Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Subject

Educators That Rock!: Ajit George

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

This week findingEducation spoke with Ajit George, director of U.S. Operations for the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project located in Edipalli, in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, India.  The boarding school was founded by his father, Abraham George. Ajit George lives in New Jersey, but frequently visits India. He has been working for the Shanti Bhavan school “on and off” for the last 14 years. He says, “It’s easy to believe in a mission, when I feel like we’re getting results.”

India’s lowest caste, the Dalits, have been historically persecuted and are often among the country’s most impoverished.  For a Dalit from the rural village, even crossing in the path of a person of a higher caste is forbidden, because of concern that the shadow of the Dalit would “contaminate” the other person. Because they are so poor, many Dalits take out loans at exorbitant interest rates from moneylenders, and as a result become trapped as indentured servants. Even in the cities, subtle discrimination against Dalits continues to exist in the workforce, where they are often relegated to menial jobs and hard labor.  The result is a cycle of unending poverty that Abraham George’s father describes in his book, “India Untouched: The Forgotten Face of Rural India.”

Enter the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, a comprehensive education program that aims to give India’s poorest children the same opportunities as their wealthier peers.

Ajit George in India.

fE:  Your father, Abraham George, began the Shanti Bhavan Children’s School in 1997. What do you think inspired him to want to help the dalit?

My father grew up in a Ghandian era. He took to heart a lot of Ghandi’s principles, including his belief in an equal society within India. After serving as an officer in the Indian military in the 1960s, he came over to the U.S., earned his doctorate, started his own company, and became a very successful businessman.  He has always been interested in the plight of the impoverished.  But it wasn’t just about helping dalits, it was more about wanting to tackle poverty within India. Depending on which standards you look at 50 to 75 percent of India lives on less than a dollar a day. During his career, he wanted there to be greater meaning to what he was doing. He always felt that money is a means to an end, but shouldn’t be the end. He was pretty happy to retire and sell his company and begin what he thought was the more important, more meaningful part of his life.

fE: On your blog, readers see stories about Halloween celebrations as well as Holi (a spring festival where people attack each other with colored sand). There are videos of traditional dances, as well as alternative rock songs. Has there been any pushback from the local community regarding the Western aspects of the school? What other challenges has your organization faced?

AG:  Initially, the village elders were really not happy with us educating the children because they were no longer going to be working for them in the fields. There was also this idea that the poor should be learning more traditional things and that we shouldn’t even bother with English. And some people worried that because my family has a Christian name—Kerala where we are from is a very Christian part of India—that we would try to convert their children. But the same people who said that were sending their children to the country’s best schools, a number of which are run by Catholics or other Christians. On top of that, while they’re saying our students should be taught only Tamil or Hindi, they’re teaching their children English. I found that hypocritical. They have the notion that India’s poor should be relegated to a living museum to preserve what India’s culture was in the past, while their own children are going forward and becoming part of a global community.

The other real major difficulty, as we’re entering a really tough period economically, is to convince people that a program like ours is worth it. People often ask, why does it cost $1,600 per child when another program asks for only $300 per child? If you wouldn’t have succeeded in your life as a professional with just a basic literacy program, how do you expect a poor child to get out of poverty with only that?  A lot of the parents of the children that we serve went through basic literacy programs or secondary education programs 20 years ago and they aren’t out of poverty now. Those programs failed their parents. I don’t ever want to see that happen with our students.

fE:  Even when students enter your school as four year-olds, the dalit in particular, must recognize that others treat them poorly. How do you build their confidence?

AG: It takes a lot of work. They have a lot of emotional, discipline and nutritional issues to work through. Even simple things like learning how to use a toilet and properly brush their teeth are new to the children. But they are able to adjust to Shanti Bhavan because of three factors: First, the intense and attentive care of house-mothers, the administration and the staff; second, the structured environment– while the children have a lot of freedom, it’s a very organized school, which gives them focus; and third, because we’ve been operating for 13 years, they have a lot of role models. The older students really help the younger children coming in.

fE: What are the criteria for choosing teachers at Shanti Bhavan?

AG: Teachers must have their bachelors in education and a degree in their specific field. Most have masters degrees. Because our school is a hybrid of Eastern and Western teachings, we can be very focused on discipline and following certain patterns. But we also try to instill some of the Western patterns of creative solutions and giving feedback. We try to find teachers who accept that balance.

We take teachers who are really understanding and empathetic, and who really want to work in a more liberal environment. Most importantly, we look for teachers who understand that almost all the children are dalit and who won’t treat them any differently than other students. We’ve fired teachers who were acting poorly towards the children because of their background.

fE:  When the first class of graduates returned to the school they were treated like such celebrities. It was fantastic! What was your response to seeing these students graduate? How did their parents respond?

AG: It was an incredibly moving moment. I saw these kids when they were four years-old and they were just tiny, beautiful rambunctious kids.  They were full of life and energy. To see all of them graduate was so powerful. I couldn’t have imagined it.  All of the struggles that have happened between now and then have really paid off.

Graduation was a three-day celebration. On the first day, they did performances with the staff and gave gifts to their teachers. On the second, we had more than 30  volunteers come back and visit. And the third day was for the parents, who were really ecstatic too. In many cases, it was the first time anyone in their family had even gone to high school. And all 14 of our graduates are going to college. (Shanti Bhavan is different from any other program in the world because it pays for children’s schooling from age four to high school and then also pays for their college education.) The children have become leaders within their families. The children’s professional success means financial security for their parents . They’re really in awe about what the future holds.
(Watch a video of graduates visiting Shanti Bhavan)

fE: Can you describe what it’s been like to see one of these students change and grow?

AG: I’ll give you two examples. We have one student whose mother had been gang-raped. Afterwards, her husband left, and the locals ostracized her.  They thought she had brought it upon herself.  The mother committed suicide by burning herself alive. Her son tried to save her, and in the process was badly burned.

He had a really rough childhood, to put it mildly. He wet the bed until he was maybe eight. But he grew into this very confident and brilliant young man.  He’s at St. Joseph’s University. I talk to him on the phone pretty regularly. And I found out that he and the others boys from Shanti Bhavan are actually now the “cool kids” at the college. Other boys from upper-class and middle-class families come to their dorms to hang out with them and to learn from them.

Another student, Sheeba, wrote about her own life very movingly in a recent newsletter. She was sold as a servant when she was very young, beaten in her first home and sexually abused by her “step-father” in her second. We weren’t sure if she could handle Shanti Bhavan. Now she is this strong-willed, defiant, young lady, who is bright and eager and full of energy.  I talked to her this morning on the phone. She says she loves college and loves where her life is going now.

* Though not yet a graduate, a twelfth grade student at Shanti Bhavan, Shilpa Raj, has also written a very moving account of her experiences there.

New York Readers: She’s The First, an organization dedicated to educating young girls around the world, will be hosting it’s anniversary soiree on November 1st. Proceeds of the event will benefit the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project.  See invitation for details.

Ajit George’s favorite sites:

She’s the First


Abraham George

Arts and Letters

Policy Innovations

Related Link Resources
The Children of Shanti Bhavan
The Shanti Bhavan Children's Project
Policy Innovations: A Chance to Dream
Charlie Rose: A Conversation About India with Abraham George

Schools Around the World: Finland

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

In 2006, Finland placed first overall out of 57 countries in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, which tests a random sample of 15-year-olds from each country. The 2006 exam emphasized science; the 2000 and 2003 PISA tests emphasized reading and math skills respectively, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

One of the primary differences between the education systems in the United States and Finland is that Finland distributes finances evenly among its schools.

“We take kids who have the least access to educational opportunities at home and we typically give them the least access to educational opportunities at school as well,” Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University professor and lead education advisor during President Obama’s presidential campaign, told Newsweek in a 2008 interview. In addition, Darling-Hammond pointed out that 22 percent of children in the U.S. live in poverty—the “highest proportion of any industrialized country.”


Related Link Resources
The CIA World Factbook
The Globe and Mail
PISA 2006 Finland
Learning First
This is Finland

Web Sites for Researching History

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

These 10 trustworthy Web sites provide detailed accounts of historical events and figures, and collections of primary source material designed to help middle and high school students research U.S. and world history.

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is a great source to find historical documents, photos, art, maps, audio and video, artifacts and other items. The American Memory section organizes items based on topics, time periods and places of American history. The World Digital Library, a cooperative project with UNESCO, includes rare documents from around the world.

National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration has a massive collection of material on U.S. history that can sometimes be overwhelming to search through. The Resources for National History Day Research page guides students on where to find material in the archives. In the Teaching With Documents section, assorted events are explained through primary documents in the archive’s collections.

Center for History and New Media

George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media has created a range of Web sites designed for the needs of students and teachers. It includes basic surveys of U.S. and world history, sites that teach students to use primary sources, and sites that provide lesson plans and ideas for teachers. It also features several Web sites of archives and exhibits.


PBS has a wide range of resources for students from its various programs. The most useful is likely the companion Web sites for the American Experience documentary series examining important events and people in American history. Each site includes resources such as descriptions of the events, biographies of key figures, primary source documents, interactive maps and transcripts of the film. Also visit the American Masters series for biographies of historical figures.

Digital History

Digital History is an online textbook that provides a chronological overview of American history. It also includes primary sources and detailed features on topics such as ethnic America, Abraham Lincoln, Reconstruction and controversial topics of today.

The Avalon Project

Yale Law School’s Avalon Project provides a database of documents such as laws, treaties, declarations, constitutions, speeches and statements from ancient history to the 21st century. Documents are organized by time period and by topic.


HistoryNet is home to more than 5,000 articles published in Weider History Group magazines, which include American History, Military History, Wild West and World War II.

Country Studies

The Country Studies/Area Handbook Series is a compilation of books written between 1986 and 1998 that details the history of more than 110 countries, dating back to the earliest settlements. It was created by U.S. Department of the Army and printed by the Library of Congress.

EyeWitness to History

EyeWitness to History features first-person accounts of prominent events in U.S. and world history, along with a simple explanation of the event’s importance.

UMKC School of Law

University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law professor Douglas Linder has compiled research pages for more than 50 of the most famous trials in history, dating back to the trial of Socrates 399 B.C. Each page includes a detailed account of the events of and leading up to the trial, court documents such as witness testimony and trial excerpts, and other primary documents such as newspaper accounts and letters.

Related Link Resources
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress: World Digital Library
Library of Congress
The National Archives
The National Archives: Resources for National History Day Research
The National Archives
Center for History and New Media
PBS: American Experience
American Masters
Digital History
Yale Law School: Avalon Project
Country Studies
Eyewitness to History
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law: Famous Trials

World’s Greatest Libraries: Past and Present

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The Library of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Explore some of the most significant libraries from the ancient and modern world, including the largest, the oldest and the most technologically advanced, as well as those with unique collections, architecture or locations.

Great Libraries of the Past

Perhaps one of the best-known libraries of ancient times is the Library of Alexandria. Founded in 228 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt, this library housed 700,000 scrolls. Many famous thinkers of the time studied or worked in the library, including the astronomers Aristarchus and Eratosthenes, the poet Callimachus, the mathematician Euclid, the scientist Herophilus and the historian Manetho. The library survived for six centuries, but slowly disappeared after a fire and numerous invasions and wars. The library was gone by 400 A.D. But after years of scholars pushing for the revival of the great library, on Oct. 16, 2002, Egypt celebrated the opening of the New Library of Alexandria, designed to rival the original.

About a hundred years after the great Library of Alexandra was formed, another great library was established. After the ruler of Egypt banned the export of papyrus (the plant used to make paper), it is thought that parchment was developed in the city of Pergamum—in modern-day Turkey—which made possible the copying of books outside of Egypt, and the development of the Library at Pergamum. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, eventually the library, along with the entire city, was turned over to Rome, and some think that its collection was given to Cleopatra to become part of the Library of Alexandria.

Predating the libraries at Pergamum and Alexandria was the Library of King Ashurbanipal at the city of Nineveh. In the 600s B.C., Ashurbanipal established a great library housing tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets. The library had many of the same characteristics of a modern library; for example texts, were organized by subject matter, government documents were also held in the library and there were citations explaining what sets of tablets and rooms contained. Eventually the library was buried during an invasion, and although Ashurbanipal’s library was not the first library, it was one of the largest of its time, and one of the first libraries to implement cataloging as we use today.


View and Listen to College Lectures Online

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

AP Photo

Looking for a way to keep your mind sharp while on summer vacation? Exercise your brain with online lectures. We’ve tracked down a few notable professors who have extended their spheres of influence beyond their classroom doors.

Physics in Action

For the visual learners among us, MIT Professor Walter Lewin takes his physics lectures to a whole new level. Each lecture he gives takes about 40 hours to prepare, and is rehearsed three times before his students ever see it. Many include complex real-life demonstrations of physics in action. In one of his signature displays, Lewin stands in front of a 33-pound wrecking ball to illustrate the principles of Hooke’s law. MIT’s OpenCourseWare site offers three complete classes’ worth of Lewin’s lectures; begin with Classic Mechanics I, taped in 1999.

MIT makes lectures and course notes freely available for more than 1,800 of its classes. Browse through all of MIT OpenCourseWare to find another professor or subject that interests you.

Life Lessons

The lessons educators teach don’t all come from textbooks—often they come from life. It became the goal of computer science professor Randy Pausch, of Carnegie Mellon University, to make that clear. Pausch, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006, shot to fame after giving a memorable “Last Lecture,” filled with advice to his students about how to achieve their dreams. He testified before Congress and was profiled by ABC. Pausch died in July 2008; his Web site is still available, and features a host of videos that include his Last Lecture and a talk about time management. “The Last Lecture” has also been published as a book.


At the University of California, Berkeley, students generally have a terrific time learning about the universe from award-winning astronomy professor Alex Filippenko. Filippenko incorporates music, props and digital technology to teach his students about concepts like changes in atomic energy levels. Audio versions of his astronomy lectures are available for free online.

Where Great Minds Think Alike (or Not)

There are many great professors out there, along with other great thinkers who thrive on imparting their knowledge to others. One site that provides videos with scholarly appeal is The site hosts an abundance of videos featuring academics and intellectuals offering opinions and ideas on subjects as diverse as religion, health, education, energy and business. Some of the many partners at include The Brookings Institution, C-SPAN and Asia Society. Whether you want to listen, read or chat with others, helps educate you about the world. offers quirky, intriguing lectures from leading lights in science, politics, technology, business and the arts. Watch video lectures from Stephen Hawking, Jill Bolte Taylor, Al Gore, Elizabeth Gilbert and more.

Educators That Rock!: Michael Ryan

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Michael Ryan is an 11th-grade English teacher at Wilsonville High School in Wilsonville, Ore. He earned his master’s degree in education at the University of Florida and has been teaching for eight years.

When it came time to cover transcendentalism in class, Ryan was looking for a way to truly engage his students and make the material relevant to their lives. The Right Action project was the perfect answer. Developed by his friend and fellow Wilsonville High teacher, Jay Rishel, the Right Action project focuses on the principles of transcendentalism and asks students to make a positive change in their lives or their world.

“The kids LOVE this project, although it’s a test for many of them,” Ryan said. “They see their lives and identities as not being static but something that they have a great deal of control over.”

fE: What aspects of transcendentalism do you cover with your class?

MR: We study Thoreau, Whitman and Emerson and focus on the three principles of the transcendentalists: Unity (”We are part and particle of God and the universe”), Inwardness (”Self-Reliance” in all its forms), and Right Action.

fE: How did the Right Action project come about?

MR: The transcendentalists believed that action was more important than contemplation. The highest form of man was one who 1) accepted oneself as you were, 2) cultivated the observational powers and talents within you, and 3) believed in the self as the highest authority—’trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string’—we know what is right and wrong for us and within us.

So as a fun project, we challenge the students to trust themselves to make a positive change. They can select something that they know needs to be changed in their lives or in their world.


Educators That Rock!: Marilyn Johnson

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Photo by Margaret Fox.

Marilyn Johnson was first introduced to libraries in high school, when she worked as a page at the Chardon Public Library in Ohio. She loved climbing into the attic to get back issues of old newspapers, but quit after being refused a nickel-an-hour raise.

Years later she wrote “This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All,” examining and extolling the unseen faces and facets of the library world, and tearing down long-held stereotypes.

“[T]he truth is, with all librarians that I meet, if you think you know what type they are, if you stand there and talk to them for a little while, they’re each spectacularly individual,” Johnson told findingEducation.

Through her profiles of missionary librarians, virtual librarians, specialist librarians, archivists and even anarchist librarians, Johnson proves not only that librarians are each one of a kind, but also that they are truly irreplaceable.

To learn more about Johnson and her work visit her Web sites: This Book Is Overdue and

fE: While researching your first book, “The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries,” you were consistently drawn to the stories of librarians and found the seed for your next book. Why librarians?

MJ: I read a ton of librarian obituaries, and every one was different. I read about a music librarian who served the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and a British librarian who helped get films online. There was also a librarian who was a sailor on the Maine coast, and she remembered people’s favorite books 50 years after they had come to her library. She was the heart and soul of her community. (Read about more of the librarian obituaries that inspired Johnson.)


Introducing SweetSearch4Me – A Search Engine Just for Me

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

This week, Dulcinea Media launched SweetSearch4Me—a search engine for students in grades K-8.

General commercial search engines aren’t designed for young learners. What may be the best search results for adults are often difficult for young users to understand. A handful of search engines for kids have been on the market for years, but most don’t do nearly enough to ensure that high-quality content written specifically for kids is easy to find.

SweetSearch4Me searches only Web sites that our staff of research experts, librarians and teachers have evaluated and approved as high-quality content appropriate for young users. Only the best sites directed at elementary school students are included, and many of the results on the first page were created exclusively for kids.

Planning to attend the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in Denver June 27-30? Visit the Yolink booth to see Mark Moran and Shannon Firth of Dulcinea Media demonstrate how SweetSearch integrates with Yolink, a “find tool” that helps you find the information you would never have found online before.

Mark and Shannon will also be previewing our SweetSearch2Day calendar product, a mash-up of all our content and the best content from around the Web that relates to each day.

We plan to spend the summer further evaluating and fine-tuning SweetSearch4Me results, and will formally release it in September 2010. In the meantime, we’d love to get your feedback. Try your own SweetSearch4Me searches and let us know what you think by e-mailing

Teachers Find Innovative Travel Opportunities

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Ithaca, N.Y., presented its fourth annual Winter Recess from Feb. 12-21, featuring discounted travel for teachers and their family members, according to Budget Travel. Winter Recess may be long gone, but there are plenty of other opportunities for educators to travel frugally this summer.

Explorica is a travel company catering to teachers. Their selection of tours, regional experts around the world, planning tools and social networking applications help ensure an immersive international (or U.S. travel) experience for teachers and their students. Explorica is affiliated with several high quality tourist organizations, including the Student Youth Travel Association and the National Tour Association.

Teachers Travel Web connects teachers around the world for bed and breakfast-style stays, home-exchanges and house-sitting posts. A yearly membership fee of about $65 is required to access listings, and any teacher, educator, trainer or counselor is eligible for membership. Teacher Travel Web was started years ago by a New Zealand couple.

In an article for Suite 101, English teacher and freelance writer Thadra Petkus offers ideas for teachers looking for ways to travel abroad. She presents summer and spring break options, and tips for saving or making money while traveling as a teacher. Hobbies, such as photography or writing, can be lucrative for traveling teachers. Teaching abroad or chaperoning student tours can help teachers finance international excursions as well.

New Orleans teems with intriguing historic sites, unique architecture, an eclectic array of museums and enough personality to keep even the most jaded student enthralled. Plan an educational tour of New Orleans, or get ideas for a field trip to the Crescent City.

Schools Around the World: Gaza

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Nasser Ishtayeh/AP
Palestinian school children walk past a Palestinian flag at half staff in the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, June 1, 2010.

Recently, Israel and Gaza have been in the headlines following Israel’s raid of ships trying to breach its blockade of the Gaza Strip, Bloomberg reports.

In 2006, the Islamic Hamas movement, regarded as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel, won parliamentary elections and overthrew the Fatah group loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel placed a blockade on Gaza the following year, and defended its decision by saying it is in “a state of armed conflict” with Hamas, Bloomberg notes.

The blockade has a tremendous impact on the daily lives of those in the region. Palestinians in Gaza must pass through checkpoints, abide by curfews and endure interrogations. For students, these “and other civil liberty violations impede access to classes as well as a conducive learning environment in them,” Stephen Lendman writes for the Palestine Chronicle. Along with items like jam, chocolate and fresh meat, writing implements, notebooks and newspapers are illegal to import, according to Lendman.