Ein KaremRead More
Fusing Art & Design, Culture & Society, Technology & Creativity, Innovative Thought & Philosophy, Music & Literature
The city of Jerusalem is a mirror and a microcosm of our human, cultural, religious, and historical heritage. The unique Mount Zion archaeological excavation for which I photograph and fundraise, exposes the artifacts of Jerusalem’s past: Jewish, Early Roman, Byzantine and Islamic. The dig in conjunction with The Jerusalem Initiative is both an instructive metaphor and a powerful catalyst for understanding and shaping our collective present as it uncovers and preserves the past. Understanding Jerusalem's complex cultural history opens new ways of thinking about sacred and secular space, exchange, conflict, sustainability, leadership, innovation, loss, grief, mourning, and reconciliation. The Jerusalem Initiative brings together academics, students, business leaders, systems thinkers, community representatives, and global leaders around Jerusalem. With its symbolic, mythical, and literal complexities, the Mount Zion archaeological excavation provides a forum and a laboratory for innovation and creativity on a global scale.
For more Mt Zion Dig news see http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/12012013/article/digging-into-first-century-jerusalem-s-rich-and-famous
I had the honor of having two publications in 2012. Washington DC's Biblical Archaeology Review Magazine published my photos for the article "Brother of Jesus Inscription is Authentic" in the July/August 2012 issue. Another photo of mine was used in The Yale Bible Reference Library's (September 2012) publication ALEXANDER TO CONSTANTINE.
The Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS) was founded in 1974 as a nonprofit, nondenominational, educational organization dedicated to the dissemination of information about archaeology in the Bible lands.
BAS educates the public about archaeology and the Bible through its bi-monthly magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review, an award-winning web site www.biblicalarchaeology.org, books and multimedia products (DVDs, CD-ROMs and videos), and tours and seminars. Their readers rely on them to present the latest that scholarship has to offer in a fair and accessible manner. BAS serves as an important authority and as an invaluable source of reliable information.
The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library is a project of international and interfaith scope in which Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish scholars from many countries contribute individual volumes. The Project is not sponsored by any ecclesiastical organization and is not intended to reflect any particular theological doctrine.
It was a privilege to have contributed to these two fine publications.
When I began to personally assess what is going on the academic arena regarding writing assessment I immediately recalled Wendy Bishop’s clever title “Going up the Creek without a Canoe.” The phrase seemed to neatly sum up my general observations about the dilemma we face. We are a small, largely unrecognized group moving in a newly charted area. We enjoy general, almost universal approbation on one level. After all, the need is obvious. Everyone, whether parent, legislator, or academic seems to agree that improved student excellence in writing is one of our greatest needs. Yet I have come to realize through a variety of readings and interviews about writing assessment, that devising and implementing a new writing program entails obstacles and dangers that threaten all along the way. From this perspective I found Bishop’s title paradoxical. It seems to combine the potential thrill, and the possibility of victory and success, with the desperation that we face as unsung “innovators.” Yet, as Bishop’s title might imply, the venture itself can carry us through, given our sheer persistence, convictions and idealism.
In this regard I am amazed at the peculiar way assessors have had an impact on the education system. As I reflected upon administrative interviews, writing assessment seemed to be initiated on the individual level, by some single renegade in a department. It can and has achieved a respected and productive place when someone was willing to address, define, and press the issues, taking the initiative for innovative implementation. My interview with Professor Kennedy at the College of William & Mary, concretely illustrates this point. She designed a summer seminar for William & Mary faculty and successfully presented it to funding agencies. Her work was almost wholly single-handed. Through individuals like this, portfolios, folders, and terms like “holistic judging” have become common on campuses.
Unfortunately private funding is not readily available, few instructors are familiar with the subject of writing assessment, and infiltrating the system is a slow and tedious process. Additionally, writing assessors seem to be caught in a conservative academic environment. The general public has grown skeptical, often regarding our public school systems as complete failures. Assessors are thus faced with the problem of creating a positive image. How do they convince administrators and taxpayers that “peer evaluation,” “collaborative writing,” “holistic judging,” and portfolios are viable methods in writing development? How are they going to create some kind of forum to even define these terms? How do they avoid the labels associated with the collapsing “new” programs condemned as failures in our current school systems? How do they convince instructors that writing assessment does not mean more work?
Given this framework, assessors seem to be placed in an environment inhospitable to change. Although there seems to be a movement toward change in theories about writing and how to teach writing, overcoming these obstacles, which involves convincing administrators, teachers, parents, and taxpayers to take a leap of faith is difficult. It gets loosely interpreted as “Guess what? we want to conduct another experiment on that illiterate generation we created...and it will hardly cost you.” Quite frankly this reluctance is not wholly unjustified. I must admit, peer evaluation frightfully resembles those now defunct open-classroom/creative-writing programs I had the misfortune of experiencing in mid-school. In retrospect those sessions could more accurately be characterized as rapping recess. In this respect returning to traditional values and methods (grammar/structure/drill) seems to be the current mode. Ironically, it was those very traditional methods that created the clamor for change. They obviously result in certain kinds of performance levels, particularly ones that can be reported, quantified, and declared “successful.” But is this truly learning? Can such skills transfer into truly creative and innovative situations? The growing attitude that it couldn’t get any worse has ironically created an atmosphere that is favorable to transition. This is the moment we seize.
My interviews with assessors reinforced my sense that despite obstacles we face a potentially opportune environment. The students I interviewed appeared to be frustrated with the subjectivity of grades, humbled by their writing and genuinely interested in learning. Instructors seemed to approach the subject of writing and their professions seriously, while remaining committed to fairly and sensitively judging their students. Here is where we must begin. This is clearly our chink in the administrative armor. After all, even administrators feel the public and legislative pressure. And some of them remain committed to learning. Despite their host of concurrent balancing acts, they want results. If they appear Machiavellian, it comes with their position and offers an opening for those of us willing to see a way through. Their job demands that they concentrate on the functional, the economic, the ever practical, yet in their heart of hearts most of them still long to be catchers in the rye.
This has to ultimately be our solution. We are dealing with a complicated mix of interests and perceptions, public and professional, but all share a basic human desire for finding the best way to improve. This alone gives us hope. The key catalysts are the writing assessors themselves, who like underground revolutionaries adapt and shape their new methods for both students and instructors. Their energy and convictions are contagious; they are transformed into their own canoes through sheer effort and determination.
The first semester I began teaching my first college course, I taught a sophomore English course, Composition II. It was not too long before I began to question the objectives I had proposed in my initial syllabus. It became obvious that there were going to be problems. I had naively assumed, based on the fact that this was the second in a sequence of composition courses, my students had been adequately prepared to write short essays. Accordingly, I had designed my course requirements to reflect this basic assumption. As I understood things, my course was supposed to add another dimension to their previous writing experience. My primary goal was to teach them how to develop and write an analytical research paper drawing upon their reading of selected fiction, mostly short stories and plays.
The truth dawned on me when I received their first written assignments. Perhaps I should have not been so surprised, but given my inexperience, I was not prepared for what I encountered. These very preliminary written assignments revealed some rather serious deficiencies in critical writing skills by a fair number of my students. I found this somewhat alarming, given my assumptions for the entire course now reflected in my planning and set forth in the syllabus. In some cases the deficiencies were truly acute; it became clear to me that several of my students were not able to compose complete sentences, or even to recognize the absence of the essential subject/predicate elements. I had understood that all my students had passed a relatively rigorous standardized composition exam as part of their freshman Composition I course. It was beyond me how they had been able to pass such a test, or for that matter, the course as a whole, with these primary writing difficulties.
These discrepancies led me to a detailed evaluation of the goals and makeup of the prior course, Composition I. I think I was able to isolate some of the basic problems with the ways in which writing was assessed in Composition I. This, in turn, allowed me to adjust my own future teaching of Composition II to be more in conjunction with the realities of that particular English department, though I still have some fundamental criticism of how the course was taught and evaluated.
The main lesson I learned regarding writing assessment is that grading policies and guidelines must be carefully thought out in the light of previous courses, particularly prerequisite requirements. One cannot merely assume, through perusal of catalogue copy, that stated ideals and goals are truly being implemented in previous levels. Although in the case of any single instructor, such problems can be met by trial, effort, and experience; I think the real need is for departmental curriculum reform.
English departments in particular are faced with the “masses” who must be quickly either taught or certified as “writers.” The pressures to react with a single draft “final writing exam” are high. One can quantify results and those who either fall through the cracks, or get passed on by impersonal error, can be ignored in the process. In truth of fact, this very course, Composition II, if properly designed with intelligent assessment, could prove to be one of the foundation courses of any college career.