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You’re so old…

We’re drawing to the end of the quarter and there is anxiety everywhere. I’ve tried to minimize the stress as much as I can, but when people care about their work, there will definitely be some moments.

Today, after looking at Eric Foner’s review of Annette Gordon-Reed’s work in the NYT, we played a game of “What’s Clapper worried about ?” I listed the three things that I’ve been seeing and asked them whether I should be worried.

“I’m worried that students aren’t taking notes on their sources.”
“I’m worried that students are writing on the fly, i.e., writing before they’ve gathered all their research.”
“I’m worried that some students are missing context; that they’re missing the forest for the trees.”

(I followed the conversation with a google form for kids to share back what they’re feeling good about and what they need help with…)

It was a rich discussion with many solid ideas…It’s always helpful when the students point at requirements and rubrics instead of the teacher. I think everyone felt better, including me. At least until someone said,

“You’re so old, you shouldn’t be worried about anything.”

That’s funny.

Meant to find this book today

Found this today ($2).

Here’s the opening line:

I learned a surprising thing in writing this book. It is possible to move away from a vast, unbearable pain by delving into it deeper and deeper — by “diving into the wreck,” to borrow the perfect words from Adrienne Rich. You can look at all the parts of a terrible thing until you see they’re assemblies of smaller parts, all of which you can name, and some of which you can heal or alter, and finally the terror that seemed unbearable becomes manageable. I suppose what I am describing is the process of grief.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Small Wonder (London: Faber and Faber, 2011), xii.

Always a danger…

To read a story, share a song, work through a novel that you love with kids. They’re not going to love it the same way.

I re-read the story we’re taking on today on the trolley this morning. This line left me with tears in my eyes:

No more maybe, in other words. Because that is just what happens. One day it is maybe, and then you just know.

Reminded me of a song I heard for the first time in junior high:

Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?

Live version here, 1980, 00:04:26-00:04:34.

Note to self: Get it together, man.

Yesterday at Bindlestiff

As the school year began, I’d not picked up a novel, so I wanted to get Daniel Gambiner’s book The Boatbuilder, which I’d seen in Bindlestiff’s window. Last copy. Good thing…Amazon won’t have copies until October.

Started yesterday, finished today. Review soon.

Also found a copy of this book, which I’m hoping will help me in the current American history unit I’m teaching.

And for $16.00, I found a huge gardening book — The Flowers and Herbs of Early America — a bargain.

Daniel, Marcus. Scandal and Civility: Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy. 1 edition. Oxford?; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Griffith, Lawrence, and Barbara Temple Lombardi. Flowers and Herbs of Early America. 1 edition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Gumbiner, Daniel. The Boatbuilder. McSweeney’s, 2018.

Good teaching line…Jason Isbell

Isn’t this what we ought to be after as teachers?

I hope you find something to love
Something to do when you feel like giving up
A song to sing or a tale to tell
Something to love, it’ll serve you well

Live version here.

Reminded me of another old favorite — Guy Clark, Stuff that Works:

Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don’ hang on the wall
Stuff that’ real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall

Strong, Light, or Cheap?

I read this about bike parts a few years ago.  The author suggested that when you’re selecting parts for a bike, you can only have two.  You can have strong and light, but it’s not going to be cheap.  You have strong and cheap, but it’s going to be heavy.

I was thinking about this on the walk home yesterday.  Are there things in teaching, especially preparing to teach, that will drop out given the time constraints of systems, emergencies, district stuff and the kid thing that will immediately consume all of your time?  (And that doesn’t even consider real life stuff like dead cats, teen drama, and sprained knees, all of which I’ve dealt with this week…)

Traits of a good unit, off the top of my head at 6:15AM:

  • Real-world application
  • Engaging to the students
  • Academically rigorous
  • Contextualized within a year’s worth of goals
  • True to the school model
  • Co-planned
  • Creative formative and final assessments

    How many can you get each time?  And how do you look at a year’s worth of projects and figure out a balance? I know there are some teachers whose projects hit it every time — that’s good for them, yo — but for me, can I get a balance where I get most of them, most of the time?

  • First song from our wedding


    • See the Billy Preston quote at the end of this profile.
    • Longreads collected many of the recent articles here.
    • Today’s appreciation from the Wesley Morris/NYT, with this paragraph:

      Because lots of major pop stars now have great, big voices, maybe it’s easy to forget that most Americans had never heard anything quite as dependably great and shockingly big as Ms. Franklin’s. The reason we have watched “Showtime at the Apollo” or “American Idol” or “The Voice” is out of some desperate hope that somebody walks out there and sounds like Aretha. She established a standard for artistic vocal excellence, and it will outlast us all.

    Talk about teachable moments

    One poem in a magazine. The internet explodes.

    Here’s the original, which now has an editor’s note/apology.

    The twitter apology from the poet, Anders Carlson-Wee.

    Long, thoughtful response from linguist John McWhorter.

    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.

    Times Literary Supplement here.

    Two pieces from the National Review. One and two.

    I would like to read this poem with a diverse group of thoughtful students.

    Starting Inquiries

    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…)

    Possible Activities
    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:

  • why you choose this form of art?
  • why this is the most respectful way to capture this situation?

    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…