“The Kids Are Where They Want To Be”: Hans Smith And Environmental Science, Part 1.

Hans Smith was a biology teacher at Crater High School in Central Point Oregon.  He received a national award for environmental education for his innovative approach in linking scientific investigation to English and social studies.  Mr. Smith was one of Crater High School’s early visionaries.  Others have followed, resulting in the Crater Renaissance Academy and closer links to the nearby Crater Rock Museum.  Crater High School now has a claim to be the best high school in Southern Oregon.  What follows are some excerpts from a lecture, which Hans Smith gave at Medford Education International.

We started the Rogue Eco-Systems Project in the 1988-89 school year.  I was teaching a general biology class, and we were doing a unit on ecology and talking about the Rogue River.  Our kids at Crater High School did not have a clue of what they had in the Rogue River.  I spent three years, trying to put together a conservation program.

The first year we had fifteen kids enrolled in a single class.  Last year we had 104 students in our “school within a school,”, and we had to turn, probably, fifty away.

Everything we do will be centered around the environmental sciences.  We have picked two themes to center around, the first being watersheds, which we will study for the first twenty-seven weeks.  As we get to the end of the watersheds, we will give the students a project to do.  For one project, they will have to develop a plan for a campground and use their knowledge of government.  They have to use their biology when they put together their plans and give their presentations.  A second theme will be the life cycles of our Pacific salmon.  The students will pick one salmon and go through the complete life cycle of the fish.  Then at the end, they get this big piece of paper and they draw the river system in.  Let us say they have Coho.  They will tell us about the stream order, where the Coho was spawned and then tie the information together.

There are days that we get to go down to Bear Creek, and teach the kids how to take stream surveys.  We give each group of students 200 feet of Bear Creek.  They have to go out and measure it and tape it off.  That is their section for the year.  We will begin by teaching them how to take water quality tests and how to map natural invertebrates.  We take some pool and riffle ratios and do some data sheets on their section.  Once every nine weeks, about the end of the quarter, they have to give a presentation on the creek.  We also give them habitat projects on the creek.

Our juniors and seniors will meet for a three-hour block of time.  We integrate social studies, environmental science, and our communications or English.

Our community got together about four years ago, and built an 80’x40′ building for us.  We have forty-six acres, which we call the Land Lab where our FFA(Future Farmers of America) has its stalls , barns.  We have a baseball complex at the far end.  Bear Creek runs through it.  Half of our building is going to become a fish hatchery that our kids will run.  We are in the process of building our pond, so that we have a water source for the fish hatchery.  We will raise 2000 Coho to pre-smolts for the Department of Fish and Wildlife rather than raise them full-term, because we would have to try to get through the summer months and the water temperature would be a real problem.  So, we will get the eggs in Dec.-Jan. and then release them.  There is a lot of data collecting and knowledge that the kids will have to learn.

We are going to do more with the pond then just make it a little hole for water.  We have a very large swale down at the Land Lab and we can put together quite a little wetlands with some goose boxes.  We will be able to put an osprey tower in, but cannot put any warm water fish in, because the Department of Fish and Wildlife is afraid they might get into the Bear Creek system and cause a lot of problems.

During the fall, the students become teachers one day a week.  We will bus in a class of elementary school kids.  Then we have a group of students that become tour guides for that day.  They take these kids in small groups down to the creek and go through the stream surveys.  They teach them how to take the water quality tests, and all the kids love to get in the water and play with the bugs.  The kids spend about two to three hours with us.  Working with the elementary kids is is one of the favorite things our kids like to do.

The Circles Of Sukhomlinsky By Nata Krylova, Part 2.

Sukhomlinsky’s ideas are from the Second Circle:  1.  The main educator’s skill is the ability to feel the inner world of kids.  The main task for the educator is to teach a child to feel another’s heart;  2.  Learning is part of a child’s spiritual life.  3.  School is the heart of four domains:  the Motherland, the humane, the book, and the native word.  4.  The educator and the child are connected by heartfelt threads.  Sukhomlinsky uses the following concepts as key-words:  spiritual community, heart, deep love, many-sided emotional attitudes, attachment to the child.  That is the OTHER LINE of concepts, different than that used by scholars, who consider research problems only on the first level!

The Third Circle:  Teachers’/Kids’ Community.  In the last years of his life and after his death, Sukhomlinsky enters into the Third Circle;  the spreading of his ideas and growing popularity.  The lines of like-minded educators grow.  We can talk now about the time he lives in as a Historical Circle, in the same way we talk about “Pushkin and his Circle/Surrounding,” or “Shakespeare and his Circle/Surrounding.”

The seeds were sown.  Many teachers followed Sukhomlinsky’s lead.  There was a time for Pre-reformation.  The school reforms and the education in the middle of the 80s had begun.  The new conception of “Educators for Collaboration” was published, summarizing all that had been done in teachers’ Humane Community after Sukhomlinsky’s death.  That community has maintained a connection with the kids’ community in their schools.

The Fourth Circle:  Common World Space.  It is possible that there are the same or similar circles for the development of  educational ideas in various countries.  At the intersection of the 20th and 21st centuries, we have a real opportunity to bring together humanist educational ideas and values of different cultures, including Sukhomlinsky’s ideas.  It doesn’t mean that those ideas will become the same.  It means that educators can enter into the common spiritual space for the upbringing of kids in the Second and Third Circles and there is more which each teacher can give his/her heart to children.(I Give my Heart to Children was the title of one of Sukhomlinsky’s last works.)

Vasilij Sukhomlinskij explores a field with his student.

Vasilii Sukhomlinsky explores a field with his student.

Remembering Martha P.”Pat” Brooks: A Personal Tribute

I first knew Pat when my family stayed for a summer vacation at the Obstinate J Ranch in 1961.  We liked “Steelhead Point” so much that we returned every summer until 1980, when we built our own home on Rogue River Drive.  Although Pat came from an elite eastern women’s institution, Smith College, she had no difficulty adjusting to life on a ranch in Southern Oregon.  In fact, she loved her horses, cattle, and especially her two poodles.  I remember Pat calling out:  “Dragon!  Gagette!”, and the poodles would come running out of her house, and jump into her pick-up.  And when she was on the road, she was not known for dawdling.  She may have set a speed record going up and back from Hwy.62 to Persist, a 38 mile scamper.  In spite of that, time was not something sacred for her.  Dinner was when she made it, and she was known for being late and forgetting to call people.  Yet, she never missed a board meeting when I was Director of Medford Education International and had an adept mind at preserving details.  Pat had an encyclopedic knowledge of Rogue Valley events.  She belonged to many organizations and often helped support them.  She also had a great love of family and a great pride in her children and grandchildren’s achievements.  Pat was a strong individual that many relied on in good times and bad.  She possessed a winsome, yet knowing smile.  Her young, vibrant voice was often heard throughout the valley.  But now as I look across the darkening hills, there is an uneasy silence…

Michael Parciak Speaks About Janusz Korczak And Children’s Rights, Part 2.

Korczak, himself was summoned five times by the court.  Three times the court accepted his plea.  One time the court forgave him, because he regretted his action.  And one time the court accepted his admission of guilt.

Korczak also sided with children when accusations were made against adults.  For example, he rebuked a policeman who had wronged a child…

Korczak stood for democracy, freedom of opinion, and human rights as well as social justice, responsibility, and social progress.  Although, he mainly assigned himself to “his” children, this does not mean that he released the adults from their responsibilities or that he thought them unable to carry out their responsibilities for the future of their children.  Hints of that opinion are found in part of “Senate of the Mad” where one of the mad requires certificates for the adults to be understood as allowances for the keeping and educating of children.

What did Korczak expect from the adults in the community around him and the children as future adults?  Did he intend to build a bridge between both?  Which demand did Janusz Korczak make in regards to educating adults?  Did he really accept the possibility that his demands could be realized completely in the times he lived in?  Really, the main question is:  Which demands must be fulfilled to guarantee that children grow under optimum conditions and protection of their rights?

Korczak surely would have used the internet for pedagogic goals if it had been available.  He saw providing education to every child as a basic child’s right.  He also saw discussions as a valuable pedagogic platform for children to develop their own mind– social, political, cultural, and any other way.  In his eyes, a good school education was never just for the privileged.

Michael Parciak Speaks About Janusz Korczak And Children’s Rights, Part 1.

In 1997, we at MEI had planned a Janusz Korczak Symposium, which did not take place due to problems with my health.  The previous year, we had acquainted educators with the work of Vasilii Sukhomlinsky in an effort to bring teachers and theorists from Russia, Ukraine and the U.S. closer together.  We chose Sukhomlinsky, and later, Korczak, because their pioneering work coincided with our motto:  Nothing is more important than the education of a child–heart, mind, and spirit.  Although plans for the Korczak Symposium had to be canceled, I was fortunate enough to contact many proponents of Korczak’s seminal work for children.  One of the people I contacted was Michael Parciak from Germany, the Chief Architect of Korczak City on the Internet.  What happened to this project, I was unable to discover.  Also, I could not find Michael Parciak.  However, I did locate an article he had written for MEI in May-June 1997 and I felt I should share some of it with you, because it contains interesting information concerning Janusz Korczak.

…The children’s court and the children’s newspaper… were important parts of Korczak’s philosophy of education in integrating  the children into all the important decisions, and demonstrating the relation between the granted rights and the required responsibilities.  The newspaper was used also for spelling practice and an exercise in developing one’s own opinions.  The children’s court was a steady exercise toward developing one’s own feelings for justice and social responsibility.  The judges were equipped with easy texts on common law to enable them to reach a just decision.  It was similar to the Napoleonic Code, which is still the basis of Polish laws, but it had one addition:  the right to forgive and to prefer forgiving more than punishment.

From the preamble of the text:

In case somebody has done wrong, it is better to forgive than to punish.  In case the incident happened as a result of inexperience, the subject will now know better.  In case the incident happened with knowledge, the subject will be more careful in the future… but the court must protect the shy from the aggressive, and the careful from the apathetic and lazy.

The court is not justice itself, but its goal is to achieve justice.  It is not truth, but its goal is the truth.  Judges might make mistakes.  Sometimes they might punish an action that they have committed themselves.  But it is a disgrace if a judge forces an unjust decision.

The court had to be dissolved for four weeks, because several aggressive kids did sabotage it.  When the court was reactivated there were new requirements.  The Premium Court would consist of two children and one adult for a three month term.  And children now had the right to accuse adults.(More in another post.)