February 8, 2017
News from the dean
Today's guest column is from Deborah Dillon, associate dean for graduate and professional programs.

I just returned from what can only be described as one of the most amazing experiences of my life—a 10-day trip to Cuba to present at the Pedagogia 2017 International Conference for the “Unity of Educators.” A delegation of 17 colleagues traveled together on this trip (for a list of participants see “International news” below). Over 5,000 educators and researchers from across the world attended the conference. What was particularly impressive is that all of our Minnesota delegation presentations were delivered—or translated—in Spanish due to the efforts of three exceptional graduate students who participated as delegates on this trip: Stephanie Owen-LyonsAlexander Giraldo, and Julio Cabrera Morales. These individuals not only presented their work at the conference, but they translated others’ papers (including one of mine). Each of them helped our delegation at every turn as we interacted with scholars we met and new friends we made in Cuba.

The conference was a great opportunity to learn from others, visit K-12 schools in Havana (often specialty schools in visual arts or music), and understand the history of Cuba’s leaders and their impact on education. Clearly evident in Cuba was a great respect for teachers and researchers at all levels, with student learning, development, and engagement at the top of educators’ priorities. We found the Cuban people welcoming and kind, open in sharing ideas, interested in our research and projects, generous with their time, and always expressing a desire to build relationships.

A highlight for us was visiting with Luisa Campos Gallardo, director of the Literacy Campaign Museum and a faculty member at the University of Pedagogical Sciences in Havana. Luisa showed us around the “living memories” that are part of this museum, which displays historical relics, photographs, documents, and testimonies of the events that occurred during the 1960’s literacy campaign. Documentation commemorates those who participated, and those who lost their lives as part of this initiative. This historic event produced a country with the world’s highest literacy rate (about 97% of citizens can read and write), and we learned of the continued efforts to ensure that the citizenry remain among the most literate in the world and that literacy is honored as a right of all Cubans.   

We spent the morning with Luisa and a well-known author from Cuba, Nancy Morejón.  Luisa shared the story of the literacy campaign of 1961 in which 100,000 young people—volunteer youth ranging in ages from 8 to 18—left their families for a year and traveled to towns all over the island to live with families and teach parents and their children to read and write. The volunteers also worked on the farms—side-by-side with those they taught. In so doing, they learned about the lives and culture of fellow Cubans, and connected with them spiritually, emotionally, as well as intellectually.

One poignant moment was when Nancy shared that she was a literacy campaign volunteer as a young 15-year-old. Nancy noted that teaching and helping others learn was her way to “combat ignorance.” She shared, “My spirit is still in that campaign—I had a democratic spirit and I learned so much from my students.” After her year as a volunteer, Nancy returned to her studies and went on to become one of Cuba’s most famous writers. As she reflects back, she believes that as a volunteer in 1961, she helped create a generation of Cubans who would then become readers of her literature. We were all touched by her emotional message as she concluded her talk: “When I was in the literacy campaign we didn’t have Sundays [off]. I helped create new readers. When I was performing it and doing it, I didn’t realize it. Now I see … I am 73 now, but I defend the right and obligation to teach … you teach and by doing so, you learn.”

I have learned … and been changed forever by this amazing experience and the opportunity to share it with my valued colleagues and friends.
Burton Brief—1/25/17:

College of Education and Human Development faculty, staff, alumnae, and school-based colleagues will be traveling to Havana, Cuba, January 25th-February 4th, 2017 to meet with Cuban educators and present research papers at the Pedagogía 2017 International Conference for the “Unity of Educators.”  The delegation, the largest US academic group to date to travel to Cuba and present at a conference, is comprised of 17 individuals with expertise in reading & literacy, second languages and culture, dual language and immersion, bilingual education, special education, access and inclusion, multicultural education, immigrant youth, and pathways to diversifying the teaching force.  

Goals for the visit include sharing research and practical knowledge and engaging with colleagues on Cuban initiatives presented by local advocates, educators, and policy makers; presenting research at the conference; and making visits to educational spaces such as the National Literacy Museum.  Upon return to MN, delegates will dialogue on learning and insights with the broader Minnesota community.  

Delegation participants include Deborah Dillon (delegation leader), Laura Coffin Koch (conference organizer), Stephanie Owen-Lyons (assistant to the delegation leader), Alexander Giraldo (grad. student), Julio Cabrera Morales (grad. student), Michelle Benegas (alum), Amy Hewitt-Olatunde (St. Paul Public Schools), Karina Elze, (Minneapolis Public Schools), and the following faculty and staff members in CEHD:  Heidi Barajas, Martha Bigelow, Blanca Caldas Chumbe, Panayiota Kendeou, Keitha-Gail Martin-Kerr, J.B. Mayo, David O'Brien, Karla Stone, and Rose Vukovic.

Participants were invited after State Senator Patricia Torres Ray reached out to Dean Jean Quam and Associate Dean Dillon and requested that they to secure a group of diverse scholars and practitioners from the college and community to participate in this important event.  Senator Torres Ray planned to join the delegation but was unable to leave her work at the statehouse to travel at this critical legislative time.