Mike Rose — The Meaning of Intelligence
August 30, 2012

An expansive reflection on work, education, and civic imagination with an esteemed researcher and teacher at UCLA and a poetic writer. We explore his perspective, through life and scholarship, on hard subjects that drive to the heart of who we are -- literacy, schooling, social class, and the deepest meaning of vocation.

(photo: Mike Rose)

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Selected Readings

"No Child Left Behind and the Spirit of Democratic Education"

—a chapter from Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us by Mike Rose

"You can prep kids for a certain kind of test, get a bump in scores, yet not be providing a very good education. The end result is the replication of a troubling pattern in American schooling: poor kids get an education of skills and routine, a lower-tier education, while students in more affluent districts get a robust course of study."

Selections from The Mind at Work

Mike rose describes the facilities his mother used as a waitress — remembering orders, balancing dishes, chatting with customers — and how she learned those skills.

Selections from Lives on the Boundary

Passages from Rose's book on the struggles and achievements of America's underprepared. He reflects on students' dreams of literacy, and the yearning to become a better version of one's self.

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

A video that's so heartbreakingly gorgeous and unswerving in its emotional sway, it'll have you pondering your own station in life.

When we value the mindfulness and intellectual rigor in all kinds of work — including manual forms of labor — what do we learn about ourselves? A reflection on appreciating labor in its many forms.

"The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work." ~Mike Rowe

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Training and employing unskilled laborers as apprentices and teaching "anyone with a work ethic" how to build.

We made a trip to a nearby historic eatery to gather sound for this program.

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Krista is given a new appreciation for "the sidelines of my education."

Our guest rediscovers Studs' magic in his interview — discussing imaginative educators defying the odds.

About the Image

Rose Emily, our guest's mother, during her shift at Coffee Dan's, a once-famous landmark in downtown L.A. (circa 1953-54).

(photo: Mike Rose)

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I went to a small, private Catholic school in the early 60's. I came from an unusual family background that highly valued the arts, education & intellectual curiosity. In my family if we (the children) had an idea or belief that was not consistent with our parents' values, we were not punished out of hand, but asked why we believed what we believed, how we arrived at our viewpoint, & its weak & strong sides.
Needless to say, this was NOT compatible with the culture of my school. Although I was very smart & made good grades, by the age of 6 I was labelled a "trouble-maker" & teated as such as I moved grade to grade.
My 5th grade teacher decided to make her own decisions about me & became an advocate for me with the other teachers in the school. She saw my interest in the arts & encouraged me to pursue that. I took one of my favorite books, The Wizard of Oz, & wrote a script for a play. (unaware that such a thing as scripts already existed in the world) I pre-cast myself as Dorothy, then held auditions & cast the show. I directed it & also did costumes & a small set.
My teacher got permission for us to perform it in our class & "tour" it to the other grades classrooms. We were a hit! For the first time my scholastic experience matched the experience I had at home & I absolutely KNEW I could achieve anything!
Thank you, Mrs. Kuntz, wherever you are!

I'll share a few moments that have had a profound effect on my thinking and being. Early on, in grade school, when I was introduced to the outline form, I realized this was a great organizational tool for ordering information and have used it throughout my life and my career as an architect and teacher. Around the same time, I was reading, "Cheaper by the Dozen", which reinforced finding an efficient and effective way of completing a task and again, this lesson has been quite valuable in my life. When I was in the seventh grade, we were reading, "Moby Dick" in my English class, and the teacher encouraged us to think of the meaning of many elements of Melville's story, such as the possible meaning of the 'whiteness' of the whale and how Melville chose to use this device to add another layer to the novel and tell another story, metaphorically. Since that time, I have viewed all art from that perspective - the 'mis-en-scéne' - what is the artist saying through the medium being used and what are the clues? Twenty-two years ago, I moved to Milan for work and learnt a new language and another way of being in the world, quite different from my life in the States. I was born and reared in Washington and lived in Miami for two years of university before moving to New York, where I have been for 33 years with a two-month stint in Boston and a year in Milan. Lastly, I have been meditating for about 19 years and practicing yoga for 15; lately, I have embarked on a training program to become a yoga instructor since i have found this practice to be so beneficial to keeping me centered and appreciative of the world I am but a small part of. The journey continues.

The hero of this story is Miss Dow, a teacher who knew the radical concept of open classroom teaching in the 1950's, and who made learning a sense of adventure. The setting: a two-room schoolhouse in Lakota, Michigan -- not very far from Lake Michigan. The children in the town of about 200, a number which also included pets ranging from horses, cats, and dogs, fed into Lakota School. Surrounding farmland outside of Lakota provided that there were more children to fill the schoolroom chairs.

Ms. Dow taught Kindergarten through third grade upstairs. Fourth, fifth and sixth grades were taught upstairs.

Miss Dow did not teach her Kindergartner's the ABC's. We were taught to read. The books were the Dick and Jane books, which also highlighted Sally, Spot and Puff. We were taught arithmetic. And, we K'ers were invited to listen to and learn what the other grades were learning. A behemoth of an upright piano took up one area of the open classroom design. A large fridge held enough glass bottles of Sherman's Dairy chocolate and white (whole) milk that Miss Down dispensed to each one of us during snack time. The one bathroom was unisex featuring a paddle with green on one side and red on the other. The cloakroom held all the paraphenalia children wore to keep warm during the winter and dry during the spring rains that fed the many seeds planted by all the farmers surrounding Lakota. Miss Dow also served as proctor and janitor.

Every day we attended school, Miss Dow welcomed us as though we were her children. I still have the scarf she gave me to for my Kindergarten Christmas present. Miss Dow was also our music teacher. She could bang out a tune and sign at the same time, her high-pitched voice full of enthusiasm ringing out over ours.

What she offered to us, her sponges, every school day was an opportunity to live life largely == to become more than a label of "Kindergartner" or "First Grader." We were uniquely challenged to be our own individuals.

I only attended Kindergarten at Lakota School. My older siblings had the fortunate opportunity to attend longer. We moved from Lakota, Michigan to Johnson City, Tennessee the summer before I was to start first grade. I was really sad knowing that I was losing the experience of being Miss Dow's student for another three years. Yet, what she gave me was an insatiable desire to learn.

I will be finally completing my undergraduate degree this coming May 2010. I've thought often of who most supported me to finally finish my undergrad degree at the age of 55. Many people have made my lifelong dream possible. Although, the person who influenced me the most was Miss Dow. Now that she is deceased, I will not be able to give credit to her in person. Yet, I think she would be happier if she knew that her passion for learning that offered with such joy and enthusiasm will be carried as a torch to pass on to others.

I was challenged by my Pastor to attend Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC. The year was 1964 and I was sufferring with a case of the "I don't know who I am." Warren Wilson College requires all of its students to take a job on campus. Collectively this student labor sustained the College. I was assigned to the Farm Crew with Earnst Laursen as my boss. Earnst was a son of Danish immigrants. His father managed the College farm before him and they both embodied work ethics I had become familiar with growing up as a child of a US Steel machinist in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Earnst assumed something from all his workers. He assumed that we would discover a way to succeed no matter what our assignment. He judged not how we arrived at this success rather he expected success therefore it instantly contributed to our collective effectiveness as a crew. Through this awesome yet subtle encouragement I learned that failing to perform an aspect of work was an essential learning incident. By failing I was challenged to try another way, often a way that was new to my thinking pattern but a way that fostered creativity. I gained confidence to do anything. Since those wonderful days I have continued to learn new ways to do and achieve. I am retired at 62, hold two Master's degrees,(M.Ed., WCU & M.Div, Candler sch. of Theology), and I am an accomplished builder of nearly anything made from wood and an ameteur photographer. I can fix almost anything and usually do. I am a Veteran of the Vietnam conflict. More than anuthing else I am confident that I can finish the job whether it is fixing something or finishing life.

I have learning disabilities and was put back from the so called "smart" class in 6th grade. It was a devasting experience, though I was not surprised. I knew my math skills were very weak. I became the mouse in back of the classroom for most of my middle school and high school career. It was only after my mother advocated for me to be allowed to take an honors course in Humanties that I was given the gift of a redefination of myself. Sister Agnes Therese saw my potential and called me out after class. She not only gave me a clear and honest assessment but laid out her classroom expectations for me - no more mouse!

I recall quite vividly a moment where my mind came to life in a new way. This moment was brought to life in a not entirely successful but still artful poem which for lack of a copy- it was published in Oxalis,the Stone Ridge Literary Magazine- I write as follows. No title
I never cut a knot in twisted laces
Until the Gordian Knot that was the
Seized nut
Was drilled and chiseled in two
It was hours in the learning
Years before I saw a nut cracker on display
At the auto parts store
And a lifetime before I cut that lace.

To explain: The poem recalls an afternoon working under the hood of my car,when a nut on an exhaust manifold stud had stubbornly refuse to back off, and I was stumped. In a flash while the vise grip, began to wear the nut out of shape, my hand and the strength of the nut's grip ,far stronger than its steel,I flashed back to a story. I recalled elementary school,Our Lady of Lourdes, the teacher told of Alexander and his Gordian nut.The wearing suddenly spoke: why not tearing,what we have here is a Gordian nut. I can't expect you to feel what I felt at that moment, but it illustrates I hope in some way what I'll hear about this Sunday morning on WNYC. I don't do pod casts so I'll wake early.
Both the event and the creation of the poem that followed from it are happy memories. I've shared the poem once or twice, explicating on that would be mechanic and his lonely quest, the poem speaks of that as well. I did the job under the hood and learned that craft largely alone, why? Is this what the poem is about ? Anyway, I heard a great story ,and it gave meaning to a struggled I faced years later.
And about that Lifetime before I cut that lace...I meant that to illustrate how strongly I felt the Aha moment.

Sincerely ,
Edward Peters

I am blessed to have been born into a rural Illinois family that always emphasized lifelong learning. When I was five years old my Aunt Bernice began giving me volumes of the Golden Book Encyclopedia which she acquired with her weekly grocery purchases. I sat on her lap and she read to me until I could read myself. My father, the oldest of 8 depression era children set aside his college education to support his brothers and sisters. He taught himself plumbing, heating and elctrician skills to run his own business but read 4 daily newspapers. he taught me that learning is a daily, lifelong endeavor.

Most recently my wife Leah and I are raising 4 children including a 13 year old son, John-Carlos, with autism. He was assesesd as at a pre-kindergarten level in fourth grade until he moved to middle school and we found a teaching staff willing to learn the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) method of communication and education geared toward low or non-verbal students. Within a year he was functioning above grade level. I remain so deeply inspired to become who I am by the brave efforts of my family heroes.

I was 35 years old and recently separated. I had 2 young children a son, 7, and a daughter, 3. I found myself sitting in the office of a professor at the local unversity where I had signed up for his class in Human Development and Learning. I had a college degree but was lost. I hoped for more for myself and for my life. I went to drop the class finding the course I had signed up for and the resposiblities of being a single parent too much. So in his office, with my beautiful 3 year old daughter on my lap, I said I didn't believe I could do it. I didn't believe I could manage so much. I will not forget him saying "I believe you can do it, and I will sign the drop slip, if you want." I won't forget the words or the feeling he extended me. He believe in me when on that day at that time I didn't believe in myself. I did drop the class but the next semester went back. I was so overwhelmed I had to take a tape recorder to the class so I could go back later and listen again to the lecture. That was hard but it did get easier. Today, I write this story at my desk at work as a clinical social worker. He gave me hope, my work and my children give my life meaning, and I wake up excited at the possibilities for becoming more of whom I am each day. Thank you Michael Green.

I'll respond, but not now.

Too much to sift through, dredge to the surface, examine in the light of experience, dismiss the interesting temporary distractions, etc. After 74 pretty active yrs., (this) one thinks not only of locating beginnings, but also middles, and probably now, or before long, the shutting down of some former preoccupations in favor of more abiding concentration on others.

So let me think about it, and thanks in any case for advancing the unexpected 'goose'.

Wm. Reimann, sculptor/designer, teacher

I am an educator. I have taught second and third grade children for over 29 years. I have a Masters degree and 45 hours beyond. I have a passion for education and yet, I can't wait to retire.

I am energized when I teach, yet I am frustrated, disgruntled, disappointed and discouraged when I am forced to teach under state and federal guidelines that know nothing about my classroom.

Education needs a systemic change and NCLB is not the way to get there. It was refreshing to hear Mike Rose talk about education and testing. His years of research and my years in the classroom have discovered the same result. Assessments test for different things and are useful in their own right, however standardized testing does not reflect the amount of sleep the child got the night before because the mom worked until midnight. Nor does it reflect what is being taught in the classroom. Recently I attended a workshop where the teachers were being blasted to include Higher Order Thinking Skills. (Bloom's Taxonomy came out in the 50s) as if teachers did not want to teach thinking. But thinking is not assessed on a test of multiple choice. When curriculum has to be covered in a timely fashion there is not time to go deep. We can't burn the candle at both ends...cover it quickly and deeply.

I so want reform in education and I do not want politicians to be doing the reform. I want two groups to be equally represented to make the change. The first and foremost group would be teachers. NO ONE asks teachers what can be done. No administrator, no college educator, no School Board member, no Senator or Representative has surveyed the staff. How can these people speak for education when they are NOT doing the educating? Because everyone has at one time or another been in school, it somehow deems that they know what needs to be done. I do not conclude the same after having several appointments with a doctor, but unfortunately the teaching profession is not respected in the US by our government, our community or our students.

The second group I think needs to be involved in NCLB reform are people like Mike Rose, Robert Marzano, Jay McTighe, etc. people who have spent their lives researching and asking questions and forming conclusions.These people need us, the practitioners, to test their theories in the classroom. We need to be working side by side and we need to be the ones shaping the reform.

It is a shame that the educational world cannot look at the resource it has in teachers. Not all teachers do nothing or are incapable.

I appreciate your efforts in keeping education, the striving for intellectual growth, and progress in our country in the forefront.

Sincerely,
Diane Bodnar

What seems to have always shaped my current work is my endless play and movement in and through the world, the world of nature. I am a dance/movement therapist and I believe that our bodies are our first home. For me, movement is a primary language and then I use words to express myself. The body of the earth is our home as well and we must move and dance and laugh and sing and shout and be silent and whatever else we can do in and with this miracle we call our body on this miraculous planet called earth. There are so many sensual experiences to be open to and experience.

Ms. Tippett,

Thank you so very much for today's broadcast on "Meaning of Intelligence" where Michael R. defined, so well, the vocational vs "college" track in school.

Your broadcast hit home so hard, I just had to offer congratulations to you for this topic.

As the son of a man whose mother was white, and father was Mexican, I grew up on a small, poor, rurual East Texas farm.

On that farm, survival meant turning manual labor into money. As a teenager I became adept both in school, graduating as salutatorian in my class, and on the farm. I mastered all tools, all farm equipment, took on a business contracting out to bale hay, and generally worked, hard, every day to make a better farm make more money.

In my farming work I learned manual dexterity, work, but, also, how to plan, schedule, adapt, meet people, sell, and work. I learned how to use tools for applications nobody ever even thought of. How to use trees and ropes to lift tractor tires, how to back up a gooseneck trailer a mile, how to feel good about loading 90lb bales of hay all day.

In farming, I learned how to stand in awe of my father, who, every day invented something new for our farm. A new way to feed the livestock automatically, a new blend of grass seed or corn, a modified tool, or a simple idea that made work easier.

My father, I now understand, is the modern genius nobody knows.

At school, I learned how to convert binary to decimal, how to write, how to excel and study. How to revel in the meaning of a word, or a phrase. English, my father said, is your key to success.

I was on BOTH vocational track (at home) and College track (at school).

As my senior year progressed, my father asked me which way I would go: 1) To college, since everyone in my community was aware of my academic excellence by the time I was 17, or 2) stay on the farm.

Not knowing the answer.....

I applied and was accepted to the dream school, Texas A&M at College Station. (nobody ever even heard of Harvard in that part of the world).

I struggled with my choice. I did not want to leave the farm, or my father. But, he encouraged me to get educated, leave, become someone valuable. He never felt he was.

In the end, I chose college and graduated from A&M number at or near the top of the class in Chemical Engineering and number 14 out of 3500 or so students in 1982. I went on to UT Austin to get a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering, but, could have gone to Med School or law school or anything I wanted to do - in academia. By then, the farm had vanished from my mind.

Now, these many years later, I am a senior engineer, with a nice house, nice life, at a big American corporation. This was thought to be a valid path for engineering education....I am supposed to be, now, successful.

I look back at the fork in my road and often wonder if I should have, could have, taken the vocational, farming route. But, at the time, nobody valued that route. Everyone valued "education".

My father sold his small farm to put his three children through the inexpensive, but excellent, public university system in Texas.

I took my kids back and stood outside the gate of that farm looking at the old pine farmhouse this past summer. It is painted a different color now, and has air conditioning, but, miraculously, is otherwise the same. But, it is not mine.

My father remains proud, today, that his kids are educated.

He still arises at 6 am and works in his tiny back yard in Houston, Texas, outside, all day. He works no matter how hot. He is 80 now. His tiny yard grows more food than most grocery stores sell.

I completely understand the two pathways you described with Michael R. today.

All these years I have listened to you and your topics.

Today, I cried.

Dr. Michael Sanchez
Rochester, NY

Thank you again.

It is some of the stories of my childhood, which I can't share publically, that are part of my shaping. One I can is:

One time I came home from playing. I was around 11 years old. As I opened the front door, which was the kitchen (railroad apartments in NYC), my mother was washing clothes by hand in the tub (in the kitchen), she looked up, right at me, and said, "You know what you are? You're unique." I had expected a scolding. My family life was pretty dysfunctional (as I see it now). My reflection is that the heart is stronger than the environment. Expect love, amidst all else. God is truly everywhere. Over decades, care enough to understand. Listen. Be kind. Transformation can takes place, also, in a lifetime, not always as a coupe de foudre. Learn to love. Learn to forgive.

As a junior in high school, I was told by the guidance counselor that I needed Algebra IV to do well in college. That class conflicted with band and I decided not to take the math class, (epsecially since my dad was the band diretor).
I went on to Davidson College, where I got a degree in biology and played in the Charlotte Symphony for my four years of college. I then had a 30 year career as an executive at a fortune 500 textile company.
Music, learning how to learn, and the Davidson Honor Code shaped my life and I never missed the Algebra IV.

I'm one of those individuals who, since childhood in Italy, was placed on the "college (liceo) track". But it was 1961 when I graduated from HS in the US and, although my parents were told that I should pursue higher education, I was steered to get married and settle down with a husband. I was soon divorced after getting married but already had two children to support. Ever since, I've been miserable in any job I've been able to hold but made sure that my children concentrated on their natural talents and prepared for careers accordingly. I must say that I was told by school officials that my son would make a good "draftsman" but he went on to graduate as an Architect from Notre Dame University and eventually ended up as a Professional US Senate Staffer. My daughter, had an aptitude for math and works in a male-dominated field as a Computer Scientist. She was accepted for the PhD program in Computer Science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Both my children averaged "C" or "C+" all the way through school yet they proved themselves capable in their chosen fields.

I'm a firm believer in the fact that "school learning" is only a "tool" to help someone pursue their personal interests. And I believe that PARENTS play a big role in helping children do so. Sometimes it takes a while for young adults to identify those interests but if they are given freedom to chose, the basis of self-confidence and a sense of responsibility for their deeds and contribution to society, they will eventually chose the right path. Also there is a need for society to expand employment opportunities to those who express an intersts in a particular field without having had previous direct working experience. Seems that personal "motivation" is largely undervalued these days.

Elizabeth D. Niemeyer

Her name is Mrs. Russell. It was 1968 in a still divided South that was wary of "the other." She was the mother of the only Jewish family in town. It was rumored they didn't own a television, instead had they had books and a chess set. I was the daughter of one of the first "Yankee" families to move there. She was my 12th grade English teacher and she was tall and willowly with perfect posture. She wasn't chatty. There was dignity in her voice and movement. Now that I think of it, she must have study ballet at one time. Every Monday we walked in to take our seats, and as the class settled, she would move toward the record player and place the needle on a selection of Bach or Mozart. We were to listen and then write. Sometimes there was a prompt of a single word on the board, sometimes not. For me, this writing released the ramble of the weekend and settled my mind for the week. Our small town was a deeply divided town, but we both survived the scrutiny of being "the other" from elsewhere.

At 43, twenty five years later and raising daughters alone and in my last year of college where I, too, would become an English teacher, the State of Florida was sure I fraudulently filed unemployment benefits. Step-by-step (and over the course of a year), the claim and appeal process led to a hearing in a narrow room--a board room with a long table lined with five men in dark suits on one side; five men in dark suits on the other side; the judge at one end; and I was to take the seat on the opposite end, facing her. As I write this, the adrenalyn of that moment of walking into that room is still with me. Yet, crossing through the door frame to enter the room, something happened. My body shifted and my posture aligned into Mrs. Russell's stance. I squared my shoulders, straighted my neck, and looked up and seemed next to float walk to my seat in the same way she would move around our classroom. It was clear to me later that a sort of body intelligence/memory arrived for me as I entered her dignity and carried her with me into that frightening room.

In the end, Mrs. Russell and truth were with me (as well as my studies in linguistics). I won the appeal and am in my 15th year of teaching high school English. My work is a testament to what she brought to me at 18 and again at 43.

I had a couple of standout experiences in school that impacted me in a negative way and I have teachers that I remember with fondness though I am not sure why.

Twenty years ago, at 31, I told my grandmother I was going back to college and she told me that my first grade teacher had said I was retarded, interesting. I always say that I am smart when it comes to tests and school, 1290 on the GRE 10 years out of school and with a migraine (1310 the first time), but when it comes to life and relationships I am clueless. What I remember of that teacher was being grabbed by the shoulders and shaken until my shoulders hurt for drawing on the bathroom wall with a pencil and I remember a conference after which I was taken to the eye doctor and given glasses. I think that she told my grandmother I had emotional problems and my grandmother being who she was didn't understand. In the first part of the third grade back with my mother, who pretty much left my 7 year old sister and I to fend for ourselves, the teacher accused me of cheating during an exam because my eyes were wandering. She yelled at me and when I started to cry told me I was crying crocodile tears. Does an 8 year old know what cheating is? At a different school later that year, my teacher had a dunce row in front of the class, she would put us there for various infractions, we got to wear a pointy paper hat. I really didn't like it there.

Somehow I made it through those experiences and learned to read and to even to do well in school. I fell in love with mythology and stories of old civilizations and then with science fiction. I excelled at math and loved latin and french but still I never got comfortable in school. I started in with the proverbial bad crowd (I think I was the bad crowd) and dropped out of high school.

I know many teachers took an interest and tried to help me but I just couldn't take it in. When I did start taking college classes I needed constant reassurance for the longest time. I took basic math, remedial english, that english teacher actually got irritated and told me I was wasting her time, I had all the skill I needed to succeed in school. I learned to love learning and to trust myself when it came to tests and writing anyway. Yet I still struggled with bad study habits and when I got to graduate school realized I didn't have what it took for a theoretical program like that one. I quit and though I have gotten as close as applying I have never gone back to school.

I suppose my insecurity comes from a hard childhood but I usually berate myself for my failings by saying it was not as difficult as many and is surely no excuse when I look at those many that have overcome extreme difficulties to become amazing people with great accomplishments. I am now finding myself longing to go back to school just because I want to. I think because it is easier than my life, which appears very easy...making a living as a massage therapist in the florida keys. However, I want a goal with an endpoint and the semester lends itself perfectly to that. It seems I am just no good at setting and keeping goals for myself or perhaps at acknowledging what I do accomplish. Also, I have no health insurance, vacation or sick leave and so far don't seem able to save money so no retirement and the work is seasonal so I have long stretches of little or no work that leave me struggling with more feelings of failure. In addition, I feel that this whole part of myself-the "smart" part-is unused and longing for a place in the world. I often say that my retirement plan is to live in a University town and take Mathematics and linguistics classes to my hearts content.

I didn't get to listen to this whole show but it seemed the appropriate end to this week. Earlier this week, (listening to NPR-WLRN), I heard that New Orleans was struggling to find enough school teachers. I thought about the times in my life when I have thought of being a school teacher, how I would like to find a way to make a difference in the lives of young people. I want to teach high school math but it has been over 25 years since I had a math class and I have no education background but I could go to school again. I could have my life portioned out to me in manageable chunks: class hours, mid-terms, semesters, school years. And then my job would be like that...I honestly don't know why I didn't do it sooner. I don't know how I will pay for it and I may be 55 before I am done and I worry that the kids will see right through me to the insecure parts and just eat me alive but I also love learning and somehow someway maybe I can give that to them.

Thank you for another wonderful show! I am certain that the creators of our present testing-based criteria for schools want our country to be strong. Hearing Mike Rose speak of the intelligence of the plumber and the hairstylist going undiscovered and, consequently, not encouraged and trained in this system directly speaks to it's ineffectiveness in meeting the actual goal. This country needs plumbers and hairstylists! Now, thanks to them, I think I'll go take a shower and wash my hair.

A comment that I've heard a lot during my last few years that has bothered me, really resurfaced this morning while listening to your show. What bothers me is when those who do physical labor emphasize their jobs as "honest work", thereby implying that
"non-physical" jobs are not as "honest". This is particularly keen to me right now as I'm up early before my children awake to finish the notes from the patients I've seen this week as a primary care physician in a rural community.

Those who work with their hands can cheat people as much as anyone else with unfair prices and shoddy workmanship. I know this because I've seen it as I've worked as a laborer at different times during college and medical school.

Reading this week's piece about intelligence, what is it, do we define it so narrowly we miss important human information -- caused me to reflect on my disability clients. Over the course of 30 years it has become apparent that particular deficits can result in corresponding strengths, and particular uniqueness. Oliver Sacks writes about these things in his marvelous patient profiles. But not every person with deficits develops strengths. Some feel too demoralized, stigmatized. Which suggests an avenue to develop therapies so these opportunities aren't missed.

The foundation of my childhood education was not founded on a specific moment or person (although there were many), but in a system. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio in the early seventies where a program called ‘The Alternative School System’ launched. It included elementary, middle and, at the time, one high school.
I attended a ‘normal’ elementary school in the first grade and my mother realized, that I was not challenged. From what little I remember, I wasn’t.

Enrollment in these schools was lottery-based and I was selected to attend Linden Park Elementary in the second grade. This school had no classrooms; instead, there were large spaces with workstations. Grades were not called ‘second’ or ‘third’ but instead were named after constellations and we were free to move from one to the other based on learning and progress as opposed to age.

Middle school was more mainstream with traditional classes although there were some exceptions. Specifically, accelerated math classes, non-traditional language classes and ‘mini’-courses. In the 6th grade I studied Italian and had mini-courses that I selected to study.

I was not admitted to the alternative high school my freshman year and realized immediately how different the alternative world was from the traditional school system. Because of the fluidity of my curricula and progress based accelerated learning, most of my classes were at the sophomore level.

As I entered my sophomore year, I entered the lottery for entry into the high school, and was not accepted, but placed on the wait list. I had to plead with administrators in my traditional high school to get into senior level classes because I had exhausted most sophomore and some junior classes. Fortunately, two weeks into the year, spaces opened and I was able to start classes at the high school and prepared my schedule. Not only was I able to get into classes that were challenging, I was also able to start earning college credit.

One of the most unique elements of the high school schedule were our internships. Every Wednesday, we had no scheduled classes, but internships at local businesses, arts programs, Universities and charities. Through that program, I helped PhD students catalogue ancient manuscripts, painted sets for a local theatre and toured elementary schools with an original children’s theatre production.

When I got out into the world and mentioned that I attended an ‘alternative’ schools, I was faced with very strange looks. Apparently in the northeast this is what reform schools are called. Of course, this could not be farther from the truth.

The Columbus Alternative School system shaped the way I think about problem solving, learning and growth even today.

I appreciated Mr. Rose's comments about the value of those who do manual labor. I have three college degrees, have written one book and am writing a second, have written newspaper and magazine articles, and teach Sunday school. Any yet, for the last 14-years I have owned my own wholesale distributorships, first selling snacks and for the last five years selling bread. And customers, store managers, and most hurtful, people from my own church nearly always act like I must be stupid or have something wrong with me that I do this manual labor. Fellow congregants that enjoy visiting with me on Sunday mornings during the week if they see me at work simply walk past me and pretend like I don't exist. The cumulative effect is to make me self conscious of what I do and tends to make me feel ashamed of my job even though it requires intelligence, enormous self discipline and great persverence to successfully own and operate your own business for 14-years. I have learned from my experiences to always look into the eyes of those doing service work - the maids and janitors and shelf stockers, to try and acknowledge them, see their humanity and, if possible, to even thank them for their work.

All through my school years, I was the model student arriving at National Honor Society and straight A's in high school. Went on to a few years of college without finishing but completing a vocational certificate. All these years, I've felt like an "under-achiever" because I didn't have that college degree! After high school, in addition to some post-secondary schooling, I had a lot of "Real Life" experiences with many varying jobs of which I treasure the memories. The interview with Mike Rose (The Meaning of Intelligence) helped me value ALL of my "education" and reconcile my feelings of "under-achievement" that I have wrestled with for most of my life. What a refreshing perspective on intelligence and approach to education. I wish this interview was mandatory for all education majors!

It was my sophomore year in college. I was taking a psychology course and listening to another lecturer, taking thorough notes of everything the instructor said with a certain assumption that the information was "true" and certainly what I needed to know if I was to get the answer "right" on the test. this is the way I was indoctrinated throughout my education, to believe that true, right information was known, and it was my job to learn it. As I listened on this particular day to yet another research study--the hypothesis, the measurements, the data and its conclusions--I was surprised when we were told a different result than the one I expected. With a perplexed, timid curiosity, I raised my hand and asked, "couldn't the data be interpreted to mean this instead....?" Her response was blunt and matter of fact: "Oh yes--absolutely; it could mean that...." and then continued on to the next study without pause or explanation.
I fell stunned and in an instant thought of all that had already been told to us as "true facts" and I suddenly realized that it was ALL open to question and debate! this was the moment I became a psychology major, and a straight A student. I was thrilled and excited most by the possibility that "They" didn't know all the answers and that even me, a lowly undergrad student might ask fresh questions or discover new insights.

I did not become a "psychologist" formally, but a teacher--which is to say, much the same thing. I have been teaching at a highly ranked midwestern university for 16 years. My philosophy of education today is still based on my epiphany 25 years ago. I have come to view the questions as more important than answers because I notice that when students are allowed to risk voicing questions--all questions, especially the wild, crazy ones--their genuine curiosity and imagination makes the learning natural, and easy. And they remember what they learn better because it is connected to their own experience and innate inquisitiveness. As a result, a lot of students in my classes get high grades. I am against grading systems such as "curves" that rank students best to worst, A to F. I disagree with systems in which someone is required to fail, merely by rank. I find that if you can convince these well trained students to put questions ahead of answers, learning ahead of getting good grades, that good grades are a natural result. I believe everyone should be able to get an A. And if they are allowed to be interested enough in learning, I find that many do.

The children of manual labourers had been taught to loathe all book-learning, and all who excelled at it. They made my life hell for ten years, until I could finally leave for college the emotional wreck I remain today, largely because the capitalist job system these clods believe is the best and fanatically support even as it ruins them is still in place. I believe that I am very far from unique, and they are not so either, as I see these human apes in every Fox 'News' commentator or viewer I've had the misfortune to notice.

From Aristotle to Confucius to the rabbis who spoke the Talmud into being, I think the ancients were onto something: to the extent that manual work can be automated, it degrades the human spirit and should be eliminated. Manual intelligence is not absent in knowledge-workers: all the rabbis of old were skilled tra=des-men, though none did the mindless work of awmim-haw-oretzim, and I know more computer programmers who could entirely retro-fit their houses than otherwise...I know of very few plumbers or waitresses who hack in their off-hours.

This is not to say that intelligence is not in play in some manual labour---I will note that you soft-balled the researcher by not paying more attention to assembly-line workers---but to the extent it's there it could be better-turned toward more useful projects such as
* eliminating that work using machines and A.I.
* extending human life indefinitely, including uploading (thereby creating a 'soul', which, contrary to what some of your guests have said, does not exist)
* colonising space
* understanding as much about this godless, wonderful, universe as possible
* bending it to our wills
Everything not thinking or fusing is a waste of good enthalpy.

This may _sound_ unrealistic, but given that it is based entirely on the known properties of actual matter, as opposed to what various spokes-persons have claimeed for notioonal 'spiritual' (that is, non-existent) entities, I think it comparatively not so. Even the modest technological advances needed to eliminate all forced work, forever, would be a good start, and a great improvement, not least because it would end the romanticisation of toil toward which your latest guest is contributing.

Finally, be sincere:
Who would you rather constituted our polity: the teabaggers and Town Hollerers, almost all people who have hated their boring jobs and authoritarian bosses and therefore hate and loathe the students and knowledge-workers and darker people they assume laze their lives away in various way, or the more mixed---but brain-working--tilted---population of (wait for it!)....public radio listeners?

In 2003, my wife and I spent 8 days at a friend's house in Carmel, CA. He's a lifelong, fine art photographer and I've been in the advertising/design business for 30+ years. For the first few days, we had the house to ourselves and I relished in the abundance of black and white photographic images.

Each day we rose with the sun, had a simple breakfast and set out to explore the California coastline. One trip, was to Point Lobos State Reserve where I became spellbound at the beauty and serenity of the surroundings. It was a moving and inspirational experience that I recall to this day. I shot endless photos and immediately knew that, from then on, I wanted to make art with a camera.

Back home, I bought a better camera, spent as much time outdoors as I could and photographed everything in sight. Although I couldn't duplicate the experience I had in Point Lobos, I have developed an appreciation of the vision that I awakened that day in Carmel.

This new avenue of self-expression has given me another chance to find out what I can offer to myself and others.

There are so many moments that shape who we are, it is difficult to choose just one, but if I have to, it's the good fortune to have been placed in a class with a wonderfully gifted, experimental 6th and 7th grade teacher, Mr. Baldwin, who had the courage to teach to each students strength and create a sense of community. I have to credit him with opening my eyes to the wider world around me and tweaking my intellect, so that I became a life-long-learner!

I must also credit my Mother, who like Mike Rose's mother was a full time worker, with an hourly wage. Although we had very little money, she always made life interesting and provided a loving base from which I was secure enough to test my wings. I was the first in my family to go to college. My mother was a unique character, who just passed away at age 93. She lived life on her terms and although we were quite different and our personalities sometimes clashed, I am extremely grateful for all the wonderful life lessons she shared with me (throughout my childhood and also in our adult/adult relationship). Although my life has been easier than hers, I am still in awe of her courage and ability to deal with lifes issues which none of us anticipate.

Thank you - Mike and Krista - for a wonderful hour and I look fwd to reading Mike Rose's books.

My creative writing teacher took us out for a walk in silence to look for images, things that might spark a short story. When we came back to the room, we went around and everyone said their image. When it was the teacher's turn, she described (this was in the month of May) some tulips a recent rain had knocked the petals off of. She said the tulips reminded her of prom dresses the day after prom.

It was such a wonderful metaphor--I felt the truth of it immediately. And I walked away from class thinking: "I want to learn how to do THAT!" In one brief instant, with one utterance, my teacher completely changed the way I looked at the world. What else was out there to find? What other connections could I make?

And, I suppose, the deeper lesson was that if my outlook on the world could change, could deepen in meaning, then so could I. What a thrilling possibility. To think that my sense of identity hinged on the attitude I cultivated, day by day, in how I chose to look at the world. Powerful.

Back when only 10% of the pop went to college, above average intelligence to borderline geniuses were in the other 90%. Factory line workers, union delegates, and tradesmen not only knew their jobs, but were naturally inquisative about their role in their line or work and the wolrd around them.

Now such people are good at what they do, but too many now have limited interests beyond their paycheck.

It's too bad when the greatest intellects are being syphoned off to white collar jobs seeking only to generate profits for the company and bonuses for themselves.

Just wanted to finish my story. From that moment on I began to believe I could learn and I had possibilties to continue my career, education and really anything I wanted to do. I ended up going to UGA obtaining my Masters in Social Work and them my Specialist in Education. I now love to learn. I like the new knowledge that inspires me to creative in my career and to inspire those around me. I want to inspire not only our students, but the teachers and administrators, for all of us to be all we can be, making our dreams a reality. I am know doiing a study on developmental theory and teaching. Guess what! I am inspired again, to implement this knowledge and to tap into possibilities that our students with autism, developmental disabilities and intellectual disabilities. What are we missing, what can they do that is rewarding to them and how can we help them live beyond our walls? The state requires we teach according to chronological age, but aren't we missing an opportunity to teach to their developmental age, helping them feel accomplished? Maybe, with this road map we can help them be all that is possible.
Thank you again for your show. My sister, a scientist, and I, a school social worker, love it.
Andrea Clifton

A few years in to my pursuit of an architectural degree, peers and certain showed me the plans of projects (many were centuries old) where the relationships between the parts of the plan (walls, spaces, external/natural objects, orientation to the sun, etc.) were describing in fairly specific terms how the users of the building could make sense of their activities at this particular location. In some senses (especially to our 20th century eyes where the fashionable aesthetic aspects of design are perceived as paramount), all this information is "hidden", as if some elaborate code devised by underground interests like those glorified in The DaVinci Code. In another light, however, walls are always walls no matter what the era one lives in, and they both do the obvious thing of enclosing space and constrict certain of your views or perhaps let the view out, through a gap, perhaps aligning your eye to some direction they set you up precisely to see; a wall also may unite what is on either side because each side might share in the prospect of huddling up next to the wall, and so on. These aspects of wall are timeless - they might be called the simple reality of what a wall is, regardless of who you are or when you interact with the wall. Like a poet, who helps us rediscover the power of words by stripping them back to their elemental, meaningful roots, I saw the really good architects using their "materials" to get users to really come to grips with their place on this earth.

Thus, by spending my time now looking for what the really good ones accomplished with their architecture, it soon became clear to me that their work was great in spite of the surface trappings of their day, or the technological opportunities or limitations they faced. Yes, they also made wonderful things in ways that, in hindsight, some historian may also describe as "beautiful", but these "winning ways" had very little to do with what was magical or inspiring about their work. For their mastery over their "materials" (solid things and spatial volumes) allowed them the possibility to demonstrate universal themes that they chose to layer on top of merely solving the functional problems that were laid out by the client. Many of these architects toiled in times, and in places, and for clients that would have to grow in order to be able to comprehend all that had been put in place with their designs.

Then (the early '80s), and now, our odds of finding a public that is interested in something more out of our art than sheer window dressing is slight. The fashionable trend-setters dominate our field and, while increasing its exposure, have unfortunately moved it further to the superficial. Our task is to reinvigorate the art, making it both more accessible and more substantial. Such a task is daunting, but I came to realize that the greats of the past 2000 years have always faced such odds, and it is inspiring to know that and humbling to acknowledge the effort involved.

Will Gerstmyer AIA LEED

Speaking of Faith
January 10, 2010
Tena L. Cook

In fourth grade in Stapleton, Nebraska, Mrs. Caryl [sic] Jones made a lasting impact upon my life. She taught with such power that I truly felt transported to the jungles of South America when we studied the people who lived there. I could feel the oppressive heat and humidity inside my tent and hear the drums in the background. Her gifts of teaching helped me draw pictures of these scenes because I "had been there".
She praised and encouraged with unconditional love - so much like a second mother. I later found out that she had no children of own and realize this may have been why she could take such a keen interest in her students.
She sent an annual postcard to me until I was about 35 - which was about five years before her death. There isn't a week of my life that I don't think of Mrs. Jones and thank her for being my fourth grade teacher.

The drawings I have attached are those of Nebraska wildlife - which was a topic included in our course of study in fourth grade under Mrs Jones' leadership. I have kept them with me all these years as inspiration that I do have artistic abilities that I need to hone and develop.

I have several more images available, if needed. THANK YOU for this opportunity.

One more very excellent interview today- Mike Rose on education. When this series was initially announced I cringed- as an atheist I would have reason to duck what seemed to be coming. But this series has had the highest level of intelectual integrity of any discussion series available. Along with Bill Moyers, the PBS is doing a major service to the country. Now, if only the audience were far greater, discourse might become useful rather than the poorly reasoned, emotional, uninformed blatherings we get from the likes of Palin, Cheny, FOX News, and even Nancy Pelosi. [I have to add at least one off target mind from the so called left.] So, thank you very much, Krista Tippett!

A combat tour in Viet Nam in 1967, changed my direction. Wounded in Feb 1968, and spending a year @ Fitzsimmon's Army Hospital, Denver Co, influenced me. I was drafted out of the college of Engineering, Univ of MN, at the end of my Jr year. After the service I returned to the U and could not face a future with a cubicle. I wound up in the college of Education and a career as a high school shop teacher. Years of vocational type teaching in outstate MN leaves quite a mark on my life. Mike Rose's comments have been fascinating, perhaps easing some of the frustration of watching the State Dept of Ed and Mn legislature's decades long attempt to destroy primary/secendary education in this state.

Matthew B Crawford, a PHD think tank fellow, just published a fascinating study of today's workplace:

Matthew B. Crawford
Shop Class as Soulcraft, an Inquiry into the Value of Work
2009 The Penguin Press

Larry Skoglund
Miltona MN

My husband is in the midst of producing a film entitled "Last in Class", profiling individuals, many highly creative and ultimately "successful" by conventional standards, who graduated last in their high school or college classes. Your discussion on intelligence and its role in formal schooling, personal identity, meaning and values - whether real or perceived - was such a validation and reflection of the voices what he has captured in his own work and particularly calls into question the role that our educational system plays in determining a "value" on people's potential contribution to the world that we all carry in some form or another for the rest of our lives. It would be an overstatement to say the people in the film were "scarred" by the school experience and adults effectively saying "you are stupid and won't amount to anything" as they all learned to navigate on from there but there is no doubt they were impeded and profoundly affected in less than positive ways for years thereafter.

A great discussion - and one that should continue in many different ways. thank you!

1964. 5th grade. Anshe Emet: A private school on the north side of Chicago. A brilliant teacher coaxed our class into performing a modified version of "Macbeth." None of us had acted before. The girls wanted to do the play but it took some work on the boys. When the teacher told us there were battles and ghosts, we were sold! I played Macbeth and it changed my life. I have been a theatre professional ever since. My life's work has been to work with kids in theatre in schools, summer camps, and in community theatre. I never had a chance to thank the teacher who made such a profound influence in my life. The photo attached is Paul Warshauer being honored at curtain calls for "42nd Street" at Calabasas High School in the late 1980's.

This is not so much a response to the above question as simply some of the thoughts inspired by this show. In particular, the irony in the various usages of the word "vocation" and how they either exalt or denigrate a job.

As a senior in a liberal arts college, I pondered--as most of us do--what was next. Grad school? Seminary? Or a job having something to do with food--my great passion? My advisor, Deane Lagerquist, told me, "you know, Monte, I sit up here in the office and I write things that I don't know if anyone will ever read. People will always be hungry." The next year I enrolled in culinary school and I have fed people ever since.

The last five years have been as a baker--and this is currently a hip, oft-dreamed-about career. Krista, you said that people tell you all the time they would love your job--and I'm sure they do. I would love your job! Being a baker in Vermont (where I lived in those years) has much the same status.

But am I satisfied? Some days. It is magical to make inedible things edible, to make something beautiful and delicious and sustaining. The repetitive parts can be meditative ... but they can also be boring. It can be soul-draining to do the same thing over and over, especially in situations where you never see the customer, you don't know who is eating your bread.

I think my dissatisfaction mostly comes from the fact that I was part of a school and a community that placed great value on the religious idea of "vocation." St. Olaf College is Lutheran, and Martin Luther famously opened up the idea of Christian vocation beyond the pastorate. Any job, he said, could be a vocation. This is wonderful, unless it becomes perverted into an extreme focus on finding one's vocation, one's calling. Somehow this exalted language made me feel that a job had to be just right, had to be fulfilling and helpful and perfectly suited to me. It's not so much that I have a hard time imagining baking as a vocation--or truck-driving or teaching or any other possible job out there. It's that I don't know if it's my vocation. Is it what I'm called to do?

I still don't know what is ahead for me, career-wise. But I am slowly separating out my sense of vocation from my job. My vocation, I think, has more to do with living a certain life and becoming a certain person. It's rooted as much in relationship--with my children, my husband, my parents, my neighbors--as anything.

Thank you Mike Rose for your truth telling. I have long valued the expertise of my plummer and the great public service done by those who gather my waste two days a week. I came away from this presentation being affirmed in the notion that when we cooperate rather than compete we have all used a bit more of our intellect.

Becoming Alice took fifty-four years of "enough" crying over, paying for, and cleaning up the messes in other people's lives that were left behind by poor choices of some, or caused brutaly, by others. I am a servant to drunks, addicts, and people in crisis. My door was once open to strangers who needed to cry, to pray, to eat, or laugh. I found myself after loyalty called on me to raise my dieing friend's granchild from birth thru seven, only to have him taken away, and placed into the unkown in the snakepit,foster system by his own mother, and grandmother. Malachi Peasley was my gifted, special needs, well beloved son until Ocober two thousand seven. Malachi was seven-years old at the time he is now nine. I have not seen my son for two years over nothing more than "hear say" and never stood before a judge, recieved a sentence, nor was I charged for the crime of "neglect of paper work." I am telling you there is something very wrong with a county that uses Bible thumping believers called; "special, volunteers" of "Kid's Hope, Reading Classes" to take a child's "inventory," which digs out personal information about what goes on in the home. Self righteous,prejudice social workers who see a battered child behind every other eye, teachers, who have never had children, and over zealous neighbors, or church members get to talking about what they know nothing of then add a brute of a delusional, Child Protective Service Worker, an nasty, arrogent cop and think it through it is set up like a serpant ready to swallow a child whole. This is the story not onl behind my son, but behind the drug abuse, violence, suicides, and shattere lives of young women and chidren here and it hs been goigon for over fifty years. I tell Young parents of low income, and African American, or any other race do not stand a chance here in Comstock Park, of Kent County. I am telling you if someone even thinks different in this community they cannot attend churches here. I was refused to even pray with a paster because he said; "You wrote in old African dialect and referred to us a prejudice, we do't know where you are coming from." He then left me standing outside his office to show myself out the door. So much for hospitality. That is just one sickening example I loathe telling of the others. Hope, and true faith came to me through meeting, and opening my door to one of the "Lost Boys of Southern Sudan," and other amazing, now friends from Nigeria, and Ethiopia, & Kenya. I wish I could tell you their names, they deserve a gold medal of honor for how their lives changed mine. It took me less than a half of an hour while talkng with these to see myself caught in the terrible error of "American hype Christianity." It is through meeting African people of Kent County, I found my own roots again, as they comforted me, and befriended me, while watching over me as I grieved, and worked to get my son, Malachi out ot the system which I have yet to accomplish. One young man of Sudan offered himself to me as a son to comfort me last year noticeing that my own children were unaware of my pain. I owe my life to people from Africa, who kept in contact with me from the early morning that I ran down the road to tell of how my son Malachi was stolen from me two years ago. Right up to this day they remain more than faithful, friends. America, and Kent County has not one idea what they are missing, or what they have here. They are clueless that they are now throwing away civil rigts with both hands, while blameing all things on President Obama. He did not "start this fire it was always burning since the world was turning," as the song goes. Watch, you will see a stronger nation arise perhaps. Africa and India will turn this around, is my guess. Rather than doing the kick butt actions we are so use to, they will do in patient, peace. Immigrants that people complain about might be those who work hard to build a better nation that does not shed inocent blood in order to gain peace, an economic security. I love my country, but tey just don't get it! There are some things taht you do not mess with andthat is the family, the elderly, the widows, the child, and people of special populations, and the gentle aliens that GOD sends to heal our land. American baby-boomers can participate once again, and turn this around if they want to look what we did in the seventees. We have a big mess to clean up all because we wanted it "our way." May GOD deliver us from our own way before our grandchildren suffer.

I had a high school English teacher who taught part of his course on "How to Kill a Compliment". We had to each write down twenty ways we kill a compliment when we receive one...and that was an easy thing to do. I will never forget this and to this day I catch myself if I start to kill one. It helped me to learn that just saying, "thank you" is enough instead of using false modesty to deflect those compliments.

Also I was a self defined "slow at math" person. I had a high school math teacher who's never ending patience and his own "slow methods" of teaching (while frustrating the faster math student), were just the pace I needed to absorb math. He was also so understanding and kind, that he would let me come into school early before classes started to individually tutor me on problems I was having in math. He was the only person who helped me to understand some math concepts and allow me to work at my pace. It was only with this teacher that I had any confidence at all in my math abilities.

As I listened to the program I was struck by the thought that the educational system in this country is fundamentally broken from the bottom to the top. I have, over the course of my 50-odd years on earth, spent nearly half of those years in some sort of formalized training. In fact, I am currently engaged in getting a masters degree online. I have also raised a child who has spent over two thirds of her 30 years in educational programs. I started school in the 50s, and being a good little middle-class WASP girl I obeyed all the rules and feared and respected the teachers, principals and authority-figures, to the point that as a child I accepted and never even mentioned to my parents that my first grade teacher tied students in our chairs and taped our mouths shut. Questioning a teacher was not a possibility. I expected to go to college and become a nurse or teacher, at least until I got married and had my own children. That was the path pre-ordained for girls like me in those days. However, I found a teacher in high school who taught me to question the assumptions, and the authorities that had given me those assumptions.

Since then, I’ve watched and learned. I’ve come to realize that most school principals are petty bureaucrats, that teachers are not all sinners or saints (I’ve known some of each), and that the educational systems in this country fail most of the children they touch. A few years ago I read that 80% of the children who graduate high school have lower self-esteem than they did when they entered kindergarten. When my daughter started college incoming students were required to take a self-esteem evaluation and kids who did poorly on it (the majority) were scheduled for counseling to help them survive their freshman year. How sad is that? Schools have become an assembly line that steals our children’s souls as it tries to mold them into acceptable tools for the industrial complex. I know that sounds like sixties style rhetoric, but it is all too uncomfortably true.
And if/when students survive high school, they are expected to mortgage their future to go to college, because without a college degree they are deemed worthless. Case in point, my husband has 25 years of experience as an engineer, but can’t find a new job because he doesn’t have a degree. He has to take whatever he can find because he doesn’t have that piece of paper. And because we can’t afford to take on sixty to eighty thousand dollars in debt to send him to school, and also support the family while he is there, he will not be getting the piece of paper. The thing is, intelligence doesn’t matter. If you can’t afford to go to college you are automatically tossed to the side. But if you can afford to go to college, then you can be a blithering idiot and still become President of the United States.
Unfortunately, we’ve built a system in which degrees and certifications make the difference between acceptance and failure. We’ve priced those degrees so high that our children must go into lifelong debt to get them. And we’ve accepted that those who have them are somehow superior to those who don’t. Yet, look at those academics in their universities and think tanks. They are not particularly intelligent. They are not particularly useful. They spend most of their time trying to convince everyone else (and themselves) of their inherent superiority. Meanwhile, their opinions and pronouncements have led this country into war, recession, confusion, ill-health, mean-spiritedness, division, elitism, and cruelty.

We need to rethink our system from the basic ABCs to the highest halls of academia.

I grew up in 1950 , Irish working class family near Youngstown, Ohio. Roman catholic school for eight years. Never knew anyone who wasn't working class either in steel mills or the auto industries or railroads. I was smart enough, but never the top of the line. Teachers were good and taught me well enough, but classes were big and I was just another kid. In high school I was in the college-bound classes but my friends were still all the working class kids. Didn't have a clue, until one day my high school English teacher said he thought I had "some talent" for writing. That's all it took! I was off and running. It wasn't easy, but I graduated from college and became a teacher. Even though I moved in the world of the "intellect" due to grad degrees and even some doctoral courses, I always felt between two worlds. I feel I learned valuable lessons in the working class world that aren't always learned if one is priveleged all through early life. Even though I was now a memeber of the educational group, I wound up teaching the poorest kids in the schools. Maybe it was the best place for me to be - I knew more about their lives than I did about children of the upper classes. I felt like the author on the show said: that the teachers who helped me most were those who helped me with life - not so much the coursework. Thank God I had teachers and professors who took the time to act as mentors to me. I've loved learning - and I love most the arts because they really touch the soul of a person. Sometimes poor children or kids who aren't academic never get exposed to any of the arts. Maybe it is better now - but it is through those classes that I learned to love life. I've written all my life - thanks to the kind words of one teacher who probably never gave it another thought. I wasn't his best student and he wasn't asking about my plans or helping me get into college. He opened a door and I knew he would read my stuff and give me feeedback. If one man or woman could do that for me, imagine what someone can really do if they try. I taught for 30 years and hope I helped some of my students the way he helped me, but teaching is one of the areas where you don't always know what happens. You do your best and hope.

In 1969, I was shuffling down the halls of my high school, staring at the floor, hair uncombed, shirt-tail out -- a typical high-school junior -- when my Latin and Greek teacher (who herself seemed ancient at the time) stopped me.

"Mr. Lowe," she barked. "Stand up straight! Brush that hair! Tuck in that shirt! You are a Classicist! Act like one!"

She meant to do no more, I'm sure, than discipline another slovenly student. In the process, though, she provided an answer to the questions that haunt every adolescent: "Who am I? And just what am I supposed to do on this planet?" Her's wasn't exactly the voice of God, but it was attention-getting nonetheless.

I carried her words with me through college and graduate school, and while life since then took a few unforeseen turns, I never forgot them. And today, many years later, in a second career I had long ago hoped would be my only one and long ago thought lost, I find myself again walking the halls of a high school, teaching Latin and Greek, and wondering if the day will come when I'll bark at a student, "You are a Classicist! Act like one!"

I would like to comment on Mike Rose's Meaning of Intelligence commentary. I would like to say that I agree with what he said about recognizing the amount of skill and intelligence that goes into the blue collar workforce. I am an electrician apprentice and am finding out first hand that the job is very complicated and you really need to know what you are doing in this trade. It is a learned trade and takes years of on the job training to become a master at it. I feel that if they had put some kind of emphasis on trade work in high school I could have started this sooner in life.

I also would like to comment on what he had said about our countries school system. Yes I do agree with him that the teachers need to create a nurturing learning environment that encourages learning, but I also think that our nations school teachers are grossly underpaid and that its kind of hard for them to give their 100% when they have to worry about things like pay cuts and furlough days and so forth.

My name is Lauren Barron and I am a family physician. I think the fact that my pediatrician when I was a child was a woman shaped me tremendously. She was an older woman, very matter of fact, so "matter of fact" in fact that it did not seem like a stretch at all when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up: a doctor. In retrospect I realize she was one of very few women physicians at that time, and I often wish I could have a convesation with her now, as an adult, about what her medical training was like. What seemed quite ordinary to me was in fact extraordinary. Later, in my teens, I was referred to a clinic for joint pain and there met another woman physician who was kind enough to invite me to lunch when I told her of my dream of doctoring. We set a date and my father dropped me off at a cafe off of Main, right in the heart of the Texas Medical Center. She spent an hour with me talking to me about the kinds of courses I would need to take, encouraged me to volunteer in the medical field, told me about the challenges of being a woman in medicine--she even gave me advice on what to wear during the interview process! She told me to WEAR RED! Years later I found myself in medical school, walking past the professional building where she worked and where I had my appointments, and walking past that same restaurant (now chinese instead of a deli)and I often thought of her through the years of training and on into residency. How extraordinary it was that she actually took time to take a little girl to lunch. During lectures on rheumatoid arthritis and some hereditary joint diseases I would remember her and realize that she must have been researching the gene I was just now learning about when she drew my and my family's blood, or realize she was ruling out this or that disease that I was just now reading about for the first time in a medical text book. The older I was, the longer in medical practice, the more amazed I became that a Fellow in a Rheumatology Residency took time out of her day to spend an hour with a shy and awkward girl from the blue collar part of town. Recently, at my desk with a rare 30 minute span of time, I wondered...maybe with the help of the internet I could actually track this woman down and thank her. I did not remember her name or much about her other than that she was from the east coast, and that she was working in the rheumatology department at a certain clinic. I was able to narrow the time frame to within a few years and lo and behold, the fellowship program at Baylor College of Medicine was able to provide me with a list of their fellows over that decade. There was only one woman on the list, so it had to be her. I was stunned when I read her name. It was Barron, just like mine...the same as my married name now. I could never have known that I would be like her in more ways than one. Now I am called Dr. Barron, just like her! A bizarre cosmic coincidence I guess, but somehow a special and heretofore secret confirmation that I was on my way in the past to my true vocation. I am grateful that I was able to find her via the Internet--something I never could have done 20 years ago--and send her a note, telling her this story, the same way I have told you now, and thanking her for seeing something in me that others would have overlooked. Many of us hope and wonder about making a difference in this life and many of us do. But we do not always get to see the fruit of the serendipitous seeds that we have planted along the way. I am grateful to have been part of a story that has circled back to the beginning, grateful that I could express my gratitude to Dr. Barron (albeit by email) for a moment we shared in time that marked me, a moment that she may not even have remembered (although she was too polite to say). It makes me mindful of the seeds and stories that I am scattering along my path today and every day...and the divine possibility in all of them, not to mention a sense of humor and playfulness that God must delight in as the Author and Finisher of stories like this one.

Plato Center, Illinois and the Story of Miss Lydia Jean Stafney The story goes that Plato Center, along with other Midwestern towns with ancient honorifics, such as Homer, Cicero, or Vergil, used their names as drawing cards to entice school teachers from the East. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the plains were plowed in northern Illinois, farmers who had moved there needed someone to teach their children the ways of civilization, not merely reading, writing, and arithmetic. So they would build a schoolhouse and advertise back East. But who would want to leave Boston for the plains? Naming someplace Plato Center seemed to be just the ticket to entice a teacher into thinking that here was a citadel of learning after all, amidst the corn and wheat. Respect for ancient Greece or Rome was part and parcel of our heritage from Europe, caught up in an enthusiasm for the ancient world at the time our nation was first founded. As new styles and allegiances brought changes along the coastal cities, that colonial classical heritage still prevailed in the country. To the settlers of the Midwestern plains the American Republic could be seen as just another version of the Roman one, with a need for constant vigilance to avoid yet another great decline. Besides, working in the fields brings you into daily contact with the past, together with a sense that the soil was more fertile once, in some Golden Age of Grain. Today Plato Center is more a memory than a village. The railway shipping dock is weathered bare. The General Store is no longer operating, with its combination of post office and dry goods. But a few old homes remain, along with an old gas station and a new school catering to the local area, growing new homes where once fields were furrowed. Many farms remain. The cemetery is the place to go to see the history of the town. Walking past the tombstones you can date the immigrations of farmers and of merchants, as each tried their luck in turn, with names etched on the stones from successively different countries further east in Europe. Then there are the smaller tombstones, designating the many graves of children, felled in waves by childhood diseases, influenza and diphtheria. Some were old enough to have studied in the now vanished one-room schoolhouse. I expect they learned Latin there, and I wonder who their teacher was. I can imagine some young schoolmaster or schoolmistress from Boston or Philadelphia, thoroughly educated in classical languages, having come by coach and horseback. I can imagine the disappointment that teacher must have felt, discovering the plainness of Plato Center and its isolation from the glory that was Greece and Rome. The only choice such a teacher would have had, in order to continue with her mission, would have been to make that altogether ancient world come alive in Plato Center, like a seed sown in the soil. To succeed at such an effort would also have required her to respect the ways of this new land, just as its people respected her. A century after Latin was first taught in Plato Center, rural high schools across Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa have continued to teach Latin. And going back to the nineteenth century, there have continued to be Latin contests, much like old-fashioned spelling bees, only now pitching little towns against the suburbs and the cities. These small towns still often win, having the most dedicated Latin students. And there was a time when the best Latin teacher in the state of Illinois came from Batavia, some fifteen miles east of Plato Center. "Mica, mica parva stella." Twinkle, twinkle little star. Such was Lydia Jean Stafney's first Latin lesson in the Fall of 1958. She had replaced Miss Prior, who it was rumored had arrived to teach one morning still wearing her nightgown visibly trailing underneath her dress. How sensible it was to wear her nightclothes in the daytime, since she wouldn't have to change into them again at night. That is a sentiment many a worn-out teacher can appreciate, especially in the months of May or June. In rural Batavia, Latin was what you took if you had any ambitions to leave the town and go to college. There were four years offered in the high school: Latin I for grammar, Latin II for Caesar's Gallic Wars, Latin III and IV for Cicero and Vergil, with these last two classes mixed together in one class of five or ten. Now, I grant you, it was a language no one spoke, unless you were a monk, but no one spoke any other foreign tongues in Batavia, except for Swedish and Norwegian, which weren't offered in the schools. French was also given, but girls mostly took it. German had once been taught, until World War I made teaching it subversive. So, there we were in Latin class, assuming everyone in college had to study Latin too. First of all, there were the Adams twins, Art and Andy Adams, students of astonishingly clever intellect. Art now teaches business at the University of Louisville, while Andy finally retired from teaching Latin at Miss Stafney's alma mater. Then, of course, there was Honest Paul, who used to crib on his translations with notes inserted in the pages of his book. One day someone tripped him, as he was getting up in front of class to translate. He dropped his book, and the notes came flying out. Miss Stafney was mystified by his subsequent translation of an altogether different portion of the text, from a page he had hurredly retrieved. We called him Honest Paul thereafter. Since then he made amends and became a devoted social worker. Patty Roets became a clothing designer and Caryl Egerton a police dispatcher and rancher, Rodney Ross an archivist and Ron Leone a chemist. Pat Seaman got her Ph.D. from Texas. Another Latin student, Ralph Beck, ran for mayor of Batavia and later became the city attorney there, while Mary Holman is the one I came across again in Paris, after living in Algeria and then Japan, fluent in French, Japanese, and Arabic. She is now living in Maine, running a Middle Eastern restaurant with her Algerian husband. Terry Klopcic became a nuclear physicist working for the Defense Department. John Elwood became an engineer, subsequently a college teacher, though then all he really cared about was his apiary. I am a philosopher, having engraved myself in Miss Stafney's memory as the only student who ever volunteered to translate every single day. To make a dead language come alive requires co-operation from the students and from circumstance. Miss Stafney put it all together. For one thing there was our local chapter of the Junior Classical League, and our annual "slave auction," where upperclassmen in Latin II or III or IV would bid for freshmen novices to carry around their books, until they would be freed at our annual Spring banquet. By the time I was a senior and had accumulated sufficient capital, I spent it all on the prettiest Latin student in the freshman class. I wound up tutoring her and conjugating verbs for her. She wound up a cheerleader and ditched me for the captain of the wrestling team. But she got an "A" in freshman Latin, something I took pride in, despite a disappointed heart. To earn money for the banquet we hustled every game in town, from serving hot dogs at basketball games to decorating Homecoming floats for hire. We came in plain white togas to the banquet; it was years before designer sheets. And we came as our favorite Latin heroes: the Adams twins came as Rome's founders, Romulus and Rhemus, while I came as Cicero. It was the statewide Latin contests that fundamentally transformed our lives. As athletes trained their bodies, so we trained our minds. Yet the sense of competition was merely the incentive Miss Stafney employed to entice us after school to read books on Roman history and do endless sight translations. At one point we had memorized all the Latin mottos of the various United States, not to mention the first hundred lines of the Aeneid. Soon things escalated among those of us entered in the contests, and over one summer we began to write our own Latin compositions to each other. And as our high school basketball and baseball teams began to go Down State, so we won first place prizes in the district, regional, and statewide Latin contests. Latin prizes were our incentive, but it was what we learned in preparing for the contests that proved so important to our lives. Mental discipline, like physical prowess, only comes with exercise. Just as the aspiring basketball player spends hours every summer shooting baskets on his own, so we spent that same amount of time with vocabulary lists and Latin passages to read. It was also the first experience any of us had had in pure intellectual excitement. Study was no longer something you did for someone else, but something you did because you wanted to. Lydia Jean Stafney taught us that. Except for Kenny Anderson of the Cincinnati Bengals and Dan Issel of the NBA, most of Batavia's great athletes never left the town, and the high points of their lives were sometimes over by the time they were eighteen. With Miss Stafney's students it was different. After all, how can you keep them down on the farm, once they've read some Cicero and Vergil and been to ancient Rome, if only in their minds?

Being able to see my own potential happened fairly late in my teens and incrementally from then on.
The turning point arrived when I failed 11th grade. In the German school system that means having to redo the entire school year. I essentially let myself fail because I was completely burned out from school and suffering from what I see now to have been depression. All educational emphasize at my high school had been put on the sciences (math, physics, chemistry, biology all to a very advanced level) which had the consequence that arts, music, and sports kept getting cut more and more out of the schedules. This lopsided education numbed me until I gave up.
I'm an artist and earn my living with my art now. In retrospect it grieves me seeing how close my spirit was to throwing in the towel. The reason why I survived this dark time was because my parents, who were very worried about my mental state at that time, let me change schools.
For 11th-13th grade (Germany's "gymnasium system had at this point still 13 grades)I commuted to an all-girls school with a social science bend to it. Maybe it had also to do with it being located in a convent but for the first time I encountered two or three teachers who made me feel like I too have the smarts needed to not just make it in this world but to have a worth. I all of a sudden was in an environment in which I was able to allowed myself to believe that I am actually smart and acceptable to society. I finally felt, even though just subconsciously, addressed as a whole human being rather than just an inadequate left brain hemisphere.
I had an epiphany in German class in which my teacher, who was the most eloquent and bright woman I had encountered so far, called to our attention the simple fact that if we don't know the answer to something then we only need to grab an encyclopedia and look it up... who woul've known?! Up until that point I had always marveled at how some kids always new answers to things teachers had not yet talked about. Had they been born embedded with facts in their brains? From then on there was no stopping me.
Now, after 6 years of intense art school, I am at a point where I am living a life full of urgency and meaning lead every day by my passion.
I can't thank my soul enough for hanging in there during those dark years and for initiating my awakening.

As an art educator, it's always been a frustration to know and understand that it is the arts and the non-verbal expression that is the inter-disciplinary entity that overlaps into all subject areas. The arts give children all the criteria for creativity which has nothing to do with "drawing a straight line" by the way. The fluency of ideas, originality of ideas, ability to redefine a use for an object, the courage to try something new...is what allows someone to try out something new in math, science, literature not just visual art. These ideas were advocated by Victor Lowenfeld at Penn. State back in the 40's. They are not new ideas, but educators certainly have a way of perpetuating the very things that don't work instead of considering the wholistic view of the brain and child.
The very child, shunned in the back corner for bad behavior, would always blossom when allowed to express. Yet to this day, we still have to justify the arts which are notoriously underfunded when one considers the attitudes toward football and basketball in our time. Let the children know the arts and there will be peace in the world.

Re whale songs and elephant loves: For me, one of the most beautiful books about elephants is Romain Gary's The Roots of Heaven. I have always loved elephants and I am not only drawn to them, but I sculpt them and was in fact, looking at one of my ceramic elephants just before reading this beautiful interview on Speaking of Faith.
I did know about whales, that they communicate for a long distance but I didn't know about this about high frequency sounds and elephants. I was thinking about this very topic the other night when we had a mighty storm here on the Cape, in New England, and one could clearly hear the wind whistling. I was thinking about how animals hear sounds we do not pick up, and about the sensitivity of other antennas. We are surrounded by the souls of animals, and we are in same but different worlds of more than just sensory experience.

I would say there are so many moments that shape a life, and that we do remember some with an almost photographic kind of clarity, and the very special times do precipitate out in our lives, and these times follow us through life and do inform our lives.

For me it was a kind of epiphany that had to do with letters, as I saw the Hebrew letters made out of rainwater, shining in the moonlight, after I had attended a class in Kabbala, Jewish mysticism. This was a shared experience as I and my friend Sarah saw this together. I have never forgotten this, and as it has happened, my life seems dominated since by an increasing awareness of the words, and letters, and I feel gifted in seeing something very deep about words themselves, and how they do reflect in our lives in deep and unexpected ways.

For me, since this beautiful interview was about elephants and whales, I will say, that elephants have been a part of my life for a long long time. I am attracted to them as I have said. I found a beautiful holiday card that showed a mother and baby elephant walking by a woodland and the caption read, In Step. There is something about elephants, about how they care for each other, about a kind of humanity in adopting children who are abandoned when their parents are injured, their burial of the dead, their social structure. And then there was this terrible poaching of elephants for ivory. And I am so aware of ivory in piano keys, And for me the true key in all this is compassion, and if keys are about music, then why do we kill to create music, a creature so wonderful, so noble, so more than, human?

For me I guess life has taught many lessons about humanity and inhumanity, and maybe it was the critical events that plunged me into despair as a child, because I was so criticized by my father for so many little things. He said he wanted perfect, but nobody can be perfect. And what is, perfect? But this drew me inwards, and to go inwards is to meditate on what it is to be human, to think about identity, and for me, to be on the cutting edge of a father's criticism, as parents are for a child, so often their first gods, well, maybe this had so much to do with a burgeoning and total spirituality and questioning of what it is, to be alive, and where meaning is to be found.

I look forward to reading other submissions. I think this is such a wonderful program!

I had a sense of wonderment while listening to Katy Payne describe the music of
the whale as complex and every evolving, and her description of the feeling of
the pressures and pulsations in the air when she was with the elephants. I
could hear the emotion put forth from both the elephants and the whales in the
songs and sounds they made. It made me realize just how much there is still to
learn about not just these two creatures, but everything else that lives on
this planet with us.

In the past whenever I heard about endangered species, I thought about
poaching. In listening to Katy, it really struck home how there are many
interactions between humans and animals and many times it is unintentional
things that can cause the endangerment of a species. This is reason for us to
think about how our actions may affect the environment and other species.

I could feel Katy's respect for the human society, but even more her true love
and passion for the environment and the planet we live on. I feel that God has
put us on this earth as the dominant species, but along with this comes the
responsibility of respecting the environment and all the other animals that
share this planet with us.

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is a professor in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. He’s the author of several books, including The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker, and Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education.

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