Home > Uncategorized > High Hopes for Exhibition Tomorrow

High Hopes for Exhibition Tomorrow

For the last three months, students in my 9th grade World Literature course have been working on a big project.  They’ve used wikis, Google docs, and Moodle; they’ve interviewed adults and collaborated with peers; they’ve

map of world

Blue pins indicate immigrants profiled by current students; red pins are from 2011.

written thank you notes and profiles; and now they’ve planned an exhibition to share it all.  Tonight I’m excited and nervous to see how many people will come and how they will respond to the students’ work.

Here’s the wiki site, and below are the remarks I’m planning to give.  (I’ve been obsessing about them all day).

[Immediately before this, there will be a couple of readings by students: a passage from Things Fall Apart about the encounter between Europeans and Africans, and a dialog between Caliban and Miranda in The Tempest.]

As you can see, encounters with the archetypal “Other” have generated some of the central conflicts in works we study.  But that same kind of encounter has created beautiful, new possibilities, too—many of which are being lived out by people in this room.  And I’m one of them.  Though I grew up in Durham and attended Durham Academy, my husband Pakis is from Greece.  He immigrated on a fiancé visa 27 years ago.   

We all know that connections between disparate peoples are more and more routine in today’s world.  Business, science, the arts, war and diplomacy—all are shaped by global interactions that used to occur only at the top levels of society and government, and now occur at every level.  Immigrants have been called “living links” between countries, and we are here today to celebrate those links and to join them as a school community. 

One of my favorite quotations on this subject comes from a former secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan of Ghana.  In his acceptance Speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, he said, “We recognize… that mutual respect allows us to study and learn from other cultures; that we gain strength by combining the foreign with the familiar.”   I put that quotation on my syllabus, and here’s how I explain its connection to our course:  we stand here in our school, and together we look out across the world, and literature extends our view so that we see into an Indian town called Malgudi and a Nigerian village called Umuofia and the modern Iranian city of Teheran.  As we get to  know those places, we imaginatively locate ourselves in them and begin to look back to our own place.  Learning about the foreign helps us see the familiar through different eyes.  This flexibility and perspective-taking is at the heart of successful interactions with the Other.

This kind of learning is never finished, and one of the privileges of teaching is to keep developing oneself.   This year I am participating in a U.S. State Department program called Teachers for Global Classrooms.  I want to tell you just a little about it because it’s taxpayer funded – thank you for your contributions – and because I’m charged with sharing it as broadly as possible. 

Last fall, I participated in an eight week online course about the theory and pedagogy of globalizing learning.  After years of implementing Moodle in my classes and teaching teachers to use it, I was on the other side—and there were no face-to-face meetings in which to ask questions.  I discovered that digital learning environments are a lot more confusing when I’m not the one in charge!  But I found my way, and I got to collaborate online with 67 colleagues from around the country.  In February, I met them at a symposium in Washington.  All of us are going on two-week country visits to one of six different countries.  Teams have already gone to Ghana and Morocco, one is in Ukraine now, and others will go to Brazil, India, and Indonesia.  I leave June 30 for India. 

I don’t have details yet, but I know I’ll be in Bangalore with the whole travel cohort (12 American teachers plus State Department coordinator) for several days at the beginning.  Then I’ll travel with an Indian host teacher to spend 10 days at his or her school.  I’m hoping to stay in the country an extra week or so after the program ends.  And next fall, there will be one last symposium in Washington at which all the program participants will get together.

During this program, I’m creating a resource guide for Durham Academy and keeping a blog about my experience.  I feel lucky, in a way, to have been assigned to a summer travel group—it’s hard to imagine going overseas for two weeks in the middle of the semester.  On the other hand, I’m a little wistful because my colleagues who are doing that are able to share so much more of their experience.   They field questions from students and administrators on their blogs, they post pictures, and they’ll return to communities that are surely busy but must be curious to hear their stories.  I don’t know if any of you will be thinking about Ms. Bessias in India on July 2 or 4 or 10, but there will be blog posts to the full extent that internet service allows, and I thought I’d show you my blog here.  You’ll recognize the name and yes, the current post is about you!

In closing, I want to add my thanks to the immigrants who participated in this project.  You have enriched the students’ experience in ways I never could.  And I also want to thank the sophomores who helped create this project last year and came here today to support the current students.  And parents, I know this took effort on your part—providing transportation for interviews, food for today, time to lend your presence and support to this event.  I hope you feel proud of the work your children have done.

The profiles on the wiki will remain visible to the public.  I invite you to peruse them and share the site with others; there are little address cards for you to take with you.  We’d love to get your comments on this effort.  I’m not fishing for complements or criticism, though we’re open to those.  The biggest thrill would be reflections, additions, suggestions—substantive responses to what’s been done.  And if there’s anything that should be changed on the wiki site, just speak to a student.  Any of them can make changes anywhere in the web site.

I think one of the gains in all this is a rich set of conversation starters.  I’m confident that many, many conversations will grow out of this work, and now the students are eager to share some food and introduce family members and immigrants and guests to each other.  Instead of a guest book for today’s exhibition, we created this banner that hope everyone here will sign.  It will be the memento of this experience, and we’ll hang in the classroom for the rest of the year.  Thank you all for being here today.

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