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Hanging Around During the COVID-19 Crisis

For most of my adult life, I have been so very busy, that I’ve really not had much free time. In fact, the notion of a hobby was elusive, ridiculous, far fetched even. I’d thought that retirement would be the delicious time of life to relax, explore, try new things, and have oodles of time.

Even retirement fast becomes busy. Often too busy. Yes, I have taken up some new activities (like trying to garden; learning French, writing novels), and responsibilities (running a nonprofit as a volunteer; teaching for free). Moreover, my time got eaten up fast. And there’s still so much to do.

While we are all living through the most serious, and for certain the most widespread event of our lifetime, with all the seriousness, angst, heartbreak that it entails, there is also this curious sidebar for those of us who are not essential to anything, don’t have kids at home learning remotely, aren’t on any frontlines – we have this most curious thing – time. When doing our part to arrest this pandemic is…mostly staying home. Doing nothing in particular.

So, I am making a list of all the things I said I would do when I had the time. Because, right now, I have the time (and no excuses).

  1. Write more. No excuses. I will work on the novel I am writing.
  2. Get my Last Will and Testament updated. Found a reputable online provider, cheaper than an attorney. Law offices aren’t open anyhow.
  3. Get that “Advanced Directive” turned in. My doctor’s office has it -need to bring it along to the hospital on my next visit.
  4. Play the piano more. I feel my hands losing strength. What better way to strengthen them than scales?
  5. Get exercise. All gyms are closed of course, but there are workouts online, on television, and of course, I can also walk around my land.
  6. Study French. I’ve made time for this mostly in an ongoing way. But no excuses now not to study everyday.
  7. Photos – When I began traveling internationally, I thought I would create an album from each country or at least each trip, if I visited more than one country. Boy, did that get old fast. Albums take up a lot of space. So, when I ran out of space, I stopped that, more recently only taking pictures with my phone. Looking back into all those albums – I took such stupid pictures much of the time. Now, who cares what some medieval building looks like? What I search for is the few pictures of the people I traveled with or met while traveling.

SOO, I am pulling apart those albums. And, frightfully, some of the photos have adhered to the albums (who designed these things?). I am discarding the pictures and the pages of generic medieval street scenes, and rephotographing the pics I like with my iphone. This way, they are safely preserved somewhere. In case I want to see them later.

8. Spring cleaning is a good thing to do now. Then there’s those closets that need rearranging, culling, organizing, garages that need sweeping and hosing down- this list is long.

9. Gardening – As weather ripens and that pesky spring snow finally gives in to seasonal changes, all 5.5 acres are waiting for me, for pruning, sowing, designing, weeding – whatever.

10. It’s a good time to rediscover the ancient technology called the telephone. Yes, we can call people. We can talk. We can even Facetime, use skype, google hangout, zoom, whatever. Or, just the plain old telephone. It’s quite nice.

11. Time to try and figure out how to cut one’s own hair. Trim one’s own toenails.

12. Reading, of course. So many books, so little time. I plan to read.

I will think of things to add next time.

Keep busy. Keep hope. Keep kindness.

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Remote and Distance Learning during Covid-19: Lessons from Australia

Before there was Zoom, Microsoft teams, Go-to-meeting, Webinars, and all these exciting new tools which enable remote experiences, there was (and is) Australia – a country of large, wide spaces, very long distances between people. Some Australian ranches are larger than some U.S. States. Families live on them, and often, children are raised in these settings. Australia has been practicing distance learning long before Covid-19 came along. While I lived in Australia, I learned much about how they operate. In these models, there are ideas to meet our new demands of teaching children who may not be able to physically come to school.

In earlier times, when these far-away homes had children, instruction was accomplished with two tools – the two way radio, and the mail (and sometimes materials were delivered by airplane). Periodic packets arrived. Some learning was self-directed. Other learning required adult assistance. But a key element was the appointment each child had individually with their teacher – sometimes once every two weeks for about 30 minutes. For ranches (and actually they don’t call them ranches, but you get the idea) without electricity to the outside world, those two way radios were run by someone pedaling them.

Even when I lived in Australia in 1992, distance learning was alive and well. University (called “uni’s in local lingo) researchers were beginning to add some computer instruction in instances where families had desktop computers, and fax machines which enabled assignments and feedback to reach students more quickly than only through mail.

One of my university classes I was assigned to teach was a distance learning class (through the Burwood Campus of Deakin University). An office at the campus was dedicated to assisting with distance learning. I would prepare the packet of instructional materials for teachers seeking an advanced diploma. Those were mailed. My teacher ed students returned assignments by mail, which arrived to the distance learning office, and where I would go and collect them.

Three times during one term, teachers met in person with me for an entire Saturday. For them, it meant a long drive. A location was selected that suited most. Others had to come Friday evening and book a hotel room, and maybe stayed Saturday night as well. Each teacher had to pack all their own food, as there were no food services in even the semi-remote location where Saturday classes were held. These sessions were enjoyable, social, and packed with learning to make the most of the opportunity.

All in all, you could say these “Uni” classes were a hybrid model. They mixed remote and in-person learning.

Not all students in rural Maine have computers and internet. But they probably get mail and have telephones. Maybe even facetime, or skype, or facebook messenger on a family telephone.

Throughout this pandemic, people the world over have had to get creative and resourceful and consider other ways of doing things. That’s been one of the redeeming qualities of an otherwise dismal period of time for businesses and education. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this crisis will not be over until we are all vaccinated against this dangerous organism in our midst. SO we need to continue to innovate to do what we need to do, and to do it safely.

Any educator who wishes to discuss this with me further may leave a comment and I will respond. Perhaps a good conversation can generate idea and solutions.

Wendy C. Kasten, Ph.D.

Professor Emerita

School of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Studies – Literacy

Kent State University

wkasten@kent.edu
Belfast
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Remembering Tomie de Paola

March 1982. I was a new grad student in the Ph.D. program at the University of Arizona. I worked for Dr. Yetta M. Goodman, who would also direct my dissertation during these years (81-84). Yetta had, some years prior, initiated the Arizona Young Author’s Conference, in which hundreds of local school children, grades k-8, would come to the Tucson campus, with something they had written in hand, and meet a guest author – in this case, Tomie de Paola. I was in charge of that conference. Yetta assigned me to spend the day with Tomie prior to conference day, and take him out to the Tohono O’Odham (Papago) reservation schools for a visit. It’s a long ride there and back, and so it began a friendship.

Tomie was an entertaining and energetic guest for the Arizona Young Author’s Conference the next day. And when I left for my first professor position in 1984, and was asked by my new Dean at the University of South Florida to begin some young author’s conferences for gulf-area Florida (which became the Suncoast Young Author’s Conference), I booked Tomie as our first guest author (and a few other things over the years). I saw him now and then at events, but then, we discovered this weird sort-of family connection between us.

My uncle Anton was married to my Aunt Mildred (Aunt by marriage). Aunt Mildred was an only child, and so formed a sibling-like bond with a cousin named Kay. Kay and her husband ran an Inn in new England (was it Vermont or NH?), and happened to live next door to (and became best friends with) Flossie – Tomie’s mother!

When Kay and her husband passed away, it was Aunt Mildred who had to travel to New England to clean out Kay’s things and settle their estate. She was helped by Flossie in the process. Aunt Mildred contacted me. “I have all these books I don’t know what to do with. They’re from someone named Tomie DePaola. Do you want any of them? The neighbor says he’s quite well known.”

I replied YES I would take any or all of them, as we were friends, and I taught children’s literature, and who wouldn’t want more books by Tomie? The real gem that arrived in the package is pictured below. It was Tomie’s thesis at Pratt. He chuckled when I told him I had it. He said that was fine, he didn’t need it (there were multiple copies). Here it is.

I’ll miss him in the world. No more Strega Nona books. No more new editions of Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs. No more Christmas cards. Here is the last one!

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Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day

W.C. Kasten

WERU Radio – “Esoterica”

I am going to share something difficult to say out loud. I dread Mother’s Day. I am anxious with its approach, sad when I see all the advertising around it, and sorrowful when it arrives. My best- case scenario is getting through it, pretending it’s not happening, pretending it’s just an ordinary Sunday. It seems unlikely I’m the only one who feels this way. So, why?

First, I mourn for the baby never born – the one that miscarried in 1985. The child who never arrived to grow up and join my family.

Then, I am sad and frustrated that the special needs child I adopted and raised and worked so very hard to heal – she rarely calls. She has never called on Mother’s Day. Keeping in touch from my end is difficult because her phone numbers keep changing, and all that’s left is Facebook for contact.

But the most heart wrenching part of this day is thinking about my mother. Thinking about a decade of her slipping into oblivion as Alzheimer’s disease progressed. First losing her purse and keys and wallet daily. Then losing her sense of place and time. Like one night I called her at her Florida home and asked how she was. “Fine. I just got here, and it’s so lovely in the mountains.” (She’d been there 13 years; Florida has no mountains). Or forgetting how to use the phone. Forgetting what a birthday card it and how to read. After a visit in 2004, I wrote:

I watch her staring into space

A vacant look upon her face

Hours and hours of sitting there

Blankly lulling in her chair.

 And then, finally, forgetting me.

I will always remember the moment she forgot me. That day I wrote  a few lines in my journal.

Today my mother forgot me.

Slid away that last wee memory.

I have known this was coming for years,

But I still could not hold back the tears.

Today, my mother forgot me.

For years she was at my very core

That will not happen any more

Today, my mother forgot me.

Mom’s lost in a sea of despair

In fact, she isn’t really there

Caught in a prison of fear

With voices we can’t even hear.

Today, my mother forgot me.

So, Mother’s Day is fraught with grief, rather than gratitude;  heartache rather than happiness.

I wish I could say this gets better with time. But it does not. Once, a few years after my mother passed away, I decided to call someone I admired – the mother of a dear friend.

“I just wanted to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day,” I told Rita C., who’d already gotten flowers from her son and phone calls from both her grandchildren.

“You’re missing your mother.” She said, wisely. “And I am missing mine. Rita C. was 96 then.

I guess this will never get any better.

One Mother’s Day, my husband gave me an orchid plant. I guess he could tell I was sad. That orchid means a great deal to me. It started blooming in February. A sweet delicate thing of beauty in an otherwise gloomy winter month. It’s blooming now.

That orchid plant, in all its glory, will help me cope with another Mother’s Day.

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Petition

July 1967. Northern New Jersey, 12 miles outside of New York City. My older brother, Tom, then a high school student, had a summer job in Newark, New Jersey at Lafayette Radio. The city erupted in race-related riots to the extent that my brother was instructed to miss work and stay home for a few days. A white face could have been a target.

The New Jersey neighborhood where we lived had been mostly populated since the early twentieth century by Dutch and German immigrants, and then the children of Dutch and German immigrants. If you crossed over one major avenue in one direction, it was the Jewish neighborhood. If you were to walk past our elementary school, you had the Italian neighborhood to the right, and the Polish neighborhood to the left. So, I grew up with a fair amount of diversity, although everyone was of European ancestry.

So, I think it was the same summer, that the old couple, the Muldners, in the house next door finally passed away. Their house went on the market.  The for-sale sign went up, and people started looking at the house on Clinton Avenue.  One couple shopping for a home who looked at the Muldner’s former house was African-American. I thought it was kind of neat.  I just hoped there would be kids to play with.

So, maybe a few days later, I was at home with Dad, and the doorbell rang.  Dad got there first, but I was nosy and stepped out onto the window-lined porch behind him.  A man I had never seen before stood there, a clipboard in his hand. He began explaining that he’d started a petition to prevent anyone Black from buying that house next door to us. And, the man conjectured, we’d probably want to sign it, as these would be our neighbors. After all, having one Black family move in would invite others, and then the property values would go down, and who would want that?

What happened next had a profound influence on the rest of my life. My father said “NO.” He said it strongly. Then he gave the man a lecture about how that house next door could be purchased by anyone who had the money.  And that he, or any petition, had no say in the matter. The petitioner was quite surprised. He tried to argue. Dad would have none of it, and shut the front door on him.  I was so proud of my Dad that day.

It also made me wonder. I went to a large school, which had only white kids. Tom went to the new high school with over 3,000 kids, and they were all white. Why was that?  Dad taught in a high school in an adjacent community, and there were students of color there. Later it came to light that the realtors in the area had gotten together and formed an agreement, that they would show no houses in our city to any people of color. I felt embarrassed.

A few times in my life, I have had to stand up for something, something not everyone agreed with. Adults, not just kids exert peer pressure sometimes. I remember he also became president of his teacher’s union – twice. I remember he stood up for worker’s rights in a labor strike as a young carpenter.

The image of my father on the porch always comes to me. It calls up strength. It calls up legacy.  I am reminded that I am my father’s daughter.

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Honky Mom

Honky Mom

Most people I know did something special to commemorate the year they turned 50. My friend Joanne went to Paris, Martha went hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and Linda bought herself a Mercedes. I decided to adopt a child.  I was single, and had a very good job with flexibility, and my field meant that my knowledge of child development was extensive. Moreover, I had love to give.

I decided to stay in the public adoption arena, and because of my age, to seek a placement of an older child. After all, I did not want to be sitting at PTA meetings and dance recitals when I was on medicare. There are many children needing homes. And the majority of children awaiting adoption where I lived were African-American.  So, I ended up with a nine-year-old African-American girl named Amanda. I was Amanda’s 14th placement.

There’s much I could write about the experience of being an adoptive parent. But here, my focus is the surprises – of what it means raising a child whose ethnicity is different than mine.

First of all – hair. Hair is a big deal among African American women. “Nappy” hair is very different than my kind of brown straight hair. It requires special moisturizers and shampoos. Many African American women get regular “perms” – which means chemical straightening, relaxing tight kinky curls.

But the bigger issue was the subtle racism I saw everywhere. Where I lived, people of color were well-represented. Thus, I had no problem buying the needed hair products. My African-American colleagues and friends were only too happy to recommend their favorite brands, and sometimes even help teach me -the honky mom – how to use them.

I enrolled Amanda in ballet. She loved it. When recital time came, her class was assigned a cute frilly tutu. The tutu was meant to look strapless from a distance and so there were spaghetti straps that were – beige. Yes, light, light beige. Why don’t these things come in a few color choices? I asked myself.

For the Christmas concert at school, my daughter brought home a notice saying girls needed a back skirt, white blouse, and pantyhose. The skirt and blouse were easy. Then, I went shopping for Amanda’s first pair of pantyhose.

I have always chosen my pantyhose a shade darker than my skin. I looked through all the offerings – and every color was “beige” or “nude” or “tan.” Where were the brown-colored shades of pantyhose? Where do Black women buy their pantyhose? So, Amanda went to the school concert in pantyhose the color of wheat flour.

I had been thrilled at Christmas when the toy store had one black “Barbie” doll. Whew! Lucky, I thought. But later, when the therapist was trying to address Amanda’s many developmental delays, she asked me to assemble enough dolls to make a family – a mother, father, and children.  She’d use these in role playing family situations. So, I went shopping for a dark skinned “Ken.” There were none. The best I could do was a “Ken” with a tan – dressed in gaudy swimming trunks and holding up a surfboard. And so, I also bought a brown magic marker.

Yes, you guessed it. I sat there with a “Ken” doll and a brown marker and colored every inch of his body to make him brown.  He was a bit streaky in places, but mostly, it worked well.

It still bothers me that in a region of the country with plenty of people of color, that I had such a difficult time locating appropriate products. It seemed to me to be a subtle racism. A carelessness on the part of manufacturers. Certainly, a lack of sensitivity.

That was 20 years ago. I hope things have gotten better. At least now the internet opens up vast shopping opportunities. I hope black dolls and darker pantyhose are readily available.https://archives.weru.org/esoterica/2020/02/esoterica-2-4-20-honky-mom/

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Re-vision

Me with glasses. Saying goodbye to them!

I am over the moon happy. Today is day 2 of no-longer-needing-eyeglasses. My first cataract was removed last Tuesday. By Sunday, I noticed my glasses no longer worked. That, and noticing how colors are so much brighter ( to the point where I need sunglasses often). My glaucoma was also treated in the process, and a teeny tiny stent means that I will not need so many eye drops any time soon. My vision went from 20/80 to 20/25 in my right eye. Unbelievable!!

Monday is cataract surgery number #2! Left eye-my weaker eye. Cannot wait for more “re-vision.”

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Why I live in Maine…..

Reasons I love living in Maine…

  1. From my windows, I see no one else’s house. No other house can see me. The privacy and the quiet is aesthetically pleasing.
  2. The last time I was caught in traffic was July, 2019, and for about 10 minutes.
  3. I can eat nearly all locally produced fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats, and nearly all of them are raised organically.
  4. Even when it snows, it’s still beautiful.
  5. I lock my car doors and house doors out of habit (After all, I grew up in New Jersey), but I don’t really need to.
  6. Because it’s a smaller population, it’s easier to make changes, it’s easier to know your government officials on a first name basis, it’s easier to become involved, and to make a difference.
  7. I see the ocean just about every day. I see beauty almost everywhere I look.
  8. Prices on some things are cheaper (haircuts, car repairs, etc.)
  9. I can eat lobster pretty much any time I want to.
  10. When I go into shops, mostly someone in there recognizes me, and remembers my name.
  11. Neighbors help care for neighbors here.
  12. I see the incredible celestial heavens every clear night. It’s over a mile to the nearest street lamp.
  13. (I’ll add more later).
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The Intersection of Culture and Invention Part III

I’ve been an educator since 1973. In that time, I taught elementary children, middle school students, and teachers. Mostly teachers. Once I was in higher education, the opportunities to experience and visit different countries and cultures fed my intense curiosity about peoples of the world.

I visited 50 countries (so far). But, moreover, I visited schools in many parts of the US, but also Canada, Thailand, the Bahamas, Denmark, Sweden, China, Taiwan, Kenya, South Africa, Cuba, Italy, India, Turkey, Jamaica, Barbados, Australia, and New Zealand (so far).

Additionally, over the years, and enjoying working with international colleagues and students, I have made friendships or have mentored folks from Japan, Taiwan, Trinidad, Korea, the Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, India, South Africa, the Philippines, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Ecuador, Brazil, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.

All these experiences inform what I am about to say.

How we raise our children and young people, both in homes and in schools, matters greatly. I don’t mean just what they learn, but how they learn it. And, how the curriculum and instruction reflect the deepest and underlying values of a culture.

If you sit all your children in rows, and they are wearing the same thing (uniforms), and their hair is cut the same way, and you teach them the same things, and test the exactly the same way, and discourage dissent, disagreement, or “standing out,” then what are the chances of having a new idea? An inventive thought?

Many schools around the world believe strongly in uniforms. It’s said that it ‘equalizes” the children, economically and socially. Chuckle if you must, because it does not work. In the Bahamas, children wore the same uniform, but then they were seated by their test scores from one corner of the room all the way to the other.

I feel certain in any setting the children know their hierarchy, whether it is economic or academic. When I was in 7th grade in a large urban junior high school, we were tracked academically, using test scores. The administration had scrambled the 16 section numbers to hide the hierarchy. We’d all figured it out by the end of day 1.

If you think, in the name of fairness or equity, all children need the same lessons at the same time in the same way, then where is the room for creative thinking? Questioning? The room for invention?

If you think all students need to read the same books or stories, chosen by some “other” authority, then where is the space and the attention to “grand” conversations – one in which readers see the mirrors of themselves, and find their identities in what they read?

If the most important thing in your culture is tradition, and honoring the past, and honoring the ancestors, and fitting in, then isn’t too much emphasis on tradition an antidote to invention? Can you want something your ancestors never had? Does it dishonor them? Does it violate some dearly held ideas? Can you have a new, radical, revolutionary idea (I don’t mean like a war, but more like a cellphone or a computer)?

One summer, colleagues and I had a short conference in Denmark. The Danes were wonderful hosts and I think we loved every minute of getting to know them. We were housed in a type of school building where students board. We ate our meals in the sort of cafeteria where students ate.

We came from a long session, hungry, to find a wonderful buffet of meats, cheese, and breads. We were all Americans or Canadians. We took a plate and picked things we liked and went to a table and made ourselves sandwiches.

We were not the only folks staying in the facility and eating there. Some were local. The Danes stared at us. We didn’t know why.

Later, we learned from an American who had lived overseas, that we were not supposed to make sandwiches. We were supposed to eat those things separately, AND in a pre-determined sequence. She showed us a Danish child’s lunch box, with individual trays stacked inside a box, each for the correct part of the meal. Of course, we didn’t know.

If you have to eat your meals in a certain order and there are rules attached to how you eat (other than manners), how does this influence thinking? Invention?

Let’s mention China. I greatly respect the many Chinese colleagues I came to know in my career. We know many world inventions came from China, like silk making and gunpowder.

BUT, all those were very long ago. What sort of inventions are coming out of China since the “cultural revolution” and under Communism. What happens when during a political event, your academic elite are …..missing? How does that influence national and cultural thinking for the next century?

I believe there are indeed intersections of culture and invention. I think under closer examination, one would find that the countries with lots of inventions value diverse thinking. Value new ideas. Value positive changes. These are expressed in their systems of education. These shape the people their children become.

I would dearly love an academic conversation on this topic. It’s been on my mind for decades!

Grown-up Topics

The Intersection of Invention and Culture: Part 1 and 2 of 3

Invention and the Intersection of Culture

Part I The Question

In the early 80’s, I was a doctoral student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. As a full- time student, I was poor, and when someone offered me some extra work for pay, I jumped on it. Here was the work: Teach a 10-year-old Japanese boy to speak English.

A colleague whose spouse was a medical researcher was the source of the unusual request. A scientist from Japan was visiting UA for a year to work on some specific research. The scientist spoke reasonable English. The family took an apartment not far from where I lived, and so twice a week, I was well paid to have a 1-hour language session with a delightful young man, about 10 years old.

His mother spoke no English and had to negotiate supermarkets, packages, mail, gas bills and other stores with no English skills, so often I helped her as well.

It’s important to note there were three children in this family, my student and two younger boys. There was no talk of tutoring the younger ones. Apparently, an oldest son in birth order comes with unapologetic privileges. Oh, and did I mention I do not speak Japanese?

I did however belong to Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, a sect based in Japan. I knew plenty of Japanese speakers. I knew some Japanese words. Moreover, as a literacy and language student, I understood the principles of language learning. The field of English and a Second Language or English as a Foreign Language was not yet a reality. So, I had to figure out how to teach my student. The opportunity to apply what I knew was delicious.

I organized our sessions around play, and words that went with each situation. I started with school supplies and routines as he was attending a local school. Some days we worked outside with a ball or other sports equipment. Toy cars and toy soldiers were helpful. Sessions went well.

The Mom was trying out things she found in grocery stores. One day, she pulled me aside with a problem. She had an empty box of Jell-O in her hand. If you travel, you have learned Jell-O is a uniquely American food. So, the Mom pointed to the picture on the box, and the bowl of runny fluid in her refrigerator, noticing the picture and reality did not match. It was clear she had been sitting with her Japanese-English Dictionary translating every word of the instructions. But she could not find the meaning of the word Refrigerate, the last instruction.

How can I explain refrigerate? I mimed opening the door, putting in the bowl, pointing to a clock on the wall, showing the passing of a few hours, then opening the fridge door. I could see in her face she understood. Whew!

So, my visits continued twice a week for one school year. In the spring, the family invited me to dinner. I was allowed to bring along a Japanese friend for dinner and translation. Dinner was lovely. The Mom gave me a parting gift – a Christmas ornament made of colorful thread wound around a ball.

But the most interesting part of the dinner was the conversation with the Dad/scientist. He had lots to say. He said he’d assumed his children would be bored in American schools. He was led to believe his children would be far more advanced in math and science than U.S. children. He was still in some disbelief that this was not the case. Clearly, he’d given the topic some thought.

“My children know lots of operations and equations and formulas,” he began. But they never learned the thinking that goes with these math concepts. Here, they learned so much.” He was effusive about all this, animated in the saying of it. He continued. “I think in Japan, our students are taught to look for answers. I think in the US, students are taught to look for questions.”

I was just taking all this in, realizing the incredible compliment to Tucson Unified Schools when he said something even more stunning and which has stayed with me to this day, and has driven much of my thinking about learning.

“Have you noticed that in my country we never invent anything? We take other people’s ideas and might make it smaller or better or cheaper. But we never have a new idea! Why IS that?”

At that time, I did not know how to respond. Even now, I cannot prove his statement that there are no inventions that have come out of Japan. But what a wonderful question!

Part II

Investigating the Question

During my 30 years in higher education, I still thought about the scientist’s question: Why does his country of Japan never have a new idea? (his assertion, not mine). A few times, I tried to engage science education faculty to investigate this with me further. They all loved the idea, but had their own lines of inquiry keeping them busy.

So, I did what professors do, I assigned a graduate assistant to work on this some. I directed him to create a figure of the major inventions of the 20th century, and to add columns for the year of the invention, the name of the inventor, the birthplace of the inventor, and the country in which the inventor was living when the invention was made.

The 20th century was a busy time. Lots of inventions. We limited inventions to “major” inventions – in other words things we have all heard of, things that changed life broadly, and internationally, not just in a particular region.

Data can be terribly exciting. I sat down with the Grad Assistant and looked at the figure. Would it surprise anyone that nearly all the major inventions come out of the United States? Many originate in the armed forced with applications for war or security (like fax machines, GPS). The famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology gets credits for several. Our own Kent State University (I was teaching there) gets credit for liquid crystals. Germany gets credit for the car (Mr. Benz was the inventor), although it became more developed and available under the ingenuity of American factories and markets; Italy gets credit for the radio, although their invention did not transmit speech (An American innovation accomplished that). Russia had some wartime thing like a periscope with a different name.

So, the big question then becomes “WHY?” Why are most inventions American? By the way, many inventors were foreign born, but did their big inventing after arriving in the U.S. So, why is that????

Kent State University had a project going via our international center (The Gerald Read Center for International and Intercultural Education located in the College of Education, Health and Human Services).  They were helping some Turks create a school in Turkey with an American take on curriculum and some other things. I was one of the faculty sent over to talk about American education and why creating such a school might be a good idea.

I used the figure of the Inventions of the 20th Century in my presentation. I left it on the screen long enough for potential parents to digest it. One of them noticed and said aloud, “There is no Muslim based country on the list.” Hmm. Hadn’t thought about that. “There are no developing countries on the list.

Again -the big question….WHY NOT?

Oh, I don’t know how to post the figure here, but I will try in the 3rd part of this post, “Thinking about the question.”