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  • Elliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF "Are you with me now? 03.25.22

It will take 200 years to close the racial wealth gap. You got a minute?

Our BPLiving work sessions this week were getting us ready for the big role we will play at Big Bang. The sessions included the development of materials that will be distributed to schools and community-based organizations throughout the year that will ignite meaningful change personally, in schools, families, and communities.

Early evening on Monday Danique was great as the guest speaker at the BPLiving College Unbound Course. He got everyone thinking about the social determinants of health from personal to community to systemic. We discussed issues of access, insurance, and wealth disparities. Not to mention the government's complicity in setting artificially low prices for some of the most disease-promoting foods. My hope is that this CU group becomes a force in bringing BPLving to Providence Schools and to College Unbound.

My writing continues on a chapter in Shirley Chisholm’s book. When Shirley Chisholm entered as a new Congresswoman she was largely ignored. Her response:

“If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

This quote holds some extra meaning for us given that A Seat at the Table is a podcast of BPLiving and HEAL. In doing BPLiving work in schools and community-based organizations, we are going to have to bring our folding chairs. It is not easy changing behaviors and cultures when the mega marketing of food and drugs in the media makes it hard to discriminate what is the true story and what is being sold. Danique made reference in his talk to a large billboard located right when you cross the Willis Avenue Bridge from Harlem to The Bronx for Newport cigarettes stating: “Newport Alive with Pleasure!”

Note: the subliminal neon sign stating “I Love New York” and the Newport swoosh (their spinnaker) on the bottom right corner of the pack.


Deep Learning Is Hitting A Wall

This headline by Gary Marcus a scientist, best-selling author, and entrepreneur isn’t about the Deeper Learning conference we will be presenting at this week. Rather it is about a controversy in science about the other Deep Learning that is an initiative focused on whether computers are able to do what humans do and replace them. Right now, deep learning is far from a reality. The parallels to Deeper Learning being in a similar position to Deep Learning is around human vs mechanistic/algorithmic. Why do the principles of what we call “deeper learning” violate the principles of being learner-centered? First, there are predetermined outcomes that are decided by the school, not the students. These are Mastering Core Academic Content, Thinking Critically and Solving Complex Problems, and Developing Academic Mindsets. Next, it appears deeper learning is only about working collaboratively and not working alone. Then, there is an assumption about communication, where the outcomes measured by the school are judged almost exclusively by a written test or a verbal performance. Tacit, tactile, and visual senses open up access to young people who use these skills to learn but they are largely excluded in Deeper Learning. Furthermore, there is an assumption by schools that children can’t figure out how to learn and have to be instructed in learning how to learn. The opposite is observable almost immediately when children are learning naturally.

While schools struggle mightily to engage students, our children are engaged by the natural pull of things they are interested in. While schools deal with sets outcomes and narratives with foregone conclusions, in the world outside of school, youth deal with improvised and open-ended outcomes that are often created by students. Schools are in-charge of competencies and outcomes; Outside of school, youth make their own decisions in an in-the-moment environment—that’s agency. Schools are certain; the world at large is uncertain, filled with surprise and mystery. We are all deeply engaged when we have just the right amount of challenge and repetition. So much of school has either too much repetition without challenge or too much challenge without repetition. The result is boredom or low self-esteem for many students. My hope is that one day soon we have an open and honest debate about Deeper Learning. I’m game.

This week Anthonette, Beth, and Charlie, The ABC Team converged on Providence and Newport to work with youth at FabX as they learn how to develop the role of co-navigator and bring B-U into the culture of FabX. As it turns out by the end of the 2nd day things kicked in and the how and what of the work was way more apparent and defined. Keeping things simple is always a key when entering someone else’s space.


Speaking of Space…..

After meeting Richard Culatta at SxSW, I read his book, Digital for Good and I found loads of ways we need to work smarter. One thing mentioned by Richard that I was surprised I hadn’t heard about was Ray Oldenbary’s 1989 book, The Great Good Places – Third Spaces – Home and Work and Third Spaces. These third spaces make us feel comfortable and are part of our communities. They include coffee shops, barbershops, parks, and libraries but they also include digital spaces. This is where the lines can blur where we at BPL encourage youth to get online to go offline. In other words, we are making sites that live in the third space both digitally and in the real world whereas most spaces live in either one or the other. In addition, there’s another reference in Richard’s book, Eli Pariser – Creating Effective Community Spaces made me think that we are creating hybrid spaces that are both online and offline. Three things he notes to look at: the functionality of the space, quality of the space, and the people who take ownership

When we blur the lines of offline/online as situated learning we are challenging how we learn most effectively in the context of where we learn something.

A few other key phrases in Richard’s book:

Appreciative inquiry - Make changes around what you are doing right, not what you are doing wrong.

Persuasive Architecture - Children can’t tell what part of the website is an advertisement and which isn’t. A negative effect is increasing childhood obesity.

Cognitive research has shown that we learn most effectively where we are taught in the context of where we will use the knowledge. This is what we and others call situated learning. What we learn in school we will use most effectively in school. Duh!

Google is a replacement for intimate discussions we once had with God.

While in St. John I found a new mentor for the Harbor Freight Fellows program, Ryan. Ryan is a well-seasoned master electrician For a number of reasons, there is a shortage of skilled tradespeople on the island. HFF might be a really good way to help turn this around.

Carlos, Andrew, and I are getting ready to do a co-facilitated activity at ASU GSV with the LEGO Foundation on assessment and equity. We will be using the LEGO Duck as part of the activity. I’m modifying David Gersten’s quote a bit here to remind us all about a big difference in assessment -

“Don’t make a model to show something, make a model to see something.”

Also, Pam and I met with both the Sec General of the International YMCA and the Executive Director of YMCA USA about B-Unbound. It was a good start to a conversation around youth leadership. We are following up. And, Anthonette and I met with long-time friend of Anthonette’s, Patti Curtis from STEMNext in DC. Patti was really helpful and supportive of our work. She’s making loads of connections that have the potential to lead to lots of work for B-U.

Finally, while I was at church with Darlene’s family on St John, Father Anthony (originally from Trinidad) delivered a great talk on breadfruit and survival. It turns out that every family on the islands plants a breadfruit tree. He said “You can eat breadfruit with fish. You can breadfruit with meat. You can eat breadfruit with other vegetables or you can eat breadfruit with breadfruit. It produces year-round, has a high nutritional value, and will keep you alive.” You never know where the BPLiving piece kicks in.

Be well


Elliot Washor

Co-Founder of Big Picture Learning

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