The Brick Project Conversations, Part Five: Joan and Joanne on Building Global Community

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The Brick Project Conversations, Part Five: Joan and Joanne on Building Global Community

The Brick Project Conversations, Part FiveJoan and Joanne

Editor’s Note:

The following conversation between Joan Barnatt and Joanne Amaru is Part Five in a series entitled The Brick Project Conversations.

These conversations explore ideas that relate to education for children and the community building that nurtures and encourages progress in childhood education around the world.

The Brick Project will be re-launched in 2016.

The core premise of The Brick Project is the building of global school communities and the development of innovative multi-cultural curriculum in 4 subjects: History, Ecology, Art and Literature / Oral Storytelling.

To read more about the operational details and The Legacy of The Brick Project kindly visit this link: [http://www.brickproject.com/2012/09/07/legacy-of-the-brick-project]

Below is an excerpt from The Legacy of The Brick Project:

Back to the Classroom with Joanne and Joan

Picture 14In 2006, in the aftermath of the devastation of Porta Farm, I was sitting in the Brick Project classroom in Cape Cod with Joanne Amaru and Joan Barnatt during our lunch break. I had a backlog of emails I was sifting through when I recognized a familiar – but infrequent – name of an email correspondent from South Africa.

I opened the email to find that he was requesting I share a message with Brick Project “friends” of Porta Farm – our worldwide teacher and student community:


Dear Brick Project Friends,

Thank you for demonstrating that we live in a moral universe where goodness prevails despite its ghastly counterpart.

Desmond Tutu, 2005VN

Verity Norman and Zimbabwe musician Themba Mawoko in front of the White House

The Brick Project Conversations, Part Five 

by Verity Norman

Joanne Amaru, Joan Barnatt, and Verity Norman are no strangers to each other.

In fact, back in 2004, the three of them (together with Karim, the editor of this magazine) worked together on a pilot model of The Brick Project, in which the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School (CCLCS) was one of the founding Brick schools.

At that time, Joan and Joanne were Social Studies teachers at CCLCS and Verity was The Brick Project Global Coordinator. Recently these three reconnected to discuss and reflect on their Brick Project experiences.

About Joanne

Joanne

Today, Joanne is Deputy Director of Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, and helps run the school with her usual enthusiasm for the students, the community and the world at large.

About Joan

JoanJoan, has moved further south, out of the clutches of the New England winters.

She is an Assistant Professor at Elon College in North Carolina. As a professor, she shares her love for global education in her teacher training and professional development program with her students.

 

About Verity

VerityVerity Norman has recently joined World Education, Inc. as a Program Officer for their Bantwana Initiative, working with orphans and vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa.

Verity grew up in South Africa and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Cape Town. She moved to Boston in 2000, and a couple of years later joined the Brick Project start-up team, where she helped develop the pilot program with students and faculty in sixteen countries.

Following the Brick Project, Verity spent two years teaching at the Arundel School in Zimbabwe, one of the founding Brick schools. In 2011, Verity completed a Master’s in Education at the Center for International Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is delighted to contribute to Mezimbite’s conversations about The Brick Project!

Joanne, Joan and Verity Reconnect

Over the years these three colleagues have become close friends and have stayed in touch and have occasionally collaborated.

However, in March, 2013, they took some time to reconnect and reflect on everything they and their students learned during the two years of Brick Project, almost ten years ago.

The three of them kicked off with perhaps the most obvious question:

Verity: Why was it important for CCLCS students to join in The Brick Project?

CCLCS

CCLCS students on John Stewart’s fieldtrip to Gettysburg

Joan: There’s real irony in being asked to respond and reflect on this very question as I am currently coding responses from other teachers about just this very thing. But, to the question:

There were many reasons for wanting to take part in the Brick Project when we first talked about it. First, I brought my own sense of wonder and excitement at the thought of having my students experience diversity in culture and life experience that I saw in this project. I wanted the participants to have a sense of that wide, wonderful world beyond our CCLCS bubble.

I wanted them to have a venue to examine their own lives and culture through a critical lens and have a more genuine, meaningful understanding of why people live as they do, develop norms and expectations based on their culture and environment – that may be very different from our own. Without naming this, I was thinking along the lines of understanding responsibilities of national and global citizenship, what that might look like, and experiences to support these views.

They will, after all, be responsible for our planet when we step back.

“Authentic Voices”

I recall the impact of “authentic voices” that I experienced in professional development around Asian studies and wanted to bring that to my students; real faces, real voices, real stories that provide examples of the exceptional or ordinary from around the world.

I saw it as authentic, respectful, and rich learning, true to the national social studies standards of the time and consistent with our school philosophy.  Collaboration, communication, interdisciplinary, project-based… what more could you ask for as a platform for developing critical thinking and tech skills while practicing such things as literacy, for example?

What more could you ask for as a platform for developing critical thinking and tech skills while practicing such things as literacy?

— Joan

21st Century Skills

I saw it as an opportunity for students (and myself) to use technology in ways that we now refer to as “21st Century skills.”

Web 2.0 was just being developed and we were trying out the different formats. With a world that is said to be shrinking, flattened, and increasingly interconnected, I wanted these skills to be addressed, and wanted these tools to be accessible to my students. So – content, skills, dispositions – all these became achievable through technology and shared curriculum.

Verity, far right, with Arundel Girls' School students at Porta Farm

Verity, far right, with Arundel Girls’ School students at Porta Farm

Global education – an issue of social justice

Finally, I saw, and still see, global education as an issue of social justice.

Schools are places where students can learn and utilize tools that might not be available otherwise – particularly technology separates the have’s and have not’s.

The Brick Project promised a unique means of setting the stage for action and advocacy.

— Joan

This project promised that experience. Understanding global issues of common interest, developing social skills and dispositions for negotiating difference, as well as seeing diversity from an asset perspective are basic to taking a critical stance and considering systemic change. This project promised a unique means of setting the stage for action and advocacy.

Arundel Girl's School students from left to right, Nandika, Samia and Hilary

Arundel Girl’s School students from left to right, Nandika, Samia and Hilary

Workplace readiness

What I really didn’t think about, though, (and really is talked about a great deal these days) is preparation for the work force. I think I assumed that my students would be ready and able. This priority (job prep) aimed lower than my other goals as I saw them.

Perhaps because we can’t anticipate what might be needed or valued, but flexible, creative and globally aware citizens would embody a work-place ready human.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Four of the Brick Project students around the world in the First Brick in 2005 (clockwise from the top left): Natalia, 13 (Lithuania), Somia, 13 (India), Samia, 13 (Zimbabwe),  Andrew, 13 (Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School, USA)

Joanne: Verity, I still remember the day you and Karim were introduced at our faculty meeting.

As you began talking about the Brick Project, teachers from around the table were looking at me, nodding, pointing–“this has your name all over it,” and it truly did. Since my curriculum centered on world geography, people and cultures, it seemed a perfect fit. I was amazed to find myself being so excited about the prospect of adding this to my curriculum.

I was handed a rather large and imposing binder of suggested activities and information, which I wished I had had more time to study.

The website was a bit more user-friendly, and I quickly got up to speed. Karim, as the citizen of the world and true humanitarian that he is, brought something to our placid little Cape Cod school that sparked our students and made them hungry to learn all that they could from you.

Karim, as the citizen of the world and true humanitarian that he is, brought something to our placid little Cape Cod school that sparked our students and made them hungry to learn.

— Joanne

Bringing the world to Cape Cod

Seeing our school’s name on the Brick Project website was impressive, although I felt a bit intimidated about representing the entire USA. As we began meeting and getting to know one another, I found our time together to be inspiring, enriching, and empowering!

The metaphor of the “brick” (four-school community) was interesting. The connections to the world were compelling.

The idea of searching and building on commonality was intriguing, especially coming from a place where we have much enthusiasm, and little diversity.

 

Verity making a photo documentary of the situation at Porta Farm, Zimbabwe

Verity making a photo documentary in Porta Farm, Zimbabwe

Technical challenges

The implementation was challenging, both on our end and with our cohorts. I still don’t know how you pulled that off.  We had our technical difficulties, but through your persistence and talents, we worked through them.

Then there were the obvious time challenges–we were meeting after school at that point and it was late in the evening for those we were communicating with. But all that meant so little as the Cape Cod kids began talking with their counterparts in Zimbabwe, India, and Lithuania.

We learned so much from these counterpart Brick schools in email discussions.

For example, we learned how much value the boys in India, at the Doon School, placed on their education and their studies, so much so that they sometimes could not talk with us because of the pressure of exams the next day. This had a significant impact on our students!

Hilary delivers maize-meal (miele-meal) or cornmeal, to the hungry at Porta Farm

Hilary delivers maize-meal (miele-meal), to Porta Farm

Global Village – the Porta Farm project

Following the girls at Arundel School, as they supported the women from Porta Farm in their paper-making business, our own students became involved in the reality of the politics and economy of a country on the brink of ruination.

When the Porta Farm village was razed and the group dispersed, our students learned some hard lessons. We learned about bravery in ways that made it real.

When Porta Farm village was razed and the group dispersed, our students learned hard lessons. 

We learned of bravery in ways that made it real.

— Joanne

Arundel Girls' School student Rumbi, distributes the ground maize-meal

Arundel School’s Rumbi, distributes the ground maize-meal

We helped raise money to get them papermaking equipment so they could restart. What was touching about this experience was understanding our commonality.

We learned about rationing, hyperinflation, kleptocratic dictatorship from real people, children, who were experiencing these things in Zimbabwe, in ways that made it real for our students.

 

The calm, serene, productive Porta Farm we all knew before the tragedy

The calm, serene, productive Porta Farm we all knew before the tragedy

Most of all, we learned about joy and hope, and the irrepressible human spirit, in ways that made it real for all of us. It meant so much to me to watch my students as their confidence and knowledge of the complex and wonderful world we live in grew, and as they evolved into caring citizens of the world.

Verity’s views on cultivating Action and Advocacy 

I worked closely with teachers Joan and Joanne’s students, such as Andrew (then aged 13) and Rachel (then aged 11), back in 2005 to get their letters of protest about Porta Farm, Zimbabwe, to journalists at various international newspapers. As Joan Barnatt stated above:

This project was a unique means of setting the stage for action and advocacy.”

It was important for Karim and I, and the entire Brick Project team, to honor this “promise“. Karim and I routinely addressed The Brick Project students as “policy makers” and cultivated their natural sense of “action and advocacy” in policy initiatives. The policy they initiated by consensus – and then asked for Karim and my help with – was to contact the newspapers.

One of the most prompt responses we received was from John Donnelly at The Boston Globe, who was brave enough to go undercover into Zimbabwe to report on the women at Porta Farm that The Brick Project students had worked with. Below is an excerpt from John’s report:

Boston-Globe

In Zimbabwe, hope survives destruction

Women rebuild a business, with aid from Massachusetts

By John Donnelly, Globe Staff | September 25, 2005

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Against great odds in this disintegrating country, six poor women pulled themselves out of poverty. A Cape Cod store sold their bookmarks and greeting cards made from cardboard and banana leaves. And two schools — one in Harare, the other in Orleans, Mass. — followed their progress keenly and offered support. Then, the government bulldozed the women’s homes, along with those of 1,500 other families, in the settlement of Porta Farm outside the capital, while targeting what it called illegal shantytowns. Nationwide, the demolitions have left 700,000 people homeless. The women scattered. Their work stopped. Students in Massachusetts and Zimbabwe, crestfallen, felt all had been lost. But, not all was — especially not the women’s spirit.

Maidie Chimbwe's Porta Farm home is bulldozed to rubble

Maidie’s Porta Farm home is bulldozed to rubble

“I was very, very upset because the women were finally getting on a better track, and now they’d have to start from scratch.”

— Rachel, aged 11, a seventh-grader

(in a 2005 interview with The Boston Globe on The Brick Project’s work in Zimbabwe)

The Cape Cod middle school became involved through a Cambridge-based school-learning program called the Brick Project, which through the Internet linked the Massachusetts middle- schoolers with those from Zimbabwe, Lithuania, and India. Students in Harare’s Arundel School had learned about the women during visits to Porta Farm, and their shared information motivated the Cape Cod students to help.

“I was very, very upset because the women were finally getting on a better track, and now they would have to start from scratch,” Rachel Lake, 11, a seventh-grader, said in an interview from the Orleans school earlier this month, before the Zimbabwe women were located.

Added Andrew Smith, 13, an eighth-grader from Barnstable:

“I wonder how they are feeling.”

Most of all, we learned about joy and hope, and the irrepressible human spirit, in ways that made it real for all of us.

— Joanne

Editor’s Note

I was corresponding regularly with Desmond Tutu during this period as the tragic events in Zimbabwe unfolded. The pain the Brick Project felt for our friends in Zimbabwe paled in comparison to what Desmond Tutu must have felt. He had seen South Africa live through violent atrocities, gain gritty hard-won freedom and then go all soft and mushy in the middle. Saddened by the lack of conscience within African leadership, Tutu issued this statement:

“We Africans should hang our heads in shame.

 

How can what is happening in Zimbabwe elicit hardly a word of concern let alone condemnation from leaders of Africa?

 

After the horrible things done to hapless people in Harare, has come the recent crackdown on members of the opposition … what more has to happen before we who are leaders… of our mother Africa are moved to cry out: 

 

‘Enough is enough?”

 

Desmond Tutu, 2006