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.

Holiday Cheer

http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work

should be a “no-brainer”- as in “obviously” but there are still people who think this only applies to themselves

so they continue with a “carrot and stick”  and create instead

a resentful at best and a punitive at worst -culture

————————This weekend marks the start of two major holidays that deal with the spirit- Passover beginning Friday evening, and Easter which begins the same day- April 3, 2015

—————Perhaps in the spirit of “good faith” communities in general might consider the message within the TEDx talk  (link offered above) – aimed at educators and the general public (most of us have made our way through a school system) as a reminder that “Happy” is more than a song sung by Pharrel and is an action that flows throughout one’s system; let’s spread a little – shall we?

( and because a little music might indeed help: pharrell williams happy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM  )

Fiction-Literacy and Action

Considering my own book shelves  makes it clear that the concept of telling a story in pieces has a longer history- much pre-dating the blogging period.

Harriet Beecher Stowe so famous for the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin published in March 1852, first attracted readers when she published her pieces in an abolitionist newspaper- apparently as a 45 part seriesimagine (!) the excitement for readers when the whole collection was bound and then shared as a complete volume  – actually a two volume book.  Today she is credited with helping to change public opinion globally about slavery– the books having been sold and translated and shipped across the world.  Charles Dickens is another author whose concerns about (1836 and on) social conditions also managed to attract a large audience through the newspapers- publishing his stories in serial installments and generating what today we refer to as  a “buzz” or word of mouth excitement – we tweet about our favorite tv shows/movie character/ musicians, references to the character’s exploits, and -perhaps- consider the situations in reference to contemporary social issues.  Both Dickens and Stowe knew that their stories would only work if readers could recognize the “truth” within the stereotype and character.  And today?  we bemoan the retirement of a TV personality like John Stewart whose regular satire allowed us as viewers to poke a bit of fun at ourselves, while being made aware of very real social issues. And in installments, with each episode capable of illustrating a current concern while the big picture “story” of recognizing social justice/injustice was never far from the scene. 

Perhaps news as “NEWS” – social issues horrific and frightening at times not only have become almost commonplace but require the distilling through a commercial lens.  Can we laugh at the horror? ought we too? and if not laugh, can we empathize with the struggles of others?  Dicken’s famous character Scrooge, epitomizes to many what may have been lost in terms of charitable feelings when people became commodities /objects at a factory and as dispensable or replaceable as any part in a machine – but the story holds sway and stays in people’s minds because we are presented with the three ghosts and the ideal of being able to change the future through present action.  Scrooge actually changes and while not a fairy tale, Dicken’s story provided for this awakening, this way to merge owner and worker, in this space we call humanity.  Harriet Beecher Stowe not only united many in the fight to end slavery, she also united women in an amazing cross cultural and cross economic fashion, when women signed a petition to become vocal on a political level, expressing their outrage at the continuation of practices that set one group of people against another.  Fiction then can change lives when readers have access to the story, and opportunity to care deeply, passionately about others.

But the books and authors mentioned also brought together their personal experiences and their ability to craft a story through researching the lived experiences of others- when teaching and analyzing novels with students it seems imperative to make clear that imagination isn’t either “out there” as a thing itself, or solely inside as a personality trait but is indeed an action, practiced, encouraged, developed and extended which each student is capable  of accessing within him or her self.  Some become better at the craft of sharing this trait- the ability to design in any fashion demands imagination what ever field- the ability to care? I would like to think it is innate if not always encouraged.

Music to teach by:

Early morning, and as light flashed through the blinds and the sounds of a new day began with the street rumble my brain kept hearing David Bowie singing “Ch-Ch changes”, and I found myself marveling at how the singer’s vocals had so captured the feelings of worry and confusion major changes might bring on.  The near stutter evoked palpable fear- and the lyrics continue to suggest why and how major social upheavals will produce this worry.  We have mottoes today such as “change is good” and websites “teaching” how to be a disruptor, yet if people were actually to follow a blueprint for disruption then the bandwagon effect of everyone doing pretty much the same thing happens, and little “ch-ch change ” actually occurs.

Technology and education go together and regardless of what age or grade level one may be  working with, most educators do make use of various forms of “equipment”- computer, phone, i-pad, smart board, digital cameras, and even the lesser in vogue today but which schools may have on hand, audiovisual equipment such as TVs, and overhead projectors.  But the change today is to almost insist that the students are the ones offering the lesson in order to have them demonstrate some understanding of subject matter.   Academics still demands testing, be it in the form of board wide generated formal exams that are meant to provide a summative overview of where a group of students may fit within the big picture perspective of “learning goals” ( formally called objectives) or in the everyone”must” first acquire testing that either welcomes or eliminates students from moving to new levels  (any pre – program assessment test from the SAT through the GRE).

So what really has changed?  The day to day encouragement which in some ways may be reminiscent of apprenticeships of old, with a slight slant.  Many of the younger generation are technologically “gifted” that is swift learners when it comes to using and applying new technology, however this technology to “make sense” of Academic goals is still applied as a “tool” for learning, rather than the end means in and of itself.  Learning coding becomes a new strand neatly placed alongside IT courses, when really it could be right up there with Language Arts- coding is a form of communication – not only do computers speak with one another, but the person versed in code understands a language as does the person using vocabulary specific to any field of study.  And like the acquisition of any new skill, some basics must be learned /applied/understood, before the “creative” aspect that leads to “ch-ch changes” or real innovation will be demonstrated.

Bowie’s  song with its direct appeal that we ought to “turn and face the strange”  continues to be of value- when listening to ( “but I”) “can’t trace time” , the clear concept of a younger generation not becoming a carbon copy of its predecessors but instead further innovating and adding to the picture as a whole is both “disruptive” and positive-the singer readily acknowledging that time itself  may change him-allowing for his own growing and changing, as a reminder that it is not mere rebellion but is new direction.

Has education really changed? Or are we merely participating in that ripple effect which technological changes create? Bottom line, as educators, we are compelled to encourage the students to question-when they do so -like Bowie-they too may “ch-ch-change” things up.

To Learn to question “Why”

Yes.  As Educators many of us have already become familiar with the idea that the pendulum swings back and forth and that “new” may not be as “new” a concept as current in vogue proclamations may suggest- what then may have happened in between the suggestion that questioning is basic to inquiry and the present full scale onslaught of “change in education” means “pursue inquiry”…on blogs, tweets, news reports etc- reminiscent  of the “new/improved”  labels on breakfast cereals; when DO the changes really- really- become “REAL” ?

Technology is great- and one of its best uses is the simply fast way it can connect so many of us, allowing for the spread of ideas (unfortunately negative ideas spread quickly too) and the rapid growth of online communities, sharing of resources, and ability to engage with people whom we may not otherwise have been able to connect with.  Professional Learning Networks (PLN) may indeed provide for cross cultural exploration of ideas, a chance to openly reflect on best practices, and provide support and encouragement in developing one’s own set of better practices.  For the concept of “best” practices is now a bit of a conundrum. 

      Engaging with a variety of students allows for different levels of reflection and interaction:

Elementary students learn: Albert Einstein suggested imagination may be more important than knowledge:  The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.   Albert Einstein    

However- lack of knowledge may make it difficult to apply one’s imaginary concepts…

-High School students made note of the following:

     Amazingly they did not feel hopeless in the face of such a discovery  –

and middle school students enjoyed this:

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. Benjamin Franklin   ( said the man attempting to understand electricity by experimenting with lightning and kites, among other things)

What then are we encouraging when the latest bandwagon suggests “teach inquiry”- wasn’t this part of the learning process before? If not- why not? When we share a bit of history rather than merely proclaiming newest is best- we automatically enable students to begin making connections and developing an inquiring mindset.  But if we don’t put the historical event into context we are only providing a series of facts – yesterday was “International Women’s Day” and it was truly exciting to read how many people cared to get involved and how across countries and cultures via the internet so many, male and female, could share their hopes for a future that allowed for the pursuit of knowledge on the part of ALL global citizens.  To me- that single word “ALL” becomes central- removing an “us versus them” gender bias, and replacing the goal with the hope that inquiry based learning- learning that indeed asks questions and admits to a lack of answers-  which is inquiry based learning at its best, will give voice to “if not- why not” thinking; thinking that would lead to action and possibilities for education.  Because one thing did become clear- the lack of p0ssibilites for what is seen as formal education was one of the reasons behind needing such an event as International Women’s Day in the first place.
Our students = the future, and their world will have new challenges, in ALL fields, and being allowed to question how something may be improved is as important as being encouraged to value the notion of questioning. 
Maria Montessori, best known for the schools that offer her name in their title, took seriously the purpose behind “learning through doing”:

asking “For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?

To borrow that inquiry and place it in today’s context: what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s opportunity for development lags behind?
Students recognize both purpose and potential and when we as educators discuss concepts such as how to engage a group we are really asking how can this lesson, this demonstration, this activity prove meaningful.  When a student (regardless of gender) sees no future use value from the inquiry that is when we as educators must worry- and question the social structure itself – a structure that has made thinking, questioning, caring, and potential for improving non existent to whole communities of people be it due to economic, cultural, or political issues.  Why?
(I have benefited from working with an extraordinary range of students and their communities, extending my own concepts of inquiry, and what it may mean to encourage curiousity)