Showing posts with label civic entrepreneurism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label civic entrepreneurism. Show all posts

Saturday, December 13, 2008

UNESCO names Iowa City, Iowa a "City of Literature"

My blog usually celebrates Prague. Today I want to celebrate a place I used to live because it just achieved a HUGE honor. I resided in Iowa City, Iowa for two years while I did my M.A. in library and information science. I loved every single minute of living there and regard my time there as two of the most enriching years of my life. Iowa City, Iowa shares a distinction with my hometown Ames, Iowa and another favorite town of Boulder, Colorado as having the most Ph.D.s per capita of any community in the U.S.

UNESCO has named Iowa City, Iowa, with a mere 63,000 people, as the world's third "City of Literature." What other cities have already achieved this distinction? Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia! Pretty good company, I'd say. UNESCO is creating a Creative Cities Network honoring and connecting centers for cinema, music, crafts and folk arts, design, media arts and gastronomy, as well as literature.

Iowa City is renowned for a culture that REVERES writing. It is no surprise to me that daughter #2 is on her way to becoming a journalist because in her kindergarten and first grade classes the Iowa City School System passionately passed on the joy of writing to students.

The whole town is obsessed with writing and book culture because the University of Iowa is home to the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Sooner or later, every famous writer in the world makes their way there to see what the mystique is all about. Lucky citizens are able to hear readings from great thinkers from all over the world, often in small intimate settings.

Like many of Iowa City residents who enjoyed the endless parade of writers through town, I attended more than my fair share of readings at Prairie Lights Bookstore. Prairie Lights' name was known throughout Iowa because each reading was broadcast to all farmers and small town folks across our rural state.

Iowa City took the job of creating new readers as a sacred task. Every child from all over the world in my married student housing courtyard had a wardrobe of three or four t-shirts celebrating the fact they had proudly finished the annual summer reading club. Kids who didn't participate had to ask themselves why they didn't get their free shirt because it sure seemed like everyone else had one for each year they had been in town. When thousands of kids go through the program, finding the funding for something like that takes support from the entire community. Do the math. It's expensive!

The Iowa City Public Library also mounted the first Banned Books Display I had ever seen. The one I remember that shocked me was "Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. An Indian reservation library had found the portrayal of American Indians in the book offensive and attempted to remove it. Very simple displays like that can help show people that a book they consider important offends somebody else. When we protect everyone's right to read, we protect our own.

To continue that commitment to Intellectual Freedom, the local library started an annual Intellectual Freedom lecture and named it after a staff member who constantly prodded her institution on this issue. It's that kind of reaching beyond the day-to-day mission and teaching the community why censorship hurts their marketplace of ideas that brings this kind of recognition.

Congratulations Iowa City, Iowa and all of the important institutions and their staff members for this huge honor. Y'all deserve it! Link to the title to read the press release.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Teaching English to Koreans

School District Revenue Alert: Koreans are so hungry to learn English and compete personally in their marketplace, which is competing with our marketplace, that they are sending their children overseas to learn English in a native-speaking setting.

According to the New York Times (link to the story via the title), usually Mom and child go overseas by themselves, leading to the term "penguin fathers" to describe the Dads left at home. "Eagle fathers" get to fly over a couple of times a year to see their families.

What an unconventional source of revenue and culture infusion this could be for American school districts! Imagine a school district with declining enrollment slipping a Korean student or two paying cash for their education into each classroom. School districts could avoid raising taxes. Wouldn't all members of the American education establishment get more respect when the locals see how highly valued their product is by the world? This practice would even help the balance of trade. Civic entrepreneurship! I love it.

Since Koreans consistently score at the top of the globe's measures of academic performance, bringing in a family so motivated that they travel half way around the world to learn can only be a good influence on fellow American students. Telling Americans they are falling behind isn't changing behavior. They are not yet shutting off the television or putting down the video game. Showing them, in their own classrooms, could possibly do so.

Since the Korean moms are prevented from working due to visa restrictions, here is a source of parental classroom support a teacher could rely on steadily. Tiny rural American school districts could expose their children to the diversity that often makes their learning environments too sheltered for the kid's own good.

According to this article in the New York Times, Koreans are so clamoring to learn English that the prime minister has promised to hire 10,000 English teachers immediately so that families can live together in the home country. TEFL certification, while appreciated, isn't required to teach in Korea. That's how hungry they are for native speakers. What Koreans could teach the world is how to foster an atmosphere that reveres education that much.

I've thought a lot about whether or not to go to South Korea or the Czech Republic to teach. In researching various possibilities, I've gained great respect for what the South Koreans have accomplished with their country in one generation. I keep coming back to my love of Czech culture, as I know it so far, and my trust that the Lord will provide.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Prague zoo sets out to save Indian gharial

Prague has snagged itself quite a civic entrepreneur at the local zoo. Yahoo News reports the zoo's first conservation project is an attempt to save the Indian gharial. Sounds like a very strategic marketing decision to make your institution's first project some cool, weird animal people haven't heard of before. The picture of the animal that goes with the news story is obscured. I guess the only way to really know what it looks like is to buy a ticket and go see it for ourselves. Bravo, Mr. Fejk. Click on the title for the whole story:

The zoo, a modest 111 acres (44 hectares), has been rated by Forbes Magazine as the seventh best zoo in the world, according to the Prague city website.

Much credit is said to go to the zoo's dynamic young director, Petr Fejk, the first non-zoologist to head the establishment who is credited since his appointment in 1997 with boosting visitors from 400,000 to 1.3 million last year.
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