What price too high?

So, I had this parent conference this week. The student was struggling in a science class. [As an 8th grader is taking the class for high school credit.] Got a 78 on a test studied for and one the student felt “prepared” for. Parent wanted out of the class 2 weeks ago. Arranging a meeting was a clinical exercise around everyone’s schedule and the almighty testing going on every day (6 hours on Thursday- but thats another post). But we got together and sat down.
In the meantime, teacher and student noticed the grade on the paper said 87, so the teacher made a mistake and inverted the numbers entering into the spreadsheet gradebook. No biggie, fixed the grade, class grade went up to a B and a recent final exam grade of 98 had moved it to an A. Problem solved, student all happy now feels like the “feeling” of getting it has been justified and so wants to keep the class and move forward. This is life in an “A” school, in an affluent, privileged, status-conscious community…

What’s the price?

Ah yes, it was the conversation that troubles me. Parent ( a very pleasant, well spoken woman) wanted to know what the benefit of the taking a class for HS credit in 8th grade was. Did it make it easier to get into AP Biology in high school? Did it help track the student to the desired post-secondary path? Would a good grade (an A) look good on a college application? We didn’t want a bad grade to be tracked and hurt chances for that desired post-secondary plan. What would look good to those colleges? Which high school program would be the right one. Our school is so noted for math and science. Our student is interested in a STEM program, which is the right one? We don’t want to take any chances that will place undesirable barriers on the path to the desirable post-secondary opportunity. Yes we are doing community hours, we are doing art and music and sport (track of course) because we want a well-rounded education for our student. So happy to know we are on the right track. The earlier stress and anxiety is mitigated now with success. And so it goes. Parent was grateful for our conversation, thankful we took time and gave some good info points for consideration.
Parent left happy and complimented the principal on our interaction. Principal congratulated us for our meeting and assured us this was a good parent and it was expected to have gone alright. Kid’s doing well, quarter 1 in the books.

Do you spot my concern? Is it just me? Anywhere in this conversation did you see a concern for learning? Did we talk about the knowledge needed for AP Biology? Did we discuss the student dreams for education? For knowledge? I don’t think so, the word learning was never mentioned.

I never cared much about grades. Came from an average family. “C” was average. I personally don’t believe in grades, rather I look at mastery- what can my students actually do with what we have been working on, me teaching- they learning?

There is another gap in America; income equality, social equality and EDUCATIONAL expectation equality. We aren’t really addressing any of them effectively just now. How can we bridge this gap when the advantaged group doesn’t even get it?

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June 16

History records that Geronimo was born on this day in 1829 in the southwest territory that became New Mexico and Arizona. Beginning in the 1870’s Geronimo and his people lived on and off reservations in many locations, sometimes pursued by soldiers, sometimes returning to the reservations of their own will. He and the Apaches were relocated as far east as Florida and gradually moved west until being settled at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He died a “prisoner of war” (for over 25 years) in Oklahoma in 1909. Prior to his death he was quite a “star” in American media and after his settlement in Oklahoma S. M. Barrett worked with him to produce a biography”In His Own Words”. He had quite a story to tell. A link at the bottom of this post will take you to the Open Library digitized version of the book. There are many other stories about Geronimo and many accounts of his deeds and actions in the period of time known sometimes as the “Great Indian Wars”.

That Geronimo worked to create this account of his life and perspective of the time is of itself an amazing accomplishment. In his “own words” the culture subdued by the great western expansion is captured and remembered. Words like “Apache” and “Geronimo” have taken on lives of there own in part because this auto/biography has preserved behavior and encouraged glorification of a very violent and devastating conflict.

Geronimo begins his tale with a creation story and details the history of his people through his own remembrances. His story shows him to be a thoughtful person and fairly opinionated. Its an easy read and worth the time. the PBS series American Experience produced a 5 part mini series, We Shall Remain, which tell the American story from the native perspective.

The final chapter in his story discusses his “Hopes for the future”, he hopes his people will be able to go home to their ancestral lands. Geronimo says:

There is no climate or soil which, to my mind, is equal to that of Arizona. We could have plenty of good cultivating land, plenty of grass, plenty of timber and plenty of minerals in that land which the Almighty created for the Apaches. It is my land, my home, my fathers’ land, to which I now ask to be allowed to return. I want to spend my last days there, and be buried among those mountains. If this could be I might die in peace, feeling that my people, placed in their native homes, would increase in numbers, rather than diminish as at present, and that our name would not become extinct.

Could I but see this accomplished, I think I could forget all the wrongs that I have ever received, and die a contented and happy old man. But we can do nothing in this matter ourselves-we must wait until those in authority choose to act. If this cannot be done during my lifetime-if I must die in bondage- I hope that the remnant of the Apache tribe may, when I am gone, be granted the one privilege which they request-to return to Arizona. (pp 215, 216)

 

 

 

 

 

Geronimo’s Story of His Life (New York: Duffield and Company, 1906)

June 15

Happy Juneteenth!

Today would have been Morris K. Udall’s 92nd birthday. Mo was an Arizona Congressman for 30 years. Perhaps the last great “liberal” from the desert state. To his credit- World War 2 vet, lawyer, professional basketball player (in the hall of fame), Presidential candidate, co-founder of the Bank of Tucson…

Mo succeeded his elder brother Stewart in Congress. Both Udall’s were a voice for the amazing wild American west that was embodied in the Arizona wilderness in the 1960’s and 70’s.

In 1961 Mo delivered an address in Congress entitled “The Balanced Budget- Everyone Talks About It, but No One Does Anything”! Here follows some excerpts that may have been written last week.

At the outset let me make this clear: I am proud to be a Democrat in the Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy tradition. Democratic legislation of the recent decades has not led us down the road to socialism. On the contrary it has strengthened the free enterprise system of this country so that we are the world’s great bulwark against socialism and communism….

Those of us who support programs which stimulate free enterprise and encourage social progress ought to be the leaders in insisting on a solution to the recurrent problem of the unbalanced budget. We ought to face the fact that pay-as-you-go Federal financing is important to our long-range security and prosperity and is the single best weapon against inflation…

The failure of our elected representatives to devise and put in effect a businesslike budget system in my judgment does more than any other one thing to discredit our National Government and the kind of programs which our people need and want…

The speech in its entirety is available in the University of Arizona and Congressional archives (linked above) and it behooves any student of American political systems to read it- Problems we face today are not too dissimilar to those faced by the rebuilding decades after WWII and Korea. Maybe next year Congress will give Mo Udall a birthday present he’d be happy to accept!

June 14

Today’s birthday anniversary- Edouard Naville.

Born Henri Edouard in Geneva Switzerland in 1844, he is one of the better known “egyptologists” of the great age of excavation in the late 1800’s. Professor Naville was long associated with the British Egypt Exploration Society, and both excavated and published under their auspices.

Naville is perhaps best known for his work on the temple of the great female ‘ruler’ Queen Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri (1893-96). Nefertiti may be the best known female find, but I’ve always thought Hatshepsut more interesting.

If you are interested in reading Naville as a primary document, the Open Library project has many of his titles available, and they are all very accessible as he was a competent and interesting author.

Naville was a noted philologist and a primary contributor to the famous “Book of the Dead” which detailed the ancient funeral practices that left us the pyramids and other archaeological sites in Egypt. Scholars at the time were focussed on the discoveries. This was the dawn of the scientific detail age and Naville has been criticized for not providing detail, not keeping accurate excavation detail and not preserving finds “in situ”. Although my favorite fictional archeologist, Radcliffe Emerson criticised Naville, he left us with a wealth of journal histories and a collection of artwork both of the people and the ancient hieroglyphic symbols uncovered in the ancient sites. Interested in Egyptology (?), he’s a great place to start!

 Image from the temple.

Monart Education

One Saturday in the early 1990’s I attended a workshop for teachers (@St. Rose of Lima Church in Paso Robles, CA) that presented a method for drawing with children called “Monart”. I had always considered myself a “non-drawer” with no talent in visual arts (I still do…), but what I learned that day helped me to provide a structure to help my students improve their visual perception and to create illustrations they were proud to share.

Some students stand out as dripping visual art talent in my mind, most were doodlers though and some were reluctant to do anything at all in the area of drawing. I have since used the method with every class I have taught and in my own life to illustrate things I developed for instruction.

Mona Brookes is both a trained artist and a psychologist. She has developed and delivered training programs for all ages. Her monart.com site showcases many art samples. In 1979 she created the “Monart Method” which combined attention to visual detail with a different approach to learning phonetic principles while learning to read. Data collected with a California Arts Council study grant demonstrated up to a 20% increase in reading scores for study participants. This comprehensive program supports increased student self-confidence and attention to detail as student ability to pay attention to visual detail and follow auditory instruction improves.

In education we spend so much time looking for miracle solutions to student struggles. We may find something that gives us good results but soon a new idea and/or a new product is touted to replace what we are using. Especially with reading I believe we should not be throwing out tools and strategies that work in favor of a new toy not yet proven. Always looking to tweak and improve our instructional abilities yes, but teachers need to keep what they know works.

[I was pretty horrified in late May when perfectly useful books and “workbook” resources were dumped into the recycle bins because a “new adoption” was moving in- New and improved things to read…? Its a big ‘duh’ for me- so much wasted money, training time and lesson development and the resources used to produce the books and print resources. Public education has many, many habits in need of pruning, sigh… Books should be replaced when they have been read to shreds not because a salesperson brought in the brightest and best new collection.]

Back to Monart 😉

I used the lessons from my class and in the book Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes to provide direct instruction for students in Kindergarten through 8th grade. Mona has a YouTube channel and some basic lessons you can preview {video link}.  Mona has developed a group of lessons that will take you and your students through the process of paying attention to detail in order to recreate what you see. The chart of the 5 Elements of shape is a great resource. Mastering these elements opens up a whole new world of reproducing what you see and therefore making personal sense of your observations.

I think the lessons help you relax, help you focus on detail, and help you see visual arts with a new eye. In conjunction with a variety of multi-sensory instructional strategies, Monart can support visual processing challenges some children experience and help to sustain focus to detail many children struggle with. If you have an opportunity to take a class- you won’t regret it; if not borrow the book from a library and buy some colored markers, a few good pencils and a sketch book. I wish had pictures of my students’ work from those years, but I can still remember many of the projects and the wonderful results!

Exposing yourself to new information about the drawing process will make a more dramatic change in your current ability to draw than will any other factor. Changing your expectations about what is acceptable and possible can be the key to unlocking the door. (Drawing with Children, 1986 p. 7)

 

Gallery of art

Quinn’s birds

 

June 13

Friday the 13th is the 122nd anniversary of the birth of Basil Rathbone in Johannesburg, South Africa- 1892.

Rathbone learned the actor’s craft in a Shakespearean focused stage company, his film portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the 1930’s and 40’s is still considered by many to be the best ever. Basil’s family returned to England during the Boers War and he grew up at the turn of the 20th century. He was a decorated veteran of WW1 and tried to enlist for service in WW2 but was turned down because of his age- then 47. Basil’s large film history showed him a dashing and debonair man with a great dueling arm.

Basil finally settled in New York as his career wound down and he continued to be a public man. In 1960 he appeared on a television talk show, “The Christopher Program” and shared a collection of 11 “Tips for Teenagers”.

They are:

Set a big and worthwhile goal for yourself.

Keep close to God.

Spend time with your mother and father. 

Study hard.

Be selective in what you read, and programs you watch, etc.

Demand the best.

Show an interest in teenager problems.

Be yourself.

Take responsibility — don’t dodge it!

Improve your ability to communicate your ideas.

Prepare for your own home.    

This Day

Born on this day, June 12, 1802

Harriet Martineau, author, abolitionist and lifelong feminist.

Born into a Norwich, England manufacturing family, her parents were quite progressive and assured Harriet and her sisters received the same level of education her brothers had. At 15 she said she was “becoming a political economist without knowing it“. As an author she crafted both fiction Deerbrook, and nonfiction Illustrations of Political Economy and an autobiography. A Victorian era woman, she wrote about the sexual degradation of women, slave and free, and its effect on children, society and economy. Harriet worked for the causes close to her heart both as a writer, (proclaiming the state of American and British culture before the Civil War and slavery both for the slave and the indentured servant as inherent injustice) and as a fancywork needlewoman, selling her embroidery to raise money for the abolitionists in America.

In her 3 volume work Society in America, Harriet wrote:

The sum and substance of female education in America, as in England, is training women to consider marriage as the sole object in life, and to pretend that they do not think so. (1837)

Perhaps the Mrs Degree has lost its general appeal as marriage has changed, but relationship success and who’s got whom (and how they were got) certainly pervades the middle-school corridors during passing periods and appears the “sole object” in adolescent life in 2014.

A new venture

When you wake up with a flash of an idea having a notepad on the bedside table is convenient. After fits and starts this may be the idea that clicks.
Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac was playing on the radio and the thought that this perhaps would work urged me out of bed to field a pen and begin an outline. What if a daily mix of quotes, links and inspiration for the teacher’s soul in all open thinkers would satisfy my urge to write, to share great ideas, and to encourage practitioners in the pursuit of their craft?

And so I will scaffold this blog as I try to decide if I can put enough into the venture to keep it going and to stay fresh. The site will evolve as I develop the tools, add the widgets and collect the content.

Let’s begin:

Harry Wong, in his seminal book The First Days of School says : “If you are going to be a teacher, you’ve got to know how to teach.” (p.xii) and from there he, with spouse Rosemary, develops a manual for becoming an effective teacher. As American culture changes, the role of the teacher changes too. The effective teacher in today’s ‘westernized’ PK-20 classroom knows the stage must be designed and the student instructed in the desired behavior to reach the goal of an educated pupil.

So then these are my “first days”, the site design, the standard driving the content, the audience envisioned and goal to create a community of practitioners sharing and encouraging the teacher-artist in us all.

I welcome comment, feedback and suggestions. I value diversity of opinion and thoughtful responses. I encourage connection.

Welcome to the inaugural post on the Educator’s Almanac!