Photo Friday: The Basic School Bears

Carnegie Teacher Fellows (top row, left to right: Lillian Augustine, Kristin Sonquist, Eugene Schwartz, Suzann Westermann, Bev[erly] Boyer, Frances Harmon/bottom row, left to right: Mary Ellen Bafumo, Jean Mumper, Nancy McCullum, and Joy Warner). -BCA

Carnegie Teacher Fellows (top row, left to right: Lillian Augustine, Kristin Sonquist, Eugene Schwartz, Suzann Westermann, Bev[erly] Boyer, Frances Harmon/bottom row, left to right: Mary Ellen Bafumo, Jean Mumper, Nancy McCullum, and Joy Warner). -BCA

Today’s Photo Friday post features the 1992 Carnegie Teacher Fellows. This group met several times to discuss the Basic School curriculum that Ernie Boyer developed. Each person in the photo is holding a bear. One of the fellows instructed each person to send her one yard of fabric that represented themselves, and from these pieces she made a bear for each member. Whether intentional or unintentional, the way these bears were made represents some of the main ideas of what the fellows discussed, the Basic School.

Boyer summarizes these Basic School ideas in a speech he gave at East Washington University in 1979. He states:

First- we need a basic school—a time to teach each child fundamental skills and focus especially on the effective use of language. All we know, all we fear, all we hope is created and conveyed- through symbols… It is a startling fact that today young children watch television 4-5000 hours before they ever go to school. They soak up messages and stare at pictures without formulating messages of their own, without extending their own vocabulary, without developing the capacity for coherent thought. For many of our students this has become the age of the flash and the zap, the hour-long epic, the 30 minute encyclopedia, the 5 minute explanation, the one minute sell, the 2 second fix. In this context teaching children how to read and write and speak with clarity- becomes at once more difficult and more crucial.

What is important to note is Boyer’s belief in the connectivity of language or expression. We seek information from others because it is assumed that communication is possible, not only through language but also through common symbols associated with objects and abstract concepts. Yet, it is in this understanding of language and symbols that we can develop our own methods of expression. Oral expression or other methods such as art allow for both in-depth learning and individual cognitive development, which are skills necessary to function in society.

These ideas can be seen through the creation of the Carnegie Teacher Fellows bears. Each fellow was connected in the creation of the bears because each fellow supplied a piece of fabric. Although each piece of fabric was unique to each person, all of the pieces were necessary for the bears to be made and for each person to have one.

We need to remember that we are connected, not by fabric but by language and symbols. These things make up “all we know.” Therefore, we should encourage each other both to express ourselves and to listen to each other. In doing so, we can build upon our own knowledge while also striving for clarity and mutual understanding.

Today’s post demonstrates the impact of Boyer’s ideas, that they can be seen in tangible ways. This post is also a tribute to the groups of people who have taken the time to study and practice Boyer’s ideas.

To read the rest of Boyer’s speech, click here.



Quote of the Day

“Language is our most essential human function and its sets us apart from all other forms of life, the porpoise and bumblebee notwithstanding. The top priority for any collaboration, in my view, is to empower our students in the use of the written and the spoken word. Language is not just another subject[;] it is the means by which all other subjects are pursued. After all, language is the way we convey our feelings and ideas and define our humanity to others.”

— Ernest L. Boyer, Sr., in a 1987 speech titled, “College: Making the Connections,” delivered at SUNY Purchase as part of the President’s Leadership Forum

The Mastery of Language

If there is one constant throughout the work of Ernest L. Boyer it is his empahsis on the mastery of language.  He stressed it in speeches and featured it prominently in Carnegie Foundation publications like Ready to Learn: A Mandate for the Nation, High School: Secondary Education in America, and College: The Undergraduate Experience.  Whether his work pertained to primary education, secondary education, or college, language was a key element regardless.  Boyer spoke candidly of his own personal joy learning to read while attending Miss Rice’s first grade class.  His earliest introduction of language obviously made a lasting impression and, from an outsider’s perspective, established a sort of lifelong love affair.  Language was the key to not only a quality education, but a quality life.  In the words of Boyer, “…language defines our humanity.”

Combining his leadership in the field of education and his deep personal love of language, Boyer promoted literacy throughout his entire career.  At the 1988 Virginia State Library and Archives Literacy Conference, he reminded the crowd that advocating for literacy went beyond the mechanics of learning to read.  That is merely the surface issue.  But beyond that is comprehension and the ability to make connections.  “Literacy means the ability to think clearly and creatively, and engage in constructive discourse.  Above all, we need integrity in literacy – an understanding that the use of language is a sacred trust.”  Language is a tool all humans use, all day, every day.  Have you ever considered it a sacred trust? My guess is most of us view it as a common necessity.  Boyer reminds us, though, that it is anything but a necessity.  It is the fount of emotion.  It is the source of connection.  It is the key to life.

Word cloud of Boyer's speech "Today we learn to read."

Read Boyer’s entire speech delivered at the 1988 Virginia State Library and Archives Literacy Conference, “Today we learn to read.”

The Life of Martin Luther King: An Educational Imperative

Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledging the crowd gathered in Washington, D.C.

Today we Americans observe a federal holiday in remembrance of one of the greatest forces for peace and justice that ever lived.  Yes, for a lot of people the best thing about today is having a day off work or school.  I won’t deny that is a nice perk.  I mean, who doesn’t love a three-day weekend? No one.  However, amongst the extra errands you may be running to get a head start on the work week, or the extra relaxing you may be enjoying to recuperate from the hectic weekend, we should all carve out a few minutes of our day to remember the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  To remember how he lived so fearlessly for a cause of equality which he pursued tirelessly.  To remember the words he spoke so eloquently.  To remember that the echoes of his words still ring today, and that some are hearing his words for the first time.

In 1988, Ernest Boyer spoke at a conference sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission in Washington, D.C.  The conference was organized to discuss meaningful ways to infuse the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. in school curriculums across the nation. Boyer delivered a speech entitled “The Life of Martin Luther King: An Educational Imperative.”

To Boyer, incorporating the memory of Martin Luther King into the nation’s classrooms was a crucial necessity – and served as a way to expose students to the civil rights movement in the United States, the understanding and power of nonviolence, and reverence for the written and spoken word.  Not doing so would mean Martin Luther King, Jr. Day would “be a time when we remember only the symbols, not the substance of his work.”

Boyer’s speech outlined three specific reasons why school curriculums should include a study on Martin Luther King, Jr.:

1.) A study of Dr. King’s life, work, and legacy introduce students to the 20th century freedom movement in the United States.

2.) Dr. King’s legacy lives on today through the words he spoke and penned.  He has left the world a multitude of literary devices within his speeches and letters that teachers should tap into and incorporate in lessons.  Boyer never stopped triumphing the centrality of language, and for him, Dr. King’s lasting words can teach students that “language is a sacred trust.”

3.) Students that understand Dr. King learn that what you learn in life influences how you live.  Education has the power to teach morality. Education has the power to inspire service.  Education has the power to fuel mission.  The life of Martin Luther King, Jr., better than most, highlights these human imperatives.

In short, Boyer said it quite simply with one sentence in his speech: “No student in America’s schools can be considered well educated if he or she does not learn about this nation’s long and agonizing crusade for civil rights…”

Photo courtesy of The Seattle Times gallery on Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

Human Commonalities

Read a few of Ernest Boyer’s speeches and you will begin to notice certain themes.  It doesn’t seem to matter what specific topic Boyer was asked to speak on or write about – a few “Boyerisms” always seemed to slip through.  One thing I’ve learned since I began working in The Ernest L. Boyer Center Archives two years ago, is that Boyer liked making lists.  Like, a lot.  Many of his speeches are riddled with sequences and lists.  Perhaps he did this for his own organizational purposes?  Perhaps he learned it made for clean media sound-bites?  Or, perhaps he just had a thing for lists?  If so, I can relate, I have a thing for them too.

One of Boyer’s favorite list to incorporate in his speaking engagements was the eight things all humans on this earth have in common.  No matter what nationality, tribe, or culture we associate with, we can all relate to these eight universal experiences.

1.) The Life Cycle (all humans experience birth, growth, and death)

2.) Language (all humans use symbols to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions)

3.) The Arts (various art forms serve as a universal language)

4.) History (all humans, at some point, recall the past and look to the future)

5.) Groups/Institutions (all humans belong in some way)

6.) Work (all humans make a living in some way)

7.) Search for Meaning (all humans, in their own personal way, ponder the larger purpose of life)

8.) The Natural World (all humans are connected to the ecology of the earth)

Read more in “The Human Commanilities: Multiculturalism and Community in Higher Education.”

The photo above is a word cloud created from Boyer’s speech “The Human Commonalities.”