General Colin Powell. I don’t think I’ve grieved a public figure as much as I have him. I was shocked and so saddened by the announcement of his passing yesterday.

Sure, he was a top military leader throughout the decades, but he really won my heart in the 1990s as the first founding chairman of America’s Promise Alliance (by the way, his wife, Alma Powell, fills that role today). At the time, I was involved with some public relations campaigns involving politics, as well as youth advocacy. Powell was making a significant mark in both areas and, in my mind, there’s something extra special about a tough-as-nails, intelligent man who has a soft spot for kids.

America’s Promise Alliance is still going strong and anchors its efforts in “five promises“—what we grown-ups can promise to give to kids today so they have a better chance of becoming successful adults in the future:

  • Caring adults
  • Safe places
  • A healthy start
  • Effective education
  • Opportunities to help others

I am especially intrigued by the organization’s “How Learning Happens” research series, which promotes learning as “a social, emotional, and cognitive process for each and every young person—a process that is affected by their identities, relationships, circumstances, and a host of other academic and non-academic factors.”

Even though I had some great “caring adults” and “safe places” in my life, I think my own education was sorely lacking. And if I could put my finger on why, it’s all about what “How Learning Happens” addresses. In short, opportunities for me to personalize the learning material were rare. I remember vividly the mere handful of times I delved into a subject using my own curiosity and creativity—in turn, I remember clearly what I did and what I learned. But multiple-choice tests and other methods for responding by rote were the default teaching technique of my school. In the end, very little of the advanced material, if any of it, “took.” I know for a fact this is one of the reasons I love teaching and tutoring middle-school students these days: I am learning—truly learning—right along with them.

So I’m determined to embrace the “Alliance” piece of America’s Promise Alliance by, well, becoming an ally. First things first, in memory of General Powell and his positive impact on me and the world, I’m going to make a donation. Then I’m going to join the Alliance and make true on keeping those five important promises in partnership with other parents, educators, world leaders, etc. As you and I continue to connect here, please help keep me accountable. Thanks for reading!


Coursera Course: “Modern Art & Ideas”

logo_squareEvery so often I revisit one of my favorite online resources: Coursera.org. It’s a treasure trove of online courses covering all kinds of subject matter and taught by instructors from reputable educational institutions all over the world. What’s more, most courses are completely free!

In skimming the list of Coursera’s current “Arts and Humanities” courses, there was one in particular that caught my eye: “Modern Art & Ideas” presented by the Museum of Modern Art. The description reads:

This course is designed to help anyone interested in learning more about modern and contemporary art. Themes can provide an effective structure for engaging with art. In this course, you will explore four themes that educators at The Museum of Modern Art use frequently in their teaching: Places & Spaces, Art & Identity, Transforming Everyday Objects, and Art & Society. Through videos, slideshows, and a variety of resources, readings, and activities, you will explore the content and context of works of art in MoMA’s collection.

I have since completed Week 2 of five and absolutely love the method and materials. As mentioned in the course introduction, we’re studying art outside of the typical approach of movement and time period; instead, we’re examining pieces that have a certain quality or inspiration in common.

Join me? The course runs through April 30 and there’s plenty of time to catch up. The first “quiz” is due April 2, and I tend to spend less than an hour on each week’s  coursework. Furthermore, Coursera is great at starring the stuff you don’t want to miss and offering many more resources if you want to go deeper. Sign up now>>