey’s approach to education relied heavily on experience as the central element in the educational process. For an experience to be educational Dewey believed it needed to have continuity, the idea that one experience fosters in an individual the interest to learn more and interaction that ability for one to grow by meeting their own learning goals or needs. Experiential education is often employed as a method of teaching that takes into account the variety of learning styles needs and goals each individual brings to their education.

As the only member of my immediate family non diagnosed with a learning difference, I have come to recognize the immense benefits of experiential learning. While I feel as comfortable in a book as I do in the real world I have deliberately chosen to make experiential learning a part of my education.

In a high school class of over 500 I was the only student to pursue both an AP college prep track  and vocational track. In college I chose to study the social ill’s of society through my Sociology degree while simultaneously choosing to make changes in these structures through my service learning work in my  Public and Community Service degree. In each of my jobs since college I have consciously chosen work that allows me the opportunity to work directly with individuals while offering me the freedom to step back, reflect and make alterations to the larger structures at hand.

This year I have chosen to focus my energies on creating my own self designed  LEAP( Liberal Arts Education Plan). Overarching themes include Education, Art, Business, Communication, Foreign Language, History, Music, and Physical Pursuits. In a variety of formal and informal ways I have chosen to pursue an experiential learning path that I direct. One where I learn music as part of a radical community marching band, foreign language as an ESL tutor, and history from the local library. This blog will be a space for me integrate my various educational LEAP objectives while serving as an arena to reflect upon the continuity and interaction, to use Deweys’ terms, of my experiential education this year.

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