Posts tagged Harvard

Kazakhstan and “De Sunflower Ain’t De Daisy” poem

I read this poem from Isobel Kuhn’s book “Nests Above the Abyss” and LOVE it still today.  I believe the meaning of this poem fits the university in Astana, Kazakhstan where I used to work and teach. This flagship university only opened their doors a year ago with 500 Kazakh students but want to be known and acclaimed as the “Harvard of the steppes of Central Asia.”  If so, the administration needs to continue to work hard at their goals of keeping standards high and not lagging in achieving those goals honestly.

See what you think of this poem when thinking about Kazakhstan striving to be in the top 50 of developed nations by 2030.  I witnessed this same kind of obsessive drive with China when I taught there for two years in Harbin in 1986-88. My Chinese students were programmed to talk about what they would do for their motherland. The word “reform” kept coming up over and over again.  See where China is today economically…but to what cost as far as their human rights issues?  What does China do against their own people?  What does Kazakhstan do or NOT do to their own people who are not fortunate enough to live in the big cities of Almaty and Astana?

De sunflower ain’t de daisy and de melon ain’t de rose,

Why is dey all so crazy to be sumfin’ also dat grows?

Jes’ stick to de place you’re planted and do de best you knows.

Be de sunflower or de daisy, de melon or de rose,

Don’t be what you ain’t,

Jes’ you be what yo is.

Pass de plate if you can’t exhaust and preach.

If you’re jes’ a little pebble don’t try to be de beach.

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My Students’ Reflections about universities beginnings…

What a treat to have the interim provost Anne come and talk to my class of teachers at the new university today. All nine students had glowing reflections about what was discussed and what they learned. However, I’m only choosing three of those who wrote the most about her half hour talk.  I will use the other student’s quotes tomorrow describing what else we did in our next class after Anne left.

Bota: Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, University of Wisconsin…There are a lot of them. Today university is compulsory and necessary part of people’s lives. We all want to get once studied there, to become the students of one of the most excellent, best, prestigious universities. We have all opportunities for good education: books, IT devices, efficient teachers, welfare circumstances, required conditions, what not. And sometimes I have a pity for those who don’t get the opportunities they are given. They waste time, time wastes their body, so they pass without making their change in the world. What we have today is a hard efforts done by our ancestors.
The first first universities, opened in the world, made a great push for the appearance of the other ones. It was a long way with many barriers, constant obstacles. But it still remains to be a long way in the future. A way – to be continued, developed, CHANGED by present people, by youth. And we do it, we are the people who go from ideas to actions.

Ainagul: Before this lecture I’ve never thought about the aspects that made first univeristy in the world either where the first university was built. Today, I’ve learned that the first one was built in Bologna, Italy in 968, and it is interesting to know that at that time first students gathered and “picked up” their teachers, best teachers, from the whole country. And really studies at that university were very different from those that we have today. They were difficult to conduct (without hard copies, pens and even papers)…And the most important aspect was people’s ideas. That’s also interesting to know. Because when we hear a world “university” we think about knowledge, upbringing, students. And now I’m thinking: “really, ideas made the universities, developed them to that level which we have today.
Reflecting on what was said here, I think that I’m really lucky to be born in a country where oil money is used for education and to study where several best universities from all over the world are joined.

Damesh: I love this place more and more. I am very grateful for the chances to meet so many interesting people with incredible background and worth deep respecting. Probably this meeting with Ann from Cambridge University is one of the best that ran so good. I’ve never had any conversation on how the universities were built and why. When she asked what universities are for and what they give I understood that I believe that universities are not ONLY for knowledge. I remembered the saying I read somewhere that education is when a person can handle everything without certain knowledge. I’ve written down some interesting thoughts she told us realizing that I wouldn’t have forgotten them even if I hadn’t written them.
Her thoughts on the future of our university gave me some approval and confidence that we are the ones at the right places. I liked best when she said: “Our university is doing something no university has ever done before, bringing all different parts to be a part of one thing.” And it was really interesting to hear her opinion on English of the countries.
“The same language doesn’t unite us, it divides us from each other. We can say the same thing but mean different things.” [referring to British and American English] I realized that I thought the same way! Sometimes you need someone to say the thing to learn that you think the same way. Very interesting!

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Harvard’s statues on campus and Kazakhstan’s educational vision

Today is Good Friday celebrated in other parts of the Christian world but not in Kazakhstan. They just finished celebrating their annual, spring festival of Nauryz. Seems that some Kazakh students aspire to go to Harvard without actually knowing Harvard’s true Christian beginnings. Walking around with Dasha on the Harvard campus last Sunday (Palm Sunday) gave me a sense of its religious history in Cambridge just next to Boston. The Christian pastors’ zeal, from those who believed in the Great Commission, started Harvard’s seminary but also set the tone for education for centuries to come for American young people. The existing educational choices back in the 17th century meant a boat ride over the Atlantic to the Old Country in order to attend Oxford or Cambridge, so staying in Boston was an option for one’s education made sense.

James Walker, one of the first pastors and presidents on the Harvard campus, is honored with a bust of his head. (see photo) Walker’s quote chiseled in stone below this life-size head perhaps was inspired from Proverbs 8:

“Where is wisdom, where is strength, where is understanding?

Thou mayest know also where is length of days

And where is the light of the eyes and peace.”

Dasha and I also stopped by John Harvard’s statue that some tour guides at Harvard call “The Statue of Three Lies.” Mainly because John Harvard is depicted as the founder of Harvard yet he was only a contributor of money and his books.  Lie #2 is that Harvard was founded in 1636 and not 1638 and Lie #3 is that the statue is not actually John Harvard but some student who posed as a model for the artist.  The tour guide encourages their listeners to rub Harvard’s left foot for good luck.  I would submit that that is Lie #4, there is no such thing as luck at Harvard.  Most everyone who gains admittance in these hallowed halls of Harvard work very hard or are very smart or both.

That is why I think it odd that some Kazakh students want to go to Harvard as if that is the panacea of all educational ills for them.  I would say that most Americans don’t hold out much hope in getting accepted at Harvard even though they have been under the western educational system for a long time.  I believe getting a western education in any of the other American state or private universities is just as good. It is what YOU put into your studies that is the real test to succeed in life, not getting a piece of paper from some prestigious university that makes all the difference.  We have Bill Gates as an example of quitting Harvard and succeeding in life because he followed his passion.

I think the very bright people know the answers of what the founders of Harvard knew when they asked where wisdom, strength and understanding comes from. I believe there is darkness of the eyes and no peace whatsoever when people pursue education and leave God out.  Have a Good Friday as you ponder my last sentence.

The photo below by artist Phillip R. Goodwin has nothing to do with Harvard, it was painted at the turn of the 20th century.  I just like seeing these two guys paddling as hard as they can in the river’s rapids. Something raw and gutsy about Goodwin’s prints shows early American pioneers and risktakers.  That is what I like about the people I work alongside in Astana, they are all that and more!

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Hallowed Halls of Harvard

What fun to explore the campus of Harvard on a Sunday afternoon with my Ukrainian friend, Dasha.  It was a brisk, sunny day and perfect for us to see what buildings we could get into. NOT!  There were other tourists like us roaming the campus and we could see the architecture of these hallowed halls much better because the leaves hadn’t sprung out yet on the trees. Buds on some other bushes though.  In a month there will probably be full, green leafed trees along with the crocus and daffodils.  With all this rain in Boston, it is a wonder there isn’t flooding here but at least it can flow towards the bay.

Here are photos from the Harvard campus but what was a special treat was to hear a musician playing his hurdy gurdy instrument in the subway.  Of course I had to buy one of his cds and am enjoying the sound of 17th century music.

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Fourth Movie and Howard Gardner’s “Five Minds”

I’m up early with my jetlag here in Boston. I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog that I watched a fourth movie starring Matt Damon in “The Informant.” Must have been a sleeper movie for me since I didn’t even remember to add it to the list of movies I watched on my Lufthansa flight coming to Boston.  The theme of this satirical comedy based on a real life story has something to do with ethics and respect, something that Howard Gardner talked about last night.

Backing up a bit, I am really enjoying this TESOL conference in Boston thus far. I have a mile and half walk from my hotel to the big conference center and met some nice people in the research session I attended all day yesterday. I also won a book in a raffle, added bonus! Unfortunately, I haven’t hooked up with my friends I want to see yet who have come to Boston from parts scattered throughout the U.S.  I have to make a concerted effort to do so.  One must use great strategy to find people in the mass of 8,000 gathered ESL/EFL teachers.  Last night I saw the biggest crowd ever for the first plenary session with Harvard’s own Howard Gardner.  He is a TESOL favorite because he wrote a book years ago that many educators have read about “multiple intelligences.”  Funny, erudite and self-deprecating.

The following is what Howard Gardner said about “Five Minds for the Future” he is famous for coming up with multiple intelligences (logic/math, music, spatial, emotional, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily/kinesthetic, naturalist).

Here’s Gardner’s latest titled “The Five Minds”

1)   Disciplined mind – working steadily to improve oneself, becoming an expert, learn major ways of thinking (historic, artistic, scientific, mathematic)

2)   Synthesizer mind – Early philosophers such as Aristotle, Aquinas or Augustine.  One has to decide what to pay attention to.  Need to have criteria, how does all the information make sense to me.  We need to develop a course called “Synthesis 101” for teachers and students, so much information in our digital age that is largely undigested and unevaluated, we must teach students to synthesize.

3)   Creative mind – Einstein and Virginia Wolff, these two synthesized what is known in the box itself, but they went beyond that.  They thought of good questions and new questions.  Mastering one or more disciplines using the 10 year rule

Begin being a master at something when you are young.  Ultimate judgment of the field.  Take on new things and be willing to fail, but one must have a robust and iconoclastic temperament thinking “I regard every defeat as an opportunity.” One can say, “It didn’t work out, now what?”  Back in our formative days, failure was tolerated.  One Chinese student asked Gardner “give me the 23 steps in order on how to be creative.”  Creativity is messy and not orderly!

Gardner wrote “To Open Minds” in mid-1980s.  IN China discipline is very good but not creative.  Whereas now in the U.S. we have a desire to be creative but don’t have the discipline or mastery of the discipline.

Depth = Discipline

Breadth = Synthesize

Stretch = Creativity

The next two minds are how we deal with fellow human beings

4)   Respectful minds – diversity is a fact of life, at home and abroad that goes beyond mere tolerance.  We need to understand others’ perspectives.  The motivation is emotional and interpersonal intelligence.  There is an inappropriateness of “corporate, top-down model” for schools and even corporations

5)   Ethical minds – Higher level of abstraction than respectful mind

Conceptualizing oneself as a (good) worker

Conceptualizing oneself as a (good) citizen

Acting appropriately in both roles

How things play out in the community (like school)

The Three “E”s of a Good worker

1)   excellent, expert

2)   Ethical, socially responsible, moral

3)   Engaging, meaningful, intrinsically motivated

Instead of DNA he showed a triple helix model with the three “E”s Excellence, Ethics and Engagement

“We respect those persons who behave ethically.”

Last response we have is shame (wish I had written more on this because it relates to Kazakhstan but Gardner was running out of time)

Howard Gardner had much more to say and went through his slides so quickly that I was doing like many in the audience around me, I was taking photos of his slides for later review.  Here’s an example.  I now wish I had taken a photo of Gardner on the stage and showing the size of the audience behind me.

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One Day at a Time – Day 23 of 36

As I continue to read through my diary entries of traveling in Moscow and Leningrad the summer of 1976, I came upon something of interest on Day 23 of our 36 day trip.  You see, I keep looking for clues of what Solzhenitsyn was referring to when he lambasted the Harvard academics at what is now considered his infamous speech to the 1978 Harvard graduates. Solzhenitsyn’s heart remained firmly fixed in Russia while his physical presence was supposedly transplanted in a much safer U.S.  He had some important wisdom to impart to these fledgling, American academicians. 


Now after all these years, Solzhenitsyn is considered a “prophet” while others would deride him as a doomsdayer for the future of our democratic country.  However, I think from what I observed 32 years ago while traveling such a short time in Russia, Solzhenitsyn was right about many things but perhaps not on target about what he could not possibly understand as a Russian who was NOT immersed in American life.  He tenaciously held on to life in his Motherland and looked forward to the day he could return to Russia in 1994.  Did Solzhenitsyn as a prophet predict that he would be able to return to Russia and live there for another 14 years in the very place that put him through gulag hell?  I wonder.


Columnist Cal Thomas had his remarks about Solzhenitsyn’s passing with his recent article titled “Solzhenitsyn did the work of a prophet.”


“The Russian novelist observed that a ‘decline in courage’ has affected the West and especially, ‘the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society…Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?’…What about America’s emphasis on individual rights? Solzhenitsyn said the result has been to ignore the welfare of the many: ‘The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals.  It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.


There was more to disturb the self-satisfied intellectual elite.  Surely faculty members at Harvard must have gnashed their teeth in the face of this remonstrance: ‘Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space.  Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror.’  According to Solzhenitsyn, life organized around laws and the individual has shown an inability to ‘defend itself against the corrosion of evil.’”


I really need to find the script of Solzhenitsyn’s speech to Harvard and read it in its entirety.  The following is my observation of Russian communist thought as spoken by our tour guide named Olga on May 26, 1976:


“Olga was asked if she liked the monastery (part of our spirituality tour) and she stated that she hated the church because during the Revolution, the church was revolting against the people who accepted the communist regime.  She said that they didn’t care about the people and persecuted them, they even burned stars into them and beat them.  She thought that the church was far too rich and selfish while the people starved and needed help. 


Once when Kathy (my friend in tour) was taking a picture of a cute little boy on a trainer bicycle as about 4 others had done, Olga reproached her.  Kathy didn’t know what to say to, “Don’t take that picture, you want to make him think he is a hero?” The whole mindset is for the good of the group, no one is to stand out unless he’s done something bad, then he is punished by peer group displeasure.  They also don’t know how to accept praise, Olga was embarrassed when she was complimented on her grammar.”

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