Archive for 'Stories & Thoughts'

When Mrs. Ethel Kennedy called to tell me that the depth reporting class at University of Nebraska I was teaching along with my longtime friend and colleague Joe Starita had won a Robert F Kennedy Journalism award, we talked about several things. Most especially, we talked of the power of the work these young journalists had done, the situation in Pine Ridge, and a little about another young journalist and the impact of winning an RFK. From the RFK announcement of the 2017 awards: “The Wounds of Whiteclay: Nebraska’s Shameful Legacy,” Depth Reporting Class with Professor Bill Frakes and Professor Joe Starita, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For nine months, a dozen University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism students focused a bright light on Nebraska’s darkest spot. Whiteclay - a village of less than a dozen people with four liquor stores that in 2016 sold 3.5 million cans of beer, which flowed illegally into South Dakota’s nearby dry Pine Ridge Reservation. The students’ multimedia project used in-depth stories, haunting photographs and compelling video to expose the lawless environment, rampant fetal alcohol syndrome, human trafficking and unsolved murders that ultimately helped force the revocation of the beer store licenses by Nebraska’s courts on April 27." This is journalism that makes a difference. It's impact will continue to grow through the years as change happens through work done because of the information presented. Its' what we do. The award-winning project can be found at: The first time I visited the RFK awards I was young. I was on the staff of the Miami Herald. My winning entry then was about my friend Missy Koch, a University of Miami student who was diagnosed with cancer. For a year, I followed her journey, from leg amputation to recovery, and we published a 25-page story in the Miami Herald Sunday magazine on Christmas day 1984.     Missy and I share something unique, powerful. I was with her during a very intense year of her life. We were friends when we started, and that friendship got progressively deeper and stronger through the year.   We've stayed in touch through the years. I have incredible respect and appreciation for the way she sees the world. That hasn't changed in the four decades I've known her. She's a wonderful combination of smart, strong, sweet, feisty and tough. Missy and I talked long and hard before telling her story.  She had a tough painful road ahead of her, but knew she would prevail. She wanted others to be able to be empowered from what she was going through, I wanted to show her strength and how very intense and delicate it all was. Missy's done much for many in her life, and I need to call her today; to see how she’s and her husband Todd are doing and where their kids are in their journeys.  

Missy's husband Todd has written a fine book about Missy's story:
 "Run to Win: The Trials and Triumphs of Missy Koch Billingsley."

It's Christmas. And I'm on a plane. No Santa out the window, but we are racing the setting sun, and the view is liquid visual goodness.


I've spent the last 8 days mostly off the grid, trying to relax, enjoying spending time with my daughter Havana showing her a part of the world I love.

This is a family tradition, although H and I have changed the distance parameters some.


When I was very young Mom and Dad would load us into our old Ford and drive across the barren, wind blown landscape of Nebraska in December headed to family gatherings. It was quality bonding time, we talked and read. They explained the world through the lens of plains people, albeit extremely well educated ones — both formally and informally. That stuck with me and I've always seen travel as an opportunity for learning.

This year, after some negotiations that may or may not have involved a big city place Havana thought she preferred, we settled on Iceland. The land of poets and musicians. Seals, glaciers,  and coffee. The Blue Lagoon, terrific style, and ponies.



It's an isolated land packed with raw beauty. Gorgeous vistas everywhere. 

The weather is, to be polite, inconsistent. When it's good it's very, very good. When it's bad, it's very, very…. well you know. 

Be out on the longest night of the year, watch the clouds part, and the Northern Lights appear — swirling, dancing and racing across that Nordic sky, and your life will gain a dimension previously unknown. Powerful, beautiful, visceral.


It's so intriguing to me that these people who love a rugged, turbulent, constantly moving landscape are so bound to books. 

This place is all about literature. They have a long tradition of formal storytelling.  They rely on well stocked bookshelves  to get them elegantly through the heavy dark nights. There are simply books everywhere, it's glorious.

Per capita they may have greatest music scene on the planet. There is an independent music store, 12 Tonar, that is worth the flight across the ocean to visit.

When you visit this country there is a quiet respect. Knowing smiles.

It's not fancy. It's clean, strong, safe. Solid, hardy, filling food. Clothes made for subsistence — constructed to last. In those ways, it's exactly like my native Nebraska.

People bond through common interests, connection with each other.

Havana is a learner. She'll be 16 in February and already many if not most of our conversations are about politics, world religions, writing, and graduate school — far deeper things than I was thinking about at her age.


I was concerned with the ratio of men to women on campus — she thinks about student to teacher ratios. I was focused on formal education as a means to an end. For her all education is the process, the learning for the sheer joy of learning.

We are heading home now, richer for the experience. I know there aren't so many of these father/daughter trips ahead, and I miss them already. 

Lakota homeland

Strange flight tonight.

Leaving Nebraska for likely the last time in 2016 — (yikes, “Leaving Nebraska” sounds rather like a poem about death).

In any case, my work demands that I have always had to spend huge chunks of time away from this good land where I was born. Although I know I'll certainly be back, getting on a plane headed out always makes me melancholy. The wide open spaces and wide open, heartfelt people are a mainstay of so much of my favorite images.

It wasn't a bad night for flying. Good music, great literature, smooth skies. Ready to devote myself to 10 days of writing and editing before the skies beckon again.

I'm listening to Ben Folds, a recommendation from NPR. I've been a fan for years, but watching a Tiny Desk concert — what a treasure those are — caused me to put Folds high on my music rotation. Plus, I really like his initials.

While traveling today, I've been devouring Sherman Alexie's fine book, "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.”

I had spent a good chunk of the early part of today in Lincoln, reading about Standing Rock and DAPL. So the conversations in this book are especially moving and not a little surreal.

When I settled into my North Florida bound flight from Atlanta, I was in a fine mood until one of the other passengers studied the Stetson I was wearing and said snidely, "is the Urban Cowboy look still a thing?"

I resisted the temptation to comment on his ridiculous suspenders and presumptuous bow tie. Instead, I simply smiled and adjusted the collar of the shirt that I had bought, along with everything else I'm wearing at Young's in Valentine.

He grimaced and asked plaintively where I was from would require such headwear on any day save Halloween.

My personal heaven actually.

Lakota homeland

Education is the backbone of existence. For our world to survive and thrive, it must be our foremost consideration globally. Education is an absolute need and must be a fundamental right of every person on the planet. Education creates knowledge, knowledge creates understanding and understanding creates empathy. It shines a light on the unknown, replacing ignorance and fear with insight and hope.

Ramji Raghavan

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“Agastya’s mission is really to spark curiosity, nurture creativity and instill confidence in economically disadvantaged children and government schoolteachers at scale… An easy way to understand this is to say that we’re spreading, disseminating the spirit of ‘ah’, ‘aha’, and ‘haha’. Ah stands for awakening the mind, stimulating the curiosity. Aha stands for, of course, actually filling in the blanks – nurturing creativity. Haha for having fun doing what you’re doing, which reduces fear, increases retention and breeds confidence. That’s what Agastya is about.”
In 1998 Mr. Raghavan left a career in banking in London to create Agastya International Foundation, a transformative and innovative education charity. As Chairman of Agastya, Mr. Raghavan leads a grassroots initiative to support and transform primary and secondary education in India. Operating with a fleet of 143 Mobile Labs, 63 rural science centers, 59 Labs on Bikes, and a 172-acre campus Creativity Lab near Bangalore, Agastya has spread creative, hands-on science education to over 6 million economically disadvantaged children and 200,000 teachers. Agastya’s innovative “TechLaBike Project” won the Google Global Impact 2013 Award and its Lab on a Bike was nominated among the 6 most innovative education projects by the WISE Awards 2015. Agastya and Mr. Raghavan were featured among the Rockefeller Foundation’s top 100 innovators in 2012. Mr. Raghavan was a member of the Prime Minister’s National Knowledge Commission. He is a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education, board member of Vigyan Prasar and the Indira Gandhi National Open University, member of the Vision Group on Science & Technology and the Karnataka State Innovation Council, and Executive Council Member of the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum. In 2009 Mr. Raghavan was elected a Senior Fellow by ‘Ashoka: Innovators for the Public’ and in 2011 he was conferred the People’s Hero Award by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Southern Zone.

Drawing by Sven Lentz and Robert Smit from at the Maverick Teacher’s Global Summit at the Agastya International Foundation.

From the very beginning I was persuaded by Ramji’s vision, philosophy and commitment. His and Agastya’s vision is of a nation of curious children. Children with their curiosity turned up full. Children encouraged to wonder how they can improve their environment and communities, given the confidence and support to design and test their ideas, then to pull up their sleeves and build real world solutions. Visiting Agastya’s creativity campus for the first time rapidly pushed my persuasion to commitment. A personal “ah, ah-ha, ha ha” moment – the way that Ramji describes a discovery based learning. My commitment was reinforced by unforgettable conversations with the rural school children and local teachers that Agastya serves so well, and witnessing their practical work in performance art, music, design, science and mathematics. Agastya’s work is brilliantly designed to complement children’s work at school, providing rich and rounded learning for them all, and the greatest possible opportunities for success. Agastya draws out the best in children, their ideas, their creativity and their natural passion for learning and celebrates all their contributions. When Ramji first established the Agastya campus, it was a brown field site.  45000 trees have been planted to return ecology to its natural state, and planting has been extended to take in surrounding schools and villages. Over 100 species of butterfly have now returned, and any walk across the campus reveals a thriving population of resident and visiting bird life. No wonder the children all appear to enjoy their time at Agastya, and learn so much. What a magical location for our first Maverick Teachers Global Summit.

Gavin Dykes

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“I think the most important point is frequently that you just don’t listen to - what education so often misses is - the child’s voice. The creativity that lies within a child and can be nurtured within a child.”
Gavin Dykes is Program Director for the Education World Forum which began in 2004 and has taken place each year since. It brings together experts and Government officials in the area of education to share experiences and debate policy challenges and practices. He is also Program Director for the Asian Summit on Education and Skills which takes place in India. He is the Co-founder and Chair of ‘Education Fast Forward,’ a charity focused on sharing and improving understanding of key education issues.

Tapasya Kaul Rajaram

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“What I feel the spirit of Agastya is that we treat everyone with equality and we keep the child in the center.”
Tapasya is the Program Manager at Agastya International Foundation. She has a Master’s in Education from Azim Premji University in Bangalore and a Master’s in Public Administration from ICDEOL Shimla. She has been with Agastya since January of 2016.

Meenakshi Gupta

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“I believe education is not only the information that most of us are doing, I believe the basic education is to make a human being. A human being who has good values, who is sensitive to what is happening around him or her, and a person who can contribute in whatever way to the society, to the nation and to the world at large.”
Dr. Meenakshi Gupta is the principal on SD Public School in New Dehli. She has a post-graduate degree in English literature and education and a PhD in education. She has been a teacher in various school across India for 23 years. She also works as a resource person for teacher training. She has been involved in the improvement and innovation of teaching methodologies. To bring education beyond the boundaries of school, she worked alongside various organizations to make an inclusive school plan for the underprivileged children of society. For her contribution to social cause, she was felicitated with the Vocational Service Award, Responsive Globalization Summit Award, Herbal Education and Development Award, and Interactive Education Award.

Cristóbal Cobo

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“The main role of education is to prepare people to learn how to learn…The thing is in order to do that, you have a little bit of the right knowledge but much more of this well balanced recipe between knowledge, skills and the willingness to be open to all things.”
Dr. Cristóbal Cobo is the Director of the Center for Research - Ceibal Foundation in Uruguay, and also an associate researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, where he coordinates research on innovation, open knowledge initiatives and future of learning research projects. Currently he works on different projects funded by the European Commission.

Meenakshi Umesh

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“One mind can compete and achieve a lot, but a few minds can cooperate and achieve much more…When you work as a team and you learn that when you work with another you are enhanced and the other person is enhanced, the solution is definitely much more sustainable because you are looking at it from different perspectives and it doesn’t belong to any one person.”
Meenakshi Umesh is a managing trustee of Puvidham Trust. Her educational background involves architecture and applied psychology. She teaches the children of Puvidham Learning Center life skills such as organic farming and agricultural basics. She believes that learning is more accessible for practical use if it is experiential or has been acquired by doing. She started the learning center with her husband in 2000 to create a long lasting change for local underprivileged children, and to provide them with a basic foundation so that they can later pursue various career options. Above all, she believes that sustainability is a way of life - a culture that is handed down through generations.

Tony Parkin

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“It’s about getting children to be able to do things and the doing is important… It's not just about creativity in the arts or music or drama. It's about creativity across the piece; it's about creativity in science, creativity in biology, whatever. Children making, doing is part of learning.”
Tony Parkin has worked in education for the greater part of his career. Initially, Parkin began as a secondary school teacher, then an education technologist, information technologist, and curriculum director. He spent a brief stint working at the House of Commons before becoming SSAT’s Head of ICT Development in the Leadership and Innovation Networks, working with schools on education projects for NCSL, the DfE, and with several large IT companies. He now works independently as a freelance speaker, lecturer, writer and consultant, using his extensive experience of educational technologies to help with futures thinking and startup mentoring. He is a visiting lecturer at the University of Roehampton Education Department, engaged in teacher training and computing.

Jamila Smith-Dell

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“You’re always learning, even if you don’t want to be…You can’t fail at learning.”
Jamila graduated from MIT in June of 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. At Agastya, she has been working on developing and teaching lesson plans in biology using the Investigative Based Learning (IBL) framework as well as optimizing the 8-day Innovation Hub curriculum to include both a 3-day program and an advanced program for students who have already been exposed to Innovation Hub.

Ajay Rastogi

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“The larger goal of being happy in simple circumstances and being able to engage in creative pursuits, I think is something we need to relearn.”
Ajay Rastogi works in the areas of sustainable development with a focus on re-establishing and improving the connection between human communities and nature, culture, and landscapes. His expertise encompasses traditional farming methods, fair-trade certification, applied ethics, and yoga practice. He has been a South Asia Youth Leader, Erasmus Mundus European Union Fellow, and a Fulbright Environment Leader.

Claudia Barwell

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“I believe that the role of education is to create lifelong learners. All you need to do is set anybody up with a passion for learning and an ability and a set of skills to be able to continue learning your whole life.”
Claudia Barwell is the Director of Learning at Suklaa Media & Education, London. She is a creative consultant with a flair for presentation, humor, and organization. She is highly experienced working in education, facilitation, and event management. With a background in drama she knows how to hold a room and is an excellent motivator of adults and young people alike. Her work at Suklaa focuses on creativity, innovation, and change-making in education.

VSS Sastry

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“Education is a cardinal stone for India. In fact, the educated class is responsible for the independence of this country.”
VSS Sastry is on of the prominent leaders in popularizing mathematics in India through hands-on curriculum. He uses origami to teach mathematics and has inspired hundreds of students. VSS Pastry has published a book titled Origami Fun and Mathematics inspired by “the art of paper folding…a part of folklore in our country” to inspire students to find math engaging and full of play.

Melissa Collins

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“I think it’s important to listen to the way that they [the students] want to learn, to fuel that excitement, I think that as educators we have to get away from the old ways of teaching our students and embrace the new ways to make sure that we can hone on our students’ talents.”
Dr. Melissa Collins is a second grade teacher at John P. Freeman Optional School in Memphis, TN, and believes that it is imperative to expose students to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She is a 2013 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow and implements global awareness into her curriculum so students can value and appreciate others. She also works to broaden educators’ perspectives about global competencies by speaking and presenting at various venues.

Shruthi Vishwanath

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“I think you can bring change with great education and math and science, but true transformation only occurs when you integrate the performing arts and you have music. The arts are very visceral. It's not at the head level, it’s at the heart level.”
Shruthi Vishwanath is a musician and educator. She has an MSc in economics and a BE in chemical engineering, and now divides her time between performing as one of the foremost folk-classical musicians of her generation and working with organizations as an educator to bridge the gap between learning science and the arts, taking a holistic approach to education. Shruthi has performed around the world, including the Kabir Festival, Indonesia Channel, and in venues across Europe. She works with Agastya International Foundation on their Innovation Hub project as a resource person.

Tonia Lovejoy

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“Some people say that money makes the world go round, but in fact I think it's education that makes the world go round and our ability to learn from each other, to teach ourselves, and to share that knowledge is what powers us and sustains us. Without education, not much that we value would be in existence today.”
Tonia Lovejoy is the founder of Beautiful Nation Project, an online social networking platform for educators designed to connect students with the Earth and each other. Lovejoy began her career as a global educator while serving in the Peace Corps in Nepal in 2003. Since then she has sailed and taught around the world.

Archana Digumarti

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“When I train a teacher it produces something called a force multiplier effect. You train a teacher, she'll take it forward with 30 more children, those 30 will take it to another 60, 90 and that's how the numbers go. Teacher training is what makes al our programs sustainable.”
Archana Digumarti is a project manager at Agastya. She works with corporate leadership and teams to develop, implement, and communicate corporate social responsibility efforts. She is part of Agastya’s donation relations team, writing as many as 50 grant proposals every month.

Subbu Shastri

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“Education can open a new world for a child. It should make a child look at the world with new eyes.”
Subbu Shastri works on the arts, language and digital literacy programs at Agastya, which includes MediaArts, Library at Agastya, and works with the arts team in management. He also designs low-cost Raspberry pi program and community based digital and media literacy programs. At Agastya he gets to not only teach with the children he works with, but learn from them as well.

Nandini Talwar

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“I think knowledge is important and learning is more important than education… Once you understand things and you learn concepts, you can actually apply them.”
Nandini Talwar is a 16-year-old student from New Dehli, India.

Chaya Devi

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“Without education we cannot do anything. So education is not only science and art and mathematics. Education is also understanding society.”
Chaya Devi is a Senior Instructor at the Agastya International Foundation. She works with students on various projects and helps instruct Young Instructor Leaders through Agastya’s youth outreach programs.

Koen Timmers

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“I think it’s very important to allow your students to collaborate while they’re learning, to make an emotional connection. Education is more than gathering knowledge. There has to be some affection as well.”
Koen Timmers is a Belgian educator & author who has been teaching for 16 years. Five years ago, he conducted research on collaborative learning at Sheffield-Hallam University, UK. He is part of a distance learning project in which he teaches students using a web conferencing tool. Along with teaching, he creates digital textbooks and founded an online school ( In Addition, he coordinates a project with 100 global teachers to educate refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya via Skype.

Priyanka Srinivasa

Agastya Maverick Teachers Global Summit
“The best I can do is to have an open heart and to make an education that’s about the fact that we’re all human.”
Priyanka is an anthropologist, museum professional, and recently appointed Impact Assessment Consultant at Agastya Foundation. Her research examines gender, violence, and human rights through fieldwork in Mexico, Germany, Denmark, Egypt, and India. After completing her Phil in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, she served as a curatorial fellow at the Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Galleries and redesigned the permeant South Asia collections.

Education is a huge part of my life.  Both as student and teacher.

Last year, I spent close to seven weeks in Lebanon observing and working with educators. I watched the Syrian crisis from Beirut and the north.

Lebanon has a population of 3.75 million.

They are housing 1.5 million Syrian refugees, along with 500,000 Palestinians.

It's a tough situation, financially and socially.

Imagine being uprooted, forced to leave your homeland as a child, every constant you've relied on changing, and being deposited in a foreign land with no idea when you can simply go home.

That's what refugee children face.   

Their salvation is education. Finding that path when you have little control over resources is a daunting task-one that requires help from the host nation.

Tiny Lebanon has stepped up. Here is part of a conversation we had last week with Fadi Yarak at the Education World Forum in London.

He, and the people there give me hope.

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