Memento Mori – Memorial Day Reminders to Live By

Happy Start to the 2013 Summer.

I am big on reminders in life that remind us to live our lives actively and with perspective. The part of the title of this post“Mememto Mori” ((Latin ‘remember that you will die) is one of those reminder for me. From  wikipedia – ” Popular belief says the phrase originated in ancient Rome: as a Roman general was parading through the streets during a victory triumph, standing behind him was his slave, tasked with reminding the general that, although at his peak today, tomorrow he could fall, or — more likely — be brought down. The servant is thought to have conveyed this with the warning, “Memento mori”  Likewise, Albert Camus’ existential philosophy stressed that there is really only one main question in our lives: “Why should I not kill myself?”  As he says in The Rebel, “the absurd is an experience that must be lived through, a point of departure, the equivalent, in existence, of Descartes’s methodical doubt.”  If you want some summer beach reading from Camus, my favorite is The Fall.

This past week has provided multiple reminders and reflections on life, memory, and global perspectives. I would like to share a few of them from a beach on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  As the sign in my guest room says “If you’re lucky enough to be at the beach,you’re lucky enough.” I hope these three reminders resonate with you on some level.


I feel like I could do this and play chess at the same time…

  A. The PAST – Memory and War – Teachers. Who among you assign’s students WV Senator Robert Byrd’s speeches in 2003 regarding the United State’s invasion of Iraq? Give them a read. Consider them for your primary source cache and

document based questions.  How important is the voice of dissent in US History? (I assign Dissent in America:Voices That Shaped a Nation to my undergraduate students and believe Byrd’s speeches could be added to update Dissent in three American wars).Remember, threat of invasion sparked a record setting number of protests; the most ever seen in world history.  Byrd’s two speeches, given towards the end of his 57 years of service are classic post 9/11 texts.

  • “Sleepwalking Through History” -speech given on Feb 12th, 2003.
    “Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent — ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers is there much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.”
  • “Today, I weep for my country” – speech given on March 19, 2003.  (Includes rebuttal from Sen. John McCain)

“What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic effortswhen the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

Why can this President not seem to see that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?”


B. The PRESENT -Memory and the Global – an interview with Dr. Ed Gragert

Edwin H. Gragert is Director, Global Campaign for Education-US. GCE-US is a coalition of national and local organizations working to ensure a quality education for all worldwide.  Formerly, he was Executive Director of iEARN-USA. Since 1988, iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) has pioneered the educational use of innovative communications technology and teacher professional development to facilitate on-line collaborative project-based learning in elementary and secondary schools in 130 countries worldwide.  He is a member of the Steering Committee of Global Teacher Education. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Gragert:

  1. Tell us about how Global Teacher Education came to be and what your vision and  goals are ?
Global Teacher Education (GTE) emerged from discussions between several of us who had worked professional development in the area of international education for in-service teachers.  The key players were the Longview Foundation, the University of Maryland Graduate School of Education, iEARN-USA and Crosswalks Foundation–all pulled together by the former president of Kellogg College at Oxford University–with whom I had worked previously with the World Education Corps project.  We realized from our collective information that there were few institutions of teacher education that were preparing future teachers for their classrooms with skills to enable their students to be globally competent.  At the same time, there were a number of calls from key individuals at organizations like NAFSA, Ohio State University, etc.   We looked at the pioneering work done by the Longview Foundation and explored ways in which we could highlight best practices of institutions that had either systematically integrated the world into their pre-service programs or had exemplary global education programs for possible replication across the country.
We also wanted a dynamic place where various stakeholders at institutions of teacher education could connect with each other to exchange ideas and program ideas–both with each other and as part of national and international community of people interested in global education at the teacher education level–whether they be deans, faculty members, graduate students, researchers.  We also envisioned a place where current and new scholars could post research papers and think-piece blogs for discussion.
“Our Mission is to ensure that U.S. teachers are properly trained to prepare our young people to cope and thrive in a globally-connected world. By partnering with colleges of education and professional bodies in the education and teacher preparation spaces, GTE will support the internationalization of teacher preparation programs by connecting professionals, as well as advancing and disseminating research and best practices.  Our mission is based on a vision of our nation’s young people being prepared to become truly global citizens – confident in their own culture, yet able to understand and appreciate other cultures with which they will increasingly interact in their personal, social and economic lives.”

2. What are some of your experiences around Global Education that you brought to GTE?

The contributions that I have been able to make have been on how to design an interactive and community global education website, make recommendations on technologies to be used, suggest ways to develop and maintain an online community of practice among educators, as well as point to resources that can be of assistance as universities prepare for globalizing their programs.  Further, I’ve seen and been a part of practical examples of how K-12 educators have integrated global content and connections in different curricular areas.   Over the past three years, I’ve worked with the Organization of American States for iEARN-US to provide online courses for university teacher education faculty in the Americas to give them experience integrating collaborative project-based learning using Web 2.0 tools — all in an online setting that involved individuals from multiple countries and cultures.

“(Global Campaign for Education-US) is working with a number of World Affairs Councils (and other organizations) to arrange for partial or full screenings of the new film “Girl Rising,” about 9 girls in 9 countries and the obstacles they face in getting an education globally”
                           3. Can you comment on the state of global education in the US? Where are the challenges, successes, hot spots?
My sense is that the awareness of the importance of making US education more global is at an all-time high.  Although the issue is not a significant part of the Common Core State Standards, there is consistent talk of how we can better prepare our students to interact effectively in global, cross-cultural and multi-lingual environments.   Yet, an “all-time high” is still dismally low.  And it’s in a time when social studies and World Language classes are being dropped in the rush to focus on STEM and test preparation.  If the STEM courses were being infused with global examples, interaction and comparisons, it would be fantastic, but this is not happening on any meaningful level.  One success was the recent strategic plan adopted by the International Affairs office of the US Department of Education, which pointed out the importance of our students becoming globally competent.   But, the downside is that this report did not once mention technology — which is the only way we will be able to reach the exponential numbers of students — and it did not deal at all with the urgent need to provide professional development for our teachers, since they too lack globally competence.  Although, of course, attention should be placed on both teachers and students, in my opinion, priority should be on the teachers as multipliers.  Until this need is met, we will only be dealing with the symptom (globally incompetent students), rather than the problem–that our education needs systemic internationalization.

4. What are some of the demands and opportunities on teacher preparation and PD?

The largest issue in my experience concerning PD is how it fits into a teacher’s daily classroom life.  All too often, PD is arranged by someone (principal or Department chair) who is not familiar with the needs of individual classroom teachers.  In the interest of scale, a PD is often arranged for all teachers in a department, based on someone’s perception of need–rarely the teacher.   Yet, teaches are eager to gain new skills and perspectives. In my experience, they are ready to learn new methodologies to help their students learn better.   Traditional forms of PD, however, are rarely effective because they do not meet the needs of a teacher when s/he needs the information and new skills.  As you have pointed out on numerous occasions, instead of a 1 or 2 day professional development session on software, hardware and/or curriculum that someone else has designed and that may or may not be used (or needed), teachers need on-demand PD on issues and technologies when they are useful.  We often cite personalized student learning as a way to address individual student learning needs.   This same concept is critical for teacher professional development.   Global competency has been skillfully defined, so we know where the goal posts are.  But, few people are looking at how to move teachers along the journey from global beginner to globally competent.    And it’s key that we keep in mind that it is a continuum and that all teachers are at different points.  So, cookie cutter approaches don’t work because either they are beyond where a teacher is or they are at too basic a level.   Therefore, there needs to be a way for teachers to indicate what their questions and needs are when they have them so that immediate and appropriate PD can be arranged for that particular teacher on a particular question or issue.  It’s my experience that the most effective form of PD is when teachers are in their own teaching environments, using the technology and configuration that they daily have available–rather than going to an off-site venue that. Needless to say, this cannot be done on a personalized and scalable level without technology.

5. What advice do you have for administrators and teachers regarding global education/competencies?

Teachers need to be encouraged at all levels.  My experience is that teachers who want to enter the field of global education, as well as those who are already integrating the world into their classrooms at any level are often isolated and looking for support from peers and administration.  Administrators are in a key position to open up the space for teachers to experiment with ways of engaging their students international issues and themes, as well as directly with their peers around the world–as part of their subject teaching.  All too often teachers feel that they cannot take the risk of trying new techniques in their teaching of math, history, literature, language arts, etc., particularly since there is little direct guidance provided by the Common Core State Standards.   Teachers need time to gain the confidence that their students will read and comprehend at a higher level, and that they will be more motivated to learn science if they are interacting with an authentic audience around the world–whether it be in peer editing of creating writing or comparing the chemical content and quality of water samples from different parts of the world.  And in this learning phase, teachers benefit from support from their peers, many of whom are also going through the same process.   So, my advice for teachers is to seek out communities (usually online) that share their interest in globalizing education.  Although the primary focus of the GTE site is for teacher education faculty, administrators and students, we encourage in-service teachers to both explore the resources and join in conversations and blog discussions.   After all, practicing teachers have much to teach the teacher educators.


3. The FUTURE-  Memory and Inquiry – CCSSO’s Framework for Social Studies Education.

This is a reminder and a preview.  Last fall in Seattle, at the NCSS conference, we received an update on the “Vision for the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards”    The key word here is “framework.”  These are not standards.  “The forthcoming framework, to be released in 2013, will be a significant resource for all states to consider in their local processes for upgrading state social studies standards, rather than set standardsfor states to adopt.”  At the core of the framewoccssorks are the skills of research, inquiry, and  questioning.  All of these are practical skills celebrated by colleges, employers, and in civic organization.  Collaboration and communicating are also part of the framework’s skill based approach.   “At the heart of the C3 Framework is an inquiry arc a set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that feature the four dimensions of informed inquiry in social studies: 1) developing questions and planning investigations; 2) applying disciplinary concepts and tools; 3) gathering, evaluating and using evidence; and 4) working collaboratively and communicating conclusions.”

This sounds great.  I believe it will inject life  into history and social studies education and provide focus and support to a teachers who look to interject into STEM dominated educational discussions. Moreover, it resets history education’s Romantic purpose of building national identities and assimilation in imagined communities. At its simplest, the framework recognizes that life is very often an encounter of narratives and exchange of questions.


Anyone for a game of chess?


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