As Ohio Northern University’s Center for Teacher Education enters our winter season, we would like to share some news about our students, alumni, faculty and staff. Read on to discover more about what we’ve been up to, the places we’ve been, and where we would like to be in the future.
GRANT RECIPIENT AND DIRECTOR OF SOUTH AFRICA: PERSPECTIVES ON DEMOCRACY
Dr. Sandra Crosser
Rhinos in the yard came to be a daily reminder that we truly were in Africa. Four ONU teacher education majors, four area teachers, and six professors spent four weeks as participants in a Fulbright-Hays Group Area Study in July and August 2010. The goal of the experience was to study democratization in an emerging democracy in order to better understand our own democracy. Participants created units and modules of curriculum for use and dissemination in the U.S. Those curriculum projects range from kindergarten through grade 12 and will be published on a website later this year. Teachers will find a wealth of resources to use in their own classrooms.
The study, “South Africa: Perspectives on Democracy,” was fully funded at $88,440. That funding allowed participants to study with professors at the Potchefstroom Campus of North-West University, tour cultural sites, interview numerous groups of citizens, meet with leaders, visit several public and private schools, explore several UNESCO world heritage sites, and come to know the wildlife on the game reserve/animal sanctuary where they were provided lodging.
Several weeks were devoted to a case study of a remote, rural village in Mpumalanga Province, which is in the northern region of the country. Participants worked with teachers and administrators in the primary and secondary schools, modeling teaching strategies, using computer software, providing technology assistance, building a playground, planting trees, painting the new computer lab, painting faded classroom chalkboards, designing security for computers, producing teaching materials, and providing professional development in line with the South African educators’ expressed needs. The Fulbright-Hays participants were able to continue the work in the village that had begun four years earlier by ONU’s Dr. Diana Garlough, assistant professor of education, Nathan Oliver, online instructional course design specialist, Dr. Sandra Crosser, professor of education, and Sandy’s husband, Ron.
The participating teachers were Holly Ruggles (an art teacher in Bellefontaine, Ohio), Chad Spencer, BA ’94, (a social studies teacher at Lima Shawnee), Dana Garrison, BA ’97, (a sixth-grade teacher in Lima, Ohio), and Kelly Wohlgamuth (a fifth-grade teacher in Findlay, Ohio).
The ONU students were Casanova Green, BA ’10, Betsy Bair, a senior early childhood education major from Stow, Ohio, Ashley Smith, a senior early childhood education major from Urbana, Ohio, and Katelyn Amendolara, a senior art major from Canfield, Ohio.
The participating professors were Dr. Diana Garlough, Nathan Oliver, Dr. Sandra Crosser, Dr. Debra Gallagher, assistant professor of education, Dr. Eva McManus, professor of English, and her husband, Lowe.
Hein Viljoen, a professor at the Potchefstroom Campus, provided leadership as the group’s scholar expert. The participants individually, and as a group, were simply outstanding as they were able to live, work and laugh together while impacting the lives of so very many people on the other side of the world.
PHOTO: Debra Gallagher with secondary school students.
THE ONU STUDENT PERSPECTIVE
For Betsy Bair, a senior early childhood education major from Stow, Ohio, Ashley Smith, a senior early childhood education major from Urbana, Ohio, and Katelyn Amendolara, a senior art major from Canfield, Ohio, this South African experience was a meaningful one in many ways. All three noted that their most touching moments were the days spent in the schools. They described schools and students as very different from those in America. The school in Luphisi was inside a razor-wire fence with a dirt schoolyard and limited supplies, where children received food that, for some, was the only food for the day. The children were inventive, taking plastic bags and making them into jump ropes and using the netted bags that formerly contained oranges to create soccer balls. The children, in the midst of such poverty, were described as happy, full of energy and, “like sponges,” eager to learn.
Yet these experiences with the students in a foreign environment went beyond the physical attempts to meet educational needs. As Bair’s first experience in another country, she noted that “studying another’s culture, values and beliefs forces you to assess your own values and beliefs.” Through that examination, Bair’s beliefs were put to the test multiple times, as she worked with children who knew little English and limited Siswati. She noted, however, that it was “remarkably easy to communicate,” even though such communication was sometimes heartbreaking. She recalled a sixth-grade girl who asked her to be her mom because she did not have one. However, Bair said that the trip affirmed that she was entering the right career as an educator and that she learned more about herself and about teaching than she ever could have imagined.
Smith noted that the experience impacted her life in enormous ways. “Seeing their way of life, the way their government works, and experiencing a whole new culture really made me think about the way I live and view life,” she noted.
The impact of the trip also reached into the future for Smith. “My attitudes toward different ways of life have definitely been altered. We saw a lot of people and thought, ‘poor them.’ However, by the end of the trip, we realized that this is how they live, and it works for them. This experience will definitely carry over into my classroom because, when I get a student who has a home life that I may not find agreeable or ideal, I will know that the parents are most likely doing the best they can with what they have. Because of my experience, I feel that I have benefited, and my students will also reap the benefits of what I have learned.”
“This was an experience of a lifetime, and it has shaped me in so many ways,” noted Amendolara. The resilience of the people and their phenomenal stories impressed her the most. “I loved learning about the tribes, Afrikaans and culture of the different people.”
While studying the arts, Amendolara noted the creativity and richness of the culture. “I was able to participate in many ceremonies of the indigenous people.” Most importantly, she explained, “I was able to truly give of myself. If there was anything that needed to be done or anything I was able to be a part of, I was there. I was able to expand my own capacity to love and give.”
SOUTH AFRICA EXPERIENCE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF CLASSROOM TEACHERS
Having experienced many school days in classrooms as educators, several area teachers looked at their South African experience in terms of both the commonalities and the differences they experienced between the U.S. and South Africa. Since the teachers had experiences as both students and teachers to draw from, they were quick to see the common threads.
“Both countries have standards at each grade level that must be taught and assessed,” explained Kelly Wolgamuth, a fifth-grade teacher from Findlay, Ohio. “The departments of education oversee the standards and tests at the schools and are considered highly important. The stress on the teachers to teach the students the standards was quite evident when we were at the schools in South Africa. The students in both countries learn the same subjects: reading, writing, math, science, etc.”
Chad Spencer, a Lima Shawnee High School teacher, took a broader look at the democracy in which all this occurs. “I was struck by how much different South Africa’s democracy is to me than what I expected. I am not convinced it is a functional representative democracy, but perhaps it is a democracy in name, definition evolving. It will be interesting to me to see how the country deals with the myriad of economic, political and social issues it faces in its near future.”
Spencer also noted an interesting common aspect of schools in South Africa. First, he recognized that, similar to schools in the U.S, a disparity exists between wealthy and non-wealthy schools. “ That chasm seems to be wider in South Africa. There also seems to be less money devoted to education as a whole. This is directly evident in the lack of textbooks, supplies, quality teachers, etc. A general lack of knowledge exists as to where to obtain information relative to higher education, career choices and other items that we might consider basic.”
Holly Ruggles, a Bellefontaine High School art teacher, noted that the high school in Luphisi was her biggest surprise and echoed the same problems Spencer mentioned. The shabby, overcrowded classrooms were exacerbated by the lack of caring about the needs of the students. “The bureaucratic officials, the school administration and, most sadly, many of the high school teachers did not seem to care about the students. The elementary teachers seem much more caring but are often poorly trained. In many ways the Luphisi schools echo the problems found in many poor American inner-city schools.”
“Our time was limited, but we were able to visit a variety of schools,” Ruggles continued. “We visited a technical school and a high school that were in many ways typical of an average American school. We also spent considerable time working at the high school in Luphisi, a poor, neglected area. Teachers and students make a school, regardless of the facility style or country, and, around the world, teachers and students are basically alike. At the technical school, we discovered very frustrated, over-worked teachers coping with a student population with many problems, including extreme lack of preparation (most arrive with a low elementary reading/math level), rampant AIDS, (well over 20 percent) and few financial resources. Despite those obstacles, they are producing impressive results. It is obvious the teachers there care.”
To get a comprehensive look at South African education, the group toured Uplands, a luxurious private prep school with beautiful classrooms, a swimming pool, a horse-riding facility and modern computer labs. “They were not exclusive,” Ruggles noted. “The headmaster was determined to have his students be aware of the social problems of South Africa and involved with the educational needs of all people. As a result, Uplands sends their students out into the community for service projects, and they encourage disadvantaged students to attend Uplands on scholarships.”
Ruggles, Spencer and Wolgamuth agreed that meeting the children was the best part. “The students in South Africa seem to have a greater appreciation for learning and wanted to gain more knowledge, regardless of age,” said Wolgamuth. “The students did not have a cafeteria so they ate outside on the ground, stood, or sat on boulders.”
Ruggles described the elementary students as like children the world over: joyful and positive. “They were unaware of what they did not have and very grateful and excited for any new discovery. The high school students, like most teenagers who have already experienced disappointments, were initially critical and suspicious. However, with patience, we made a few significant inroads. We shared a roundtable meeting with a group of the Luphisi High school students. They wanted to be heard, wanted someone to care enough listen to their dreams and concerns. We did that and, as a result, hopefully gained their trust and encouraged self-reliance in the face of many problems.”
“I came away from my Fulbright-Hays experience with a new perspective on South Africa,” Ruggles said. “I am grateful to live and teach in America. The problems of South Africa are far more complex than I ever imagined. There is no doubt the success or failure of the educational system will have a tremendous impact on the future survival of this emerging democracy.”
PERSPECTIVES FROM ONU PROFESSORS DR. DIANA GARLOUGH AND DR. EVA MCMANUS AND LOWE MCMANUS, GSW PROGRAM INSTRUCTOR AT BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY
This grant was a study of democracy. After the South African experience, Dr. Diana Garlough, Dr. Eva McManus and Lowe McManus, GSW (general studies writing) program instructor at Bowling Green State University, were asked about their thoughts in regards to this concept. They were asked to comment on curricular implications and how this study, focused on democracy, might enrich/inform/expand their teaching/research. Each responded with interesting perspectives, thoughtful conclusions and thoughts to ponder regarding the South African democracy. Below you will find excerpts from their writings. To access the complete essays, please click on the links following each excerpt. The curriculum materials, as well as the group report of their findings, can be found at www.onu.edu/node/30232
Dr. Eva McManus “Using education as a lens through which to track the development of democratic ideals and practices in South Africa was a great idea. I appreciated the planning that went into providing us with a variety of cultural exposures to see how the process works and how different people are benefiting from the government plan to educate the people with an emphasis on democratic concepts. I researched government standards for learning in English or language classes in the secondary school and was initially impressed by the high level of achievement expected. That impression was altered by the reality of education in South Africa and, in fact, just before we arrived, the government lowered the standards and scaled back the lesson plans to deal more realistically with the population.” Read more
Dr. Diana Garlough “The focus of our Fulbright-Hays Group Study Abroad Grant was to learn more about democracy in an unfamiliar setting in order to better understand our own democracy. To that end, we read and discussed both fiction and nonfiction texts prior to the trip in our training sessions; we continued our reading and discussing during the trip. We also talked to many people we came into contact with as we traveled. Two issues greatly surprised me as we talked with people. The first was that people of all races, ages and economic status believed that life is not better economically in the new democracy. (Apartheid officially ended with the first elections for all South Africans in 1994.)” Read more
Lowe McManus (BGSU) “To see in actuality what I have read so much about over decades in regards to South African political and social structures left me less surprised than quizzical. How is South Africa to move past its history of institutionalized racism, resented so deeply by black South Africans and sometimes still denied by many white South Africans who themselves still chafe at the memories of opprobrium the rest of the world aimed at their ruling National Party’s government? How is the current ruling party, the African National Congress, to avoid the hubris inherent in themselves holding the reins of what is, at this point, operationally a single-party democracy? And how can the country handle the issue, raised in his interview with our group somewhat poignantly by Lassy Chiwayo, the mayor of Nelspruit, regarding the necessity to “institutionalize” (i.e., turn into standard operating procedures) the functions of democratic government?” Read more