Making the Most of Your Education

By: Anthony McHugh

You’re 70 years old sitting in a rocking chair on the beach with a piña colada and a newspaper. You look at the headline and a feeling of pride washes over you as you realize your life’s work has been accomplished. What does the headline read?

I asked my students this question yesterday to prepare them for next week when we will develop the personal educational goals that will make those headlines reality. This spring I am teaching Making the Most of Your Education as part of MIT’s High School Studies Program, which brings students from all over New England to MIT every Saturday for 7 weeks. Each week I get 90 minutes to share with them as we explore theories and experiences with education.

On week 1, I introduced my thoughts about the direction of the class, did a little teaching, got to know my students, and had them tell me what we would learn the next week. In my lesson I lectured on how mental models can be used for scientific concepts such as the atom, or less tangible ideas such as leadership.  Then, I changed things up by introducing the socratic method as an opposing educational theory. One of my students shared an experience where he was unimpressed by the leader elected by his boy scout troop, and I asked him question after question guiding him towards acknowledging his role as a follower-leader who took ownership, despite not being given public authority.

On week 2, my students had asked to learn about the history of the American public school system. In response I did a literature search and found the most diverse set of information on the topic that I could find. These articles included Gallup polls of the views of superintendents, academic articles describing the historiography of studying public education, and Jonathan Kozol’s manifesto about Boston’s segregated schools, Death at an Early Age. I may have frustrated my student’s desire to find clarity, but my goal was to demonstrate how interpreting history is not as simple as finding the information.

On week 3, we delved into standardized testing by having a discussion and writing a fable as a class. Our moral was that standardized testing needs to be presented in a way that does not encourage students to equate their own identity and sense of self-worth with the evaluation of their academic skills.

On week 4, I wrote out a task, left my computer open, and walked away. The task was to create an educational model that incorporated power, agency, discipline, and a student-teacher contract. When they finished and presented their work, I described how Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk about the role of discovery was my inspiration for the lesson.

On week 5, I allowed the class to interview me. I challenged them to come up with an educational objective and then use me as an expert to gather the information that they needed. The activity forced them to work together as a group and decide what they were all interested in learning.

Finally this week I asked the question that started this post. My students were paired up during the class and asked to share one lesson that their parents had intentionally taught them. The educational method was to think, share, hear feedback, and then revise their answer. The purpose of the question to explore their personal values, which would help in the visioning and goal-setting process to follow.

I want to acknowledge the incredible students who have joined me in this exploration of education. They have been amazing in humoring my strange style of teaching and thinking, and they continue to show a commitment to learning and developing, which inspires me. I also want to thank everyone who makes ESP happen. ESP is an incredible club, with a fantastic mission to change how people perceive education.

I can’t wait for the 7th and final class next Saturday!

Connecting with Angie Mjojo

The EWB bridge team came to iHouse early one morning to have a phone call with our community partner, Mike. As I listened to Mike explain how he viewed Chrystal’s purpose in traveling to Malawi, I became slightly concerned that he did not value the educational component of the trip. I followed up later with Chrystal, and found out that our team lead had not been able to contact the primary school where she had taught the past summer. There was no contact with the school and Chrystal was traveling in a month!

What we needed was someone in Malawi that we could rely on to understand our objectives, and advocate for us.  Angie Mjojo was that person. A SPURS-Humphrey Fellow spends one year immersed in the engineering culture of MIT. They also invariably leave impressed by the potential of MIT undergraduates. Angie Mjojo may not have met Chrystal when she came to MIT 8 years ago, but she knew that hosting an undergraduate from MIT, even for a month, would be valuable for her country. Angie understood our motivation, advised us on our plan, and advocated on our behalf to make Chrystal’s trip as productive and educational as possible.

I was put into contact with Angie by Nimfa de Leon, assistant director of the SPURS/Humphrey program, when I stopped by her office one day. I provided Nimfa with a few details from the project, easily accessible in Chrystal’s grant proposal to the UGC, and she sent an e-mail introduction.The whole process took 10 minutes. Angie responded two days later with an apology for not responding sooner. We informed her in greater detail about the project, and provided Chrystal’s itinerary. Despite Angie’s busy schedule at the Reserve Bank of Malawi, she was able to meet up with Chrystal after she arrived. Angie and Chrystal were able to discuss general thoughts about development in Malawi, as well as the specific projects that both were working on. Angie share with Chrystal her intentions to assist students performing ID projects in Malawi, and to ask those students to teach students in secondary school in the capital of Lilongwe, as an addition to their travel plans

My Arrival To India

Pretty much everything started going wrong. It could have been worse, but it definitely was a real introduction.

This past week I started my first real international development research project, arriving in India. I had had two overnight flights with a day layover in Paris finally landing in Mumbai’s international airport. It was especially exciting as this was my first time outside the US, Mexico, and England. I arrived in India thankfully in the morning, and the plan was to catch another flight across India to Chennai to meet up with other MIT students.

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Summer in Southeast Asia

Looking out my window, I can only see a dusting of stars veiled by the lively glow of the city at night. The Singapore skyline is breathtaking, like something out of a science fiction novel set in the far off future. When I imagined what it would be like to spend the summer in Asia with MIT’s MISTI Singapore program, I didn’t predict that I would be living in a city more developed and dynamic than any U.S. city I’d ever seen. But here I am, in the heart of Asia’s center for innovation and entrepreneurship.

This past year that I’ve spent in iHouse has entirely transformed my world perspective, and has inspired me to spend my summer abroad. Here in Singapore, I feel as if I’ve taken the plunge into an entirely different culture. I’m immersed in this Eastern ether of customs, traditions, values, opinions, and ideas that are completely different from my own. It has helped me tremendously to reevaluate my own beliefs and assumptions, and to revamp my understanding of the world. I hoped that a summer in Singapore would also provide me with some inspiration for an ID project to pursue. But, when everyone you meet is either a student, a researcher, a businessman, or a professor competitively pursuing the frontiers of his or her field of study, it’s challenging to unearth the potential for international development. It seems to be buried in the race to continue developing the industrialized world.

I was beginning to feel utterly uninspired when I took a three day trip to Cambodia with three other MIT students. Little did I know that right next door to Singapore, a futuristic metropolis, was a small, developing nation populated mainly by farmers, small shop owners, and tuk-tuk drivers rather than business tycoons and magnates. I had the unparalleled opportunity to visit The Summit Foundation in Phnom Penh, an orphanage populated by young Cambodians whose individual stories of personal development and achievement left me speechless.

One student asked for my advice on balancing schoolwork with all of life’s other commitments. I shared my methods of finding time for homework, a part time job, volunteering, and extracurricular activities, but she looked disheartened by my answer. It turns out that my “busy” schedule was nothing compared to hers; she was tasked with waking up at 4 AM to tend to her household chores and younger siblings (she was head of the household since the death of her parents). Then, she would go to school at the Summit Foundation, next, off to her full time job so that she could provide for her family. She would return at night, cook for her siblings, tend to her home, and only have the time to begin her homework well after midnight. How could she sleep? How could she work longer hours in order to buy more food for her growing siblings? How could she possibly keep her grades high enough to secure a spot in a good university?

How I wished I had all of these answers.

A second girl asked for my help in applying for college scholarships. Together, we went over the process until she was satisfied, but as I finished talking to her about financial aid, she looked uneasy. “Is something wrong?” I asked.

“Do you think that a college would take away my scholarship if they found out I wasn’t healthy?” She inquired nervously. “I’ve already had two heart attacks, and I’m afraid that if they found out, they wouldn’t let me attend at all.”

We sat there together, a first generation college student and an aspiring first generation college student. The hurdles that I had overcome to get to where I was paled in comparison to the road that lay ahead this young girl. Actually, this was a young woman; she was older than me, but had not yet finished her schooling since her heart condition had forced her to take a couple of gap years already. She struggled with finding enough time to devote to her studies and her job without overexerting herself, and her life’s dream was to become a doctor. Why? To help others like her achieve their dreams in the face of their physical ailments.

By the time I returned to Singapore from Cambodia, my head was spinning and my heart was full. I had come searching for answers to my questions about the world around me, about the people and the problems and the ways in which I could lend my aid. But I left with more questions, with leaks sprung in my understanding of the world that had let all of my previously held assumptions drain out.

I have discarded one question, though. I no longer ask myself if I can unearth an opportunity to become involved with international development. Now, I ask myself: Where do I even begin?Summit Foundation

Buenos Aires I

Traveling is great, spending time with friends is even better. Spending time in a gorgeous city in a foreign country with your friends and their friends is even better still, but to do so while watching their toddler toddle around is just too much good for me to comprehend. Finally, I think about how I had the opportunity to share this experience with Brittney and I know that I am blessed beyond belief.

La Casa Rosada

This is not Rodrigo’s House. La Casa Rosada is the Argentinian White House. It shares a plaza with historical sculptures, a few fountains, and elaborate buildings.

This past weekend, Brittney and I took Friday and Monday off of work to visit Rodrigo, Isa, and Manu in their home in Buenos Aires. Rodrigo was actually in Chile an hour west of Santiago that Thursday. He agreed to present at the meeting on the condition that he would be given a seat on the same flight as Brittney and me going back to Buenos Aires that Friday morning. Now, I know for a fact that I got the last two available seats on that flight a month ago, so somebody important wanted Rodrigo at the meeting.

When we arrived at Rodrigo’s house, he let us know that the only rule in the house was to always feel at home. Although the house was already packed up for their move, it still contained food, furniture, and family so we had no trouble with Rodrigo’s rule.

Anthony Upside Down

There are playgrounds and exercise parks throughout Tigre and Buenos Aires! This may not be the intended use, though…

The first day we walked around Tigre the suburb of Buenos Aires in which Rodrigo and Isa grew up and in which they still live. It is a beautiful place built up around a river with boathouses from the late 1800s. The two hubs of activity that we found were the market on the wharf with cafés, shops, and an amusement park and the area around the train station with docks for water taxis and ramps for launching row boats. (To read more about rowing in Tigre check out Brittney’s blog). As Rodrigo drove us through Tigre he also pointed out his old neighborhood, the route he took to bike to school when he was a kid, the home of Isa’s parents, whom they visit every other Sunday, and the apartment in which Isa lived when they first started dating.

Lola and Anthony

The wharf in Tigre also included Lola, Clifford’s cousin. Why a dog and not a tiger in Tigre? We’ll never know. (All photos and captions courtesy of mi polola, Brittney Johnson)
Coming soon…the Argentina-Belgium soccer match, dinner with the incoming SPURS-Humphrey Fellows, an asado at Rodrigo’s house, and a stroll through downtown Buenos Aires!

Farewell and Good Fare

It is with much thanksgiving and a full belly that after four years I now physically depart from the iHouse kitchen. The iHouse kitchen is a magical place. In two days or 1 CPW event the kitchen can go from immaculate to obviously a place for cooking. And with the help of a “kitchen god” and a faithful worker, the kitchen can be made white as snow in approximately 20 minutes. However, it is the end of the year, which means that the kitchen is getting a full cleaning and it is beautiful.

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The iHouse Song (with lyrics)

Remember this (YouTube link)

Here is The iHouse Song in its entirety! We recorded it during one of our ID Nights! Lyrics are included below!

The iHouse Song

Music by Suan Tuang; Lyrics by Jonathan Abbott

Live, learn, and love life, give back and do right
Take time to touch lives, listen let them guide
Do ID projects, travel to new heights
Use wits and logic – in school and real life

iHouse you’re home, a heart for ID
We live, learn, and love – as one family
We dream in our hearts, and reach for the stars
We take MIT to the world 

Sidewalk of streetlights, or bike, bus, or hitchhike
Make most of dining, and cook as you feel like
Pset with people who share the same smiles
Find friends forever, we’re worth the whole mile 

iHouse you’re home, a heart for ID
We live, learn, and love – as one family
We dream in our hearts, and reach for the stars
We take MIT to the world