Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Educon 2018, Part I

I got into medicine damn near accidentally. I left with intention.

Which is not to say I did not belong there while I did it, nor does it mean I did not enjoy it. But I left to become a teacher, and it was a good decision. Still, nobody asks "Why did you go into teaching?"

The question I'm asked:
"Why did you leave medicine?"
There are a lot of reasons teaching is better than medicine (and many reasons why medicine beats ed), but one thing medicine has all over education is the Morbidity and Mortality Conference, a regular meeting where, behind (mostly) closed doors, we dissected each other's mistakes.

Some mistakes cost limbs, some cost lives.
We made the mistakes, we were made to own them.

I have argued long and loudly that our profession is too nice, we play too well together, we fear criticism.

And then I went to Educon, a convention held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, founded by Chris Lehmann.

He's the one on the left, photo via Jose Vilson's work.
We dissected each other, publicly and passionately. In the next few weeks I hope to share a bit of what I learned in Philly last weekend (including do not smack cars even if it's pushed you off the crosswalk, Philly Pholk are a tad sensitive).

But let me start with this--Educon made me proud to be a pubic high school teacher.

Turns out I'm not the only one who does not play nice....

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January beach walk

The air warmed up, the beach did not--ice and snow lay just beneath the sand. I went barefoot anyway.

Not much to say, except to say words cannot say what I would want to say. Four scoters waddling by, occasionally dipping under for food. A gull slamming a dying crab on the sandbar. A tiny flock of five sand pipers sharing nine legs.

Oysters scattered on the beach, torn off the rocks by last week's ice, still alive. The sand will swallow them up if the birds don't get them first.

Death all around, but death is always all around--it's easier to see when the living retreat for the season.

The deep January colors and long shadows reminded me not who I am as much as what we are part of--but that's a conceit. There was no me for long moments. Or maybe everything was me, which is impossible, of course. Words fail.

When I came back, my tracks had filled with water, which then sought the bay, as water will.

This one is for me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Your screen or your knife?

An essential quality of technology, from the spear to Skype, is action at a distance. Technology enables us to have an effect on people and things far away. In general, the more advanced the technology, the further away it is able to impose an effect. 

Our lives cost the lives of others. That's always been true, and will be so long as we breathe.

Technology allows us to forget this.
Technology encourages us to forget this.

Experts spew on about a global community, but their hands never touch the blood and feces of the life around them. They barely touch their own.

You want every child "connected"? So do I.
It's what's at the other end of the connection that matters.

I have killed other living things, deliberately, but not slowly.
I have slaughtered animals with stones, with knives, with awareness.

We pretend the machines bring us knowledge.
We confound information with awareness.

I wish we spent as much time teaching a child how to use a knife as we do a Chromebook.

I could live without my computer a lot easier than living without my knife.
Modified from a few years ago.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Trumped up pedagogy

"No, no, no, I am not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed." 
January 14, 2018

President Trump gets under my skin; if you're here, he probably gets under yours, too.

Many teachers mumble to themselves, and occasionally to each other, how gullible "those" people must be to support him. How can anyone believe what the man says when the evidence screams otherwise?

And then we shuffle off to our classrooms, arms full of papers and books, pockets full of markers, and do what we do. We teach using the best, the very best research education has to offer. And we do it wrong.

We cater to learning styles, we worship the learning pyramid, we tell kids to go figure out this world on their own.

All of it nonsense, but belief (or pretending to believe) is part of the American cult of pedagogy.

Every week or so I immerse myself in the Trump radio universe--I listen to the hosts, I listen to the callers, listen to the myths and the closed loops of reasoning, and it starts to generate an internal rhythm that makes sense. Throw the sense of community in it (and make no mistake, the nationalist/racist movement deep in our bowels depends on this) and this stuff is like cocaine to caged rats.

We do the same thing in education.

A little self awareness goes a long way.

Of course he's a racist....but you might be, too.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

January lettuce

January lettuce, from the garden.
Yesterday marked the last day of the darkest 6 weeks of the year.

The cold snap wounded the rosemary bush, but enough of the lettuce hung on in the cold frames to share with friends tonight. Winter around here is hard on all of us, but the light is returning to put the pieces back together again.

Halfway between the solstice and Imolc, back into November light. 
And we're still here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Patch for my Dad's squadron.
Chuck was the first adult I called by his first name. I was five.The next adult I called by his first name did not happen until I was an adult myself.

Chuck was a United States Marine Corps helicopter pilot, and a friend of my Dad, a Unites States Marine fighter jet pilot. Both flew off carriers.

Chuck went to Nam; my Dad did not. My Dad did not go because he had an emotionally disturbed son who did not talk, so he stayed stateside. (Turns out that emotionally disturbed son was more deaf than disturbed, and eventually learned to talk well enough to become a doctor.)

Chuck got shot down. He came back home. He had a scarred face, and looking back now I do not know if it was from shrapnel or acne.

My Dad left the Marines in the mid sixties. Chuck stayed in. I was not terribly sophisticated about politics when I was six years old, but I wondered why Chuck stayed in the Marines. I even asked him when my Dad wasn't listening. (Don't think my Dad would have tolerated that, and I didn't much like getting hit.)

Chuck gave my brother and me a toy aircraft carrier that released depth charges. It's how I learned about depth charges.

My Dad would tell us that Chuck was the worst chopper pilot ever. It was a joke. But Chuck went to Nam anyway.

The last time I saw Chuck told me why he went back--he was haunted by the soldiers he left behind. And the war, which I was told was "bad," got real complicated for this 6 year old.

Chuck tried to save one too many soldiers, and he got shot down again. And killed. I imagine the ones he went to save were killed that day, too.

And so it goes.....

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The lighter side of teaching....

"Looks like the National [White] Teacher of the Year awards are back in full effect. I figured (and may have even predicted!) in 2016 when three of the four finalists were teachers of color that pendulum would swing back quickly. ::heavy sigh::" Melinda Anderson
I came back with something flippant, along the lines of

"What will it take to make you people happy?"

It was meant as sarcasm, but I soon deleted it, because, well, I feared it might be misunderstood. Or maybe I feared it would be understood, a *wink wink* as an ally.

But here we are.

In 2016, three of the four finalists for the CCSSO Teacher of the Year Award were people of color.
Since then, all of the eight finalists have been white.

Of those, only two are even brown-eyed. (I'd be more specific, but I'm a tad color blind--in the physiological sense, not the I-am-better-than-you-as-a-non-racist *we* carry as our shield.)

This year's finalists are all worthy. That is not the issue. That is not a defense.

TOTY Finalists, via Twitter (@ATLtrackclub)

And yes, the teaching profession has a remarkable lack of melanin and y chromosomes. (*We* pretend not to notice, unless you're a black male teacher, in which case it is expected you will go save young black men.)

The finalists mean well, they do good work and work hard, and they fill the role of saviors that make for good stories. Still....

Listen up, *my* people.

Mandy Manning is the Washington State Teacher of the Year and one of this year's finalists for the national award. She helps refugees adapt to life in the States, and talks about a boy from Tanzania who undergoes a remarkable transformation under her guidance. I have no doubt she is that good at what she does, and that she works hard at doing the right thing.
“District leaders, campus resource officers, community members of color, and professional writers have also visited my classroom. The visits help my students learn about school and city rules and laws, cultural expectations in terms of behavior and hygiene, our school system, and how to express themselves effectively.”  
On its face, that makes a nice soundbite, but it bothers me, because it's what *we* do, what I have done, and what so many allies continue to do. That "community members of color" is separated from the others is telling.

What *we* teach becomes what we enforce:

So here we are. 
Our President of color replaced by a white man who supports white supremacy.
Our Teachers of the Year finalists are back to storybook savior roles.
We can all be colorblind again.

Why always a boy from Tanzania?
Do yourself a favor, and follow Melinda Anderson on Twitter.