Tag Archives: dream making

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               

 

Permission Granted – please DO

Sometimes a Great Notion… book and movie title and real life experiences…

I love using various art forms to enhance any level/grade lesson when English Literacy is the core focus.  We respond to art on two levels- primal and almost intuitive and academic- with the theories and knowledge which we have been taught engaging us in a dialogue with the object at hand.  Children who haven’t yet been “taught” to discuss the piece therefore comfortably share if they “liked” it! Watch a group of young children enter a new space, be it an art gallery or a playground, and see how they maneuver over the ground, tactile, involved, curious, and participatory.  The “new” emphasis on “maker” areas being developed within classrooms is really a return to a “tried and true” methodology; the idea that children and adults will gain through the combination of theory and practice- each on its own being only 1/2 of the story.

Here then to making math- the 1+1=2 understood as a form of literacy as well.  WE read scribbles, in what ever language, and we – people- humans- imbue these scribbles with “extra” meaning.  When the theory is unpacked, sometimes it is hard to believe that we have, as people, developed so many various ways to communicate our ideas, emotions, and hopes for the future- yes hopes, as I believe every artist/ writer/ designer and maker is offering a vision that contains within it a myriad of dreams and options for change.  Whether one is studying the presumed cognitive reactions of the mind and developing new theories with current scientific “facts” that today allow one to “see inside the brain” or creating music to share a set of emotions, creating/ making /doing /= participatory; ACTION is happening.

So as we enter into a holiday season that easily lends itself to the spirit of craft making, let’s cheer for those individuals neither famous nor well known who actively take time to: create personal decorations, write notes by hand, bake a present, sew an outfit,build a piece of furniture, carve a toy, redecorate their own living space…the list goes on and on…and reminds us to allow children to participate in these creative endeavors too- for they become the adults among us who maintain the ability to offer expression and with simplicity, beautify a day.

How to choose?

Profession or calling, enterprise or extension of self- how does one really decide?
Students entering grade 12, or first and second year University, or even earlier- here in Ontario, in grade eight, being asked to project forward, to pick their own learning stream, to choose applied or academic, to “guess” which courses truly will fulfill the goal of satisfied, independent adult “one day”. And then, to their surprise, when at University, to learn how many students ( just like them) are now changing direction, “discovering” through course selection new interests, new opportunities, and their own voice. Such a beautiful discovery; recognizing when to take to heart the comments of advisors and professors, when to decide one’s own goals, when and where to focus both attention and action.
When we look at pictures of High School students from the early 60s when streaming was in effect, almost an entire class when off to University in the pursuit of similar goals- I have heard first hand stories of a class in which all but one entered sciences, followed by medicine, and that one, first obtained a degree in commerce, then entered medicine as well! Today’s more individualized timetables suggest a more personalized approach to course selecting, but is this the reality?
A VIP for a Bank told me he hadn’t been considered good at math in High School, not showing interest- then took a commerce course and loved discussing what to do with “widgets”. For the record – he deals with a tremendous amount of “math” today. There are similar stories, and of course the current jokes about how it might be more worthwhile to put one’s hope into the non academic aspect of school, and encourage a student to focus on an area where showing talent; schools for the arts, and sports oriented programs seem geared to recognizing that there is more to an individual’s “one day-someday” plan than the letter grade, however, when a student’s inklings are for academics, then let us not put down the high scoring community. Too many students still suggest to me their middle school fear of being considered nerdy (actually they often use a much stronger term) if they do achieve, and wish to achieve top grades. It is therefore not surprising to recognize the way in which highest awards are often given to the newest newcomer students- students whose families continue to focus on education, students whose families risked a great deal to make life anew in Canada, and one of their dreams was a full education for their children.
When we collectively consider “school” we may need to reassess the messages we are sending to the very students involved: are we creating an inclusive environment where students needn’t wait till post secondary or later to begin to find their voice? Are we offering within the school the safety of genuine communication, between peers, between students and teachers, between parents and teachers, between administration and the entire community? Somewhere, between “get 100” and “fail forward” we need a new slogan; a concept of opportunity shared, versus hierarchical put downs that seem so accepted within our educational settings.

Together- whole child, whole heart, whole community; holistic education. Let’s get it together !

From the “so what” to the “now what!”:Turning points

The word just hung there:”ma’am?”; non confrontational, a simple inquiry yet the word startled.  And as someone who deals in words, teaching, explaining, cajoling, always, always, encouraging (learning entails growing -yes?) was surprised by own reaction: recoil! BAM a word that shouted “older now” so – time for a little perspective:

Kids are now young adults 🙂

experience is a great teacher : I have a lot of experience

milestones are meant to be celebrated-

and laughing remains the best medicine, so…I laughed and realized the shop-clerk was right- “ma’am” it is, and no offense meant or taken. But how often over the course of a day do the little encounters add up, and help make or break our energy level. Labels do have meaning, and in the education system, labels are what students hear a lot.

“Is this a test?” ( translation: does it count? will we be judged?)

“special” – loaded as a term – helpful for administrators and parents to categorize and access resources/ hurtful is misused

“common core” in the States, “EQAO” in Canada, basic standards for determining levels of “right” reproduction of knowledge; ask a learner to submit a reflection piece = asking a learner to demonstrate his/her ability to problem solve, today’s “authentic knowledge”- to connect his/her own experience with whatever was/is the topic at hand. And this means exposing feelings, something schools do not appear to have been great about encouraging.

When I review the arguments for or against the Humanities, dearth of job prospects (versus what may exist through studying the hard sciences- actually we all know the real need today is for skilled workers-period), countered by (the)need to develop caring, empathetic human beings as fully reflective and creative as can be I am reminded of how filled with connotative dissonance the arguments are. Just like “ma’am” had the power of suggesting an image I wasn’t sure I was ready for, the suggestions that “hard sciences” may be harder does a giant disservice to those practicing within the Humanities. Scientists needn’t be cold and unfeeling, liberal art majors needn’t be social butterflies, and years of teaching and learning has brought home the very real message that hard is linked to difficult for most people- when in fact what we find difficult may be one of two things- something we do not have a natural aptitude for and/or something that has not been clearly explained, step-by-step, to become if not adored, at least doable. Harvard Professor Howard Gardner* wrote a thought-provoking book on the importance of learning a discipline thoroughly and how it comes to follow that through learning one thing well, other things will need to be looked at and studied as well. No vacuums, but interactive communicative skills that allow for interdisciplinary meeting and sharing of both ideas and ideals.

To be of service when parents and older students ask for suggestions regarding post secondary school choices, my responses return to the questions of “so what” and “now what”; really- how would this decision affect you? how could this decision allow for growth/change and dare I use it? authentic learning. Marks versus goals, labels versus dreams. “everyone/no one is going there”- so what? is this a positive for the learner or a negative? Social aspects of a learning environment do affect outcomes – but- as one grows so may ones social needs change. “Now what” may involve the filling out of forms- or simply the making it through a waiting process- one thing I know for sure- the “Then what” is part of the dream making. What ever else we may be doing as educators – and with thanks to a great educator who is celebrated and honoured today, the third Monday in January, let us make sure we leave room for the dreams –

For full speech of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

*http://www.amazon.com/The-Disciplined-Mind-Standardized-Education/dp/0140296247