Sunday, October 31, 2010

Privileging Beautiful Work: Give Change a Chance

I love how story informs story.  Last week two things happened in the space of three hours that I want to connect here. Each involves teachers, projects, and students. The first takes place off site, not at the high school I have been writing about in former posts, but it does involve the work at that high school. I was at a meeting and present was a parent of a high school student.  This parent, a small group of educators and I were discussing Ron Berger's An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. The parent had commented that her child was in one of the American Studies classes at the high school and was loving it.  She characterized the class and its teachers as being outstanding.  She said her child values the class, as does she. The parent also said that her child was very disappointed after working to create a digital project and learning that the final grade was a B-. As I listened to the parent I thought about the evolution that is necessary as teachers and students shift from more fast-paced product oriented classrooms to studio-based classrooms. The shift between completing work to crafting beautiful work is an uneasy road.

The second story happened after I had worked for 2 hours with tenth grade students in one of the American Studies course.  If you remember these students were going to make images based on a question they wanted to research concerning youth, Holden Caufield, and Manhattan.  Some of these students found expression through the creation of slide shows and single images they had taken while in NYC. I took heart when in the middle of the 2-hour block students refused a break in order to keep working.  The energy in the room increased I noticed as I helped students begin to see potential in their work. I noticed that when I stopped talking as we would review a collection of images, they began to take over and suggest which of the works were stronger given their intentions.  So, I could have posted the work that had been completed, but then the understory which I believe is more important might not have been made: beautiful work requires varying amounts of time and the cultural shift in schools to privilege making beautiful work is a revolution. 

Variable Amounts of Time
Having composed complex and beautiful work with students in former classes I thought about the issue of variable time and the necessary and difficult space we must occupy as a high school culture shifts from one that did not privilege beautiful work to one that may be learning how to do so.  It is the learning how to do so stage that is so uncomfortable given its ambiguity. With the former emphasis on assignment and compliance, there is no ambiguity. The teacher sets the conditions of the work and students honor that contract by completing the said work in the amount of time given.  Beautiful work requires something decidedly different.

Ron Berger writes:
When I was a student in public school I turned in final draft work every hour, every day. Work was generally done in one draft, and we kept cranking it out and passing it in. Even if we cared about quality there wasn't much we could do: we needed to get things done and passed in.
One of the first things a school or classroom can do to improve the quality of student work is to get off this treadmill.  This doesn't mean an end to deadlines—the real world is full of deadlines—but rather a clear distinction between rough research, rough drafts, and finished, polished final draft work.  It means final drafts may take days or weeks to complete. It means a different type of pressure: not just pressure to turn in enough work but pressure to produce something of value...
Students need to know from the outset that that quality means rethinking, reworking, and polishing. They need to feel that they will be celebrated, not ridiculed, for going back to the drawing board (pp. 87, 90).

As a teacher, one way I managed the challenge of occasioning beautiful student work inside a largely traditional school was to engage students in four or five different project-based work situations during the first 6 weeks of school and then asked them to commit to bringing one product from draft to polished work for publication.  Unlike Ron Berger I never worked in a school where the entire faculty was committed to the goal of beautiful work.  As such, I often had to help students shift from being compliant to caring deeply about the work they produced.  I cannot adequately represent the level of fear that accompanies such work.  Students who had been compliant and successful via the awarded grade felt discomfort. They had played the game well and had been rewarded and this shift left them without familiar landmarks.  Students who had "failed" and been failed did not believe in their own capacity to learn or in my capacity to actually teach.  Small, quick and easy successes followed by more in-depth one-to-one conferring/critiquing seemed to help each of these situations greatly.  But I do not want to misrepresent. Often for every step forward there was some backtracking. Assessment happened alongside learning, not at  an "end" of the work.  This deliberate feedback helped to ease student (and parental) worry as I was able to convey places inside the work where a student was successful, as well as specific places where a student needed to work harder and then craft with that student ways of doing so. Be deliberate and weather this is all I can offer. The transformation is significant.   

As the school year progressed, the projects were co-determined by students and me,  and by the end of the year most students had taken over the responsibility for defining their project work.  The nature of the projects were based on student passions and woven into those passion projects (thanks JM for a way of characterizing this work) were skills, dispositions, and strategies I occasioned and at times directly taught. This is not to say that all of the work we did found direct expression in projects, but it is to say that the whole class work we did, as well as small group, and individual work, accomplished three types of work:
  1. Some lessons served as seed ideas for larger projects.
  2. Some lessons helped students to return to projects and work on the hard aspects of the work—the places where deliberate practice were required. (Note: See David Perkins's Making Learning Whole, chapter 3 for more on this).
  3. Some lessons helped students to critique and reflect on their completed projects and establish new and/or revised goals.
The measurement was influenced not only by the finished work, but also the progress made against established goals agreed upon by each student and me.  Public exhibition and publication (beyond the classroom/school) helped us to understand that there could only be "A" work or work that still needed to be revised.

Throughout this process, critique occurred.  I think because I worked from the perspective of studio art, the idea of group and individual critique was familiar. Years later I appreciated reading Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Thinking, authored by  Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, and Kimberley Sheridan in 2007. Their classroom organization of the lecture, students at work and the critique (whole group and individual) would have helped me to better do the work I intended and struggled to do. I mention the text now as it might benefit some who are reading this.

Beautiful Work as Revolution

The calls for school reform at local, state, and national levels are so fast, so furious, at times so mean-spirited, and often sadly misinformed that I find it hard to catch my breath these days. If we step back and think of school reform as an exercise in making beautiful work, the tenor and landscape of the potential redesign shifts. The American Studies courses I referenced in this post are incomplete having begun a mere 8 weeks ago and they are examples of beautiful work in progress.  There is an excitement about these classes that is expressed by students.

For beautiful work of lasting value to be a goal of schooling, our expectations of what beautiful and excellence looks/sounds like, the amount of time required to occasion beautiful work of lasting value, and what is let go in order for such work to be composed represents critical conversations. It is the letting go that is so difficult and wrought with emotion and political positioning.  For letting go of X means that we are letting go of something someone else most certainly values.

Whereas, it is comforting to know that some where I work are engaged in these conversations, regardless of the politics and positioning that always takes place within institutions, it is also difficult to represent a measure of change in light of fear.  For every voice that is representing the possibility of change there is a more insidious voice attempting to maintain the status quo often by inciting fear, exaggeration, and misinformation. Last June I had occasion to speak one-to-one with Larry Rosenstock from High Tech High. He gave me some advice about making change that I am attempting to recall each day: Make something beautiful and it will attract.  I am hoping for the time to do so with others, but worry that may not be possible given these times.

I was thinking about what is needed to ensure the development of the redesign of a high school based on a concept of beautiful work.  In today's NY Times, there is a story about the Jon Stewart's and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity and or Fear" in Washington D.C.  At the rally, Carol Newmyer handed out bumper stickers that read: Give change a chance.

If only I had a few hundred of Newmyer's bumper stickers to hand out to those who are oppositional. Imagine an entire school community who replaced My Child is an Honors Student bumper stickers with one that read, Give Change a Chance.

Talk about a revolution...

Saturday, October 30, 2010


And We Danced. Morristown, NJ

ON All Hallows Eve the veil between the living and the dead is said to be the thinnest.  Ancient Celts believed that on Samhain the border between this world and the next was at its thinnest and that spirits could pass from one to the other. I have along been fascinated by the stories and rituals that happen on All  Hallows Eve, as well as cemeteries. Growing up, I used to routinely pass through a cemetery to visit a friend, making the trip several times a week.  The cemetry was the one place in childhood where it was quiet all of the time. That sense of solitude is one I still seek and I wonder if those early years did not shape that need and if making photographs doesn't answer that need.

Longing. Tuscany, Italy

All Hallows

by Louise Gl├╝ck 

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken. The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been
picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Gates. Tuscany, Italy.


by Annie Finch

(The Celtic Halloween)

In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.      
I feel the nights stretching away
Crosses. Tuscany, Italy.
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother's mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
"Carry me." She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.


Mourning. Morristown, NJ

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Separate, but Equal

I have always enjoyed Kurt Vonnegut. These days I seem to be recalling "Harrison Bergeron," Vonnegut's dystopic sci-fi story with greater frequency. The story opens:
The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law, they were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else; nobody was better looking than anybody else; nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Vonnegut cleverly plays with the ideas of equality and sameness, suggesting they are different and then showing his reader the tragic results that come from making them equivalents.  While I have been thinking about Harrison Bergeron, I have also been thinking about Homer Plessy.

Homer Plessy
One hundred fourteen years have passed since the Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was decided and still it feels like bad (very bad) sci-fi.  But it is not.  It is our shared history.  Whereas the Brown decision (1954) overturned the separate but equal legacy of Plessy v. Ferguson, the practice of separate but equal has not been laid to rest.  I recently reread the Plessy decisions (major and dissenting) and I wondered about the world view at that time that would posit it unexceptionable and even righteous to separate white people from all other races while traveling on trains and occupying other public spaces.  Supreme Court Justice Harlan wrote the dissenting opinion.  He was the lone justice to recognize that separate, but equal contradicted the liberties provided by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. 

My son.
While rereading the case, it occurred to me given the wording of the law which defines the groupings as "white and colored races," that if my son and I were traveling by public transport in Louisiana (or elsewhere in the USA) during the 50+ year period this decision reigned, we would not have been allowed to sit together.  Had we done this, sat in either the white or colored race car, one of us would have been subject to fines and imprisonment. 

A mother and child out for a ride.  

In clarifying the intent of the statute, Justice Harlan wrote:
Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons. Railroad corporations of Louisiana did not make discrimination among whites in the matter of accommodation for travelers. The thing to accomplish was, under the guise of giving equal accommodation for whites and blacks, to compel the latter to keep to themselves while traveling in railroad passenger coaches. No one would be so wanting in candor as to assert the contrary.
In the majority opinion, Justice Brown concluded:
If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.
Plessy v. Ferguson established the "separate but equal" legal clause that was used to maintain the separation of people by race and to continue the practice of racially segregating children in public schools based on race.  The eight Justices at that time (and in subsequent cases) failed to acknowledge that segregation by itself was harmful and no amount of "sameness" adequately represented equality. As Vonnegut aptly shows, believing that sameness is a form of equality, leads to tragedy.

America Never Was
So why have I been dwelling on Bergeron and Plessy? With the consistent drama of school "reform" being played out in living rooms and school houses, at neighborhood sporting games and markets--I wondered in what way have we nationally and locally acknowledged and addressed issues of separation that are happening today, and which are concealed under the "sameness" cloak?  By the "sameness cloak" I want to reference the ways we maintain separation between the privileged and other, by claiming that the services rendered are of equal value.

Linda Darling Hammond (2010) in The Flat World and Education rightly states that we do not have an achievement gap, we have an opportunity gap. She writes:
Enormous energy is devoted in the United States to discussions about the achievement gap. Much less attention, however, is paid to the opportunity gap—the accumulated differences in access to key educational resources—expert teachers, personalized attention, high quality curriculum opportunities,  good educational materials, and plentiful education resources—that support learning at home and at school (p.28).

American Bus Stop: No Lemming Left Behind
 How many children who "fail" and are failed in schools have equal opportunity to enriched curricula, the best teachers, personalized attention?  How many students are sequestered in low level academic tracks for their full school careers, and as a result are barred from entrance into advanced, honors, IB, or AP courses?  How many students are placed in remedial English and mathematics courses each year and denied enrichment courses or electives? How many students considered to be other are physically located in the basements or other out of the way areas of school? What neighbor interactions occur in classrooms where students know they represent the lowest track of academic prowess in a school?

A Time to Break the Silence
What is the cost of such accumulated views of one's self?  Just how many students actually find academic and social success in separate but equal classrooms in "integrated" schools?  

Each time we insist through professional and/or  parental power that the public school remain separate but equal in order for our own child, or one who is privileged to be "favored" —we are complicit. Each time we look the other way when systems of tracking are forwarded (and perhaps even in these days championed)--we are complicit. Each time we fail to say that no amount of "sameness" adequately represents equality, we are complicit.

We should not fool ourselves. Our silence is loud.

So tonight I'm thinking about those who have stood up: 

Homer Plessy 
Sara and Benjamin Roberts
Gonzalo Mendez
Heman Marion Sweatt
Donald G. Murray
Thomas R. Hocutt
Lloyd Gaines
George W. McLaurin.   

How long will it be until we individually and institutionally acknowledge that sameness can never be mistaken for equality and stand up and say so? With all the talk about school reform, I'm wondering who is engaged in the dialogue about the fallacy of separate, but equal that still occurs within schools? Where is the clamor of voices saying "No, we cannot allow for the practices that separate children based on race, based on socio-economics, based on "dis"abilities?"

Friday, October 22, 2010

Books I am Reading Now...How About You?

We read, we listened to the portable radio.
Obviously this wasn't life, this sitting around
in colored lawn chairs.

from The Seven Ages, "August" - Louise Gluck, p. 32

I always have a few books (and now blogs) going.  Thought I might share what I am reading with the idea that if a few of us found a text in common we might blog about it. I also am keenly interested in hearing about  books you are reading that you would recommend. The best new book I am reading is Cloud Atlas and it was recommended by two friends (Michael and Erick).  The best book I've read this decade:)

Here's my current list (incomplete):

I. Currently Reading
  1. Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell (iPad)
  2. Creativity (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl) (iPad)
  3. The Seven Ages (Louise Gluck, poetry) (book) 
  4. Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education (David Perkins) (iPad)
  5. The Dialogic Imagination (Mikhail Bakhtin) (iPad, rereading)
 II. Waiting to Read
  1. Half the Sky (Nicholas Kristof &Sheryl Wudunn) (iPad)
  2. Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time (Margaret Wheatley( (iPad)
  3. Shop Class as Soulcraft (Matthew B.Crawford) (iPad)
  4. The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology (Wolfgang Iser) (book)
  5. Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization (Dave Logan, John King, Halee Fischer-Wright) (iPad)
 III. Recently Finished 
  1. An Ethics of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students (Ron Berger) (book) 
  2. Freedom: A Novel (Jonathan Franzen)  (iPad)
  3. Columbine (Dave Cullen) (iPad)
  4. Democracy and Education (John Dewey, reread) (iPad)
  5. Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life (John Daidoo Loori) (book)
  6. The Power of Pull (John Seely Brown) (iPad)
  7. The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education (Maya Frost) (iPad)
  8. Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology (Collins & Halverson) (book)
Morning Fog. Image by Mary Ann Reilly

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Why Proximity Matters: A Message for Ms. Rhee

    I recently found myself exchanging a several emails back and forth with Michelle Rhee.  Without elaborating about the content of these email exchanges, I found myself thinking about proximity and theorizing why proximity matters so much. I work out of a central office charged with matters related to curriculum, teaching, learning, and assessment.  It is work I have done for a significant amount of time in mostly urban and some suburban/urban public school districts.  Let me begin by saying I value the work that is done in central office and recognize that the variety of jobs are rather diverse and significant.  Additionally, I recognize that I would find it difficult to do any informed work and remain physically in a central office.  Proximity to teaching and learning matters.  The distance between the development of practices, policies, and beliefs that is often formed via central office educators and the location where teaching and learning happens needs to be close.

    At one point in the email exchanges Michelle and I were representing different view points regarding the complexity of teaching and learning. She advocated that "it was not rocket science" and I respectfully disagreed, believing when she wrote "it" that she was referring to teaching and learning.  She then clarified that she was not referring to all of education, but rather indicated that rewarding our "best" teachers, making ineffective ones better, and dismissing ineffective teachers is not rocket science.

    Whereas her comment alarmed me, I was not very surprised.  Situating complex human work of teaching into categories where ideals such as "best" and "ineffective" remain constant happens I suspect with greater ease the more distant one is from actual teaching and learning.  Now to be clear, I am not suggesting that physical distance represents the only type of distance.  I have witnessed teachers and administrators who reside inside schools situate themselves inside a similar duality.  The problem though is heightened when the person who holds these dualistic certainties as truths garners significant national power alongside marginal experience. Within such a scenario, children and teachers will be harmed and by extension, our democratic ideals. 

    Allow me to digress.  Some years ago I was the director of literacy for a city school system.  In this city "ineffective" teachers were sent to "teacher camp"--a six week experience where teachers were sent, prior to tenure charges being readied, in a last effort for the system to "make" them better teachers.  There the "ineffective" teachers would be shown how to teach by "model" educators.  I never had much of a stomach for this scenario and was pleased to see it cease.  In its stead other interventions were organized.  For example, one primary grade teacher slated for "teacher camp" was given a reprieve when I asked that she be made part of a whole school literacy initiative I was beginning with first grade teachers across multiple elementary schools in the city.  For two years,  a reading recovery teacher conducted lessons in the back area of the first grade teacher's classroom and co-taught with the teacher on a fairly regular basis.  As a frequent visitor to the classroom, I too modeled lessons and co-taught as did others from my office.  This teacher was part of a first grade teacher cohort where we worked to refine and better understand our craft. By the end of the second year, all of the 37 students in this teacher's classroom were slated for a gifted and talented program that began in second grade. All of her students (yes 37 in one first grade classroom) were very able readers, most in dual language (English and Spanish). 

    The story doesn't end there.  9 months later I happened to sit next to the teacher at a ceremony honoring graduates from a reading recovery program.  After the ceremony she asked to speak with me and told me that she had decided to retire at the end of the school year.  Her eyes filled and she told me that the last three years had been a gift because she learned that she was highly capable of teaching all students to read well--a belief she had not previously had in herself. 

    I carry this teacher's story of claimed dignity with me whenever I begin to doubt others.  It's so damn easy to reach conclusions and to be wrong.  The future is largely unwritten and these last 29 years have shown me story after story of educators (myself included) who through work, collaboration, and reflection have improved their practice.

    It is naive to think that educators arrive at a place where teaching, learning, and leading is easy and success is constant.  There is no arrival.  There is only becoming.    That is the message I wish Ms. Rhee and others who hold such power might learn.  I am not suggesting that all who enter our profession should remain.  I am suggesting though that investing in structures that locate learning as a primacy of the work returns far better outcomes for children than firing the masses,  especially if one believes that s/he can use value added schema to deduce the winners and the losers.  One only has to consider Heisenberg to realize the folly of such thought.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Everyday People

    One of the absolute joys of being a photographer is meeting so many different people.  This brief video features images I have made here in the States and also in Europe during the last two years.  The images were taken in the following locations: Manhattan (Central Park, Lower East Side, Grand Central, Wall Street, the Village, Battery Park, Midtown, 123rd Street, 12th Avenue, 57th Street and Fifth Avenue), Bronx, Michigan, California, Florida, South Dakota, New Jersey (Hoboken, Newark, Ringwood, Morristown), Tuscany & Florence (Italy), Dublin, Ireland

    Everyday People by Sly and the Family Stone

    Sometimes I'm right and I can be wrong
    My own beliefs are in my song
    The butcher, the banker, the drummer and then
    Makes no difference what group I'm in
    I am everyday people, yeah yeah
    There is a blue one who can't accept the green one
    For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
    And different strokes for different folks
    And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
    Oh sha sha - we got to live together
    I am no better and neither are you
    We are the same whatever we do
    You love me you hate me you know me and then
    You can't figure out the bag l'm in
    I am everyday people, yeah yeah
    There is a long hair that doesn't like the short hair
    For bein' such a rich one that will not help the poor one
    And different strokes for different folks
    And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee
    Oh sha sha-we got to live together
    There is a yellow one that won't accept the black one
    That won't accept the red one that won't accept the white one
    And different strokes for different folks

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    What Rests in Our Hands Is Simply That: Be a Learner

    In light of Tom Whitby's "modest proposal" to post a blog  about positive educational reform on 10.17.10, I found myself thinking about reform and redesign. Now, I am not much for reform as I think the word, the process, and what it has come to mean is at best, tired—and for the last 40 years, increasingly divisive.  I do believe though that redesign is needed in public education and I offer here a simple way to revolutionize public and private education. Be a learner (your choice of passions and interests), study how you and others learn, and bring all of it with you to your classroom, school or district, and show it off via public exhibitions. Personal learning passions and public exhibitions of learner's work are more important than national and state standards movements, national and state testing, national and state curriculum maps, and the like.

    Having worked for 29 years as an educator, most of those years in K-12 public education in urban, suburban, and rural locations, I have been privileged to work alongside great teachers, principals, and administrators.  Their greatness has been neither static, nor superhuman. Rather, they are learners who always have a project going, a passion they are following, an idea they are tugging at--in short it is simply a stance they embody.  These are gregarious learners, quiet learners, deep and thoughtful rivers that are both purposeful and nomadic.  They wander and reorganize.  They are largely contradictory in their thinking, believing, and (re)actions as they are often in the present moment. They resist and theorize.  Memory of these learners reminds me that all of the plans and schemes and reforming in the world cannot and will not achieve a sustained learning environment for the practice  of doing to others is so seriously flawed.  Reform is always an epic design and couldn't recognize a rhizomatic moment if it tripped over a mass of roots. 

    Listen to Whitman, who in Song of Myself , wrote:

    The past and present wilt - I have fill'd them, emptied them.
    And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.  

    Reform measures--progressive and not have often been largely about filling others with something the reformers privileged: workshop, direct instruction, rigor, process, mapping, cross walking, and on and on. It is not that anything is actually wrong with these approaches at their core. Rather, by attending to something else, something other—the more personal and I would urge, empowered learning is suppressed.  When this happens over and over again—perhaps for whole careers—the learner (student, teacher, administrator, parent) internalizes that his/her job is to attend to things that may or may not make sense and to suppress and not trust what does make sense.  This is what kills education. A direct shot to the heart.

    So what am I advocating? I am interested in redesigning schools to focus on learning for all who step through the door (real and virtual) and to have learning direct our attention, resources, staffing and time.  Instead of asking: Will this technique do x, I want to occasion learning passions. Instead of the old input-output algorithm, imagine if passion was x and we asked: What do we need to set into play in order for the possibility of x to be realized?

    In the school system where I work we are redesigning the high school and by extension the district.  As the director of curriculum, my goals are two-fold: privilege learning and learners and organize in such a manner that idiosyncratic methods, content, and beings can flourish.  Nothing more. Nothing less.  I tell you here though, it takes extraordinary design as the teaching world has been largely organized to resist such overtures. Nonetheless, we beat on. In the last four weeks, high school faculty have forwarded courses they would like to teach--beautiful, idiosyncratic works that are embedded with who they are.  They make my heart sing.  Next, I would like students to have the same opportunity and responsibility to design personal and public learning.  A  simple redesign plan might be: Let's plan, learn, redesign,  and exhibit our learning to the public.

    We have some early trailblazers already out and about: this year we opened a small academy (Classics Academy) that are comprised of five courses taught by four teachers, and three other team-taught courses.  We are in the process of issuing  iPads, 24/7, to all.  Just last week, two of the teachers and their students, along with the students' parents and siblings, neighbors and other educators from the school found themselves in a field at night holding up their iPads loaded with the interactive astronomy app, Star Walk. The students had been studying astronomy as part of a Classics History and Classics Mathematics course that the two teachers (Dawn DeMartino and Harry Sugar) teach.  As one of our Board of Education members told me (I paraphrase): It was cold and late and I knew those teachers had been teaching all day and still there they were. We were on blankets and looking up at the sky looking at the iPad to better know what we were seeing.  And there was Mr. Sugar who had set up his telescope so we could see better--see the indentations of moon craters. My one child was fascinated by the Hercules constellation and my daughter was explaining that the North star did not remain constant over time.  It was beautiful and powerful. 

    Beautiful work. Empowered learners and learning. That is the revolution.

    We must stop doing unto others and instead take mark of where we are.  It is more challenging than one might think. For example, I fell pray to my own worst moment when I decided we would move forward with a physics in ninth grade initiative. Some of the teachers voiced resistance as they worried that they would need to suppress their leaning in order to enact a program. I offered assurances (ones I actually believed) and yet their commentary gave me pause.  I realized a bit later (a day) that I had lost sight of the real goal: not to have physics in ninth grade at all cost, but to engender a place of learning.  These teachers were not objecting to redesigning the science courses, but the means by which we did it.  Ah, time to listen and seek a third space. As Ruth Vinz writes: "The bulk of teacher knowledge is socially derived and hybrid" (1996, p. 168).  She then quotes Homi Bhabha (1990) who explains hybridity:  'For me the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which the third emerges, rather hybridity to me is the 'third space' which enables other positions to emerge' [p.211] (as quoted in Vinz, 1996, p. 168).  Ruth concludes by asserting: "The act of teaching engenders a continual contestation beyond teachers' present and future knowledge—challenging, mixing, testing, and ultimately transgressing what the teacher knows 'how to do' or has ever done before" (p. 168).  The teachers and I need a third space, not a directive.

    I love Ruth's book, Composing a Teaching Life.  She has been both my finest teacher and friend these last 17 years.  In one of the chapters in the text she discusses what rests in teachers' hands. She concludes: "We must keep the learning and the imagining. That's what rests in our hands—the responsibility to do just that" (p. 164).  I have read those words for years and it is the pronoun, that, I want to emphasize.  Our responsibility rests not in enacting other schemes.  We are responsible to keep the learning and imagining.  Just that.

    If we want to (in)form the conversation about learning at local, state, national and international forums, we need to ensure that what we are learning is not insubstantial, but rather worthy of our time and attention.  I grow weary of the books and websites that offer 15 ways to do this, 30 ways to do that.  Fodder mostly.  I have given some thought to works that have influenced me and have helped me to better understand and appreciate the complexity of learning, that have encouraged me to consider multiple and often contradictory perspectives and the importance of resistance, that have shown me slices of worlds I simply had not known existed, and have inspired me to be brave in light of politics and manufactured fear.  Here is my list:
    1. Bakhtin, M.M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
    2. Bakhtin, M.M. (1990).  Art and Answerability: Early philosophical essays. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
    3. Barthes, Roland. (1982/2010). Camera Lucida: Reflections on photography. NY: Hill and Wang.
    4. Bateson, Mary Catherine. (2000). Full circles, overlapping lives: Culture and generation in transition. NY: Random House.
    5. Baudrillard, Jean. (1995). Simulacra and simulation (the Body, in theory: History of cultural materialism).  Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
    6. Berger, John & Jean Mohr. (1982/1995). Another way of telling. NY: Vintage.
    7. Berger, Ron. (2003). An ethics of excellence: Building a culture of craftsmanship with students. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    8. Bhabha, Homi K. (2004). The location of culture, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.
    9. Cochran-Smith, Marilyn and Susan L. Lytle. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research in the next generation. NY: Teachers College Press.
    10. Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
    11. Dewey, John. (1916/1944). Democracy and education: An introduction to philosophy of education. NY: The Free Press.
    12. Du Bois, W.E. B. (1994). The souls of Black folks. NY: Barnes & Noble Classics.
    13. Eisner, Elliot (Ed). (1985). Learning and teaching the ways of knowing: Eighty-fourth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
    14. Gee, James Paul. (2008). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology and Discourses, 3rd edition. London: Routledge.
    15. Gonzalez, Norma, Moll, Luis C., and Cathy Amanti. (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households and classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 
    16. Graves, Donald. (1983/2003). Writing: Teachers & children at work. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    17. Greene, Maxine. (1988). The dialectic of freedom. NY: Teachers College Press.
    18. Heath, Shirley Brice. (1983). Ways with words: Language, life and work in communities and classrooms. Cambridge: UK: Cambridge University Press. 
    19. Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962/1970). The structure of scientific revolutions, second edition.  Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.  
    20. Leander, Kevin M. & Margaret Sheehy (Eds,) (2004). Spatializing literacy research and practice. NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
    21. Morrison, Toni. (1987). Beloved. NY: Alfred Knopf.
    22. Pinar, William. (2009). What is curriculum theory? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 
    23. Rosenblatt, Lousie. (1978/1994). The reader, the text, the poem: transactional theory of the literary work. Carbondale & Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
    24. Schank, Roger. C. (1995). Tell me a story: Narrative and intelligence. Evanston, IL: Northwetsern Universty Press.
    25. Said, Edward. (1983).  The World, the text, and the critic. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    26. Soja, Edward W. (1996). Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places. Cambridge. MA: Blackwell Publisher, Inc. 
    27. Vinz, Ruth. (1996). Composing a teaching life. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook.
    28. Vygotsky, Lev. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    29. West, Cornel. (2005). Democracy matters: Winning the fight against imperialism. NY: Penguin.
    30. Whitman, Walt. (1855/2008). Leaves of grass. Kindle edition.
    31. Williams, William Carlos. (1967). Pictures from Brueghel and other poems. NY: New Directions.
    32. Woolf, Virginia. (1991). A room of one's own. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    A New York State of Mind

    Today I was at Columbia University for a workshop for alumni.  There I learned how to make a movie out of photographs stored in iPhoto by exporting the images into a slideshow with music.  It couldn't be easier.  Below is the sample film made from images I have composed during the last two years.  Living close to NYC affords me ample opportunity to make photographs there.  All of the images were made in Manhattan. The music, New York State of Mind, was composed and performed by Billy Joel.

    Hope you enjoy.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    All You Need is Love...

    I spent part of the day in Central Park shooting some images I might use for the Holden remix project.  I entered the Park @72nd Street and immediately came upon hundreds of people who stood shoulder to shoulder swaying and singing Beatles song after Beatles song.  I had figured there would be a crowd at the Imagine circle given that it had been John Lennon's birthday the day before (what would have been #70) but was surprised at the size of the crowd--one that did not abate during the three hours I was in the Park.

    Give Peace a Chance. Collage by Mary Ann Reilly (2009).
    There are a few events that were not personal that nonetheless carry with them significant emotional influence in my life. Certainly, the murder of John Lennon, is one. As I later stood across the street from the Dakota, I wanted so much to be able to turn back time and rewrite history.

    Central Park. 10.9.10.

    Central Park. 10.9.10

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    21st Century Tools and Moral Imperatives: The Boy with the iPad

    The juxtaposition of stories is often potentially greater than the single story.  Today during a meeting a high school colleague asked, "Can't you be a great teacher and not use technology?"  He had posed this question, I suspect, as a defense against what he has understood to be a technology emphasis by administrators, such as myself,  and others in the school system where I work.  I immediately thought of Godel, his incompleteness theorem and from such a vantage point could only think, well certainly you can be great (whatever that means), but I am not sure that you can be moral.

    Okay, so hold that story in mind and now let me tell you another story I heard today from a different colleague, Celeste. She explained how one of our high school students who is severely language impaired (unable to make speech sounds) and wheelchair bound responded when she handed him an iPad for his use, 24/7. He looked up at her and mouthed the single word, WoW!  He did this repeatedly, (something in the neighborhood of 60 times), clutching the iPad to his chest.  Within the first 24 hour period, he was demonstrating empowerment, by controlling communication via his iPad. In many ways, his actions were tantamount to fire discovery and other paradigmatic changers.  The means to express and control communication rested in his hands.

    So juxtapose those two stories and let's add to the mix, a blurb from the recent essay, Literate Arts in a Global World: Reframing Social Networking as Cosmopolitan Practice, authored by Glynda Hull and Amy Stornaiuolo (2010) who write: this historical moment, locating points of entry for 21st-century tools and practices into formal as well as informal educational spaces seems tantamount to a moral imperative, with important implications for access and equity...the rewards could not be greater, or the risk of failure more grave, for educating a citizenry able and willing to communicate with digital tools across differences in a radically interconnected yet divided world (p. 85).
    If we return to the question of greatness and teaching, I am less sure if that question is even relevant. Given the story of the boy who is empowered via a tool, I would wonder what would motivate any teacher to want to remain steadfast in his or her commitment to not afford students the occasion to learn how to use technological tools and practices, and then do so.  In many ways the first scenario seems to be more of a question about adult responsibility and moral imperative.  I wonder, Can a teacher be socially just while knowingly ignoring tools and practices that learners could use to empower themselves?  Is such "practice" akin to forced servitude?   

    I am wondering what you think.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Why I Read: Book Favorites

    Pearls Before Swine

    (Shout out to David Cohen who posted the comic on Twitter).

    I began this on Facebook, but thought it deserved it's own  post. So I invite you to go ahead and post your favorite books to read.

    The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
    Portrait of the Artist as Young Man & Ulysses - James Joyce
    To the Lighthouse - Virgina Woolf
    Beloved - Toni Morrison
    Ceremony - Leslie Marmon Silko
    Eva Luna - Isabel Allende
    Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco
    If on a Winter's Night a Traveler - Italo Calvino
    The Road - Cormac McCarthy
    Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson

    Please post your favorite books:)

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Who Speaks for Public Education? Elevating Education Reform Dialog

    One cannot climb a number of different mountains simultaneously, but the views had when different mountains are ascended supplement one another: they do not set up incompatible, competing statement of an end may suggest certain questions and observations, and another statement another set of questions, calling for other observations. Then the more general ends we have, the better. One statement will emphasize what another slurs over. What a plurality of hypotheses does for the scientific investigator, a plurality of stated aims may do for the instructor. (John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916/1994, p. 110).  
    There was a bit of a brouhaha over at Twitter concerning a panel of educators who have been invited to speak about education and the criticism from at least one that the panel does not include a full-time teacher.  Issues of representation remain challenging, especially in these days when who speaks for education, especially public education, has become more overtly contentious, narrowed and seemingly recast as a falsely singular matter.  I can think of no student, teacher, principal, researcher, professor, administrator, board of education member, parent, community member,  or politician who could actually represent the public education viewpoint,  as there is no single viewpoint, and want to suggest that multiple voices are essential and worth fighting to attain.  The idea of a single voice, be it "the teacher" or not, resounding is largely as mythical as our continued fascination with superheroes.  We would do well to clarify that aims of education are not singular in nature, nor can aims be represented by one voice.  Before writing at length about educational aims, Dewey (1916/1944) warned that "[e]ducators have to be on their guard against ends that are alleged to be general and ultimate" (p. 109).  So long as we continue to privilege the myth that an ultimate way exists, be it charter or public, progressive or not, or what ever new fix finds itself on our collective horizon, we limit the discussion of pluralistic education as an epic construct.

    We need to talk more, not less and listen well, especially when what is being said contradicts a truth we may seem to know. If not, we are left with only an epic.

    An epic is a closed form where the events have already been decided and what is left is the retelling of what has been established as happening.  Mikhail Bakhtin (1981) explains that epic is “a man speaking about a past that is to him inaccessible” (p. 13).   The only way an ultimate can exists is in an epic state. In contrast, we understand that meaning is not ready-made, but rather occurs in the lived exchange among people, at points of utterance.  Again, Bakhtin (1981) reminds us  that “[d]iscourse lives, as it were, beyond itself, in a living impulse toward the object; if we detach ourselves completely from this impulse all we have left is the naked corpse of the word” (p. 292). We do not need one national conversation. We need many and these discussions need to be public, not to resolve, but rather to illuminate, complicate, and explicate. We would do well to practice being a bit more nomadic in our thinking, and less dogmatic.

    So tonight, a panel of educators in some sort of virtual discussion, Elevating the Education Reform Dialog will add their voices to a discussion about public education, as well as an hour open forum for others to give voice.  I for one will be listening. 

    Note: In an effort to be transparent let me disclose that I am a director of curriculum for a public school district, female and white-European.  During the last 29 years, I have taught students at the primary, elementary, middle, secondary, undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as certified teachers and administrators.  I am also married to a public school English teacher and the parent of a child in public school. But none of these "credentials" are necessary badges to engage in civil discourse about teaching and learning. They should neither gain me entrance, nor limit me. An important aim of public education is to ensure that public discourse is privileged.   Public education is the conduit for democracy.  Kill public education and democracy is sure to follow. We are what we stand for. As Dewey wrote, “The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action” (p.351).  It is in the choices we make, fail to make, consider, and reconsider discussions aims of education and its relationships to democracy might be (in)formed.

    I hope you will be listening too.

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    The Big Remix: Holden, Collage, Sound, Film & Graffiti

    American Mosaic II. Image by Mary Ann Reilly (South Bronx, 2009).
    So here's what I am wondering: To what end does The Catcher in the Rye represent adolescence in 2010?  To explore this question I am designing an engagement with tenth grade students and their two teachers, John Madden and Chris Kenny from Morristown High School.  Here's what is planned:

    1. Introduce tenth grade students to photographic collage. 
    2. Accompany the teachers and their students to NYC to walk in the steps that Holden took as he made his way through Manhattan. John Madden has the route set.
    3. Have everyone on the trip record/make images, film, audio along the way that reflect Holden's odyssey AND also texts that represent adolescence today (graffiti, youth, street scenes, traffic, tech tools).
    4. Shoot images of book pages, written text, watercolor, scrunched up paper, paper towel, etc.
    5. Remix images, sound, and film back in the classroom in order to create art works that explore the question of (re)presentation. I had a brainstorm last night and am now wondering how the Brushes app on an iPad might help us to do the remixing work. We will explore creating using iPads,  as well as Macbooks (iMovie, iPhoto and Photoshop). 
    6. Print photographic work and ready any film/audio. Figure out how to display student work without a lot of cost:)
    7. Consider which finished images to use and in what order.  Display finished work on internet and in a public exhibition.
    8. Have students author exhibition notes that are done in print and as a podcast that is uploaded to iTunes.
    9. Invite the public (virtual and real). 
    10. Reconsider all of this based on feedback by John, Chris and the students.
    Here are a few examples that I made of photographic collage.

    Looking. Image by Mary Ann Reilly. (Tuscany, Italy 2009)

    American Mosaic I. Image by Mary Ann Reilly (Manhattan, 2009).

    Grand Central. Image by Mary Ann Reilly (Manhattan, 2009).
    Voyeur. Image by Mary Ann Reilly (Paterson, NJ, 2009).

    17th Annual Small Matters of Great Importance Exhibition

    I am so pleased to have three works that will be exhibited in the 17th Annual Small Matters of Great Importance exhibit at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, NY. This is the third year I will have work in this show and I have found each exhibition to be unique.

    The three images are:

    Shadow and Light, I. Image by Mary Ann Reilly (South Dakota, 2010)

    What Felled You Is Important. Image by Mary Ann Reilly (South Dakota, 2010)
    Calvary. Image by Mary Ann Reilly (South Dakota, 2010)

    17th Annual Small Matters of Great Importance
    October 16- November 28, 2010
    Opening Reception: Saturday, October 16, 5-7 pm
    The exhibition celebrates work in all styles and media that makes a big statement—through message, technique, or execution--despite size.  Juror: Clare Bell, Program Manager, Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.  

    Selected Artist: Ruth Avra, Suzanne Baron, Zoe Berkovic, Critz Campbell, Kimberly Clark, Jim Crable, Carl Demeulenaere, Charolette Forsythe, James Fuhrman, Marilyn Gelfand, Kathleen Gerard, Arthur Gunther, Michael Iskowitz, Amy Keefer, Lucy Kehati, Dana Kleinman, Dawnice Kerchaert, Polly Law, Elizabeth Leal, Mica McCann, Stephen Mead, Josh Millis, Rachel Moseley, Christin Mulder, Natasha Rabin, Richard Raiselis, Ed Rehbein, Mary Ann Reilly, Silvia Rudolf, Jennine Scarboro, Gary Schwartz, Craig Usher, Robbii Wessen, William Waggoner, Win Zibeon 

    Edward Hopper House Art Center
    82 North Broadway
    Nyack, NY 10960
    Gallery Hours: 1-5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday