Category Archives: Books

Our smart principal

We read this as a group this morning:

When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.
It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But—and this is the point—who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kid paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

Great starting point for the year…

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (NY: Harper Perennial, 1974).

Re-reading David Blight

Saw the latest Twitter blast and had to pull Professor Blight off the shelf. From the prologue:

“In many ways, this is a story of how in American culture romance triumphed over reality, sentimental remembrance won over ideological memory. For Americans broadly, the Civil War has been a defining event upon which we have often imposed unity and continuity; as a culture, we have often preferred its music and pathos to its enduring challenges, the theme of reconciled conflict to resurgent, unresolved legacies. The greatest enthusiasts for Civil War history and memory often displace complicated consequences by focusing on the contest itself…

Over time, Americans have needed deflections from the deeper meaning of the Civil War. It haunts us still; we feel it, to borrow from Warren, but often do not face it.”

David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 4.

Richard Sennett, part two

Finished reading yesterday and thought a lot about his distinction between authority and autonomy within a workshop. (Much joy at having a chapter called The Workshop).

This is the question we grapple with all the time. You want kids to become autonomous but you know that they’re not always ready. If you turn them loose too soon, you lose them, and it’s project-based learning going wrong. If you assume too much authority, it pretty quickly devolves into school and disengagement. We spend lots of time in PD discussing the nature of authority and how it’s earned; as teachers in a project-based school we have a number of our own projects that should serve as a model and as a source of authority.

I’m lazy, so I’m not typing this entire quote, but here it is:

I’ll use these two paragraphs in our opening week as try and figure out what rules the school sets, what expectations I have based on my authority as a teacher/project makes, and how they can begin to establish “legitimate authority in the flesh.”

Richard Sennett, The Craftsman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 54.

Richard Sennett

Reading The Craftsman. Great C. Wright Mills quote:

“The laborer with a sense of craft becomes engaged in the work in and for itself, the satisfaction of working are their own reward, the details of their daily labour are connected in the worker’s mind to the end product, the worker can control his or her own actions at work; skill develops within the work process; work is connected to the freedom to experiment; finally, finally, community and politics are measured by the standards of inner satisfaction, coherence, and experiment in craft labor.”

Richard Sennett, The Craftsman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

The Wolf in Winter

I read to try and find ways to link all that I do together. I love a good thriller and if you add a bit of ancient religion, I’ll read them all.

This is a good quote about social work but really any non-profit work:

Stephen was clearly a good kid, but he had the egotism of youth. The world revolved around him, and consequently he believed that he had the power to change how it worked. And, in the way of the young, he had made another’s pain about himself, even if he did so for what seemed the best of reasons. Time and age would change him; if they didn’t, he wouldn’t be working in soup kitchens and shelters much longer. His frustrations would get the better of him and force him out. He’d blame others for it, but it would be his own fault.

John Connolly, The Wolf in Winter (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 115.

Quote on resilience

From a terrific novel, Universal Harvester:

If you work with or around children, you often hear a lot about how resilient they are. It’s true: I’ve met children who’ve been through things that would drive most adults to the brink. They look and act, most of the time, like any other children. In this sense — that they don’t succumb to despair, that they don’t demand a space for their pain — it’s very true that children are resilient.

But resiliency only means that a thin retains it shape. That it doesn’t break, or lose its ability to function. It doesn’t mean a child forgets the time she shared in the backyard with her mother gardening, or the fun they had together watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the Astro. It just means she learns to bear it. The mechanism that allowed Lisa Sampson to keep her head above water in the wake of her mother’s departure has not been described by scientists. It’s efficient, flexible, and probably transferrable from one person to another should they catch the scent on each other. But the rest of the details about it aren’t observable from the outside. You have to be closer than you really want to get to see how it works.

John Darnielle, Universal Harvester (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2017),137.

Notes from Age of Opportunity

I enjoyed reading this book.

Two quotes:

118 “I also object to the “skills” portion of “noncognitive skills.” Determination, perseverance, and tenacity aren’t skills, like riding a bike, using a word processing program, or playing a G major scale on the violin. Determination, perseverance, and tenacity are capacities to be nourished, rather than skills to be acquired.

The distinction between skills and capacities is vital, because intellectual abilities and the drive to succeed are cultivated through entirely different processes.”

204 “I don’t harbor any delusions about the use of scientific evidence to inform policymaking, though. Policymakers and advocacy groups use science the way that drunks use lampposts –for support, not illumination. If the political will is absent, no amount of science, no matter how persuasive it is, is going to change the law.”

I also was fascinated by the discussion of “Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions.” This is what we do now in advisory, but not necessarily in a systematic way. I look at this blog over the past three years and most of the activities I’ve designed have been based on this idea (think of a goal, best thing that would result, obstacles, plan). (p.160 in Steinberg. Here’s the link to the study.)

Laurence Steinberg, Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

Get out

I’ve read nothing about this film. I was told by my wife that I had to see it. I saw it with my students today. Awesome.

First of all, I may be wrong, but I assumed all along that the title came from the Eddie Murphy routine about Poltergeist.

Get out.

Too bad we can’t stay.

As for the rest of the film, what a great starting point for many conversations:

One, when and how do Americans talk about race? The movie, by virtue of the horror plot, teases you on this: is he asking that question out of racial motives? Or out of class motives? Or because of the craziness that undergirds the rest of the plot? If we get rid of the plot and head into real life, why do people talk this way? Why can the movie continue for as long as it does before the horror part becomes necessary? Is part of the minority experience in America a near constant stream of comments that you’re forced into trying to decipher or identify the meaning behind? What slights might you come to take for normal that someone with majority status would never feel?

Two, what are the codes, the handshakes, the nods, the secret looks that a group shares and how do we become aware of these? I was reminded of George Chauncey’s social history of gay New York where he documented all the ways a minority group facing persecution secretly communicated with each other. Chris, the main character, faces a steady diet of confusion through the film as he seeks to forge these connections; again, in real life, what does this feel like?

Three, I was reminded of multiple social histories of slavery, most notably Walter Johnson. Central to his book was the idea that of different forms of southern white identity emerged via their treatment and understanding of black bodies. This racial tragedy remains, I think, and came up throughout this film. How does a dominant group understand themselves or even make themselves through their treatment of minority groups?

Too much to talk about. This is an amazing film.

Nobody’s Son

Of all the fools in the world, the ones hiding behind self-awareness may be the worst. You can know yourself, or think you do, and be none the wiser, analyze your predicament to the nth degree and be no closer to escaping it. Melville had put it beautifully: “For in tremendous extremities human souls are like drowning men; well enough they know they are in peril; well enough they know the cause of that peril; —nevertheless, the sea is the sea, and these drowning men do drown.”

Slouka, Mark. Nobody’s Son. New York: Norton, 2016.