Education Evolutions #36

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
Apologies for the delayed delivery this week. A combination other deadlines, more youth soccer than usual, and feeling a little under the weather all conspired to delay me a day.

Similar to last week’s mindfulness theme, this week must be more explicitly about race and class. Perhaps I am just responding to the popular zeitgeist or maybe I am just more ready to think and discuss those issues more lately. Neither issue ever gets enough attention, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, many of us conveniently brush away those elements of our society that may reveal its greatest ugliness. They are often too unpleasant to discuss in polite company. Yet they are far too real to deny, even if we have found ways, by and large, to insulate ourselves from them, both consciously or unconsciously.

So, this trio of articles show bravery and dig into some discomfort. The only way to have any chance of dealing with any challenge is by facing it directly and reflecting. I suppose that whole “unexamined life” tip from the ancient Greeks has been turning over in mind as well.

I have been repeating this part but I hope people like the new format and delivery. Also, I love the feedback and exchange of comments. That makes the effort even more worthwhile. If anyone comes across an article or even has a topic or theme they’d like to see shared let me know.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

James Baldwin’s Lesson for Teachers in a Time of Turmoil – The New Yorker – Clint Smith (10-minute read)
Over the summer I finally got the chance to watch to watch the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which I highly recommend. It rekindled my interest in Baldwin’s work. There is a reason why he is resurfacing as a cultural agent at the minute. His courage and eloquence are unmistakable but his penetrating insights make him a formidable American intellectual that should be more widely read.

In this piece, Smith shares the poignancy of his annual experience of rereading Baldwin’s essay “A Talk to Teachers,” an additional item more than worth a look. Smith’s personal wrestling with introducing political discourse into his lessons is interesting enough. More interesting is how doing so is presented as a kind of subversive act which is telling.

It would be naive to ignore that at least a part of the standards movement reinforces an order, also keeping people in their place. While not entirely explicit, Smith’s recognition and reading of Baldwin “that the world was molded by people who came before, and that it can be remolded into something new” strikes a recognition of this consequence. Plus, I could not agree more that a teacher must help students confront not only the problems shaping the world but also challenge them to examine their own place in it.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

The Very Seriously Humorless Education of Students – radical eyes for equity blog – PL Thomas (4-minute read)
I am a frequent reader of PL Thomas and have featured him in previous issues of this newsletter. In this blogpost, his personal confession highlights something that is perhaps more common than we teachers can sometimes realize, a whole lot of students, and a fair number of adults, completely miss humor when reading. Part of this is humor can be difficult to identify on the page. However, a much bigger factor is the lack of preparation and even exposure to humor in text form.

Exposing students to a wide range of authors and texts is an absolute necessity to preparing readers of any sophistication. Yet, one of the well-known consequences of the standards reform is a narrowing of curriculum to serve the demands of accountability. Again, accountability regimes are excellent mechanisms establishing or preserving a social order.

Sadly, any student that struggles with reading is typically served up a heaping dose of humorless, text-prep texts. As if the remedy is more drill-and-kill readings that commit readicide against students, instead of embracing the struggle and guiding them through the hardest yards any reader sometimes face. It does not have to be that way but it often is. “Oh, but we do a satire unit, so we are all set.”

Second Guessing My Kids of Color? – The Tempered Radical blog – Bill Ferriter (8-minute read)
Another teacher brave enough to expose themselves a little in critical reflection, Ferriter’s admission is both heartfelt and instructive. His challenge in the opening note is probably even more so. Taking a hard look at himself and the subtle aspects of his interactions with students of color is an examination I hope would be a cause for pause and heightened awareness.

It is far too easy to put on blinders or even become defensive when confronted with the kind of uncomfortable situations presented by Ferriter. That is what is refreshing and brave about his admission. No one is perfect and conversations that involve race or even class need not be a zero-sum game. We are all human and make mistakes. Yet we can all benefit from remembering that being a good kind person is never a fixed state. It is a practice, in the truest sense of the word.

Ferriter’s willingness to throw caution to the wind and take a step forward in an effort to be better is admirable. His razor-sharp recognition, “imagine the impact that being doubted over and over again, day after day, year after year has on our kids of color” is enough to make this post worth the read. If you are interested in exploring conversations about race a little more, give this Jay Smooth TedTalk a look. It is one of the best takes on the topic I have ever encountered.

Each New Day and Learning

It’s 5:55 AM and I awake to the soft squeaks and shuffling sounds made by my daughter as she twists and turns in her bed, also waking. She amazingly anticipates my alarm with Swiss precision nearly everyday now. I greet her with many a “Good morning,” as she pulls herself up so that her eyes and nose are all that is visible above the ridgeline of her bed. Having not quite shaken off the night’s slumber, I scoop her up and take her off to change her diaper, while Ali readies herself for morning’s first feeding. I deposit Hadley in the lap of Ali, whereupon she collapses into Ali’s arms, and I am off to the showers. This now has become routine, but a routine that I have grown to love.

First Tooth! Working on Another Tooth

It is amazing how much Hadley is learning of late. It seems like her discovery and awareness has accelerated the last couple of weeks. For one, it is now abundantly clear that Hadley understands a series of hand signals that Ali has been teaching her for the last few months. While she doesn’t know them all, she unquestioningly knows things like “hungry” and “milk,” which elicit the same happy reactions every time. Also on the communication front, she is getting the hang of waving.

Waving Monkey Toes

Hadley’s agility is growing significantly. She has advanced in her choice method of movement, rolling, with some added speed. What amazes me is how readily she tumbles over all of her toys, strewn across the floor, like an all-terrain vehicle. She has begun to improve her crawl, which is a cross between an army crawl and a fish flop. It is terribly amusing to lure her by stacking her cups in a tower, which she is incapable of leaving standing for longer than it takes her to reach and swipe down. Still, in neither case has she completely elevated her belly from the floor and worked both hands and knees in the traditional crawl. However, she is able to regularly rock on her hands and knees and uses this position to push herself into a sitting position from a lying one, no longer relegated to turtle status. So she is becoming quite agile.

Scratch Scratch Scratch

Most impressive is her newfound ability to pull herself up, on virtually anything, to get herself into a kneeling position. Particular favorites are the coffee tale, the fireplace, a box, and any part of your body that is available. All of this is the spur to step up the babyproofing that I have been a bit remiss in completing.

Our little one has also discovered that there are swings that are big enough for her, now that we had to retire her longtime favorite lounger. While we put a lot of oscillations on her baby swing, we had to retire it recently. However, it was just in time for her first venture to a local playground alternative. She doesn’t seem to mind.

First Swing Enjoying the Swing

Lastly, upon Ali pointing out that Hadley really didn’t have many balls amidst all her toys, I promptly ran out and bought her first soccer ball, as seen below.

Kickin' It

Check out some other recent pics.

Unintended Birthday Consequences

I should have known that getting Ali an iPod Nano would complicate our relationship. Now that she has been turned onto the mp3 craze, I can hardly put my fingers to the keyboard of my computer. She is a quick study to be sure and she has taken to using iTunes without a hitch, importing CDs, downloading, you name it. More than that, I showed her a couple of other means for downloading music that have all but created a monster. First it was the digital camera (Has anyone ever seen collection of photo CDs? See the photograph below.) and now the Nano, combine these with my upgrade to DSL and a ultra slick scanner, her rapidly evolving digital lifestyle is soon to eclipse my own. In short over the last year and a half, I have created a monster, a lovable one, but a monster nonetheless. Look at her take that duck apart below, at a tender age no less.

Photo: Ali Tearing into a Chocolate Duck

Since all my music is “crap,” she has become ever more oppressive since learning how to create customized playlists, wherein she tortures me with increasingly cheesey songs. Think of such super hits as “To Be With You” – Mr. Big; “The Power of Love” – Huey Lewis; “Going Back to Cali” – LL Cool J; “Black Velvet” – Alanah Myles; I mean the list goes on and gets uglier. There are some good ones to be sure, but it could easily be understood as an adolescent 80s nightmare. In fact, she thinks that would be a good playlist name!

Photo: Ali's CD Photo Album

Of course there are perks. For one, with her immediate submersion into the realm of digital music, she now wants to go a buy a pair of Bose mulitmedia desktop speakers. Even more stunning, she even found a way to get them for free! In some ways she continues to surprise me. What wouldn’t be a surprise, however, is if in another six months or so we are the most wirelessly integrated one-bedroom apartment in the greater Boston area, just so I can have my own computer again.

So as the wedding plans continue, you all can be sure that you will experience some of the 80s musical nightmare. Better still, for all you Illinois people, Ali is delighted to report that she has reserved the deluxe port-a-potties, with hand washing stations as a bonus. Just hearing that news, I am sure none of you can wait for the middle of July get a whiff of that!

Finally, congratulation are in order for Ali’s older sister. Our little Keriann got a new job! That’s right, she is leaving the desk at the law firm that was her longest running gig to date and moving on to greener pastures, literally and figuratively. So way to go Keri and good luck!