Thursday, November 08, 2012

First Snow Poem 2012

Afterimage     November 2, 2012

home through the first wet snow of the season
heavy with long lists of things to be done on another day
lists that spill off the small papers they might have been written on
as these swooping flakes spill out of the gray clouds above the road.

a long way off
spectacular days of remembered summer sun
light-shot columns of cloud that float airily across the blue
unlike these metallic gates of vapor.

those days will return but sorrow faces the winter, the lists,
the cold tedium of woolly layers and icy winds.

hypnosis of the swooping snow tracks:
I follow the myriad upward arcs meeting my windshield
more arcs, and more, and more -- how can there be so many?
along the lines of the hilltops, more, wave after wave
lost in them, as when
gazing up at stars on the cold August lawn
staring into sparking flames
stepping onto wet overlapping leaves carpeting the walk.

in my driveway, breathing slows
brows unfurrow
I close my eyes and many smooth arcs rise to meet the backs of my eyelids.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Campaign for our Public Schools


Dear President Obama,

Four years ago, when you were running for president, I was participating in a life-changing professional development program called Summer Institute, sponsored by the National Writing Project in one of its many local chapters near me in upstate New York. It was a heady time, exciting, galvanizing, and transformative. Twenty-some teachers of all content areas gathered to read and study and discuss and write their way to new understandings about teaching writing. It turned out to be life-changing for me, as I soon left my classroom career of 23 years to return to school for a doctorate in education. Now I train teachers at a state college.

While I was there, we wrote daily and shared our writing. One of the writings I shared was a letter to you in which I wrote about the problems NCLB had created with its misguided approach to education. Imagine how disappointed I was when you, too, relied on advice from non-educators whose recommended policies intensified the worst aspects of NCLB! The high-stakes testing, already in place in New York State before NCLB, increased and then with Race to the Top, took over the schools like an insidious terrorism. Data-driven obsession replaced thoughtful consideration of students' needs and best practices. I saw many students suffer setbacks in their intellectual development because of the changes in the school atmosphere. Because pre-teens and teens are resilient, some may recover from this scourge as adults, to overcome the culture of regurgitation and the mile-wide, inch-deep curriculum encouraged by such a culture. Lucky for us - such recovery has brought us some of our most brilliant minds. But education doesn't have to be something to survive, and I believe we have made it an obstacle course with this emphasis on measuring learning in narrow ways.

It was also disturbing to watch as the teaching profession, not particularly honored or respected to begin with (certainly not when I began teaching in 1978), become the target of witch-hunters and nay-sayers in our society, on a grand scale. Yes, I know some teachers should not be teaching, just as some politicians should not be in office, some religious leaders should be removed from their churches, some shop clerks make mistakes with numbers. This denigration of teaching was intertwined with anti-union efforts, and though I have never been a huge fan of teachers unions, I have been a member for decades, and I have served when I saw a chance to increase the quality of our professionalism. Teachers should lead teachers to better practices and choices of self-improvement.

Yet we continue to be judged by non-educators. In fact, non-educators spurred this entire movement, in our country's history, to make schools the newest market, the locus of exploitation and profiteering. This velvet takeover of curriculum and instruction, out of the hands of the experts who have studied and prepared for it, into the hands of publishers and technology marketeers and politicians, is perhaps the biggest indignity. I pride myself on keeping up with what is best for children and helpful in my field, but my expertise was overlooked again and again in my 30 year career in public schools. Here it was overlooked by those who had no connection to schools except the desired connection to the funds that drive our schools. Those funds come from the people living in local communities, taxpayers across the state. The emphasis on testing and the control of curriculum by businesses funnel the funds from hardworking citizens to enormous business interests.

Business owners profiting from massive testing and accountability systems, and the politicians who partner with them, claim they must wrest control of schools away in order be competitive around the world. Even when the flaws in that argument are pointed out (the United States tests all its students, not just the children of the rich and well-prepared), you continue with these policies. These purported solutions will not, cannot be successful, until we solve the complex and difficult problems underlying our spotty performance on any standardized tests: the problems of poverty and inequity. You know that those problems are the knottiest; you spoke of them as you campaigned. For that reason I supported and voted for you, only to watch these problematic NCLB practices continue and worsen.

You stand by as the teacher-bashing continues, even as your daughters study in schools where poverty is not a problem, where teachers are considered the experts who should make the decisions about curriculum and assessment. Meanwhile, in most of the schools across the nations, power is taken away from children through the delivery of the shallow intense curriculum and the massive time spent on test delivery. They no longer have time to develop their literacy and numeracy skills in nurturing atmosphere that encourages mindfulness. The intensity of the pressure on teachers and administrators is passed on to them, and they associate school with all that is awful and anxiety-producing. They do not love learning and they will not be thoughtful, well-informed voters.

We will start to see all sorts of unintended consequences in our citizenry. I only hope that you will stop this madness so that teachers can be freed to prepare our students for active involvement in a democracy and discerning contributors to our economy.

Note: I have sent this letter to Anthony Cody (anthony_cody@hotmail.com) who is collecting teachers' letters to submit to the White House on October 17 in a special effort to engage his attention. See Diane Ravitch's blog: http://dianeravitch.net/2012/10/05/instructions-for-the-october-17-campaign-for-our-public-schools/#comment-44406 .

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Awakening, Part Two


This morning, I'm continuing to examine the Sojourners' 12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening. I prefer to re-cast this list, not as symptoms (a humorous metaphor to some) but as rungs of a ladder to a new and contended place.


7. Once you have cultivated the attitude of gratitude discussed in number 4 above, you will find that it is more difficult to worry. It will not come as easily as it did before. Your frequent smiling (see number 2 above) will forestall the frown and wrinkles that accompany worrying, requiring an act of will to settle into serious anxiety. It will simply happen less often. It is also good to allow that things might happen for a reason, which also forestalls worry, since you can instead think of the mystery of why something is happening -- what good reason there might be for it -- rather than how bad it is. You may not subscribe to the popular idea that "things happen for a reason," but it can be a more productive way to approach what seems to be a random and catastrophic existence, whether it is true or not. In this, I am a pragmatic rather than a romantic (my more usual mode).


8. Conflict tends to be interesting to those who are worrying, who are disconnected from nature and isolated from others, who do not perceive what they have that they should be grateful for.  Insecurity, disconnection, anxiety, make it more interesting to watch others fight or engage with difficulties. This is not the same as enjoying a good story, nor is it even the same as escaping into a good story. This is more about pot-stirrers, who deliberately egg on those who would gossip or otherwise engage in and encourage alienation, disturbance, emotional fighting. This is about those who would rather talk about others than collaborate with others. 


All of that interest falls away as one perceives connection and expresses gratitude. The lives of the rich and famous, whether on television, internet, or down the hall at work, are simply less interesting when one's own life becomes less fraught. It is good when you no longer have to look for someone in bigger trouble than you are. If you are attuned to letting things happen for yourself, you don't have to look to others for excitement. You just don't care about the Kardashians (less accessible) or the Jones (right in the neighborhood) who have this, that, and the other thing. Less comparison with others means more satisfaction and contentedness. You'll find you can resist major advertising campaigns more successfully, and with practice, you might be able to ignore them completely.


It helps if you avoid reading glossy magazines that act as mass pot stirrers to get us interested in Kardashians and Joneses. Try giving up newspapers, magazines, even television or radio news for short periods of time. Re-introduce small doses of headline radio news, to avoid the pot stirring and visual advertising onslaughts. It also helps to avoid staff lounges or other gathering places of the meddling and vindictive. Remember that some people use those spaces with no malign intent (do not judge; see number 10 below) but they are also Petri dishes for those who cast their eyes about looking for trouble to nudge and poke into full conflagration. Go to such places, but do so with open eyes, with a strong heart to resist them, and instead connect and collaborate with the others.


9. Now that you are less interested in the actions of others and more focused on your own spontaneity and living in the moment (see numbers 5 and 6 above), you will also spend less time wondering why other people do the things they do and spend more of your valuable time in this life on just living it. This leads to more of number 5 and 6 above: more intensely joyful experiences that will give you a feeling of truly being alive and aware, connected in the most positive ways to nature and society. You will approach a feeling of being one with the universe. That may sound hokey, but wait until you have that feeling, and your smile stretches across your face, and your tears well up. And you wonder why but you know it doesn't matter. It could be myriads of small joys or several big ones.


10. The kind of reflection that allows for gratitude and joy also leads to an attitude that makes it difficult to judge other people. You know how you have grown and changed; you know from whence you came. You will not be so quick to put someone else down (except perhaps for a moment in your own mind, and certainly not out loud and publicly). You will no longer be the judgmental bitch or bastard you might once have been, and it will free up all sorts of energy for new projects and thoughts that present themselves in the void created when you leave all that behind. You will find that you will judge less and less even in your own mind. Your energy just will not support it anymore.


11. One of the best results from number 10 above is that you will also become less judgmental of yourself. You will allow yourself to be nurturing and encouraging, and those voices that used to say "you can't, you can't" will start saying, "let's! let's!" You will be amazed at the possibilities that open up before you. It will bring you great joy. You will smile more, and tears will well up at odd moments.


12. With the inordinate amount of interest in others reduced and moments of joy greatly increased, you will find that you have a lot of love in your heart. Because you are not focused on others but simply connected, you will not expect anything from them in return for your own love and encouragement. You will find yourself filled with love. It is a really different way to live, so don't expect every step of the way to be easy. You may draw attention to yourself in ways you did not anticipate, but be strong. Be brave. Love is a good foundation for living, especially supported by numbers 1 through 10 above. 


Because of the great shining light of love and joy that will surround you at this point, more light and energy and joy will come to you. It seems to be how this universe works. I could be wrong, but it feels really good anyway.


Lastly, I'll share the prayer that helps me keep all this in mind as I sit, in the morning, and face a new day:


Lord of light, constant, unchanging, 
shine on me and shine in me. 
Hear my prayers. 
Hear me declare that I am letting go of the struggle, 
that I am eager to learn through joy, 
eager to claim all the blessings that are waiting for me. 
Protect me from my own desires. 
Teach me to find truth in my mouth, in my heart. 
Keep me from taking anything personally. 
Put questions on my lips 
rather than assumptions in my mind. 
Give me patience to listen closely, 
that I may hear others' stories, 
and that I may know 
what it is I am meant to learn from them. 
Push me to do my best always, in everything. 
Lead me from the darkness of pain and fear 
into the marvelous light of grace and peace.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Awakening, Part One


A spiritual friend sent out an interesting list that came to him from a group called Sojourners, people who describe themselves as Christian activists for social justice. It describes 12 symptoms of Spiritual Awakening. As I read down the list, I realized that I have cultivated these symptoms deliberately over the last 20 years, and that they really define my approach to existence, in this universe, anyway. I'm altering the list of "symptoms," since I find that word to be misleading, with spiritual awakening likened to a disease. It can be a humorous way to treat a serious topic, but I prefer to present the list as a series of recommendations that promote personal growth, with advice about how to scaffold and encourage that growth in each of these twelve areas.


1. Let things happen sometimes, rather than orchestrating and insisting and controlling. It is a pleasant feeling to roll down a river without a paddle, if you know you are in no danger. "Go with the flow," is the expression that came to us from Marcus Arelius' writings. This is a synonymous expression, although it doesn't have exactly the same meaning as this first piece of advice. Controlling and orchestrating and insisting takes psychic energy, and sometimes you would be better off reserving that energy for other undertakings, picking your battles, perhaps. Life has plenty of situations where your planning and organizational skills are essential. Allow yourself to have some measure of time that is not planned and organized.


2. Smiling is really an important strategy for life. Cultivating an easy smile is not listed as a management technique, and yet it accomplishes so much in the larger social realm. Besides that, it is a great way to be remembered. Think, right now, about people you know and love and respect - how many of them have a great smile, one that lights up a room, or at least lights up the heart of the person they are listening to at the moment? That smile signals attention, positivity, encouragement, love - all conducive to social and professional situations.


3. Spend time outdoors. Walk outside every day near grass, bushes, trees, and water. If you can't bring yourself to hug a tree, at least sit under or near trees, especially trees that contain life in the form of squirrels and birds. If you are confined to the indoors, sit where you can look out a window at trees, sky, clouds, far hills, or some other form of nature. Grow a small plant on a windowsill. Allow yourself to really look at the plant, clouds, trees, that are in that frame you have set up. Listen to the water you are near; watch it move. Connect with this place that you are from, that is part of you.


3b. Connect with people near you every day. Use that smile (see number 2) to make connections with the strangers who cross your path, and use your heart to make connections with loved ones. If you live far away, use e-mail or social networks to keep in touch. If you must spend some long hours working apart from people, take breaks that bring you near people again. Remind yourself of this human network you are part of; don't forget it for too many hours at a time. Such isolation brings errant thoughts and inhumane behavior.


4. Take some time each day (many of us favor early morning or right before sleeping) to appreciate, or in other words, show gratitude for some small number of aspects of life that day or the previous one. Let this habit build, through practice, until the day comes when you are overwhelmed with positive appreciation at an odd time, that is, at a time when nothing in particular has occurred, yet all seems to be well and good. This is called joy. It leads to recurrent episodes of joy, and sometimes they can bring tears to the eyes, they are so sharp and sudden. These episodes can also lead to prolonged periods of feeling on top of the world. The positive energy generates more and more positive energy. This is a good thing.


5. This one is related to number 1 above. Allow yourself to act spontaneously from time to time, to choose to do something that appears on your event horizon unbidden, that is unplanned, that has come to you seemingly from nowhere, and practice the art of NOT LETTING FEAR (based on past experiences) control your actions. We humans, in our superior evolutionary position, use past experience to guide us, but sometimes we let that happen too much. Sometimes it paralyzes us, freezing us in a rut or pattern of activity/inactivity that threatens to bury us. Scientists are studying, right now, how change and growth is essential to the elderly in order for them to live a bit longer with some quality of life. Let's not wait for the final results -- do something new every other day, or every week or so. Do something that someone suggests and do it without weighing and thinking too hard. Be safe, but don't turn down what could be the key to your next phase of existence.


6. Ancient wisdom tells us to enjoy each moment. We who plan and organize or let televisions or internet plan and organize our time sometimes lose sight of the present moment in our anticipation of future moments. It is such an easy trap to slip into. As teens we are chomping at the bit for the future. Wait until I get out of here. Wait until I live on my own. Wait until I get a good job instead of this crappy summer job. Wait until I'm the manager. Wait until I find my one and only. I can't wait until this, that, or the other thing. Throughout our twenties, we say phrases like these often until we build up a pattern. As parents, we live through difficult phases of our childrens' growth by reminding ourselves that they won't be inarticulate infants forever, that they won't be toddlers forever, that they will someday learn to wash their ears and brush their teeth on their own. Then our children are grown in the blink of an eye, and we wonder where those moments went. Stop yourself, if you find yourself in the middle of one of these thoughts. These moments are our life. Don't wish them away. Breathe - it can make a difficult moment not quite so difficult. Find ways of thinking about the difficult moments, as you are in them, that allow you to live the moment rather than wish it away. You will not want to awaken from a life that is wished away to say, "where did it go?"


There are twelve items on the list - I'll deal with the other six in my next post.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Warning - RANT ALERT


Not my favorite way to enjoy music: Spend seventy-five dollars of hard-earned money. Park miles away from the event. Walk in a crowd surrounded by other lemmings through dusty heat. Walk past overpriced concessions selling stuff that isn't good for anyone. Look out for drunks who have been at said event since morning, drinking. Be frisked, poked, prodded, examined for substances and metal containers that might contain food or alcohol that they would rather you purchased from said overpriced concessions. Find your expensive seat - a plastic stadium chair attached to hundreds (thousands) of other plastic stadium chairs. Sit in it for an hour waiting for music.


I have to take a break from ranting to rave about the warm up band, Carolina Chocolate Drops. Their old-timey music was fun and really did warm up the crowd with sing-alongs and dancing beats and creative instrumentation. A kazoo solo! Who knew? And I got a great idea. Instead of looking for a stand-up bass to buy, I now realize, because of the woman who played "bass" in this group, that a cello could do it, too. Smaller, less expensive, and able to produce beautiful deep bass tones needed to anchor old-timey musical numbers.


As they finished, more people came to find their seats. All of humanity pushes past us to get to their seats, which are all, inexplicably, inside our row. When I mention all of humanity, I really mean the ones who never learned restraint or politeness. Also, did I mention that they are really drunk?


I can tell from the first note of the warm up band that it is a good thing I brought my ear plugs. The brights are very bright, and they hurt my sensitive ears. Not so the masses, many of whom want it all louder, so they add to the din with their own hooting and hollering. Not a problem in a smaller venue. I can hoot and hollar about music with the best of them, but multiply my loud voice by thousands! Not good.


But my most difficult revelation about this type of huge concert comes when Dave Matthews actually comes out on the stage with his band to play. As I sit there in my $75 seat, I watch, seated and astonished, as everyone stands up and stays standing for the entire concert, almost three hours. I could see the stage before, while the warm up band was playing. I could use the little binoculars to study someone's fingerpicking, to realize that the banjo player was a girl, etc. Now? Not so much. Not at all. I cannot see anything of the concert, except for the margin of the light show that has everyone hypnotized.


I am a person who loves lights and color, sparkly things in general, and the light show that goes with the DMB music is spectacularly colorful and sparkly with fancy laser effects. But I don't get to listen to the DMB music because I cannot stand up for three hours. In fact, I don't want to stand up for even one song. That's not how I enjoy music. I can't study the musicians, close my eyes to savor some fancy licks, watch how DM moves on the stage, or anything I would do at an old-school concert (think symphony orchestra or coffee house or the village green or recital).


The people who are used to this sort of concert behavior enjoy the music by moving and dancing in their little space - when the f&#*heads who are leaving their seats and coming back and leaving their seats and coming back aren't interrupting their enjoyment! These constant travelers treat this time as if they are in their living rooms watching a C movie. Oh, it's not so good right now, let's go make popcorn or buy some overpriced hot dog and soda - behavior I would expect at a ball game, which has lots of long boring stretches in between exciting plays. But it is not a living room filled with people who know them and love them and forgive their fat asses and bad manners, it's a row of plastic stadium seats filled with people who did not pay $75 to have their enjoyment of the show interrupted constantly. Filled with people like me who really want to sink into the music.


Sinking into the music is not a possibility in a venue this big. Forgive me for being critical, Dave, but if I played music as good as yours, I would want people to really be able to enjoy it. I play music that might be half as good, and I still want people to really enjoy it. I would play smaller venues. I would tell my agent, yes, Morty, or Sol, or Gus, I know we could make a bazillion dollars every week if I play these huge places, but I really want folks to sink into my music, taste it with their pores. I want them to be able to, nay, be asked to sit down while I play, unless they want to gather on the side to dance, or better yet buy a less expensive spot at the concert that doesn't involve a seat at all. I've already made lots on my recordings, so let's lighten up on the huge venues. And insist that people sit so everyone can see.


I'm almost done with this rant. I haven't lit into the smokers who fill the air with cigarette smoke that begins on the outskirts of the seats but invariably drifts over to infest us and our clothing and our lungs with second hand smoke. I haven't really discussed, too much, how a new generation of music-lovers expects special effects, other than music, at every presentation. We all roared with delight when the guitar player for the Carolina Chocolate Drops stood up during their last song and clogged and twirled his guitar like a  majorette or a ninja. Yes, motion and color and interesting outfits - these all add to the performance, but they shouldn't be necessary and expected. Unless of course you spend way too much money for a ticket. Then I guess strobe lasers would be a given. Also a given? Pounding on said plastic stadium chairs and chanting to force musicians to do your bidding (play another song even when they are finished, play an oldie, tell a joke, I don't know). 


But what I really need to mention here is how often this experience reminded me of a middle school assembly, at the beginning of the year before pre-teens have been admonished about assembly behavior. The music is not the object; it is the rest of the experience, of being away from the classroom (or work week), with one's friends (and their dramas - you would be amazed at the conversations I overheard to while I was purportedly at a music concert well underway), engaging in illicit behavior because it is too difficult to police. Security guards were everywhere, but to my mind they were policing the wrong bad behaviors. The point of the expensive ticket, the point of it all, the music? It seems lost in a carefully constructed culture of disbehavior.


DMB, true to what I had been led to expect, played two or three more songs after they declared an end, but it took so long for them to come back out. The drummer had time to toss all his drum sticks into the crowd. They played the oldies, stuff even I knew, which was cool. Then it was over and this entire crowd, which had dribbled in slowly during the day, had to be corralled and led out. Again, the river of lemmings filled the earth. Then a river of cars had to be shifted from one parking lot to many highways. It took almost as long as the warm up band played to get us all out of there.


Not for me, the expensive ticket for a huge arena. Give me the small music festival or the coffee house or even a music club where I can sit and watch and savor, get up and go to a dancing place, or even right up by the stage to watch a guitarist float around the neck with nimble fingers. Musicians are real people then, not images flickering on screens for backlighting and visual entertainment. The only time I could see Dave's face was when they projected a camera view on the space behind the band for decoration, I guess. If I had been in the lawn seats, I could have seen that more. 


Musicians are real people, and I like to experience music like a real person, not like a lemming or a bit of seaweed in the Sargasso Sea. I like to sit or stand or dance or smoke or drink to music, but by agreement with all the other listeners, not at their expense.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I've been thinking about this...


Yesterday I did some baking and a special cooking project for dinner. I haven't allowed myself to bake as often during the last six months unless it was specifically for my husband or for some event; I enjoy my slow, steady weight loss too much to jeopardize it with treats. Which means I love trying on clothes from my own closet and finding that they no longer fit. I was leafing through a magazine we scarfed up from somewhere (buy a magazine? Never!), though, and found a four ingredient cookie recipe. Peanut butter, brown sugar, an egg, and baking soda. Peanut butter, just ground peanuts in a jar, the natural kind, with no other ingredients, is a staple in this establishment. A source of protein with an oil that is one of the healthiest, it is a great dip for celery sticks or apple slices, and it's a treat on Ezekiel bread toast with a drizzle of honey. I don't get many treats these days, so, yes, that is a treat for me. I also like a little Nutella on a spoon then dipped into peanut butter. Mmm.


Now I know you're wondering, what is up with Starwatcher? This is her education blog, not a cooking/baking blog. Please bear with me and I'll make the connection, I promise.


So I combined the four ingredients, the only really bad one being the 3/4 cup of brown sugar, ran the mixer through it for a bit, and popped out little single teaspoons of thick dough onto parchment paper and baked those little buttons for ten minutes. They came out like the peanut butter cookies I so love, but lighter, a little crisper, but not much, and way healthier. No wheat flour, no butter or other animal fats, not that much refined sugar, and my husband and I both agree that I could probably cut back on the brown sugar. For the one large egg, I used two of my dear hens' bantam eggs, free-range, which have less cholesterol than hens-in-a-cage eggs. Wow. I ate a bunch of those little suckers after they had cooled. Light. Delicious. 


Not only that, but they got me thinking of ways to use other ingredients that I know are healthy, like banana and oatmeal, to produce other healthy variations. This is new for me, to think about alterations to a recipe. Somehow, though, that mutation continued later in the day. I had taken a couple of large chicken breasts out of the freezer for dinner, and decided to stuff them with a stuffing that I have invented, after seeing how easy it is to make stuffing from mayo and grated cheese. I think I got that idea from some recipe blog on-line, but I have been changing it up by adding shredded spinach or carrots, or both, and substituting some Greek yogurt for part of the mayo (most of it, actually). Last night I sliced out the breasts and pounded them a little, to make it easier to stuff them, and added sliced almonds to the spinach, mayo, yogurt, and parmesan. 


Where did this cooking maverick come from, this violator of recipes?


I have some idea about this. 


I now have some time. I've been cooking more since I stopped playing out in a band (which can take up a lot of time), studying and finishing coursework for my doctorate (which sucks the life out of one) and searching for the love of my life (which also takes up a lot of time, doesn't it?). I can actually devote several hours, on some nights, to trying out a new recipe, or altering an old one so that it fits our new eating habits limiting animal fats and avoiding white foods except for cauliflower.


I also have a chance to get feedback from someone who loves me and will be gentle in his pronouncements. If the stuffed chicken breasts dry out a bit, he will eat them anyway, but make sure that I hear of it so I can spray them with a bit of olive oil during the less-than-an-hour of baking time. That is the kind of constructive critique that I need and can work from to improve a recipe. He and I are working together to eat healthier, so we value each other's feedback, as he is working on developing recipes for the blended vegetable drinks he makes in his Nutri-bullet. And yes, we do recommend these powerful blenders ($99 at Target) and the spinach- or kale- or collard green-based drinks that can be made in them. Can you say, testimonial?


A third factor that allows me to develop my cooking skills at this point in my life is choice. When I go in the kitchen to cook or bake, it is almost completely a matter of choice. We could go on with the same recipes we've been using, if I were not moved to try something new. My husband is perfectly willing to cook on nights when I don't have time or inclination. But I have become passionate about making or finding recipes that are healthier, and I've found writers of cooking blogs who entice me with their prose.
These three factors, time, response, and choice or passion, were the guiding factors in my classroom, guided as I was by Nancie Atwell's description of a reading and writing workshop. They are not factors in most public school classrooms, and my eighth grade ELA classroom felt the squeeze down from externally-generated curricula, continuous flawed testing, and data-driven fanaticism.


I had thought a bit about this when I contemplated my own skills with numbers. I was a good student in high school and advanced through a calculus class offered to an elite group of seniors. One year of it was not enough; I had to take two more semesters during my freshman year of college, but I actually GOT calculus. All of that GETTING is lost now, lo, these many years later, but the discipline and wonder of numbers and systems of thought is not lost. It took me longer, but I loved what I was studying, somehow, and was willing to give it the extra time.


I had also thought about this with relation to music. As a child, I often picked strange and difficult pieces out of piano books available at my house, and took them to lessons to ask if I could work on them. My piano teacher wisely decided to help me with them, even though they didn't fit into the repertoire she usually chose for a student at my level (by repertoire, I mean curriculum). She used my own motivation and choice to advance my skills. My violin teacher also signed on to this approach when it became clear that I was bored with finger exercises and wanted to try some real music, by real old composers, playing duets with him or with another student. I showed my boredom by engaging in bad behavior: signing my mother's name to my practice slips. Luckily, he and my parents spent more time adjusting my lessons than they did on punishing me for forgery. I loved playing, and I still play my violin today. Not so well as I might, but it is enjoyable for me and for most of the people who hear it. Same goes for the piano and for the music I will never stop singing and playing - because I am passionate about choosing to work on it.


We, as teachers, often see students who have shut down, closing out the noise of public education out of boredom. They are not always our gifted students, who will sustain some form of interest (grade consciousness) long after their brain has rejected the content of our curricula. No, often they are students some might write off as ones who just aren't into school or learning. It is so easier to just let them drift away, and yet a curriculum of choice, with constant feedback and lots of time for experimentation could draw them back in to the joy of learning and the draw of civic engagement. We certainly need more engaged citizens. If only we could break free of this pseudo-scientific data-driven business-generated curricular obsessions controlled by those who have seldom set foot in a classroom with the intent to teach.


So, like the college admissions essay that asks the writer to connect Plato with Play-doh in 500 words or less, I have connected my recent culinary excursions back to my interests in education. As always, I must acknowledge that I stand on the shoulders of giants to develop these ideas, but I can't always specify which giants. I promise I will do better with that in my dissertation, but here in my blog, a more casual genre, such citation is not required.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Live Now

How could we know,
so young as we were,
that it would pass like this?
And it does pass,
faster than we know.
Each moment passes,
so enjoy each moment.
Enjoy the look of dawn outside the airport windows,
enjoy the murmur of small clusters of people ordering food
or consulting with airline agents,
conversing with travel partners.
The rhythmic regular click click click
of suitcase wheels across a tiled floor
punctuates the sussuration of conversation.
Admire the contrast of crisp blue light against white,
the aroma of the next fresh pot of coffee
at the vendor's booth.
Enjoy the image in your mind
of your lover welcoming you at your return,
the smooth feeling of silk on your arms and legs.
Know that it is good.
All will be well.
All manner of things shall be well.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Yes, I know it has been a long time, over a year. Those of you who know me personally know that in that year I have accomplished a great deal of writing, just not here at this blog. I wrote, shared, and defended my portfolio (thus becoming A.B.D.), wrote a prospectus for original research for my dissertation, and have begun said dissertation.

The strange turn of weather -- spring in March, rather than in May or June -- has inspired me to write more than my usual every-other-day-or-so haiku.


Maybe It's the Weather

What shall we put out
at the end of the driveway today?
In this surreal season of climate change
when the jet stream wanders
like a weekend garage sale warrior,
and daffodils co-exist with snowdrops
that have clearly jumped the shark,
knowing neither shark nor social media,
we need to find some items
sure to be picked up by treasure seekers,
travelers down the back road byways.
Okay, let's carefully prop up
a pair of nineteen fifty riding boots (non-cowboy edition),
a pre-digital rabbit-eared television,
some bookend bed posts,
and my beleaguered past,
the one that returns to me in my dreams
almost every night: the former student,
the ex-husband, the rejected boyfriend from hell.

It can't all be about interesting words
and striking imagery.
Sometimes we must put something up there
of real value
and sit on the porch to watch
a car slow, pull over, and stop.
The valued item, the piece of your heart or soul,
is lifted into a truck or a back seat.
The finder is elated,
and you have room in your heart or soul
for the Now.