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THE DALLAS INSTITUTE OF HUMANITIES AND CULTURE’S

C “The poetic imagination is the active creative agent of culture, a power that transforms raw materials by raising them to a higher, more knowable state and thereby ennobling them, making of them objects of intellect rather than of brute nature. The poetic way is not goal-oriented, not efficient. Instead, like a dance, like a melody, like lovemaking, every stage along the way requires attention and evokes delight. Poetry gathers, condenses, images, refers, implies, and remembers. By its capacity for empathy it educates feeling, fantasy, and dream, as well as imagination and intellect. To have a rich and vital culture requires the form, the aesthetic control of the poetic imagination.” From Dr. Donald Cowanʼs Unbinding Prometheus: Education for the Coming Age

“The study of literature is not only remedial, as we intend it for those educators who have had little time to study it in their professional preparation. It is also renewing. As educators, we need literature, from time to time, to refresh our own experience of the broadened vision of humanity into which we are inducting the young. And finally, it is formative: all education depends upon it. Its language, its images, its heightened sense of the purposes of life: these are not luxuries but necessities for the nurture of the young. Until great literature is restored to a basic position in our schools we shall ill accomplish the task assigned to us of turning back to society fully formed human beings.” From Dr. Louise Cowanʼs “Literary Mode of Knowing” in Classic Texts and the Nature of Authority We thank Kathy King for the many photos she has taken for the Dallas Institute.

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Spring 2012 Volume I, Issue I

From the Cowan Center Director D

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We are pleased to present the inaugural edition of the Cowan Center for Education Newsletter. This first brief volume includes histories of the four programs that comprise the Cowan Center for Education (page 2), and articles and commentaries of the sort that will fill the pages of these Newsletters in the future. I would like to thank the Cowan Center Council, the Alumni Council, and the Teachers Alumni Advisory Board (listed on page 2). These groups of dedicated citizens and educators are invaluable. As ambassadors, they help us increase the Cowan Centerʼs reputation, and as advisors, they keep before us both the needs of educators and the nature of the education “reforms” that often deter these professionals from doing their true work. I would also like to say a special thank you to Deedie and Rusty Rose for endowing the Sue Rose Summer Institute for Teachers in honor of Rustyʼs mother, Mrs. Sue Rose, one of the greatest advocates for teachers we have ever known. Their gift keeps the core of the work going, saving teachers and generations of students along the way. In addition, this year a grant from the Young Foundation allows us to offer programs to more teachers, so we thank them for their support as well. Drs. Donald and Louise Cowan begin this Newsletter (left) where it should begin, with reflections that reveal aspects of the vision that inform each Cowan Center program. It is a vision dedicated to nothing less than excellence in American education and American culture. This Newsletter, and all of the programs of the Cowan Center for Education, are the Cowansʼ legacy, and we offer them here in the Cowansʼ spirit, a spirit of wonder and generosity, the spirit in which all true teaching and learning are ultimately achieved.

In a print and cyber-culture cluttered with more information than any of us could possibly take in or fully explore, one might question the value of yet another Newsletter. The short answer— one which we hope to justify more thoroughly in each future edition—is to say that we are offering this Newsletter because we have something to say, something that is different from nearly everything else now being considered in education. Itʼs not the novelty of the work that makes it valuable. Rather, weʼre standing on the integrity of the vision and on the strength of nearly thirty years of recommendations by thousands of educators who have said that the work of the Cowan Center gets to the hearts of educators and to the heart of education alike. Unfortunately, if we consider the cultural deficits that we see and feel every day, we still seem to be “A Nation At Risk,” as the 1983 report from the National Endowment for the Arts called us back then. But teaching teachers, principals, and now superintendents the same great works here in Cowan Center programs, we have gained a rather unique perspective, one that provides an extensive purview from which to assess and address the “crisis” at hand. Beginning here and continuing in future editions of this Newsletter, we will examine the issues and consider solutions, understanding that dedicated educators, professionals called to their work and uniquely gifted for this calling, are the keys to the conversation because they possess many of the answers to the questions about education that we seek. Sincerely, Claudia Allums


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Laura Baldwin

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Betty Bellamy Russell Bellamy Dr. Bainard Cowan

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The Teachers Academy was the first program in the Cowan Center for Education. In 1984, Dr. Louise Cowan applied for and won a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a distinctive, twosummer seminar for high school English teachers, programs based in classic literature that focused on the teacher as learner as opposed to pedagogy and teaching methodology. Year-round classes and events were added to the summer seminar—what is now called the Sue Rose Summer Institute for Teachers—and the Teachers Academy was officially created in 1987. The Teachers Academy was created with the summer seminar for high school English teachers, but its programs now serve Pre-K—12 school teachers from every discipline, in part because they fill the need for highquality, rigorous learning opportunities for teachers that most professional development training lacks.

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The Principals Institute, founded in 1989, was an outgrowth of the Sue Rose Summer Institute for Teachers and was created to nurture learning leaders for school campuses. According to Dr. Donald Cowan, the visionary behind the programs, the “administrator who leads, guides, admonishes and admires teachers should be, in spirit, principal learner among them.” Principals Institute programs are subtitled World Classics and Effective Leadership, and they combine the wisdom found in great works in the humanities with the practical needs of campus administrators and leaders. 2

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Rex Cumming David Griffin Clyde Henderson

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Sue Maclay Joy Mankoff

Founded in 2010, the Education Forum is a multi-day, annual event whose purpose is to provide citizens and educators the opportunity to highlight and explore an issue in education that is of critical concern to the nation and to our city. Each year, the chosen issue forms the question around which the events of the Education Forum revolve, with the lectures, panels, and discussions focusing on this seminal question.

Diane Miles A. Steven Raab Dr. Diane Ravitch Betty Regard Emily Roden Deedie Rose Dr. Dan Russ Dr. Diana Senechal Dr. David Sweet Brian Williams Kim Williams

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Joy Barnhart Dr. Carol François Sharon Harris Dr. Nancy Cain Marcus Dr. Donna McBride Dr. Dawson Orr

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Jennifer Parvin Clarissa Plair

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At a time when education reform is at the top of everyoneʼs list of critical needs, the Superintendents Symposium is designed for a new breed of top administrator, one who would lead by example—by learning. Through the study of great works in the humanities, Superintendents Symposia are active times of reflection, discussion, writing, and community. Founded in 2011, Superintendents Symposia provide Texas superintendents with the unique opportunity to engage in genuine learning among peers, enabling them to continue growing not only in their leadership skills, but also in the wisdom of the human condition, which is, after all, the chief concern of the educational enterprise itself.

Nelda Cain Pickens

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Camille Cain Alfonso Correa Mike Crivello Allen Gray Jennifer Gunn Lois Hardaway Kristen Harris Sharon Harris Laura Hayes Gladys Herrera Tiffany Holmes Yvonne Janik GayMarie Kurdi Andy Mercurio Edwina Nicholson Belinda Nowlin Onyema Nweze Isabel Ramírez Pamela Whatley Amy Wilkinson Russ York


Wanted: Solitude in Schools Dr. Diana Senechal

In education discussions, we hear about the need for more concrete standards, or for less testing, or for more testing, or for richer curriculum, or for better facilities, or for more attention to studentsʼ individual needs. My book, Republic of Noise, discusses a problem related to all of these: the loss of solitude. Education is in large part solitary; it involves a meeting of mind and subject. Our schools emphasize a great deal of activity and group work but not the intense, focused, playful, independent work of the mind. By solitude I do not mean simply physical removal from others, but rather the aloneness that we carry and can shape in various ways. One can be solitary in a class discussion: that is, one can speak out when one has something to say, and listen for the rest of the time. In small-group activity, there is much less room for such mental solitude; all students are supposed to be visibly participating and working on a task. Small-group work has its place, but when districts mandate it and teacher evaluation rubrics presume it, teachers have little room to exercise their best judgment. Moreover, students become dependent on smallgroup activity and intolerant of extended presentations, quiet work, or whole-class discussions. I have often heard from teachers that many students today donʼt know how to stop talking—that they lack the practice of stilling themselves with a book or problem. Yet the same teachers are told, in professional development sessions and elsewhere, that students should get as much “talk time” as possible and that “teacher talk” should be kept to a minimum. A teacher should be not a “sage on the stage,” the mantra goes, but a “guide on the side.” This is short-sighted advice. Students need their sages; they need teachers who actually teach, and they need something to take in. A teacher who knows the subject and presents it well can give students something to carry in their minds. Any serious endeavor requires solitude. A champion tennis player must shut out the audienceʼs cheers and the reportersʼ comments. You have to be ferociously alone at times to play at the top levels or even decently. So it is with the study of poetry, mathematics, history, or any other subject. How can you understand Nikolai Gogolʼs story

“The Overcoat” unless you sink into its language? How can you grasp angular momentum unless you take time with it in your mind? You can work on some problems in class with your peers. But to understand them fully, you must be able to make your way through them alone. Of course, certain kinds of groups make room for good thought as well. When members of a quartet practice their parts on their own and come together for rehearsal, or when students pool their findings in a research project, each person has a chance to delve into the work alone. Unfortunately, schools expect students to do much of their work together on the spot. Many districts, including New York City, man-

“ . . . teachers are told, in professional development sessions and elsewhere, that students should get as much ʻtalk timeʼ as possible and that ʻteacher talkʼ should be kept to a minimum. A teacher should be not a ʻsage on the stage,ʼ the mantra goes, but a ʻguide on the side.ʼ This is short-sighted advice. Students need their sages; they need teachers who actually teach, and they need something to take in.”

dated a “workshop model,” in 2004 and onward, where the teacher gives a brief presentation and then puts students in groups to complete a task. Often these tasks are rudimentary in nature: a Venn diagram, an Internet search, a formulaic discussion. When overdone, group work holds many students back. The student with an unusual idea or quiet personality may have trouble getting a word in edgewise; the student who desires to do well may end up doing work for the others. In addition, given the brevity of

the teacherʼs presentation, students working in groups miss many complexities of the subject. They plunge into activity before they have gained knowledge or perspective. This is especially problematic in history and social studies classes. In order to know history, one must read about it and listen to the teacher; one cannot figure it out by turning and talking or filling out a chart. After one has listened and read, or in between stretches of listening and reading, one can accomplish something in a group. Instead of mandating a particular pedagogical model, schools should encourage teachers to think about the subject and seek the best way of presenting it. That requires the solitude of contemplation and good judgment. Sometimes students should listen to lectures; sometimes the entire class time should be devoted to class discussion. Sometimes there will be group or independent work; sometimes the class will come together for a presentation or performance. When the teacher immerses herself in the subjectʼs details and principles, she will find the appropriate format for the lesson. A solitude fad would be ghastly; there is no need for “solitude appreciation days,” “solitude charts,” or “solitude shares.” Instead, schools should offer the subjects that demand solitude—literature, history, mathematics, music, and others—and show students various ways into them. If schools honor the subjects in this manner, students will gain knowledge and skills that will serve them well over the years. Having grappled with a subject over time, having pondered a work or question, having done what at first seemed daunting, a person will be able to do all of this, again and again, over a lifetime. What could be more difficult and delightful? What could be more essential to education?

Dr. Diana Senechal is the Dallas Instituteʼs 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities. She is currently a curriculum advisor and teacher at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. Her book, Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture, is available at the Dallas Institute and on Amazon.com. 3


A Vision to Stand Under By Mike Crivello Iʼve saved my old flier from the Dallas Instituteʼs 1984 Summer Institute. The first item under Purposes and Aims promises “to offer to forty-five secondary-school English teachers in the Dallas area a transforming encounter with a score of the major literary classics underlying Western civilization.” The Summer Institute kept that promise for “a transforming encounter,” for thatʼs what happened to me that summer and the following summer. Moreover, I know from speaking with many other participants in the Summer Institutes over the last twenty-eight years that they too have been transformed by what has happened over the summers at 2719 Routh Street. For what those two summers at the Dallas Institute gave to me and has continued to give to teachers throughout the years is a real rock to stand upon in the midst of the flood of change in Texas education. Maybe rock isnʼt the right metaphor; maybe what I received from the Summer Institute is more like a fountain —a well-spring that bubbles up from those little phrases: literature as “an imitation of an action, a movement of spirit, a gesture of being.” I wasnʼt given a pedagogical technique or a facile fistful of student worksheets to be copied and handed out to my students. The Summer Institute gave me something much greater. In 1983 I had finished my Masterʼs degree and was excited to bring back all the information I had learned in my graduate classes to my students at Lewisville High School, but what my summers at the Dallas Institute in 1984 and 1985 revealed to me is that merely trying to serve as a provider and then tester of literary facts and critical approaches falls far short of the true purpose of literature teachers. Today, with computers and the internet, high school kids have access to all the information they need. For information, they really donʼt need teachers and their advanced college degrees. And they really donʼt need great literature, either—that is, for information. In the Summer Institutes, teachers have found that we donʼt teach the Iliad to our kids so they can learn about ancient Greece, any more than we teach Hamlet to our kids to learn about Elizabethan England, or The Sound and the Fury to learn about Mississippi in 1928. 4

And all the facts about authors, and all the terms, dates, and literary movements lie far from what should be the literature teachersʼ primary concern and certainly not their studentsʼ primary concern. Besides seeing the true educational benefit of literary study as something far beyond mere information, a second factor in my transformation happened when the Summer Institute opened my eyes to how studying works like Beowulf or Hamlet or Light in August as ephemeral entertainments falls far short of the literature teacherʼs true vocation. For if our kids today have a wealth of information at their fingertips, they have even greater access to

“I wasnʼt given a pedagogical technique or a facile fistful of student worksheets to be copied and handed out to my students. The Summer Institute gave me something much greater.”

entertainment. To treat literature as just a pleasant pastime is like taking our kids to Washington D.C. and asking them if they “like” the Lincoln Memorial or “like” Arlington National Cemetery. The Summer Institute made it clear to me that the literature teacher must bring students to the great works of literature, to understand them by standing under these great “monuments of unageing intellect,” as Yeats calls them, by seeing how the images that form their actions, their movements of spirit, their gestures of real being, embody both the lofty and noble potential of the human heart as well as its most tragic and dark possibilities. Today many say that what young people need in the classroom is an approach grounded in technology and entertainment, because thatʼs what our kids know, thatʼs what theyʼre used to. Thatʼs true; that is what theyʼre used

to. But what so many students today are not used to is experience with and an understanding of—a standing under—the vast wisdom of the literary vision, the very things that only works like the Aeneid and Crime and Punishment and Huckleberry Finn make vivid to our students. What I learned in 1984 and 1985 and what teachers continue to learn at this serene and stimulating haven on Routh Street is to trust the authority of the great works, and to entrust to our students these classic works in the classroom. Iʼd like to think that I had a successful teaching career; I know I wouldnʼt have been named Teacher of the Year three times on our campus without the transformation that occurred to me in 1984 and 1985. And that transformation continues to happen to teachers in the Summer Institute because of what Dr. Louise Cowan started in 1984, to endow teachers with that rock-solid foundation, the fountain that the great works provide. Those who teach the teachers in the Summer Institute have modeled so well what teachers are meant to do— the teacherʼs epic calling: to bring students to an understanding of what William Faulkner calls “the old verities and truths of the heart” and to carry those verities forward as they move toward a better world. My career as a teacher would have been greatly impoverished, my effectiveness with my students unthinkable, without this vision.

A participant in the first two Summer Institutes for Teachers (1984 and 1985), Mike Crivello taught high school English for 35 years. He now serves as a mentor for first-year teachers in the Lewisville Independent School District.

Help change studentsʼ lives. Support the teachers in the 2012 Sue Rose Summer Institute for Teachers. Go to www.dallasinstitute.org or contact Victoria Eiker (214-981-8803).


Cowan Center Newsletter Spring 2012 - Volume I, Issue I