Streetbuzz Interview

May 20, 2005

Chris Martin: Curriculum development specialist, potter, traveler, dog-lover, questioner.
Lives in Tacoma, Washington, USA.


Chris Martin

STREETBUZZ: Chris, when and where were you born?

CHRIS MARTIN: I was born in Lafayette, Indiana, on February 23, 1953.

STREETBUZZ: How about your childhood?

CHRIS MARTIN: You don't want to know about it.

STREETBUZZ: Now you got me curious! Just a little bit, please?

CHRIS MARTIN: I loved going to camp. And I loved canoeing and sail boating and horseback riding and doing arts and crafts and camping, and I was the kid who cried because she had to go home.

STREETBUZZ: How was school?

CHRIS MARTIN: I didn't like school. I was an OK student, I was a good girl for the most part. I had a teacher tell me if I didn't stop talking, she would cut it off and serve it on a silver platter. I had another teacher in high school who told me I looked unvirginal because I wore short skirts. Do you remember tube dresses? It was a shocking pink tube dress. Ha ! There's a lot you don't know. Junior high or high school: you couldn't pay me enough to go back. That's the pits!

STREETBUZZ: What else I don't know?

CHRIS MARTIN: I got caught smoking in the girls john senior year in high school; I got EXPELLED.
For awhile in high school I was also a motorcycle mama, and I rode on the back of my boyfriends motocycle, we had black leathers. I didn't do very well in school, I got D's and F' s. Esp. in math and foreign language, I had French.

STREETBUZZ: So if you weren't focused on schoolwork, what were you paying attention to?

CHRIS MARTIN: I wanted to be a member of a group. Any group that would take me. The hoods took me. Nah, no criminal activities, no drugs, sex or rock and roll.


CHRIS MARTIN: Then I met my husband-to-be, my high school sweetheart. Then I went to college. Then my mom died. Then I quit school the same quarter I got inducted into the honor society at college. Because I didn't think I was being taught to be a teacher, so I thought it was a waste of time.


CHRIS MARTIN: I got married. We traveled around the United States and Canada for nine months, and ended up in Corvallis, Oregon. I
continued working as an office worker, moved into payroll and human resources work, property management......
My marriage? good question! I'm just trying to decide how much I want to go public with. I guess that's your answer. Failed marriages are not something to brag about.


CHRIS MARTIN: Then I came into my own. At the age of 33. I don't know if you've ever had this experience, I got married when I was 20, my whole adolescence. was with my husband Craig, I just forfeited myself to be who I thought my husband wanted me to be, and so when we divorced, and was on my own, it was like I had to start when was seventeen, what my values were, what was important to me, what I believed in, I wanted to know what my calling was. I remember sitting in my office and kinda sitting back in this big chair, and made two decisions, one that I didn't need a man to make my life, a second that my efforts at work were not going to line the pockets of businessmen.


CHRIS MARTIN: So that's when I took off on a sabbatical. I had the opportunity for six months to try a number of different professions: as an artist, as a teacher, and as a naturalist. and in the end, I decided to be a teacher. Which was actually what I was studying in college when I decided to quit, was education. So I returned to college in Olympia, and got a job in Seattle, at that point I was a volunteer coordinator and career counselor. but not a teacher. And I decided to go back for my masters degree to study more about adult education and intercultural education. That's around when I met you. My former in-laws actually came out to Seattle to see me graduate from the master's program. They had been broken-hearted when I had quit before, they had thought I was out of my mind.

STREETBUZZ: You traveled also I think...?

CHRIS MARTIN: In 1989 was my first trip overseas, to Nepal. Did a two week trek in the Himalayas, and quit smoking, cuz I wanted to trek the Himalayas. Yes it was fabulous trip. in 1990 got my first job in Antioch university. And in 1991 I went to Peru. And I was very involved in the peace movement at this time. I was a team leader in Give Peace a Dance, I was twenty-four-hour team leader.


CHRIS MARTIN: In 1992 was my first trip to Cuba, when I was working at Antioch University. One of our administrators was offering a trip to higher education in Cuba, and I just couldn't throw the flyer away, it was on my desk, and I asked why go to Cuba? And I just couldn't throw the flyer away, and I registered the last day to go on the trip.

STREETBUZZ: Cuba? What was it like your first time?

CHRIS MARTIN: That my country had told me lot of lies about Cuba. That communism was something to be feared. That Fidel was an evil man. I don't believe those are true.

STREETBUZZ: And then you went there to live...

CHRIS MARTIN: I wanted to move in my career, I wanted to speak another language, and because the Cuban government gave me the opportunity to do some research n higher education. I lived there for five years.

STREETBUZZ: And you met a man there.

CHRIS MARTIN: I did. Another professor, philosophy and history professor, and I met him in an elevator, and I was practicing my Spanish. We hit it off, falling in love and ended up getting married. Yes, there were challenges, I think it is very difficult to be in an intercultural marriage and relationship. Its a very humbling experience. One thing that happened in Cuba in 1996 is that I had an accident and ended up with a ruptured disk. And I called my friends in Seattle and said "I want to come home." And they helped me come home, they gave me a place to stay, food to eat, and helped me pay for my back surgery. And raised money for Pedro to come and be with me. So the silver lining is, there's no place like home.

STREETBUZZ: What's your current civil status and career and activities?

CHRIS MARTIN: I am single, I have a wonderful dog, and I have the same job as curriculum development specialist, a potter, a traveler, a reader, a gardener, and I hope a good friend.

Chris Martin

STREETBUZZ: Are you happy?

CHRIS MARTIN: Yes. I would say that for most of my life that I have felt pretty much content, but the last few years I have been happy.

STREETBUZZ: And how about the rest of the world? Is the rest of humanity getting happier as well?

CHRIS MARTIN: Probably not. I think I feel happy because I have a sense of myself and in the world; I know that I have a privileged place, and that compared to many people I have nothing to complain about.

STREETBUZZ: How about your work? What do you do and what's that like?

CHRIS MARTIN: Well, I'm a curriculum development specialist at pierce College. And that means that I work with the faculty and staff to create the most effective learning situations for students. It's an outstanding job, cuz I get to learn something new everyday. For example, things about business, and information technology, developmental math, chemistry, language, travel a lot in my work, to Germany, Dominican republic, Mexico, Canada, many places in the United States. I have the opportunity to impact the educational atmosphere and the development of faculty members in higher education. And I think it's a privilege to have this job. And to be paid for what I do.

STREETBUZZ: Are our college students getting smarter or dumber? Is higher education part of the problem or the solution in these here United States? (the problem of the USA and the world going to hell in a hand basket....)

CHRIS MARTIN: The problem is systemic.Wwe have an educational crisis in the United States, in our K thru 20 system. All levels. I personally don't think the problem is just in formal education; I think the society in the US (and you notice I don't say America) is crumbling and the educational crisis is just a symptom of a larger problem.
Since 9/11, I've become more committed to education and the development of critical thinking skills. And information literacy. Because I think the public needs to think more about what's happening in the world, and the position of the United States in the world. It's tragic when there are two articles on the front page of the newspaper that completely contradict each other, and few people seem to notice. That's more of a comment on the readers than on the newspaper editors, although it's a comment on them as well.

STREETBUZZ: So are colleges in the US, and Pierce College in particular, providing what students need to become critical thinkers?

CHRIS MARTIN: I'Sm gonna go back to my first answer, its not just at the college level. Students have gone through the educational system, and you might say its the "dumbing down" of the United States. It's not the role of higher education to "teach" critical thinking. Our role is to continue the development of critical thinking. And some schools do that better then others.

STREETBUZZ: So in a world where things are getting more complicated at an exponential rate, while the demands for appropriate responses to a number of critical social and environmental problems demand good responses, it sounds like you don't think the think factories are turning out people capable of meeting those needs?

CHRIS MARTIN: Well if you're referring to schools as being the factories, I disagree with you. I think the answer is much more complex. I can tell you the answer of high-stakes testing such as 'No Child Left Behind', is not the answer, it does not test critical thinking. If you're asking about "a number of critical social and environmental problems", does not get tested in a multiple choice or fill-in-the=blanks test. Do you realize that the SAT exam only started assessing the ability to write an essay last March? Do you realize that children who have English as an second language and are new immigrants to this country, take the same test without translation, as their peers? And the school is judged to be successful or not successful in their teaching, based on those results. So the question is what's being tested, and why, and why is the federal government involved. They're not relying on local people, on local intelligence, to determine their own needs and successes. Education has never been under Federal oversight. Mr. Bush has made it federal business.

STREETBUZZ: So what about federal involvement?

CHRIS MARTIN: There's no simple answer to this. The federal government is getting involved, we have a society that's crumbling, I think technology has impacted this problem, students want more and more to be entertained, there'Ss more of a short-term gratification perspective, there'Ss political agendas like if you're not with us you're against us, ...things like that don't promote critical thinking. The more we rely on technology to do our thinking for us, the less we need to think. The example is using computers in a math class: if computers are used, students don't get the opportunity to develop the critical thinking skills they need. That's an oversimplification, 'cuz there'Ss a place for computers and calculators in math classes, but at the expense of developing mathematical concepts.

Look at electronic scoring, it doesn't assess critical thinking.

STREETBUZZ: So how do you cope with these thoughts in your job? Do you try to pedal faster?

CHRIS MARTIN: No. I make it a point to incorporate formative assessment of student learning in most of the projects I'm involved with.
I think many faculty members will lets say participate in a professional development opportunity , but don't extend that to the impact on student learning. You have to realize I'm pretty much of a behavioralist at heart (smiles.) That's not true! My training is as a behavioral scientist. There many ways to learn and know things in the world. But I do believe that a great teacher is determined by the abilities and skills of hers and his students. You can be a great lecturer, but unless your students can impact the world in a positive way, what difference does it make?

STREETBUZZ: How do you get away from thinking so much? Does your pottery help?

CHRIS MARTIN: About twenty years ago I hand-built a set of dishes at Holden Village and since then have wanted to learn how to throw pots. And so three years ago I started taking lessons and had a very difficult time learning how to throw pots. And a little girl came up to me and put her hand on my leg and said "You can do it, just keep trying!" and she was right. It's a great lesson for a teacher to struggle learning something. Now I enjoy throwing pots. It brings me pleasure and it brings pleasure to other people, what more can you ask for? I give most of my pottery away, it's very rewarding to see people smile.
From a role point of view, I've always done things with my hands. And it's where I can express my creative energies. There's a theorist who talks about he flow experience, and the flow is being so deeply involved in something, that nothing else interferes. And pottery is a flow experience for me; nothing else exists. It'Ss a respite from the world.

STREETBUZZ: What else? Final thoughts?

CHRIS MARTIN: Well, I guess it's very easy to intellectualize about learning and life, but I think the most important thing is to be a lifelong learner. To be humbled by what one comes to know, and try to leave the world a better place.

Chris Martin



Chris can be contacted at