"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Friday, October 28, 2011

Here's a thing. Check it out.

Teachers as a group are, of course, Marxist fascist uptight hippy bully wimps. Nonetheless, you should check into Occupy Education.

You'll feel stupid if it turns out to be the future and you missed it. You know, like you felt back in middle school. ;)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bless you

Admittedly, my experience as a teacher is not exhaustive. I have only worked in three schools full time and substituted in perhaps half-a-dozen other buildings. But as far as I know, schools never provide tissues. Why is that? We need tissues, teachers and students alike. Without them, we can become germ broadcasters, potentially wreaking germ war upon our community. But though we are provided with pens, paper, markers, scissors, chalk, sharpies, glue, tape, paper clips, staples, staplers and even glitter (not to mention $10,000 SmartBoards and such things) no one sees fit to give us a box of tissues.

Before I became a teacher, working in the private sector, large corporations who employed me provided tissues: Hallmark Cards, NBC and the William Morris Agency all seemed to feel that boxes of tissues were not so damaging to the bottom line that they could not be provided to us employees.

In elementary and middle schools, we can count on concerned parents to bring those tissues in. Everyone knows how drippy and snotty little kids can get. I even offered bonus points to my middle schoolers for a box of tissues. But in high school, I guess we are just supposed to live with being sick and let the mucous fall where it may.

So what happens in high school? Teachers buy tissues and bring them in. This is not a huge hardship. But it makes no sense. The only alternative is disruptive to the class, sending a student to the bathroom to get a stack of rough paper towels, which, over the course of a day of the sniffles, will remove six or seven layers of epidermis from your upper lip. Given the cheapness of the commodity and its importance to basic hygiene, why must it become the responsibility of each instructor?

Am I missing something? Besides tissues, I mean?

"I think it would be fun to run a newspaper"

A lot of electrons are being spilled today over the too-early death of Steve Jobs, and rightly so. We speak of his vision, imagination and energy. He is thought by many as representing the kind of innovation that serves as an engine of capitalism.

But I suspect that he wasn't primarily interested in pumping up the capitalist system, although he chose to be an entrepreneur, literally a garage band company. Judging from pictures of them from 1976, when they first introduced the Apple II, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak look as though they think it would be a lot of fun to mess around with computers, make some that everybody could afford and everybody could use, then stand back and see what happened.

There's a key line in Citizen Kane which explains why Kane's substitute parent, the banker Thatcher will never understand his ward. Kane surveys all the businesses he now owns thanks to the shrewd investments of his bank-parent and sees mines and factories and who-knows-what-else in that gallimaufrey. Buried deep in the list of enterprises is a small, shabby unprofitable operation in San Francisco, a fussy and fusty old newspaper. He grins with delight and says, "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper."

From that observation flow power and influence that would not likely have accrued to a mine operator or a stock manipulator. But Kane heard his own siren song and he went and from that his and many lives were forever changed.

Steve Jobs heard that song; not the song of increased productivity or bounding entrepreneurship, but good old-fashioned fun. Maybe more of us should follow that call and see what happens.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Students are turned on by greatness and bored by mediocrity"

(First of all, I apologize for the ad inserted before this video, but I think the clip is worth the wait.)

The title of this post is a quote from a former student of Albert Cullum, who left a career in theater in the late 1940s to teach elementary students, most notably in Rye, New York in the early 1960s, where much of his work was filmed by Robert Downey (Sr.). He created a powerful legacy and a challenge to every teacher.

I've never written about the film A Touch of Greatness because I first saw it before I began this blog, but it has been and remains a major source of inspiration for me as a male, second-career teacher seeking to bring what I learned in my earlier life into the often stale air of the classroom. It probably tells you too much about me that I can't watch even this brief trailer without tearing up, because what is going on is so very beautiful; this deep communication and love between teacher and students based on the teacher's confidence that children can and want to learn in complex and varied ways about the very best in our world and in our culture. We don't have to spoon-feed them the best in our culture or shield them from things we think are too hard or too psychologically complex.

In one sequence, the students are having a spirited debate as to the world's greatest author, between Sophocles, Shakespeare and Shaw. You can see a student who could not be older than 6th or 7th grade expressing a preference for Shaw over Sophocles for his unpredictability. A 6th grader charged up about Shaw!

He taught the classics not because he wanted to be high-falutin'. He did it because they are the essential building-blocks AND expressions of our culture. They state what we believe about what is good and what is bad. They are guides to a good life. To teach them is to reject the idea that our schools are adjuncts to America's employers, preparing productive and docile workers and obedient subjects, I mean citizens.

In short, to make your students readers, give them something they want to read. Now the question for me is not what to teach...I will let my ambition guide me. No, the problem is how to deliver that content past their prejudices about school material, and how to make them the active agents in their own progress and development.