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Who Tells the Stories? Who Benefits from the Stories? Who is Missing from the Stories?

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

Ann Fyfield’s 6th grade humanities class centers on these three key questions as they explore the world from ancient civilizations through modern notions of gender. Eight of her students reflect here on their year of learning, posed with the selfies they took for their unit on gender studies.

Aarushi

I loved the unit on ancient India. You can see from the past how they made great advances and made us who we are. . . . We can change the course of history. If a woman doesn’t fit a stereotype, she’s not accepted into society and is put into a box. Men are in a box, too, but it’s bigger. When we put up this wall of selfies, we put girls under “strength” and boys under “beauty.” But if we separated it by gender, which is who you are in your mind and not your body, it would be turned around and look different.
 

Kean

I originally thought history was boring and bland. With Ann, I find it more fascinating. She lets you state your opinions, and brings in creativity and interactive activities. Our project with imaginary civilizations made me really understand that civilizations aren’t black and white and are not at all simple. Our gender groups are a great place to talk about sexism and LGBT people. We can talk a lot more when we’re with our own gender. Stereotypes do not define who we are.
 

 

Samma

I never thought before about the fact that we’ve had no woman president, although half the people in the U.S. are women. . . . . Learning about the people who lived before us and the stuff that isn’t here now interests me.
 

Eamon

We talk a lot in class about social justice and gender issues. There’s an ancient Greek ideal, arête. It combines beauty and strength. The Greeks didn’t care about gender equality, but they still thought women could be strong. I like the recitation I did from Socrates’ Apologia. The meaning was that no one knows anything until they realize they don’t know that much.
 

Emma

We watched a video about beauty and how you perceive yourself. It’s a problem that people try to look a certain way, and maybe not eat. If you change the way you think about yourself you can change everything. Ann’s class is the most creative of my Middle School classes. One of my favorite things in her class was at the beginning of the year, when we interviewed someone in class and learned something about them. It made us feel like people cared about us, and the new kids got to meet somebody. . . . Middle School is different from Lower School because everything has higher stakes. You can’t turn in something that isn’t good, and you have to put in 105 percent to do your best.
 

James and Britt

James: We studied gender stereotypes in Ann’s class to see if gender affects learning. We were separated into boys’ and girls’ groups. I learned that most legends and myths are written by men or based on ideas from men.
 
Britt: I was surprised by girls’ stereotypes about boys. . . . I also liked the ancient civilizations project. My group studied Egypt and had to write an essay and do research. I chose to research the kingdoms, and James did the dynasties.
 
James: We made a video, with a green screen and fancy lights, and wrote the scripts.
 
Britt: Right now we’re inviting people to an imaginary dinner. I researched and invited Black Elk, Cornel West, St. Marcella, and Pericles.
 
James: We wrote about why these people merited invitations, and some were famous and some we hadn’t heard of. I invited Demosthenes, Chief Seattle, Ralph Waldo Emerson, César Chávez, and Jimmy Carter.
 

Ramya

One of Ann’s projects that made me think was the creation of an imaginary culture: how would I want a civilization to be? My partner and I made it powered by women, and it intrigued me. . . . If women were treated as equally as men, what would the world be like? I hope we have a woman president soon. A parent named Jason Stevens came and talked to us about ancient Greece. We found out that their culture was similar to ours right now because men overpower women and have more rights. When I’m an adult I want to make a difference, even if a small one, to advance my community and make it better.

What Does it Mean to Thrive?

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Third graders go beyond the tap, studying water from local to global

From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Katie Boehnlein

The aim of the social studies curriculum in the Lower School has long been to engage students in the world through meaningful questioning and research. In 1st grade, students are introduced to big ideas such as community, family, and courage, moving on to study forests in 2nd grade, discover the depth of water issues in 3rd grade, simulate immigration in 4th grade, and research the food system in 5th grade. Social studies, by nature an interdisciplinary subject, teaches students writing and research skills as well as how to ask good questions about the world. And at Catlin Gabel, students are curious, Herb Jahncke and Marcelle Donehower’s 3rd grade classrooms being no exception. At the beginning of the school year, Herb and Marcelle pose an over– arching question to their students that guides much of their studies all year: “What does it mean to thrive?”
 
Throughout the year, the students identify what helps them succeed as learners as well as study what is essential for their communities to flourish. They anchor this study through the lens of our greatest resource: water. Over the course of their 3rd grade year, Herb and Marcelle’s students will discover the origins of their drinking water and expand their awareness of how water is used around the world. Walking into their classroom reveals an excited buzz of activity and learning. Some students are hard at work on individual computers editing stories, some meet in small groups with teachers, others sit in quiet corners, reading. The walls are lined with class projects, from math conjectures, to a map of Oregon showing its watersheds, to reports about marine animals, to class guidelines written inside rain drops. From the soft cushions overlooking the Catlin Gabel woods to a poster recording daily campus temperature, the classroom is a laboratory, rich with discovery.
 
Herb Jahncke has taught at CG since 2007 and was joined by Marcelle Donehower in 2012. They both have backgrounds in environmental education: Herb as an outdoor educator in Jamaica, Virginia, and on Catalina Island, and Marcelle in the West Linn/Wilsonville School District and at Springwater Environmental School in Oregon City. Their backgrounds make them perfectly suited to their task of teaching their students about local and global water issues. Both teachers say that they love teaching 3rd grade because the students are energetic and excited about learning. At this age, students are feeling more empowered and confident in claiming independence with their learning. They demonstrate an adept ability to grasp complex ideas, such as how maps are visual representations of our physical environment. Both Marcelle and Herb relish the opportunity of actively engaging their students in meaningful, interdisciplinary experiences, particularly in social studies.
 
Third grade social studies would be incomplete without expanding the classroom to the diverse ecosystems of Oregon itself. Students begin by visiting the city’s water source, the Bull Run Watershed; Eagle Creek to study salmon migration; and Bonneville Dam to investigate how water is used for power. They also visit a wastewater treatment facility to see what happens to water after it goes down the drain. During this first phase of field study, the students identify a water question that deserves more research and embark on their own inquiry project, where they independently research a topic and teach their new knowledge to the class. The entire Lower School social studies curriculum has embraced the “inquiry cycle,” where students ask questions rooted in prior knowledge or experiences, research these questions, present their knowledge, and then ask more questions. It is a cycle that is never complete.
 
Marcelle says, “If I do my job well, I expect that my students will not only be asking more questions, but craving more answers. To make this type of curriculum work the classroom community has to embrace the idea that every person in the classroom is both a student and a teacher.” Herb reflects that when both teachers and students enter into a practice of asking rich questions, a trusting community of learners develops, which allows students to take charge of what they are learning. Some examples of this year’s inquiry projects include researching the Port of Portland, looking at the use of water in agriculture, researching water in recreational activities, reading about bridges, studying salmon, and finding out how to build a dam.
 
As the year progresses, 3rd graders revisit the question, “What does it mean to thrive?”—but turn to the global community for answers. They investigate how people in other parts of the world get their water and what kids around the world need to thrive. These questions lead to a study of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which the 3rd graders examine similarities and differences in what children throughout the world deserve in their lives. Focusing on personal identity leads these students to understand more deeply their role as global citizens.
 
Marcelle and Herb also talk about how learning about differences can teach students about important qualities such as empathy and perseverance. In the classroom, students watch videos of how kids around the world help their families collect water (sometimes carrying several gallons for miles at a time!). During PE class, the students try this themselves by each carrying around the track milk cartons or buckets filled with water. One student said, “Today when I carried water, I got sooo wet. It was much harder than it looked. I can’t imagine doing that every day.” Students synthesize all this learning by picking a country that they want to know more about. After researching their country, they write realistic fiction stories about a child in their country and include a piece on water access.
 
Though Marcelle and Herb observe their students learning and growing immensely during their 3rd grade year, they recognize that creating effective curriculum is always a work in progress. They continually evaluate each unit, keeping what works and revising what doesn’t. Marcelle says that she is grateful to work in a place that values evolution of curriculum and student experiences. “We are always pushing the boundaries of what we can do,” she says. Both teachers already have ideas for improvement. This spring, they hope to add a service learning component to their study of marine ecosystems by picking up garbage at the beach. They also hope to build on this year’s excitement with global studies by working more on letter writing and civic engagement and evolve their use of technology in the classroom, perhaps Skyping with students from other countries. The 3rd grade year is one of discovery, with students learning about the civic and natural world through hands-on field experiences and studies of other cultures. At Catlin Gabel, water is used to illuminate so much more than just what we drink.
 
Katie Boehnlein has been the 5th grade teaching assistant at Catlin Gabel since 2012. She is an environmental educator and active writer about place-based education and experiential learning. Read her blog at kboehnlein.wordpress.com.

A Fanatic for Service

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Nkenge Harmon Johnson ’93, spokesperson for Oregon’s Governor Kitzhaber, has worked in political communications for the U.S. Congress and President Obama

From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

Political nerds are service fanatics. You can’t really shake it off,” says Nkenge Harmon Johnson ’93. She should know. Three years shy of turning 40, she has already carved out a notable career in public service in U.S. and state politics. A brilliant, curious, and resilient woman, her driving force is her love for this country and an overwhelming ethic of inclusivity and giving back.
 
Since January 2014, Nkenge has served as communications director for Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and as a member of the Governor’s executive team. “I deal with the media, elected officials, and the public about really important issues that affect lives today and affect the future of the state. It’s no small matter,” she says. It’s her voice you hear discussing state issues and policies, her words that you will read in the media about the Governor’s stance on crucial matters.
 
Nkenge does much more than talk about policy, though: she is an instrumental player in shaping the work of the Governor’s office. “Not only do I help define how to discuss the work at hand, I also identify ways to focus the work to the greatest effect,” she says. “It’s about identifying commonalities and differences where that is most important. The job is not just talking to people but helping us to listen.”
 
Nkenge began her work in political public service 11 years ago. After Catlin Gabel she attended Florida A&M University as a business and engineering major, and then attended Howard University Law School, which had recognized her potential and vigorously recruited her. Nkenge’s law school class was the first to graduate after 9-11, and the job situation was brutal for her and her peers because of the economic downturn. Her family has a strong military tradition, and she recounts the day when she was in D.C., trying to figure out how to serve her country in a time when the employment outlook for budding lawyers looked bleak. She looked up and noticed the Capitol, and realized: that’s what she could do to serve.
 
But Oregon was calling her back, so Nkenge returned home to take the Oregon Bar exam. She passed the Bar, and went as far as accepting a job at Legal Aid in Portland. She grabbed a chance to take a road trip before she began working—and was in a terrible car accident in Texas. “Every now and again I feel as though the universe puts its hand on my shoulder and says, ‘Slow down,’” Nkenge says. “I was lying on a hospital bed looking up and saying, Oh! Was I not paying attention to something?” That’s when she decided to act on her moment of inspiration and seek work on Capitol Hill.
 
When Nkenge finished her rehab and recovery from the accident, she began working as legislative counsel for U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, of Texas. Nkenge’s first experience with the duties of a press secretary came when she realized the haphazard nature of the communications coming from Lee’s office, and decided to be the gatekeeper for all public material. Although she yearned to practice law, she says, “The job was a natural fit for me to be talking to reporters and talking to the public and helping to shape messages, because I understood the underlying policy and motivations behind what I was saying. There’s nothing better than that.”
 
Growing weary of the politics of being in the minority party in the House, Nkenge worked for two years supporting national political campaigns as deputy press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Her focus was outreach to stakeholders and media such as the African American, Spanish language, and faith press, a great learning experience. When the election cycle concluded, she earned an MBA and worked as a lawyer in New York and D.C.—and found a way to fulfill her intense entrepreneurial drive.
 
Before she turned 30 Nkenge bought a mixed-use housing development in D.C., one she owns to this day. She started this business in 2005 partially to see if she could put into practice principles of highest and best use. “I had some theories and ideas about housing issues, homelessness, and finance. I wanted to see if I could walk the talk,” she said. She lived in the building and maintains close relationships with her tenants, some of whom have been living there longer than she has been alive.
 
After her business was up and running, Nkenge’s thoughts turned to working on the Hill, stirred again by her love of public service. She took a job as director of outreach communications for Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Shortly after, she became communications director in 2009 for Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a state that resonated for Nkenge because of its economic similarities to Oregon. Nkenge admired Sen. Stabenow’s strength of character, and enjoyed the work of helping her build a strong national presence.
 
And then the President called: the Obama administration tapped her to help move forward the country’s trade agenda. When that happens, you act. She joined the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, a position she held for three years, working to help solidify trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama. “Our schedule was unrelenting,” she says. “But it’s a great honor to work in service of my country and this President. I have to start and stop with these points.”
 
When the three trade agreements were signed, Nkenge saw that as an opportunity for change. Once again, Nkenge left D.C. to return to Oregon, this time for a very personal and important reason. In September 2012 she married Erious Johnson, a classmate of hers from Howard University Law School. She had been based in D.C., and he was successful attorney in New York. Moving to Oregon was their chance to make a life together. Nkenge and Erious moved to a house in south Salem above a Christmas tree farm, with sunsets, great views, deer, and space to grow. They established a law firm of their own, where she worked until she was called upon to serve Governor Kitzhaber.
 
“Success for me means finding people from whom I can learn and who are supportive of my decision to work hard to build my dreams,” says Nkenge. At Catlin Gabel, headmaster Jim Scott, science teacher Paul Dickinson, and most of all Spanish teacher Roberto Villa were those people for her. Nkenge had been part of a cohort of students who came from Harriet Tubman Middle School, which brought what she saw as interesting challenges. Jim Scott was someone she went to for help with finding solutions to those challenges, and was a hugely supportive presence. Nkenge loved science and says that Paul Dickinson allowed her to “play with ideas and participate in events outside of school, like the Bickleton bluebird trip, which I did every year at Catlin Gabel.” Roberto Villa is most memorable for her because he challenged her when she didn’t want to do what she saw as a tedious and boring part of her classwork. He urged her to do work that was more complex and interesting, and earned her trust by supporting her to do the work her own way and in turn learn more deeply. She still credits him with her love of and facility with the Spanish language, which she used daily as a lawyer in New York and D.C.
 
Nkenge says that one of her biggest challenges is helping others see the greatness of her community and state the way she does. “I reject conventional theories about diversity in Oregon. I figure I have a reason to know,” she says. “What’s important is not census numbers or language or heritage, but opportunities that need to be available for all of us. I reject the idea that one has to look a certain way or be from a certain place to succeed. It’s a challenge to make it true that everyone can do what he or she makes up their mind to do—in education, employment, arts and culture, sports, or health care. As long as we think about the state as homogenous it lets us off the hook. Oregon is not so. What the state looks like calls us into account to make our organizations resemble the state,” she says.
 
“And the same is true nationally. In the Senate I was one of two African American communication directors out of one hundred. There were two Asians and no Latinos. The numbers of persons of color were far underrepresented, and this was true of every level of senators and their staffs, and it is still true,” she says.
 
Another great challenge for Nkenge has been her equal desires to be both a public servant and an entrepreneur while working in jobs that are difficult and consuming. She was always interested in business, had thought in college that she would work in finance, and always had the sense that she would work for herself at some point in her life. “Being a public servant means being focused on issues of others. It’s very external. Being an entrepreneur means being mostly focused on oneself and the business, and the mission to build a going concern. Both are different and important to me! I’ve spent most of my time, though, in public service. It’s a challenge to find a way to embrace the entrepreneur in me. It’s probably also a success in that I continue to believe I am able to do more than one big thing at the same time,” she says.
 
When she looks back on the years since she began working on Capitol Hill, Nkenge feels fortunate to have had an exciting and fulfilling career, and to have been nimble enough to take advantage of opportunities that came to her, even at inopportune times. “I’m not a written-in-cement planner,” she says. “I’m lucky to get to do interesting work. I’m committed to making choices that allow me to do what I want most of the time. I’ve been through pay cuts, moves, leaves of absences, starting businesses on a wing and a prayer. I’m willing to allow myself the chance to do what’s satisfying personally and of most use to the society in which I live. I’m trying to learn from experience.”
 
Nadine Fiedler is Catlin Gabel’s director of publications and public relations, and the editor of the Caller.

What Happens When the Bullets Stop?

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

In their own words: Dave Whitson and his Transitional Justice students on examining hard questions of genocide and reconciliation


FROM DAVE WHITSON’S CLASS SYLLABUS

How can a country, scarred by genocide, ever recover and regain a sense of normalcy? How can two rival factions, guilty of committing horrible atrocities against the other, ever learn to live together in peace again? How can victims of torture rebuild their internal worlds while their external circumstances remain equally fractured?

What is transitional justice?

Countries and the international community endeavoring to move from chaos to stability, punish the guilty, document the historical truth, and help victims heal.

Three central concepts

Truth. How do you establish historical truth? Why is truth critical for peace and healing? How can the pursuit of truth compromise peace?
Justice. What is justice and who is justice for? Is justice possible following mass atrocities?
Reconciliation. Is this an external or internal process? How can one heal and forgive? Is reconciliation predicated upon forgiveness or punishment? International cases: Canada and South Africa, international tribunals devoted to the Yugoslav Wars and Rwandan genocide, the aftermath of the military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina, the civil wars in Liberia, and the Holocaust.
 

DAVE WHITSON: “THIS CLASS LIVES VERY MUCH IN THE GRAY”

The ideal history class feels highly relevant to students’ lives, speaks to important contemporary issues, challenges students emotionally and intellectually, and defies simplistic black-and-white thinking. This class lives very much in the gray, with no easy answers or definite routes to success. The hope offered here is not Pollyanna-ish. It’s a hope that twists in your gut and yet also uplifts. That’s the realm I want students to inhabit in class.
 

JULIANNE JOHNSON ’12: “A TRULY FORMATIVE EXPERIENCE”

Transitional Justice was a truly formative high school experience for me. It introduced me to the critical thinking that I have employed at Vassar College and the areas of study that I am continuing as a women’s studies major and Native American studies minor. Dave Whitson’s class was the first academic experience at Catlin Gabel where there was never one “right” answer to the question at hand (whether it be about the ethically complex conditions of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the morally ambiguous actions of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, or the reparations feasible for survivors of Canada’s Indian Residential School system).
 
Frequently Dave didn’t have a set answer either, and the whole class was able to cooperatively puzzle through the moral gray areas of the implementation of transitional justice. This ideological structure of the course, where students and teacher are on even footing and all trying to make sense of the complex nature of transitional justice, is the same as many of my classes in college. In these classes, students are expected to respectfully assert their opinions while also listening to and truly considering the differing beliefs of others. In this way, Transitional Justice gave me the tools to quickly adapt to and succeed.
 

DAVE WHITSON: SERVING AS WITNESSES AT CANADA’S TRUTH & RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

We attended the BC national event for Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC is devoted to Canada’s Indian Residential Schools, which carried out a sort of cultural genocide (a loaded and controversial term, but many support the notion in this case) on Canada’s First Nations youth, with the intent being to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to boarding schools where they were physically, psychologically, and sexually abused. Upon being released, many took up alcohol and drugs as a form of self-medication; tragically, many repeated the violent acts that had been perpetrated against them on other indigenous people living on their reserves. The result is a cycle of violence and a complete destabilizing of First Nations populations across Canada. The last residential schools closed in the 1990s, so this is still a relatively fresh wound.
 
The TRC is part of a nationwide initiative to acknowledge the historical wrongs and begin to pursue healing. At the commission, survivors of the schools testify about their experiences. Thus, for three days we sat and listened, serving as witnesses to the events. All students were also asked to initiate a one-on-one conversation with someone attending the event. In some cases, those conversations lasted for more than an hour.
 

JONATHAN BRAY ’14: “A LIFE-CHANGING EVENT”

Transitional Justice, especially when coupled with the experience of attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, was a highlight of my academic career so far. The class simultaneously exposed me to riveting historical events and stimulating intellectual and ethical dialogue with my classmates. We strove to answer the question that is consistently posed to the modern world: how to achieve reconciliation and recovery following widespread tragedy, initiating conversation that stretched beyond the challenging readings and into our own morals and views of right and wrong.
 
Our visit to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was truly a life-changing event. To witness the survivors of Indian Residential Schools tearfully recount their heartwrenching experiences brought the classwork to life. I was able to extensively converse with a particular survivor, coming face to face with the effect nationwide tragedy has on the individual, and how far it can extend past those directly affected.
 
Transitional Justice was an unforgettable class, and the knowledge I acquired through it has aided me in my everyday thoughts on modern events.
 

DAVE WHITSON: SHIFTING FOCUS TO HOW PEACE CAN BE WON

Growing up, my perception of history was that of a succession of wars with only brief flashes of peace. It’s a discouraging narrative, one in which we humans continually screw things up and display a consistent incapacity to get along. I think it spreads a fatalistic way of thinking, in which students develop a cynical view of human nature, one in which we are all inherently greedy, intolerant, and doomed to conflict. To make things worse, when I first developed a course on the modern world, I found myself falling into the same pattern, constructing units around the Napoleonic Wars, the Latin American Revolutions, the Age of Imperialism, the World Wars, and the Cold War! It’s hard to break out of that dominant narrative.
 
And yet, that narrative misses a critical piece of the picture. All history classes emphasize the tragedy of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. However, that treaty is reflective of many that came before it, promoting victor’s justice and the absolute punishment of the enemy. There is no attention paid to rehabilitation, to recovery, or to reconciliation. It’s small wonder that another war developed within the next two decades.
 
Instead of focusing on how wars are won, I think it’s more instructive—and probably more useful—to focus on how the peace can be won. Not many students will have a practical application for the lesson of not invading Russia in the winter. However, they’ll all benefit from some consideration of how former enemies can overcome their animosity and the legacy of violence in pursuit of healing and a constructive relationship. It’s also just generally more life affirming to think about forgiveness and justice than the optimal methods for killing off the enemy.
 
It also happens that this is a major point of emphasis in the contemporary world. While the Nuremberg trials were an early attempt at international justice, only after the Cold War ended did the international community begin to take this seriously. Over the last two decades, many states have recognized the importance of these issues and academic circles have followed suit. This is an issue of immediate relevance in the world today
 

JEMMA PRITCHARD ’12: “THAT CLASS CHANGED ME”

When I was in Dave’s class as a senior, something clicked for me. Though I had studied history throughout my time at Catlin Gabel and knew what kinds of wonderful and awful things people were capable of, it was in that classroom that I really started to be able to comprehend just how deep human hatred and compassion can run, and what that means for nations politically and socially. I became so passionately interested in the subject, and my classmates and I spent all kinds of time both in and outside of class discussing our emotional reactions to the material that we had covered and our opinions on the mechanisms and politics we learned about. The trip to Canada then really solidified that feeling.
 
Experiencing a transitional justice mechanism first-hand and being able to interview survivors was an experience that I find myself returning to almost every day. At the moment I am actually pursuing a career in comparative politics, focusing on transitional justice. That class changed me as a student and as a person and I will never stop being thankful for it.
 

DAVE WHITSON: “WE ARE NOT CONDEMNED TO AN ENDLESS CYCLE OF VIOLENCE”

Genocide is depressing. War is depressing. Oppressive political regimes are depressing. Often, though, our study of the material ends there. In this class, we start there, and then examine how people have endeavored to move beyond those tragedies. This is not a fairy tale. Everybody doesn’t live happily ever after. The first reading in the class acknowledges the bitter truth: when someone you love is killed in an act of injustice, closure is not possible. However, when you see stories of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of acknowledgment by a government of past wrongs, you start to believe that we are not condemned to an endless cycle of violence. In South Africa, we met a man named Thulani Mabaso. He had been imprisoned in Robben Island with Nelson Mandela. Today, he leads tours of the island with his former warden. The men have reconciled and today they are colleagues. It’s a small, isolated case, but it speaks to what is possible.
 

DAVE WHITSON: THE SATISFACTION OF TEACHING

When I decided to do this, I thought that the big draw was a life devoted to learning. And that has certainly happened—my understanding of history and the world has deepened a great deal over the last ten years. I am also a performer at heart, and there’s something invigorating about “performing” every day, even on the smaller scale. As a young, aspiring teacher, I didn’t fully appreciate how meaningful working with students would become. I derive a great deal of meaning from seeing my students in all of their different activities and seeing their growth over the course of a year, and over the course of their four years in the Upper School. Being an active, invested part of a community has become my overriding priority.
 
Dave Whitson has been teaching Upper School history at Catlin Gabel since 2011, and spent spring break with students on a trip to Argentina and Chile to study pursuits of justice there. He is also the director of the Palma Scholars Program. Jonathan Bray graduated from Catlin Gabel in June. Julianne Johnson ’12 is a women’s studies major at Vassar College. Jemma Pritchard ’12 is studying comparative politics at the University of Oregon.

Economics Like It Matters

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Meredith Goddard teaches hard-hitting economics with conviction and verve

From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

It’s early in the day, first class of the day, the time you think high schoolers would be sleepy and taciturn. But these eight students in this Catlin Gabel classroom are bright eyed and engaged, right in there with their whip-smart economics teacher, Meredith Goddard. And what’s more, they’re grappling with one of the thorniest issues right now in economics—the U.S. health care system and reforms.
 
Focused and intense, Meredith shoots off the first of the many rapid-fire queries she’ll ask during this session: “I’d like you to investigate how much it costs to get an appendix out.”
 
Her students turn to their laptops, and the room is filled with the tapping of keys. “$1,530,” answers one boy. “Is that a good price?” asks Meredith. “Is it in the U.S?” “Hmm, might not be,” he answers. More tapping, and students start yelling out prices: $1,500, $9,000, $55,000, $186,000. It turns out the $1,530 price came from a Washington Post article. “But in which hospital can you get the operation? The Washington Post doesn’t say,” says Meredith. Several minutes go by. No one can find the answer.
 
By investigating the question themselves, her students have come around to the point Meredith hoped to make by doing this exercise. “So it’s an impossible question. You can find a $5 candy bar, but you all are stellar researchers, and you can’t find affordable surgery,” she says. And again, she prods them to think further: “Why?”
 
“We’re not the customers, Medicaid and Medicare are,” says one student. “The insurance companies are the customers,” says another. “There are no easy answers,” she replies. “We’re going to be dealing throughout our lives with a very messy healthcare situation.”
 
Meredith’s aims for this elective class are ambitious. She would like students to develop fluency in the language of economics, to be able to read and understand articles in the Economist and tune in to economics news in the media instead of tuning right out. She says, “Once they have this vocabulary and this new language they seem more confident and able to engage as citizens in conversations they hear adults having. They can engage in powerful conversations because they’re not jaded, and they have unique ideas and solutions that are powerful and need to be heard.”
 
She ends this course’s journey through key issues such as college costs, supply and demand, problems of cheapness, minimum wage, the moral limits of markets, unemployment, the causes of the Great Recession, monetary policy tools, the environmental marketplace, and global markets with a week of discussions with students about their own personal financial futures. Most of all, though, she wants to teach an economics that is live, relevant, and meaningful. “I try to think about not just cultivating economic fluency among my students, but cultivating social justice in thinking about economics,” she says. “A huge focus of my class is thinking about solutions to economic crises and issues of increasing economic inequality, one of the most dire crises of our time. Those at the bottom don’t have the power or the money to advocate for themselves, so if we don’t start talking about it more widely and about creating an economy that works for most people systemically, then people are going to fall further and further behind.”
 
Meredith comes to her convictions about how to teach economics well armed by her own Economics 101 learning experiences. She had always been fascinated by economics, was a model student, and wanted to know more—but felt that her economics education was inauthentic and lacking. Originally a teacher of U.S. history and a voracious learner, when Meredith transitioned into teaching economics she worked with fierce determination to figure out how to right those wrongs for her students. Along the way she found herself among a groundswell of students who felt that the way Economics 101 had always been taught was not applicable to their lives. “We were given this blind faith that markets were working—then along came the Great Recession. And there were no good solutions from economists for the crisis,” she says. Being part of this movement gave her the tools to become the strong and committed teacher she is now, creating classes in which her students are fully engaged and on their way to a useful and lifelong understanding of economics.
 
Her own journey to Catlin Gabel was also intensely personal for Meredith. She had been teaching in Chicago public schools, but felt stifled by the overwhelming burden of continual preparation for testing. She traveled to Walden, Massachusetts, to study Henry David Thoreau, whom she had long admired, and whose theories she deeply identified with. “I was swimming in Walden Pond and thought to myself, ‘I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be in this place thinking about Thoreau. This is my one life. This is my chance to do something really meaningful. I decided at that moment to find a way to live a freer life, with more choices.” She found her way to Catlin Gabel—and the school is now lucky to have this talented teacher who has added immeasurably to our school.

»Read about Startup Camp, which Meredith brought to Catlin Gabel to encourage student entrepreneurs

Nadine Fiedler is the editor of the Caller and the school’s publications and public relations director.

As History Changes, So Must the Teaching of History

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Peter Shulman

In 2003, when I became the first new history teacher at Catlin Gabel in decades, I worked alongside titans. John Wiser, Harriet Wiser, and John Keyes emanated academic rigor and challenged students to think critically, write incisively, and wrestle with defining moral quandaries. In addition, I was fortunate enough to become friends with the just-retired Dave Corkran, and quickly came to know his legendary intellectual intensity and fierce moral integrity. The eloquence, industry, and ethical consideration of our alumni are a living legacy of their teaching.
 
As the last departmental link between this revered generation and a new, dynamic cadre of colleagues, I often find myself considering a central problem identified by students of change: excelling in one context often diminishes adaptation to new circumstances. After all, why change what’s been working extremely well? Qing China is a classic governmental example of decline in spite of strength, while Western Union’s strategic error of protecting its telegraph monopoly by giving away mastery over the telephone wires speaks volumes about the perils that accompany success. Education is of course rife with strategic decisions, fueled by prognosticators of decline and evangelists for the latest workshops promoting “education for the 21st century.” Suffice to say that there is a lot of hype about transformational education, but it would be equally foolish to ignore that the times, they are a-changin’.
 
The 21st century’s dizzying pace of change has turned old realities upside down. The U.S. is now a net exporter of petroleum products, the Blackberry phone teeters on extinction, and marriage equality, decisively defeated at polls in the century’s first decade, seems an unstoppable force in its second. Karl Rove predicted, with apparent justification in 2004, a “permanent Republican majority,” only to find a Democratic congress by 2007. Meanwhile, a century that began with Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi firmly in power is a distant memory in a roiling Middle East, and the giddy optimism of Tahrir Square has chilled into an Orwellian winter. The speed of change should give any pundit pause.
 
These heady transformations are joined by a communications revolution whose scale rivals the Gutenberg press. The increasing power of the individual to publish text, imagery, and music is collapsing massive hierarchies, while the merging of the human mind with computer databases forces a central question: what must students “know” when so many answers are a click away? As such, the department confronts its own version of the “innovator’s dilemma”: how to keep the best aspects of an esteemed program while adjusting to an increasingly globalized, digital society.
 
Our goal is to maintain the core, non-negotiable assets of our predecessors. Effective writing, careful reading, measured analysis, and the strong teacher-student relationship must always be central to our work, and each of these requires one element that isn’t changing: the finite nature of available time. But we have launched several new initiatives to adapt to a changing world:
 
Greater focus on contemporary issues and problem-solving: Historians focus on great cataclysms that we should never forget, but a diet of man’s inhumanity to man can demoralize students. Hence, instructors have built solution-oriented explorations into the curriculum. Freshmen tackle family-planning strategies to address overpopulation, while sophomores use historical case studies of Poland and Yugoslavia to offer prescriptions for mitigating conflict in multi-ethnic states. Recent electives in Public Health, Race and Class in Portland, Economics, and Environmental Politics are all built around getting a better understanding of key challenges confronting the 21st century. Patrick Walsh changed the Globalization curriculum to include an imperative for students to propose and enact solutions to climate change.

Experiential education

Experiences” are easy enough to create, but truly meaningful experiential education takes genuine savvy and keen intentionality. Freshmen engage contemporary businesses on the nature of global production, and supplement their study of religion with visits to unfamiliar houses of worship. Sophomores had the opportunity to meet with Bosnian refugee and Jonske speaker Ismet Prcic in the context of studying the disintegration of Yugoslavia. George Zaninovich’s PLACE electives have long pioneered experiential forays, as students produce plans for a variety of real-world clients, including the Portland Parks Department, Zenger Farm, and Lincoln High School. This year, Dave Whitson led his Transitional Justice students to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools in Vancouver, B.C., where his class sat in on hearings and interviewed indigenous participants. Dave also brought students to Chile and Argentina to directly engage transitional justice issues in the aftermath of military rule. Finally, Meredith Goddard’s new Economics of Innovation elective, coming on the heels of her wildly successful Startup Camp, has students champing at the bit to try out their entrepreneurial chops.

Increased global perspective

The first two years of the Upper School core curriculum have been totally reconstructed in the past two years, with greater focus on India, Japan, China, and sub-Saharan Africa. New classes over the past three years include 9/11 in a Global Context (cited as exemplary innovation by Bill Gates in his 2012 NAIS keynote), Modern China, and Revolution in the Middle East. Research: Given the transformative access of the internet, efficiently finding and carefully evaluating online materials are crucial skills. As such, teachers have opened up space in the curriculum for greater research opportunities. Sophomores interrogate the invention of nationalism in distinct countries through research, while U.S. History has traded in an exam on the Cold War in favor of student research projects that evaluate the impact of U.S. foreign policy in countries such as South Korea, El Salvador, Angola, and Pakistan. In Revolution in the Middle East, students assess the stability of the Saudi monarchy and the economic clout of the Egyptian military, while Economics students research the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Transitional Justice students have posted their research on Wikipedia, and have found that editing the historical record can elicit contentious resistance from those with a great investment in a particular version of the past.

Public speaking

Catlin Gabel’s small classes are uniquely positioned to provide robust speaking experience. A given day might find students teaching about the Japanese response to Western encroachment, debating U.S. military intervention in Syria, or running an Upper School assembly on contemporary income inequality. Patrick and George’s Journalism students have staged two Portland mayoral debates; on the latter, the Oregonian’s Steve Duin wrote that “the student organizers at Catlin— who moderated the forum, asked the questions and publicized the event—were at the top of their game.”

Current events colloquium

Recently, thanks to librarian Sue Phillips, two dozen students spent their free period with history faculty to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. The students’ intellectual hunger and sophistication was great evidence of their ability to use history to understand, and, indeed, to teach. What hasn’t changed is the importance of having a historical context. It helps us to ask the right questions, identify true outliers, and fact-check the scurrilous and misleading uses for which history is too often deployed. It gives us practice in the art of multi-variable analysis, for unlike a science lab, human interaction has too many variables to control. It will always be a way to understand the diversity of human experience, and at Catlin Gabel, it strives to be an essential aspect of the credo “inspired learning leading to responsible action.”
 
Peter Shulman has been teaching history at Catlin Gabel since 2003.

The Mandate for Teaching History Well: A Farewell From Outgoing Head of School Lark Palma

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From the Spring 2014 Caller

By Lark P. Palma

If taught well and thoughtfully, history helps a student develop a unique capacity for comprehending human situations. It fuels a conversation about the importance of action from the lessons of history. It’s meaningful to me that my last article for the Caller is about history and social studies, as I believe history is the single most powerful discipline for analyzing the past, living the present, and predicting the future. Most importantly, studying history well helps us become thoughtful, informed, and committed to exercising our rights as citizens, especially our right and privilege to vote. This issue is a testament to how well our superb faculty teaches history, and their eagerness to fine-tune the curriculum, create experiences that make history immediate and important, and seek connections to social, political, artistic, and economic situations.
 
Recently, when packing boxes to move back to South Carolina, I came across my 8th grade required history text, The History of South Carolina by Mary C. Sims Oliphant. She found it adequate to talk about slavery for one and a half pages, and the glorious generals of the “War Between the States” for several chapters. The economic justifications for slavery were never connected to the immorality of the war. What if I hadn’t come from a progressive family that had lively debates at the dinner table? What if I had not been exposed to any other points of view? My ability to participate in our fundamental right to express our citizenship would be severely compromised.
 
Catlin Gabel and the teachers who teach history and social studies understand well the mandate of their work.
 
• Students learn how the past shapes the present and probably informs the future. The Transitional Justice course clearly shows the direct effect of a law, its enactment, and the success of social change as a result.
 
• Students learn to develop empathy by reading original texts written by the people experiencing the events. For instance, 6th graders study the context of the Civil War and write a first-person journal.
 
• They learn to read critically to distinguish between evidence and assertion and understand competing points of view. In doing so, they learn to interrogate the text and artifacts, make hypotheses, and draw conclusions so that they extract every bit of meaning. Through these interrogations, students come up with real questions. Who is not represented in the study of history, and why? Why is the history of real lives of the poor, women, minority groups, or children so sparse in relationship to the history of political leaders, wars, politics, treaties, and policies? Why isn’t there more work published by women and minorities? In a sense students are calling for a wider exposure and deeper content to intensify their understanding of the course of history.
 
The study of history reveals its evolving narrative. Students learn that what happened in the past is not the final truth, so what they study and how they study it has to change. Courses that have been added to the Catlin Gabel curriculum include Middle Eastern studies, the Sixties, 9-11, Islam, gender studies, and other courses that emphasize social history and bring in more interdisciplinary learning.
 
I leave Catlin Gabel this summer to contemplate a curriculum for another school, in Charleston, South Carolina. The first plaque acknowledging that city’s role in the slave trade was erected in the 1990s. It is clear how the teaching of history should develop there, with the city itself as the curriculum. If any of you travel there, I will be a willing and proud guide. I will miss Catlin Gabel deeply. I will miss writing for the Caller, but there are books and blogs inside me ready to emerge.

Lark's farewell BBQ photo gallery

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The sun always shines on the righteous!

 

Video: 2014 seniors talk about their college choices

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Catlin Gabel seniors are about to embark on an exciting new chapter in their lives. Five seniors speak here about their college choices, and how they found a good fit for them.

»Link to list of where all seniors are going to college
»Link to article by college counselors about the admission year and college trends

Thomas is going to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!

Emmarose is going to the University of Southern California!

Chris is going to Princeton University!

Liban's going to Swarthmore College!

Sadie is going to Barnard College!

College list for Catlin Gabel 2014 seniors

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Here's where the class of 2014 is going to college!

(as of 5/22/14)
 
Amherst College
Barnard College
Bates College
Berklee College of Music
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
Brown University
Case Western Reserve University
Chapman University
University of Chicago
Claremont McKenna College
Colorado College (2)
Colby College
University of Denver (2)
DePaul University
Dickinson College
Hamilton College, NY
Harvey Mudd College
University of La Verne
Lewis & Clark College
Macalester College
McGill University
Montana State University, Bozeman
Mount Holyoke College (2)
New York University (2)
University of Notre Dame
Oberlin College
Occidental College
Oregon State University
University of Oregon (2)
Portland State University
University of Portland (2)
Princeton University (2)
University of Puget Sound (3)
University of Redlands
Reed College
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rice University
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2)
Scripps College (3)
Smith College
University of Southern California (2)
Southern Oregon University (2)
Stanford University
Swarthmore College (3)
Tufts University
Tulane University (2)
Union College
Whitman College (5)
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
 

8th grade films win awards at Middle School Media Festival

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Three films by Catlin Gabel 8th graders received awards at the Middle School Media Festival at Bush School in Seattle:

"Free Yourself" by Andrei Stoica and Katie Truong: Honorable Mention

"Welcome To The Hood" by Stuart Ryan, Mason Snider, and Elliott White: Audience Award

"One Fish Two Fish Dead Fish Chewed Fish" by Piper Kizziar, Kathryn Putz and Rachael Underwood: Audience Award & Teacher’s Choice Award

Congratulations to the filmmakers and their teacher, Brendan Gill.

Nic Bergen '16 wins Grand Prize at International Silent Film Festival

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Sophomore Nic Bergen's film "Continuous Quest" won the Grand Prix--first place, best film--last night at the selective International Youth Silent Film Festival, competing against films from the U.S., Canada, and China. Nic received a generous cash prize and time on the set of "Grimm," and will be featured in the Rose Festival. Watch for news of a public screening on June 4. Congrats to Nic and our other finalists, Søren Anderson, Becca Dunn, Gus Edelen O'Brien, Zulema Young-Toledo & Elena Lee, Ben Waitches-Eubanks & Javin Dana, and Vikram Nallakrishnan & Reuben Schafir!