Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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Lessons for Dr. King’s Day

January 18, 2010

As we observe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, agencies and organizations collaborating with the Indiana Humanities Council offer these online teaching and learning resources:

Bill of Rights Institute – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Facing History and Ourselves – Eyes on the Prize Lesson 1, The Philosophy of Nonviolence

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History – Robert Kennedy’s Speech on Martin Luther King’s Death

Indiana Department of Education – The Ideas of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

Indianapolis-Marion Co. Public Library – Kids’ Info Guide, Martin Luther King Jr.

National Archives & Records Administration – Official Program for the March on Washington (1963)

National Endowment for the Humanities – Let Freedom Ring: The Life & Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Park Service – Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

PBS – Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1985

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: A History of the World in Six Glasses

December 2, 2009

By Kristen Fuhs Wells, communications director at the Indiana Humanities Council.

In A History Of The World In Six Glasses, Tom Standage boldly states that the history of the world can be told using six signature beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola). These drinks are intricately linked to six major periods in world history–from our nomadic brethren deciding to stay in one place to the current fascination with Coca-Cola.

He goes on to divide history much like archaeologists divide it based on different materials (stone, bronze, iron) only in the form of beverages. But not in a world history textbook kind of way (although I did find myself re-learning bits of world history that I had forgotten over the years). Instead, Standage summarizes great periods of history and concepts into just a few sentences, sprinkles in a few interesting factoids and connects both big picture thoughts and minute details to the development of these beverages, as well as their widespread adoption. Standage explains how these beverages extended life expectancies, fueled the enlightenment, contributed to wars, and divided cultures. For example:

Beer contributed to an increase in farming and decrease in hunting.
Wine divided classes and cultures, particularly in Greece and Rome. 
Spirits influenced slavery, the American Revolution, and contributed to the British Navy’s strength.
Tea improved and sustained life, and it was the “lubricant” for the industrial revolution.
Coffee (and coffeehouses) served as fuel for the enlightenment.
Coca-Cola, love it or hate it, is symbolic of America’s rise in dominance.

Some of those interesting tidbits include that the oldest known recipe is for beer; that Coca-Cola created a clear, un-branded bottle for a leader in the Soviet Union so that he wouldn’t be seen drinking Coke during the Cold War; and that rum significantly contributed to the dominance of the British navy because it kept scurvy at bay.

It’s a brisk read, and offers fascinating insights into our history, and into human nature.

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The humanities: It’s not about what they are; it’s what we do

November 16, 2009

Due to an overwelmingly positive response, we wanted to share the following article with you, which was published in a variety of newspapers throughout Indiana, including the Indianapolis Star on Nov. 4, under the headline “Get in touch with the humanities.”

By Keira Amstutz, president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council. 

Once, after a dance performance, Isadora Duncan was asked what the dance meant. Her response has become famous as a terse description of art’s purpose: “If I could tell you what it meant,” she said, “there would be no point in dancing it.”

In my role as president and CEO of the Indiana Humanities Council, I often find myself being asked, “What are the humanities?” And sometimes, like Isadora Duncan, I think it’d be easier to dance than answer the question.

Why? Because sometimes describing the humanities is like describing the wind – it’s easier to say what it does than what it is. It swirls leaves on an autumn sidewalk. It teases a little girl’s hair. It pulses through a wheat field like waves on a landlocked sea.

So, I thought I’d explain what the humanities are by explaining what you can do – and perhaps already do – in, through and with them every day.

I don’t pretend that this list is conclusive; I know it only scratches the surface. But I hope that it will, in its breadth and diversity, allow you to create – and, more important, put into action – your own definition of the humanities. So, let’s get started:

Read a novel. Read a poem. Read the directions on a shampoo bottle. Read the Declaration of Independence. Read a blog. Read an essay. Read a review of a book you’ll never read. Read a sacred text. Read your diary. Read to a kid. Read the liner notes to an old jazz album. Read the lyrics to a song you love. Read a libretto.

See a play with a friend. Go early. Wander through the theater. View the stage from different angles. Peruse the program. Learn about the actors. Watch the play. Study the set. Notice the lighting. Listen to reactions. Find a place to have coffee. Discuss the play. Go to another play. Repeat the process.

Visit a courtroom. Visit a classroom. Visit an old teacher. Visit a park. Visit a museum. Visit a library. Visit City Hall. Visit a college campus. Visit a craftsman’s workbench. Visit an artist’s studio.

Look at a piece of art. Study it. Step back. Look at the piece beside it. Ask yourself: Why are these pieces next to each other? Why is this art? Step back again. Ask yourself: Does the size of the room affect the way I look at the art? Step back again. How does seeing more change the way you see the art?

Listen to a band. Listen to a debate. Listen to a well-tuned machine. Listen to a podcast. Listen to a diner ordering dinner. Listen to a photographer describing a photo. Listen to an architect explaining a building’s design. 

Stop outside a building you pass every day; look at its design. Do you know the name for the architectural style? Do you like it? What appeals to you? What would you do differently? Get a book about architecture and learn about the style. Find other examples of that style and compare them. Find examples of other styles and compare them. Take a walk with a colleague and debate the architecture you see.

Attend a historic-home tour. Attend a lecture. Attend the symphony. Attend a gallery reception. Attend a festival. Attend a legislative session. Attend opening night (of anything). Attend a public forum.

Speak at a public forum. Sing in a choir. Yell “Bravo” at a concert. Ask a question. Tell someone your family’s history. Recite a poem. Describe a work of art. Say what you think.

Now, think about what you’ve done. You’ve examined, studied and reviewed something made by humans or something that makes us human. You’ve thought about it, pondered it and processed it. And you’ve talked about it, debated it and discussed it.

That’s what the humanities are.

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Talent is overrated.

November 4, 2009

By Krista Skidmore, Indiana Humanities Council board member, and president of FlashPoint Human Resources Consulting

We all know the rhetoric that great organizations are made up of great people — and with this in mind, most companies spend a significant amount of time, energy, and focus trying to find and develop talent. One of the toughest challenges leaders face, though, is trying to understand how to develop peak performance in their employees or volunteers. Is it born or bred? Is it nature or nurture?

Geoff Colvin attempts to tackle this question in his book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. He concludes that great performance is not reserved for a preordained few. It is available to everyone. He asks his readers to confront the myth that abilities are innate and encourages us to consider that deliberate practice is the common factor that explains great performance.

After all, Colvin points out, Mozart became Mozart not because he was born with talent but because he furiously worked to develop his skills through finger-bloodying practice. Colvin discusses a study he conducted of high performers in various fields; it showed that the most excellent performers develop their skill not only through participation in organized activities but through hours of individual practice as well. For example, he found that the best violinists practice during scheduled hours with the orchestra but also devote many hours to solo performance; meanwhile, Jerry Rice became arguably the greatest wide receiver to play the game of football because he spent most of his time honing his skills through rigorous workout routines.  Deliberate practice requires intense concentration and commitment; it far exceeds what most of us do when we think we are “practicing.”

Colvin admits that deliberate practice alone does not fully explain excellent performance. He acknowledges that the performer must also have a supporting environment in which to work. This is an especially important concept for those leaders who are seeking peak performance in employees. But those who wish to apply it to the workplace should beware—most of our organizations simply are not designed to support deliberate practice. Goals aren’t always clear; activities that would make us better are usually not highly repeatable; there are few incentives to exceed our limits; feedback is not consistent; and most activities are within our comfort zone, not our learning zone. Those organizations who want to get the most out of top performers must address these issues.

Fortunately, Colvin gives several helpful tips on how to apply his concepts. Leaders who are interested in the idea of deliberate practice and who want to eliminate environmental challenges in order to build an organization that truly supports peak performance will find Talent Is Overrated insightful.