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I N G R I D . O ‘ B R I E N Learning Needs Teaching

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

If we want to prepare our nation’s young to be active, engaged citizens, we must address the failure of the education system to effectively prepare the 13 million children growing up in poverty – nearly one-fifth of our nation’s youth – for full societal participation. And we can reach them, if we are willing to do what it takes to provide our nation’s most needy students with outstanding instruction.
One month after graduating from college in 2007, I flew to San Francisco to join the ranks of Teach for America (TFA) and get trained on the essentials of teaching. Two months after that I was handed my very own second-grade bilingual classroom in East Oakland and met my 20 darling, enthusiastic, and mostly seriously below-grade-level students. My students came to me with many challenges that I had never faced during my childhood education. Half of them had had a series of substitutes for most of first grade, and as a result didn’t learn to read until the very end of the year when the school finally found a permanent teacher. A few had transferred into the bilingual program from an English-only class, whose teacher (according to veterans at my school) had generally ignored her non-English-speaking students. One student’s parents were illiterate and had no phone. Another’s father was in jail. Another lived in a one-room converted garage with three sisters, a jobless father, and a mother who takes in sewing to support her family. Many were undocumented immigrants and had no health insurance. All were low-income non-native English speakers. They have many factors stacked against them, and statistically speaking the odds of their achieving academically are not good. Of the 13 million children growing up in poverty in the United States (approximately 19% of all US children,, half will not graduate from high school. Those who do will perform, on average, at the level of eighth graders in well-off communities ( 
However, all is NOT lost for my students or those like them. While there is much controversy in the educational community about the effectiveness of TFA, there is no doubt that their foundational principle promotes an important and under-recognized truth: the achievement gap between low- and high-income students can be narrowed or even closed with good teaching. If we want to prepare our nation’s young to be active, engaged citizens, we must address the failure of the education system to reach this huge sub-population, nearly one-fifth of our nation’s youth. Addressing the myriad effects of poverty on education is a complex process that will take a long time, but we can make an immediate and far-reaching impact on achievement by addressing the role that good teaching plays in education. We need better training to create a corps of teachers who have the skills needed to minimize the achievement gap, better pay to attract the best teachers to the areas that need them most, and on-going training and support to retain great teachers in these difficult environments. 
First, teacher training, recruitment and evaluation must be based on student performance outcomes. Student achievement is the only worthwhile measure of teacher achievement. How to measure student achievement is a very controversial issue, but the refrain I heard throughout my TFA training holds true: “No one is teaching if no one is learning.” TFA has been observing and analyzing their most successful teachers for years in order to distill the teacher characteristics necessary for maximum student learning. This research has led to a document known as the Teaching as Leadership (TAL) Rubric, which is used to recruit, select, train and constantly evaluate corps members. It consists of six broad traits and 27 sub-traits that TFA has found to be present in the classrooms of virtually every classroom where low-income students are achieving: setting ambitious goals for students, investing students and their influencers, planning purposefully, executing effectively, continuously increasing effectiveness, and working relentlessly ( This sort of model (not necessarily the TAL Rubric itself) must be adopted nationwide. Teachers must be prepared and evaluated according to the proven best practices as demonstrated by student achievement, which aren’t just programs or curricula but which are mindsets and approaches to teaching. 
In addition to improving teacher effectiveness by focusing on student outcomes, a great deal more must be done to attract the best teachers to the schools that need them most – where the students are furthest behind. They can achieve, but they and their educators must work twice as hard to overcome the extra obstacles they face. These schools need teachers who go above and beyond what is traditionally required of teachers. I, and every other TFA corps member I know, regularly put in 60-70-hour weeks, more than 20 hours beyond what we are paid for, but we cannot build a sustainable education future on self-sacrificing volunteers. We need to support dedicated teachers with salaries comparable to those of business professionals who put in a similar number of hours. It must be worth the while of excellent teachers to stay where the work is most challenging but most necessary. 
Which brings me to my third recommendation: teachers, particularly in low-income schools, must get more support in order to reduce teacher turnover. In 2006 the National Education Association reported that 50% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. According to a study released in 2007 by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, “so many teachers leaving the profession creates a self-perpetuating cycle of failure in some school systems, as a lack of experienced mentors and a sink-or-swim environment lead to trouble in the classroom and demoralization” (Nelson Hernandez, “Teacher Turnover Costs Systems Millions, Study Projects,” Washington Post, 21 June 2007). The first years of teaching are extremely challenging and often demoralizing, particularly when students perform at several years below grade level. Had I not been provided the constant technical and moral support of my TFA advisors and, in particular, a corps of peers going through the same experience, I might not be able to sustain the energy necessary to stay in teaching. To keep teachers in low-income schools, they need regular one-on-one mentoring from master teachers that includes frequent opportunities for both parties to observe each other teaching. Furthermore, they need the opportunity to participate in formal social and professional networks of teachers in similar schools, and not just through required credentialing classes. Both of these things have been invaluable in helping me and my fellow corps members stick with teaching in the face of great challenges. 
In sum, if we as a country are willing to invest in what it takes for all children, even the most disadvantaged, to receive outstanding instruction, then we will be well on the path to preparing our children for the challenge and opportunities of 21st Century citizenship. 
Article by Ingrid O’Brien, Teacher
Ingrid O’Brien grew up in suburban Chicago and attended Brown University, where she concentrated in Development Studies. She recently began her second year with Teach for America ( ). She teaches second grade in a bilingual Spanish-English classroom in East Oakland.

A R T H U R . Z A J O N C We Need an Educational Philosophy Fit For Human Beings

Reprinted from GREEN MONEY JOURNAL winter08/09

The educational imagination of one age is simultaneously a foreshadowing of the society we will live within a generation later. An impoverished educational imagination will inevitably lead to a diminished human society and an abused planet. In his essay “The Loss of the University,” Wendell Berry said that the goal of higher education is, “…not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of human culture.”Berry is right; the human being in the fullest and most comprehensive sense should be in our minds and hearts when we take up the high task of education, and We must seek to educate the whole miraculous human being for the sake of the individual, society, and our planet. 

While specific pedagogical interventions and strategies are important, of urgent significance now is a coherent and encompassing view – an educational philosophy. 

The three dimensions of an educational philosophy of education originate in an understanding of child development and age appropriate curriculum. An understanding that is holistic and multi-dimensional. An understanding that cultivates social and self-responsibility.
1. Understand child development at different ages. 

  • Acquire rich, expansive understandings of the children we teach and the world in which they live. We need to embrace and elucidate the multi-dimensional nature of both ourselves and our world – body, mind, and spirit. Our education needs to address each with a pedagogy that is as rich and varied as our own nature, engaging all aspects of the student: head, heart, and hands. It should be an embodied learning that moves the soul and speaks to the highest spiritual ideals.To educate the whole human being requires teachers who teach out of their full humanity. We teach who we are as well as our subject matter. 

2. Teach the whole child. 

  • Cultivate all capacities in our students for knowing and creating. If we and the world have several aspects, we should not expect a single mode of exploration and understanding to be sufficient. Rather to each domain of nature and to each level of our own being, we should craft a nuanced means of inquiry suited to that realm. Specifically, of equal importance to the scientific method, which is so well-developed, we should recognize the crucial place of contemplative forms of inquiry. They lead from humility and a gentle engagement to a full and intimate participation in that which we would understand. As Goethe wrote, through a participatory epistemology we make ourselves “utterly identical with the object thereby becoming true theory.” He was pointing to the truth that we only genuinely understand that which we love. Such deep connections shape us, transform us so we become more insightful. “Every object, well-contemplated, opens a new organ in us,” said Goethe. Living patiently yet energetically with real questions allows time for the changes required in us that enable us to live our way into the answer, to paraphrase Rilke. 

3. Foster free will and social responsibility 

  • Foster values that balance individual freedom with an ethic of compassionate concern and social commitment. The third aspect of an adequate educational philosophy concerns the practice of life. With a full appreciation of body, mind, and spirit, and with multiple ways of knowing, we must contribute to society and the planet in ways that are of greatest benefit. As students become more self-aware and cosmopolitan, the strictures of their childhood fall away and the new basis for values is sometimes slow to appear. If we would shun a fundamentalist return to blind obedience to religious dictates or social customs, then we need to locate the source of a free ethical understanding and action. Here again a partial and reductive view of the human being can offer nothing, and we are left with a sophisticated but ultimately empty nihilism. However, the fuller view we advanced at the outset is one that embraces the body, mind, and spirit of our students, ourselves, and our world. This opens up the possibility for the ethical refinement of our moral sensibilities such that genuine moral insight becomes available to the individual. And yet, it also honors and serves human culture in all its diversity within a complex, contemporary global community. 

With this view of our full humanity, we can cultivate a knowing that becomes love, and an active, compassionate, and inclusive ethic that honors both individual and community. Our education can and should support such development. 

Article by Arthur Zajonc, Chair, Physic Department, Amherst College 
Arthur Zajonc partners with Parker Palmer on his next book about the future of higher education; he directs the Academic Program at the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society 
More information at

What needs to be "reformed" about education?

According to TIME magazine, Barack Obama “has to choose sides” on school reform.  He, according to TIME, has to choose between being an ally of the “teacher’s unions” or aligned with “school reform”.  Is it really true that choosing between soft and tough is the Obama administration’s only choice? For 15 different views on what is possible for children and young people in schools, read the special Winter 08/09 issue of the Green Money Journal, “Whole Mind Education: A New Paradigm”. 

Final Post from Bioneers 2008


Mike Sommer, founder of the Mainstream Media Project (MMP): “Bringing New Voices and Views to the Airwaves” ,does not think small. He moderated a panel, “Resilience Thinking as a Social Idea”, to explore how just changing the way we look at a problem will show us it’s not actually a problem but a stimulus for more realized work-arounds and a more enlightened socety.

The physical foundation for the spiritual quality, “resilience”, thank goodness, comes already built-in to our brain. “Neuroplasticity” is our mind/brain’s natural way of repairing itself.

Panel Conversation Gist: How can we design systems … health care, education, agriculture … that can cope with CHANGE … especially nasty change?

PANELIST: Marty J. Anderies on three spiritual practices of the resilient person and social system:

  1. TRUST. Trust reduces the transaction cost.
  2. STRICT EQUALITY. No one is below me. No one is above me. No one.
  3. RESPECT. Being before action. [“We teach who we are”, “Be the change you want to see in the world”, etc.]

A system gets pushed and reacts in scripted ways and then becomes toxic; a new, resilient, unscripted response brings a “flip”, a reversal and a new, resilient system is born.

“Resilience” means “adaptive”, “learning”, “maintain functionality in the face of shock”, “learning from disturbance”, “able to hold many different configurations; not clinging to one fixed point”.

With the global climate and the global economy going off the rails – and government worldwide – running to catch up – who is ahead of the curve? Civil society. And we empower ourselves with the inner practice of “resilience”.

Civil Society = Resilience as Inner Practice” = Innovators for Social Good

For more on this topic: RESILIENCE2008 :recent global conference on resilience in Stockholm asking: “How do we apply the resilience of nature to human systems?”

[[[What are the implications of holistic thinking (“resilience”) on the systemic re-design of the educational system?]]]

Kenny Ausubel’s funny: “Whenever I am stressed I realize I’ve been consulting with my old friend, Ben. Ben D. Over.”

Naomi Klein’s Book: The Shock Doctorine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. You can order a DVD of Naomi’s 25 minute talk at Bioneers 2008 here:

Some of what she said:

Not giving you a line of bad news. Good news for a change. If you are part of a movement to change the planet and human culture then there are worse things that can happen than waking up to finding out you now own Goldman Sachs and Citibank.

Bush is the Extortionist-in-Chief. Toxic debts got moved from Wall Street to Washington. If you think government is part of the problem, not the solution, this screws with that idea. [On the other hand, if you have [the idea that the state can’t do anything to solve our problems then that idea is blown up too. That was the good news.

The bad news is the way they are rescuing the banks. Let us look at the fine print. These are bad deals and they don’t have to be. Bad things happen under cover of crisis. We are living in dog years. They have not abandoned Plan A. Its a partial-nationalization. We still have the Haliburton/Blackwater economy. They are nationalizing the debts of this partnership.

And, we can still keep government from becoming a hedge fund. Keep up the pressure. They have outsourced Washington to Wall Street. The public has all the risk and none of the control. That’s what we need to talk to our candidates about. Still.

It has to go deeper than CEO pay. What do we mean by prosperity and value? This is the opportunity right now. This is a sweet deal for the banks. Its up to us to make it a sweet deal for us by investing in infrastructure, green building, green energy, health care … [[[and education]]]. We need to put the idea of privatization on trial. Market-based solutions tell us our dreams are unaffordable.

This is a moment of possibility. Barack Obama is a centrist. So what do we do? We MOVE the Center!!

SLOW MONEY: “Follow the SLOW MONEY: Patient Capital & Local Living Economies”, Moderated by Don Shaffer of RSF Finance.

PANELIST: Woody Tasch

Ours is a quest to create an economic system based on patient money. Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money. We have formed a new NGO called Slow Money

Investors Circle, “Patient Capital for a Sustainable Future” a network of investors. We supply risk capital to “triple bottom line” companies. We are dedicated to sustainability.

[We’ve seen that, economically, we] can’t get to the bottom from top. We need to start at places and build up to markets. [We are working on a] model of what a slow money portfolio would look like. Thousands of investors investing in hundreds of small local food producers. [[[To end the strip mining of children’s minds … also invest in slow, small, patient schools?]]]

We need to not be afraid right now to design an alternative system. ~ Woody Tasch has an article, “Cultivating Growth With Slow Money”, in the November 2008 Ode Magazine

PANELIST: Michael Shuman

We have to take ourselves seriosly. The world really needs us now. The solution to all our crises is localization. Banking, food, energy [[[education]]]. Good news is we know how to do community banking – less involved in predatory crap of globals. Bad news, too small. Half our private economy is small local business and none have investments supporting them. Localization is desirable and possible with just a little tweaking of the system.

MODERATOR: Don Shaffer, RSF Social Finance

We are in the midst of a historic financial crisis. The core problem is that the financial system today is complex, opaque and anonymous and basesd on short term outcomes.
We need it to be direct transparent and personal. We need an alternative financial system for those things that can be produced and consumed locally like food. We need more money circulating locally and based on human connections rather than money circulating the globe.

[[[First, slow, patient, local food … Then, slow, patient, local money … Next, … slow, patient, local schools …]]]

… couldn’t stay for the end of the panel … had to catch plane home … end of my Bioneers 2008!

Most Amazing Flash and Awe

My Bioneers 2008, continued:

Speaker introducing DUKE LANKARD asks all "indigenous" in the audience to wave and whoop. Hey, me thinks, aren't we ALL indigenous? So I wave and whoop.

Dune Lankard (red-zone?) started life as an Alaska fisherman and is an Ashoka Fellow (com?) And a TIME "Heroes of the Planet" for his solution to preserving the land and animals in Alaska's Copper River Delta after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Today he works to design a new charter for corporations:
Non-profit + for-profit = for-social profit.

Best part of his story: after Exxon/Valdez he realizes he has to DO SOMETHING (sue corporations, etc.), become a "formless warrior" and "voice of reason" and he had never spoken publicly. He went to the top of a mountain with a pencil and a blank piece of paper to ask his Ancestors to dictate his speech. Up there for hours and saw many Signs: an eagle, provocative clouds. Finally sensed the message was coming and ready to take notes. And the message was: "Your talk is already written on that blank piece of paper. "

David Orr:

Biggest laugh:

"God put coal in the ground for a reason and she wants us to leave it there!"

Main point:

National security? Security Military Security vs Climate Security. Even many in the national security sector see need for an Iraq-scale investment in clean energy. And it shouldn't be "clean" coal.

Missing Point:

Yes to his suggestions to change our schools:

1. Civic education- No diploma w/o understanding Constitution and Bill of Rights
2. Ecoliteracy- No diploma w/o understanding how ecology works

And I suggest:

3. ChildLiteracy – No diploma without understanding childhood.


Standardized tests are failure addicts. Must keep feeding the machine failure – "failing" children – to justify their existence.


Bill McKibben

"I no longer think, I just act. "

"The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward justice "

Annie Leonard ("The Story of Stuff")

Her talk, short version:

We have a major flaw in how society is designed. "Story of Stuff" based on a talk she gave and someone asked her to put it on the internet. 4 million views so far.

Goal: take a complex problem and make it simple.

2 problems:

*Too much – volume
*Too toxic – incompatible with environmental systems

Happiness per person is declining. After a point more stuff is toxic.

We are an Economic, Political and Cultural society. [This Bioneers, many presenters use a "threefolded" concept of society I notice.]

We gotta bust through the Capitalism vs Socialism debate.

Google "No Impact Man."

Why I do what I do:

1. We're trashing the planet.
2. We're trashing each other.
3. We're not even having fun.

Recycling is good AND it doesn't solve or get to core of problem.

The problems are systemic. Structural. Yes, do individual things. Grow own food. Recycle. AND … Also be aware you're just getting better at swimming upstream against the problem.

Flex our citizen muscle. Our consumer part is stroked. Our citizen muscle has atrophied. And change the fundamental structure of our democracy.
We need to change the rules of the game. A radio from Borneo costs $4??

Look at the problem as a system, not just individual acts.

Some baby steps in the right direction just perpetuate the system. Just greenwashing.

[Heart leaping hearing her say it so clear and simple. Applies to educational system as well as to trash. We need to reverse the flow of the river, not just pack them a healthier lunch as we watch their boats capsize.]

"Perfect is another word for evil."

Voluntary Simplicity movement good but not commensurate with the scale of the problem.

How can this change when our economy is based on consuming?

A good question. Anybody got an answer?

Check out "Greensumption" on YouTube

"Thrift is the new black."



Book: Social Intelligence. Contains stuff like when we feel empathy the same part of our brain lights up as the part that is lit up in the brain of the suffering person you're listening to.

"We are light years ahead of our political leaders." – 27 year old environmental activist.

Our aim is to fall in love with each other again. To fall in love again, give up being right.

Perfection and timeline = the story of white people.

Just showing up is all that's required. Messy is good.


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Uncle Sam Wants YOU 2 B a Trickster

Sparks flung from comedian/astrologer/trickster CAROLINE CASEY; her book: Making the Gods Work for You.

It's the Trickster that liberates us from the ConMan.

Time to mend our broken treaties with Creation.

When things are overwhelming just move one stone. And the stones that volunteer carry half their weight.

I look at the weeds showing up at my house and I see what's showing up to heal me.

The small man builds prisons everywhere. The magic woman throws keys everywhere.

Welcome, Compasssionate Tricksters Everywhere, listening to humorless pragmatists everywhere. Welcome back the most misunderstood, most exiled, most reviled part of you. Put it on your magician's worktable and work with societys Wolves and Cayotes. And the Antelope is OK with all of it.

We're not being kidnapped, we're being helped.

In our backpack we have our original tools. Call in your Trickster from exile.

Spiritual ettiquette says "Cooperate with everything. Operators are standing by. "

Low pain threshold people say "I don't need any help" and their lot is martyrdom, expectation, disappointment.

Trickster and Maverick will have the opposite meaning on Election Day.

Science and Religion need each other. All Scientists are Mystics.

Either mystical thought is true, in which case its the only way to live, or its not true, and its still the only way to live.

When you abdicate your own authority you should be afraid.

"Maverick" comes from the Maverick family in Texas that didn't brand their cattle and if you saw and an unbranded cow you knew it was a "Maverick".

Does our manner of relating serve Tyranny or Freedom?

Who wants the ring of power?

Kingdom w/o "g" is kindom.

We're electing a desirable story.
The Full Moon of Oct 14 was the gateway to the garden of all desired things.

The only safety in the face of danger is to run toward it.

Alan Watts: "No sense clinging to the rocks that are falling with you."

Now, apply everything to life. No splendid solitude safe from you-name-it.

Everything is speaking to us, even cable news brought to you by erectile dysfunction. Empire dysfunction. If your Empire lasts more than 2000 years call for help. All Empire requires slaves.

In 2008 the bills came due: government, economy, infrastructure.

Power and Point. In your magic backpack you have PowerPoint. The power of story. Power of language is really crucial.
Jeherazad tells 1000 stories to bring the wounded heart alive again.

What does Trickster do when things are going down? Point toes and say "woo-hoo! Do the ride again!"

Both words mean "against the stars"

To reract to anything is not free. Cultivate a repertire of imaginative of responses.

Fairy Tale. Ist Sibing: chosen. 2nd Sibling: special. Third sibling: Unique. Our is the Fairy Tale of the 3rd Sibling.

Don't focus on "why" you want it. That's just beating the drum for what is. No Tantrum Yoga! Intend, fulfill. What do you want to feel like? Make yourself into a vibrational match for what you want to manifest.

Tyranny is not Wildness. Wild animals are very disciplined. No staying up late watching reruns.

Trickster turns the mirror into a window.

Complicity is not shame or blame. Just be aware that we are complicit with Tyranny and we can withdraw complicity from it.

Modern consciousness is a portable prison. We are watching ourselves watching ourselves. Freedom and Wildness is not watching ourselves and being intimate again.

Look at what's missing from the mainstream party. The economic meltdown is an Awakening of the 60's sleeper cells – all the economists who were young in the 60's are now in their 60's and waking up from their sleep and to the dreams of their youth.
We want everyone to have a soft landing. Even the tyrants. Bush and Cheney will take up knitting and weaving in the underworlds.

Nature is the model of leadership. Wolves don't operate on Dominance but Charisma. Its the calmness that attracts.

What we're voting for on Nov 4th is the end of Empire.

Obama is inviting the soul of this country. See him living well into his 90's as an elder statesman.

The monstrous feminine and the war hero, together bring about the end of Empire.

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Burning Questions

My first full day at Bioneers 2008:

For some reason I listened to Nina Simons' opening words on the vision motivating her to start Bioneers 19 years ago. "We noticed all the biological solutions to our environmental challenges that already exist. If only people knew each other and each others' work!" She didn't say … and we wanted to build a movement. No, just for people to get to know each other and each other's work. They orchestrated the meetup. The music came on its own.

The tone here is learning, not preaching. Burning with other's burning question. Nina also said ours is the "AGE of BIOLOGY". Learning about and from the interconnected web of life." Summed up, Bioneers are Pioneers with manners.
Notable from Paul Stamets, the mushroom guy
He's a rock star at Bioneers. People roar at sight of his mushroom-fabric hat. I believe the rules are speakers have to give 100% new talks each time, and he just shows that little piece of live fungi growing at lightning speed and the audience goes bananas. Life! Before our very eyes!! Who would reign in the ain't-biology-amazing guy at Bioneers??

#1: "Nature builds on its successes."
#2: "Organic networks are indestructible. They have catastrophic immunity. Because when something goes wrong and interferes with the growth of the fungal network, IT FORKS".

Catastrophic immunity! Isn't language as good as chocolate?
Paul of course compared the indestructible, ever-forking nature of fungal networking with the internet which operates organically just like that.

Applying this to human social systems, I see, from this that standardization cuts a system off from self-healing. It kills adapting and forking.

#3: "Toxins in earth as great a danger toxic as runoff to rivers, lakes, and ocean."

Applied to human system: The earth with a healthy network of fungi supports plant growth. No fungal network and its a desert. The mind with a healthy network of neurons, grows intelligence. A mind of sparse neurons is a desert. And Bruce Perry (or com)tells us that criticism, emotional distance and a chaotic lifestyle melts holes into the growing brain. Neuroplasticity (catastrophic immunity because the brain, too, forks!) can save the day later, and why not a neuron-friendly lifestyle?
RANDOM QUOTES from Oscar Miro-Quesada, Peruvian curandero and master ceremonialist:

Answering questions on healing the self and society from the audience:

"Anything becomes medicine if you listen with soul. "

"The first move to shift a stuck person is to, with full compassion, allow them the freedom to stay stuck."

"To change society do acts of public urban art. The city is a museum space. Call them exhibitions and give it a name."

"To overcome fear, tell, hear stories of childbirth. Our culture is being born."


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