Our Pulpy Past: 10 Facts You Forgot About Life Pre-Internet (From NYU Stories)

Our Pulpy Past:  10 Facts You Forgot About Life Pre-Internet (From NYU Stories)

Before the “My Documents” folder on your computer, there were physical documents—memos, rent receipts, promissory notes, hotel registers, datebooks, grocery lists written on the back of envelopes. Remember life before you could read an e-book, score e-tickets, or e-file your taxes online?

In her new book, Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents, NYU’s Lisa Gitelman, professor  and chair of the Department of Media, Culture and Communication, charts a course from the letterpress to the PDF, considering the various shapes that our pamphlets and periodicals have taken over the past 150 years. Along the way she shows how the ability to make copies—ushered in through technologies from the mimeograph to the Xerox machine—changed our thinking about documents, and explores how computers have allowed us to create digital versions of old paper forms.

“Consider that paper is a figure both for all that is sturdy and stable (as in, ‘Let’s get that on paper!’),” Gitelman writes, “and for all that is insubstantial and ephemeral (including the paper tiger and the house of cards).”

Below, courtesy of Paper Knowledge, are just a few forgotten facts anecdotes from our papery past.

Those expensive letterpress wedding invitations? They’re a holdover from waaaaay back.
Johannes Gutenberg and his associates famously developed letterpress printing—the process of arranging blocks of movable type into a press, inking, and then pressing paper against it—in the mid-fifteenth century, and it was pretty much the only way of printing until 1800. But nowadays, Gitelman writes, we’ve got so many speedy and efficient “planographic, photochemical, and electrostatic means of printing” that “printers” are more often machines than people, and almost nothing (except that custom-made monogrammed stationery you ordered on Etsy) is printed by letterpress. The downside? You don’t get the tactile satisfaction of touching the letters with your fingers, because modern printing methods don’t leave impressions on the paper.

Under the British stamp tax on American colonies in 1765, colonists were required to use only imported paper that was specially stamped—and they really didn’t like it.
When the stamped paper arrived in Boston in February 1766, Gitelman writes, it was found guilty at a mock trial, hanged from a “tree of liberty,” and then “burned to death.”

There were books, and then there were ____________ books.
“Job printing”—printing not of literature but of tickets, timetables, ledgers, posters, diplomas, and other fill-in-the-blank ephemera—was a booming business by the 19th century, Gitelman writes. Think checkbooks: Someone had to print all those “Pay to the order of _____________”s. And notebooks? Someone inked the rules onto the pages (there were special ruling machines designed for the purpose). A few of the items (“address-books,” “day-books,” “package receipts,” “reporters’ note-books”) listed in the “blank books” entry from the 1894 American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmarking are familiar to us today, while others (“fern and moss albums,” “flap memorandums,” “milk-books,” “two-third books”) are, as Gitelman puts it, now obscure.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1894 that Western Union wasn’t liable for garbled messages in telegrams.
That’s because they included fine print (saying they didn’t guarantee accuracy) on both the forms senders used to handwrite notes and those the telegraph offices used to rewrite the messages for delivery to their recipients. Gitelman compares these disclaimers to the end user license agreements to which we must opt in to use many kinds of software today.

James Agee requested that his book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men be printed on newsprint.
The idea was to signify that the work (like a daily newspaper) was timely, and to make the book about Southern poverty accessible to more readers by keeping the cost down (newsprint was the cheapest of papers). His publisher declined.

Xerographic reproduction was effectively illegal in the Soviet Union.
But here in the U.S., the technology played a central role in Cold War era politics, Gitelman writes: In October 1969, Daniel Ellsberg began taking sections from a 47-volume work called “History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy” home from his office and copying them. He created what would become known as the “Pentagon papers”—arguably the most famous Xeroxes in history. The document had been requested by Robert MacNamara in 1967 and penned over a year and a half by 36 anonymous authors working with Pentagon and State Department files. Before leaking the pages to the New York Times in 1971, Ellsberg and friends used scissors and cardboard to edit the words “TOP SECRET—Sensitive” from the margins of the copies.

Yep, office humor predates email.
In the 1960s and ’70s, folklorists Alan Dundes and Car Pagter collected examples of “Xerox-lore,” or (sometimes raunchy) humor that was reproduced and circulated on paper. They published Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire in 1975, releasing subsequent volumes every few years until 2000, when jokes about the strain of “living as modern bureaucratic subjects” had begun to move online.

Microfilm lives!
Today ProQuest offers a database of Early English Books Online, which contains digital facsimiles of English-language works printed between 1470 and 1700. The images have been scanned from microfilm, some of it dating back to an archiving project begun at the British Museum in 1935—and ProQuest is currently working with 125 libraries around the world to continue the process. In fact, there are few online research databases of centuries-old materials that aren’t built on scans of microforms, Gitelman writes.

The PDF was born in 1991.
The acronym stands for portable document format, a file type devised by Adobe Systems and later adopted as an open standard. The point of it is to make the visual elements of documents portable across platforms and devices—or, in other words, to make documents that look the same on screen as in print.

In 2009, the Modern Language Association declared that print was no longer the “default medium.”
Does that mean print is dead? Not quite. But the current MLA handbook advises researchers to label works cited as either “Print” or “Web.”

—Eileen Reynolds


Toward the Fear: Bullying Confronted on Stage (From NYU Stories)


And I I went up I was so I had a moment of being so filled with rage and and
and disbelief and and that it was wrong that I hit her
you know I just I literally
just I was running up behind her and I think I just wailed and hit her right in the back       hard.
You know she was still running
and she
and she was so um
shocked and hurt
and you she cried and I felt terrible.
It was one of those moments of which I’m I’m thankful I haven’t had many of

them where
things are a little out of control you know like I I
all the sudden I’ve I’ve just done something that I
deeply regret um…


We remember them with chilling clarity, those moments from childhood in which we were intentionally cruel, stood by while others were singled out for ridicule, or were humiliated ourselves.

These damaging experiences—and the lingering effects they have on us as we continue to confront aggression in our adult lives—are the subject of Towards the Fear: An Exploration of Bullying, Social Combat, and Aggression, a new ethnodrama by Steinhardt clinical assistant professor of educational theatre Joe Salvatore that opens at the Provincetown Playhouse on Thursday, April 10 (with four performances throughout the weekend).

All of the words in the play, which will be performed by eight students from the Drama Therapy Program, the Program in Educational Theatre, and the Gallatin School, were taken from interviews the actors conducted with adults aged 19 to 62. Sixteen of the 33 interviewed have emerged as characters in the script, talking about social trauma from their formative years—and, in some cases, about bullies who haunt grownup venues like graduate school seminars and corporate boardrooms. Towards the Fear is part of the Drama Therapy Program’s …as Performance series, which explores physical and mental health, gender, culture, and race through theatre, and is supported by a grant from The Billy Rose Foundation.

A few days before the show’s opening, its director, Salvatore (founder of Project Pay Attention), and an actor, Nikolai Steklov, a master’s student in drama therapy, graciously stepped away from a technical rehearsal to talk with NYU Stories about different forms of bullying and about the challenges of bringing people’s interviews to life onstage.  An edited version of their conversation with NYU Stories writer, Eileen Reynolds, appears below.











How did you define bullying for the purposes of this project?

Joe Salvatore: The conventional wisdom around bullying is that someone bullies or is bullied because they have a psychological issue or a difficult family situation—it’s often characterized by psychologists as “acting out” in some way. But one thing we’re looking at is sociologists Robert Faris and Diane Felmlee’s term “social combat,” [which] suggests that bullying actually happens within a closed social network, and that people at the top of the social network and people at the bottom are less likely to bully or be bullied—it’s more the people in the middle who are bullying and jockeying for social position. So that’s why they call it social combat. We like the term because “bullying” makes people think of elementary school, and a lot of people dismiss it as something that only happens with children.

Was it difficult emotionally to go from hearing about painful experiences to telling those real-life stories on stage?

Nikolai Steklov: At first, as I started to learn the words and get someone’s speech patterns, I felt like I was just trying to perform. I didn’t feel connected. But then as I spent a week, two weeks, three weeks with them always in my head, I started to hear, or began to understand, what they’re trying to say behind the words. That’s when I became more connected to them, and that opened up places in me that perhaps I didn’t know existed. I started to feel more empathy than I thought I could.. To bring out what they’re trying to say gave me a purpose. At times I’m surprised in rehearsal that my eyes are starting to get all watery.

J.S.: There are some nights when I get the watery eyes too because the story I’m hearing impacts me in a way that’s powerful. And I’ve heard them a lot! We’re exploring this notion of performance as therapy or therapeutic theater. I’m not a clinician, but we do have a drama therapist who comes in and out of rehearsals to listen and to check in. It’s interesting to think about how we really all have to be mentally healthy to do this work. I think to do any kind of artistic exploration one has to be healthy in a lot of ways—but particularly for something like this. We’re all finding ways to take care of ourselves through this process.

What are you hoping the audience will learn from these performances?

J.S.: I hope that this piece, by illuminating adult reflections on past experiences, will help teachers and coaches to understand that if they stop certain behaviors in their classrooms or sports teams, it has profound impact for people in the future. Some of these people we interviewed talk about what “would have happened if,” “If someone had taught me,” or “I know now that…” or “No one explained that you actually have to do this to defeat the bully.” I have very clear memories of being bullied, and of being a bystander, and of contributing to the bullying of someone else. I have clear memories of all those things. Beyond being very timely, as a sort of buzzword in the news, I think this topic resonates for people because the memories tend to be pretty vivid. We remember the names of people we witnessed this happening to.



Associate Professor Brett Gary Receives NYU’s Distinguished Teaching Award

Brett Gary, an associate professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, is the recipient of NYU’s Distinguished Teaching Award.  The award is given annually to faculty members who have contributed significantly to the intellectual life at NYU through their teaching.

In nomination letters, Gary was described as a dedicated and generous teacher who cares deeply about his students and guides their professional development with “intelligence, knowledge, and kindness.”

Gary, a media historian, is the author of The Nervous Liberals:  Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War (Columbia, 1999).  He studies the history of the censorship in the United States.

Photo:  Brett Gary by Annabelle Gary


Bullying Monologues at Provincetown Playhouse, April 10 – 13

The monologues are derived from participants who range in age from 19-62, encompassing a wide array of ethnic, economic and social backgrounds. They hail from as far away as Washington State and as close by as Brooklyn.

But two things unite them; 1) sometime in their formative years, they suffered from bullying or were a bully or bystander themselves, and 2) their stories will be told as part of a bold new play, Towards the Fear: An Exploration of Bullying, Social Combat, and Aggression, running April 10-13 at the Provincetown Playhouse.

Towards the Fear is the brainchild of Joe Salvatore, clinical assistant professor of educational theater in the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions. The play takes its form from assembled verbatim testimonials delivered by 33 participants that Salvatore identified through posted advertisements, professional list servs, and email and social media outreach. He then had his students – who will also serve as the show’s cast – conduct the interviews and identify the most significant portions of each interview.

“Ethnodramas are incredibly poignant both as tools for learning and as artforms in themselves,” said Salvatore. “In addition to the experience it provides to our student cast members – and will provide to those who attend the performances – I would also like to generate a production that can be replicated in order to deliver valuable lessons for educators who are on the frontlines of dealing with the challenges of bullying and aggression in our schools.“

Towards the Fear is part of a larger therapeutic performance series sponsored by the Drama Therapy program, which commissioned Salvatore to create the piece as a collaboration between its program and the Steinhardt Program in Educational Theatre. Salvatore auditioned and cast eight researchers/actors from the Drama Therapy Program (4 masters candidates), the Program in Educational Theatre (2 masters candidates, one undergraduate), and the Gallatin School (1 masters candidate). Student actors were then trained in interviewing protocol.

“Participants were asked to talk about their own understandings and experiences with bullying, social combat, and aggression in childhood and to identify how those past moments have affected and influenced their adult interactions with others,” Salvatore said. “Once the interviews were complete, we coded the interview data and constructed a script that encapsulated the recurring themes from the interviews.”

Sixteen of the 33 interview participants have emerged as voices in the script. Salvatore has constructed ethnodramatic productions since his days as a graduate student, and has created works examining a variety of controversial subjects, from social class to the non-monogamous relationships of gay men. His original inspiration was Fires in the Mirror by Tisch Arts Professor Anna Deavere Smith.

“I think that Smith uses this style of performance as a way of building an understanding of others and of getting at difference and similarity. That kind of inspiration is at the core of this work,” said Salvatore.

Towards the Fear also includes original music composed by students of the Steinhardt Music Composition Program. The entire production was made possible by a grant from the Billy Rose Foundation.

Tickets for Towards the Fear are available at 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square South, by phone (212-352-3101) or online at nyu.edu/ticketcentral/calendar. Tickets cost $15, $5 for students and seniors. Performance times are nightly at 8 p.m., as well Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. The Provincetown Playhouse is located at 133 MacDougal Street, between W. 3rd Street and Washington Square South. For more information, visit here.

Photo:  Students rehearse for Towards the Fear, a play based on real testimonials from victims of bullying.


Steinhardt Dean Mary Brabeck Gives Testimony on Teacher Preparation at Senate Hearing

Steinhardt Dean Mary Brabeck gave testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at a hearing titled, “Teacher Preparation: Ensuring a Quality Teacher in Every Classroom,” on March 25, 2014.

The hearing, one of seven in a series, is intended to inform the senate committee’s reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

In his opening address, Senator Tom Harkin noted that “the Higher Education Act plays a critical role in teacher training by providing funding to institutions of higher education, in partnership with K-12 districts, to reform and strengthen their teacher preparation programs.”

Harken called witnesses to discuss how the Higher Education Act could be “best leveraged to bring about systemic change in our teacher preparation programs.”

In her testimony, Brabeck, the board chair for Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), spoke about CAEP’s standards, which embody four research-based levers of change that  have strong effects on preparation.

The benefits of  CAEP standards are:

•  CAEP requires evidence of strong clinical experiences and partnerships with schools;

•  CAEP will assure the public of teacher candidate enhanced quality and diversity;

•  CAEP includes all providers from university-based programs to alternative, for-profit, and online programs to seek accreditation and meet challenging levels of performance;

•  CAEP insists that preparation be judged by outcomes and impact on PreK-12 student.

In closing Brabeck said, “CAEP aims not only to raise the performance of new teachers as practitioners in the nation’s P-12 schools, but also to elevate the stature of the entire profession. CAEP will do this by raising the standards and evidence that support providers’ claims of quality and insisting on transparency and accountability to the public. CAEP will ensure that accredited programs prepare teachers who are classroom-ready and demonstrably raise learning for all of America’s diverse P-12 student population. This is an urgent national priority.”

A leader in the fields of applied psychology and higher education, Dean Brabeck has served on boards and councils for organizations that include the New York Academy of Sciences, National Society for the Study of Education, the Holmes Partnership, the Carnegie Corporation’s Teachers for a New Era Research Review Committee, the APA Education Directorate (and other APA elected positions), and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.

Click this link to watch the government hearing on teacher preparation.

(Photo:  HELP Hearing on teacher preparation, Mary Brabeck, second from left.)





Stanford’s Online K-12 Learning Program Accelerates Achievement for Students of All Levels, NYU Study Finds

Independent Report Shows that EPGY Program Participants Average Higher Scores – Up to 45 Percent- On Standardized Math Exams

Research released today by NYU Steinhardt confirms Stanford’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) as a powerful learning tool proven to accelerate varying levels of student potential. The study, performed by NYU’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, finds EPGY program participants scored higher on average – in some cases by 45 percent – on standardized achievement tests against those outside the program.

Originally developed for gifted students, Stanford’s EPGY program has been adapted to aid the learning process for students of all ability levels, including low-income (Title I) students who have historically struggled in school. The study, based on standardized math tests, evaluates EPGY students – both gifted and Title I – against control groups. In both cases, the evaluation finds EPGY students “performed better on subsequent standardized mathematics exams,” the study’s authors write.

Key findings for gifted and talented students include:

  • More than 90 percent of EPGY students received 4 or 5 on their Calculus AB (92 percent) and Calculus BC (100 percent) exams – twice the national average
  • In some cases, EPGY students scored 45 percent higher on standardized tests
  • Over 88 percent of EPGY students taking the Physics C exam received a score of a 4 or a 5 – twice the national average

Evaluating Title I students, finds the following:

  • EPGY students in 3rd-5th grade averaged 12.54 points higher on standardized tests
  • Second grade students who were engaged in EPGY averaged 28.25 points higher on standardized tests
  • In some cases, students with low prior achievement, more than doubled their achievement on standardized tests

The study confirms EPGY’s effectiveness for both individual, at-home users as well as active users in Title I schools “provided the students are encouraged by supportive teachers,” the authors note. The study evaluated students’ performance across separate socioeconomic and educational levels and found EPGY to be a “valuable supplemental tool” for students of all levels, they add.

“When assessing a program like EPGY, it’s important to examine how each educational level responds to participation,” said Pedro Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University and executive director of the Metro Center and study co-author. “When reviewing EPGY, we were truly impressed by the versatility of this program. Our research found EPGY to be an invaluable learning tool for both advanced students and those who are a bit farther behind. Having access to a tool like EPGY will significantly enhance the ability of parents and educators to meet the learning needs of a broad range of students.”

The Metro Center is part of NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Link to the study »


Researchers to Study Afghanistan’s Education System Under USAID, Danish International Development

Researchers at the Steinhardt School  will examine Afghanistan’s schools and help its Ministry of Education assess the sustainability of community-based schools in a research initiative backed by grants from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA).

Currently, many schools in Afghanistan are run by local communities, with the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in coordination with the Afghan Ministry of Education. However, these schools are slowly undergoing a “handover” process in which the country’s Ministry of Education will assume more direct management of these schools. This transition is expected to occur over the next four years after western nations have completed their withdrawal from the country.

“Community-based schools have been effective in educating Afghanistan’s children,” says NYU Steinhardt Asssistant Professor Dana Burde, the study’s principal investigator. “As the country transitions away from NGO-supported schools to a system under the purview of the national government, the Ministry of Education wants to understand how best to manage this undertaking.”

Joel Middleton, a visiting professor at NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Cyrus Samii, an assistant professor in NYU’s Wilf Family Department of Politics, are Burde’s co-principal investigators.

Burde’s previous research, conducted with Leigh Linden, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, showed community-based schools boosted classroom attendance, so much so that they essentially eliminated gender disparities in rural areas.

The new project, supported by a one-year, $258,000 grant from DANIDA and a four-year $2.8 million grant from USAID, will conduct a two-fold examination: (1) an assessment of special interventions designed to increased girls’ access and achievement in school and (2) an assessment of teacher recruitment models and a “handover” process designed to create sustainable access to schooling.

“Our research will help the government of Afghanistan understand what it needs to do to get girls and boys into school—and to boost learning across the country—while clarifying what foreigners can do to assist,” adds Burde, a faculty member in NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. “It will also help identify how Afghanistan can maintain continuity in school performance through the transition from NGO to government administration.”

The study will include 220 villages and will examine schools that have already been handed over from NGOs to the national government. It will consider a range of characteristics, including the proportion of such schools still in operation, and look for indicators on the quality of services still being provided.

“By understanding better the evolution of these schools to date, we intend to provide insights into the types of issues that may arise when the Ministry of Education fully operates the country’s education system—and how to best manage these developments,” notes Burde.



Legendary Songwriter/Performer/Producer Valerie Simpson Featured at the Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at NYU

Songwriters Hall of Fame Inductee Valerie Simpson, who has co-written some of the most iconic songs in the history of popular music, will come to NYU on April 2 as the featured guest at the next edition of the Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at NYU, a collaboration between the Hall and the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions of the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Simpson will discuss her five-decade career as a songwriter, producer, and performer with Phil Galdston, NYU Faculty Songwriter-in-Residence and Master Teacher in Songwriting.

“Valerie Simpson, with her husband and musical partner, the late Nick Ashford, has written songs that span generations and genre,” noted Ron Sadoff, chair of the Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, and director of its songwriting program.  “Valerie’s extraordinarily rich and living body of work is indelibly embedded in our culture.”

“We are fortunate at the Songwriters Hall of Fame to have a lot of depth in terms of songwriting talent,” said SHOF Chairman Jimmy Webb.

“Val stands tall even in a land of giants. She is one of our finest piano players and among our most knowledgeable and experienced Hall of Famers, Her speaking style and her unexpected comedic skills will make this an unforgettable event.”

Ashford & Simpson created an unprecedented catalog of chart-topping hit singles and albums, collecting 22 gold and platinum records and more than 50 ASCAP Awards. Some of their classic compositions, productions and recordings include “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “Your Precious Love,” and “You’re All I Need to Get By” for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, “Let’s Go Get Stoned” for Ray Charles,” Is It Still Good To You?” for Teddy Pendergrass, “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and a customized version of  “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for Diana Ross, and “I’m Every Woman” for both Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston.

Ashford & Simpson enjoyed widespread success as recording artists and performers. In addition to sold-out concert tours and a two-person show about their career, they scored hits with “Solid,” “Don’t Cost You Nothin’,” “Street Corner,” and “Found A Cure.” They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002 and were the recipients of ASCAP‘s highest honor, the Founder’s Award, and the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award. Their songs are featured in the Tony-nominated, “MOTOWN: The Musical.” Simpson has released three solo albums, including 2012’s Dinosaurs Are Coming Back Again. She continues to tour across the nation and to run NYC’s popular Sugar Bar, a restaurant and nightclub she and Nick Ashford founded to showcase new musical talent.

Launched in 2011, the Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions were established to bring to the NYU community the great songwriters who have inspired music creators and music lovers, alike. Part lecture, part performance, and part in-depth interview (including a Q&A with students), the Sessions are curated and moderated by GRAMMY-nominated songwriter and producer Phil Galdston. Previous editions have featured the late Hal David, Jimmy Webb, Glenn Frey, and Nile Rodgers.

“We’re very fortunate to have Valerie join us for a Master Session,” said Galdston. “Our students will have an extraordinary opportunity to benefit from her unique experience and insight into the art and craft of music-making and a the reality of a career in the business.”

The Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at NYU are held at The Provincetown Playhouse, 133 MacDougal Street, between West 3rd and West 4th streets.  For more information about the Songwriting Program at NYU Steinhardt visit  http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/music/songwriting/.

About The Songwriters Hall of Fame:

The Songwriters Hall of Fame celebrates songwriters, educates the public with regard to their achievements, and produces a spectrum of professional programs devoted to the development of new songwriting talent through workshops, showcases, and scholarships. West Coast educational activities are held at The GRAMMY Museum, which hosts the permanent Songwriters Hall of Fame Gallery, and at the University of Southern California. Visit us at http://songhall.org/ for more information.

About NYU Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions:

Steinhardt’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions was established in 1925. Today, 1,600 students majoring in renowned music and performing arts programs are guided by 400 faculty. The department’s degree programs—baccalaureate through doctorate—share the School’s spirit of openness and innovation that encourages the pursuit of high artistic and academic goals. Music and Performing Arts Professions serves as NYU’s “school” of music and is a major research and practice center in music technology, music business, music composition, film scoring, songwriting, music performance practices, performing arts therapies, and the performing arts-in-education (music, dance, and drama).



From NYU Stories: Afghans Want Schools, The Hard Part Is Getting Their Children There

Afghans Want Schools, The Hard Part Is Getting Their Children There.

When Steinhardt professor Dana Burde arrived in Afghanistan in 2005, the nation’s school participation rates were dismal; by 2007, only 37 percent of primary school-age children attended. And of those, most were boys; in rural areas, the gender gap in enrollment was 17 percentage points.

At that time, the Taliban, who had banned girls’ education when they were in power, were still bombing and burning schools and attacking girls’ schools disproportionately. In the country’s most remote (and largely lawless) regions, like Ghor Province, where Burde had come to conduct research, young students had to walk miles to get to government-run schools in distant towns. Many parents, understandably, refused to subject their children to the dangers of such a journey.

But there was a ray of hope, in the form of community-based village schools being set up by non-governmental organizations. With Leigh Linden, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, Burde conducted a randomized trial to determine the effects of these local schools on the enrollment and academic performance of 1,490 primary school children in 31 villages. Theresults were striking: Providing a village with its own place of learning improved enrollment for boys and dramatically increased it for girls—so much so that the gender gap was eliminated.

Still, with Western nations gradually withdrawing troops from the war-torn nation, the future of education in Afghanistan remains uncertain. What will become of the community-based schools—and their students—if and when the NGOs leave?

Burde, along with Joel Middleton, a visiting assistant professor at Steinhardt’s Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, and Cyrus Samii, an assistant professor in NYU’s Wilf Family Department of Politics, has embarked on a new research project to help chart a course for a smooth transition from NGO-supported schools to a system under the purview of the national government. Supported by grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development and Danish International Development Agency, the team will study schools in 220 villages, focusing on teacher recruitment efforts and strategies for continuing to increase girls’ academic performance.

NYU Stories sat down with Burde to talk about opportunities for girls, what Islam has to say about education, and whether she feels safe working in Afghanistan.

What is a community-based school?
In Afghanistan it generally looks like this: An NGO goes to a village that hasn’t previously had a school, or is, say, three kilometers away from a government school, and brings Afghan staff from the region to help communities understand what kind of service they’re proposing. The communities agree to commit space—often in a mosque—for the school, so there’s no new construction; the schools function within existing structures. The community also provides a teacher who is given some in-kind income—food, for example—by the villagers. The NGO contributes to the teacher’s salaries—and now the government is trying to get teachers on the government payroll. The government provides the textbooks for the school, and the NGOs train the teachers in government-standard curricula and pedagogies.

Why is it important to find teachers native to the villages where they’ll be teaching?
Imagine a place where culture changes dramatically from one valley to the next. Dialects differ. Literacy rates are low. Communities are very insular and you can’t go to a new village unless you’re invited. You just wouldn’t show up. If you’re a government-trained teacher from another area of the country, you might not want to move to a new, foreign location. And the community wouldn’t necessarily want to accept you.

In your previous study you found that parents expressed equal interest in educating their sons and daughters. Did that come as a surprise?
There’s a misconception in the West that Afghans are hostile to education and that they’re particularly hostile to educating girls. What’s hard for people to see is that, when you talk about sending girls to school, the problem is not with “school,” the problem is “sending.” Just separating those two things is incredibly important.

How so?
In villages without their own schools, children will walk as much as four hours one-way to go to school. Parents aren’t comfortable letting very young children do that, and families are much more reluctant to let girls out of their sight when they reach puberty—girls often get married around age 15—so it ends up being mostly boys 9 or older going to school.

What does the Qur’an have to say about educating girls?
It’s important to disentangle Islam from Afghan attitudes toward sending children to school. People in the United States don’t always realize that the Qur’an actually requires that people be educated—men and women both.

Do you feel safe working in Afghanistan?
The situation has certainly deteriorated every year since I started working in Afghanistan in 2005, which is sad. The security is uneven throughout the country, so some places have stayed relatively safe the whole time, and other places have deteriorated more. And safety depends a lot on whom you’re with. If you go to a community unannounced, that’s not a safe thing to do. But if you’ve been invited and you’re accompanied by someone who’s from there, then you’re fine, typically. And then there’s Kabul, which despite it all has seen growth in entrepreneurialism and business. It almost seems like a thriving metropolis—but with barricades all over the city. Every time I go back there seem to be more of them. You know how Eskimos have lots of words for snow? People in Kabul have lots of words for security barriers—a whole vast vocabulary.

What are the goals of your new study?
In our first study, we saw that if you put community-based schools in villages, you can eliminate the gender gap in enrollment, but they didn’t eliminate the gender gap in achievement. So we’re trying to first maintain girls’ enrollment in school and second increase their achievement. That’s one question. Another is how to help the government take up these schools after the NGOs end their period of administration. Historically, that transition hasn’t been managed very effectively, so we’re setting up this project to have a smooth transfer that we can test and see if it’s sustainable. We’ll also be testing other kinds of interventions that the NGOs are doing to improve educational outcomes in these villages—like working with local libraries to get adults reading and talking and educating themselves a little bit.

What about teacher training?
The Ministry of Education requires that teachers have 12 or 14 years of education, but in the remote villages the NGOs have a really hard time finding teachers who have anything above a 6th-grade education. So that’s one of the details we’re working out. We’re going to try and find teachers that meet the government standard, but we have to coach the villages to accept these teachers and coach the teachers to be willing to go. Or, if a village does provide a teacher, we have to think about how to get that person up to speed, and how to get them the extra training needed for the Ministry of Education to accept them.

What’s the best possible future you can envision for education in Afghanistan?
We’ll need to be imaginative for a minute. Imagine somehow there’s peace, and the Taliban is brought into some kind of political process that doesn’t reduce anyone’s rights—particularly women’s rights. Then community-based schools would be able to take off, and the government would be able to rapidly expand universal access across the country. Barring peace, I think the government could at least maintain access fairly effectively through these community-based schools. We know they work. The government just needs to make sure it’s able to continue the level of support to teachers both in training and in salaries. And I think that’s doable even with the conflict continuing.

—Eileen Reynolds

Photo: Ghor Province village, by James Gordon (via flickr)


Celebrating the Life of Science at the S. Jhumki Basu STEME Education and Research Center

In Feburary, the Steinhardt School celebrated the opening of the S. Jhumki Basu STEME Education and Research Center with a ribbon-cuttng ceremony and science expo.  The S. Jhumki Basu STEME Education and Research Center is a 6,000 square foot technology-rich environment that serves as a classroom, research laboratory, and collaborative space for STEME educators at all phases of their careers.

The center is named in honor of Srevashi Jhumki Basu, a member of NYU Steinhardt’s science education faculty who died in 2008 at the age of 31 after a courageous struggle with breast cancer.  It is a gift from Radha and Dipak Basu in memory of their daughter.

S. Jhumki Basu’s vision that the best and most advanced science education should be available to all children is the hallmark of the center that aims to engage New York City public school partners, community organizations, and programs in education that are committed to changing students’ lives through STEME education.

The STEME Education and Research Center at NYU Steinhardt was supported by a $2.2 million gift from the Jhumki Basu Foundation and additional gifts from Cisco, Charlotte Frank, and Kaplow Communications.

Cutting the ribbon (from left to right):  NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering Dean, K.R. Sreenivasan, Steinhardt Dean Mary Brabeck, President John Sexton, Radha and Dipak Basu. Credit, Creighton.

Photo (above):   At the science expo Layla Quinones, Luke Rosnick, Michael DeBois and Professor Okhee Lee (left to right) study the nature of light.  Credit, Debra Weinstein.