Cross-disciplinary Education for Global Economy

I was having another quiet morning digesting educational research in preparation to resume writing my dissertation. This morning I was reading Loli Arnaut’s description of her Amara Berri project.  I was trying to understand how news of the "success" of the Amara Berri project was spreading and individual teachers were inte­rpreting, adopting and adapting what they thought the Amara Berri project was. Practically all, six out of seven first grade classrooms visited were incorporat­ing elements from the Amara Berri project trying to introduce its "winning formula."  I was lost amidst my field experience and struggling to find the words and connections to my dissertation a voice in the back of my head asked: How are you going to apply this? What is the Amara Berri project to you? How am I going to sum it up? What am I going to do with this knowledge? How am I going to put this into action? How is this going to apply to anything else outside of the Basque Country?"

The questions had progressed from a distant third person perspective asking others, sifting through memories of research, to a third person asking myself. I then embarked on a brief tangent as I asked explored answers to these questions. This is when I crafted a vision for Cross-disciplinary Education for Global Economy program. The idea pulls from experiences beyond the Basque Country and sought to apply lessons learned to problems at hand. The problem I was contemplating was how to introduce reform and revitalize the public education system without creating havoc.

In this state of open musing and free flowin­g ideas, I found myself reviewing the swiss home economic school course I participated in when I was 18. It was a 3 week home economics course that was standard of all schools. In these 3 weeks not only did the students feel like they were being given a vacation but we also left behind patterns of socialization that had embedded our education and learning experienced. It was a liberating exercise that allowed us to listen more carefully to what we were being taught in this new and vastly different context. The assumed roles of academic success and failure were left behind and it seemed that students had a blank slate on which to redefine their own relationship to the educational experience at hand. This was not school, not math class, not reading and writing, this was something else. The content was focused on traditional swiss cooking and household management. We learned about how different stains were removed and how detergents in waste water were impacting the environment.  What my presence in a new school had not achieved in 7 months was suddenly accomplished in this "break" from normal school. I can trace back to these 3 weeks the sudden change in my relationship with peers and the beginning of lasting friendships.

How does the Home Economics course relate to the Amara Berri program? The theory and methodology brings in the Basque pedagogy of Loli Arnaut’s 30 year Amara Berri project.  Arnaut’s approach to systemic education dividing the school into activity areas that echo society at large: a store, a printing press, a radio station, a baking/cooking facility, and all throughout bring in through "play" and "acting" the relevant subject matters of traditional education: language skills, math, science, social studies. In the Swiss case students broke free from their academic structured interaction and went a new place away from home to do something completely different. End result students were all made keenly aware of the interplay between home economics and the environment and the evolution of practices and regulations regarding the use of natural resources. 

With the basque and swiss experience in mind I asked myself, "how can these philosophies and experiences serve Puerto Rico? Do they have a solution to our problems in education? When discussing the education system in Puerto Rico the talk quickly turns to the academic equivalent of slash and burn agriculture. In slash and burn agriculture there is a sudden and shortlived benefit to burning the soil and planting a new. There is a short term enrichment and disposition for growing a crop. Problems arise in the long term. Slash and burn is not a sustainable agricultural development plan. In education the challenge is how to start anew without  causing more despair and crisis. Charter schools is one way to go about reform while sidestepping educational reform in the public school system.. These have been used in many US districts as a way to circumvent systemic reform of a public school system by creating alternative schools with different rules of the game.  I personally think charter schools are an attractive way to introduce competition and success into a failing public education system.  But I still am searching for a way to make change accessible to all and not just to those who find a spot in a charter school.  That is where the program for Cross-disciplinary Education for Global Economy came in to view. I envision this program as a tool or strategy be designed that does not require creating a new school or engaging a battle to dramatically reform education. 

Cross-disciplinary Education for Global Economy programs would serve students in two grades: second and seventh.  Schools would take turns sending their classes to the program. The program could be designed for a 2 week program where students are bussed into the centers away from their schools and communities to a new environment.  Though the swiss home ec. course has the advantage of having lodging included, lodging would likely present a stumbling block to enabling the program.  In this time students would be organized in different small groups and go through a curriculum that focuses on industry (product creation), commercialization (stores, distribution), media and marketing, and community relations. Math, science, social studies and language skills would be developed for each activity area.  The aim at the end of the two weeks would be to ground in global and economic relevance the ongoing academic of our children.

This is not unrelated to my current  project with a local baked goods company. I am developing for them educational materials that complement education. The program aims to integrate values, math, science, social studies in an activity hour that has its central unifying tool a story. From this story work sheets, activities and games are drawn out. The entire "class" provides at least an hour’s worth of "edutainment."  Teachers receive, with no extra cost but rather only by amassing proofs of purchase, a "lesson in a box". The box is mailed to the teacher with the story, a lesson plan that includes comments from a clinical psychologist and references to educational research topics,  30 activity notebooks (one for each student), and any other hand outs or copies needed to complete the lesson plan.

Well, Cross-disciplinary Education for Global Economy program idea jotted down… now back to my dissertation.