Monthly Archives: January 2014

Germany: Dealing with Migration and Social Integration

January 30th, 2014

German flag

When I research on the Internet, I can easily fall down a few rabbit holes if I am not careful. This time, I was looking for successful, real-world examples of educational and social programs in place for the enormous immigrant and migratory populations here in the EU, specifically focusing on students.

Attempting to understand the dense, and multi-layered issues facing migrant and immigrant children, their parents and teachers, is no simple task. So I decided to start the easy way–– by speaking with a friend here in Germany, who teaches 16 year olds, both German Language and Art. She instantly began to tell me about her “teacher burnout,” which is a growing syndrome here. She had a long list of issues she felt contributed to her extreme level of stress, but the most recent and disturbing one in her many years of teaching, was the constant socio-cultural walls she now runs up against on a daily basis, due to the extreme diversity of her immigrant students. In her class there are; German, Turkish, Kurdish, (that’s right––they fight over here too, in various school gangs), Syrian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Scottish, and kids from the Dominican Republic.

“Teaching German is so hard…” she said.

“Why?” What do you mean, you’re German!” I said.

“No, I mean––I choose to use literature as a multi-level vehicle––literature which conveys an important message, or enlightens them, wakes them up, and inspires them. But most of them don’t understand the content of the story itself…” She said.

“So the language is too difficult for them and it gets in the way?” I asked

“No, no…they have totally different cultural references, and cannot in any way understand or relate to a story chronicling the disintegration of a marriage, specifically, from the P.O.V. of the woman who leaves the marriage. Many of them are from traditional Turkish or Arabic households, and their women do not just pick up and leave. Their radically different cultural references for the relationship between men and women, prevents them from being able to understand, and learn from the content, therefore making it much more difficult to teach them to associate words with feelings…”

This topic of “otherness” is very ”up” over here, because as of January 1, 2014, the EU lifted work restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, giving them the same rights as any other migrants in the EU–to live and work freely in the country of their choice.

On January 1, 2014, László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, and Inclusion, issued a memo stating: “…The end of the restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian workers comes at a time of high unemployment and tough budget adjustment in many European countries. In hard times, mobile EU citizens are all too often an easy target: they are sometimes depicted as taking jobs away from local people or, on the contrary, not working and abusing social benefits schemes.”

He was directly referring to the fact that across the EU, Romanians and Bulgarians are unfairly seen as interchangeable with Gypsies, who’ve earned a bad rap for being thieves, ranging from simple pick pocketing to more elaborate schemes. When times are hard…it gets very complicated.

For example, in response to Britain’s scaremongering bias against Romanian and Bulgarian migrants, the Bucharest daily newspaper Gandul, shot back with a satirical ad campaign featuring the Duchess of Cambridge, challenging why anyone would leave Romania for the UK, ”Why don’t you come over… half our women look like Kate, the other half like her sister…”

Well yes, there is still that––leaving Commissioner Ando to acknowledge that,”…the sudden influx of migrants…can put a strain on education, housing and social services…” He went on to outline several positive steps underway to address these problems, in lieu of erecting barriers.

For instance, as of January 1st, each EU country should use at least 20% of its allotted ESU funds on promoting social inclusion and combating poverty. The ESU, European Social Fund, which sets aside over 10 billion euros every year, invests capitol in creating fair opportunities for all EU citizens––young people, job seekers and workers.

There are three important issues, which are inextricably woven together when considering factors that affect successful cultural integration: Poverty and Education, Traditional Values and Morals, and Empowerment. There are also some very hopeful programs designed to address, correct, and bring about greater social equality.

Poverty and Education

Many migrants from within the EU, who have been forced by the euro crisis to look for jobs in other countries, are sitting side by side with refugees fleeing wars and persecution. Most everyone has relocated without much money––if any at all, and are completely dependent at first, on the social welfare systems in their host countries. Sweden tops the list for the best social programs, followed by Norway and Germany, so these states have a heads-up in terms of awareness, though the problems are far from over.

In a recent article in Spiegel Online International, Philipp Steinle, the president of a school in Southwest Germany, who noted that most of the students between the ages of 11 to 16 come from countries deeply affected by the euro crisis is quoted as saying: “We can sense the economic weakness of a country right here by the number of students in this class…the more students from any one country, the worse shape that country is in.”

Here in Germany, as well as many other EU countries, the children of impoverished, and socially disadvantaged families often come from rural Turkish or Arabic backgrounds, with little or no education. Their parents can offer no real role model to help them cope, and integrate, nor can they give them encouraging solutions for changing their economic positions. These children often have difficulty reading and writing in German, and do not receive enough, if any language support at home. They simply offer traditional role-playing; the father works out of the house, and the mother stays home and takes care of the children and the food. It takes an entirely new generation to accept a dual income family, if even then.

Then there is the new phenomenon of children who arrive from countries where their families were already immigrants. A recent article titled: Children of Crisis: German Schools Struggle with Wave of Immigrants, also on the Spiegel Online International website explains, “This is a totally new phenomenon, brought about by the euro crisis,” says Michaela Menichetti, integration commissioner for the school district in Reutlingen, also near Stuttgart. For many students, their arrival in Germany is their second time starting from scratch. “We have Turkish students who are coming to us from Bulgaria, Russian-born students from Portugal and Greeks from Russia. It’s an enormous challenge for the schools.”

One school in the EU that has been attempting to deal with these issues is the Green Leaves Vocational School, close to Lille, France. Because of the complexity of the situation and their personal backgrounds, many young people choose to drop out of formal education. Herlé Bossennec explains, “We offer them a different approach, combining work placements with formal learning in the school. It’s a supple system that can be adapted to individual needs,” he adds. The young people want to get the necessary vocational skills for interesting work, and given a chance to progress, they often develop a desire and determination to continue.

In Switzerland, there is a similar dropout rate among low-income migrant, and immigrant students. At Unterstrass High School in Zurich, a program called ChagALL, has had a high degree of success. Partially funded by The Jacobs Foundation, and the Department of Education of the Canton of Zurich, the program “…provides targeted training and support to motivated young people with immigrant background and low-income families to help them make the transition to more advanced schooling. If the young people pass the entrance examination, they continue to receive support for the first two years so that the program achieves a lasting effect.”

Traditional Values and Morals

As my friend the teacher confided, the confusing mixture of traditional values and morals, which immigrants from Arabic and Eastern countries bring with them to their host countries, pose special, and extraordinary sets of problems for students, teachers, and parents.

One thing I never really thought about was the difficulty of communicating with parents when things are not going well in school. This is especially true when it comes to the roles men and women are expected to play in society. As the mothers are the ones at home, teachers often must use an interpreter. On the rare occasion when the women do speak some German, they are still bound by tradition, moral values, and cultural imperatives. These women simply do not see the need to assimilate, or change their ways of thinking.

In my friend’s school, all girls must complete a swimming lesson, or risk failing their Physical Activity class, which in the long run can hold them back from advancing easily into the next year. Germans do not like to fail––more than most, and therefore believe that this is enough impetus to scare someone into doing what is required. In many of the cultures the teachers interact with, much is negotiable. Here is a quick example she shared with me:

“Hello Mrs. Tilki, we have a problem with Irem. She needs to complete her swimming course but she refuses to wear the Muhajabah Plus, which is the covering popular with some of the other girls here…”

“Oh yes I know.” Mrs. Tilki said.

“Well. Mrs. Tilki––I’m afraid that is not an option. However she can submit a written letter from her doctor stating there is a good medical reason why she cannot go in the water.”

“Oh yes…she has a good reason…she does not like the water. It makes her skin itch.”

“In that case, she would not have to participate and there will be no penalty. But I’ll need a letter from your doctor.”

“Yes, well the Doctor said she is perfectly fine, in perfect health.”

“Listen, then she must complete the swimming course or else take the failure. If she does that, she must then get a perfect score in the following semester’s physical fitness class.”

“Yes, we will do it like that then,” said Mrs. Tilki.

Since 2005, the Goethe Institute in Germany has offered a unique Summer Camp based on the model created by a team of educational scientists from the Center for Educational Research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, also in Bremen. They organized a Summer Vacation camp for children from immigrant and socially disadvantaged families with weak German skills. The camp, focused on improving language skills by combining two different kinds of language support platforms: language support via somewhat traditional language lessons, and indirect language support through theater workshops. The non-threatening role-playing in the theater groups, allows the children to gain a better cultural understanding of their new country, helps them to lose their fears of social engagement, and has the added affect of boosting their self-confidence and feeling of community. The results have been very encouraging.


A recent program on the German News featured a hopeful story about a project in Berlin called Heroes, which attempts to help young boys in Muslim families break with traditional behavior patterns in regards to gender roles.

The Goethe Institute website page “Migration and Integration,” currently features an article titled, “Heroes Of Berlin-Neuköll” which explains that the goal of the program is to”… help the boys in Muslim families, to stand up for an end to honor being used as a means of suppression.”

One teacher quoted in the article said, “… Her students have such a weird concept of honor that it often affects their learning abilities – even the slightest form of criticism insults their honor.”

The Hero Project, consists of groups of boys with a peer leader/mentor, which meet for a prolonged period of time, attend lectures, go to exhibitions, and participate in discussions about codes of honor, self-determination and equality.

They go into the community and visit school workshops, which involve acting out gender role reversals, and answering the subsequent questions, which usually arise. The leaders of these groups are boys that want to change these traditional ways of thinking, and give the boys in their group the understanding and help to empower them to protect and defend their sisters and girlfriends, especially in cases of perceived loss of honor.

This is great news. Heroes was the brainchild of Dammar Riedel-Breidenstein, a sociologist from Sweden, who collaborated with other sociologists and gender researchers. The World Childhood Foundation which is an organization that supports projects worldwide, aimed at preventing abuse and exploitation of children, has funded the project, since 2007.

While the problems are many, and may seem overwhelming, I found it very hopeful that the EU has begun to address the deeper layers of issues and obstacles facing integration, with creative and socially aware programs. The EU Commission seems to have realized that left un-checked and ignored; this new reality is a perfect breeding ground for social instability, and more crisis…which no one needs.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design / E:

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The U.S. and Iran: The History of Two Empires

January 23rd, 2014

The United States and Iran (also known as Persia) have not been on friendly terms for what is now more than three decades. Although, recently some overtures have been made over the discussions concerning Iran’s nuclear program, the relations between the two countries have been anything but amicable. But, thirty four years of animosity is a drop in the bucket where history is concerned. As much as the sound bites of the media and politicians on both sides and ends of the continent want us to think, the United States and Iran have had more in common than none.

Here are three examples of historic events and figures from both the U.S. and Iran and their significant impact on each other’s country over the course of time:

Cyrus the Great’s Persian Empire & the U.S. Declaration of Independence
Imagine my surprise when during a visit to the Getty Villa to see the Cyrus Cylinder, on loan from the British Museum, I learned that Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers referred to the book “Cyropaedia” by the Greek historian Xenophone on the Persian King, Cyrus the Great (ruled 559-530 B.C.) in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.


Cyrus the Great, was renowned as a benevolent and noble ruler, even before the discovery of the Cylinder in 1879. Reference to Cyrus the Great is also made in the Old Testament texts praising him for how he freed Jews and brought an end to their exile in Babylon. Influenced by Cyrus the Great’s effective leadership and management of the vast Persian Empire where different religions and traditions of the people in the empire were respected rather than outlawed, Jefferson and the Founding Father s employed these concepts in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. This historic document which speaks of the people’s unalienable Rights, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness has a great deal in common to Iran’s ancient Persian Empire.

The First Iranian-American
The Islamic Revolution of 1978 uprooted and displaced many Iranians creating a diaspora around the world. The U.S. has become home to the largest population of Iranians outside Iran.  The Iranian-American community has produced significant numbers of individuals recognized for their contributions in medicine, engineering, business and government. However, the first ever Iranian seeking U.S. citizenship dates back to 1875 and his name was Mirza Mohammad Ali, also known as Hajj Sayyah (which means the traveler).


Hajj Sayyah was born in 1836 in Mahallat, Iran and from a young age he was exposed through his studies to modern and democratic ideas that at the time were percolating around the world. Curious to expand his horizons, at the age of 23, alone and with little money, he set off on a journey around the world that lasted 18 years and took him to Central Asia, Europe and to the Unites States. He stayed in the U.S. for ten years and met with many important figures, one of whom was President Ulysses Grant. His travels afforded him a look into other societies and governments as compared to the harsh treatment suffered by most Iranians under their autocratic rulers. He became convinced that all human beings deserve to live humanely, treated justly and enjoy basic human rights. According to State Department documents, Hajj Sayyah became an American citizen on May 26, 1875, making him the first officially-documented Iranian to become a U.S. citizen. He returned to Iran in 1877 and became politically active by speaking out against the unbearable living conditions in Iran as perpetuated by the monarch and the clergy which led to his imprisonment. Once he was released, he immediately sought refuge at the United State Legation in Tehran and continued to play a major role in the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 in Iran. He died at the age of 89 in 1925.
(Credit: Dr. Ali Ferdowsi, the Chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Notre Dame de Namur University. Encyclopedia Iranica )

The Iranian Lafayette via Nebraska


Born on April 10, 1885 in Nebraska, Howard Baskerville, a Princeton University graduate and missionary came to Iran in 1907 to teach Iranian boys and girls at the Presbyterian Mission School in Tabriz, a city in the northwestern region of the country.

As far back as the 1870’s, American Christian missionaries had come to Iran (at that time: Persia) to help build schools, medical clinics and hospitals and proselytize. Two years after his arrival, during Iran’s Constitutional Revolution, Baskerville took up the cause of the Iranians who were dissatisfied with the Qajar monarchy (which pre-dates the Pahlavi dynasty that was overthrown in 1979), by raising a volunteer army. He did so against the advice of the evangelical Presbyterian missionaries and the American Consul in Tabriz. He saw the Constitutionalists struggle for democracy identical to America’s war for independence from Great Britain. The Qajar Royalists, with support from the Czarist Russia, had taken Tabriz under siege. Baskerville and his hundred-man army that included mostly young noblemen and some of his pupils attempted to break the ten-month siege. But as Baskerville and two others set off on a sortie to collect food for the city from a nearby village, he was shot in the back by a sniper from the Royalist’s army. The bullet went straight through his heart, killing him instantly. He was only 24.

One hundred years after his death, Baskerville continues to be revered as not only a hero by the Iranian people, who call him the “Iranian Lafayette,” but most importantly a shaheed, or martyr, turning him into a national legend. At his funeral, thousands turned out for a massive outpouring of mourning. He was buried in the Christian Armenian cemetery in Tabriz. When the Persian parliament reconvened seven months later, the first item on its agenda was a speech of tribute to the slain American. Even Ernest Hemingway credits his participation in the Spanish Civil War to Howard Baskerville and modeled the character of Robert Jordan in his novel For Whom the Bells Toll after him.

In 2003, a bronze bust of Baskerville was erected in Tabriz’s Constitution House. The Persian inscription at the bottom of the bust reads: “Howard C. Baskerville. He was a patriot – history maker.”

History has a way of helping us gain insight into the past, lessening our myopic perspective on the present. As Baskerville, the young American missionary was quoted as saying: “The only difference between me and these people is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference.” We are all pursuing our unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
(Credit: Hajj Sayyah – Dr. Ali Ferdowsi, the Chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Notre Dame de Namur University. Encyclopedia Iranica

(Excerpts on Howard Baskerville were borrowed from a previous blog “My Place of Birth,” which appears on AcademicExchange, 01/12/2012)

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI

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Calypso Gets Muzzled in Guyana

January 16th, 2014


Q: Why is it that music always gets banned in totalitarian regimes?
A: Because music is a human expression of freedom.
Q: Why did the Vatican try to suppress music that had any rhythm to it?
A: Because rhythm is dangerous and might make people want to get down, shake some booty, even fornicate.

In Germany and the Soviet Union, jazz was banned because it was considered decadent and bourgeois. Way too much freedom there.

In Iran, even a woman’s voice wasn’t allowed on the radio; it might enflame men’s baser instincts.

In the case of Guyana, it’s more like Fela Kuti in Nigeria or maybe South Africa under apartheid. Especially Fela, calling taking names in songs like, “I.T.T. (International Thief Thief)” and “Coffin for Head of State” and “Army Arrangement”.

Calypso in Trinidad and Tobago (calypso’s capital) has always been the mouthpiece of the people. It’s a great topical music. Great Calypso artists like Young Tiger, Lord Kitchner, and others sang about the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1952, the growing popularity of bebop music (for and against), and for people whose reading skills were limited, calypso classics filled the void. There were songs about Kennedy facing down Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis.  Calypso lyrics told the truth, giving the people straight talk on current events.

Now the Guyanese government is trying to quash calypso music in Guyana. Why? Because calypsonians there are writing songs about the endemic corruption that has plagued the South American nation. Radio stations are getting calls “suggesting” that the DJs not play certain hit songs. A top singer, De Professor (né Lester Charles), after winning a big song contest with the song, “God Nah Sleep” that a local radio station got stormed when it put the song into heavy rotation and tried to ban the song from airplay. Some of the lyrics went like this:

“While dem a thief, thief, thief,

we just sit down like if we lame”

Guyana, though known to many Americans from the hideous Jonestown Massacre of 1978, has known corruption, assassinations, election fraud and violence since independence from Britain in 1966. Repression continues with this latest ban on musical freedom.

Here is De Professor’s song that so upset the government ministers:


Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythmpalent
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

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5 “What If” Questions for Engaged Education

January 9th, 2014

What if…. teachers asked students: “What would you like to learn today?”
What if…. administrators asked teachers: “What values are your students learning?’
What if…. parents were asked to express what they want their children to learn?
What if…. overall well-being were the first outcome we assessed?
What if…. schools set out to discover the unique traits of each student and built on them?


We’d like to engage you in this discussion. Please share with us your thoughts and or any comments.


Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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January 1964: A Retrospective

January 2nd, 2014


As we start the New Year, we thought it would be interesting to look back and see what historical events took place on this month in January, fifty years ago in 1964. As you can see from the list below, in only one month, a great deal happened around the world, some of which continue to be part of the news today.

We hope you’ll find this retrospective interesting or at the least amusing in that history does have a way of repeating itself, from political unrest, revolution to diplomatic stalemates. It also chronicles some firsts, such as the announcement about plans to build the World Trade Center, the first female presidential candidate and the Beatles having their first #1 hit in the U.S.

January 1964

January 1st – In Africa, Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland dissolved

January 2nd – Failed assassination attempt on president Nkrumah of Ghana (though 2 years later in 1966, a military coup led to his ouster forcing him to seek exile in Guinea)

January 3rd – On TV in the U.S., the Jack Paar Show shows a clip of the Beatles singing “She Loves You.” To view the clip, click on this link:

January 5th – Pope Paul VI visits Jordan & Israel

January 7th – Bahamas becomes self-governing
(and on July 10, 1973, it gained its independence)

January 8th – European Parliament accept Mansholt Plan

January 8th – U.S. President Lyndon B Johnson declares “War on Poverty”

January 11th – Panama ends diplomatic relations with US
 after the breakout of anti-US rioting that started two days earlier on January 9th

January 11th – U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry reports that smoking may be hazardous

January 12th – In Tanzania, revolution overthrows Sultan of Zanzibar, one month after independence Revolution

January 13th – Hindu-Muslim rioting breaks out in the Indian city of Calcutta – now Kolkata – resulting in the deaths of more than 100 people.

January 14th – Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1st public appearance (TV) since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. To see a clip of her TV appearance, click on this link:

January 18th – Plans for World Trade Center announced (NYC)

January 22nd – At the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, the Wisconsin Pavilion displayed the world’s largest cheese (15,723 kg or 34,591 pounds) manufactured

January 24th – 24th Amendment to US Constitution goes into effect & states voting rights could not be denied due to failure to pay taxes

January 25th – Beatles 1st US #1, “I Want to Hold your Hand” (Cashbox)

January 25th – Echo 2, US communications satellite launched

January 27th – Margaret Chase Smith (Sen-R-Maine) tries for Republican Presidential bid

January 29th – 9th Winter Olympic games open in Innsbruck, Austria

January 29th – Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” premieres

Film Director Stanley Kubrick

January 29th – Unmanned Apollo 1 Saturn launcher test attains Earth orbit

January 30th – Military coup of Gen Nguyen Khanh in South Vietnam

January 30th – Ranger 6 launched; makes perfect flight to Moon, but cameras fail

January 31st – The U.S. report “Smoking & Health” connects smoking to lung cancer

Together, let’s help make 2014 a year of remarkable achievements and breakthroughs that promote the betterment of our global society and planet as a whole. Happy New Year!


Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc.

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