Category Archives: Human Interest

30 Facts on the Education System of Iran

February 16th, 2017

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After intense negotiations, on July 14, 2015, the U.S. and five other world powers have reached a deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program for the next decade in exchange for gradual sanctions relief that rolls out as Iran complies with a multi-step process. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ensures that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful.  And now, in 2017, with the recent travel ban imposed by the Trump Administration against Iran and six other countries, we thought it would be helpful to revisit the blog we had written on Iran in July 2015.

Given these recent developments, we would like to spotlight Iran and share with you the following facts on the country and its education system:

1. Iran is one of the oldest nations in the world, with a history dating back tens of thousands of years. The country’s first great city, Susa, was built on the central plateau around 3200 B.C.

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2. Iran (pronounced ee-RAHN), formerly known as Persia, is situated at the crossroads of Central Asia, South Asia, and the Arab states of the Middle East. The name “Iran” means “land of the Aryans.”

3. Iran is a republic in Central Asia, sharing a border with seven countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, and Turkmenistan.

4. It has been officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

5.Iran is a Shiite Muslim country, but the majority of its people are Persian, not Arab.

6. Iran’s capital is Tehran.

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Tehran: Azadi Monument (formerly Shahyad Monument)

7. Iran has a population of 80,840,713 (median age 28) and covers an area that is 636,372 square miles (1,648,195 square kilometers), slightly smaller than Alaksa.

8. Official language of instruction in Iran is Farsi/Persian. English and/or French are taught in most private schools.

9. According to 2015 estimates, the literacy rates of total population age 15 and over is 86.8% of which 92.1% are male and 82.5% are female.

10. According to 2013 reports, Iran spends 3.7 of GDP on education.

11. Starting with 7th grade, English is taught as a second language in all public schools and is compulsory through the secondary level years.

12. Primary school is called “Dabestan” and includes grades 1 to 5 (ages 6 to 11). At the end of the 5th year, students take a nation-wide exam which they must pass in order to continue to the next cycle.

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13. Middle school is called Rahnamaei also known as Lower Secondary School (Guidance) and includes grades 6 to 8 (ages 11 to 14). At the end of the 3rd year of middle school, students take a region-wide exam administered by the local provisional board of education which they must pass in order to continue to the next cycle.

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14. Secondary school is called Dabirestan and includes grades 9 to 12 (ages 14 to 17). The 4th year of grade 12 includes a college-preparatory year known as Pish-daneshgahi. In dabirestan, students choose subjects from either one of two tracks: 1) academic/general track that includes a] physics-mathematics, b] socio-economics, c] literature and culture, and d] experimental sciences; or 2) technical/vocational track in such areas as business and agriculture. On completion of 3 years of study (Grade 11), students receive their diploma before they are determined eligible to continue onto the 12th year (Grade 12) pish-daneshgahi studies.

15. Pre-university or Pish-Daneshgahi is the 4th year extension (Grade 12) to secondary school and last one year. It is an intensive year of study intended to prepare students for the national university entrance examination known as the Concour.

16. The Concour determines students’ chances to enter public and some private universities in Iran. It is a very challenging examination and only a minority of students who take it are successful in passing.

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Photo Credit:PressTV – University Entrance Exam (Concours) in Tehran

17. At the higher education level, Iran has private, public and state affiliated universities.

18. Universities, institutes of technology, medical schools, and community colleges make up the higher education sector.

19. Except for medical schools, all state-run universities are under the direct supervision of the Iranian Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. Medical schools are under the supervision of the Ministry of Health, Treatment, and Medical Education.

20. Currently, there are over 50 public universities and over 40 public institutions specializing in medical study and 200 private postsecondary institutions in Iran.

21. Tuition at public universities is free.

22. Private institutions charge fees.

23. The largest private institution in Iran is Islamic Azad University.

24. Women make up more than 60 percent of the college population in Iran but less than 20 percent of the working population.

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25. Out of 1.176 million people registered for higher education in the Iranian academic year of 2012-2013, women accounted for 522,248 (44.38 percent) while men’s share stood at 654,593 (55.62 percent).

26.The number of female university students also increased by almost twofold from 1,231,035 in the Iranian academic year of 2005-2006 to 2,106,639 in 2012-2013.

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Photo Credit: Ebrahim Norrozi/AP – Iranian women, shown here in downtown Tehran, are among groups in the country pushing for social and economic change.

27. Distance learning degree programs are provided mainly by the University of Payam-e-Hour.

28. University degrees in Iran include:
• Kardani (formerly Fogh-Diplom) – 2-year program equivalent to the Associate degree;
• Karshenasi (formerly Licence) – 4-year program equivalent to the Bachelor’s degree;
• Karshenasi Arshad (formerly Fogh-Licence) – 2-year program beyond the Karshenasi equivalent to the Master’s degree;
• Doctora (Doctorate) degree – 3-year program; requires a master’s (Karshenasi) degree for admission and is awarded on completion of 60 semester units and passing a comprehensive exam before entering the research phase of the program, during which they prepare and defend their dissertation.
• Specialized Doctorates – Degrees in dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, veterinary medicine are awarded after 6 years of study and a thesis and require completion of the pre-university year for admission.

29. Grading system at primary through university is based on a 0-20 scale. At the primary, secondary level, and undergraduate levels, an average grade of 10 is required for promotion to the next academic grade. At the graduate level the minimum average grade is 12 and in doctoral programs the minimum average is 14.

30. Every year about 150,000 highly talented Iranians emigrate in what the International Monetary Fund calls the highest brain drain in the world.

Bonus Fact:
31. Since we love cats here at ACEI, here’s a bonus fact on the Persian cat; one of the world’s oldest breeds. They originated in the high plateaus of Iran where their long silky fur protected them from the cold. Italian traders brought the breed to Europe in the 17th century, where they became an exotic status symbol. (source: Rajendra, Vijeya, Gisela Kaplan, and Rudi Rajendra. 2004. Iran (Cultures of the World). New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish.)

Helpful links & Sources:
https://www.educationusairan.com/edu-professionals/education-systems
http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/iran_statistics.html
http://www.snipview.com/q/Schools_in_Iran
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ir.html
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14541327

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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One Rhythm, One Planet: Music from the Banned Countries

February 9th, 2017

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I have always believed that music brings people together and bridges cultural divides. Music can connect us like no other arts, with its universal language of rhythm and melody. Maybe even more importantly, music—especially world music, helps us understand and appreciate other cultures and people. I have bonded instantly with immigrant taxi drivers from Nigeria, Cameroon, Armenia, Argentina, and other places simply by asking them about the music of their homelands.

This core belief in the binding power of music has underpinned my work over the past 30 years to popularize world music in Los Angeles and beyond. It’s been a joy to watch ecstatic crowds dancing to Pakistani qawwali (sufi gospel) music or Nigerian afrobeat and juju, to see people entranced by whirling dervishes from Turkey and Syria, and to swoon with others to achingly beautiful classical music from Iran. My life and personal horizons have been immeasurably enriched by these experiences. Sadly, some of these experiences may now be in peril due to the recently enacted immigration ban on seven predominately Muslim countries—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya.

In this time of division and discord, it’s imperative to keep building bridges through music. With that in mind, I want to celebrate music that I’ve loved by artists from the seven countries targeted by the recent immigration ban. This sweeping ban will most certainly prevent artists from these countries from performing in the U.S., but we can still support their music and arts from afar—by continuing to share and learn about them through recordings and the vast resources of the internet.

We begin in SYRIA with the poet-musician Abed Azrie and his albums Lapis Lazuli and Aromates. Azrie was born in Aleppo but has been based in Paris for many years. Aromates was his first album released in the U.S., on Nonesuch. I put a beautiful cut, “Pareil à l’eau” (Like Water) from the album Lapis Lazuli on a compilation that I produced called Trance Planet Vol. 3. His poetry is as beautiful as his music.

IRAQ: Munir Bashir has been called the King of Oud and is credited by many as the greatest modern oud player. Algerian-born, French singer-songwriter Pierre Bensusan gave me my first Munir Bashir LP years ago. I immediately fell in love with his finely-filigreed music. Sadly, Bashir died at the age of 47 in an auto accident in Budapest. Here is a track from his album Mesopotamia:

I also want to mention an upcoming concert at the Getty Center by Iraqi-American oud musician Rahim AlHaj. His concerts take place on Saturday, February 18 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, February 19 at 4 p.m. Admission is free, but you must make a reservation. Click here for more information and reservations.

IRAN: Masters of Persian Music is a classical music ensemble formed in 2000 by true masters of Persian music. Iran has an amazing classical tradition, as complex and arabesque as any Mozart or Bach. Lyrics come from the classic poets and mystics: Hafez and Rumi, as well as more modern writers. The group once performed at the Hollywood Bowl with a live calligrapher rendering classical Persian poetry; it was one of the most stunning concerts ever to grace the Bowl’s celebrated stage. Here is a song from their album Hanan (Without You), featuring Hossein Alizadeh, Kayhan Kalhor, and Homayoun Shajarian. It is a gentle, passionate, and powerful love song.

YEMEN: When I think about Yemen, I immediately think of the late Yemenite Israeli singer Ofra Haza. Her parents moved from Yemen to Israel in 1950 in the airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. She burst upon the scene in 1986 with her transcendent album Yemenite Songs. Many of the songs on the album were written by a 17th century rabbi. Her song “Im Nin’alu” topped the European charts, even rising to #1 in Germany. To me, her success was more convincing proof that music transcends language and builds bridges between cultures. Ofra once visited my UCLA World Music class—International Bandstand—and performed a Yemenite song, drumming a large oil can on her shoulder. It was a beautiful moment. Here is “Im Nin’alu“:

SUDAN: Sudanese music has incredible rhythms and deep groove. Crowds love it, though it’s featured more in big European summer festivals than in the U.S., especially after 9/11. Sudanese singer and oud player Abdel Aziz El Mubarak leads a large group, playing music that blends Arabic styles and Western forms. The great UK label Globe Style released his music back in the 1980’s, and I was listening.

SOMALIA: Somali poet, musician, and hip hop artist K’naan (born Keinan Abdi Warsame) was born in Mogadishu in 1978 and now resides in Canada. His hybrid sound draws from world music, hip hop, reggae, and of course, Somali music. He has collaborated with artists from the great Youssou N’Dour to Bono. Here is his song “Take a Minute.” Watch him as he walks by portraits of Gandhi, Mandela, Bob Marley, and Nina Simone:

LIBYA: We don’t hear too much from Libyan artists, especially here in the U.S., due in part to the country’s isolation under the four-decade long rule of Qaddafi. Ahmed Fakroun is a pioneer of modern Arabic pop music and one of the most popular Libyan artists, both in Tripoli as well as among Libyan expats. His crossover style blends Arabic instruments and lyrics with Western pop elements like synthesizers and electric bass. Here’s a track called “Ya Farhi’ Bik” from his 1983 album Mots D’Amour – it definitely has that 80’s pop sound but with an Arabic twist:

Finally, I want to mention the compilation album Lullabies from the Axis of Evil, released back in the days of the Bush 43 administration. It features music from all the countries above, as well as music from Afghanistan, North Korea, and other “evil” places.

I hope you enjoyed these tracks and will keep exploring musical riches from around the world.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Recognition of refugees’ qualifications – Norwegian and European experiences and solutions

February 2nd, 2017

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Early and effective evaluation of refugees’ qualifications and skills, including those refugees who hold qualifications but lack proper documentation, is a critical measure to ensure that refugees are able to enter the labour market or pursue further studies as quickly as possible. As a result, both society and the individual can benefit from rapid and effective integration processes.

The Lisbon Recognition Convention clearly states that the Parties are committed to the establishment of a system for recognition of qualifications held by refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation. This applies even in cases in which the qualifications obtained cannot be proven through documentary evidence (Article VII).

Since 2005, Norway has attempted to implement a special recognition procedure for this target group. In 2012, NOKUT developed a unique recognition scheme for refugees, displaced persons and persons in a refugee-like situation. The UVD-procedure is a centralized recognition procedure administered by NOKUT. Academics from HEIs assist NOKUT, through a thorough and structured process, to reach legally binding decisions on recognition.

In 2015, with the record-high numbers of arrivals of refugees in Europe, NOKUT saw the need re-think recognition procedures for refugees. NOKUT and UK NARIC proposed the idea of establishing a European Qualification Passport for Refugees, bearing in mind the legacy of the Nansen passport.

In the 2016 pilot project – NOKUT’s Qualifications Passport for Refugees – the methodology was tested. The procedure has already become part of the Norwegian recognition scheme, with a focus on the integration of refugees.

In 2017, a similar methodology will be the basis for a pilot project in Greece, administered by the Council of Europe and Greek Ministry of Education, Science and Religious Affairs, to test out a European Qualifications Passport for Refugees. In the Erasmus+ funded project Toolkit for Recognition of Refugees, in which several European partners participate, a testing of similar methodology will carried out.

NOKUT believes the Qualifications Passport for Refugees is the optimal tool for recognition of refugees’ qualifications. In the procedure, higher education qualifications are assessed based on available documentation and a structured interview. The resulting document, in addition, summarizes and presents available information on the applicant’s, work experience and language proficiency. Bearing this in mind, the document aims at providing credible and reliable information essential to integration and progression towards employment, upskilling and admission to further studies.

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Stig Arne Skjerven is Director of Foreign Education at NOKUT (Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education) and Head of the Norwegian ENIC-NARIC, where he oversees the recognition of foreign qualifications in accordance with the Lisbon Convention and advises policy in the areas of education, recognition, labor markets and integration. Prior to his time at NOKUT, Stig Arne was the Director of Academic Affairs at Aalesund University College, Norway and a political adviser for the Association of Norwegian Students Abroad (ANSA). He has gained additional experience from various national and international committees and working groups on higher education and has presented at several international conferences and seminars on themes such as recognition, policy, marketing and recruitment. Stig Arne is currently a member of the EAIE General Council, the ENIC-NARIC Board and the Drafting Committee of the global convention of recognition of higher education qualifications.

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The Women’s March: Perspectives from Los Angeles and beyond….

January 26th, 2017

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This past Saturday, I was one of the millions of women and men on all seven continents who participated in the Women’s March. The march started as a movement on Facebook but quickly expanded to more than 600 “sister marches” in major U.S. cities outside of Washington D.C. and even outside the U.S. According to CNN, some 2.2 million people worldwide participated in marches from Australia to Hong Kong, New Zealand, UK, Italy, France, Germany, Serbia, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Kosovo, Georgia, The Netherlands, Macau, Mexico, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and as far south as Antarctica.

The final count for the crowd marching in my hometown Los Angeles was 750,000. It was heartening to see so many Angelinos, of all ages and ethnicities peacefully converging and marching through the streets of downtown Los Angeles. There were no police, at least in uniform, and no mayhem or looting, just happy peaceful people marching in solidarity for human rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and the health of our planet.

While we were marching in Los Angeles, hundreds of thousands of people were doing the same in the nation’s capital to show their solidarity and support for those who feel their rights may be threatened by the new administration, under Donald Trump who was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017. Tens of thousands of college students, faculty and administrators were also at the march in D.C. as they too feel their rights are under attack.

According to Madison Thomas, the march’s national coordinator for college engagement as reported by InsideHigher Education: “An estimated 50,000 students from college campuses across the country attended the Women’s March on Washington.” Many of these students had traveled from their college campuses far away to be at the march. InsideHigherEducation reports: “College women marched for reproductive rights and stronger legislation against sexual assault and sexual harassment. Some students said they were marching for the rights of undocumented immigrants, Muslims, members of the LGBT community, people of color and people with disabilities. And university professors marched for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry and campus diversity.” Clearly, many see the current administration’s intended policies to be in direct conflict with the gains made during the previous administrations concerning women’s reproductive rights, women’s rights, human rights, and gender equality.

Participating at the march in DC, was Julie Schmid who is the executive director of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP); one of the groups that had partnered with the Women’s March. AAUP is deeply concerned about protecting freedom of expression and inquiry on college campuses and ensuring that qualify of education and accountability of educational institutions is not negatively impacted under the Trump administration. According to Ms. Schmid, AAUP had “members participating in over 600 sister marches across the country.”

Here in Los Angeles, I was overjoyed to see such a large contingency of young college- and even high school-aged women and men marching side by side chanting slogans and carrying signs supporting women’s rights. On the metro ride to the march, during the march and on our return home, I overheard informed and passionate conversations on the importance of having stronger legislation against sexual assault and sexual harassment on college campuses, as well as protecting the rights of undocumented immigrants, people of color, Muslims, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBT community.

The nationwide and global outpouring of support for the Women’s March and the record breaking numbers of participants highlight the significance of human rights and social justice issues. The question is if this global solidarity was a moment in time or start of a worldwide movement as more countries, especially in Europe lean toward extreme right leaning nationalistic political parties and candidates running for positions of leadership.

Links to sources:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/01/23/tens-thousands-college-students-and-professors-march-washington

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/photo-essays/2017-01-21/the-women-s-march-in-pictures-from-washington-to-antarctica 

https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-01-21/women-s-march-draws-thousands-to-washington-to-protest-trump

http://www.thedp.com/article/2017/01/womens-march-reflections

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

The Million Woman March: A Los Angeles Perspective

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I attended the Million Woman March in Los Angeles this past Saturday with several friends, and although I knew it would be crowded on the trains, the only logical transportation to the downtown location of the march, I never imagined exactly how crowded it would be. As of 2016 the “counted” population of the city exceeds 4 Million.

Our urban rail system is relatively new, and we spend a significant portion of time isolated in our cars on endless miles of streets and freeways, without much human contact. This is rapidly changing as the Metropolitan Transit Authority continues to make significant additions. Public transportation is the only way to understand the true nature of a city, sadly lost otherwise. Los Angeles is a polyglot, multicultural city with 224 languages spoken other than English, and it was a rare, unique moment in time when many of us converged, at the same place, at the same time, united in the same cause.

What an overwhelmingly beautiful thing to see and experience.

The first thing I noted was the way we all negotiated the new rules of personal space/distance. Perhaps it was because we were united in a singular cause, we seemed to be part of one organic form, functioning together, effortlessly, with unexpected grace and of all things, kindness. We were there for things much bigger, much more important, much more urgent than our personal issues of comfort.

No aggressive pushing, no shoving, all emotions channeled into a common cause. Not even a noticeable police presence, which is unheard of in protests in the city. Men, women, transgender, straight, gay, infants on their mother’s backs, grandmothers in wheelchairs, children holding signs on their father’s shoulders…all flowing together, extremely close together and everything just worked. 

I felt an overwhelming sense of empowerment, and a core feeling of joy. This is what the world should be like, this is what the world is moving towards, and my city is an outstanding example of how it can work in a “perfect world.”

Joining the masses moving effortlessly down the street, the views of the sheer numbers packed into streets and alleyways was staggering. Once we reached the stage set up in front of City Hall, and were lucky to position ourselves with a view down on the masses I had a realization that something else deeply significant had occurred, which warmed my heart and gave me hope for the next generation.

Driven by the critical nature of the serous issues we were and are protesting, we had, collectively as a society, altered the invisible overlay of puritanical ethics by casually using the word “pussy” so openly, so cavalierly…a slang word used in a defiling way, by Donald Trump, bounced around the world in a never-ending sound bite. These young parents, had to have explained it all to their children in some way that made sense. One father, surrounded by pink-hatted little girls, had his daughter on his shoulders.  Her neon-pink sign read “Don’t’ touch my …” with her own hand-drawn face of a kitty.

I tried to imagine the conversation he must have had with her, and I was filled again by the second wave of pride and hope for the future of our children. These young girls, and some boys, got it. They understood what we are all fighting for. This word, held up on hundreds of thousands of signs was a channel for the outrage and represented our refusal to accept the civic, personal, and human rights, the ecological and environmental abuses, the rising, and very frightening agenda to silence the voice of the people. 

The way I see it, is that these young parents have given us all hope, by shifting the paradigm. Their children have learned to fight, to stand up and continue to have their voices heard, and we need them.

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Jeannie Winston is a frequent guest blogger for ACEI’s Academic Exchange. Jeannie is an artist and writer living and working in Los Angeles, California. Jeannie completed her undergraduate studies in Illustration at The Arts Center of Pasadena, California.  Her vast and intricate knowledge of Los Angeles and its cultural history bring a new perspective to our understanding of the City of Angels. She draws her inspiration from the natural and inhabited world around her. She is especially inspired by her observations of cultural fusions and how people strive to invoke spirit in daily life.

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Season’s greetings and warm wishes for a happy new year

12/23/16

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As 2016 comes to an end, and we prepare for the New Year, I cannot help but reflect at the great progress ACEI has made since its inception in 1994. As both President & CEO of ACEI and as Board President of the Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE), a non-profit professional association, of which ACEI is an Endorsed member, I can proudly look at how ACEI and AICE members have remained steadfast in our efforts to ensure the respect deserving of the international credential evaluation profession through our commitment in developing standards and guidelines while supporting and encouraging exchange of ideas and information.

ACEI will be turning 23 next year, and I have had the pleasure of watching it truly raise the bar for ourselves and for our colleagues in international credential evaluations. While the external environment and the new presidency brings with it uncertainties and challenges for international education,  I see our community coming together,  showing  resilience, determination and a shared sense of purpose, working effectively as a unified voice for maintaining standards and best practices. While the obstacles have been and will be many  – from a climate where standards and transparency have been neglected by some in the profession, to a political climate here and abroad that is becoming more nationalistic than globally minded – what has shone and continues to shine through is the steadfast commitment of our colleagues and partners in fostering and advancing international education, credential evaluation methodologies and standards and exchange of information with each other and helping the students and communities we support.

Thank you for your commitment to international education and support of ACEI. As we move forward in 2017 and beyond, I am proud of ACEI’s accomplishments and excited about the future. Our community is strong and vibrant, and together we will continue our efforts to remain interconnected, uphold standards and best practices, safeguard international education, and ensure access for international students and human dignity for poor and vulnerable populations worldwide.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Holiday season and a new year filled with health, happiness and success.

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Creating Legacy: Biddy Mason

November 17th, 2016

biddy

I had a reoccurring dream for 5 consecutive years, which took place in Los Angeles starting and stopping in exactly the same place each time. I always awoke shaking my head and thinking, What is that––why do I keep dreaming of black women dressed like Southern Slaves, in the early years of Los Angeles? There weren’t even black people back in early California. But I was more than wrong.

Late one night while browsing an online photo archive, I stumbled upon an exact image from my dream. It was dated 1857. A gathering of black women dressed in similar fashion to southern plantation slaves, were sitting on the front porch of a single story wooden house located on what is now San Pedro Street. I paid attention. So began my journey into the history of the women of El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, and led me to Biddy Mason, former slave of African and Native American heritage, mother, healer, midwife, wealthy-businesswoman philanthropist, landowner, and not least, the founder of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (the first black church in Los Angeles.)

As I began to explore the history of this powerful woman, I was repeatedly struck by the fact that although I had been born and educated in Los Angeles, neither I nor any of my friends had ever been made aware of her. Indeed, the recognition of the place of women in the development of the city of Los Angeles (El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, the City of the Queen of Angels) has been historically relegated to secondary status. This is reflected even in the name change from the city’s original name, by dropping the Queen out of the name of the city. As a sign of the times, this particular woman was destined to be a powerful force of vital change in the lives of many, even as the world she traveled through was itself experiencing a time of extreme tumultuous and violent change. In 1849 during the transition from Mexican to American rule, the state of California decreed itself free of slavery, and in 1850, was admitted into the Union.  Ironically, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed later that very same year––a definite nod to Southern sympathies.

Among the first, Robert Smith, a recent convert to the Mormon Faith, brought his slaves Biddy Mason, her three daughters, her sister Hannah and her children, across the continent by Ox Train to live in a Mormon community in San Bernardino. However, as the “anti-slavery” sentiment in California grew, he decided to leave for the slave state of Texas. He must have thought himself mad as he watched free black men ride as equals alongside white posse members, when they swooped into his canyon camp in the Santa Monica Mountains late one night, and rescued the women and children; the sheriff took them off into protective custody. By the time Bridget Biddy Mason arrived in el Pueblo in 1855, there was already a black community; some having migrated from deep southern, slave holding states, to the apparent freedom of California. Although the slave trade of Native peoples was in full force, there was a population of free black men, many having descendants traceable to Africans in Mexico in the 1530’s. As my research was revealing, I had been so wrong!

Biddy Mason and her family were granted their freedom in January 1856, and in another twist of time and fate, won their freedom by the skin of their teeth, as the Dred Scott Decision was passed in 1857 in which…” the Supreme Court decided that all people of African ancestry — slaves as well as those who were free––could never become citizens of the United States and therefore could not sue in federal court. The court also ruled that the federal government did not have the power to prohibit slavery in its territories…” The egregious injustice of this period in history is once again illuminated by the fact that, although Biddy Mason could petition for her freedom and be present at her trial, after 1850 there was a law forbidding Native Indians, Blacks, and Mulattoes from testifying against a white person in civil or criminal cases. However, precedent had been set in el Pueblo in the 1840’s by the rancheras, women who were the original land grantees. These were women who owned substantial land, and therefore had the key to economic independence, putting them on an equal business footing with the men of their time. Whether through direct land grants, marriage or inheritance, this allowed them to engage in business: investing, selling, loaning, or using their land as collateral. As a black woman in the 1850’s Biddy’s rise to social prominence and financial power was unprecedented. She created a paradigm shift by shrewdly parlaying her immense skills as a healer and a midwife, into a business empire equivalent to those most successful landholding business leaders of Los Angeles… Although neither Biddy nor her ranchera predecessors could read, write, or defend themselves or their interests in a court of law, they were astute enough to engage the powerful men of the time to defend them and speak on their behalf.

It is almost impossible to understand the scope of the legacy that Biddy Mason created, and it might read like somewhat of a “fairytale” if the particulars were not so overwhelmingly grim. The improbable circumstances she endured are all but unimaginable; from slave-life on the plantation, she literally trekked across the continent with her own small children, ultimately having the temerity to stand up and claim herself a free black woman in a white America about to be torn apart by the Civil War. Yet she did it, as did many of the rancheras, and other women who came before and long after her. Although women still struggle to attain equality in an historically patriarchal society, honoring and acknowledging those of enormous personal power who have come before us is a crucial step towards making things right in the future.

Biddy Mason remains one of my personal heroines. From a dream sent to me from our collective past, I feel it is essential to share her history, as one of our city’s fundamental foundation stones, inspiring us to do more, and to be more. I believe this history, the city’s history is especially timely for Los Angeles right now, as it reminds us that there is great strength and wisdom which comes from moving steadfastly forward with conviction, an open mind, and an open heart.

  1. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2932.html

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Jeannie Winston is a frequent guest blogger for ACEI’s Academic Exchange. Jeannie is an artist and writer living and working in Los Angeles, California. Jeannie completed undergraduate studies in Illustration at The Arts Center of Pasadena, California.   Her vast and intricate knowledge of Los Angeles and its cultural history bring a new perspective to our understanding of the City of Angels. She draws her inspiration from the natural and inhabited world around her. She is especially inspired by her observations of cultural fusions and how people strive to invoke spirit in daily life.

(El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, the City of the Queen of Angels.)

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Three Timely Presidential Songs

November 14th, 2016

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With the election just over, I thought I’d call to mind some songs about U.S. presidents and elections — songs that either celebrate or poke a little fun at being POTUS. We can all use a little levity about now, right?

The first is “Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt” by Otis Jackson. Jackson first recorded this tribute song in 1946, a year after Roosevelt’s death, and re-recorded it many times after. A book called Roosevelt’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Songs on FDR by Guido van Rijn talks about this song as well as dozens of other blues and gospel songs that celebrated FDR, who was an important figure for the African American community. The video below is for part one of Jackson’s song, but there is a part two as well. I found it on a great album called Hot Gospel (Get Right with God) 1947-1953.

The second song is by the great bluesman Percy Mayfield with Johnny “Guitar” Watsonfrom 1974 called, “I Don’t Want to Be President.” It’s a fun and timely song by Billy Vera’s favorite singer-songwriter. I found it on an Atlantic Records two-LP set from the 1980’s called Atlantic Blues:Vocalists.

Finally, Ry Cooder wrote “Cold Cold Feeling” about presidential blues on his albumElection Special. The 2012 CD, released before Obama’s second term, also included the sad lament about Mitt Romney’s poor canine,”Mutt Romney Blues“.

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Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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