Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dakota and Ojibwe Educator Guides and Virtual Exhibit Tour Now Available Online

In a partnership with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, a group of Dakota and Ojibwe scholars and educators developed educator guides that enhance the Why Treaties Matter: Self-Government in the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations exhibit content. This traveling exhibit - now available online - focuses on treaties between Dakota and Ojibwe Nations and the U.S. Government. Each guide includes teacher background, student readings and activities, vocabulary, and suggested resources.

Guides explore:
  • A Deep Connection to Place
  • An Ojibwe Narrative: Reconnections to Place
  • Ways of Learning: An Ojibwe Childhood
  • The Chippewa National Forest
  • Traditional Anishinaabe Economy
  • Treaty Economy
  • We Have Always Been Sovereign Nations
In August 2010, a resolution creating a unique partnership of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. was approved by the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and made it possible for development of the Why Treaties Matter traveling exhibit as an educational tool for Minnesota audiences.

Educator guides are available at
I learned a lot about the Dakota and Ojibwe's past, how they were impacted by the settlers coming here, not just by how the settlers were impacted by them. I also learned about the Dakota and Ojibwe peoples' traditions and cultures, and how they interpret the world. - 9th grade student, Eden Prairie High School

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Marty Case - Public Discourse and the Need for Civil Engagement

Marty Case works with Allies: Media/Art, researching the networks of people and businesses that represented the U.S. in treaties with American Indian groups. His work challenges the “master narrative” that shapes many assumptions about U.S. history and identity. He has also worked as Director of Development and Planning for a state-wide arts organization, and as writing and planning consultant to 45 widely diverse organizations in the fields of art, culture, education, social service, religion, and politics.

As the long Presidential debate season gets underway, proving as always that our political system is broken, I’m reminded of a newspaper article that appeared in 1848. Anyone who thinks that contentiousness in politics is a modern problem might consider how the abolitionist press described a Presidential candidate back then:
Lewis Cass is one of the most miserable demagogues alive. Gross in person – almost idiotic in visage – narrow in intellect – shriveled in soul – vulgar in taste – treacherous by instinct – crawling in his ambition – devious in his course – truckling to his superiors – mean among his equals – domineering to his inferiors – without one particle of frank manhood in his composition.
Public discourse in America has always been contentious. But has contentiousness ever been effective? The most famous political debates in our history, between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, did absolutely nothing to solve the big issue of their day: slavery. In fact, the debates helped to fence opposing camps in intractable positions that resulted in a bloody Civil War.

In a large country with a diverse population, can there be a public arena in which, a) everyone has a voice, and b) solutions – and more importantly, problems – are effectively stated and considered?

The Minnesota Humanities Center is currently hosting a three-part discussion of public discourse in America. Each session includes a group of participants in the room at the Humanities Center and also a simultaneous public “Twitter Town Hall” (#uncoveringpublic) event. The first session was held in July, and the final session will be  September 1st. In these salons, a great group of insightful people with diverse perspectives (ranging from the local to the global) is considering how public discourse works, and how it might work better.

The first two sessions have indicated to me that mutually respectful, intelligent conversations like these are themselves part of the solution to improving how we tackle big issues. The challenge, of course, is to incorporate more perspectives into public discourse on a larger scale, where the stakes are highest: Where and when is violence sanctioned? How are material resources acquired, maintained, and distributed? Beyond material measurements, how is the well-being of our society and its members defined and nurtured? Who gets to weigh in on these (and other) questions with any meaningful chance of being heard?

The political and historical realities that shape the answers to these questions are present in the room during our discussions. The roles of the mass media, historical oppression and trauma, and master narratives in shaping public discourse are topics on the table. And while nobody thinks the answers to these large questions will be finalized in six hours of conversation, my sense is that everyone agrees on the importance of discussions like this as part of a larger conversation, part of any movement to build a more just and equitable public arena.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

David O'Fallon - Notes from the Road: Lessons Learned at Music/Art Educator Conferences

David O’Fallon, Ph.D., is the President of the Minnesota Humanities Center. His vision for the Humanities Center is to transform education and find common ground to renew and strengthen our democracy through key work with partners. Prior to taking over as President of the Humanities Center, Dr. O’Fallon served as President of the MacPhail Center for Music, Executive Director of the Perpich Center for Arts Education, and Director of Arts in Education for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to spend a week with educators in Tampa/St. Petersburg and then in Orlando, Florida.

Let’s start with this premise: a school is first of all, a human community, a gathering of people, young and old. It is not a system to be ruthlessly made more efficient.

In the Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg, some 30 art and music educators gathered. People who carry the arts in the schools of Pinellas County and across Florida — caring for students in a highly stressed system — find openings for imagination, for the creative spirit, and for the capacities, skills, and passions of life that go beyond the exams.

The Tampa/St. Pete group tallied up their years of experience; over 350 years in that room — 350 years of learning, of educating young people in their charge as they dealt with a system of education undergoing years of stress. How many young people? In a given week the people in that room reach, connect with, inspire, wonder about, and engage over 10,500 people. Pause with me a moment; 350 years of experience, 10,500 young men and women — each week! 

In Orlando, I spoke with educators who sought ways to advocate more effectively for the arts. In a system increasingly test-stressed and tight with time, can more room be found for music, art, dance, and the humanities?

At each gathering I found a hunger for the human community to be recognized as the soul of education itself — the need for us to be in relationship with each other as the foundation of learning.

That is the work of our Minnesota Humanities Center.

The humanities bring a deep aquifer of resources to this hunger. The arts and humanities aren’t just subjects; they are a powerful means of engaging the world. The system of education we have now was created some 150-200 years ago to serve the needs of society in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. Now we need a new system — for different purposes. We imagine what must be created; we manage what exists. We care for the people within — and for each other. As someone once said, “be hospice workers for the old, midwife the new.”

The humanities and the arts are uniquely positioned and equipped to do this. I took heart from the people in Orlando and Tampa/St. Pete, from their intelligence, expertise, and commitment to reaching each child — as a person — to help build and maintain a thriving human community, which is the mission of the Minnesota Humanities Center.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Meryll Levine Page - Saved by the Humanities

Meryll Levine Page served on the board of Minnesota Humanities Center from 2004-2012.  Following her tenure on the board, she served as a consultant, drawing on her thirty-nine years of teaching experience. Meryll also blogs at:  More Jewish Luck. Together with her sister, Leslie Levine Adler, Meryll is the author of the nonfiction work:  Jewish Luck:  A True Story of Friendship, Deception and Risky Business.

Picture a life preserver bearing the word ‘Humanities’ thrown out to a struggling young girl. She grabs hold and doesn’t let go until she reaches dry land.

Until I researched the lives of two Jewish women under the Soviet regime for our book, Jewish Luck:  A True Story of Friendship, Deception, and Risky Business, I would have thought “saved by the humanities” was hyperbole. Hours of interviews taught me that books and the arts were truly a lifeline for girls who understood from a young age that school and Soviet ’culture’ were intended to squelch individuality, creativity, and free thinking.  Both women remember — with an emotion approaching rapture — the books that promised them hope, a future, and a sense of identity — books that were smuggled into the USSR and shared among trusted friends at the risk of imprisonment. For others, underground music or the underground art scene offered a way out of the gray Soviet life. Humanities meant possibilities.

Our American educational system is not designed to create automatons and robotic allegiance to our country like the USSR’s schools. Yet, many students feel alienated, estranged, and ill-served by their schools. Can the humanities serve as a life preserver for them?

In May 2014 I attended an Omaha Public School District teacher’s meeting to review the efficacy of their partnership with the Minnesota Humanities Center. I felt like I was part of a revival meeting. Teachers ecstatically testified to the power of the ‘absent narrative’ and building an ‘innocent classroom.’ The stated goal of the initiative — to build and strengthen relationships, recognize the power of a story, learn from multiple voices, and discover that solutions to problems are often entrenched in the community — was endorsed and celebrated. The humanities approach made students, parents, and community members of all races and ethnicities feel welcome and affirmed. Children saw themselves reflected in the curriculum and they flourished.

What struck me more than the statistical proof that adjusting curriculum to include absent narratives was successful was the emotional impact it had on teachers. Teachers want to succeed with every student and this approach supplied them with tools to be the best teacher — a teacher who begins by building relationships with students.
Unlike the women who grew up in the USSR, we don’t live in a dictatorship where the humanities are proscribed and conformity is celebrated; yet, students are marginalized by curricula that ignore multiple viewpoints and cultural realities. I urge all Minnesota teachers and administrators to investigate the Minnesota Humanities Center’s Educators Institute. Learn about the possible. 

It could be a life preserver for a Minnesota teacher and Minnesota students.