Monday, March 31, 2014

Back to work today and reading "Shaman" in Maxine Hong Kingston's WOMAN WARRIOR

For several years in Kentucky, I showed this German car advertisement whenever we discussed the paranormal. Given that we are reading "Shaman" about Brave Orchid's medical training in China, I couldn't help but remember the story of this advertisement and how the filmmaker noticed a strange apparition walking between the trees as he was trying to capture the car's movement. You have to look close at the screen and concentrate on the shading of the trees. Once you see it, you will surely see it and will get the same eery feeling I first got when this was brought to my attention.

I'm posting this today because it will be an introduction to superstitions, fear, cures, health, and wanting to believe in truths we tell ourselves to make meaning in our world. If anything, Maxine Hong Kingston achieves a wonderful narration of her mother's complicated perseverance before arriving to the U.S. - a life of another nation unrecognized in a new one.

I'm thrilled I put this book back on the agenda for EN 12. Every time I read it I feel enriched.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

This is a pilot post until I can get to a place where I can edit some - Go Nikki.

My niece had her senior year, finally varsity run at the Mid York Winterguard Championship in Shenandehowa yesterday. This is my first attempt at linking the performance of the show, but I'm sure I will edit some more (and think I did successfully below)

In the meantime, this is a placeholder. Or it's the actually post. Only time will tell.

The CNS Northstars continued to wow their circuit by taking first place with an 87.1 in Clifton Park, New York. They head to Dayton, Ohio later this week for the world finals and, fingers crossed, they will have a successful run against the nation's best Scholastic Open teams.

And I'm happy to say that my niece nailed her solos and rifle work throughout the performance (even though I made her nervous and later that night she'd have to sleep with her mom AND G-Ma!

video


Saturday, March 29, 2014

I am a tweet, although my father replaced those ee's with an a. #NWPAM14

In response to #NWPSM14 prompt on the uses of social media.

I am a tweet
Although my father replaced
Those ee's with a single a...

Yes, I am a digital display of chaos
Spaced in cyber illusions and the confusion
Of excessive information.
I am a long winded explanation
That could use a little haiku-
Hatchoo! God bless me, 
Mr. T says he pities this foo!

At the core of every writer
Are the tools he/she employs-
Cuz beyond the hype and all the buzz, 
media is just a toy-
Centered behind every device 
Is a HUMAN girl or boy.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Last Shout Out to #NWPSM14 Before Training Back To Connecticut

Yesterday was my third year on the 'hill working with Connecticut's political leaders to advocate for literacy, especially the work of the National Writing Project and its support of the work we do at Storrs, Fairfield, and CConn. It is humbling to see how hard our Connecticut politicians work in DC and how stellar they and their employees are. Jason Courtmanche, Shaun Mitchell, and I were treated as royalty and all parties sincerely listened to what we had to say about professional development, the implementation of Common Core State Standards, support for young writers in school, and programming throughout the nutmeg state.

Much appreciation goes to Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro and Elizabeth Esty, Congressmen Joe Courtney, John Larson, Elizabeth Esty, and Senators Jim Himes, Richard Blumenthal, and Chris Murphy.

There's been a lot of stand still at the capitol the last two years, and these members work tirelessly for what they believe in . I feel fortunate to live in Connecticut and to have these champions supporting the work teachers do. I am thankful that every year they provide hospitality and genuine interest.

Now, it's time for me to get my head around tonight's matchup between the University of Louisiville and the Kentucky Wildcats.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Not likely to ever be a political figure, but political nonetheless. #NWPSM14

View from my hotel room. Spooky that I am in the glass reflection from the shot. I didn't catch it when I took it.

Greetings from DC.

I wish I could say there was a creative way to be political at the capitol, but the work is somewhat dry, necessary, and timed. We have fifteen minutes with each of 7 Connecticut leaders and, for the most part, we have members on our side (it is the rest of the nation to worry about).

A lot has been locked up and little movement has occurred, so we were told to try to bring fresh air and optimism with our meetings. We have nothing but positive information for the word we do and with temperatures rising and a day of sunshine, the work should productive and hopeful for new things to come.

I have faith that the pendulum will begin to swing in another direction and, once again, faith will be restored to educators and all who invest in youth of America. Only time will tell, however.

A friend of me told me that educators always have felt the sky was falling and it was the worst time ever to be a classroom teacher. Of course, she was a school administrator.

With that noted, I have to say, "No, really. This is the worst time every to be an educator."

And I know things can get worse. That's why we're here.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

DC Bound! National Writing Project Spring Meeting in Support of Effective Educator Development @writingproject #NWPSM14

It's spring break. I know this because the weather is iffy, I've had more time to get into K-12 schools, and I'm on a train to Washington, DC, to meet with Representatives and Congressmen (and women) to promote support for the National Writing Project. Once upon a time, resources to support effective educators was demonstrated through earmarks provided to NWP, but times in U.S. Education changed rapidly and now, every year, directors from all the sites travel to the capitol to articulate the importance of our work.

I posted a video in 2011 when I first heard that the NWP (the organization that made me the educator I am) was in danger of being wiped into oblivion because of ill-informed leaders and a failing economy. Watching my video in support of writing instruction from three years ago, I am reminded of why I continue to advocate for the National Writing Project with all my passion as a teacher with 18+ years experience. In fact, when I finished my doctorate at Syracuse University, I knew the only work I wanted to do was as a NWP director at one of the 200 sites across the country. I took on the role at Fairfield University the same year that a wave of anti-education, anti-teacher, and pro-testing rhetoric swept all sanity away from policy makers, politicians, and elected officials.

My administrative assistant, Ellen Israel, Jason Courtmanche of UConn, and I have been collecting evidence to bring to DC to once again to make the claim that the model at work is irreplaceable to Connecticut schools and districts. We invest in teacher leadership which, in return, allows stellar educators to make tremendous impact on the students they serve.

For me, it is a no-brainer.

  • Teachers at every level - from kindergarten through college - are the agents of reform; universities and schools are ideal partners for investing in that reform through professional development.
  • Writing can be and should be taught, not just assigned, at every grade level. Professional development should provide opportunities for teachers to work together to understand the full spectrum of writing development across grades and across subject areas.
  • Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research; the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing. Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically.
  • There is no single right approach to teaching writing; however, some practices prove to be more effective than others. A reflective and informed community of practice is in the best position to design and develop comprehensive writing programs.
  • Teachers who are well informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers as well as partners in educational research, development, and implementation. Collectively, teacher-leaders are our greatest resource for educational reform.

Since 2011, educational reform has moved out of the hands of professionals: K-12 educators, administrators, and university faculty, and into the hand of individuals who have usurped best practices for their own political and financial gain (some call this corporate reform...others call it neoliberalism...I call it tragic). We are in Washington, once again, to counter this movement and to demonstrate, with decades of evidence, that the work we do matters and should continue to be the best professional development offered across the nation.

And this is why I'm more than happy to spend my vacation as an advocate for NWP. It is what I believe in.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Throw Back: Ally McBeal and Barry White. What's your theme music?

Yesterday, during an observation at Cheshire High School, a student teacher asked her kids to think about a theme song they listen to in their heads as they live their everyday. She used the writing assignment as a precursor to applying a theme song to one of the character's in To Kill a Mockingbird and modeled what she was thinking with Bob Marley's Redemption song.

I couldn't help but think of Ally McBeal - the quirky 90s lawyer show when John used Barry White's music to capture his mojo in the co-shared mens/womens bathroom in their office - especially as all the characters joined him in his strut as he heard the music in his head.

I decided this is the song I need for pacing my Tuesday. A student observation, a photo shoot, a budget meeting, a grant submission, and then I can think about my three day trek to DC for political work for the National Writing Project.

I, too, need a theme song to play in my head and, I admit, it's nearly impossible to top this one.
Here's to Tuesday. And here's praying that the north easterner predicted for tonight blows out to sea.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Writing to Psyche This Flu Thing Away: Go Away, Flu! Scram! Get Out of Here!

In honor of Kentucky's win yesterday - hot game, Wildcats - I grabbed a bottle of bourbon.

I wish I could say it was in celebration of their accomplishment, but it was a last resort. My Sunday was biblical and I never left my house to go to church. Instead, I helped a friend edit her dissertation, wrote a grant, played Words with Friends, and watched the tournament, all the while aching, leaking, coughing, sneezing, sweating, and freezing.

I had to ask for my dad's recipe - one I haven't had since I was a kid: honey, lemon, and whisky. It may be all I have left to fight off this monster - whatever it is.

As my dear friend, Kirsten, scolded me in college, "Bryan, you never know how to sit still or relax." True. It takes the flu to keep me on my couch and in one location for 48 hours.

It is the flu, right? I read the symptoms and it seems like the best diagnosis. In fact, I have begun a memoir to capture the experience. It simply goes like this.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The human body is amazing, but snot has no functional purpose.

It never fails. When I have a little down time (a weekend, at least) and it's spring break (although I have to work every day this week), my body collapses and I get sick. I did what I was supposed to do and rested all day yesterday, drank ginger ale and orange juice, and nursed the cold, but the only entertainment yesterday was blowing my nose.

And the Syracuse loss, but that made me feel worse. I was far from entertained. I simply was frustrated and disappointed.

Looks like today will be another day under the blankets and with closed eyes because I really need this goobledy-gook to be gone by Monday. The next three weeks are a marathon and I need my pep, my step, and my energy.

And the thing I hate most with congestion is the inability to run. Each and every day I can't move I feel more miserable and guilty. I want to sweat the crud out. Instead, as I move about, I realize how light headed I actually am. This is, perhaps, a non-creative, boring post. So, perhaps I should sculpt a Rose Bowl Parade float with my used tissues. That would work, but I don't have the energy.

Sigh. (blows nose)(aches)(worries)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Introducing Central High School Playwrights, 2014 - Representing Excellence in Bridgeport!

It took seven years, but my involvement in the annual ten-minute play festival was resurrected once again via Bridgeport teacher, Shaun Mitchell, and his students at Central High School. Mitchell, a celebrated educator in the Bridgeport City Schools, attended the CWP-Fairfield Invitational Summer Institute the first year I moved to Connecticut. That summer, I introduced the inspiration of the National Ten-Minute Play Festival at Actors Theater in Louisville, Kentucky, and the vision of Victoria Trout, a high school student who established a tradition for my classroom. My kids wrote scripts. They then directed and performed them. And Wola! Page to stage came to fruition just like that and everything in room 301 changed for ever (why would the kids need to write for me when they could begin to write for each other?)

Last fall, I approached Mitchell about doing a one-day workshop with his students and to pitch the idea of a similar festival in Connecticut. A few weeks after I presented, he had several scripts from his class. I picked them up and brought to my graduate students at Fairfield University who offered feedback (as part of their training to become teachers) and I offered my students feedback on their feedback (which also became feedback for the Central kids), and returned the work to Mitchell. Three months later, the first annual Playwright Festival was born in southern Connecticut. Woot Woot.

As I arrived to the auditorium, Principal Anderson was exiting the first showing and telling the crowd, "This was one of the most amazing experiences I've had as a leader in this district. These kids not only performed well, but they wrote the show! I couldn't be prouder." When I drove to the high school I was apprehensive of what I'd see;  I had memories of how the show went down in Kentucky for 11th grade writers and each year's cast. I was afraid my expectations would be biased and unfair.

Yet, from the second the show started, I knew Mr. Mitchell's vision worked - I was beyond impressed to see how far the scripts had come over time and the ways in which the Bridgeport students brought the language alive. I also loved that before each play, Mr. Mitchell brought the playwrights to the stage to discuss their writing processes and thinking about the script they wrote. I should shout out, too, that Attallah Sheppard - DIVA! - performed two spoken word pieces during the show (Ubuntu). She is a tremendous role model for Bridgeport youth and knows for a fact, "You gotta write! A'ight?"

And the following playwrights deserve a special round of applause (and several finger snaps) for their contributions during an incredible evening and for stepping it up as writers and performers in high school - You may not know it, but you just raised the bar for everyone at Central High School and Bridgeport City Schools (the doubters now know what you are capable of and what Mr. Mitchell and I knew all along). This is the new bar! You've raised it! So, here's to the magic of their work:
My Lord, My Ninny, & His Fat Lady by Akili Marshall, '14
Lockdown by Carlos Ramos, '14
Killer Date by Athena Arce, '16
Watching Them Watching Us by Kimlee Heng, '15
The Choice by Mickey Arce, '15
Problems? What Problems? by Deivi Perez, '15
Model Behavior by Juliet Cabezas, '15
Period by Amy Cereza, '14
At a time when politicians point fingers at urban schools, when testing and textbook companies steal every ounce of creativity from teachers and students, and the State of Connecticut continues to see the largest achievement gaps in the nation, I applaud the young people at Central High School. They made a difference last night, and I have to ask myself, "Where was the press?"(Perhaps letters to the editor are the next genre to study - letters that claim, WE, TOO, ARE CONNECTICUT).

And I am also thinking the following.
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. Lao Tzu
I am hearing literacy guru Kylene Beers and her line used with principals, teachers, and administrators across the country whenever she hears their complaints about the lack of student motivation and achievement. She replies, "How's that working for ya?" implying what the best teachers know - most of the time a lack of effort is not because of the students...it is due to the banal curriculum forced upon teachers and students that is irrelevant from pervasive testing, culturally insensitive materials, a lack of innovative flexibility, and the complete disrespect for individuality in every school. Pink Floyd captured it years ago.

Not this evening, however...Not in Bridgeport, Connecticut at Central High School.

"I loved writing this," noted one of the playwrights as she introduced her play. "It feels so good to have a chance to impress you and I hope I inspire you to write something for yourself."

WUSAH!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Madness in March and My Man, Alexander: Cockledoodle doo it's spring! @kwamealexander @writingproject

On Wednesday I sneezed. It was a single 'hatchoo,' but I knew it was the Mucinex Monster moving in - I avoided him all winter. Yesterday, too, when I woke up, that green goblin moved  a few of his cousins in with him, but I had a full agenda. No time to be sick.

When I arrived to my office, I learned that 100 copies of Kwame Alexander's The Crossover arrived - a text I am using with middle school teachers and students at Hill Central in preparation of their poetry slam, a month of verse exploration, and best practices for teaching language. Naturally, I was stoked when Kyle Koncz, Director of Basketball Operations, did a shout out to the Stags and Malcolm Gilbert stepped it up with his 7'2 wingspan. He successfully shelved three more copies of the book on his arms than I (Kwame Alexander thinks he might be able to support twelve books, but I've yet to see it, cough cough).

And since it's March madness, it is a good time to share my Final Four reasons why Alexander's The Crossover is a must-have text for libraries, schools and homes (heck, in all sports complexes across the United States).
  1. Earlier this week, the NYTimes reported what urban educators like me have known for at least three decades: there's a tremendous lack of minority characters in children's and young adult literature. Some students, as a result, have very few experiences for seeing themselves in school texts and rarely have opportunities to explore contexts of their own lives in school. The Crossover, however, is a step towards filling this cultural gap. The book is more representative of, in poetic verse, the lives lived by many 21st century youth in schools today - especially those who love the game of basketball.
  2. I've said for years, "Someone needs to write the book that unites hooping with young adult literature in a new and exciting way." Keith Williams and DeShawn Fowler of Louisville, used to hear me dream every time we entered Papa John's Stadium to see the Cards play. "Seriously," I'd contemplate with them, knowing my inner capitalist was triggered "Whenever I see so many people congregated in one space, I want to write the book they'd all want to read. I would hit a gold mine." I'm happy to say, albeit in with green envy, that Kwame Alexander achieved this dream for me. Student athletes have greater g.p.a's, higher graduate rates, and are better equipped to transition from high school into college. Athletes have grit and it is logical to introduce them to stories they can relate to. Books about athletic characters are always inspiring.
  3. In a time of Common Core State Standards, I continue to worry about how our nation's love for testing ($$$) will continue to destroy creativity, the arts, and the power of prose in American schools. Whether they like to or not, teachers are forced and monitored to teach to state examinations, and sadly the objectives of the new standards give little attention to poetry, craft, and originality. In fact, they define language arts as robotic, trite, and dry (a throwback to the thinking of the 1950s). For this reason, The Crossover is much needed. I, for one, know exactly where I'd fit it into my curriculum. Alexander's zest for words (and vocabulary), coupled with his playfulness and narrative talents, will allow me plenty of opportunities to discuss language and narrative pace with students and teachers. I will use the text to encourage students and teachers to be writers, themselves....the National Writing Project model, at work.
  4. Finally, Josh and Jordan Bell are young men who learn to stand for integrity. Their mother, a school administrator, pushes the importance of academic success and strong vocabulary on her sons. Their father, a role model who once played professional basketball, invests in his sons with  respect, purpose, and pride. The Bell family, as a whole, will help educators like myself to discuss skills for life: focus, sense of humor, self-esteem, self-awareness, responsibility, Ubuntu, integrity, and responsibility (skills I  learned from Community of Unity and Hoops4Hope). With Alexander's reflective, poetic narration, several conversations around these skills can occur, especially on dialogue for what it takes to achieve in and out of school. 
My personal wingspan is 10 books, yet mine doesn't matter. What matters is the larger lifespan of The Crossover within youth communities, libraries, and schools across the United States. 

Obviously, I'm a huge fan and have already purchased several copies for the work I'm doing in New Haven, Connecticut. I've already found myself struggling to keep the copies of the texts to one school alone. Just yesterday, in fact, several young men were walking home from school in my neighborhood, and I saw them dribbling a basketball between them. They were wearing warm-up gear and looked as if they were coming from a practice. I wanted to stop my car, open the trunk, and show them the bounty of The Crossover books I have. I wanted to ask each, "What's your wingspan? I have a book you must read!" 

Literacy, I advocate, is surely one way to fly.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ubuntu revisited! In one snapshot, many of my worlds come together to express magic.

Yesterday, I was invited by ESL teacher Edna Garcia, Invitational Summer Institute '13 of the Connecticut Writing Project, to work with newcomers in her classroom on writing and connecting to John Dau and Martha Akech's LOST BOY, LOST GIRL. Her student, Remy, was coached to sculpt like the Sudanese men and women who participated in the Syracuse Lost Boy Cow Project that I volunteered for throughout my doctoral studies at Syracuse University and under mentorship of Dr. Felicia McMahon.

As part of yesterday's lesson,  we looked at posters created by relocated youth through the Local Literacies, Global Histories course envisioned by Dr. Kristiina Montero. It was then that I interviewed Abu Bility and met his brother, Lossine, and everything in my way of knowing the world did a 180. It was magical working at Bassick High School yesterday and hearing the laughter of youth as they tried their hardest to emulate cow making and made additional connections to the text they are reading. Of course, as newcomers, they are still gaining basic language skills. Two young men, for example, arrived to Ms. Garcia within the last two weeks.

The two hours I spent with the students brought forth everything I understand about Ubuntu and I was thrilled to bring creativity to the mix. Modeling the Cow Project brochure, too, the young men and women began to draft possible memoir brochures they could create and share with their teachers about life before the United States and with hopes they have in a new nation.

I'm feeling modestly empowered before spring break - it's a good thing, too, as I don't really have much time off because of student teacher observations and the NWP Annual Meeting in DC.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wins! Sport! Lacrosse! Relocated youth! Not bad for a mid-week reflection @kwamealexander.

It was cold. The picture is deceiving. Yet, it was also warm.
Hello March.

Last night, after work, I took Chitunga for a final driving lesson before his big test and invited Glody Tumba, Central High School, to join us - another young man with roots from Congo who attends Bridgeport City Schools. With Fairfield University's winning lacrosse record and my student, Jacob Knostman, getting much playing time on the team, I knew it was a great way to welcome spring on a Tuesday afternoon (a couple of days early).

A highlight of the time spent together, however, was when Kwame Alexander called to celebrate the release of The Crossover and to tap my thinking about other ways to promote the book this March during its madness. I have a few ideas up my sleeve, but the best part of the conversation was when Kwame hung up (no offense, Rooster). Chitunga, Glody, and I began talking about the need for more good books that appeal to young men like them and we brainstormed a few possibilities for their own creations. I made a deal with them: get A's in school and I guarantee I can set up a time for the two of them to meet Kwame. He can write their books!

Here's the other deal: Many of our urban youth are positioned as non-readers, when in truth they love to read books that appeal to their interests. Most books assigned to school represent elite, esoteric texts chosen to condition high school graduates for entrance into a college-tracked world. Each of these young men left my library today with copies of texts that mattered to their lives and worlds. My point? More books like Kwame Alexander's The Crossover are needed in our schools (although they don't have The Crossover...yet). Here are two young men looking for their way in school with a mission for themselves. They want to read, "just not that much in school."

The same is true with writing.

Imagine a Common Core curriculum that represented heterogeneous populations of our American schools with the curiosity, questions, passions, and dreams that they have!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I love thinking about Maxine Hong Kingston's WOMAN WARRIOR with students

Ever since I was an undergraduate, I've love "White Tigers" the second chapter of Maxine Hong Kingston's novel, The Woman Warrior; Memoirs of a Girlhood Amongst Ghosts. I always appreciated that it was listed as nonfiction/fiction, too, playing on the way memories work in departmental ways writers and writing are characterized within higher education. I taught the book to seniors in Kentucky and opted to put it on my syllabus this semester working with Fairfield freshmen. I didn't anticipate the connections we could make with Shakespeare's Measure for Measure and/or the larger conversations we could have about how woman are portrayed in the 21st century. "White Tigers" is a classic and the delicacy of every word in Kingston's text continues to keep me on my toes and thinking.

I suppose it helps, too, that Disney made Mulan since I first read the book as a 20-year old. Continuing with the Disneyification of global history, there's comedy to the interpretation of the Fa Mu Lan story. We watched clips in class yesterday, which naturally allowed us to have conversations about what Kingston means about the differences between American-feminine versus Chinese-feminine. The text comparison also allowed us to dialogue about male constructions, as well.

Also interesting to me was how the majority of kids named mothers and grandmothers as woman warriors who best influenced who they are today. Although I've taken courses on feminist theory and read a lot of female writers, it is impossible for me to claim expertise on what women go through in schools and life, but I love that Maxine Hong Kingston's book opens the conversation for my students to think about opportunities for women, oppression, and the need for strong women characters.

The conversation made me think about Katniss Everdeen, today, and now I want to read how she is being viewed in academic circles, especially in relation to equality and equity for young women around the world. In relation to The Doll's House that I experienced over this weekend, I'm impressed at the ways characters for women to admire (or reject) have evolved. We need more. We can always use more.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Doll's House at Brooklyn Academy of Music - a late 19th century text by Ibsen

Over the weekend, I attended BAM's performance of A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. It was a special evening with my friend Judy and her friend, Quinn, introducing me to a text I should have read in all my studies, but somehow was never brought to my attention. I admit, during the first act, I wondered what it was about this story that has brought the plain to the critical claim it has received. Then, during the second act, I realized exactly why. The story is definitely in the trajectory of changing how females are portrayed on stage and, for that matter, the ways they were to be perceived in society.

Our seats were up high, but we still were able to witness powerful performances at the Harvey Theater in Brooklyn. The set was amazing, the acting was powerful, and the state production top notch. It was easy to see why it was standing room only and sold out - the story is extremely relevant to 21st century audiences.

As the NY Times noted,
As played in a galvanizing, star-making performance by Hattie Morahan, Nora is forced into devastating awareness of just how devious she’s become and how warped she has been by the subterfuge.
It was easy to see that I was experiencing pro's at what they do - and I'm now glad that I've experienced Ibsen's text (still shaking my head that this was the first time I've ever had an encounter).

But it's Monday and time to think ahead to the week!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Archie and Flo, reunited in Brooklyn, the 1992 reunion, 22 years later

Archie and Flo, Circa 1996
This is a Louisville shot, back when I had hippie hair and when I chose to dress with clothing I found at the Salvation Army. To my side is Flo, aka Judy, a friend I met in London, England when I studied there as an undergraduate my sophomore year of college. She was a junior at Rutgers, a sorority girl, and a fierce personality that represented NYC, knowledge, funk, and zest. We bonded over HobNobs and sausage rolls and kept in touch for several years after.

In fact, she visited me often in Louisville (this was my apartment when I was getting my 2nd Masters degree) and, together, we traveled many parts of the U.S.

Today, I am in Brooklyn paying her a visit. It's been way too long and one of my goals for moving to Connecticut was to rekindle a friendship with a woman who kept me laughing, thinking, loving life, and despising the ways women shop for shoes. As she once told me while in England when she wanted to shop instead of visit a museum, "I have my needs, too."

Judy became a part of my life and even a part of our annual Crandall holiday festivals. She was with our CNY posse when Dylan was born and when Nikki was a precocious child (um, was? is?). For years, everyone in my immediate family: aunts, uncles, and parents, received a George Forman Grill from Judy - because she was a product designer for the company. My mom, too, still uses a cookie platter given by Judy every Christmas.

In honor of our birthdays this year, we decided to finally make the reunion happen and so that is where I am this morning...with an old friend, hopefully reconfiguring this whole life thing.

I think she was first to call me "Archie." I picked up "Flo" soon after. The rest is history. There's still many more discoveries to be had.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Day of Celebration at Hill Central: middle school and 1st grade writers

Yesterday, I had the honor of working with Fairfield's Performing for Change and spoken word Diva, Attallah Sheppard, as we hosted the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade composes to kick off a month before their third annual Spoken Word slam.

Attallah and I stuck around, however, invited by the young(er) writers in 1st grade who wanted to debut their argumentative writing they completed since February. They had a surprise for me! They read their arguments in a mini-digital story with letters to Mr. Worthy on why Hill Central is a great school. I was immensely impressed by their articulation of learning, reading, subject areas and making new friendships. They took their first drafts of a couple of sentences and sculpted front and back prose in their best handwriting to their stellar principal.

Attallah made her mark with the young writers, too, and several, including Tyler, acknowledged that HER presence made him love writing even more. In fact, he and a friend who sat where Attallah and I were writing ourselves declared a battle over winning the affection of the Diva. Together, we composed our own argumentation.
Dear Mr. Worthy,
Today I learned that Juvian and Tyler have a crush on Attallah. They are in first grade and way too young for the Diva. Even so, they are charming and cute writers who are learning to make arguments with what they wish to express.
Perhaps a more age-appropriate Diva is in existence at Hill Central. These will be young girl writers who will one day be like Attallah and who will one day like boys who see themselves as writers, too.
Wow! Look at Juvian and Tyler write now! Go, Power Writers! Go! Write your way to her heart.
Also, while you're at it, eat your vegetables to grow big and strong. Attallah likes when suitors stand taller than her knees and are able to look her in the eyes.
Mr. Bryan 
What all of us who worked with the writers realized is that spoken word and argument resonated with them. I was proud to learn that individuals who never took at interest in composing were actively composing today. I admit, too, that when the 1st graders shared their digital story with me, I had to fight back tears. Not only did they practice composing, but they also practiced reading and connecting with an audience. So many literacies were captured by the efforts of their hard work!

Friday, March 14, 2014

You Gotta Write! A'ight? at Hill Central New Haven with Attallah Sheppard @writingproject

Today, with an invitation from administrators at Hill Central Academy and in collaboration with National Writing Project SEED High Need funding, Diva Attallah Sheppard and I will recreate a third variation of the Writing Our Lives movement in Connecticut (with a SHOUT OUT to Dr. Marcelle Haddix at Syracuse University and all the NWP Peeps who appreciate the power of student and teacher writers).

We have collaborated with Performing For Change for spoken-word excellence and performance and are the official kick-off for Hill Central's 3rd Spoken Word Slam to be hosted in April. Today will be a bonus celebration of what is possible with dreaming, professional development, support, talent, and tapping into the energy of young people.

Here's my culminating poem I created through the activity Attallah Sheppard and I will co-host tomorrow!

You Gotta Write, A'ight?

I come to you with sunbeams, 
and the screams of middle school medication,
             new literature regimes without the hesitation,                       
reservation, or limitation that comes with fear.                                                    

I come to you with extremes,
      black licorice laced with Hill Central themes 
            (and a fear) of language 
    and the tears from drawing….
see-sawing along Connecticut streams 
that every word warrior knows.

We are creativity,
 —-the  story that cinematically
 seeks character development 
        —-the theme of the universe within crafty crevices 
 of Kryptonite and the 
                  Ahhhhhhhh, 
                            Woot Woot! 
                  of living a crazy-Krunk, spunky life. 

We must become our words,
rebirth ourselves from dusty libraries 
be the scratch and sniff stickers 
that provide a voice
for the love notes we’ve yet to write: 
a call from a mom,
waking up from dreams 
hearing what needs to be said 
                (again and again).
-consulting the dictionaries of advice 
and trusting what lies within
         while ignoring the lies we're told.

Who are we, but bold, the magic of humanity-
The hocus pocus of a poetic parade creating a chaos 
from frustrated fireworks,
screaming, running, hating, loving,
warring, worrying, wondering
crackling and popping 
to tell our stories and to offer a few jokes.
We are the silence of the rabbit exiting the hat, 
the ones who scream out we have something to say.

And so young people write once again,
     this entourage in agony to make a difference,
       this team of classy teens grouped together to articulate a purpose in life.

Here’s to them in 2014, 
and the activities of this troupe,
that pushes the posse forward with a purpose, 
that embraces the possibilities of tomorrow
and fights against the complex simplicities 
of where we’ve been and where we’ve yet to go.
WE GOT TO WRITE, A’IGHT?

~Bryan Ripley Crandall

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Writers' Notebooks - An Old Skool Way of Thinking Through Words and Memories

Yesterday, Reynaldo Santiago (right), a sophomore English teacher at Bassick High School, and his student teacher, Ms. P, invited me to their classroom to do several workshops about writers' notebooks, planting seeds, and tapping into passion. The good writer is a passionate writer.

I dressed Reynaldo up as what some of my friends think I am: a whacky and creative guy with multiple perspectives about his world (aka, a goofball). The kids were asked to think about what writing means in their world and I pulled several notebooks off my shelf as models (a few rest behind Mr. Santiago). I admitted, too, that I've moved to online thinking ever since 2008 - mostly digitally composing online with six years of blogging. Yes, I still hoard ideas and thoughts, but writer's notebooks from my shelves are now collected in cyber locations (in fact, they can all be found at the links to the left with a wider audience that just me).

Today, the teachers and I merely asked sophomores to make lists of what they could write about - in short, what are the items that make up their world. This listing was not easy for the Bassick sophomores, however. In fact, they struggled to come up with a list of ten things that mattered to them. At first I wondered if they were being shy or if they saw my visit as yet another teacher-invasion from a nerdy professor type. Then, class after class struggled and I realized some of them really couldn't think of ten things to write about, even when prompted with questions.

Still, the teachers and I chiseled at the ocean - using the metaphor of a madman emptying it with a spoon. Many said it was an impossible task, but one young man, Tyson (great hair), shouted out, "If I was asked to do empty the ocean, I would work hard and at least try to accomplish the task." Tyson named the EXACT THING I wanted to emphasize. Very few of us like school (including teachers). Sometime's school is alright, but a lot of time it is rather annoying, invasive, useless, and frustrating. Still, learning is THE pathway to success and knowledge IS everything. I agree it's impossible to know everything (very much like emptying an ocean with a spoon), but we at least have to 'work hard and try to accomplish the task.' Dap to Tyson (Santiago, give him some credit, will ya?)

10,000 hours of working hard, suggests Gladwell, is what it takes to be successful at anything. If a high school student commits to graduation over four years, though, they will still be one year away from making it. That is, they will have enough hours of playing the student game well (the academic game) only after they make it through their freshmen year of college. Of course, time is invested in middle and elementary school, too, but that only prepares young people to be good at being middle school kids and/or primary school children. High school, however, leads to post-high school life and that is where the investment for learning really pays off. What happens when students don't work hard during the 10,000 hours they're expected to invest as teenagers?

The young people at Bassick were awesome on Wednesday as I expected, but I wondered why they found it so difficult to come up with lists (1 of the 10,000 hours they need to be successful as students). After all, the lists were about them. Mr. Santiago hypothesized that this generation has more distractions than any other before. Mr. Jones, a colleague down the hall, agreed with Santiago and said, "Each year I teach, the kids are less likely to be able to create ideas on their own. They are more and more reliant on being entertained and they come to school as passive consumers rather than active thinkers." Is this true?

I began thinking bout the "Television" poem I shared with them. "Look at me. Look at me. Look at me." Mr. Santiago commented, "Television is outdated now. This generation has cellphones to distract them." Are their cellphones teaching them? Are they helping them to become better people, smarter thinkers, and more engaged learners? If they aren't, are they wasting their time?

I don't these challenges are an urban school issue, alone. I find it true of suburban and rural youth, as well. You people experience images, music, and other stimulation at all hours of their life. They grew up with YouTube, Xbox, the Internet, cellphones, and Smartboards as normal things. Being required to imagine or think for themselves has been unnecessary because their machines do it for them. Is this a good or bad thing?

Even a math problem....17 x 60 caused panic with the kids. They had to use their phones to solve a multiplication problem.

Still, asking a kid to write a list of ten interests and/or passions - that should of been a no-brainer, no? They struggled with this.

So, I'm asking: What are we doing in schools if kids don't even know what they care about? How do we open up a dialogue with them, K-12, to encourage their imaginations, innovations, and active participation in an ever-changing society? How do we engage them to create, compose, write, draw, think, and do? How can they be leaders if they can't even make a list?

Perhaps schools are numbing the brains of students and teachers more during this century than ever before. Thinking is replaced by robotic instruction that serves test-only purposes. Read the following like a robot (The better readers will also perform as a robot): "We know this. We teach this. We test this. Now, students, tell us what we want you to know. Repeat. Get a grade."

But where are the kids? Where is their creativity? What do they think is going on? What do they have to say about what I'm writing here? I really want to know. I ask these questions, because I want to read what they actually thinking. I want them to write!

But, will they?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When I left work last night, it was 68 degrees. The inevitable happened. I laced up.

I'm big. I'm blubbery. I ache a lot. But I AM PERSISTENT.

I could see from my window yesterday that something was going on outside. I heard music. I heard laughter. I looked out my window and people were strolling, not hunkered in walking fetal positions trying to stay warm from arctic air. I knew that something changed outside.

Then I stepped out and felt it. Temperature.

Although I've spent the last two months running indoors and using weights, I came home to put on shorts, a long sleeve shirt, and an old pair of Sauconys. I ran the route I haven't run in a few weeks and it felt great.

I couldn't help but inhale the oxygen and feel incredibly good. I know there's a storm on the way, but I'm feeling optimistic it will push north. Yes, my knees crack every time I step up or down stairs, but when I run, I feel focused and re-energized. I come back in and am able to keep my brain motivated for a couple more hours.

I am very ready for it to be an everyday thing again. Most likely, however, it will be back to the gym for the rest of this week. Above 30 degrees, I get outside. When it falls below, not so much.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Allegory from 2001: Found in a notebook entitled "Frog" - Understanding Pedagogy

In 2001, a Goldfish asked a Frog,
I don't get the senior year thing. When we were freshmyn, it was about learning community. As sophomores, we learned to dream and to think about the United States. As juniors, we raveled in cocoons and were guided out of a cave. Then the senior year came, though, and I don't see the larger mission of what we are to learn.
I'm not sure why, but I doodled this in a notebook. It fell off my shelf today and I tried to make sense of what I had to say.
Unfortunately, I'm not including all the illustrations.

For What Once Was A Goldfish - 03/03/01

I.

There once was a man who wandered. He went here and there, but was always going somewhere towards what was always supposed to be. It was beautiful to wander.

II.

Along the wandering, a group joined him, heading here and there, towards somewhere that was supposed to be. They traveled for some time, moving together, before anything was known or said.
Suddenly, the man stopped and the group stopped with him. 

"What?" they wanted to know. 

"Nothing," he responded. "It's just that....well...look at us. We're an odd sort moving forward like we do...it's sort of neat being with one another for a while...a community of sojourners." 

And they continued to wander.

III.

They wandered further for a great deal of time with more heres and theres, heading somewhere and and trying to read the supposed-to-be's. They did not stop again, though, until the man thought he heard something. 

"Listen," he requested. "Do you hear that? Do you hear how our voices come together to make music under the rules of our wandering? What odd, beautiful laws we follow."

The group agreed and said to one another how nice it was to travel with this man who seemed to be heading here and there, moving forward to where they were supposed to be.

IV.

The group continued to wandering with the music they found in each other's voices, but one by one, they began to have deep, sad thoughts about going here and there, heading towards a direction of getting somewhere with this man.

And the man knew this.

When the time came, the man stopped again. 

"We have come a long way together," he said. "But this is not real. We are merely an echo of ourselves walking in circles for a very long time. If we are to get to the somewhere we're suppose to be, then we have to look inside to find our own journey. Mine is not yours. I will continue with you and help where I can. We all must move forward, wandering, but you might want to wander here and there on your own to find the something that is supposed to be.

V.

So, the group continued moving here and there toward the something that was supposed to be listening to their individual voices that once made music together. The echoes began to become clearer. 

One by one, individuals came to the man and whispered, "This journey with you has been good, but I no longer here the music of us together, and although I love moving here and there toward the something that is supposed to be with you, I now know I must wander in my own direction towards the something that is supposed to be for me."

The wandering man understood this and felt great joy. 

"What fortune," he thought to himself, "to have the company for as long as I have." 

He knew the day would come. He had his own here and there of where he was going and felt at ease wandering towards the what was supposed to be. As he watched each of them leave he felt it was as beautiful as the day he first wandered alone in a direction looking for the something that was supposed to be.

He recognized that each of were a part of him now. He understood wandering together was meant to be as it was, but separating also made him smile.

Alone, he wandered here and there again looking for the something that was supposed to be, listening to his own song in his head.

VI. 

The man wandered more, here and there, towards something that was always supposed to be, and
along the way, another group  joined him. They wandered here and there towards the something that was supposed to be. 

This was beautiful, too. This wondering.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The coffee I'm talking about smelled like Halle Berry's heart. Got to love @abubility

One of the things the Liberian twins and I have in common is a love for good coffee. Sometime last year, I began sending them good coffee (and double stuff Oreo cookies)  for their studies at SUNY Brockport. I sent a package to them last week and Abu wrote back to say I sent the wrong coffee.
"I don't mean to be critical, man," his text stated. "But the coffee I'm talking about smelled like Halle Berry's heart."
Really? A simile? From Abu? And creatively poetic, too?  I wanted to kill the kid...seriously? The last time he had a Halle Berry allusion was while waiting for her to get into Cat costume before we caught the 11 a.m. ferry to Long Island (I forget his line...but will post it here when I'm reminded) (Okay, Abu just sent it).

Crandall: What time does she get into her cat women outfit?

Abu: Hopefully by 10:30, cause we have a ferry to catch.  

Seriously, I'm thinking about good coffee and how important the morning routine is to my everyday routine. Sure, I can drink tea or get a Pepsi product, but I love a good cup of coffee. And note: the picture here is of some fancy coffee drink they ordered at McDonalds that I didn't get for myself. It was late at night last spring and I can't have caffeine past 10 a.m. or I won't fall asleep at night, so I passed. All mocha must be consumed before I leave in the morning or else I get way too hyper.

But Halle Berry's heart? Where did that line come from?

Now I want to know what coffee it was that I sent that made Abu allude to Halle Berry. His line made my day and now, if Lossine would just find a way to put it into song form, I'll be set for the roads ahead we've yet to travel. With Abu's linguistic craft and Lossine's singing voice, I see nothing but fame ahead.

So, here's to the two of them keeping their grades up in '14 and to the many cups of coffee we've yet to consume. In fact, I'm consuming my first cup as I post this this morning.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Awarded by the New England Board of Higher Education for Partnership Excellence

On Friday night, I was proud to be with a team of educators from Fairfield University and Bridgeport City Schools, public and parochial, to receive Connecticut's merit award for partnership excellence. The evening recognized a lot of hard work over several years, including CWP@Fairfield's dedication for supporting young writers and professional development for teachers. The program noted,
Fairfield University and Bridgeport Schools began collaborating in 1999 through the Community Partnership Scholars Program, allowing Bassick, Central, Harding, and Kolbe Cathedral High School students to visit campus, attend financial aid seminars and apply for full-tuition scholarships. In 2009, this program expanded to provide full-tuition scholarships to any Bridgeport high school student accepted to Fairfield University whose annual family income fell under $50,000; more than 300 students from Bridgeport schools have benefited from this aspect of this partnership.
Fairfield's Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions has made a particular commitment to Bridgeport schools, engaging them as priority partners for student teaching, internships and service-learning courses. Recently, Fairfield was asked by the Bridgeport Public Schools superintendent to focus its outreach and partnership efforts on Bassick High School (one of the three high schools in Bridgeport serving over 1,100 students) and its eight elementary/middle feeder schools. As part of this partnership, the university developed an innovative dual-enrollment plan for Bridgeport high school seniors and created a multifaceted partnership focused on improving K-3 literacy at Cesar A. Batalla School.
In addition, more than 115 students from Bridgeport schools attended a daylong writing conference hosted by the Connecticut Writing Project (CWP) on Fairfield's campus. CWP@Fairfield also offered over 120 professional development hours to Bassick High School. Later, 20 Bridgeport students were provided full fellowships to attend one of CWP-s three young writers' institutes
 It was an awesome night to be celebrated at the Boston Mariott Longwharf hotel and to have the friendship created with Bridgeport schools celebrated and recognized.
 
 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

(En)Visioning the Great Whatever Whenever the Great Whatever Offers A Vision

Last night, I was in Boston for the New England Board of Higher Education Excellence Awards Dinner with colleagues from Fairfield University. Our work with Bridgeport City Schools was recognized and it gave me the opportunity to visit one of my oldest friends in the world, Tricia. Needless to say, walking to find her store and meandering Boston made my discovery of her optometry shop, Envision, that much more exciting.

It is everything she envisioned when she first considered leaving Syracuse for a larger city. Walking through the front doors, seeing her studio, meeting her employees, and watching her in action put a tremendous smile on my face.

Why? It's easy. I will always see her through my 13 year-old perspective - that is, the first time I saw her in North Syracuse Junior High School. I was a plump, nerdy 8th grader and she was one of the "Roxboro" blondes! I was like, "Who the @#$# is that?'

Needless to say, 28 years later - a friendship through Binghamton University, support through her degree in Chicago and mine in Louisville, then the unexpected return for both of us to Syracuse remains central to the man I am. At 42, I can't imagine not having her friendship, intellectual support, kindness, drive, passion, and spirit. She remains at the core of how I understand this world.

After the remarks and award, I headed to Tricia's house for the humor of her daughter, Ava, and to meet the cat that comes with the territory, Quincella. It will be a long overdue reunion of catching up, thinking ahead, reflecting behind, and enjoying the moment - that is the way it has been for several years and my prediction is it will remained this way for many years to come.

I know Twippy as a band member, then dancer, then sorority girl, then Chicago-nite. I later learned her as a mother and returner to the 'Cuse. It was crazy to see her practice and learn of her professional success in Boston. Her employees love her and, evident with the location and clientele, she is doing amazing work in Massachusetts. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Thinking about teaching English when it seems the world will surely end...w/ Dr. Richard Miller

The Apocalypse
That was the subject, in sorts, of Dr. Richard Miller's talk last night at Fairfield University as he contemplated the role of the humanities in a conversation he entitled: Cultivating Curiosity in These Our Distracted, Polarized, Irate, Ill-informed, Dysfunctional, Fractured, Broken Times

Dr. Miller made his case by asking the audience to detach for 60 minutes while he overviewed his thoughts on raising children, teaching, exploring apocalypse in literature, and questioning the unbudging traditions of scholarship in higher education.
Why teach English when it seems the world will surely end?
The betrayal of technology, he requested, was to allow temporary focus - the ability to be present in an ever-changing landscape that is chaotic and informationally overloaded. The enduring question was, How do educators ask difficult questions that don’t have real answers in a world where finding answers is at the fingertips of everyone wanting to immediately know more?

A student can't be interesting unless they're interested. The educator's quest is to help students find interest in everything around them.

To make his case, Miller overviewed several talks hosted across Fairfield's campus this week: scholars from multiple angles of expertise held lectures for a generation of undergraduates and academics - it's all right here, happening now. Knowledge. I couldn't help but wonder, though, "Perhaps we've failed society by hoarding opportunities and knowledge within small communities. What about the ones beyond ivory tower walls? Who hosts such conversations and dialogue with them?" This is my service / scholarship in action belief.
Education is Stuck in the Past.
We are a nation where virtually all carry distracting devices that keep us from focusing on any one thing for a very long time. This, it was argued, might be robbing children of the benefits that come from being profoundly bored - the confrontation of discovery that comes when you aren't totally interested in the subject at hand, but you can't do anything about it.
Information superabundance + loss of focus = shallowness 
The pre-Internet age fantasized the isolated writer, composing for an audience at a distance, seeking the proverbial publication to be distributed to regions of their imagination where information was controlled by him or her and access to knowledge was scarce. Mastery arrived with those who proved they had control of content.

The Internet Age creates an environment where everyone is connected, present and embodied, Information is immediate, dialogue is global, knowledge is ubiquitous, and resourcefulness is the key to moving forward.
Educators need to teach resourcefulness. Resourcefulness = Mastery.
Dr. Miller made his case by drawing on dissertation processes imagined in libraries where only a few are parading the aisles to collect information that others rarely read. Now, he explained through an example of his daughter learning soliloquy in a high school classroom, the information is available in her room: Wikipedia, YouTube, Google Searches, etc. A new generation - with digital tools - are writers who can get instant readership depending on their mastery of collecting information quickly and rearranging it in new, innovative ways.

Data storage in a single brain is the past. We all have digital brains carried in our pockets. This changes the way we learn.
Our institutions are preparing young people for a world that no longer exists.
The 21st century classroom should encourage students to compose in graphs, images, text, maps, animation, data, sound, video, etc. Students should show they can think through self-generated information, recordings, online archives, production, etc. They must be producers and consumers. Knowledge is no longer created by individuals  constrained by the traditions of institutions and academics are falling behind if they don't embrace this. It remains that scholars have ethical and moral obligations to the world, but how can any have control of all the information available to them?

This, perhaps, is what causes the apocalyptic vision rampant in American society - the end of the world - because no one can quite manage the future any longer. Video games, movies, the Zombie craze (see my nephew, Dylan) are examples of a younger generation trying to make sense of the bombardment of knowledge coming at them - it's easier to imagine death. Death is a simple hope.

My critique? I think it is a 1st world, western dilemma to be pre-occupied with apocalypse because of the multiple privileges we're afforded. While Chicken Little visits doomsday-ists, those who have less are quicker to see the privileges that come with new tools. I think about the 2 to 3 hours of digital composing I witnessed relocated refugee youth engaging with outside of school, but the mere 10 minutes they were expected to write in school: institutional restraints caused by measurements of knowledge, traditions, and old paradigms for intelligence restricted knowledge because of bureaucracy. These young men were smarter than our schools. 

The Hunger Games helped me realize how most with power in the United States are replications of the plastic and excess found in the Capitol under President Snow's reign. Here, the privileged can watch death in the arena because they are so far removed from it in the nature of their superficial lives. Meanwhile, in the districts where tragedy occurs daily, there's no time for dreaming of the apocalypse. Rather, there are only hopes for a better world.

The apocalypse, then, is born out of guilt. That's my thinking.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rifting on something I feel needs to be written and brainstorming a little here: Schools

I'm connected to a lot of Twitter Feeds, email list servs, Facebook communities, and snail-mail organizations. I feel, like most educators, I'm at the epicenter of schooling and hearing from everyone what they think needs to happen next. I agree with many, dispute more, and ask questions abundantly. I feel, at times, it is not either/or, but both/and. I began to think about this after watching several videos of parents in Staten Island effectively articulating their resistance to charter schools in their community. They wanted a voice and, under Bloomberg, they argued, they weren't heard. The charters came anyway.

I'm not sure I'm the enemy of charter schools because they were borne from the very place - the passion - that made me a teacher. Believing in excellence and looking at career options, I chose the life of an educator. Perhaps unique to my decisions, however, was that I became committed to urban education. As I went through my undergraduate degree, my Masters in teaching degree, a Masters in Science, Bread Loaf School of English, University of Cambridge, University of Tokyo, and then my doctorate, it was always with the drive to make K-12, public schools better, especially for young people living in marginalized communities.

That is why I've been thinking about the following:

Politicians can do better:

Those we vote into office need to listen to parents and teachers about the dreams they have for their children. They need to be cautious of snake salesman who promise golden roads. They should look into how money is being spent and whether or not it reaches schools, teachers and students in effective ways. They also need to hold themselves accountable to the demands they make on schools through today's testing empire. It is a waste of resources, time, $, and energy, especially when the testing measures little. They also need to begin investing more into public schools. The last two decades has seen a drastic decline in the support given to school systems. It is, as Kozol pointed out, The Shame of the Nation.

Teachers can do better:

A student I loved teaching, who is now a teacher, sent me a message after I Tweeted a cartoon that was pro-teachers that "Some teachers should be fired." I actually agreed with him and it is one of the reasons I belonged to a union, but disliked them immensely. They protect the wrong kinds of teachers. To me, a good teacher should embrace their students, their school, and the parents of the kids they're working with. They should also have one foot in the door of local universities and national teacher movements so they remain fresh, motivated, and inspired. If teachers aren't reading, complain incessantly, and aren't seeking ways to make whatever situation that gripes them better, then they are part of the problem and should move out of the way.

Parents can do better:

Another student I taught once reminded me that I only influenced her 5 hours a week and that I was a blip on her radar for success. She said this out of spite, but I listened to her and she was right. A vast majority of a child's life in their first 18 years is out of school, but the only location governments can control how they behave is in school. The results of local and national examinations are usually not positioned as the fault of parents, but they host the majority of a child's life beyond school. They need to collaborate with teachers and expect administrators to establish learning communities of appreciation, respect, and motivation. They needn't be helicopters - but they should recognize that it is not easy raising a child and no one has the absolute solution. They should stay in touch with their child's teachers AND talk to them about books they're reading, work they do, and conundrums they face. If they are not acting in ways that affirm their child's well-being (contributing to the world in positive ways), then they should reevaluate their position as primary caregivers. They should think deeply about why they brought a kid into the world...and begin evaluating their own lives.

Students can do better:

The one thing that frustrated me more than anything else when in the classroom, is when I witnessed a child doing nothing, turning to friends who also did nothing, manipulating their parents who accepted their doing nothing, and argued against any accountability at all. Kids know what is right. Yes, school is ridiculous at times, but there's a job that must be done. Wandering hallways, talking back to adults, disrespecting their classmates and themselves, and totally wasting everyone's time is inexcusable. They need to step it up, too. If they aren't coming to school to attempt personal growth on a daily basis, then they are wasting everyone's time. Yes, growing up is about figuring lots of things out and that is forgivable. Yet, if a kid enters school without a plan of action for their own well-being then they simply should stop coming. A teacher can do little with a kid who is unwilling to participate. They can poke, prod, and beg, but it wastes time that could be spent working with kids who desire to grow. The world moves fast...there's not much time for the apathetic. It's simply pathetic when they act this way.

I can do better:

I always thought that the successes I had as a teacher were because I seldom blamed anyone but myself. When a politician, colleague, parent, or student bothered me, I either worked professionally to fix the problem or I kept my mouth shut. Complaining, I found, turned to whining, and whining wastes time. I went to libraries to read more. I consulted professional friends. It was rare for me to give up on a kid or a fellow teacher. There had to be a solution and, I felt, it was my professional obligation to find one. I went to a doctoral program, I suppose, because I needed new answers of how to do better (only to come to additional revelations that higher education is part of the problem - and now I'm amongst them). I expected more of myself so that I could provide more to others who are also looking for solutions. I try to listen, network, read, reflect, and write so that tomorrow I can be that much better. I also feel that the privileges I have as a University professor are many and it is my social responsibility to leave the tower and learn with the majority of people who do not think like academics.

We can do better:

We have to ... In my 18+ years in public education, I've never seen anything like what I'm seeing right now. Teachers have been cut at the knees. They've had their arms tied. There is duct tape on their mouths and the nation is throwing apples at them. Meanwhile, our government is saying, "RUN. SPRINT. FASTER. BETTER." It's abusive. At the same time, the investment is being reallocated to organizations that claim 'excellence,' but are nothing more than an Amway pyramid. Everyone is blaming everyone else when all of us should be held accountable to what we are doing to each other. Schools have a purpose and, I'm sorry, those purposes can never be common and at the core to all learners in every building. Yet, the objectives for young people to be better writers, readers, thinkers, and doers is achievable in every classroom....that is, only if we trust educators as the professionals they are. We all need to revisit Dewey and what it means to be in a democratic nation. We need to check our motives and interrogate them for what they really reveal about who we are.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I've never been to Baton Rouge, but LSU, here I come (with a responsibility to speak out)

Since completing my dissertation, I've had this tremendous weight on my shoulder to do as much as I possibly can to advocate for relocated youth in American Schools. As my dissertation was entitled (thanks Omar), there's a "Responsibility to Speak Out."

It has been a dream to design a course with the primary focus of reading, thinking about, and exploring refugee narratives in literature. When I saw LSU's call for a Young Adult Literature Conference in Baton Rouge, I couldn't help but chisel at my notes to design a seminar. All I had to do is look up at my library.

On Monday, I learned that my proposal was accepted and during the first week of June I will be working with several great minds, including Chris Crutcher, Joan Kaywell, Teri Lesesne, Chris Crowe, Kimberly Willis Holt, Steve Bickmore, and Matt de la PeƱa. 

It is only a weeklong seminar so I have to be precise and creative. The design, however, is to give academic writers (like me) an opportunity to compose with other writers (like them) together and to look for outlets for the work. My administrative, Ellen, suggested, "Bryan, You can write, but you also need to network. You need to bring these writers to Connecticut, too."

Phew. A tall order. I'm looking forward to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It will be a week of SKYPE as I want my boys with me during the seminar. Hmmm. I'm actually thinking a little more creative right now, even for me. I wonder about a long weekend in New Orleans with them to celebrate the experience (don't tell them I said that).