The Practical Visionary - Judith LightFeather
By C.A. Kennedy
According to Mr. Webster's dictionary, a visionary deals with utopian ideals and quixotic illusionary concepts, while a realist is defined as enmeshed in the genuine, the authentic and the factual. If you combined these antithetical viewpoints in one person, you would find Judith LightFeather, a visionary realist. A practical visionary.
Looking toward the future, she envisions a world where education is a fascinating, on-going, life-long pursuit available on a global basis to all those who desire to learn, and this is her long-term aim and passion.
For the more immediate future, LightFeather the Realist has long recognized that nanotechnology is now in the beginning stages of transforming our lives and societies, and that the youth of our nation are educationally ill-equipped to join the fast approaching changes nanotechnology embodies. " The International Test for Math and Science (TIMS) reports once again states that US students rank 49th among the nations of the world in math and science for the years of 1996, 1998, and 2000, she stated with more than a tinge of impatience in her voice as she points to the revealing statistic in the report. "Only a miniscule percentage of students in the United States will be able to cope, to contribute, to join in the research and development in this cutting edge technology that will define the future of this country and the world, changing how we will live," she said.
The visionary can trace the changes as our society transforms and transmutes into its future, and her internal schematic for achieving her goals is constantly evolving in step with the newest scientific discoveries and methods of transferring knowledge and data. But the realist has not waited for the future to come to her doorstep. LightFeather has been immersed for more than 10 years in promoting improved education for the youth of this country, with a heavy emphasis on new and better ways to teach. It is her belief that we should include much more math and science familiarization to children starting as early as the kindergarten years, as science is the study of how our world works.
"Understanding nanotechnology will require knowledge of many disciplines such as biology, chemistry, and physics. The University of Switzerland initiated a Master of Science degree program in 2002, designed specifically for scientists who plan to work in the myriad fields of nanotechnology," she said. The trend is toward convergence…toward melding the various fields to work with this amazing science where the behavior of matter borders on the edge of quantum physics, Light Feather added.
To foster her unceasing efforts toward achieving improved education for the children of the world, LightFeather has founded The Nanotechnology Group, Inc., a Texas non-profit corporation dedicated to the pursuit of new curriculum and new ways to teach. This will include using computers with virtual reality designed curriculum and, eventually, holograms. Realizing that the next generation of students will work and even live in an off planet space environment, has prompted inclusion of subjects emphasizing team work, analytical thinking and critical decision-making, which are integral to her long-term curriculum development.
As president and founder of The Nanotechnology Group Inc., Light Feather concentrates her efforts on the creation of the general goals and policies, developing new partners for the consortium of scientists, universities, organizations and business people with nanotechnology-oriented firms. This group was formed by invitation to become members, based on those whose interests coincided, in order to collaborate on large projects which could be supported by various grant solicitations.
Although readily admitting that advocating new methods of teaching and improved math and science courses has been a long hard battle, Light Feather becomes enthusiastic as she spoke of freeing teachers to teach subjects in depth and about intertwining different courses into a wholistic presentation. "Some of these methods have been attempted in piecemeal and some have been effective, but much of the curriculum in our schools attempts to divide subjects and cover as much territory as possible. The result are courses that have been characterized by TIMS as a catalog of topics a mile wide and an inch deep, and our teachers are unable to inculcate much depth in the prescribed curriculum, much less pertinence to other subjects, history and practical concerns," she said.
|Judith Light Feather speaking at UNIDO ICS meeting in Trieste, Italy|
Light Feather has been invited to speak on Nano Science Education in various parts of the world, including Bangkok, Thailand, hosted by the Asian Institute of Technology. Her most recent trip to Trieste, Italy, brought together over 80 global participants to discuss Nanotechnology Opportunities for Developing Nations. Appointed as the Chair of Working Group 2, focused on education for these nations, her work can be viewed on the UNIDO ICS website specifically developed for these important meetings. Does she think that anything will advance from her talks in these distant nations? Optimistic, she reports that the Bangkok Conference was very successful, bringing two Universities in Viet Nam to the group efforts, along with the membership of the Asian Institute of Technology. As a follow-up on that conference, Dr. Joydeep Dutta, was appointed the head of K-12 education for bringing nano science to the students in Thailand, along with developing free course on line for the university students. This type of reaction to her presentations keeps the vision alive. Light Feather is also hoping that the recent February 2005 UNIDO ICS meetings result in further discussions of the solutions suggested in the working groups. These are the events that warm the heart of this practical visionary as she travels the world and plants the seeds that suggest leading edge thoughtful solutions to allow every child in the world to have access to education while expanding the global knowledge base.
Having grown up in the 50's in a working class neighborhood in Pennsylvania's steel mill region where females were generally expected to become mothers or teachers or nurses at the most, Light Feather recalls being discouraged by dismissive educators and advisors and even by her own parents. She said she believes every youngster deserves the opportunity to achieve his highest potential, and has dedicated herself to improving educational curriculum which will reach not only the United States classrooms, but will be offered as e-learning globally to assure that this will be so. She is enthusiastic about nanotechnology which will provide flexible, roll-up, touch screen, wireless computers (now in development) that could be provided to even the poorest villages so that students could download free courses of their choice by employing the built-in software for language translation.
Light Feather commented that she well understands the problems facing the educational community. Her ardent concerns about education began when, as a young mother, she often had to turn to the school systems for help with obtaining the types of classes and attention her own four children required…and all too often discovered that there were no resources available. She is determined that this situation will improve for her grandchildren, (now numbering eleven) and their children.
"Imagine," she said, luring her listener into a near-future classroom, "that you are a child using a computer that is hooked up to a scanning tunneling microscope allowing you to scan a leaf right through it's surface down to the actual moving molecules and atoms. You don't have to know math or science to learn about this amazing sight, but after being exposed to this scale of science with this magical visual tool, you will want to learn more. The math and science will be interwoven into the lessons. Going a bit further, the children gather around a special computer to watch holographic geometrical shapes dance in the air, learning actual spatial relationships and proportions involved in fractal geometry, or have teachers and artists visit their classrooms "with virtual appearances", or choose to visit a space installation on a "virtual tour" or perhaps look through a giant telescope into deep space-the subjects are limitless. I saw the future in 1995 when I saw what NASA was doing with simulation training and with holographic software for the medical profession and I said, "Why can't we use these in the classroom?"
"By 1996, immediately after the World Wide Web became available, I was able to construct a website to encourage changes and improvements in education and I haven't looked back. At that time I discovered in conference calls with NASA education teams that only 14% of schools were connected to the Internet for their broadcast programming. The growth of the technology has been phenomenal and we now have about 95% of the schools in the United States connected with classroom hubs. Working towards 100% global connectivity and then the development of totally Immersive Learning Hubs has become a life goal. I know this is possible as MIT has developed a holographic classroom to offer dynamic e-learning curriculum at the university level, and I'm heartened by the increasingly larger numbers of people who are becoming aware of the need for curriculum changes and increased stimulation for learning in all subjects."
"Sadly, the longer we wait to use the tools that are available, the more children we will have lost through drop-outs. Confidential reports from 2001, shared by a TNTG Inc. consortium member reflected that Houston Independent School District (HISD) has a 49% ninth grade dropout rate. Addressing our education issues with more tests for accountability will never work as the teachers are forced to teach only the material that will appear on the tests. In the meantime our children are not being challenged with curriculum that will encourage them to stay in school, nor excel.
After her own children had flitted from the nest, Light Feather was not as involved with education reform on a personal basis until 1995 when she met Paul Messier, the president of the National Learning Foundation. Finally there was a venue in which to discuss issues such as the lack of skill levels attained by high school students - deficiencies consistently reflected in many international studies and reports. Invited to join the Foundation as a volunteer, she began the long process of developing a comprehensive project to address the problems.
Driven by an intense desire to find the stimulating links that would create the desire for resolving the lack of quality curriculum led Light Feather down many paths of inquiry. She began to study works by leading theoretical physicists, astrophysicists, quantum theory and, finally, the nanoscale sciences. Realizing that many talents would be needed to complete this work led to the formation of The NanoTechnology Group Inc., and "we have developed an outstanding group of members who allow for harmonious interaction.
Judith has made good use of skills honed by her background in advertising, as the owner of a creative ad agency, publisher, and as an artist, sculptor, and gallery owner, in her drive to change the face of learning.
Working with the National Portrait society led to an appointment as a U. S. Coast Guard artist, allowing her paintings to be archived in the Smithsonian Air and Space Collection. "The painting most dear to my heart is installed in the Disabled American Veterans Vietnam Memorial in Angel Fire, New Mexico, she said. A five panel oil collage entitled "Please Don't Kill the Children Anymore," was such an emotional experience to paint that it was thirteen years before I was able to complete it." Light Feather continues to hold a vision of a society that will outgrow their “warring mentality” and move towards inclusion and mediation for solutions on a global scale. The emotional impact of her paintings speak volumes toward this goal.
|Painting at DAV Vietnam Memorial, Angel Fire, New Mexico|
Light Feather explained that her bedrock philosophy is that human beings have no limits on their ability to learn and progress. "Perseverance to excel and be the best you can be in each moment are the mandates for success that I adhere to. Having read studies stating we use only about ten percent of our brains, I was determined to develop and use as much of the other ninety percent as possible."
"The most life-altering path to knowledge occurred at the age of 50 after in-depth studies of ancient and current religions when I found my abilities to practice meditation were expanding to new levels. Opening my mind to this new ability prompted me to take a spiritual sabbatical, which evolved into a solo journey across the American southwest and then to the Yucatan in Mexico." Guided in her travels by intuition, Light Feather said she met with Native American and Mayan spiritual leaders. "Walking their paths and working with their medicine people and shamans was a profound energizing learning experience."
Her name evolved from the travels as Native Americans in the Anasazi lands identified her true name as Light Feather and this felt so profoundly true that she legally changed her name. She also became fascinated with the accuracy of the ancient Mayan calendars, which led to seven years of study of hoary glyphs and a deeper understanding of the nine interlocking cycles used by the ancient Mayans.
Returning from the sabbatical, Light Feather took a position as Executive Assistant to the President of a non-profit space information organization. Working with NASA at Johnson Space Center in Houston allowed access to dynamic photos from the Hubble telescope. Since the Internet was just in the embryonic stages, these photos were not online for the public. Light Feather says the beauty of space increased her desire to incorporate real time data streams of new information into the classrooms. She turned her energies toward developing a proposal called "The Education for the 21st Century" with early designs of the Space Station as the ClearingHouse for all new curriculums.
However, funding was not forthcoming and by September of 1999, she joined a group involved in nanocomputers and began a cram course on learning about nanoscience and its research and development. "From there, I went on to found The NanoTechnology Group Inc., (TNTG) to continue my efforts in education and draw in others who were of like mind. The Nano for People Newsletter for TNTG was a natural outgrowth of the need to communicate, to provide venues for the latest news, research, archiving, and to reach out to all levels of society to impart as much knowledge as possible about nano scale science and technology", she said.
The electronic Nano for People Newsletter itself was also another stepping stone, and over the past few months, Light Feather decided that more information in a daily format was necessary, so TNTG has expanded the vision to include video interviews and programming. Working digital media allows the development of TV stations online to become a reality, so Light Feather's latest expansion is a NanoNEWS Division…another avenue of teaching which is dedicated to presenting information about nanoscience and nanotechnology to the scientist and layman alike.
Although most of her efforts are directed toward working with global education partners and answering grant solicitations, she said she was concerned that there was a need for public awareness of this new scale of science and technology. As with her previous print publications, the NanoNEWS Division will help build a knowledge base allowing people to make better decisions in their lives, she commented.
In line with developing every avenue of communication possible for "spreading the news" about education, nano scale science and nanotechnology, TNTG has developed filming packages for nanotechnology conferences to allow organizations to archive their information, along with an edited CD/DVD production for sales at their conferences, Light Feather explained. She managed to film the CANEUS 2004 Conference which has unique educational information on nanotechnology for space applications which she and the CANEUS organization would like to develop into education packages. “It is a long road to development as funding sources are not aware of the value that this type of experience can provide as educational material for the universities that have space engineering courses,” stated Light Feather. However, nano space applications are very dear to her heart as a visionary that understands the future of colonization in the solar system, so she does not find it limiting, nor does she give up. Finding the funding just becomes another challenge as she just knows that the perfect source is out there somewhere.
Light Feather says the long-range goals she has set for herself include development of multi-cultural e-learning curriculum thereby encouraging compassion and understanding between indigenous cultures and modern society, which she hopes will lead to conflict resolution rather than wars for future generations. "Then we can truly combine science, cosmology and spirituality with math, history, language, and drama through Immersive Learning Hubs around the globe to create dynamic virtual reality learning experiences for all cultures. When future generations say "walk a mile in my shoes," it will have a new meaning," she said with a little half-smile.
It is quite possible that one day you may thumb through your dictionary and discover that Webster and his ilk will have added a new definition for those who see far into the future and work hard in the here and now to make those visions a reality: "A practical visionary, as in Judith Light Feather."
2007 Nomination for The McGraw-Hill Companies: The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education
Purpose: To recognize outstanding individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving education in this country and whose accomplishments are making a difference today.
Description: The 2007 theme is global awareness in U.S. education.
2003 International Who's Who of Professional Educators
Published by Who's Who Historical Society
1983- 1st Edition of Notable Women of Texas
1983- Directory of American Portrait Artists
2006 Advisory Board: Nanoethics Group
2006 Advisory Boards (6): Lifeboat Organization
2002 Co-founder CANEUS Organization
2002 - Research Associate- ERAU (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ.)
1983 Official U.S. Coast Guard Artist
Leaders in London: Associate Member