Saturday, February 27, 2010

Poetry Slam...the voices of Daniel Beatty

I teach Speech and so I'm always looking for material in the world of the spoken word. Lately I've been poking around Def Jam Poetry performances on YouTube. A couple of days ago, one of my students told me about Daniel Beatty.
This guy is a gem, a serious talent with a compelling vision. He's written a one man show called "Emergency" in which he plays 43 different characters. I haven't yet seen the whole thing, but several of the monologues which are part of the show can be found in clips on YouTube, some of them delivered as poetry slam performances for Def Jam Poetry. Check out "Knock Knock".

Some other ones include "Duality Duel" (aka "The Nig**r and the Nerd")

It's interesting to hear Daniel Beatty comment on his own work. You get a feel for how wide ranging his vision really is plus you get to contrast his own voice with those of the characters he has invented. The clip below intersperses cuts of him in performance and an interview on his play.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Truth and Consequences

What follows may seem to readers of this blog as needing context...I don't disagree but I don't have time for that right now...I just want to post this before it slips away from entirely...suffice it to say that the issues addressed below are on my mind these days. Lastly, there are really two separate posts spliced together here...they may or may not read as a seamless text.

Let me begin by saying that I am unimpressed by the zero tolerance model of discipline for high schools. While it makes a great show of seriousness, I don't believe that it does much more than create the public perception that its proponents care more deeply about the problem than the rest of us who have learned to live within the ambiguities and gray areas of real life.
Regarding the issue of how best to deal with students who violate our school policies concerning drugs and alcohol, I think that we need to keep in mind always that we cannot help kids if we do not remain engaged with them in meaningful ways. The threat of expulsion should not be, in my opinion, the centerpiece of our approach to young offenders. I do not want to see education become co-opted by the ethos of law enforcement any more than I want to see it co-opted by the ethos of industry.
Any legitimate approach must begin with first principles which then become the animating forces promoting our school climate and culture. I propose three such principles which, taken together, describe the epicenter of our professional concerns as educators.
  • First, we recognize and respect the individual needs of each and every student enrolled at school.
  • Second, we believe that all people desire happiness and are always, within their own personal and social contexts, working to obtain it.
  • Third, all learning leads us inexorably and sometimes painfully in the direction of greater awareness of the possibility and the nature of happiness.
Ask yourselves, do you want a school culture defined by rules and penalties or one defined by human relationships and values? I would argue that a student offense ought to trigger an examination by the student of his behavior and choices, the formulation of a plan leading the student back into the classroom, and the exploration of experiences designed to enlarge and enrich the student's awareness of possible paths to joy, peak performance, or pleasure. In other words, our focus should not be punitive; rather, it should be educational.
I don't have time to explain how I am not proposing doing away with consequences or suggesting the abolition of harsh penalties like suspension or expulsion. If you are really curious about whether what I'm suggesting has any practical merit, visit the website of Park School here:
Park is a private school, yes, but I'm always struck by the paradox that what people with means will do for their children is somehow inappropriate for our own children. People pay good money for things they really believe in. Wouldn't it be nice if we could furnish taxpayers with the same sort of thing?

I am struck repeatedly by the way working inside an institution creates a rule bound mentality that tends to override human judgment and replace it with legalistic thinking.

I am not embarrassed to say that I intentionally treat kids and other people on a case by case basis, that I care enough about consequences to tailor them to the person and the circumstance, and that simply laying down a rule and then waiting for a kid to make a bad choice is not my idea of constructive intervention.

I absolutely believe in consequences. I have no problem with expulsion for the young person who is a repeat offender of a drug/alcohol policy or who is unrepentant and unwilling to make an effort to learn after a first offense. I do not believe that failure to adhere to one component of an action plan (tardies for example) or behavior contract (late work for example) should put a student in jeopardy of expulsion. Expulsion should be reserved for violations of serious policies like drug/alcohol.

We seem to lack the imagination to fashion consequences that will actually trigger a process of reflection and perhaps reintegration.

My concern always revolves around a bias I carry against institutions, namely that they tend to act in their own interests and not in the interests of individual people. People make institutions less efficient, more problematic, they tax the patience of those charged with enforcing rules. The message I hear is, " if only people would read the policy book and abide by it, life would be simpler"...sorry but that's not my idea of a healthy human place. I got into this line of work in part because I'm drawn to the messiness of learning. Until and unless an institution has exhausted itself in the service of or at the very least inconvenienced itself on behalf of it's clientele it is not fulfilling its mission.

I'm deeply suspicious of the impulse to cleanse our population of ne'er-do-wells, to remove kids from our presence who don't believe us, to create through attrition and subtraction a more compliant population. It smacks of a desire to make our own lives easier. I don't think that's what we're paid to do....then again, maybe that's exactly what we're paid to do.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


My kids disappear into rooms; sometimes strangers and strange creatures come out.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The one month dragon

Beth recently led her art class on a month long paper mache adventure. She got the idea from a video called "How to make a 4 Minute Dragon". Watch the video and you'll realize that the video is four minutes but the actual process is much longer. Beth tried a dragon of her own. I found it hanging in shower one day...a bit unsettling.

She took what she learned from the dragon and helped the kids in her class create their own creatures.

It was an epic experience in every sense of the word. Each week the kids had one hour with Beth. Week one was devoted to creating body parts with paper and tape.

In week two those parts were then put through a paper mache process using flour and water, no glue.

Week three parts were attached and again covered in paper mache.

Week four was about painting the animals. Sessions went long, cleanup was even longer. I never saw a kid complain or whine about the time; in fact, at least one kid sought permission to come in for some extra time to finish what he was working on.

Kids threw themselves into it, materials (flour, water, tape and paper mostly) everywhere, body parts scattered about waiting to be attached.

There were times when Beth must have wondered aloud why she had embarked on this project, but in the end everything came together. The animals were released from captivity into the world.

Very cool.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The 20 funniest faces in Olympic figure skating

Click here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Welcome to my fortune cookie

Got another response in Chinese. it was to this post...whoever the commentor is he/she is welcome but I honestly can't tell if I'm the random target of a light hearted jest or what... not that it matters that much.

The latest comment is from 裕瑤 aka "Abundant Precious":
which means, according to an online translator:
Life is a banquet, but some people prefer to starve.

makes me hungry for some takeout.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Educational Mainfestos....a response

This reply via email from my father....

I have been reading your explorations fo educational manifestos the last few days and found a couple of them interesting and even understandable. I like the portion off Hirsch’s manifesto you provided. I also appreciated John Holt’s ideas; however, I can’t help but think that most home school parents either have some special skills or are committed to the belief that education of their children is their primary responsibility – not that of the state or the school board or any other institution to whom they choose to delegate that responsibility. The problem I have with Holt’s idea is that we have largely skipped at least a generation where parents by necessity made things, worked with and solved problems that had to do with survival and getting on to an improved although more sedentary life. Back in the first half of the last century when America still had a significant rural culture, Holt’s idea may have been more workable, but I’m not so confident that our present society could with single parent families and questionable work ethics handle Holt’s ideas.

Not surprisingly, I find a lot to agree with in my dad's thinking. Hirsch has something important to say, but I'm disheartened by the way his ideas are so often hitched to the test score bandwagon. I don't think that teaching content and teaching children are mutually exclusive propositions, yet this seems to me to be the rhetorical dividing point when it comes to Hirsch sympathisers.

As for the point about Holt, I'm intrigued but not necessarily persuaded by the notion that the disappearance of skills and habits of mind that were part and parcel of rural culture have in some meaningful way depleted the home school educational repertoire of parents...more handicapping in my opinion are the societal and legal barriers that have been erected preventing a child's access to the adult world of experience, both work and social. The great loss in the passing of rural culture is not so much the specific skill sets that are gone; rather, it is the disappearance of an alternative life path for young people who cannot flourish in a classroom. Without romanticizing the life of kids who left school early in the era of my father's youth, I can't help but feel like we've traded freedom and striving for shackles and compliance.

Children since time immemorial have been put to work or sent to school. Abraham Lincoln was literally an indentured servant to his father, and it was his most fervent hope to one day be delivered from that bondage. He seized upon learning, something his father derided, as his ticket out. I wonder if perhaps both worlds, the world of work and the world of school, need to be open and permeable in order for young people and people in general to better appreciate each one for what it is and what it could lead to.

Perhaps Holt's ideas are unworkable in a society that has so thoroughly institutionalized its people, but Hirsch's ideas seem premised on accepting this institutionalization and focused on shaping and defining its character rather than on loosening its grip on us.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


I jumped on an inflatable sled last Sunday from the top of a very high place on a very steep slope. I did not see the jump which had been built at the very bottom of what I thought was a large bowl. I hit the jump going backwards and was launched high into the air. I came down squarely on my back, my arms and legs flailing above me. Couldn't breathe for about a minute. A snowboarder who was sitting nearby and watched the whole thing, smiled at me as I lay there, my glasses near his boots, my mouth open waiting for air to flow. "Dude! That was the most air I've seen any catch probably broke two or three vertebrae, huh?" He laughed amiably. I spent the next hour trying to determine whether or not I had really messed up my spine or if it was only ribs and muscles. I settled on ribs and muscles eventually. It only hurt when I breathed, or coughed, or sneezed, or laughed or tried to turn one or the the last twenty four hours I've regained a lot more range of motion and am feeling better finally. Going to the doctor today...sigh. It's alarming how easyily I lapse into stupid and impulsive decisions. I feel like a prospective Darwin award winner.