April 19, 2013
In the spirit of Mark Twain who famously said he never let his schooling interfere with his education, Bill Drayton grew up enthusiastic at school, but not so much about school. He enjoyed a few subjects, but he admits, his energies were in things like, starting a series of newspapers or being an active member of the NAACP. Now, Drayton, who is credited with having coined the phrase “social entrepreneur,” hopes to create a network of global changemakers (empowered with skills embracing empathy, teamwork, leadership and problem-solving) with his organization Ashoka: Innovators for the Public to reshape education all together.
For more than a decade, Ashoka has partnered with young people with its Youth Venture program, but it’s only in the past year that it began partnering with schools to introduce the concept of empathy into the curriculum. Dozens of schools in the U.S. are already on board and, according to Drayton, “Last week, Scotland said, this is going to be in all of our schools and even though the Irish Ministry is cutting back, they’ve just made a huge commitment.”
Ashoka’s network of changemakers includes 3,000 fellows working more than 70 countries, who place a high premium on supporting those bringing about change in their communities. Among others, they’ve supported a Japanese girl, who founded a website to connect with other children whose parents were going through a divorce, and an activist in Calcutta, who helped to found a school for the children of factory workers. Drayton’s hope is that by teaching empathy in elementary schools we can create a generation of changemakers.
We talked with Drayton about how to teach empathy and why he thinks top-down solutions aren’t the answer.
How has the landscape of social change evolved since you founded Ashoka in 1980?
If you go to Harvard Business School you will now find more people in the social enterprise group than in the marketing or finance group, which is wildly different from even ten years ago or five years ago. That’s very satisfying. We are at a different stage.
The world really has to go through this transition from being organized around efficiency and repetition, think assembly line, to a world where the real value comes from contributing to change. That requires a different way of organizing—fluid, open teams of teams. And it requires a different set of skills—empathy, teamwork, a very different type of leadership and changemaking.
How do you implement that new paradigm?
Any child who has not mastered cognitive empathy at a high level will be marginalized. Why? Because, as the rate of change accelerates and it’s an exponential curve, that means every year there is a smaller and smaller part of your life covered by “the rules.” They haven’t been invented or they’re in conflict, they’re changing. You’re going to hurt people if you don’t have this skill and you’re going to disrupt groups. You cannot be a good person, just by diligently following the rules, it’s not possible anymore.
That’s the first step in a reformulated paradigm for success in growing up. We have 700 Ashoka fellows, leading social entrepreneurs around the world, focused on young people, and so we have many different ways of doing this. I was just talking with a Canadian fellow, I was on her board actually, Roots of Empathy.
She’s able to take children, first through third grade, who did not get empathy in their schools or on the street, or in their family and if she’s given three hours a month for eight months, all the kids will have advanced empathy. Bullying rates come down and stay down. We know what to do with 8th grade girls, who lose their self confidence and become mean girls, we know how to have kids practice and play at recess and in the classroom.
How many elementary school principals do you know who have ever even thought about this? It’s not on their agenda. They are measured by information transfer on tests. And you can’t have mayhem in the hallways. Well this is perfectly designed for a world in which you’re training people to master a body of knowledge, or a set of rules. And you’re defined as a baker, or a banker, or whatever it is. And you’ll repeat that for the rest of your life. Fine, but it just is not relevant now.
So what does she do to teach empathy?
She brings an infant, two to four months old from the neighborhood at the beginning of the year. The infant wears a T-shirt labeled “The Professor.” The Professor resides on a green blanket and there’s a trainer. The teacher sits at the back and does not really engage that much. The first graders or third graders or whatever have the responsibility of figuring out; what is the professor saying, what is he or she feeling. Of course, they’re absorbing a very high empathy level.
How does this foundation of empathy inform the work that you do internationally?
They have exactly the same problem in India and in Japan, here and in Nigeria.
Any country that falls behind has just bought a one-way ticket to Detroit. It’s hard to realize that 50 years ago, Detroit was the top of our technology. Now it’s bottomed-out, in informal bankruptcy, has lost 25 percent of its population in the last ten years. Well that took 50 years. With an exponential curve, you don’t have 50 years. If India does this right and we don’t, we’re Detroit. That’s true for a family, a city, a community, a country. The key factor of success going forward is what percentage of your people are changemakers.
This is like the new literacy.
How did you learn these skills?
I didn’t realize what was going on then, but in retrospect, I’m very grateful. I had parents who had this skill. They knew it was important. And they took the trouble, not just to enforce skills, but to ask, how do you think it made him feel when you did that? I was really lucky.
I’m not particularly well-suited for football. I couldn’t imagine why I was being tortured by Latin and math and things that had no relevance at that point. I love history and geography. My energies went into starting things, which was fine for me. I had a principal, who advised my parents not to be worried, and not to show that they were worried when I was not where I was supposed to be. Because I was busy doing these other things. What a gift.
Ashoka has something called Ashoka’s Youth Venture, which is designed to do precisely this for young people. I would like to have every young person grow up in that sort of a school, community environment. We have a summit ever summer. Last summer it was at American University, four or five days.
What about huge resource inequities and people like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University who advocate the idea of a Big Push to get countries out of poverty?
You tell me whenever you can find a place that you have sustainable development if it isn’t led by people who have this sort of power. The central lesson of development is that it’s in people’s heads. As Gandhi said, India will be independent when it’s independent in our heads. There’s a classic Harvard Business Review article in the context of big American corporations: you want a change? You think the chairman’s idea is going to fly by itself? Forget it, it’s never going to happen. It has to be a team of people.
You don’t put people on it because of their position: that’s a committee and committees never get anything done. It has to be a team where everyone on the team wants it and then, you know, it’s a good thing that the chairman is with you.
April 18, 2013
How is a sculpture of neon-colored Easter baskets similar to a Picasso collage? That question is at the heart of the Hirshhorn’s new exhibit, “Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-Present,” which brings together roughly 100 works of mixed media from the 20th century. Starting with the early experiments of George Braques in 1913, the exhibit shows the wide range of applications, from playful to nostalgic, political to personal.
Drawing on mass-produced media and objects allows artists to comment on common cultural touchstones. Every movement from Cubism to Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, utilized “non-art” materials. Though found objects sometimes appear in artworks predating modernism, the exhibit points to the 20th-century concept of collage or assemblage as a new moment in art, one whose influence is still felt 100 years later.
“Over, Under, Next: Experiments in Mixed Media, 1913-Present” runs April 18 through Sept. 8, 2013, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
April 17, 2013
In recent years, we’ve gone from relying on bulky external GPS receivers to having digital maps of the world accessible at our fingertips. But what can we expect in the next few decades from the technology. Andrew Johnston, one of four curators for the new Air and Space Museum exhibit, “Time and Navigation,” says much of the change will likely come from the commercial and social media side of it. Meaning, soon your phone may be getting even smarter. He says, “All that will be invisible for most people. It’s become this sort of hidden utility that everybody uses but nobody really sees it, or understands quite how it works.”
We talked with him about the ubiquity of the technology, what it might look like in the future and whether we’re at risk of being overdependent.
What are some of the applications?
[GPS] was born as a military system and is still operated by the Air Force in coordination with civilian U.S. government agencies. So there’s lots of applications that are important for strategic directives with the country.
The first thing that people might be used to doing is accessing maps on their phones. That is something that depends on satellite positioning using GPS satellites.
These days, large shipping companies use satellite positing to determine where their trucks are. And you can keep track of all your vehicles from a central location, which is huge for enabling more efficient transportation.
There’s a story in the exhibition about precision agriculture. That’s a huge business now. Satellite positioning has revolutionized how large scale agriculture is taking place. Fertilizer is very expensive, the old way of doing things you would apply the same amount of fertilizer for a whole field. Whereas, now because the piece of farm equipment knows where it’s located and you have a map of the soils and previous season’s crops yields, as the vehicle drives over the field it can actually vary how much fertilizer goes down depending on those conditions.
A firefighter appears in the exhibition highlighting how satellite positioning allows vehicles to get to places faster because they know the routes and have the on-board mapping information. But it also points out some of the things that we can’t do yet, like indoor positioning.
Satellite positioning is also a timing system. It provides high precision time, like an atomic clock, except it’s distributed over large areas. That’s useful for running an electric grid. The way that electricity is transmitted over long distances, you have to time when surges of electricity move from point A to point B and that’s done with GPS timing. Even financial transactions need precise time. Transactions that happen very quickly need a precise time reference, which often comes from GPS.
What are some of the challenges, for example, indoor navigation?
Right now satellite positioning does not work indoors in most situations. Different solutions are being explored. For instance, you can determine your position pretty roughly by using cell phone towers. The phone knows where the towers are located and which towers it is using, so it can roughly determine its position. The level of error is lower when you’re using satellite positioning.
But let’s say you knew which were the closest WiFi hotspots and you knew the information about those spots, and you knew where they were located, you could use that to help you navigate as well, indoors and outside.
Map databases have to be globally consistent so you can move anywhere on the earth and still see the map data, but then they have to be up-to-date and that’s a huge amount of work. One of the ways that different groups are trying to address that is by collecting data and updates from people as they move around with their phones.
It may be possible for a phone to search for hotspots as it’s being carried around and then save this data to a central server. Then subsequent phones, if they’re tapped into the same database, will know the locations of WiFi hotspots.
The commercial aspect is interesting. Throughout the exhibit, there are moments where government funding and competition spurs innovation, is that still the way it is?
When it comes to these global navigation tools, in terms of the funding that makes these systems work, that is still mostly a government story. Systems like GPS, that’s government money that actually makes all that operate.
The thing that’s been going on recently is that there’s a lot of non-government money getting involved in utilizing these services and making derived products, and providing services to individuals all over the world. In other words, there’s this government system that is being run, but then there’s all of these different applications and a lot of the innovation for how to actually use the system is coming from the non-government side.
While the future of positioning technology in terms of social media is largely invisible, a visible example includes the promise of driverless cars, which Stanley represents in the exhibit. Anything else like that on the horizon?
The possibility of self-driving cars has the potential to transform everyday life. We’ve run out of space to build highways so it’s a possibility of increasing the capacity of the highways that we have by having cars going bumper-to-bumper at 50 miles per hour by getting the human out of the equation. It’s impossible to say how long in the future that will take place. I suspect more than ten years from now that we’ll have lanes set aside for driverless cars but who knows.
The other thing that it will change is how airplanes get around. . .who knows, maybe down the road, human pilots will not be as common as they are today, that’s another possibility.
Some people do wonder if it’s possible to become too dependent on these satellite-positioning systems, because, what is the backup? The answer today is that for a lot of these services, there is no backup. Now GPS is a very robust system, it’s not going anywhere, but there are some things that make it not work as well. Down the road, we have to worry about things like solar interference and make sure the radio spectrum is free of other signals. We have to worry about jamming. Although it is illegal to do so–GPS is shockingly easy to interfere with by someone determined to block the system or create problems.
Has it happened?
One of the famous examples was at Newark Airport. A few years ago a new airport positioning system was being tested. Every so often, the GPS would stop working briefly. They finally figured out that what was going on was that right next to the airport was the New Jersey Turnpike. A truck was driving by with a GPS jammer to prevent the central office from tracking the movements of this truck. The jammer plugs into the power adapter and GPS doesn’t work for the vehicle. The problem is that it affects a zone much bigger than a truck, including, in this case, the grounds of the airport.
There actually are ways to provide backup to global positioning, including ground-based transmissions. For instance, the LORAN system was made up of ground-based radio transmitters that allowed you to determine position. That system was mostly shut down and many people are not happy about that because they ask the question–”What’s the backup to satellite positioning?”
The new generations of GPS satellites being developed right now will include features that will protect the signals and make them even more useful for users all over the world. I think right now, the robustness of the GPS system is such that we’re not in any kind of danger zone, but I do think we’ll see a push for a ground-based backup.
On April 16, Smithsonian Institution Secretary G. Wayne Clough testified before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the impending effects of sequestration. Though the Obama administration had sought a $59 million budget increase for the Institution in fiscal 2014, this year Clough has to contend with a $41 million budget reduction due to sequestration. Gallery closings, fewer exhibitions, reduced educational offerings, loss of funding for research and cuts to the planning process of the under-construction National Museum of African American History and Culture were listed among the impacts of the sequestration.
Clough began his testimony: “Each year millions of our fellow citizens come to Washington to visit—for free—our great museums and galleries and the National Zoo, all of which are open every day of the year but one. Our visitors come with high aspirations to learn and be inspired by our exhibitions and programs.”
“It is my hope,” Clough told the committee, “that our spring visitors will not notice the impact of the sequestration.” Perhaps most noticeable would be the gallery closures, which, while they would not close entire museums, would restrict access to certain floors or spaces in the museums, unable to pay for sufficient security. Those changes would begin May 1, according to Clough.
Clough warned, however, that while these short-term measures will save in the near future, they might also entail long-term consequences. Unforeseen costs may arise in the form of diminished maintenance capabilities, for example. “Any delays in revitalization or construction projects will certainly result in higher future operating and repair costs,” Clough said.
This also threatens the Institution’s role as steward of thousands of historic and valuable artifacts–”Morse’s telegraph; Edison’s light bulb; the Salk vaccine; the 1865 telescope designed by Maria Mitchell, America’s first woman astronomer who discovered a comet; the Wright Flyer; Amelia Earhart’s plane; Louis Armstrong’s trumpet; the jacket of labor leader Cesar Chavez,” to name a few.
April 16, 2013
In 1947, when Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke major league baseball’s color barrier, the world was still 16 years away from the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Movement as just getting organized. The Montgomery bus boycott was eight years away and housing discrimination based on race would remain legal until 1968. In his first season with the MLB, Robinson would win the league’s Rookie of the Year award. He was a perpetual All-Star. And in 1955, he helped his team secure the championship. Robinson’s success was, by no means, inevitable and in fact he earned it in a society that sought to make it altogether impossible.
Unsurprisingly, his story seemed bound for Hollywood and in 1950, still in the midst of his career, he starred as himself in “The Jackie Robinson Story.” Now Robinson’s story returns to the screen in the new film “42,” this time played by Howard University graduate, Chadwick Boseman, who was at the American History Museum Monday evening for a special screening for members of the Congressional Black Caucus. We caught up with him there.
Are you happy to be back in D.C.?
I’m excited, you know, this room got me a little hyped. It’s fun coming here after having been here a few weeks ago after meeting the First Lady and the President for the screening at the White House. I went to college here and you always think, oh, I’m never going to get to go in that building, I’m never going to get to do this or that so coming here and doing it, it’s like wow, it’s a whole new world.
You said you can’t remember ever not knowing who Jackie Robinson was, but that it was important not to play him as just a hero. How did you get all those details? Did speaking with his wife, Rachel Robinson, play a big part?
The first thing that I did was, I went to meet her at her office on Varick Street. She sat me down on a couch, just like this, she just talked to me very frankly and told me the reasons why she was attracted to him, what she thought of him before she met him, what attracted her once they actually started conversing, how they dated, how shy he was, everything you could possibly imagine. She just went through who they were.
I think she sort of just started me on the research process as well because at the foundation, they have all the books that have been written about him. It was just a matter of hearing that firsthand information.
Then I met her again with children and grandchildren and in that case, they were sort of examining me physically, prodding and poking and measuring and asking me questions: Are you married, why aren’t you married? You know, anything that you could imagine. Actually, before they ever spoke to me, they were prodding and poking and measuring me and I was like, who are these people? And they said, you’re playing my granddad, we gotta check you out. It was as much them investigating me as it was me investigating him.
So they gave you a seal of approval?
They did not give me a seal of approval, but they didn’t not give it. They were willing to gamble, I guess.
What were they looking for, what did they want to make sure you got right?
She was adamant about the fact that she didn’t want him to be portrayed as angry. That’s a stereotype that is often used, just untrue and one-dimensional with black characters and it was something that he had been accused of, of having a temper. In some senses, he did have a temper but it wasn’t in a negative sense.
I, on the other hand, after reading the script knew that it was necessary to not show him as being passive or a victim, which is another stereotype that’s often used in movies. I didn’t want him to be inactive, because if he’s passive, he’s inactive and you run the risk of doing another story that’s supposed to be about a black character, but there’s the white guy, there, who is the savior. There’s a point where you have to be active and you have to have this fire and passion. I view it more as competitive passion as Tom Brokaw and Ken Burns said to me today, that he had a competitive passion, competitive temper that any great athlete, whether it be Larry Bird or Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, they all have that passion. That’s what he brought to the table. . . .My grandmother probably would call it holy anger.
Was that dynamic something you were able to talk about with Harrison Ford, who plays the team executive Branch Rickey, and the writer?
First of all yes. But they already had really advanced and progressive points of view about it anyway and were very aware. Harrison was also very clear, even in our first conversations about it, that he was playing a character and I was playing the lead and that there are differences in the two.
There were instances where I might voice, this is what we need to do, and everybody listened to it and that’s definitely not always the case, definitely not always what you experience on the set. But I think everybody wanted to get it right. I can’t really think of a moment, I know that they came up where it was like, well I’m black so I understand this in a different way, but they do happen and everybody was very receptive to it.
Was there any story that Mrs. Robinson told you about him that stuck in the back of your head during the process?
She just talked about how he adapted after very difficult scenes where he was being abused verbally or threatened. She said he would go hit golf balls because he would never bring that into the house. The question that I asked that brought her to that was: Did he ever have moments where he secluded himself at home, or where he was depressed, or you saw it weighing on him? And she said: ‘No, when he came into our space, he did whatever he needed to do to get rid of it, so that our space could be a safe haven, and he could refuel, and could get back out into the world and be the man he had to be.’
And she’s going through it just as much as he is. She’s literally in the crowd. People are yelling right over, calling him names right over her or calling her names because they know who she is. That’s something people don’t really think about, that she was actually in the crowd. She has to hold that so she doesn’t bring that home to him and give him more to worry about and that’s a phenomenal thing to hold and to be strong. I love finding what those unspoken things were that are underneath what’s actually being said.
What do you hope people will take away from the film?
I hope they get a sense of who he really is. I think what’s interesting about it is that he played himself in that original 1949-1950 version. . .What I found is that him having to use the Hollywood script of that time does not allow him to tell his own story because he couldn’t really be Jackie Robinson in that version.
It wasn’t his exact story, if you look at the version it says all he ever wanted to do was play baseball and he didn’t. Baseball was his worst sport, he was a better football player, better basketball player, better at track and field. He had a tennis championship, he played golf, horse back riding, baseball was the worst thing he did. I’m not saying that he wasn’t good at it, I’m saying that it’s not the truth. He was a second lieutenant in the army, he was All-American, he led his conference in scoring in basketball and he could have been playing in the NFL, but he had to go to Hawaii and play instead.
So what is that? Why did he end up playing baseball? Because baseball was where he could actualize his greatness, it wasn’t the only thing that he was great at and so just that little untruth in the script skips all of the struggle that he had getting to the point of being in the minor leagues. He’s doing this because it’s one more thing that he’s trying to do in that United States at that time that maybe will allow him to be the man that he wants to be. He could have done any of those other things, it just wasn’t an avenue for him to actualize his full humanity, his full manhood and so that version doesn’t allow him to be Jackie Robinson.
When I look at this version, we live in a different time where you can tell the story more honestly. Ultimately I think that’s what you should take away from the film, I get to see who he is now because we’re more ready to see it.