Friday, February 28, 2014

To Blend or Not To Blend, That is the Ethical Question: Would you hit the on switch? #measure4measure

In 2003, because of our sister school in Roskilde, Denmark, I followed the story of Marco-Evaristi, a Chilean Dane artist, who created a stir when his art exhibit asked patrons about their morality of blending live goldfish in a blender. The exhibit allowed anyone to hit a switch as a test of ethics. Of course, some were compelled to blend the fish, which caused quite a stir with activists and art communities - when does art go too far?

I, of course, could not blend a fish, but I found a large percentage of my students would. How did I learn this? I brought a blender to my classroom during a unit on ethics, told them the story of the Danish artist, and proceeded to pour an orange tissue paper replica of a fish (filled with red construction paper inside) into the blender while turning it on. Because I was fast, the kids actually thought I killed a fish. I did not, of course, but it initiated conversations on how we, as humans, establish particular laws and guidelines as a way to monitor behaviors. Yet, who draws the line? What consequences should there be? How do we ever know what is right or wrong? What's to be done with anyone that crosses those lines? Do the ten commandments help? What about the eight-fold path? Who decides?

This is why I revisited the blending fish activity yesterday with my EN 12 course while we read Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare. The play asks what's to be done when a young man gets his girlfriend pregnant out of wedlock. Should government control his human act by making an example of him? Should politicians consult religious scripts to assist decisions of what should and shouldn't be allowed for the people? Do they summer others to govern the laws to save their own face? How should debauchery be controlled?

That is why to blend or not to blend is the question I posed to my students. As always, it proved to be a creative catalyst for introducing a Shakespearean text. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sometimes the best learning occurs impromptu, and simply with letting kids talk and be real @sonyahuber

Yesterday, I hosted back to back workshops with  students in Kathy Silver's art classes. The task was to dig deeper underneath the layers of bullying and violence, so they could create projects that were more creative and insightful.

In other words, as artists, we asked them "How do you communicate what you mean? How can our images make others think and represent the complexities of what you are trying to represent?"

As I said to Ms. Silver after the workshops, "There's a point when you look out at the audience and see all the thinking, and it's scary. The kids get real quiet. They look at you as if you just offered them the richest secret they ever heard - they know what is being invested unto them powerful - but can't quite yet realize what they're to do with it."

This is how I felt, back to back,  as I led workshops to unravel the complex layers that every image holds. In short, I wanted them to think deeper about the culture, history, sociology, biology, and psychology that is behind everything.

These events, however, were secondary to what happened at the end of the last workshop. Several students from Sonya Huber's EN 11 course visiting the school, participated in the last workshop with students. They jumped right in and worked with kids. The bell rang too soon, students dispersed, and I looked to Sonya's kids and asked, 'Do you know where you're to go next?'

What happened next, however, was amazing. A young man, Amani, who was in Ms. Silver's room all three periods, I presented hovered behind. I didn't know who he was, except that he had really cool purple suede shoes that I complimented him on earlier in the morning. I'm not sure how it happened, but his eyes met mine and so I asked him if he would sit and talk with Sonya's students and I. Ms. Silver also joined us. It didn't take much to get Amani sharing his thoughts. He explained how, when he was a freshman, he hated Ms. Silver. He didn't know why, but he just did. Yet, he also knew he wanted to be a photographer one day and needed Ms. Silver's expertise. A grandmother interceded and Amani reenrolled in her art class again. In his senior year, Amani spends most of his time working in her room. He explained that if it wasn't for Ms. Silver and the art classes, he wouldn't have made it in school. Art is how he thinks and it's what he needs.

The conversation came naturally, so I began asking question, that Amani answered. Ms. Silver, too, offered insight, and the ethnographer in me thought, 'Drats! I'm not prepared to take field notes." But I succumbed to the naturalness of the conversation and asked more questions. The young woman from Fairfield listened with me (I found out -- and am stoked -- there's a Fayetteville-Manlius student in Sonya's class, too - Go Cuse!).

Amani and Ms. Silver's insight about urban education, growing up in Bridgeport, the need for whole communities to support a kid (including many assumed to be bad influences) was highly emphasized. "Friends may drop out of school," he instructed. "They may join gangs, have a record, and sell drugs. Yet, even if they do this, they know who amongst them has an eye on the prize and they will do anything they can to protect you and to see that you get to it. I'm lucky that the others where I live chose me and help me reach the dreams I've set for myself."

While Amani talked, I recalled each year when Danish teachers arrived to Louisville with 10th grade students. Lars, a principal at the school, taught me "Let's leave the kids alone, the Americans and the Danes, so they can talk without intrusion of pesky adults." His suggestion made me nervous - I thought I needed to have control of the room. But, I left my students with his. I learned at that moment that youth listens to youth, and if I was willing, I could learn a lot from them, too, if only I listened. I've been listening to them ever since. And now I ask, "Why be an authority when it is so much more rewarding to help them to see authority (authors) within themselves?"

SquadSquawks, 2014 - the official playlist of EN 12 and the soundtrack of their chosen songs. #IMissMixedTapes

On Monday, we officially narrowed down our nominations to the 21 songs for this year's soundtrack of our collective lives. We accomplished this through the argument we had with ourselves for choosing the two songs we did. The majority claim that selecting only two songs was next to impossible, but I made it more interesting on Monday by stating they could only fight for one in the end.

The result, another year of bonding through song analysis and argumentation. I now have the .mp3s and will distribute them to students on Thursday.

Once upon a time, I loved the mixed tapes made for me. This moved to my love of burning CDS in the 2000s. Now, I'm told by them, that there are online programs where you can create song lists for others and they can visit there to collect what they want. I wonder, though, if students of this generation get to feel the love and funk that goes into creating a soundtrack for someone they know. Back in my day, the mixed tapes came with letters and justification for the selection. Perhaps it's too easy now and the humanity is  lost.  Then again, I still creatively am doing this and sharing.

So here they are (and yes, I knew few of these songs myself before they introduced them to me.
  • Electric Feel - MGMT
  • The High Kings - The Parting Glass
  • The Bravery - Ours
  • Those I've Loved - Eric Church
  • How the Might Fall - Counterfeit Junkies
  • Let It Be - Beatles
  • Love Me Again - John Newman
  • Greatest Love - Whitney Houston
  • O Meray yaar, To mera Pyar
  • I am not a robot - Marina and the Diamonds
  • Boss Ass Bitch - PTSSA
  • Closing Time - Semisonic
  • If the World Crashes Down - Iglesias
  • Dare You To Move - Switchfoot
  • Pain - Tupac
  • How to Save a Life - The Frey
  • 100 Years - Five for Fighting
  • Don't Blink - Kenny Chesney

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

There's a reason why my mouth is worth more than I am. I grew up with sugar for breakfast.

Last week, the conversation ensued around descriptive language where the topic of asparagus came up. I'm not sure who incited it, but that led the acrid smell of urine after eating asparagus. Without thinking, I added, "I think Sugar Smacks are worse."

Sugar Smacks? What are Sugar Smacks?

Insert, politically incorrect name brand above. They are now Honey Smacks.  There's not sugar in that cereal at all (you can check my dental records for proof of that).

Anyway, realizing almost three decades of youth have gone through childhood since I have, I went to the store in pursuit of a.m. evil - that is, sugar cereal, and it took me a while before I found the Kellogg's frog and puffed wheat covered in....honey. I bought it for the class and it went home with Christian (who pleasantly Tweeted this to me last night).

I'm not sure if this is a test of odors or if he sat in his dorm room acting as a fiend away from his mother and father, devouring sugar cereals banned in his home while he grew up. I await the story that will come later this week. I do know, though, that I'm cheap, but when it builds a story, I am willing to pay $5.14 for a box of cereal. I wouldn't for myself, but to prompt student writing and thinking - well, it's an investment.

Fruity Pebbles are a close second, but Sugar Smacks was the cereal that always made me want to brush my teeth over and over and over again. Then I peed. The smell. That is what I remember most (and the yellow, brighter than Big Bird's tail feathers and louder than George Michael's Wham videos). I am a child of the 80s.

Monday, February 24, 2014

This post is for Kim: I've been thinking about her 'creativity' question and I will try to give a response.

A student emailed me randomly late last week and asked if I could teach her to be creative. I replied, "I'm not sure it's possible," which has plagued me all weekend. I began to ask myself, "Am I creative? Did I learn this? Did I inherit it? Can creativity be taught? What's the secret?"

Because I couldn't pinpoint a single lesson to become creative, I reflect on my own trajectory to establish a bulleted list:
  • Surround yourself with jokesters, artists, musicians, dancers, writers, and imps. 
  • At a young age, I had the blessing to watch my grandmother do as she did and, without formal training or a necessary drive to be creative - she just was. I think she accomplished this because she was a listener, a watcher, and a thinker. She chose to make sense of her world with colors, words, journals, and storytelling.
  • Give yourself permission to walk to the drumbeat of a different flautist and to take time to tip toe through the roses, while stopping to smell the daffodils. In other words, learn the norms of what you're supposed to do, but then find ways to do this with a little funk and originality. Break the rules here and there and don't care what others think.
  • Read. Read. Read. Read. 
  • Question. Ask questions about everything and seek to find your own answers.
  • Hang out with people who are NOT LIKE YOU. Find other perspectives who help you to think differently about the world and who frustrate you, make you laugh, teach you new things, and remind you why you'd rather not be like them. The point is, the more diverse the personalities you surround yourself with, the more diverse your viewpoints will become.
  • Pay attention to colors and look at everything as potential art that has meaning. 
  • Rearrange reality - live inside your head some by wondering "What if this happened?" Put strange ideas together that normally don't go together. Wonder what the result would be when you do.
  • Keep record of your ideas. It began for me with journals and notebooks, but now I'm rather conditioned to doing this with blogs.
  • Teach yourself new things every year.
  • Don't get distracted by all the chaos that misleads you down paths of wasted time. Instead, rather than passively absorbing the world, set out each day to provide the material others will have to think about. Play with their minds and expectations to deliver something a little more unusual 
  • Seize the day with humor and hard work.
And with this list I just accomplished more thinking than I thought was possible about being creative. I would venture to say that the 10,000 hour rule applies, too. In order to master anything, 10,000 hours must be invested. So, I would also speculate patience will help, too, as you invest these hours towards what it is you're after.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Perhaps I'm a poor sport, but I totally feel Boeheim's rage. I applaud him (and am not a coach for a reason).

I've been watching Jim Boeheim for as long as I can remember, but I don't think I've ever seem him as heated as he was last night when he received the technical foul at Duke. I was out of my seat cheering for the basket and foul when the charge was called and everyone I was with were like, "What?"

Then Boeheim lost his %$#$@%.

I'm not one to believe conspiracy theories, but I read many of the "Good ol' Boy" comments of the ACC and their pride - not wanting a Big East team to come south to do damage. The call that was made was ludicrous and I had a coaching title, I may have punched the referee in the face. My temper can get the best of me, and that is what the coach showed last night.

I expected a good match and it was received, although I thought both teams were having a difficult time making shots. Calls on the paint were questionable throughout the evening, but that last one was a final straw. Many argue that Coach Boeheim lost the game for Syracuse, but I would say he won for Syracuse and their fans. That is not the officiating I like to see in a Division I game against excellent programs.

I'm just glad he didn't pop an aneurism with that fury. I almost did watching him.

It is a game, and I know we need creative outlets to show good sportsmanship. The boiling water runneth over at times, though. Perhaps we'll need to get good knitting needles to pacify our time during officiating like that - to prove our cool, calm, and disposition.

This too shall pass.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Like a handicapped mosquito sucked in by a vacuum...I love student writing. #metaphors

Every time I read a collection of student work, there is always one line that sticks with me and today it was, "I felt like a handicapped mosquito being sucked in by a vacuum."

There's a couple of things that strike me about this simile: why a handicapped mosquito? How is this different than a normal mosquito being sucked in by a Hoover? Where on earth does a kid come up with such a line and is it bad? If it is, why have I had it on my mind all day? When things are horrible and inevitable, as the young man was alluding to in his writing, I suppose that is how he was feeling...but what made him think of that image?

The good news is that others, like me, collect and contemplate such craft from student writers. Here's a few I found upon a quick perusal across cyberspace:

  • Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two other sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  • She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.
  • Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.
  • John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  • She grew on him like she was a colony of E.Coli, and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

They are creative and keep humored. I say to my self, "Yes. I bet it was a lot like that." Then I wonder, are they really bad? They get their point across and the image stick in my brain, so they obviously accomplished their writerly craft.

I don't know. I'm sort of feeling like a confused teacher lost by, you know, confusing things: finding time to accomplish everything, James Joyce'sUlysses , and how we could ever go back to flushing a toilet now that someone has invented toilets that flush themselves.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

And Somehow, Despite Educational (De)form, Excellence Continues at the Occasional School #JoelBarlow

For the third year in a row I was invited to spend time at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Connecticut to serve on their portfolio scoring team who is assigned to assess 200+ junior writing portfolios. Each and every year I participate in this event, I feel spirits rejuvenated. Best practices in learning to write DO exist in the northeast. Yes, I agree, they triumph despite a lack of professional development provided but the state, the push of corporate (d)eformers into schools, the counter-composing norms of state assessments (on demand) over writing taken through multiple composing processes, and the defunding of support for public school teachers.

For students at Barlow, writing is nurtured through a writing center, portfolio expectations, district-wide support, a superintendent who invested in writing, and a well-established, calibrated scoring system that initiates rich conversation amongst teachers and with students. The anchor papers they use elicit dialogue about writing - instructional conversations I witness as totally absent from the majority of schools I visit. The young people - by virtue of the junior expectations - are required to think deeply about their talents as writers and to highlight areas where they need to improve.  They do this through submitting letters to the reviewer, personal pieces, creative pieces, and analytical pieces. The school has set a particular bar each student must reach  in order to graduate. I love the ownership they have for strong writing and feel they continue to be an example of excellence.

A short time, the entire state of Kentucky encouraged such processes, but as (de)form movements have it, poor choices are often placed on teachers to ignored what they know is best in the name of politics, assessment, and worst practices. Alas, we are systems that work within other systems.

Still, perseverance, dedication, devotion, and tenacity can triumph in an age of pathetic anti-teacher/students moves by policy makers in the United States. At Barlow, students are held to writing standards that place them ahead of other adolescent writers simply because the school cares enough to prepare them for real college and career readiness beyond state assessments. The students write analytically, creatively, reflectively, and narratively with purposes that matter to them and for audiences beyond the teacher. THIS MAKES A TREMENDOUS DIFFERENCE.

Thumbs Up, Barlow! I remain a fan.

Times are a' changing, and I am on board for the ride. It's good, actually...these dang digital tools.

My goal this week has been to conference with every student I teach to lay out a plan of action for the writing to come. Meeting with me, however, is somewhat tricky as I'm off campus this semester more than I'm on. Thank-you, Shahid, for being the guinea pig for this post. You were, after all, my first official FaceTime writing conference and it makes a lot of sense to do it this way.

Now, I have Skyped with the twins at Brockport and other students in Cortland and OCC, but I've yet to host a digital conference with any of my students at Fairfield. Having tried to schedule face-to-face meetings unsuccessfully, the logic arrived post-gym, why not try FaceTime. Sure enough, Shahid called and read his essay as I followed along on my laptop and offered feedback with probing questions for further development.

This was a perfect solution, and it worked very well. The only difference was that each of us was behind a screen and not within the chaotic clutter of my desk.

I told Shahid, "I'm totally screen capturing this because it's a first, and I want to to acknowledge are ingenuity for providing an alternative to our schedules. This rocks!"

In the end, writing is always about communication and, alas, so is the iPhone, FaceTime, and the tools available to advance what we have to say to one another.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Two Songs, Eh? Just two songs for your soundtrack of life? What would yours be? #makeanargument #justify

For the last three years I've set aside a day in my EN 12 course to help students develop impromptu arguments with a solidified case for what they stand for and believe in. This, of course, is a task I adapted from working with 11th grade high school students in Louisville, Kentucky. The question they respond to is:

If you had to decide on any two songs for the soundtrack of your life, what two would you choose, and why? 

In my freshmyn English classes at Fairfield University, each student  prepares thinking about two songs. They make a statement about why each song matters to them before and we play VH1's The List (a short-lived show, I know) s to dwindle down choices for our entire Squad....that is roughly 20 songs of the 40 that are submitted. The task initiates some debating and. The mini-lesson couples nicely with literary analysis papers  coming their way - they must make an argument about some of the texts we've read.

I usually practice what I preach and that is why I make this post, today.

1. Crandall, you suck (that is youth language for frustration that this is harder than it looks.
2. Crandall, this really does suck (just two? TWO!). That's repetition to restate an argument.

I made my first choice easily as it is a throwback to the J. Graham Brown School, Alice Stevenson, and my Brownies of yesteryear. In my playlist for life I would need at least one Cat Stevens song. Since I argue often for the journey of life,  being on the road, and the idea that who I am today is not who I was yesterday or who I will become tomorrow, I chose "On The Road To Find Out".

Having college freshmen now, I realize they have just exited the proverbial high school cave and are, well, on their road to find out, too. They, like me, might benefit from this song (and the hippier, happier days of American history before everything became so Holly-woodiated)

3. Seriously, Crandall. Cat Stevens was a no-brainer. The second song, however, really does bite.

I've made up my mind, though, but I'm sure it will change tomorrow. Truthfully, I wanted something techie and heart-pumping because if I wanted a sound track for life, I'd want to dance (with Ellen Degeneres). Yet, when I scanned my play list I had to stop on on K'naan's Wavin' Flag - the official theme music for FIFA 2010.

Why? It brings together a lot of memories for me and, most importantly, it was the song that played incessantly in my Explorer in 2010 and after when I drove the boys to and from soccer practices, school, malls, etc. Always a sports fan, I was new to the passion of FIFA and the first time I heard this song I thought about my cousin's work with Hoops4Hope, Nelson Mandela, and the absolute centrality that football (soccer) has to the world in terms of hope. We have our courts for American hoop dreams, but the rest of the planet follows another game passionately. In all cultures, sports unites people. If I was stranded with only two songs and this one was one of them, it would trigger amazing memories of what my life has been, but also dreams of where else I wish it to go. For this post, anyway, those are my songs.

What about you? 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I know it's supposed to snow again, but I'm counting on sunshine and warmth this week

"A day without sunshine is, you know, night" - Steve Martin
Without the sun, we don't have heat. Without warmth, things don't grow. I need sunshine and I need heat soon - bring it on and melt all this crap away. I feel like I'm stagnating.

Okay, I just ranted my traditional gripe about winter in the northeast, and I'm sure it's far from over, but I needed to get it out of my system. Yesterday was cold, but it had blue skies. I got outside and stretched. I need more of that.

I'm afraid the snowstorm today will pinch me back into a bad mood...snowblowing...driving and doubtful cancelations. I don't mind winter; it's just I'm ready for the ease of not having to work so hard to get out into the world (well, out of my driveway). when I want to go.

Yet, I know, it takes sun to spark growth and creativity. Let this system blow on through. Then let the sun come out and cause floods. At least then I know, life will return.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Shout Out To My Twin Sister Separated At Birth and 8 Years Older (Cupcake Queen 4Ever) @pamelaMarieKell

It is the day after celebrating my 42nd year of having life, and it turned out to be one of the best birthdays ever. This resulted from the love of my family, friends, and co-workers throughout the day. FaceTime, too, made it possible to be with Syracuse kin while opening gifts and I love all my toys, gift cards, and salsa (which I will use to cook for friends in Connecticut).

I'm especially thankful to my twin, Pam - although we were born on separate days to different moms several years apart. To the right is one of the several owl cupcakes she baked in honor of my birthday. They were fantastic. In addition to the deliciousness and wittiness of her creative baking, though, she arranged a one-of-a-kind brunch for me and our friends at the Red Barn in Westport. It's been 16 hours since I last ate and I am still stuffed.

Yes, I am entering the 17th, today, as a 42-year old who is feeling extremely blessed to have had the multiple experiences of my life from living in three states, teaching around the world, and being connected with an eclectic entourage of others. Sometimes I think about this miraculousness - this universe - and how all the energies and spirits are sometimes harnessed in particular carcasses to be intertwined during one lifetime. For me, this is proof that there's something else in control...The Great Whatever.

Although 2014 is focused on Kreativitet  and Kuumba, at the core of everything I believe remains Ubuntu. I truly am me because of us together. Yesterday, however, Pamela Kelly made the festivities extra special and I'm thankful for every ounce of her humorous, fun-loving soul.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

An attempt at a good deed, weather permitting, and semi-success (sort of). Well, Syracuse won.

Since last December, I've tried to arrange 10 relocated refugee youth to attend a Fairfield University basketball game at Webster Arena with my 19 freshmen students. I've cancelled twice now, due to weather, and then rearranged for this evening (and the weather still sucked). In total, I had 1 young man from Iraq who could come and not a single Stag. I would say I batted zero, but I was glad to attend the deserted game if only one student could attend - he arrived from Iraq two months ago and this was his first cultural outing.

The ice this morning was thick, but the temperatures melted most of it. When we left the game, however, the snow they predicted was falling. Everyone made it home safely (and I hope Fred Kuo, pink shirt and #1, did the same).

We will try this again on the 28th - the last home game. I wanted this to be my birthday present, but mother nature wasn't cooperative, as usual. Oi Vay.

At least I got home for the Syracuse game and I'm thankful for my high school friend, Todd Teeter, who told me we could get it online through ESPN3 - he's navigated SU basketball games on the other side of the Long Island Sound for some time.

And it's official, I'm now the age of Jackie Robinson's #. This is good news to me, and I'm stoked. I wasn't sure I would make it with how the Orange played last night.

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius....

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I'm not smart enough to understand this, but I loved the lesson nonetheless

Whenever I visit Bassick High School, I like to  swing by Mr. Bell's room. He's a young, innovative math teacher whose devotion to his students is obvious for the ways he tries to make every lesson relevant to their lives. He's intelligent, hardworking, creative, funny, and focused on raising the standards for all students.

When I walked by earlier this week, he and his science-teaching partner were practicing a lab they planned to do with their freshmen students. Mr. Bell explained the mathematical equations they hoped to highlight (as well as some of the scientific principles) but most of it went over my head. What registered with me, however, was the hilarity of the lesson. Mr. Bell bought 30 Barbie dolls for his classes for the lesson. Students, he explained to me, would tie rubber bands to the ankles of the dolls and drop them from staircases at Bassick High School to measure how far they would stretch to the floor without actually crashing.

The teaching team was working on this activity when students were out of their classes, videotaping their own success with an iPad and iPhone to see if they could outdo the numbers reported by others in the national-Barbie dropping exercise. They shared their video with me and it was hilarious - two brilliant science/math heads playing with their toys before students arrived.

This is the moment I'm carrying with me for the extended weekend and the applause I have for innovation and creativity in K-12 schools. Kudos to their team!

Friday, February 14, 2014

You are dressed very bright today, Bryan. Um, I've changed twice. Damn snow. Seriously?

I woke up at 6 am. It wasn't snowing yet and began an hour later. I sat at my laptop and began writing recommendations. At 11, I said, "Okay, I have an hour space here before the freezing rain begins." I went out to tackle the driveway and  completed 3/4 of the 12 inches of snow with a snowblower when the ice began, but I was ahead of it. It stopped icing and raining around 3, so I went outside, during the mist, and scraped the driveway clean.

I sprinkled salt. I exhaled. I live on a steep driveway.

Reentering my home, however, required a change of clothes each time, and then I spilled a glass of wine on the third outfit while talking to my little sister who fell while playing Natalie Komenichi on gym equipment at her son's school (she sprained her ankle and went to urgent care). I changed again and threw on first items I could find - a sweatshirt from my undergraduate days and a pair of sweats from my dissertation days. No. You're right: orange, purple, and green don't go together, but they're pajamas and the storm wiped me out and I just wanted to go to bed ( that thunder? What? Another 8 inches are possible?).

Then Weijing comes downstairs, sees me, and says, "Whoa. You are dressed bright today. I like the outfit."

I said, "I'm going to bed."

She says, "No, that looks really good together. You should wear that more often."

This winter is making all of us crazy.

And it's Friday.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

With wisdom from Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III - Reflecting during the Cuse/Pitt Buzzer

Last night, I attended a lecture by Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland, and math educator who moved up through the wisdom of his mother's parenting, hard work, dedication, and what he attests as creativity. Although he is a STEM guy (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) his talk argued that America excels with education because of creativity, rebellion, individuality, and tenacity.

99.9% of what he had to say resonated with my understanding of K-12 programs and where I parted from his thinking was with his optimism in the Common Core and what he feels is phenomenal support for raising the standards of all kids. Agreed, the core of the argument has potential, but the word support is where he is naive. Rather than support educators in schools everyday, more demands are placed on them with fewer resources. He argued that he wouldn't want an untrained doctor working on him, but I wanted to ask him why it is, then, that the federal government is supporting untrained, fresh-out-of-college ivy leaguers under the guise of Teach For America to serve urban and rural poor. This, to me, is institutional racism and an absolute hypocrisy to the 'higher standards' conversation. I couldn't help but think, "Dr. Hrabowski, come visit the schools I'm working in and help me assist the teachers on where to begin. The inequities are more troublesome than raising standards. We have deep societal issues here."

With that said, thumbs up to all else he said and stood for. I'm taking the quote he had us memorize at the final part of his talk as a mantra to incorporate in my own thinking. Quoting Lao Tse, he chanted,
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions; Watch your actions; they become habit; Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; they become your destiny.
There's an amazing truth to this and he spoke from the heart, experience, the mind, and with integrity. Not a bad way to spend the Wednesday evening before the storm...

...only to arrive at the very second Ennis's shot for THREE went in! Go Cuse!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Deferring Dreams, Ignoring Truths, and Wearing Blinders in the United States

On days like today, when I'm exhausted and seeking 60 more minutes of productivity, I hate the limits of the human brain and body. Although I'm paid to teach undergraduate and graduate courses, a 3rd of my job continues to be out in K-12 schools. In Connecticut, when I visit schools ten-minutes apart, it is like visiting varying countries. The disparities are extreme and when a teacher was setting up her class in preparation of Hughes' "A Dream Deferred" I couldn't help to think deeply about these words.

Personally, I'm ready for an explosion - not a Malcolm X rebellion, but a Mandela protest with dignity (although I get the violence, as did S. Africa one day).

In schools, I often see teachers and students festering like sores, unable to find sugar to cover up the realities of their everyday truths with syrupy sweet lies. They are in buildings that are nothing but the truth.

Today, I left thinking about dreams, who is encouraged to have them, and who grow up in communities where they are made possible through economics, parenting, opportunities, and safety. This is not the reality for all youth in this country and many: English language learners, immigrants, African Americans, and the poor are born into what seem to be impossible circumstances. Yes, there are miraculous teachers and students in every school, but to overcome the circumstances of what they know as truth everyday is not an easy task.

When I returned to my office, an email went out asking faculty to come to a fund raiser to help raise money to send college kids to Atlanta for a service learning trip. I am all about giving back to others, but this call bothered me because it advertised a social justice program for working with impoverished immigrants in Atlanta over spring break. The goal is to give college students a vacation with a good cause and funds are being solicited so they have this opportunity. I couldn't help but be cynical. If students want to help out and work with marginalized youth, they can travel three miles east and experience it every day. This made me think about the international service trips to 3rd world countries that cost universities much money, and which return students with pride and new outlook on the world. I wonder, though, at what cost. Who is really benefiting from such service? Why do we send people out of state or overseas to help when there is much needed in many of the schools I visit and within the communities that I work closest with.

I wonder sometimes if we have created a tourist culture for the privileged to go on safari of those living in poverty. Where are the keychains, t-shirts, and gift bags to commemorate participation?
It's troublesome to me and 'sagging' like a heavy load on my brain.

This is what is on my mind Wednesday morning. I'm off to do another day of workshops with youth in such schools. Maybe, just maybe, keeping the dream alive will occur.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

With respect for David Bosnick: 24 years later and his tremendous influence remains the same.

Keep on coaching, Bosnick. Keep us focused on the win.
"I still think it's funny, Crandall," he said as his wife was autographing books upstairs. "But thank you for coming to see her. Thank you for your kind words. Thank you for meeting my daughter, Lily, and thank you for remembering Eli. Even so, your family dinners of Kraft macaroni and cheese with kielbasa still makes me laugh."

I was a freshman, 18 years old, when I took my first creative writing class at Binghamton University and when David Bosnick gave us an initial prompt to write about a typical dinner with our family. Drawing from memory, it was obvious to write about Kraft Mac & Cheese and boiled kielbasa - it was a staple in our house. I began writing furiously about eating at 5388 Amalfi Drive and shared all the details of a normal evening conversation

The high school I attended in New York State didn't teach creative writing and, even though my grandmother wrote eccentrically all the time, it was rare I was given opportunities to use my creative imagination. I was a product of the Regents regime, earning a diploma from standardized tests, memorization, and robotic learning. I was not, however, a student encouraged to develop my writing, to explore my original ideas, or to think outside of the box. Sure, I was an "A" student, an honors kid, and I followed the rules to get me into a reputable college. But I wasn't a writer.

I had to meet David Bosnick first.

In 1991, I was enrolled in a creative writing class for bubbly-eyed freshmen fresh out of our televised worlds - dazed by Beverly Hills 90201, the Tracy Ullman Show, Roseanne, and the Cosby's. David Bosnick asked us about the books we read for fun and we all talked about television programs we liked to watch, instead. We admitted we were too busy  to read much and I can remember him asking, "Crandall, you say you grew up in a household like Roseanne's. Who the hell is Roseanne?"

Bosnick claimed he didn't have a television. He didn't need one. He owned book stores, an original mind, and the freedom to write the poetry and stories that pleased him. What? No television? Who was this guy? What was his way of knowing?

It was one semester, but Bosnick's chip was planted in my skull rather deeply. A writer, he advertised, resists the normal world. They lead their minds on original pathways and script/draft/etch/doodle ideas to capture the brilliance of everyday life. They dress like detectives, too, and Marris Goldberg and I (a freshman year crush) went as Sherlock and Watson to a Burger King where we eavesdropped on Binghamton locals to get good material. Writers pay attention to the world around them.

I was contacted by Marris last week who share that David Bosnick, the athlete, father, husband,  creator, and teacher we both loved, passed away in Belfast, Ireland, after working out at a gym. He was a giant man - one who looked like he could wrestle an entire class into the floor if he needed to. I remember him as short, stocky, and thick - intrigued that he was once a college football player but he chose a career of creativity.

Over the weekend, I thought about how lucky I am that, while working on my doctorate at Syracuse University, I saw that David's wife, Liz Rosenberg, was reading from her new book at a bookstore at Destiny mall (then Carousel). I went to the reading, I admit it, to see if David Bosnick would be with her, and he was. I told him I graduated in 1994, moved to Louisville to become a teacher, and was, at that time of our visit, a doctorate student at Syracuse University. He shared with me that he, too, became a teacher and talked about his love for working with middle school students. The meeting was short, but I had an opportunity to meet the man, again, who brushed the intellect of a fledgling so many years ago with his colorful stroke of genius. The impact on my creative imagination is enormous and the news, never a good time to hear, stopped me in my place.

Yesterday, when I looked for photographs online, I didn't find any except the one I post above. I like the photograph as it seems to be the way I remember him - a man on the sideline always cheering a team on. That is how he taught underclassmen, how I assume he led 7th and 8th graders, how he coached Rugby players, and how he'll forever be imprinted in my mind.

Rest In Peace, David Bosnick. The next kielbasa and Mac'n'Cheese dinner I make for myself will be in your honor.

I hope to hear you laughing at me from above.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Crockpot Chicken and Dumplings, a hockey game, grading, and preparation for the week to come.

Was there a weekend?

I'm trying to answer that question as I tried to work with the 48 hours to regroup, recover, and reconvene for the week ahead, but sadly, I think I failed.

My huge accomplishment? I was creative with food in my fridge and made a crockpot of chicken and dumplings to carry me through the week, but my brain was not operating at its full capacity, and even if I have a full stomach, my mind went numb for productivity.

With the snow flurries on Sunday night, I simply wanted to lay my head to the pillow and rest up so I would have the energy for accomplishing the new checklist I've created for February. I think I'm in a state of season mood disorder, as I'm cold, cranky, and simply exhausted.

But today is Monday and it's time to tap the muses to get crackling again. I've got this (he says, with fingers crossed).

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday: Flight of the Bumblebees and in need of energetic music to accomplish amazing things

I need to congratulation Nikki and the Northstars for their regional win in Rochester yesterday, but must admit their coach, Larry, never picked up on my theme show, "None of Your Bee's Wax" performed to the acapella version of "Flight of the Bumbleebees." To me, it seemed like a routine that would cause quite the buzzzzzz among judges (as opposed to the suicidal, Lawrence Welk music that most perform, too).

Oh, well, I didn't get what I wanted, but they did take first and that is all that matters. Congratulations. If you want the rest of my creative idea for this show, give me a shout out. It's not as crappy as the toilet turd show I invented, but it's rather good. I can see it in my head.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Well, Sochi has kicked things off and the Olympic traditions continue with opening, creative ceremonies.

With wealth, with power, with reputation, and with tradition comes the drive to artistically express the next generation of athletic excellence. I'm having flashbacks to Shane Koyczan in the Canadian 2010 Olympics, so Russia didn't quite hit the mark, but still, the artistic attempt was amusing.

Alice, of Kentucky fame, always remarked on how humored she was by international artistry to open up worldwide games and she laughed herself into a tizzy with trying to figure out the meaning of left brained creators looking for ways to symbolically tell a story in Broadway blitz. The pomp and circumstance, she felt, could be a poor drag show of impish ridiculousness.

Still, I like to watch opening ceremonies for the ways they work to dazzle. This year, the women walking out teams cracked me up most. In their white dresses and boots, the hats are what cracked me up. Were they trying to be Ms. Universe? Prostitutes rejected from the set of the first Star Wars? NYC Rockettes? Funny, the way they were dressed, but this is the beauty of the ceremony. It needn't make sense (even when the fifth ring failed to appear in the first glitter to impress...4 out of 5 is sort of close, no?).

It's about the athletes anyway, and the histories of world relations that are told as countries come together to compete. This is why I love it. The debut of fireworks, lights, and techno-tronics are part of it, but in the end what captures my attention is the excellence of sportsmanship that builds the story of competition and human relations. With or without the hype grandiosity, the sport is what appeals to me most.

And the US opening ceremony outfits? Okay...we now have a tacky Christmas sweater American can we make our winter attire? Hilarious.

Friday, February 7, 2014

From Supervised to Supervision: It's Creativity, Relationships, Knowledge, and Mentoring

This semester, I have the privilege of visiting six schools in Connecticut to oversee the student teaching of graduate students and undergraduates. This is one of the perks of my job as it provides a window in the divergent ways schools design curriculum, support students and teachers, and establish an atmosphere for learning. With student teachers, it is like being a marriage therapist who helps hosts and student teachers negotiate on what works best for all parties, especially as the two parties provide instruction to improve the literacies of all youth.

My mentor, Sue McV, who I student taught with, introduced the marriage metaphor and helped me to realize there is no learning without a relationship. That is why I've grown to see a supervisor's roll as a negotiator, listener, coach, teacher, and friend. As another mentor, Kelly Chandler Olcott, patiently advised me throughout my dissertation work, "If this work was easy, everyone would be doing it."

The transition from theory towards classroom practice is never as easy as one assumes. Instead, new skill-sets are born, epiphanies (with frustrations) arrive, and the exhaustion of the profession reveals itself. This, of course, causes the sleeplessness.

In Connecticut, however, it is eye-opening to move from district to district to witness practice in the field and how much it varies as a result of school cultures, norms, populations, expectations, and traditions. My biases are severe, as I worked in heterogeneous classrooms with no tracking, high standards, and a strong sense of investing in each and every student. The language I use to uphold the potential of young learners is borne out of the shared values and mission statement from my time in the classroom. This is VERY different from the habitus of other schools and helps me to see the institutional changes that need to be made. I feel fortunate to have worked in an environment that worked (although it too had flaws).

The profession of teaching is complex and even after 18 years knee-deep in the occupation, I'm still working to realize what works best for all types of kids, especially with a vision to assure success in a world that is always changing. Yet, it always comes back to relationships. We learn from others and although variables alter, people needing people remains a constant. That is why I love supervising. It's work that matters because it is work between people trying to make sense of what it means to educate and be educated.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Feeling Triumphant! Post Digital Learning Day Snow Storm Accomplishments @officialDLDay #sleepisgood

There are many reasons to celebrate this Thursday, including my Syracuse roots, a #1 Orangemen rating, and my father's influence on making me a Nordic man who is capable of tackling 9 inches of snow and ice without exhaustion. Yes, I'm still a son of a Butch, which means that my pride for orange and blue remains, as does the sense of happiness that arrives from four hours of shoveling, snowplowing, and de-icing. Take that Mother Nature.

With this noted, a snow day also afforded me the opportunity to finish a digital production, create new syllabi, catch up on course readings, and fool-around on Facebook all day. I also ate a dinner of chicken and potatoes - that is the amazing reality of a man given a day to unwind!

And it all culminated with participation in Teachers Teaching Teachers with reflections on Digital Learning Day with some of my favorite National Writing Project people and the stellar craftmanship of Paul Allison.

No, that is not a fist of power, but a thawing hand that feels empowered by the virtue of having life in the 21st century and an incredible job (he looks at calendar, smiles, and realizes, "Well, so much for a day off. Tomorrow, I'm tripled book throughout many hours of the day").


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Happy Digital Learning Day, 2014 - Digital Work with Hill Central 1st Grade Writers @OfficialDLDay @digitalis @writingproject

Dear Creative Friends, Colleagues, and Family,

I am pleased to announce support for Digital Learning Day, 2014, and the vision that every child should graduate with the knowledge and social skills necessary for a successful life in the 21st century.

Yesterday, I learned with 1st graders at Hill Central Academy in New Haven, Connecticut, and set a personal goal to compose a mini-narrative for today's Digital Learning celebration. Oi Vay! IMovie changed its tools and I'm getting old; I just can't keep up with new tricks! Fortunate for me, though, I have a snow day to try!  This digital narration was a logical next step as Hill Central has been working on writing across the curriculum, establishing vertical team alignment, and supporting writing workshops in all content areas. Last December we began by attaining wisdom from Eric Komoroff and his Community of Unity work in New York City. We are finding a song - our unique purpose as teachers - while preparing for Kwame Alexander's visit in April.  

Today, however, Alliance for Excellent Education is sharing the numerous ways educators use technology in everyday practice to enhance student learning. Last year, I explored the Ten Reasons I Love Digital Platforms, and this year I am reflecting on the power of new technologies to spur creativity, innovation, and change in Connecticut classrooms.  

A few shy students and a dying recorder battery inhibited some from sharing their work here. Boo on this (with apologies to the wonderful kids who hosted me in their class yesterday).

Still, I encourage everyone to share what they are doing on the Digital Learning Day website. The national movement and information about becoming part of the February 5th celebration are located there.

And don’t forget to visit the National Writing Project's Digital Is website. Online platforms unite like-minded thinkers beautifully. The mission is to bring best practices for literacy instruction to all schools.

With Kreativitet and Kuumba for 2014,


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I was never meant to live under the rules of others. It is my character flaw. I walk to my own drummer.

It's Tuesday, right?

A day between storm one and storm two and a week before storm three?

I thought so.

I successfully turned in my dossier yesterday and went to campus to teach (only to have the University cancel classes three minutes before my 2 pm class).

I returned home to shovel for two hours and created a syllabus for a potential summer gig I'm trying for in June (one that excites me out of state).

I watched Syracuse win and then it hit me, I'm tired and I didn't know what to post. That is when I found this cartoon.

When I was writing my letter to my colleagues for the dossier, I explained that I'm fried, exhausted, and ready to burn out, but that I can't imagine doing work  I find more enjoyable and worthwhile than what I'm doing right now. I also noted how higher education affords me many more privileges, including the fact that I worked just as hard in my high school classroom, but faced a job that was 150X's more impossible to accomplish. Whenever I get slightly close to complaining at my new life in higher education, I remember what it was like as a secondary school teacher. At least now I sleep (occasionally) and don't have 150 lives running through my brain 24/7. Now, I live with a different stress, but it's a tolerable one and I am thankful to be where I am. Still, I respect what I once did and feel an obligation to educate others in higher education. Our complaints should be minimal - teaching K-12 is much more difficult and has a lot less respect.

Then I thought about why I left. It was because the CCSS were coming and new authorities had no respect for creativity and individuality. They were like the bosses in the cartoon above - no sense of human soul.  I also began to think about how many jobs I could have that would totally put me over the edge, including anything that would limit me to a cubicle under the authority of someone telling me what to do.

No, I need to be on my own path making possible what I know can be achieved. I need to be my own boss...even having to do the dossier thing is far more tolerable than what other occupations enforce. It's a lot. It's not easy. But at least my brain has been left free and I can continue to create.

Monday, February 3, 2014

And the highlight of my weekend: recruiting runners, Team Cornerstone, for RUN FOR REFUGEES in New Haven, Connecticut

the smallest moments are the largest.
The universe of possibilities
finds complexity in the simplicities
of fellow men and women running with a cause.                                      
Yesterday, 15 of us, Team Cornerstone, raced a 5K in support of Integrated Refugee and Immigration Services. Together, we donated almost $320 in entry fees that would benefit the important work their agency does in the State of Connecticut.

And it was a heat wave, too. A balmy sprint in 40 degrees that parted the fog only to reveal a sunny morning. I am very thankful to the First Year Cornerstone program at Fairfield University who makes extended class time possible through course grants. We've worked with IRIS, Coach Sydney Johnson, the Run For Refugees event, and in a week, we meet with relocated youth at a home Stags basketball game.

At the finish line, we were fortunate to be greeted by Daniel Trust, a Rowandan genocide survivor who is doing work in Bridgeport - it was obvious we needed to exchange information.

In total, I believe there was a record 700+ runners at the event. As I told my team, "A lot of people wake up on Sunday morning with dreams of nachos and cheese, pulled pork, and beer. We, on the other hand, woke up with a mission - an opportunity to bring good to the world in 3.2 miles."

By noon, we returned to our normal lives (which meant for me an 8-hour romp in the office to get my dossier day.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nurturing the "Art and Soul" of what I do with Gordon Skinner - an artist who I love to know @balbert3 @Paintdeez

Whenever I introduce friends to the artwork of Gordon Skinner, I always say, "He will be silent about what he does, but everything you need to know will be found in the work he communicates to the world - art is his medium, and his still waters run deep. He needn't say much. Everything that needs to be seen (and felt) can be experienced in the way he frames his soul."

Gordon Skinner's new collection, "Art and Soul" can be viewed at the the art gallery located at Erector Square in New Haven, Connecticut. Bob Albert and Shante Skinner, collaborators in his vision, were also present at the showing, making yesterday a wonderful day. The trio has become a part of my Connecticut home.

This week, too, was intense (read previous posts).

Yet,  I had stellar lights at the other end of the never-ending tunnel: the Duke/Syracuse match up (phew, Syracuse won), and the premiere of Gordon Skinner's new paper sketches. As usual, I wasn't disappointed; the integrity of Skinner's craft continues to communicate a narrative crossing urban terrains, color, discrimination, hope, curiosity, history, and wonder. I've met many individuals in Connecticut, but I'm unsure if I've met a soul as deep as his.

Also unique to this event was the opportunity to meet and see a small collection created by Coco and Breezy.  Based in Brooklyn, the twin sisters craft a story of duplicitous minds.  Their eyewear creations have been worn by Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kelly Osbourne, Nicki Minaj and many others. They host "Wearable Art" - ha, if Beyonce can wear it, then I know they are in a terrain of celebrity. It was easy for me to see why Skinner collaborates with the two.

There's a rigorous Sunday ahead, but I'm thankful I took the moment on Saturday to meet with Skinner. My creative soul was nurtured, and I'm thinking strategically ahead. First, however, I need to run a 5K for refugees - a mission for living a life with purpose.

Here's to the purple crayons invested unto a wonderful mind, personality, and creator. Until the next show....

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I needed a good night's rest (like Big Bird) after a busy week (and today's Cuse/Duke game)

For those who have kept up with me this week, you'll understand why I simply need a nest and many zzzzzzz's. My goal for this morning was to sleep in, so that when I wake up, I can edit a journal article, put two months of laundry away, and revise my dossier that is due on Monday. Of course, I have two grants to upload, too. We're all set for the 5K tomorrow morning - Running For Refugees with 20 of my Peeps.

The bulk of the insanity is over, however, and I can be more paced over the next week.

This week? Not too bad: over 100 MLK essays read, judged, and awarded, 1,000 Poems for Peace celebrated through the English department, a MLK march, and a conference for 80+ middle school youth. Supervising student teachers and teaching courses was the fun stuff I did on the side, along with collaborating with high school teachers in science, ESL, and English.

The heater, too, is now fixed. Ball bearings! That was the issue.

All week - with all the work - I kept laughing. I know people thought I was insane (a jolly middle-aged Buddha), but laughter is the creative way I cope with stress when it is a wee bit over the top.