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News and Events (page 2)

Friday, July 30, 10:00- 10:30     John Bilorusky, PhD, President and Co-Founder of WISR                         
WISR Past, Present and Questions for the Future: The role of an experimenting community of intellectual activists within the broad landscape of higher education for social change.  

  Introductory reflections and food for thought across all the upcoming conference sessions–drawing on WISR’s founding purposes, 35 year history, recent challenges, and projected future opportunities and challenges. 


10:30 – 11:45     Osahon Chris Eigbike, WISR PhD Student
Open Forum on the Issue of Glossing-over and Gaps in Learning Around Meaningful Social Change.

  Osahon Chris Eigbike came to WISR’s PhD program with a divinity doctorate in spirituality and culture. His PhD focus at WISR is development education for colonized people. In it, he is looking at the imperial forces at work vis a vis the people’s indigenous assets for authentically moving forward. Osahon lives in Canada – and works in the area of community development and capacity building.

  Background: I am working on a project in an area familiar to us all in the WISR community – namely, intellectual activism and action research. In it, I am looking at the developmental crises among post-colonial peoples – by exploring:
a. the oppressive imperial (colonial and neo-colonial) forces at work among the peoples – and
b. the option of indigenous tools available to them for meaningful resolution of the crises. (And by indigenous tools, I mean all the ramifications of the people’s heritage knowledge and beliefs, namely: arts, science, technology and spirituality – as well as their aspirations)
In the exploration, I have found myself confronted by a syndrome of societal glossing-over of subtle but key factors in the entire picture. I see this glossing-over as holding people hostage across the board – by constituting gaps and obstacles to true learning for meaningful social change. Thus, it is a subject worthy of critical examination in the spirit of this conference’s global learning theme.

  Presentation: Under the global learning theme, I want to throw the floor open for a typical (deep) WISR interactive discussion on the syndrome of glossing-over in which society is trapped. In what areas are we wont to gloss over things and thus miss the point about meaningful social change? I desire that the short interactive discussion is an opportunity for us all to learn from one another. In particular, I want to learn from the participants – and thereafter, bring the lesson to bear on my project. 

  To stir preliminary reflections on the discussion – ahead of the conference, I hereby throw out some of the terms/expressions people have shared with me for capturing the issue of glossing-over.  They are:
a. the problem of blind spot amidst well-meaning goals and actions
b. our oblivion to how social forces maneuver us into what we do
c. the lure of a gravy train ride…. – and
d. the need for “toilet training” for proper learning – a comical but blunt idea for truly resolving the issue

   To kick off the discussion, I will give the simple definitions/operational meanings of these expressions. (Hopefully some of their authors will be around to help me out). 


12:00 – 1:15   WISR PhD alumnus, Jay McCubbrey, and WISR MA student, Nasira Abdul-Aleem made a last minute presentation on issues pertaining to needed reforms in the Criminal Justice system.  They filled in for WISR PhD student, Che Kum Clement, who was unable to attend because he could not get a flight from Bangladesh to the US once he obtained his visa.  The following is an abstract  of the presentation which he was going to give at the conference: 

Excellence In Higher Technical Education: What Role Islamic University Of Technology (IUT) Plays In Changing The Society Of The OIC Member Countries?”

 Che Kum Clement is Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Technical Education, Islamic University of Technology, Board Bazar, Gazipur, Bangladesh. 
   Higher education is widely recognized as a public good, at least a quasi-public good, as it produces a huge set of economic, social, cultural, demographic and political externalities. Higher technical education is associated, in addition, with technological and dynamic externalities. Islamic University of Technology (IUT) is a community dedicated to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, to study and clarification of values, and the advancement of the OIC Member Countries. The clear expression and active pursuit of IUT’s mission and goals in relation to its students, its staff, its supporters, and community-at-large is a basic characteristics of excellence in higher educational institutions.   

  The paper presents the views of students, teachers, and graduates of IUT, dignitaries of some of the OIC member countries, and that of the author about IUT, its role, mission and programs.  In order to achieve more insight from the views of the aforementioned respondents, the following questions were posed: (1) what are your particular views of IUT? (2) What aspects of its mission and purpose do you find especially significant? (3) What issues and dilemmas, if any, do you see facing the university as it continues to evolve and serve the countries and the people to whom it is committed? (4) What suggestions would you make as contribution to IUT in meeting its desired goals in future? I conducted interview sessions and also used open-ended questionnaires to get information from the subjects. In this study, I also examined the nature of IUT and the consequence of IUT for economic (or social) performance. Selections of new faculty, accommodation of a large number of disciplines and areas of study and other quality issues have been emphasized for future developments. 

1:15 LUNCH (Some food will be provided but your contributions are greatly appreciated)
1:45 Nigerian Drumming & Singing led by Osahon Chris Eigbike

2:00 – 3:15     Shayaam Shabaka, Founder of EcoVillage, WISR PhD Student
Are China’s Massive Investments in Africa Good or Bad for the African People 

Shyaam Shabaka is the founder of EcoVillage, Richmond, CA and been continuously involved in Africa since his Peace Corps service in 1967/68. 

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has drastically increased it’s investments and trade with Africa during the past decade; from $ 5 billion (USA) in 1997 to over $108 billion (USA) in 2008.  During my presentation and conversation I will ask and provide answers to a wide range of questions, some of which will include:

Why is China so strongly invested in Africa?
Who are the winners and/or losers or is it a Win-Win partnership?
Is China just simply another Imperialist/Neo Colonialist power repeating what the “West” has been during in Africa the past 500 plus years?
Who cares and why?
What alternatives do Africa nations have?
What may you and I do to help? 

 After providing some background information I will engage the conference participants in a thought provoking conversation about the topic, questions and related issues, including my upcoming trip to Africa in which I will lead a delegation of distinguished African Americans to Ethiopia, Mali and Ghana to analyze agricultural development methods and the impact of Climate Change on small farmers.     

3:15 Break

3:30 – 4:45     Agnes Morton, RN, MSN, MPH, WISR PhD Student                       
Towards Social Change in a Disenfranchised Community of Miami, Florida 

After a long career in public health in the San Francisco Bay Area, Agnes R. Morton returned to Miami, Florida in 2005, to work for social change in the disenfranchised community of Overtown, where she was born and raised.

Overtown, a historically black community, and one of the oldest communities in Miami has been struggling for its existence since the founding of Miami in 1896. In spite of rigid segregation, unequal treatment and lack of political representation, Overtown developed into a strong, self-sustaining community with its own business and professionals groups.. In the mid-1960’s, Overtown was razed for the construction of Interstate highways (I-95& I-395) that were placed directly through the center of Overtown, displacing half of its 40,000 residents, the majority being homeowners. 
Overtown, one of the poorest communities in Miami, suffers disproportionately from health disparities in comparison to other communities. Unemployment, lack of insurance, barriers to health care access, lack of cultural competency, and hopelessness have all contributed to the poor health status of Overtown residents.

In 2005, the Jefferson Reaves Sr. Health Center, produced the (RARE) Rapid Assessment Response and Evaluation, ” A Community Based Participatory Research Study on Health Disparities and Access to Care in Overtown, Miami. Targeted interventions to address the health status of Overtown were identified. The Overtown Cookbook is an outcome of this research. The RARE study currently serves as a needs assessment to further organize community health promotion and disease prevention activities. 

Power U Center for Social Change, a grassroots non-profit organization, has been the leading voice for social change and social justice in Overtown for the past 10 years. They have worked to ensure that the voices of Overtown residents are heard, and that Overtown has a seat at the table when development and revitalization plans are formulated. Power U has organized to fight gentrification, organizing for tenant’s rights, affordable housing, and further dislocation of Overtown residents. Their organizing work includes four principal strategies : Community Organizing, Advocacy, Service and Development. Power U has served as an informal “People’s Think Tank” for disenfranchised residents of Overtown. 

The Overtown Alliance is a newly formed collaborative that builds upon the work of Power U, and is presently working to further unify the community in advocating for inclusion in the development and revitalization of Overtown and enhancing the quality of life for its residents. 
A suggested comprehensive approach to addressing the issues of Overtown is taking a look at the “Social Determinants of Health” as an additional organizing strategy for social change. The social determinants of health include: housing; education, access to health care, access to healthy foods and green spaces; justice, employment, etc. (Satcher, 2010). These issues must be addressed concurrently if Overtown is to become a healthy community. 

 7:00 – 8:30pm     Talent Show with Open Mike
Cultural Evening with Music, Singing, Dance, Poetry, Film
~At Redwood Gardens, Community Hall, 2951 Derby Street (at Claremont Blvd.), Berkeley (on Derby St., across from Claremont Blvd., not to be confused with Claremont Ave. ) 

Saturday, July 31st
9:30 – 10:00 Meet and Greet


10:00 – 11:30 Marilyn Jackson, PhD and David Yamada, PhD, WISR Faculty & Alumni
Popular Education, Folk School Legacy, & Adult Educators as Public Intellectuals

Marilyn Jackson has published two chapters on the folk high school movement, the latest being “Education for Life at Danish Folk Schools and Highlander” from Democracy Works, ed. by Torry Dickinson. 

Recent social studies have identified Danish people as being the happiest people in the world.  Oprah Winfrey went to Denmark to try to find out why they are so happy and was impressed by all the benefits of social democracy.  As with other Scandinavian countries, this includes free education and health care.  Denmark also has a strong social fabric, but it is not just because of homogeneity.  A little known but significant and historical part of free education in Denmark is the folk high school.  These are residential learning centers where people stay for months at a time to learn and live with a community of people, but don’t get grades or degrees.  Civic learning and learning for life is the focus. 

This movement was started by N.F. S. Grundtvig (grewntvig) (1773-1882), a Lutheran minister, poet, hymn writer, translator, and politician.  He traveled to England and translated ancient Nordic manuscripts in England, which partly inspired his ideas.  He felt that it is important that people know their own language or mother tongue and at the same time, know the history of their own people and country or father land. 

Grundtvig came up with the idea for folk (people) high (beyond grammar) schools where there would be less reliance on books (though Grundtvig himself wrote and read voluminously) but mainly on the living word of lecture, discussion and dialogue. He thought Latin and Greek were dead languages with little relevance to people’s lives.

 This type of education, where we build on our own framework of knowledge, is what many other alternative educators like Freire have taught.  While visiting Oxford, Grundtvig saw an equality between teachers and students who ate and played sports together and realized that education happens best when teacher and learner are most comfortable to be able to dialogue.  Many current educational movements can trace some of their ideas back to Grundtvig, who has been called the father of Western adult education. 

The folk schools began at a time when the industrial revolution was growing and monarchies were being ousted.  He actively debated about his beliefs, dialogued and wrote about folk schools to help the common people learn the skills to participate in government, all of which helped these changes to happen peacefully.

Though Grundtvig mentored early folk school leaders, the movement went way beyond him and his lifetime.  Teaching was conducted through lecture, poetry, dialogue and as well as well as a community life including student government, shared chores and eating together.  There are about 100 folk schools in Denmark today but many more in nearby Scandinavia, other surrounding countries and scattered around the world.

Myles Horton, founder of the Highlander Center in Tennessee, was inspired by visiting folk schools in Denmark before getting the inspiration to go home and start a school, based on many of these same ideals.  Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Pete Seeger participated in the learning community at Highlander and it continues today, as a center for grassroots learning. 

In the U.S., Lutheran immigrants referred to Danish people as Happy Danes or Holy Danes. The difference was that the Happy Danes, or Grundtvigians, could do things like play cards and dance, in moderation, of course.  However, celebrating culture has come to be important to Scandinavians around the world and is an important social fabric.  Our challenge is to learn how to apply the principles of folk high schools beyond the Scandinavian folk school model as it has been done at Highlander and other places, less known about.

David Yamada will present on his recent chapter, “The Adult Educator as Public Intellectual,” from, Challenging the Professionalization of Adult Education: John Ohliger and Contradictions in Modern Practice, a copy of which is being donated to the WISR library. 

John Ohliger (1926-2004) was a pioneering, radical adult educator and community activist.  After leaving a tenured position at Ohio State University in the mid-1970s, he co-founded Basic Choices, a small social action think tank, and the WORT public radio station, both based in Madison , Wisconsin.  A World War II veteran, he was a peace activist and vocal opponent of America’s wars in Iraq.  His voluminous writings, a collection of which are housed in loose leaf binders in the WISR library, embraced the idea of socially relevant community education.  David Yamada is a professor of law and founding director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

The term “public intellectual” has been the subject of discussion since Russell Jacoby’s The Last Intellectuals (1987). High urban rents have made it difficult for creative minds to congregate and build intellectual communities.  Affiliations with universities, with their requirements for dissertations and tenure, have discouraged the creation and nurturing of intellectuals who communicate with the general public on topics of the day.

The conventional public intellectual is instructive and pedagogical, characterized by books, op-ed pieces, media interviews, public lectures and keynote addresses. In most instances, public intellectuals have limited opportunity (and, often, equally little desire) for ongoing exchanges with her audience.
Ironically, the renewed attention to the roles of public intellectuals has coincided with a further retreat from the notion of an independent, interactive intellectual life.  The public intellectual has embraced authority and become part of the entertainment culture. The end product is a “system” designed to meet the market needs of today’s Knowledge Society.

Ohliger carried out his work in an interactive and andragogical way, and stood out as an important counterpoint to the dominant paradigm of a public intellectual.  He was an independent scholar and intellectual activist, working through various media to encourage public dialogue and raise important questions about society, learning, and current events.  His approach was personal, and engaging, not hierarchical, directive, and detached.  His example showed that adult education should be voluntary, life affirming, and even fun.

 NOTE: Friends of John Ohliger are creating the John Ohliger Institute for Social Inquiry, which will serve as a repository of his writings and a vehicle for sharing the works of other progressive adult educators and lifelong learners. Please contact me for more information at david_yamada@yahoo.com

11:30 Break


11:45 – 1:00  Steven Fletcher, WISR PhD Student                                                          
Discovering the WISR Way

Steven Fletcher lives in the Sierra Foothills of California, has been working with WISR to help us develop a more meaningful online presence for the past two years.

The focus of his work is to create a Learning Management System (LMS) that is highly suitable to WISR’s needs. Most LMS’s (like Moodle) reflect the philosophy of traditional learning methods.  In order to create an LMS that reflects the educational philosophy that is “the WISR way,” he will focus his research on trying to understand what makes WISR unique.  He will try to answer the question, “What is the WISR way?”  He also has a great interest in “rites of intensification” and the “peak experiences” that often result from them.  The stories in his books and his teaching methods are focused on trying to create environments that facilitate peak learning experiences. He will bring these two threads together in a workshop where he will ask students (and faculty) to share their peak learning experiences at WISR, and to reflect on some of the underlying qualities involved in their learning at WISR.

1:00 – 1:45    LUNCH (Some food will be provided but your contributions are welcome)
1:30     Nigerian Drumming & Singing led by Osahon Chris Eigbike


1:45 – 3:00     John Bilorusky, PhD, WISR’s President, Facilitator            
Discussion on WISR’s Future as an Experimenting Community of Intellectual Activists Seeking to Promote Social Change through Higher Education:

WISR has a very talented and diverse (ethnically and otherwise) group of (mostly) progressive people who are interested in serious inquiry, local community improvement and the bigger picture of social justice.  We’ve developed our “own” versions of action-oriented, qualitative and participatory research–and shown how it can be used to support the social change and knowledge-building efforts in a number of different situations.  We have a growing network of significant contacts–with some traditional academicians, local community agencies, local community leaders, and even a modest “reputation” among lots of folks as a solid, serious, even if, unaccredited “alternative.”  Given these (and other) strengths, how can and should we build WISR into the future? What aspects of our initial mission and founding principles are still compelling?  And, what are the current opportunities and limitations surrounding us, for building on these strengths and those values and visions that we still find compelling (and/or new ones that have come to our attention over the years)?