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A dog, a piper and a school.

April 6, 2010

They say you should never work with children or animals but I’ve managed to break that rule on both counts today. Of course photocalls with children are nothing unusual in my current job but I’ve managed to avoid posing for pics with animals since I left the environment brief, although some of the creatures I met there were magnificent (the Golden Eagles and the Beavers spring to mind) .

But I couldn’t avoid the challenge today when I visited the very impressive Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. As the name suggests, the university has strong connections with Scotland and on arrival I was greeted by the Provost, Professor Mark Kamlet on a very fine campus who introduced me to a young piper and

Taking Maggie for a (reluctant) photocall

Maggie the Scotty dog – complete with tartan cap – which is the University Mascot and which was  donated to  them by none other than the comedian Bill Cosby.  Luckily she was a remarkably well-behaved (and actually rather disinterested) pooch – unmoved even by the very good piper, who studies the bagpipe course at the university.

I was also greeted by State Senator Mike Brubaker who proposed a resolution in the Pennsylvania State Senate last week which officially made April 6th Tartan Day in the state.

The Provost and the Senator with the Tartan Day Resolution

He presented me, and the university, with an official copy of the resolution and then stayed for lunch and the lecture.

The university is noted for it’s creativity, innovation and ambitions for the future but also has  a strong sense of its past, which dates back to 1900 when it was founded by Andrew Carnegie. The link between the past and the future was the theme for the speech I delivered at the university, where I provided the audience with a brief overview of Scotland’s constitutional history and then

Delivering the Lecture at Carnegie Mellon

outlined the choices facing our country in the years ahead. It seemed to be well received and there were a number of searching and interesting questions. Nobody seemed offended or put out, so perhaps that discounts some of the press coverage of the event which seems to have emerged in Scotland (and, it could be fairly observed, might have more to do with an impending election than reasoned comment).

Earlier in the day I met young people facing choices of a different kind about the future as they approach the end of their studies at the

At the CAPA School

Pittsburgh School of Creative and Performing Arts. These remarkably gifted musicians, artists and actors recognise that not all of them will be able to pursue their dreams of a successful career in the arts. But one of the school’s greatest achievements is the way it not only nurtures prodigious natural artistic talent (in every art form for we heard great jazz, fine musical theatre, some serious classical orchestral performance, and even rap but we also saw good painting and multi media and heard about fine writing – all from students) but also provides them with the academic skills needed for other careers. But whether the model – something akin to the “free schools” I saw in Sweden though run by the local city as part of its normal educational provision – is a viable one for elsewhere would be a moot point.

Yet it can’t be denied that the school is a truly inspirational place with first class facilities and technologies. None the less, although surrounded by some of the finest creations of his contemporaries, it was – for one of our student guides – our Education Director General’s  footwear that inspired most comment. “Awesome shoes” he suddenly said to her in the lift !

Between the school and the university I had the chance to meet and talk to the Pittsburgh School Superintendent,

Gerald Zahorchak and Mark Roosevelt

Mark Roosevelt (the great grandson of former American President Teddy Roosevelt) and the Pennsylvania State Secretary for Education Gerald Zahorchak. It was a fascinating chat, that went on beyond it allotted time, for there were so many common problems and so many ideas and potential solutions to discuss. Key to progress was, for both us, the quality of teaching and a curriculum that joined up the diverse parts of learning. Achieving that has many barriers in both places but the goal is worth striving for.

My final meeting of the day before leaving for Toronto was with Professor Indira Nair, Vice Provost for Education at Carnegie Mellon. We talked about getting women into science and again about cross curricular activity, two issues with which we are deeply engaged in both countries.

Then it was time to drive to the airport and after a quick chat in the hotel in Toronto with Mike Cantley,

Mike Cantley

the newly appointed Chair of Visit Scotland (whom I knew well when I was Environment Minister and he chaired the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Board) it was blog time and bed….a long day and another one in the offing tomorrow which includes the official Canadian Scotland Week reception.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 6:18 pm

    I am interested in your reference to getting women into the sciences. As a soul broadly interested in gender issues, and trying to understand how gender might or might not be implicated in educational issues and beyond, I recently indulged in an analysis of some elements of the recent Students in Higher Education at Scottish Institutions 2008 – 09 statistical report here:

    As you say, the figures seem the bear out comparatively lower numbers of women studying many of the sciences (biological sciences and medical sciences very significantly excepted). However, I wondered what prompted you to discuss that issue particularly, and to bounce one step back, why you consider gender in the sciences to be particularly important?

    One might well argue that given the figures, we could be concerned about the tiny number of young men now training to be doctors. Or more broadly, the obviously imbalanced fact that of undergraduate entrants in 2008/09, 62.2% were female compared with 37.8% male. It may be, of course, that you want no truck with brutish equalising, and an idealised and largely purposeless 50/50 division. Those are arguments to be made and propositions to be considered. Although an aside, your reference does seem to hint at some gender-parity ideology. That being so, how is this to be reconciled with the other figures I mention?

    Lallands Peat Worrier

  2. April 7, 2010 6:20 pm

    Nice dog!

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