There’s a terrific short poem in the NYT magazine this morning entitled Small Kindnesses. For advisory tomorrow, I’m going to have the kids re-write this poem and set it in our school. What are the ways that you see kindness in the day-to-day? What are the actions they see all the time? At lunch? In the hall? In a class? What kindnesses do we want? For the last line, what are the things that create the “true dwellings of the holy” that we hear kids say all the time?
I might create a template where several lines are kept — the line about the plague and the line about having so little of each other.
Here’s the whole poem:
By Danusha Laméris
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”
Wish I’d had this a few weeks ago when this conversation began:
“we study history so we don’t make the same mistakes.”
I counter with the “not the same man, not the same river” Heraclitus quote.
They respond with this quote, ” Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Today’s NYT had this bit of awesomeness. May use it for the next bit of the historian’s toolkit; may use it for next year.
One poem in a magazine. The internet explodes.
Former poetry editor at The Nation writing in the New York Times.
There’s twitter back and forth between Stephen King and Roxane Gay I don’t feel like screenshotting.
I would like to read this poem with a diverse group of thoughtful students.
I would like them to respond directly to Mr. Anders-Wee. Does the poem give offense or does it poke all of us to think about homelessness? How do the different people in our room read the poem? How do we simultaneously listen to perspectives offered by our peers and formulate our own?
I would like to think about the politics behind a work of art. How do we manage representation of others in our work? Can a man write as a woman? As an old guy, may I write as a teenager?
I would like to think about when and how do we separate the author from their work. One of my favorite books for teaching about social class and race was authored by a now-disgraced writer. Should we stop reading that book altogether? Is it up to the reader to deliberate over the identity of the author?
(All of these are long-running debates in American literary criticism and politics. Amazing how one short poem can poke so many…)
Read the poem once. Read the poem again with a picture of Mr. Carlson-Wee on screen. Read poem with a picture of a youngish black man on the screen. Read poem with picture of youngish Asian woman on screen. Read poem with picture of youngish Hispanic woman on screen.
How did the poem change as the picture of the author changed? Did it change? Should it change?
In small groups have students write biographies of a young poet who just got a huge break by having poem published in major magazine. Mix them up. Read three of them plus biography of Mr. Carlson-Wee but don’t let on which is which. How did hearing the biographies change things?
Risky but might do anyway. Most of my city kids have had interactions with homeless, mentally-ill and/or addicted individuals. Living in Philly since 1990, I have stories myself.
In small groups, how would you capture those stories artistically? You can describe a poem, a play, a work of art, but you must be able to explain:
As a group, we would talk about why you might want to make this art and what traps you might face in doing so…
How do assumptions we make about people shape how we read their work? What would a checklist look like for someone trying to figure out their assumptions or biases? Is it different, the ways in which we read art versus other interactions?
Taking these three days, what would you like to say to the poet? What would our group like to say? Maybe as a group poem to be sent to him?
More to come…
Reading a recent text on how teens learn to read (Jetton & Dole, 2004) and I start to remember my issues with the literacy folks.
I always approached reading as emerging from engagement. If I had framed my class right and had gotten students invested in the topic at hand, then they would do battle with difficult texts. If students were given a chance to express themselves, they would happily search for the best word and slowly shape their arguments into the form I requested. The discourse of the class would aid their efforts to read.
I still think this is how you start in high-school classrooms, particularly when there are many students who struggle with reading. But I’m realizing that maybe ten minutes an hour might be well-spent in hardcore, explicit instruction on how to decode words. NOT giving vocabulary lists, but giving real sentences (from real texts) that contain difficult words, and discussing how to draw meaning from the words.
I’m always at a loss trying to balance structural elements from American educational history with the actual experiences of students. I was thinking yesterday about how rewarding it would be to read a series of books like this:
William Corsaro, We’re Friends Right: Inside Kids’ Culture
Linda Perlstein, Linda, not much, just chillin’: the hidden lives of middle schoolers
Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods
Mike Rose, Lives on the Boundary
It’d be great to move through childhood in this way — from pre-k to high school — and I’m sure the students would enjoy reading these sorts of ethnographies much more than the primary source documents I usually assign. With the exception of Lareau, though, these books are more about children/students than the external factors that shape education in the United States. But I can justify dropping three of these texts by claiming that my students’ lab experiences will give them the time with kids that they need and they ought to contextualize the labs in terms of the other historical readings we’re doing.
What if this course was taught as a recapitulation of all the other courses necessary for certification?Â In other words, it would begin with the issues raced in “Schools and Society,” proceed through the research highlighted in “Educational Psychology,” and then consider questions of special education, literacy, and the specific content area pedagogy?
Not bad as an organizational tool.Â And it would ask students to reflect on coursework that was relevant but probably forgotten.