03 November 2016

Where's the Hope?: Innovation in Education

Focus talk given on 6th October 2016
—Jan Rosenberg

My journey as a teacher began in 1978, when I was a reading tutor in a public school in Hartford, Ct. All of my students came from one of the poorest housing projects in an economically challenged city. Two years later I moved to Maynard MA. From then until my retirement in 2009, I worked in the field of special education within public middle and high schools in high socio-economic status communities. Since retirement I have been a long-term substitute teacher, and an ESL tutor in Lowell. I also taught two summer sessions of the reading program at the Boston Arts Academy, remediating reading skills with rising tenth and eleventh graders.

At the outset I would like to state my core beliefs. First, robust public education, while a challenging project, is essential to democracy. Strong teachers’ unions support, rather than harm, quality education. Teaching again has to be made viable as a profession and as an entrĂ©e into the middle class. Finally, I believe that the underlying inequities of our society have to be addressed. Generally speaking, poor students have less opportunity for a high quality education that those living in high SES communities. It has been over fifty years since the War on Poverty and Civil Rights Movement, and yet, according to a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, “school segregation has become even worse in recent decades. A report by the US Government Accountability Office earlier this year found that the percentage of public schools with high concentrations of poor and black and Hispanic students has nearly doubled since 2000.”

In my view the two most significant and large-scale drivers of change in education over the last two decades have been the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and the voucher/charter school/corporate reform movements. NCLB demanded greater accountability via yearly tests of student achievement in the areas of reading and math as determined by each state. If the required improvements were not made each year, schools, were punished with decreased funding, and ultimately, by state takeover. Because absolute, not relative improvement was sought, schools were labeled as failing even if improvements in performance had been made. Having had students enter high school with minimal reading, writing, or math skills, I can say that I strongly believe in accountability around student learning. However, as a full participant during those years, my observation was that the testing regime contributed to increased anxiety for both teachers and students, impacted negatively the amount of time devoted to learning, and increased “teaching to the test”. On the other hand, I observed a principal-led initiative around writing responses to open-ended questions that was easily actionable, and which made a significant difference both in school culture and in the student performance of that school on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), which is a yearly assessment given to a random group of students that predated NCLB. By 2015 so much criticism of No Child Left Behind had accumulated from across the political spectrum, that Congress took away the national features and replaced it with the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in December 2015. ESSA limits the role of the federal government, but continues to require annual testing between third and eighth grades.

The second driver of change has been the voucher/charter school/corporate reform movement. While its history is very long and complex, it has roots both as a parent-led movement to increase options and successful educational experiences for their children, and as a libertarian free-market economy belief in a profit-based education system in which resources are controlled by private entities rather than locally-based and publicly elected school boards. Therein lies the problem! This cause has been taken up by the Koch Brothers and their related network as well as other billionaires, like the Walton family. Public schools and teachers are to them, examples of how regulation does not work. While we have many excellent charter schools in Massachusetts, we also have Question #2 on our November ballots. If approved, this would lift the cap on charter schools, and divert, over time, greater amounts of money from the public schools, as well as removing local decision- making from the school districts with regard to any new charters.  So, what else is wrong with this picture? More charters essentially leave the problem of inequity in access to quality education untouched. Charter schools can choose their students in a way that leaves out the neediest. In addition, national experience with charter schools indicate that without greater oversight and transparency, charters are vulnerable to corruption and fraud. Finally, the effectiveness of charters has not been demonstrated in a consistent manner.

So what has happened to educators as a result of these two large drivers of change? Working conditions have deteriorated, and it has become more difficult to not only recruit, but to hold on to excellent teacher candidates who might have entered the field. Schools and teachers have been told to do more with less AND score higher on tests. Teachers have been demonized; there has been a very active campaign to eliminate tenure and procedural safeguards for teachers in conflict with their administrators. In fact, there has been an active campaign to deprofessionalize teaching, placing inadequately trained people into classrooms. Emphasis has shifted from qualitative to quantitative evaluation systems, with punitive rather than collaborative consequences, akin to the punitive responses to insufficient growth on NCLB scores. Inadequate resources for the support of students with learning needs and mental health issues continue to be the norm rather than the exception. At the same time teachers have been confronted by increasingly complex students with learning needs, mental health issues, and language challenges in their classrooms. Corporate reformers are also pushing online monitoring of student performance and universal data collection, as well as personalized teaching via digital device – another way to eliminate teachers!

So where’s the hope in education? I see hope in a number of corners. As a special educator, I see hope in the growing research base on addressing dyslexia, specifically when and how. There is no need, if we choose to make resources available, for students to suffer through k-12 without knowing how to read. Similarly, I see growing improvements and sophistication in how to work with students on the autism spectrum, including how to transition such students to the worlds of work and higher education. I also see great hope in the Massachusetts initiative to create trauma-sensitive schools, which has the potential to impact a large number of students. Yet another source of hope for education includes such programs as CARE for teachers, or Cultivating Awareness and Resilience for Educators. It is a unique program “designed to help teachers reduce stress and enliven their teaching by promoting awareness, presence, compassion, reflection, and inspiration- the inner resources they need to help students flourish socially, emotionally, and academically”. Hope also lies in the many teacher-led initiatives to improve the quality of curriculum, pedagogy, and delivery of services, about which one rarely hears.

Ultimately, hope lies in an informed citizenry, committed teachers who are respected and well-paid, and in the students themselves, who are very much worth fighting for.


16 October 2016

Halloween — Pumpkin Carving Instructions

A piece of American culture, for those who have never participated before.

You will need
 your pumpkin (I bought one for $5, but prices vary) – larger pumpkins are easier to carve. Mine is about 12 inches or 30 cm diameter. (A little bigger is a lot heavier.)
 old newspaper to work on
  a kitchen knife with a long sturdy blade to cut the lid, and a large strong spoon to scoop the seeds and pulp from inside and to thin the walls (1 inch or 2.5cm is ideal). Hold the spoon by its bowl to get better control while scooping, and avoid bending the handle!
 a serrated pumpkin saw for cutting through the flesh and skin. You can find them at at CVS, Target, or a grocery store (individually or as part of a set) for approximately 2-5$. The alternative is a thin serrated knife or a steak knife. The serrated saw or knife is the most important thing. The scoop from a set is also useful.  For example:
 some large ziplock bags or large yoghurt containers for your pumpkin seeds and flesh (which is not very edible) if you want to keep them.
 some old supermarket bags for the discarded bits of pumpkin and soggy newspaper.
 some patterns, or you can do your own design
 some push pins to transfer the patterns to the pumpkins
 some tea candles to light your pumpkin.

Here are some basic instructions:

Place the pumpkin on newspaper for easy cleanup.
Cut a circle around the stem of the pumpkin, using a knife with a long sturdy blade. Leave a large enough hole to easily insert your hand. (Make the cut at an angle to keep the top from falling through when you place it back on.) Use a back and forth sawing motion to cut through the tough skin and thick flesh. It is possible to break a knife if you are not careful.

Use a large spoon, holding it by the bowl, to scrape out the pulp and seeds and to thin the walls to about an inch (2.5cm).  Cleaning and thinning can be messy.           

Don't throw out the seeds if you want to roast them.
Before making that first cut of the jack-o'-lantern's face, study all sides of the pumpkin to find the smoothest side.
This year, for the first time ever, some creature (a squirrel?) has been nibbling at my pumpkin.  I'll have to make sure my design cuts out those places.
Draw the design on a piece of paper or print out a jack-o'-lantern carving stencil.
Tape the paper to the pumpkin, then transfer the design onto the pumpkin by punching through the paper into the pumpkin flesh with a large nail or a push pin.
With your pumpkin saw, or a sharp serrated knife, cut out the design using the punched holes as a guide. Remove the cut-out pieces by pushing them out from the inside of the pumpkin.
The finished result is ready to be lit on that most eerie of nights!  

When you light the candle inside the pumpkin, remove or tilt the lid to allow the hot air to escape.  
(Who knows, if you place your lit pumpkin outside your door as night begins to fall, you might answer a knock to some ghouls and goblins, or spiderman and a fairy princess, who can only be appeased with Halloween candy!  But unfortunately not in the era of covid.)

Preserving the cut pumpkin until Halloween
Unfortunately pumpkins rot, and much faster when they have been cut, so delay cutting until as late as possible.
If you cannot find room in your refrigerator, try to keep your pumpkin outside in the cooler air.
Vaseline (petroleum jelly) smeared over the cut surfaces will slow down the rotting.

Cooking the seeds:
Rinse the seeds, removing pulp with your fingers. Drain, spread out and allow to dry overnight.  The picture shows the final rinse of the seeds in a bowl of water.
Bake seeds about one hour at 250F on oiled oven tray, tossing every 15-20 mins, until golden brown.
Microwave: Heat a tablespoon of oil in a suitable baking dish for 30 seconds. Add seeds, toss to coat with oil and spread over bottom of dish. Cook on high for 7 to 8 minutes until golden brown. Stir every two minutes and watch closely.

When they are cooked you can eat the seeds with the shell, which is quite tough. Shelling them is slow work but the seeds will be more palatable.

09 June 2016


—A message from Lindsa

The Watertown library is hosting a showing of the film SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’S ANGRY, by Mary Dore and Nancy Kennedy.  The date is June 22, a Wednesday evening, with screening and discussion.  The tag line for the film is: “a dive into 2nd wave feminism”.


13 April 2016


Karen Voght, Wellness, Inc.
Good morning! Thank you inviting me to speak about The Body in Motion, and for this opportunity to share my passion for bringing wellness skills to children early on in their lives ...through their ABCs.

I'd like to 1st introduce you to my esteemed colleagues. This is Adam and Eve, the first human bipeds who needed to adapt to earth's pull of gravity on their new 'upright posture' and freed-up hands and feet. And this is Valkyrie, a NASA Robot in training. When they heard I'd be speaking to Women Explore, about bodies in motion, they asked to form a panel. They'd been wanting to practice for CSPAN, so they gave me their script and assigned me the role of interviewer! (BTW, they apologize for their lack of attire, but we thought it best for you to see their body's inner support network of muscles, and why they need to keep them in balanced and in good working order for the inner and outer wellbeing of our species)
They understand that biped muscles are designed to behave like faithful soldiers who non-judgmentally 'repeat directions' sent to them by physical, imagined, and artificially generated stimulations. This includes encrypted language codes, which, as sensori-motor representations, get programmed into their body's automatic responses systems ...just at different levels of awareness. What originally conditions them will retrigger their memory recall.
The process of language encryption begins in utero. This altered the way bi-pedal children began developing motor memory differently than when their parents communicated primarily through body language. With alphabetically linguistic mothers, children's muscles began to respond to the sounds of their mother's phonemes in the 7th month in utero. A different muscle responds to each phoneme (sort of like the keys on a piano). No two children will respond to the same phonemes with the same muscles, and each will have a slightly different time pace. It appears that children produce similar motor responses to similar human and simulated speech sounds: NOTE: Studies done on babies' mothers show that replacing a mute mother's lack of voice by a tape recording placed on her womb in the last trimester would enable the baby to incorporate those primary sounds of language (*Condon, W. )
This research made us wonder how today's world, increasingly filled with the artificial sounds of machine-produced languages, might possibly have the potential to alter the very 'nature' of a child's ability to RESPOND to the early sounds of his or her own 'mother'. As Natural language processing technology has become the holy grail of companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, etc., we began to question how alphabet-related technologies might be increasingly influencing the wellbeing of a biped child's life as well. It is these questions, and our concern over the increased impact corporate profiteering is having on the wellbeing of our society, and the future of our children, that has the panel in a quandary, and what we would like to explore with you today:
ADAM would like to start by sharing his concern. ...A long time ago, he detected that the direction his and Eve's lives took 'seemed' to have been scripted by the very first copy of a Biblical Story, published by the new Guttenberg Printing Press, that allowed it to be 'economically marketed' to people worldwide ...the remote source of its words unknown and unverifiable (containing only 1st names and mostly unconfirmable dates). In that story we were driven out of Paradise for eating an APPLE, and cast into a frightening, yet fascinating world of wild UNKNOWNS, with the need to forage for food, and find protection as the first human 'bipeds' subject to earth's pull of gravity on our muscles. As facilitators and organizers of increasingly flexible body's movements, supporters of upright postures, and recorders of the impact our new heel-toe ergonomics would have on mapping the GPS of our brains, we learned ways to move, survive, and flourished in nature's environments as nomads, hunters, gatherers, and agriculturalists, through the cooperative power of our smart bodies, brains,& imaginations. Ubiquitous Alphabet writing and reading tools, however had begun to forever change the STORIES of our lives.
EVE ... lately we feel as though we are being rescripted into a more modern day STORY version of The Land Of Oz In The Age Of Digital Machines. Ironically, it is also a time where yet a bite of another APPLE again seems to be becoming a big source of societal change! We understand that the way the mobility of our bodies maps our immobile brains determines what type of a life we live. But these day's our muscles feel quite underappreciated, afraid they can't keep up with the pace of change, and concerned they may soon be unemployable!
You see, generations of over-dependency on fine-motor, audio-visually taught alphabet education for the masses slowly diminished our body's need to move to communicate ... displacing the rich information acquired by our other bodily senses (why Shakespeare may have become so famous); increasing toxic stress buildup; and altering our capacity to sense natural vs synthetic pheromones (the scent of a human, etc), to touch and comfort, perspire and inspire, to explore, invent, rest and emote, and even the way we reproduce. Increased lack of our X-lateral, bipedal body movements led to progressively sedentary and domesticated lifestyles ... changing O2-CO2 ratios/heart strength, blood flows, unevenly balanced right - left brain mapping, foresight and ability to plan, to modulate our emotions, and to maintain the pull of gravity's force on the larger muscles of our hips, legs, pelvic and spinal regions. But most important has become the loss of our capacity to detect truth and generate predictability in an age where a universal communication tool for the masses can instantaneously edit and rescript a user's reality from a distance, along with their user's capacities for movement that is
fundamentally vital to maintaining body health and wellbeing on planet earth.
“Today’s brain is a consequence, not a precursor of symbolic language. Language can change our response
system faster than evolution changes our genes”. T. Deacon, Author, The Symbolic Species.
ADAM ALPHABET TOOLS EXPANDED into alphabet keyboard finger-typing tools; computers; internets; smart phones; chat rooms, emails, texts, blogs, touch screens, and software ...endless forms of upper body, fine-motor communication devices. Soon, it seemed that, with the right tools, anything or anyBODY could be photo shopped into or out of a story's appeal and intent. TV, Disney movies, and online games altered our brain's synaptic threshold levels with larger than life, colors, sounds and actions of fantastical characters to levels unable to have been previously perceive by our bodies.
Artificially enhanced levels of perception began to make mere mortals (earthlings) appear insignificant, especially as movies combined overloads of simulated auditory 'noises' which foster a state of disassociated hearing that weakens connections between words and pictures.
Eve & Adam requested to bring this to your attention as they now see a societal pattern that is increasingly impacting our youth, namely, the speeding up of fine-motor eye tracking movements while physically disconnecting the body's larger motor movements through the ubiquitous use of screen technologies. Reading and listening skills become disrupted as pop up adds, scrolling texts, dubbing, and digital news trackers on screens take our eyes and ears in different directions that do not always synchronize voice messaging with the images seen on the screen. The ubiquity of such devices increases peer pressure to fit in. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of industries are being spawned that market stories which capitalize on levels of societal anxieties, and then develop products to 'comfort and heal'.
EVE Today, governments, corporations and educational institutes increasingly employ DIGITALLY ALPHABETIZED STORY TELLING to market their products. We live in an increasingly convoluted world where fear sells. Their stories incorporate language elements of fear and comfort to capture their buying audience's attention. Incorporating our muscularized bodies into their storylines has even led to corporations now being legitimized as real people by the supreme court.
ADAM & EVE SAMPLES of this duplicitous marketing strategy abound:
Where would cosmetic companies, Insurance companies, and Legal systems be if we were not increasingly bombarded by constant advertising stories preying on our vulnerable natures?
Facebook's thumbs-up logo now connects all our bodies with only one digit on our hand. (Facebook dependency)Their bodiless Emoji are increasingly replacing language as part of our younger culture's internet communications. Even China markets are now looking into creating a common bodiless language of emoji with Facebook. Do they ever wonder how a child in utero will learn the phonemes of that language?
GOOGLE rebranded to ALPHABET (a brand word every child world wide will readily recognize!) Yet warns those that use AdBlockers will not be allowed to use their Search engine.
APPLE claims to protect privacy while it tracks and records each stroke we TYPE with, and designs Siri, their natural language processing assistant, to be a universal voice that also tracks our locations and inquiries ... all while inserting terms of service that overwhelm any mere mortals capacity to read or interpret.
Political campaigns create stories/ Big tech investing creates stories
Media chooses which stories to air that will constrict our muscles and hype up our adrenaline. Military/Wars/gun manufacturers all have a story: ISIS vs over-domesticated, sedentarily bred and educated citizenry. One and all is able to advertise their wares on Facebook as the number of internet searches (clicks) and purchases generate markets and income for their cause.
Surveillance technologies abound: ( http://www.buzzfeed.com/peteraldhous/spies-in-the- skies?ncid=newsltushpmg00000003 ) What if there is a typo error or a similar address spelling!
BIG PHARM repeatedly speed product side-effect warnings across their TV screen commercials: Do they miss any part of our bodies that can't get diseased?
Health ethics cannot keep up with the speed of changes to our bodies and brains from precision medicine, neuro technologies, and computerization of medicine.
Spam and bots provide huge numbers of CLICKS that help prioritize Social Media marketing messages.

Space stories help our bodies escape to the moon and other planets only suitable for robots, while we watch real children & their families on planet EARTH experience the largest migration since World war ll. Religions have always communicated through the power of stories _____________________________________________________________________________________ VALKYRIE HOW WILL OUR CHILDREN LEARN TO MOVE? Babies muscles are magical as gravity has not yet taken over. But commercial enterprises take over earlier and earlier as they learn the value of entraining kids' muscles to use fake money charge cards ... turning them into trained consumers as soon as their little digits and eye muscles adapt to fine-motor accuracy tracking skills. Earth parents and educators can't compete with digital fantasticality and its impact on youths' addiction to fiction. Fantasticality has replaced humanitality. Who among us is safe from being written into a STORY and STORED at some unknown Corporate data bank in the cloud. And now, they've learned that Neuro tissue has the ability, if you punch/type in information to it, it will take you to your goal! Heaven help us if there is a neuro-typo Spellchecker doesn't catch!!
Yes we are well on the way to becoming a new hybrid earth species. But, as an astronaut robot, I do wonder how future earth children will learn to move as space stories increasingly excite and incite their muscles and their minds for life in space only suitable for a robot (0 gravity in Space alters emotional capacities), especially now that Astronaut Scott Kelly, upon return from one year in space, lets us know about the eye, bone density, emotionalities, and muscle atrophy risks of space ..AND that his feet don't get to touch ground and foster the benefits of X-laterality in micro gravity environments.
1. It looks like we may have been seduced again by an APPLE to put too much trust into an increasingly universal alphabet writing tool held in the palm of our hands!
2. OR, is it that original sense of warmth, comfort, nurturance, and freedom from gravity in the mother's womb that causes us muscles to seek gravity-free space adventures?
3. OR, or is it the calm feeling Alpha Waves trigger when our eyes look up toward the heavens that frees us from the constant Beta Wave activity of our eyes darting from left to right to read all of those alphabetically encrypted stories!
Thank you for exploring this quandary with us today.
  1. As stories can fake-out our interior motor responses and feelings that exhaust and damage, as
    well as enhance our immune systems, ask yourselves 'Whose lips, hips, and fingertips your own words are moving when YOU speak/read/write/teach/learn/self-talk/imagine/dream/and tell secrets or tall tales!
  2. Be sure to ALPHABETIZE lots of kindness and caring into your words.
  3. OR, at the minimum, GET THEE TO AN ALPHABET PT !(http://www.alphabetfitness.org)
    ©2016. Wellness, Inc.

01 April 2016

About Karen Voght

On Thursday 31st March 2016 WomenExplore was privileged to hear a "panel discussion" presented by Karen Voght, Founder/CEO Wellness, Inc., MA/WA,  Global Health Through the ABCs www.alphabetfitness.org on the topic of "The Body in Motion", a part of the Spring 2016 lecture series on the theme "Caring for Ourselves... Caring for the World...  Creating a Healthy and Meaningful Life from the Inside Out".

Karen Voght is a Long Island - raised child; transplanted to W. Hartford, CT for her adolescence; a Graduate of Psychology; and the co-author of the original Child-care Licensing Laws for the State of CT, Maternal & Child Health Care Div.  She became a successful entrepreneurial Real Estate developer in Wrentham, MA while raising 2 very entertaining children; and has spent the last portion of her life applying her love of research and innovation to generating stress prevention tools for young children to help them grow up healthy, happy and well.  She became the founder/CEO of Wellness, Inc., and her creative tool of choice became the alphabet! 

         Karen had done a large amount of testing her program's concept developments with inner city YMCA preschool programs - primarily Hispanic 4-5 year olds - and discovered that many inner city impoverished areas did not have the wherewithall to expose their children to the potential for wonderful imagination, so she set out to find possible causes. Those causes narrowed down to an excess of life stressors within families and communities;  lack of natural play and active body movement due to unsafe neighborhoods;  and lack of healthy adult role models (parents and educators).

         Being aware of the imagination's need for rich sensory stimulations and fully cross-lateralized body movements Karen set out to redesign the 26 letters of the alphabet (a learning tool learned by all children) into Alphabet Fitness Fonts to activate children's bodies while they were learning the fundamentals of alphabet communication skills!  Her typable font character would become the children's literacy and fitness coaches.  Chimp Shakespeare's ABCs taught the 3-4 yr. olds alphabet yoga-like workouts, and Akiddo Kids font taught body language communication to the older children.  Miss Spells was saved for smaller groups of just girls (like in the Democratic Republic of Congo's all-girls school)  She even designed the first Alphabet Fitness Puzzles with her Chimp fonts for Chimp Sanctuary fundraisers, and a special Miss Spells' Boston Herald Puzzle edition for literacy..  Please feel free to find tons more at the Alphabet Fitness website: www.alphabetfitness.org.  Many free downloads are there for you, your children and grandchildren to exercise their bodies along with their classmates and playmates; brothers, sisters, and cousins; parents, grandparents, and educators too!

         As Karen is concerned about corporate profiteering on the future of our children’s wellbeing, she'd like to EXPLORE the topic of her talk today: "JUST WHO IS MOVING OUR LIPS, HIPS, AND FINGERTIPS IN THE DIGITAL AGE?"!