Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tell All Your Heart: Ferguson & A Mother's Heart

Another Mother's Grief (from M.A. Reilly's Collage Journal made on 8.11.14)


Tonight, I am wondering what I might say to my teenage son who stood 6 feet tall next to me, unwavering, as we all listened to Bob McCulloch tell America--tell the world--that a St. Louis County grand jury returned no indictment of Police Officer Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown. Officer Wilson discharged 12 shots at an unarmed teenager--just two years older than my own child. These are facts not disputed. Wilson fired his gun 12 times at Mike Brown, killing him with a shot to the boy's head.

Tonight, I'm trying to find words, knowing the inadequacy of speech, as I watched my son turn away and walk back upstairs closing the door to his room after telling his father and me he was not surprised by the outcome.

This is America, he says.

He sees the United States as an unjust place--a place of racial and economic injustice. He has already known the repeated sting of not being white discharged by white boys who enjoyed protection from their acts by white teachers and administrators at school. Places where white principals say, We don't notice color here. We don't see color.


White privilege is a fearsome thing.

This absence of indictment confirms what my son has told us he knows: America is the land of institutionalized racism. It runs through our blood.  A river that is centuries old. It is deep. No white sheet can hide such savagery.


Tonight, I'm thinking about the long, long list of parents who have had to endure injustice when their children's blood was spilled. When their babies were cut down. When their boys and girls were murdered by men sworn to protect. I am the granddaughter, the niece, the cousin, and the sister to police officers--those sworn to protect.

Tonight I am worried that my son, a Korean teen, cannot count on the police to read his intentions correctly. To see him as his mom and dad know him.  Given the history of our country is it possible to believe that in a time of ambiguity a police office won't read his difference first? Won't read him as not white? Won't read him as other. Won't read him as threat?  Is he a young man who will be allowed to make a foolish mistake without it resulting in his death?

No amount of Abercombie & Fitch, Apple or Yankee accessories will reverse his status of other.

So what do I tell him?  What should his white mother say to him?

We talk again, after he asks me to help him study for an English exam he'll take tomorrow. After we talk about The Things They Carried and Romeo & Juliet--about needless deaths that span centuries and I talk to him as only a mother can. I make him promise me that if he is facing arrest, like 1 in 3 young men do in this country before the age of 23, that he'll submit. He'll lie on the goddamn ground. He'll put his hands up. He'll keep his mouth shut. He'll do all this to keep himself alive cause facing a white man with a gun could well be his death.


Tonight I'm tired. Tonight I am remembering the original definition of courage--a definition that in the 1400s meant to tell all of your heart. Tonight I am feeling a keen kinship with mothers across the globe prompted by that definition, by the actions reported in Clayton, MO. Prompted, perhaps because I began to cry once the prosecutor mentioned the conflicting issues of witnesses because I knew with certainty that no indictment would be forthcoming.

What we tell our boys and girls, what we say from our mothers' hearts, we should tell out loud. We should tell all of our hearts. Keep safe in this unsafe world we've made. Work to make it better than we have done. Know our failure and be undeterred. But keep safe, first. Be safe.

To remain silent is to be complicit.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Readiness is the Language of Servitude

The learning in school should be continuous with that out of school. There should be a free interplay between the two (John Dewey. Democracy & Education, p. 288).

I was reading the post, Social Media and the Law: The Future of Online Defamationby Aron Solomon and Jason Moyse and it got me thinking about the current aim of public education in the US to make all students college and career ready. Aron writes:
As 1Ls (first-year law students), both Jason and I learned about defamation law. We might as well have learned nothing, as the explosion of technology is about to result in an even larger boom in this area of the law.

Aron and Jason are writing about the changing (and emerging) understanding of defamation as it is being applied to social media based situations.  What interests me here is their claim that their former education lacks significantly in preparation for the new twists in understanding defamation. Applying the law to potential defamation cases tat occur as a result of social media renders their former education as incomplete.

This makes me wonder about the efficacy of trying to ensure that all high school graduates are college and career ready. Might such an aim be off track?  Perhaps even, foolish?


The CCSS makes a pretty large claim--a claim that is bold and hopeful as it is sophomoric and delusional.
The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. 
I do not imagine many can actually believe this claim when they study it, especially given the impossibly narrow focus of the CCSS on school-based math and English language arts. How can the skills and knowledge most needed for children who will be graduating high school in 2028 be known? Consider Aron and Jason's assertion that the highly specialized post-graduate work of legal studies each took did not readily prepare them for the litigious world that has been disrupted by social media. Our world never stands still. The world we partially name from our skewed points of view today cannot be the world we will name in 2028. Getting millions of children ready for a future we cannot know is a fool's errand.

  • Is there a set of skills and knowledge that are most important?  And for whom?  In what context? 
  • Is there causality between the skills/knowledge selected by a handful of college educated people in 2009 and college, career, and life success in 2028?  
  • What are the meanings of success? Which of these matter most?  For whom?
  • Was it even possible for this small coterie to know what is most essential for your child to know? For mine? For the Athabaskan child living in an Interior Alaska Athabaskan community? For the child who hears music as a language and uses this as self-definition? For the dancer? For the child in living in El Paso, Texas? For the artist? For the child being held in a detention center? For the child living in Lost Springs, Wyoming? For the tinkerer? For the lost one?  For the prodigy?
  • Is there a set of educational standards that can be the key to equity in an increasingly inequitable country? 
  • Is learning a matter of what we know? Unknow? Relearn? Not know?
What are we being sold here?  And perhaps most important: What is escaping our notice while we pander to this bill of goods?


The last few weeks have found me teaching at a public high school in the South Bronx, a K-8 public school in the central ward of Newark, NJ, and at a public school in a wealthy suburb of New York City. The economic and safety issues and assets that frame each of these places is not without influence on what is learned, unlearned, and not learned by the students who attend school at each of these sites.

What is essential are often matters of geography and time.

The CCSS claim reminds me of the earlier school outcome via No Child Left Behind Act that 100% of the tested children in the United States would demonstrate school based math and reading proficiency by 2014. Even though such a claim was idiotic, an entire country swayed to its power for the better part of a decade.

What did we stop paying attention to in order to pay attention to this end goal that could never have been realized?


John Dewey in Democracy and Education told us that "the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth" (p. 85).  Continued capacity for growth. Further he warned that it is critical that the aims of education arise freely from one's experiences or else the aims will be "ulterior aims of others" (p. 85).

And this is the centrality of what I am writing about here and what I have written in too many posts to count. Agency is at the center of learning and the desire to learn.  Doing unto others via impositions of uniformed standards and annual standardized testing distracts us from learning by encouraging our active and/or passive resistance. This happens at the pupil and teacher levels.

We are always staring at something that is at best a distraction, chasing with dollars that which cannot be realized.  Standardized visions of learning pay homage to sameness--to readiness. Dewey warned us:
Exorbitant desire for uniformity of procedure and for prompt external results are the chief foes which the open-minded attitude meets in school. The teacher who does not permit and encourage diversity of operation in dealing with questions is imposing intellectual blinders upon pupils--restricting their vision to the one path the teacher's mind happens to approve. Probably the chief cause of devotion to rigidity of method is, however, that it seems to promise speedy, accurately measurable correct results. The zeal for 'answers' is the explanation of much of the zeal for rigid and mechanical methods. Forcing and overpressure have the same origin, and the same result upon alert and varied intellectual interest (p.145).

Kneel down before standards and find yourself unable to see the larger picture. Your vision is boot high. Readiness has always been the language of servitude.

Days Like This

Images I made during the fall in the Bronx, Manhattan, and northern NJ. Music by Van Morrison.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Brick-Based Learning Giving Way to Affinity Spaces

Seeing (M.A. Reilly. Tuscany. 2009)

I make art. For the last decade I've learned a lot about making photographs, collages, paintings, printing, exhibiting and perhaps most important--seeing by participating in real and virtual affinity-based learning.

Free Verse (M.A. Reilly, 2010, Collage)
James Gee (2011)  in Language and Learning in the Digital Age defines passionate affinity-based learning as "complex, deep, and knowledge-producing" (p. 69).  He writes:
passionate affinity-based Learning occurs when people organize themselves in the real world and/or via the Internet (or a virtual world) to learn something connected to a shared endeavor, interest, or passion (p. 69).
Via the Internet I have met and collaborated with artists here in the States, Canada, and Europe. We share a deep passion for art making and I have learned so much from them, their methods, and their compositions. I've studied their work, shown art alongside them on line, and engaged with them in chats, exhibits, and publications.  It was through these artists who I have not met, but who I know, that I began to realize that the images I made might matter--might be good enough to show, to sell.

Before all this, I just took some pictures.

The difference between making art and taking photos is largely a result of the influence of other artists and through them an increasing need on my part to experiment. During these last ten years, I've studied craft and aesthetics, lost and gained skill and technique, experimented, exhibited and published work in group and solo shows as well as in magazines and books. I have visited many exhibitions and have made too many images to count. I have taken workshops and institutes here and in Europe that I learned about via other artists. And I have done all of this largely because of my ongoing participation in art-based affinity groups. These artists' passion and works (in)form and inspire my own.

Push for Gaza Cease-Fire (M.A. Reilly, 2014, Collage)
These days I am almost always cognizant of potential images as I make my way in the world.  This seeing leads me to frame and reframe images with or without a camera in my hands. I have toyed with the idea of going back to school and earning a doctorate in art, but found there is an absence of will--at least at this time. The learning I do with others online is fulfilling and often leads me to work I did not know I might make and collaborations as a writer and artist that (in)form my life.

I am ever so grateful for these ongoing opportunities. I am richer than Midas.

I think about this learning and wonder what it might take to include affinity-based learning as a viable method in place of high school or at the very least, in place of high school and middle school courses.

The world of brick-based learning that comprised the reality of my generations' formal schooling no longer is the sole reality for our children.  I watch as my teenage son learns via the presence of affinity-based learning in his life.  This learning has been nothing less than profound.

That future has arrived whether we want it to or not.
I wonder will we have the eyes to see it?  Will we have the courage to embrace it?

Gee, James Paul (2011). Language and Learning in the Digital Age (p. 134). T & F Books UK. Kindle Edition.

For the Young Who Want To

Yesterday, William Chamberlain tweeted a link to this Marge Percy poem--a poem I had never read before.  Such a fine surprise to follow the link to this.  Hope you enjoy.  Hope it inspires you.

For the young who want toBy Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
Marge Piercy, “For the young who want to” from Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982). First appeared in Mother Jones V, no. 4 (May 1980). Copyright © 1980, 1982 by Marge Piercy and Middlemarsh, Inc. Used by permission of the Wallace Literary Agency, Inc.

Source: Circles on the Water (Alfred A. Knopf, 1982)

First memory

This is the closing poem in the book Ararat.

Orchard (M.A. Reilly, 2014)

First Memory

     --Louise Glück

Long ago, I was wounded. I lived 
to revenge myself 
against my father, not 
for what he was-- 
for what I was: from the beginning of time, 
in childhood, I thought 
that pain meant 
I was not loved. 
It meant I loved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Simple Curriculum Framework To Hold Us in Good Stead

Making (Grade 1, Newark)

Today's my birthday and I want to remember that aesthetic methods of teaching-learning can be fashioned into a simple, yet essential framework to organize ways of knowing. The framework below is adapted from Eric Booth's important work on art that he outlines in The Everyday Work of Art. I'd recommend it.

Here's the framework:

  1. Make things with meaning.
  2. Explore the things others have made.
  3. Bring the skills, dispositions, and strategies from # 1 and #2 into active play in your daily life.
Booth recommends locating these three acts within 3 worlds:
  1. Making worlds.
  2. Exploring worlds.
  3. Reading the world.  (I change this to Composing the world).
That's it.
Now compare this with all of the standards and frameworks that we currently labor beneath.