interactive and comments

Hello to all readers and enormous hugs-

I will be moving this blog to a BLUEHOST location during the summer and upgrading it to make it more interactive and to allow students and families to offer suggestions and post their own updates.  In the interim will not be able to respond to any comments directly nor will I be able to show your thoughtfulness in “liking” my blog- 100 plus followers! Amazing and tons of gratitude to you ALL!

as always, best regards,

   Ali

Approaching Learning Intelligently; Achieving Learning Ideals

TOGETHER ACADEMICS   “learning together makes learning better”

Singing

Sometimes songs and words and singers simply enter our brains and remain there like material on a computer and then at the right time the words resurface or the sounds reappear, making the day a little brighter and reminding one of how very much past, present and future can be intertwined.

Yesterday evening I had been entering material into my “journal”, a “private” entry, not a public blog; and wondering if my personal rhymes and real expressions – not academic but indeed philosophical – were of the type that I could compile and self publish.  Then this morning all I could hear was this:

Karen Carpenter endorses the rest of us to :Sing a Song, …Sing a song- “dont worry that it’s not good enough…” How beautiful, and how tragic to read the words at the end of the UTube Video. That anyone with such talent and genuine love for others as expressed in the vocals could also have had such an untimely ending.  Some may equate the melody and the tune with Sesame Street as indeed the song was shared on their popular station.  To me it recalls the shock to learn of a world famous singer whose insecurity about her physical looks overtook her knowledge about her vocal talent and her musical blessings.

Today we have a slightly better understanding about eating disorders- but only slightly.  We do not yet understand how the body could turn on itself, anymore than we have a full understanding about addiction, or about poverty.  And to readers who are wondering how I can put three separate issues in one sentence, their overlapping “venn diagrams”  connections are our collective ignorance about how to genuinly reach out and offer help to one another rather than imposing – name an “ism” here, that would encircle how those who profess to know more than others denigrate rather than empower when supplying prescriptives, and enclose rather than opening up options for others.  I have left this last statement broad for a reason; I can’t solve the world’s problems.  But I am going to play the song again, and again, and hear why it could become an anthem for preschoolers of the Sesame Street age, and consider how “hope” for those same “limitless horizons” touched on in the last blog post must not be trampled on via education systems, social systems, cultural systems, medical systems, and above all by one another- we owe it to each other to encourage the singing- So this summer whether in the shower, in the car, on the street, at camp, or at your cubicle- SING- Sing out loud- and share your voice with the rest of us.

Hot Town; Summer in the City

More than Semantics

Difference between then and now:

Bankrupt currently has a high status notation- in an unusual twist bankrupt (today) seems to imply the ultimate risks were taken, a business was created, failure was the result of any number of things, and one may now join the ranks of iconic success stories for rebounding; after all bankrupt tends only to affect one’s business aspects not one’s personal assets so the ability to live through bankruptcy is allowed. In contrast being broke suggests stupidity, not understanding how to play the high stakes financial games, not borrowing effectively which translates to borrowing without penalty something that big businesses may be getting away with all the time, or simply “not savvy” – perhaps less than astute when it comes to knowing whom to “play” during the building process. Plus once one has attained a certain financial level then there are ways to “own” more than one company and to sell off, walk away from, or to bankrupt one of the businesses while still thriving through another. Now contrast these relatively comfortable situations with the image of a person on social assistance of any kind. Add to that person the stigma of living in a social housing unit. Big problem now to access financial advice let alone assistance in a meaningful way. Broke has only stigma attached to it- zero glamour, even less than zero expectations. But, say people, bootstrapping is still possible? Not without shoes!

Charles Dickens wrote of debtors’ prisons because he had knowledge of the ways in which society affected individual opportunity. His writing is now considered part of “classic English literature” and to an extent relegated to the sidelines for the readers capable of enjoying his in depth descriptions and his very strong points of view. For many, his general story line is accepted as the story expressed via movies that have been created around his characters, Scrooge from a Christmas Carol representing “the terrible boss”, Oliver in Oliver Twist, representing fairy tale dreams of rescue for orphaned children or any child wishing a different situation, Little Dorrit and “good character” winning over moneyed positions; these stereotypical characters were meant to share with real people some basic flaws in the social organization of Dickens’ time. Real people being the readers, who could readily recognize both the exaggeration within the fictional character descriptions and the real “truth” the novels themselves were sharing about the big thematic issue of social evolution. In Dickens’ times, debtors’ prisons enclosed a society; today we have social housing which when truly examined offers little benefit over the debtors’ prison of yore however people apparently strive to access social housing; newspapers would suggest that the line up to get into such “projects” is enormous. The debtors’ prison Dickens portrays was a punishment and recognized for the soul crushing environment and the stigma it produced. Social housing however attempts to suggest it is a “leg up” and here I must question “for whom” as the statistics about current individuals “escaping” the social housing situation is limited if in existence at all.

These thoughts are with me today with the end of a school year arriving and many students not running off to luxury camps and marvellous trips and the expectation of “amazing” experiences. I also recently reviewed the book “Just Kids from the Bronx” an Oral History compiled by Arlene Alda, released this year, 2015. The author interviews over 60 successful and famous folk who originated in the Bronx, New York. In reading many of the stories what became clear was that many were children of recent immigrants, and accepted that within their mixed communities, the pressure to succeed, the dual emphasis on work and education, mixed with the knowledge that they were “broke” in comparison to other regions in the state such as Central Manhattan and its upper East or West side, and attaining a higher income and achieving a better lifestyle was not only doable but expected! The concept of “you can do it” was actually more “you must do it” – there were no big educational mantras as we have today discussing “mindsets”, nor discussions of “Grit” versus “learned helplessness” instead there were visible options, hard work , a generous application of luck and steady if not always agreeable, goals to be crossed off and achieved. Yes this is a book about “success stories” but it is also a nostalgic look back at an area that had been “low economic” yet propelled many to other levels. Very different then from social projects of today which appear to suggest “stop complaining; you already have a roof over your head”, and which enclose low income communities more to “protect” the wealthier neighbours than to provide a stepping stone for the working poor.

However as an educator what also stood out for me in the variety of stories were the “crucial wake up calls from teachers who recognized potential”. Note the use of the word “crucial”; necessary today as then to be validated, to have others suggest that talent or desire to practice is a valid goal. Amazingly, the collection of stories is lauded as not only inspiring but “proof” that the “American dream” (success on one’s own terms) remains achievable. Disclaimer- I had the pleasure of living in New York and genuinely agreeing with the song “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere; New York, New York!” New York seemed to be alive with people, and in the middle eighties many of these people were literally in the streets, entertaining, busking, dancing, proclaiming, and it seemed, anticipating our appreciative discovery of them. Walking was a given, and one could expect that not only would the sidewalks be crowded, but also so would just about everywhere else! Yet one found private spaces, and began to revel in how much the city itself appeared to pulse, how energy encouraged energy, and how very much art, and appreciation of the arts was prevalent on every corner. For educators this IS important, and a close rereading of many of the narratives reminds that even with the educational structures that today are considered taboo such as streaming of students based on expected abilities, school and the place it played for many balanced the idea of work to survive with work that will allow one to thrive. Artists and scientists and business executives remind that it is not the grades of A’s versus C’s that could make one feel “inadequate” ; it is being ignored. I blogged elsewhere about recognizing the quiet ones in a classroom; we also need to recognize the one’s who may appear to deliberately be craving attention and not dismiss them under today’s current structure of labelling.

The stories of the Bronx do change over time, as did the area. What begins as recollections of “community space” slowly becomes like the above mentioned “contained” areas that social projects turn into. I was struck by the following sentences; “It has to do with what the horizon looks like. The horizon from the South Bronx was limited to an everyday survival worry about clothing and shelter…” (in contrast to) “It is one of the gifts of a place like Allen-Stevenson (a school)…that they not only educate you, but they open up limitless horizons for you. My course was changed and set from that moment in fourth grade when a teacher decided to take matters into his own hands.” Wow! What an inspiring positive reaffirmation for Educators! To be reminded that being in the field can make a difference, and to recognize that sometimes little gestures make for opportunities.  

 

A side note: Libraries, museums, free concerts, outdoor theatre, writing challenges, are also mentioned for their affirmative value in suggesting that creativity is to be enjoyed, and encouraged in various avenues. Summer in the city does offer “amazing experiences” however they might be of a more personal nature than the group camp experience or the community activity. And one needn’t be in New York State to seek what is offered closer to home. Summer wishes: keep reading and writing!

 

“Limitless horizons”…lovely thoughts               

 

Noticing:

sign on a bag of potatoes: “Fat, Gluten and Cholestrol Free”

and I had to laugh at what else I might find on food products that were in effect “signs of the times” and a reflection of marketing and what might appeal to shoppers as I considered a hands- on, end- of- school- year, project based learning inquiry.

Disclaimer: I eat potatoes in all their varieties, sweet, boiled, mashed, french fried, and often think about how basic some products were to regional cooking and to history- the potato famine being an actual World History event…Ireland’s Great Famine of 1845 -1849.  An educator could combine historical events, global trade today, and fashion in food marketing and then work these themes into both an out of classroom experience via a trip to a few different markets -formal grocery chains, farmer’s markets, and if in the school budget a trip to a farm.  The exercise could also incorporate a review of media and advertising looking at one or two specific products to recognize how fashionable (read “healthy”) the products were viewed.  In addition, Financial Literacy may be incorporated, when the pricing of the object is related to the marketing, the availabilty, and the perceived popularity of the product. 

In Canada, more and more people are recognizing how difficult it is for Northern populations to obtain some basic food products that people in larger cities may take for granted.  Also taken for granted sometimes is the notion that being a first world country, few would be going hungry.  Depending on the age of the students, and many high school students do need volunteer hours, recognizing both the real need for Food Banks in urban cities and valuing school community gardens and school food programs could be offshoots of  this project.  While some schools have begun community gardens they are not yet a part of all school programs and perhaps inter school visits – even via Skype – could become part of the programming… But I’m getting ahead of myself here and realize in fact this could be also a WELCOME BACK project in the fall- begun in the spring as a whole school holistic approach to learning and continued in the fall with the followup being the actual food products grown.  The question of tending the garden over the summer months could earn a lot of students extra volunteer hours :)

Commencement: It is a lovely word with the suggestion of more to come.

Second Sunday in May? Mother’s Day

Playing Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and wondering how these four men managed to capture beautifully in lyric and score the feelings of parents; so deeply moving when we do “look at them and sigh, and know they love you…”

Grace and beauty just walked out the door together, intent on a project and pleased to share – and I feeling truly blessed have the afternoon “free”, and time to catch up with writing, reading, cleaning (housework rarely takes care of itself), and Yes, Thinking.  So often we are deluged with activities that simple “quiet time” now comes at a premium, to be cherished and appreciated.

Mother’s day for me began the minute I knew I was pregnant with each of them, and has continued daily since; blessed with a son and a daughter, each uniquely capable and caring, and filled with that exuberance of personality that needn’t be restricted but ought to be unleashed- “Hello World”- they are ready for you!  And as a Mom, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

And as always, special good wishes to the parents of the children I am fortunate to have taught and  those I continue to work with- You are Amazing

Enjoy the day!  And if you have the minute- give a listen to “Teach the Children”

Action Research

One of the saddest poems deals with people who have lost the ability to speak or think for themselves:

“ours is not to reason why

ours is but to do or die”

most adults of a certain age would be familiar with where those lines were paraphrased from –

onward rode and marched those 600-

Well, I paraphrased Lord Alfred Tennyson and his poem,

  The Charge of the Light Brigade

the actual lines are:

(Stanza two of six)

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

When anyone might ask about teaching both poetry and empathy these lines from the Victorian poet come to mind.  As educators we encourage our students to question, to apply reason be it in Math or in English class (Logic) and regardless of grade or age these lines contain power.  How frightful- someone had “blundered”?!- and poof – a massacre.  Could it really be that simple-that devastating? Unfortunately, YES.

History, logic, power structures, civics, geography, rhyme, rhythm and REASON all in one poem.  And yet people question the value of “Poetry Month”.  True, poetry won’t do what some of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math )subjects might, but it could remind our  future scientists, technologists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, merchant chiefs and dancers, singers, musicians, writers, politicians and military personnel- the list can continue to include parents and future leaders all-that being human incorporates an ability to think, to feel, to comprehend and to be shattered. Oughtn’t we then to make room for a poetry lesson, or two?

Red Herrings and Holiday Musings

RED HERRINGS
In mystery writing, the red herring is the suggestion of a clue- it also misleads the reader as well as the mystery solver. In real life people too are given red herrings- that is – led astray with diversions – tactics meant to exhaust rather than help and which over time wear a person out. When I was beginning my divorce, so many games ensued until I finally stood up in court and said “stop.” But a few years later the very agency claiming to “help” me also created games, of an even nastier nature. When my children were little, I had the energy to be up at 5:30 on a Sunday morning and out the door with two kids in tow hoisting a hockey bag and all the needed equipment for a 7:am practice- we became very familiar with the early am bus drivers! And I grew adept at juggling as many a new parent learns; to organize as much as possible the evening before, to have snacks and treats already in the bag, to bring an activity for the one not playing, and to be ready to cheer for the one on the ice.

Slowly the children do grow up and being able to communicate with their teachers was a blessing. My own background combined education and anthropology, the former allowed me to practice and be hands-on in encouraging, hands-off when it came to the doing of the homework and the practical matters, the latter was a reminder that there is more than one system of learning, and that learning is how all skills are acquired.

And so I once again accepted delayed gratification and put the personal pursuit of higher level credentials on a back burner while accepting almost any and every type of work that would still offer the much needed flexibility a single parent requires. To paraphrase Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) I never let schooling get in the way of real life. And with every day providing further challenges, and positive reinforcement by way of those oh so meaningful little, and sometimes big, gestures which our children offer to us, I turn now and marvel at my young adult children who generously and caringly offer love and affection.

I won’t pretend it was a cake walk- not at all. When we as parents see a child in pain, all caution goes out the window; and each of us can probably recall or if your children are young and growing through the growing pains, can relate to the feeling of pure helplessness at times when one or the other is unwell, and the prayers sent to all the heavens above until the danger is passed. However prayer is only one part of it- action here on earth being as necessary, it seems this long weekend of spiritual experiences and traditions steeped in tales of action and renewal, is a genuine reminder of how much each of us as adults were indeed influenced by personal tales of experiences and challenges that ultimately were overcome.

That other red herring mentioned above? It was an ugly, nasty business that caused headache and heartache, money and time- but- like red herrings in novels, I am able to realize now that it was a diversion and while not yet ready to “laugh about it” am able to recognize that the blessings of friends and genuine caring made me never lose sight of the big picture goals. People ask me why I teach, and I have realized that it is more complicated than a quick surface response would allow. When a learner gains confidence – be it a child in the early grades or an adult changing professions, I am grateful that the experiences I am able to share can actually help another. And it is such a genuine treat to learn with them- to continue to share in the excitement and frustrations that learning any activity may provide; if educating means encouraging thinking and while supplying possible solutions also giving way to a learner’s discovery of a personal path, then one can’t expect every lesson to be ‘magical’ nor every paper to be polished- one can however relish the surprise twists in the learning challenges, be ready to pivot when a student requires it, and if lucky – be there when they surprise themselves with their own achievements.

Holiday and ritual practice may attempt to take the “mystery” out of life by prescribing a set of practices- red herrings as they provide a type of clue, and a diversion from the everyday – they link us to the past and when about redemption or rebirth, remind us how the power of story can transcend a time and a place, can provide hope, and does share the wisdom of experience. But life itself- to me anyhow, remains wonderfully mysterious.