Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Sorrow that Weeping Cannot Symbolize: John Steinbeck

Oranges (2.2012 by M.A. Reilly)

February 27. John Steinbeck's birthday.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Steinbeck said: "Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed." 

Literature is critical.  Hope you'll share a work that inspires you to be better than you think you are.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Crowd-Sourcing Dreams

It's not that Seth Godin is saying anything novel.  But it is that he is leveraging via his appeal and his connections a will for others to think about learning and public schooling. I'm half-way through Godin's manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams and want to recommend that you take a couple of hours and read it and then get some others to do so as well and then let's talk about it and see what we can put together and what we can dismantle.

I know that a lot of artists stop by my blog and so I am appealing especially to you.  Godin says that an artist "is someone who brings new thinking and generosity to his work, who does human work that changes another for the better" (section 39).  I think we know that and certainly I recognize those qualities and actions in the work and heart of so many of you.

Godin writes (from section 39):
The future of our economy lies with the impatient. The linchpins and the artists
and the scientists who will refuse to wait to be hired and will take things into
their own hands, building their own value, producing outputs others will gladly
pay for. Either they’ll do that on their own or someone will hire them and give
them a platform to do it. 
The only way out is going to be mapped by those able to dream.
I have invited Arne Duncan to a Google hangout I plan to host to discuss the manifesto and what in our national ed plan is supportive of a pedagogy of dreams and what is in the way of children dreaming powerfully.  I'll post the date and time and let you know.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Painting Like a 3-Year-Old: A Keepsake

All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. Pablo Picasso

When my son was a toddler, one of the things we routinely did was paint. He loved to mess around. I recently spent some time looking at two paintings he had done at 3 years of age. I can recall being taken by them and waiting days for the paint to dry. I then matted and framed each, thinking these would be important keepsakes--ones I would want him to have when he got older--ones I would have trouble parting with. This morning, I snapped a picture of each image and decided another way to preserve them would be to do so here, in this inbetween world.

I am reminded when I view them at his wild abandon as he painted with fingers, hands, arms, and now and then a brush. He seemed to have an instinct for color in the many ways he combined colors or perhaps it was more the absence of fear of error that prompted his experimentation.  There also was movement that typfied his art making--not so unusual at 3.  Making art is a full body experience, especially when you are a toddler up to your elbows in paint.  It is something we would do well to recall as we age. And then there was the kindness: "Mommy, for you," he said offering his art so freely in a manner that still makes my heart hurt just a bit.  I can recall the paint more on him than the paintings as he reached out with his hands.

These things: color, movement, and kindness are the story.  The absence of making an error is the gift.

A decade has past and now this child is teenager and I want to say to him:

Be wild, let instinct guide your steps.
Abandon the fear of failure that often dogs our steps as we age.
Make mistakes.
Seek color and movement in the way you chose to live.
See possibility in yourself and especially in others. 

Remain generous. 
Remain kind.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Poem as Character Sketch

Silk City (by M.A. Reilly, 2011)
We often think about fiction when thinking about the exploration of character. In this post I am suggesting a few narrative poems that contain strong character sketches. I wonder if the brevity and intensity of each poem might help learners recognize and name characteristics of character, as well as help them to also name direct and indirect methods authors use to establish a character.

"Pauline Barrett" by Edgar Lee Masters
Pauline Barrett

Almost the shell of a woman after the surgeon’s knife!
And almost a year to creep back into strength,
Till the dawn of our wedding decennial
Found me my seeming self again.
We walked the forest together,
By a path of soundless moss and turf.
But I could not look in your eyes,
And you could not look in my eyes,
For such sorrow was ours—the beginning of gray in your hair,
And I but a shell of myself.
And what did we talk of?—sky and water,
Anything, ‘most, to hide our thoughts.
And then your gift of wild roses,
Set on the table to grace our dinner.
Poor heart, how bravely you struggled
To imagine and live a remembered rapture!
Then my spirit drooped as the night came on,
And you left me alone in my room for a while,
As you did when I was a bride, poor heart.
And I looked in the mirror and something said:
"One should be all dead when one is half-dead—
Nor ever mock life, nor ever cheat love."
And I did it looking there in the mirror—
Dear, have you ever understood?

Edgar Lee Masters

"Revenge"  - Taha Muhammad Ali

"Phenomenal Woman" - Maya Angelou
"The Floral Apron" - Marilyn Chin (Video of the poet reading)
"Tornado Child" - Kwame Dawes (Video of the poet reading)

"Supermarket in California" - Allen Ginsburg

"The Weary Blues" - Langston Hughes

"You Go Girl" and "A Letter to My Mother" - Taslima Nasreen

"One Boy Told Me"  -  Naomi Shihab Nye

"Portrait of a Woman" - William Carlos Williams (Audio recording of the poet reading)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Experiment: Thinking about School Environment

from here.

In 1915, John Dewey wrote the following about 'old education':

from here.
Some few years ago I was looking about the school supply stores in the city, trying to find desks and chairs which seemed suitable from all points of view--artistic, hygienic, and educational--to the needs of the children. We had a great deal of difficulty in finding what we needed,and finally one dealer, more intelligent than the rest, made this remark: 'I am afraid we have not what you want. You want something at which children work; these are all for listening'... It's all made 'for listening'--because simply studying lessons out of a book is another kind of listening;it marks the dependency of one mind upon another...If everything is on a 'listening' basis, you can have uniformity of material and method. The ear, and the book which reflects the ear, constitute the medium which is alike for all  (pp. 21-23).

So a challenge: Take a look at the classroom, school, or district where you work.  Is it designed for listening? For working?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mining Educational Thought through Photographs of Street Play

Image by Martha Cooper from here.
While Martha Cooper was a staff photographer for the New York Post (1977 - 1980) she learned that "The city's poorer neighborhoods had the richest street life." She left her job at the Post and began documenting across the world, children's street play.  In thinking about what she had learned while in New York, she writes:

Children often played for hours without adult supervision and frequently supervised younger siblings themselves.  As I photographed these kids, I came to admire their creativity, energy, humor and willingness to share. I marveled at the simplicity of their homemade toys and at their imagination in playing with them.
Images by Martha Cooper from here.

Maxine Greene (2007) tells us that imagination is "the capacity to break with the ordinary, the given, the taken-for-granted and open doors to possibility." She tells us that a way to describe imagination is as a "passion for possibility." 

A passion for possibility can be seen in the images Cooper makes of children at play.  In contrast to Cooper's images made in the streets, I wonder about the images we make at school.  Is there enough room in the lived curriculum for the unexpected? Is there enough room for children to imagine in ways we cannot and will not predict?

I think about the images Cooper made of children at play and how these images illustrate the power of a child's imagination alongside Greene's definition of learning as imaginative play.  This thinking makes me wonder how often we explore imagination inside of school and just how natural it is for children to employ their imaginations when they are beyond the school door.

Agency seems to matter.

All of this gives me pause and makes me wonder how we might invite the world that children compose outside of school inside our classrooms.  Imagine what we might learn if there was enough space for play that we did not orchestrate.

Works Cited
Cooper, Martha. (2006). Street Play. Berlin, Germany: From Here to Fame Publishing.
Greene, Maxine. (2007).  Imagination and the Healing Arts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Death, Certainty, and the Common Core

The Cover to a Child's Personal Narrative
1. First a Story

Last week, a ten-year-old boy stopped me while I was visiting his classroom and asked me how I liked the cover to his composition.  He then handed the piece of yellow construction paper to me. At the time he had not added the RIP or the tears.  As I read the title, I stopped unsure if I was reading correctly and reread. It took me a few seconds to find a voice to ask him about his narrative.

He passed two handwritten pages to me and I read them learning that his favorite uncle had died breaking up a mugging, with a bullet to the center of the forehead. He talked to me about how his uncle was his mother's older brother, her favorite too and how he and his uncle use to watch a special TV show together.  I told him that his narrative made me sad and how reading it reminded me that I needed to reach out to both of my brothers, if for no other reason than to say hello.

That's important to do, he told me as he added the tears and the RIP to the cover.

2. Then Another

Beneath the rhetoric of school reform are children's lives--fragile, resilient, and often tragic.  I think about this child and his powerful need to tell this story--a story I imagine he will tell again and again in different ways throughout his life.  Against this, I also think about those who would have us believe that story has limited place at school.  David Coleman, Common Core author joked about personal and persuasive essay when he discussed the Common Core with an audience of educators. Coleman told the audience that narrative and persuasive writing were the two most often prescribed school texts and why that was wrong.  He said:
The only problem with these two forms of writing is they don't get you very far in college and career readiness. Otherwise they're terrific (laughter).  That is it is rare at a job that the boss says, 'Johnson,  I want a market analysis, but before that I want a compelling narrative about your childhood' (again laughter).
An unintended consequence of the Common Core can be found in the certainty that frames so much of Coleman's utterances. He appears to be so sure that his thinking is right--right for an entire country.  With no actual experience against which to measure his remarks, Coleman continues on--perhaps unaware of what his careless rhetoric will displace--a child's powerful need to make sense of a favorite uncle's death through story.  What concerns me more than David Coleman is the audience of administrators and Department of Education folk who sat there and laughed.  Was there no one in that audience brave enough, bold enough to say to Coleman: Wait, you don't know what you're doing.  Let me tell you a story about a child from...?

3. Even in Business, or is it Especially in Business?

Humans, regardless of age, have a powerful need to tell stories.  Stories matter--not only for ten-year- old boys from the Bronx whose favorite uncles die, but also for those earning their keep in various businesses.  Coleman got it wrong in his contrived scenario about market analysis.

Market analysis is informed by story.  One might say it rests on story.

Consider Seth Godin who writes:

Storywork I was brainstorming with my friend Jay today and he put this picture into my head.
Most of the time we do the work. The work is our initiative and our reactions and our responses and our output. The work is the decisions we make and the people we hire.
The work is what people talk about, because it's what we experience. In other words, the work tells a story.
But what if you haven't figured out a story yet?
Then the work is random. Then the story is confused or bland or indifferent and it doesn't spread.
On the other hand, if you decide what the story is, you can do work that matches the story. Your decisions will match the story. The story will become true because you're living it.
Does Starbucks tell a different story from McDonald's? Of course they do. But look how the work they do matches those stories... from the benefits they offer employees to the decisions they make about packaging or locations.
Same is true for that little consulting firm down the street vs. McKinsey. While the advice may end up being similar, each firm lives a story in who they hire, how they present themselves, etc.
The story creates the work and the work creates the story.

 Muriel Rukeyser expressed our need for story, clearly, artfully--years ago when she wrote:
Time comes into it.
Say it.       Say it.

The universe is made of stories,
not of atoms.

We are the stories we tell.  If we fail to tell and receive stories, we fail to be. Ten-year-old children innately know this.  Perhaps, some among us still need to learn it.            

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Increasing Vocabulary through Transmediation: Newspaper Reading & Collage Journal

"Democracy in Turmoil" (Collage made in response to NY Times, 2.18.2012)

In this post I want to share what I have been doing lately with a collage journal and how I think it can be an excellent method for increasing students' interest in reading a daily newspaper which in turn will increase vocabulary.  Three things to keep in mind:

  1. Vocabulary is acquired through direct and indirect methods, although the majority of one's vocabulary is acquired through heard and read texts. 
  2. Rare words are often the type of words that learners have difficulty knowing. Newspapers are an excellent source of rare words.
  3. Transmediation helps to deepen learning as the meaning made in one symbol systems often does not translate intact to another symbol system. This requires the learner to 'reread' and interpret.

During the last week, I have composed a daily response to what I have read in the newspaper.  In my case, that paper is The New York Times. What I have found is that how I read the newspaper has altered as I am reading across articles, advertisements, letters, and images. Further, I am attending to single words and headlines in ways I simply did not do prior to keeping the journal.

In this Slideshare I explain about vocabulary acquisition, transmediation, and the specifics of creating a collage journal.

Creating the e-Collage Journal
  1. Another way to create the collage is to access an online newspaper and to read and/or listen to articles and to peruse images.  
  2. Make screen shots (command + shift + 4 keys on a Mac; home key and power key on an iPad, iPod touch) of the images and text you want to use in your collage.
  3. Import images into a graphics program. I use Adobe Photoshop, although Illustrator would work as well.
  4. Create the collage and upload to an e-journal.
  5. This is an example of a collage I made in this manner.

"An American Crisis of Identity" Collage made from NY TIMES, 2.17.2012

If you try this, please let me know how it works for you and I hope you'll share any collages you compose.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Recommended Graphic Texts for Social Studies, Grades 7 - 12

Amir. 2011. Zahra's Paradise. Illustrated by Khalil. New York: First Second.

Anderson, Ho Che. 2005. A Comics Biography of  Martin Luther King. Jr. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics.

Bruchac, Joseph. 2010. Dawn Land. Illustrated by Will Davis. New York: First Second.

Buhle, Paul. 2005. Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World. New York: Verso.

Coy, John. 2003. Around the World. Illustrated by Antonio Reonegro and Tom Lynch. NY: Lee & Low.

Delisle, Guy. 2010.  Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn and Quarterly.

---------------. 2008. Burma Chronicles. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn and Quarterly.

--------------. 2007. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn and Quarterly.

From Metro.
El Shafee, Magdy. 2012. Metro. Translated by Chip Rossetti.  (Banned in Egypt by Mubarak. Egypt's 1st graphic novel.) New York: Metropolitan Books.

Flowers, Arthur, Manu Chitrakar & Guglielmo Rossi. 2010. I See the Promised Land: A Life of Martin Luther King. Jr. Illustrated by Manu Chitrakar. India: Tara Press.   

Geary, Rick. 2011. The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti New York: NBM Publishing.

Gliden, Sarah. 2011. How to Understand Israel in 60 Days of Less. New York: Vertigo.

from The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders

Guibert, Emmanuel. 2009. The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. New York: First Second.

------------------------. 2008. Alan's War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope. New York: First Second.
Helfer, Andrew. 2006. Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography. Illustrated by Randy DuBurke. New York: Hill & Wang.

from Anne Frank: The Ann Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography.
Jacobson, Sid & Ernie Colon. 2010. Anne Frank: The Ann Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography. New York: Hill & Wang.

-----------------------------------. 2006. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. New York: Hill & Wang.
Lagos, Alexander & Joseph Lagos. 2011. The Sons of Liberty, Vol. 2. Illustrated by Steve Walker. New York: Crown.

------------------------------------------. 2010. The Sons of Liberty, Vol. 1. Illustrated by Steve Walker. NY: Crown.

Mizuki, Shigeru. 2011. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn and Quarterly.

From A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge.
Neufeld, Josh. 2010. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. New York: Pantheon.

Rodriguez, Spain. 2008. Che: A Graphic Biography. Illustrated by Paul Buhle. New York: Verso.

Sacco, Joe. 2010. Footnotes in Gaza: A Graphic Novel. New York: Metropolitan books. 

------------. 2002. Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Bosnia 1992-1995. Forward by Christopher Hitchens. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books.

Sacco, Joe & Edward Said. 2002. Palestine. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books.

Satrapi, Marjane. 2007. The Complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon.  
Shahin Tarek. 2011. Rise: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution as Written Shortly Before it Began. CreateSpace.

Sowa, Marzena. 2011. Marzi. Illustrated by Sylvain Savoia. New York: Vertigo.

Spiegleman, Art. 1996. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon.
Tan, Shaun. 2007. The Arrival. New York: Arthur A. Levine.

Thompson, Craig. 2011. Habibi. New York: Pantheon.

Tran, G.B. 2011. Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey. New York: Villard/Random.

Youme & Anthony Horton. 2008. Pitch Black. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.

From Bye Bye Babylon
Ziade, Lania. 2011. Bye Bye Babylon: Beirut 1975-1979. Interlink Publish Group.

Zinn, Howard. 2008. A People’s History of an American Empire. Illustrated by Mike Konopacki and Paul Buhle. NY: Metropolitan Books.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Keeping a Collage Journal Based on Daily Newspaper Reading: Channeling Peter Jacobs

Peter Jacob's Daily Collage. From 12.07.210

What is a Collage Journal

Peter Jacobs, collage artist, has been creating a daily collage culled from images from that day's newspaper for seven years. Jacobs writes:
The Collage Journal is now in its seventh year. I produce a collage solely from the images and texts of that day’s newspaper. The Collage Journal's 2091+ collages reside in over 187 Strathmore books. I have thus-far used 46 cutting boards, 298 Exacto blades, and 212 glues-sticks. As consistent as the newspaper is printed, each day I sit down and construct/reconstruct my visual response and internal feelings in that morning’s collage. Like a written journal, a visual journal incorporates both personal and external experience. The Collage Journal extends the external experience to the world, having the palette of the newspaper’s dissection of stories and images. The newspapers also bring the world of advertising, which is somewhat surreal in their placement to their neighboring articles. I believe this juxtaposition creates a de-sensitizing and detachment in the reader/viewer to the gravity of the news. The Collage Journal has become integrated in my daily life as a meditation, contemplation and re-evaluation of culture and identity. I have not decided on an end date for this series. Quite possibly, the newspapers will stop production before The Collage Journal ends.

Creating a Collage Journal in Social Studies or Humanities Class

I wondered about this process, not only as an art expression, but also as a visual journal that might serve as a record of daily newspaper reading. How might creating a daily or weekly collage based on the reading from a single day's newspaper influence how one reads?  How might this practice over time deepen a person's knowledge about current events? What might happen if creating a daily or weekly collage was a standing choice assignment that was privileged work in social studies or humanities courses?  The materials needed are fairly minimal and although I would certainly recommend a lesson on how to use an X-acto knife--the rest is rather minimal.

I decided today to try out this idea. I read the New York Times with an eye to making a collage.  I was surprised that I read the paper differently as I found myself interested in examining how articles and advertisements from across sections collided, aligned, and might be juxtaposed.  Were there themes or terms that crossed sections and articles? I noticed four things as I read:
  • How the word global is used so often and in different contexts
  • How interest in and news about Iran stretched across several sections
  • That the word war showed up in advertisements and in the first section of the paper repeatedly
  • That the advertisements suggested a world that was less global and far more privileged.  
With that in mind I created my first entry in my new collage journal.

I made the collage in a Canson Mix Media journal (9" x 12" , 98 lb paper).  I used an X-acto pen (finest size) to cut the images I wanted from the newspaper and did so on top of a cutting mat.  I used an UHU clear glue stick (acid free) and some gesso. I then captured the collage with the Camera+ app (which I would recommend as a daily phone camera) on my iPhone.

Below is the completed collage I made based on reading the New York Times on 2.15.12. 

Collage Journal, Day 1 (2.15.12 by M.A. Reilly)

Reading Memoir in Grades 8-12

Abeel, Samantha. (2005). My Thirteenth Winter: A Memoir. New York: Scholastic.
Samantha Abeel diagnosed with dyscalculia in grade 7 recounts her struggle. Might also be paired with Abeel’s poetry and story book (Illustrated with watercolor paintings by Charles Murphy), Reach for the Moon (2001).

Armstrong, Lance. (2001). It’s Not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.  New York: Berkley.
Armstrong’s account of his life after being diagnosed with cancer and how he fought back.

B., David. (2006). Epileptic. New York: Pantheon.
David B’s graphic autobiographical account of living with his brother, Jean Christophe, who is epileptic.

Beah, Ishmael. (2007). Long Time Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Beah’s account of being a child-soldier in Sierra Leone.

An account by Beals, who was one of the nine Black teens who were first to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, AR in 1957.

From Fun Home
Bechdel, Alison. (2007). Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. New York: Mariner Books.
Bechdel’s graphic memoir of life with her father, her father’s death, growing up in the 1960s-1970s in rural Pennsylvania, and being a lesbian. Bechdel’s father was a high school English teacher and owner of a funeral parlor.

Bryson, Bill. (2006). The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. New York: Broadway.
Bryson’s funny and poignant memoir of growing up during the 1950s.

Corrigan, Eireann. (2002). You Remind Me of You: A Poetry Memoir. New York: Front Street.
An account of three years by Eireann Corrigan of her eating disorder and being a teen.

Crutcher, Chris. (2004). King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography. New York: Greenwillow.
YA author, Chris Crutcher’s account of his adolescence growing up in Cascade, Idaho and his understandings as an adult.

Gantos, Jack. (2002). Hole in My Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Gantos’s account of his jail time, how it gave rise to his work as a writer, and an introspective look at adolescence.

A daughter’s retelling of her mother’s life as a young teen when she is sent to London for six years as part of the kindertransport.  Annenberg has produced a video series in connection to this text: Teaching The Children of Willesden Lane.

Hickman, Homer. (1999). Rocket Boys: A Memoir. New York: Delta Books.
Retired NASA engineer, Homer Hickman’s account of building his first rocket. Set in the late 1950s in Coalwood, West Virginia, a mining town.

Jang, Ji-li. (2008). Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution. New York: HarperCollins.
Set in China in the mid 1960s, Jang recounts her coming of age during Mao Ze-dong’s Cultural Revolution.

Marshall, Paule. (2009). Triangular Road: A Memoir. New York: Perseus Books Group.
With the concept of water as a unifying theme, Paule Marshall recounts her writerly life. Originally given as a series of talks at Harvard University. 

McCourt, Frank. (1999). Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir. New York: Scribner.
McCourt’s account of growing up, Irish Catholic, in Limerick, Ireland.
Molnar, Haya Leah. (2010 ). Under a Red Sky: Memoir of Childhood in Communist Romania. New York: Frances Foster Books.
An account of living under communist rule in Bucharest, Romania, postwar--at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s as recalled by Molnar.

Myers, Walter Dean. (2009). Bad Boy: A Memoir. New York: HarperCollins.
Walter Dean Myer’s account of growing up in Harlem in the 1940s and what it means to fit in to ‘the group’ and to be one’s self.

Satrapi, Marjane. (2004).  Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon.
A memoir-in-comic form of Satrapi’s life as a young girl in Iran after the Shah is disposed recounting what it was like to grow up during the Islamic Revolution. The first of two accounts.  The story is continued in Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

Smith, Hilary. (2012). . San Francisco, CA: Conari Press.
A witty and yet telling account of being a young woman diagnosed with bipolar.

Smith, Larry & Rachel Fershleiser. (2009). I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs By Teens Famous & Obscure. New York: HarperTeen.
600 teens chronicle their lives using 6 words to do so. For example Amanda L. writes, “I’m army boots. Ready for battle.”  Anna-Lise M. writes, “Hung myself. Sister found me. Alive.”  Hannah D. writes, “Don’t believe in love. Only science.” 
From Maus I

Spiegleman, Art. 1986. Maus 1: A Survivor’s Tale My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon.
Spiegelman’s autobiographical comic-book account of his relationship with his father, Vladek, Vladek ‘s experiences in Nazi-occupied Poland, and the effects of the Holocaust on Vladek and his son’s lives. In the text, the Nazi’s are portrayed as cats, Jews are drawn as mice, Poles are pigs, and Americans are dogs.  The story continues in Maus II: A Suvivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began (1992). Pulitzer prize winner.

 Wasdin, Howard E. & Templin, Stephen. (2012). I Am a SEAL Team Six Warrior: Memoirs of an American Soldier. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Howard Wasdin’s account of being a SEAL on mission in Africa.

Student On-Line Essays/Memoirs

Gabriella7.  Alzheimer’s and My Dad. Teen Ink.
On-line essay published by Teen Ink that recounts author’s account of her memories of her father who died from Alzheimers. Here’s a memorable line: “I remember one of the last times I saw my dad at the nursing home where he lived. That place scared me, with its odd smell that was a mixture of industrial cleaner and despair.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trying for Fire or Why Technology Has Never Been Just a Tool

Ranunculus by Katinka Matson.

I was thinking about the art of Katinka Matson whose work is featured at the top of this post.  She composes using organic materials, a flatbed scanner, and a computer.  Her artist statement opens:
New technologies equal new perceptions. We create tools and then mould ourselves through our use of them. - Katrinka Matson
At the same time, I had a tweet stream open and was glancing at a series of tweets that situated technological tools as being less important than a teacher's content or pedagogical aims. The argument went something like this:
Technology is just a tool. We can't forget that.
Technology just helps you to accomplish the learning. It isn't the learning.
What you are learning must come first, not the tool.
I am pretty sure that I don't agree with the premise that the technology is just a tool. Not now and really not ever, especially when we see partial signs that suggest some of us are shifting from emphasizing schooling to privileging learning anytime, anywhere and with anyone. In such a world, is the tool secondary to a teaching intention?  Does the tool shape us? Have tools always shaped us? Might it be that neither matter and matter in the same breath? Is it really about either/or, teacherly intention or tool? Could it be about both/and or perhaps neither?
Perhaps this question of which to privilege is a poor question. Consider William Carlos Williams who at the end of "Deep Religious Faith" wrote:

They have quit the job/of invention. The/imagination has fallen asleep/in a poppy-cup.

And so perhaps, as Williams tells us this matter is less the chicken and egg scenario (as to which to privilege first) and more a matter of human invention--invention that happens alongside the imagination. Technological tools are portals to invention. Beneath such arguments of which is most important remain our compelling desire to invent and to imagine.  Now Tim Seibles* knows this.  Years ago, I happened upon a poem by him, from his book,  Hurdy-Gurdy (1992, Cleveland State University Center) that remains with me and continues to inform the ways I see the world.  For me, literature is like that, it too opens portals. The poem, "Trying for Fire," speaks to co-specifying realities of maturation and invention.  Have a look:

Trying for Fire

Right now, even if a muscular woman wanted
to teach me the power of her skin
I'd probably just stand here with my hands
jammed in my pockets. Tonight
I'm feeling weak as water, watching the wind
bandage the moon. That's how it is tonight:
sky like tar, thin gauzy clouds,
a couple lame stars. A car rips by —
the driver's cigarette pinwheels past
the dog I saw hit this afternoon.
One second he was trotting along
with his wet nose tasting the air,
next thing I know he's off the curb,
a car swerves and, bam, it's over. For an instant,
he didn't seem to understand he was dying —
he lifted his head as if he might still reach
the dark-green trash bags half-open
on the other side of the street.

I wish someone could tell me
how to live in the city. My friends
just shake their heads and shrug. I
can't go to church — I'm embarrassed by things
preachers say we should believe.
I would talk to my wife, but she's worried
about the house. Whenever she listens
she hears the shingles giving in
to the rain. If I read the paper
I start believing some stranger
has got my name in his pocket —
on a matchbook next to his knife.

When I was twelve I'd take out the trash —
the garage would open like some ogre's cave
while just above my head the Monday Night Movie
stepped out of the television, and my parents
leaned back in their chairs. I can still hear
my father's voice coming through the floor,
"Boy, make sure you don't make a mess down there."
I remember the red-brick caterpillar of row houses
on Belfield Avenue and, not much higher than the rooftops,
the moon, soft and pale as a nun's thigh.

I had a plan back then--my feet were made
for football: each toe had the heart
of a different animal, so I ran
ten ways at once. I knew I'd play pro,
and live with my best friend, and
when Vanessa let us pull up her sweater
those deep-brown balloony mounds made me believe
in a world where eventually you could touch
whatever you didn't understand.

If I was afraid of anything it was
my bedroom when my parents made me
turn out the light: that knocking noise
that kept coming from the walls,
the shadow shapes by the bookshelf,
the feeling that something was always there
just waiting for me to close my eyes.
But only sleep would get me, and I'd
wake up running for my bike, my life
jingling like a little bell on the breeze.
I understood so little that I
understood it all, and I still know
what it meant to be one of the boys
who had never kissed a girl.

I never did play pro football.
I never got to do my mad-horse,
mountain goat, happy-wolf dance
for the blaring fans in the Astro Dome.
I never snagged a one-hander over the middle
against Green Bay and stole my snaky way
down the sideline for the game-breaking six.

And now, the city is crouched like a mugger
behind me — right outside, in the alley behind my door,
a man stabbed this guy for his wallet, and sometimes
I see this four-year-old with his face all bruised,
his father holding his hand like a vise. When I
turn on the radio the music is just like the news.
So, what should I do — close my eyes and hope
whatever's out there will just let me sleep?
I won't sleep tonight. I'll stay near my TV
and watch the police get everybody. 

Across the street a woman is letting
her phone ring. I see her in the kitchen
stirring something on the stove, Farther off
a small dog chips the quiet with his bark.
Above me the moon looks like a nickel
in a murky little creek. This
is the same moon that saw me at twelve,
without a single bill to pay, zinging
soup can tops into the dark--I called them
flying saucers. This is the same
white light that touched dinosaurs, that
found the first people trying for fire.

It must have been very good, that moment
when wood smoke turned to flickering, when
they believed night was broken
once and for all — I wonder what almost-words
were spoken. I wonder how long
before that first flame went out.

Night (M.A. Reilly, 2011)
 I want to suggest here that we are at a moment in time when the wood smoke has turned to flickering and we need to recognize it as such.  Technologies, that is--anything beyond our physical selves that we use to create, to alter a given reality are old and have never been neutral.  The current ones allow those with access to compose alone or with others and to do so not only across vast geographies simultaneously, but also across time, throwing into uncertain fashion what it means to be in a present moment especially as remixing becomes more common, more easily doable.  Whose present does a collaborated upon work of art exist in?  What about works that are remixed?   I think here of Walter Benjamin who in writing about mechanical reproduction in the 1930s said: "Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be."  Is remix based on mechanical reproduction an original composition existing in a specific time?

Technologies today are a type of time machine--portals to potential invention--ones that alter established borders such as social strata; political, economic, and physical geographies; ideological allegiances; and notions of time.  In doing so our use of these technologies give rise to liberation and constraint. 

An Offering (M.A. Reilly, 2011)
Technologies have never been mere tools and we would be wise to remember that. Jacques Ellul and Lewis Mumford each wrote about the machine as being anti-social and oddly this may be an even keener truth today. Ellul in The Technological Society wrote, "Capitalism did not create our world; the machine did....The machine took its place in a social milieu that was not made for it, and for that reason created the inhuman society in which we live" (p.5).  Ellul, in the same work, quotes Mumford who said, "The machine is anti-social."

The night has never been broken, for what it means to fear, to love, to want, to desire--evolves alongside the very technologies we think have freed us. The Internet is made and remade--for now an oddly inorganic thing that we compose as we are composed by it.

*Here's a link to hear Tim Seibles read the poem, Fearless, from NPR Weekend Edition July 26, 2003.

Centrifugal Force

The Hurry Through (2/2012 by M.A. Reilly)

How are communities and schools ready for and responsive to what Anne Marie Slaughter (2011) in HBR describes?

Technologies that connect people to knowledge, services, and one another across the globe have acted as a centrifugal force, spinning functions and authority away from the center toward millions of previously silent and disempowered individuals. 

Instead of being global citizens (has a homogenized feel to it), how do we help young people to understand the implications of a world where previously silent and disempowered individuals are gaining voice, influence, and presence?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Getting Lost

Along the Way (2.11.13, by M.A. Reilly)

On my way home from visiting friends in Connecticut on Saturday, I got off the highway and took roads in a random fashion. This is a multimodal record of getting lost while on my way home. The music is performed by the Belgian choir Scala who perform U2's With or Without You. I used this selection as it was a gift from Jane and Robyn whose home I was visiting.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Instructional Segregation

Sheep (Feb. 2012, by M.A. Reilly)

Lately I have been thinking about instructional segregation: the practice of sorting students into tracks based on 'perceived ability'.  Ability is such a pernicious thing to begin with and when you tag on that our view of another's abilities is at best perceived--well that slope is more than slippery.  Guy Claxton asserts that “in Western educational culture, the word ‘ability’ is used as a synonym for ‘intelligence’, and is taken to refer to some inner resource which explains or accounts for performance” (1999, p. 28). When we position students as being 'low ability'--a practice that often is used to explain instructional segregation--we also tend to believe that these students' 'inner resources' are not robust enough to warrant independent learning and instead these learners are given some 'proven' program designed to make up what is perceived as missing.

How do students understand these actions?  Do we think they fail to notice their placement at school?  What about students who are privileged?  Do they carry with them an inflated sense of self? Dolores Delgado Bernal opens the essay, "Critical Race Theory, Latino Critical Theory and Critical Race-Gendered Epistemologies: Recognizing Students of Color as Holders and Creators of Knowledge" by quoting Angela, a Chicana college student.  Angela writes:
I have to say that I think my high school was pretty discriminatory because I feel that I wasn’t tracked into a college program and I think I had the potential to be. Except because I was from the other side of the tracks, no one really took the time to inspire me. . . . I had a high school English teacher who had asked us to write an essay. And I had written it about the death of my sister. And when she gave it back to me, she gave me a D. And she said it was all wrong. And I just couldn’t get how she was, first of all, insensitive, and then second of all, criticizing me on an experience she didn’t have and that only I could write about. And so that’s when I think I started to feel the discrimination, almost in the way, I guess in the expectations of what you talk about or what you don’t talk about in school. And what’s academic and what’s not academic.
Angela's comments give me pause and make me wonder:
  1. How is knowledge determined at school? What constitutes 'content'?
  2. Who's knowledge matters at school and why? 
  3. What is the role of agency in learning?
  4. Who's knowledge is misunderstood, seen, or perhaps witnessed?
  5. Who's knowledge is discounted, underrepresented and/or misrepresented?
  6. What happens across time when what a student knows is never or rarely privileged at school?
  7. What happens when the ways a student makes meaning are not permitted, understood and/or valued at school? 
  8. What types of instruction require sorting students into tracks? 
  9. Do we ask learners how they feel about tracking?  Are there voices included in what we know?
  10. What is the role of the imagination in learning and in teaching?
Some questions we might ask ourselves:
  1. Is your district, school and/or classroom a venue of hope and if so, for whom?
  2. Joe Kinchloe and Peter McLaren understand social theory "as a map or guide to the social sphere" (p. 281).  What would a map of the social sphere of your district, school and.or classroom reveal if made by you, a student, or an outsider?
  3. What is ability?  How does your understanding of a learner's 'ability' function at your district, school, or within your classroom?
  4. How do you recognize learners as holders and creators of knowledge?
  5. An epistemology is a system of knowing (Ladson-Billings, 2000). What does your epistemology suggest about what you value and recognize as knowledge?
  6. Highwater (1981) states: "The greatest distance between people is not space, but culture" (p.3). How are cultures represented in your district, school or classroom?  What associational bridges are offered between and across cultures?
  7. What stories and counter-stories are learners allowed to tell where you teach?
  8. What strategies do you employ in order for subordinated learners to have voice? 
  9. What are the social complexities inherent in detracking? How do you ensure that the same system that gave rise to instructional segregation changes at the belief level so that tracking doesn't continue via grading, differentiation, or course selection?
  10. If tracking is a type of master narrative, what counter stories do you tell?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Few Essential iPhone Photography Apps

There are lots of apps that can be used to make images.  Here are a few I have been playing with lately.

Made with iPhone, processed with FX PhotoStudio app.

Made with TtV camera app, Argus02
Made with iPhone Camera, processed with Instagram app.

Made with Hipstamatic App.
Made with Hipstamatic App.
Made with Nikon D80, processed with Lo-Mob app.
Made with iPhone, processed with TtV app, Brownie01.

Made with TtV Camera app, Rolleiflex02

Made with iPhone Camera and processed with PictureShow app.
Made with iPhone Camera and processed with  Instagram app.

Made with TtV Camera App, Minolta Filter.

Made with Nikon D300  & processed with Instagram App