In case you’re wondering why I haven’t posted anything lately (and isn’t everybody?), I’ve decided to explain myself. I could point the finger at many things (correcting papers, shoveling snow, playing more board games lately, reading a good book, shoveling more snow, writing personal stuff in my journal, watching sports, playing my guitar…), but it isn’t because I haven’t been writing. I’ve written drafts in reaction to several things going on in my life and the world; the problem is that I just can’t seem to finish them — to make them ‘public worthy.’ So, I’ve decided to cut my losses, tweak the drafts a bit, share what I can, and pitch the rest. It’s going to be choppy, but you’ll get a glimpse of the roller coaster that has resided in my mind of late.
“2013 Joys and Concerns”
Some things that happen are clearly joys.
The other night, two women sang about the blessings and trials of being alive. Samantha Cooper and Elisabeth Pixley-Fink shared their journeys of loss and peace with about 100 people at a small church in Dexter, MI. We all rejoiced as they shared their journeys with us through song. I appreciated the personal quality of the time we shared — laughs, stories, “kitchen songs” and fiddle tunes from each of their journeys, the glorious Christmas tree making it feel homey, some sing-alongs, being there with loved ones…it all added to a special, sacred night.
And more recently, I walked away from my computer for a few minutes and my screen saver kicked in. I was struck with a visual display of many of the joys from the year. Photos are like that for me — they bring the memory back, sometimes the feeling back. They reminded me that life in East Lansing is mostly joyous. I’m grateful for the amazing blessings in my life that are really too numerous to name.
The list of concerns overwhelms me though.
People are asking the wrong questions about teaching and teachers, but fortunately there are other people responding articulately. Tragically, some teachers quit the craziness instead of embracing it and working with it.
After eight days of no power, too many places in East Lansing still didn’t have power (though we lucked out and had power the whole time).
What we are doing to the Earth and other living things is wrong.
and it goes on and on and I really don’t want to write about it…
so back to the joys…
Yes Magazine by itself is a joy, but they also posted “10 hopeful things that happened in 2013,” which is a nice reminder that our world is headed in a positive direction in some ways (many people feed us fear and doom and I get tired of it). One of the articles referenced in that piece highlighted Seattle teachers who took a stand against standardized testing. Their courage has inspired more parents to consider opting their children out of these tests. I see it both as a joy and a concern — no easy answers here — but if you’ve read my other posts, you know I am not happy with the way standardized tests waste student and teacher time, waste other resources, inaccurately represent student achievement, and generally garner too much of the focus in discussions of what’s best for our educational system.
That Yes Magazine article is echoed in Bill Moyers piece on “15 Wins for the Progressive Movement in 2013.” Someday, I would like to sit down with Bill Moyers, Garrison Keillor, Nikki Giovanni, Billy Collins, Hillary Clinton (so she doesn’t make the Arne Duncan mistake, ya know, if…), Diane Ravitch, Steve Martin, and Ellen DeGeneres. I’d mostly listen and take notes.
Other clear joys from 2103:
Our trip to Seattle (see photos) and the guys’ fishing trip (more photos). And a random page of hilarious hats to keep you warm this winter.
I read some great books this year that added to my joy:
Divergent by Veronica Roth (shout out to our awesome book club!)
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan
Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz
Boxers by Gene Luen Yang (it’s a graphic novel)
Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness and Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan
Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
Operation Falcon by Abby Seal
Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery
Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft by Bill Moyers
Billy Collins’s new book of poems (see below)
I got paid for my first online, published article this year: Reflecting on the Move to Digital Writing Portfolios.
I published a second edition of my book of poems: Connections I and II. There’s some backstory on an earlier blog post.
As a reminder, here’s that book suggestions post from last year that was generated by
I’ve been reading Billy Collins’ new stuff from his Aimless Love book of poems. Here’s one he (subconsciously) asked me to share with you.
Flying Over West Texas at Christmas
by Billy Collins
Oh, little town far below
with a ruler line of a road running through you,
you anonymous cluster of houses and barns,
miniaturized by this altitude
in a land as parched as Bethlehem
might have been somewhere around the year zero—
a beautiful song should be written about you
which choirs could sing in their lofts
and carolers standing in a semicircle
could carol in front of houses topped with snow.
For surely some admirable person was born
within the waffle-iron grid of your streets,
who then went on to perform some small miracles,
placing a hand on the head of a child
or shaking a cigarette out of the pack for a stranger.
But maybe it is best not to compose a hymn
or chisel into tablets the code of his behavior
or convene a tribunal of men in robes to explain his words.
Let us not press the gold leaf of his name
onto a page of vellum or hang his image from a nail.
Better to fly over this little town with nothing
but the hope that someone visits his grave
once a year, pushing open the low iron gate
then making her way toward him
through the rows of the others
before bending to prop up some flowers before the stone.
“Flying Over West Texas at Christmas” by Billy Collins from Aimless Love. © Random House, 2013.
Recently, a friend told me that she sent her daughter to public schools so that her daughter would learn to conform. Apparently, her daughter had been a bit rebellious and my friend decided that the public schools would teach her how to stand in line and do what she was told.
My initial reaction was that I didn’t teach that way. And that if her daughter were in my class, I couldn’t guarantee she would get that lesson. I try to teach students to think for themselves — to use that brain they are given to consider both sides of an issue and make an informed decision. I believe young people need to exercise that introspective part of the brain so that they know what they believe and are able to articulate their point of view (I like to think I’m helping prepare future adults who want to be informed voters or at least competent conversationalists); this generally leads to more of an expression of individualism than conformity. Granted it’s not my only lesson, but from there we do have some thought-provoking discussions where each person’s point of view is heard and valued.
As I thought about it, though, teaching has become more structured and rule-bound in the last decade (even at the 7th grade level). Some of the changes are well-intentioned and I find myself buying into the new teaching paradigm, even though part of me still resists whenever possible. For example, the first week of the school year, we spend many more hours going over rules and expectations than we did even five years ago. Some of that time happens in school-wide assemblies, some happens in grade level assemblies, and some happens in our REACH (homeroom) classes. We review the Student Handbook of rules, the Behavior expectations, and we see short videos and Power Points about hallway behavior and what Respect, Responsibility, and Relationship look like. There are skits and speeches, and, frankly, just a whole lot of sitting and listening by the students. Classes do practice things like walking in a single file line on the right side of the hall.
It’s absolutely mind-numbing. And that doesn’t include the list of rules and expectations for the cafeteria (which is ridiculous, by the way) or the gym & post-lunch “recess” time. Our students are definitely asked to conform.
Then, in the next month, we tested them to death. “Listen to the directions of the MEAP, MAZE, AIMS Web, School-Wide Vocabulary,” and an assortment of class quizzes and tests (plus in April we’ll be piloting the Smarter Balance Test). The effect of this rigid paradigm is that students have a more clear idea of what we expect from them, we have better behaved students, and less fighting in our school. But what about how it affects students? Do they feel like robots or thinking people? Do they feel told or heard? Are they beat down or empowered?
Some examples of young people being individuals:
Imelda’s wiki page, Allana’s wiki page, Hunter’s wiki page and other students’ pages are chock full of their thoughts. That’s one reason I have all my students create their own pages. And they rock at sharing who they are as individuals.
Detroit street skiing video shows ingenuity, creativity, resourcefulness, and passion. It’s different.
Too much testing from a student’s perspective (which speaks to both blog posts above).