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A person of substance

I keep trying to have the substance vs. style conversation in circle. I want students thinking about real work, authentic work, work with substance. And I want them thinking about how to maintain a consistent approach to work in all aspects of their lives.

But I have to do it in indirect ways. This week I’m asking them to think about how a person of substance navigates the world.

We began this week by trying to define this…



For me, substance is about follow through, which I worry about, at least for myself, during this time of year when I’m just trying to stay afloat.

Day three: exhibitions

There are two things I have to nail in the coming months:

One, there is a complete and total lack of understanding of how much work needs to be done on projects outside of school in order for the students to be successful. I need to find a way to get students to spend at least one hour working on projects and college assignments at night.

This is one of those troubling conversations to have with adolescents because social pressures quickly shape the conversation — nobody does that, my cousin at Central does no work and has straight As, the kids at SLA do nothing — none of which are true and all of which render additional conversation difficult. I’m going to build slowly into this by asking them to chart the one hour they spent at home on the work. I might provide suggestions for what work they could do and let them decide which parts they take on.

Two, there is a complete disconnect between quality projects and grades. While I spend a significant amount of time talking about what makes a project outstanding, I still hear the following things way too much:

* “My goal is to improve my grades.”
In some ways, this is an empty statement because we’re much more interested in the quality of the final project and talking about that. It’s not that grades are irrelevant, it’s that if you develop and complete a quality project the grades will always follow. It’s worrisome on my part — why are they still talking about grades instead of the quality of the work?

* “I worked hard so I deserve a good grade.” Maybe. If I’ve done my job right, the work required for a project can’t be done in one sitting. If I’ve done my job right, you understand that working hard the day before something is due is not the same thing as working all along. If I’ve done my job right, they’re learning to (sorry cliche police) work better.

Teens and anxiety

Found this article to be provocative and powerful.

This description of the impact of technology on teen anxiety was particularly telling:

At a workshop for parents last fall at the NW Anxiety Institute in Portland, Ore., Kevin Ashworth, the clinical director, warned them of the “illusion of control and certainty” that smartphones offer anxious young people desperate to manage their environments. “Teens will go places if they feel like they know everything that will happen, if they know everyone who will be there, if they can see who’s checked in online,” Ashworth told the parents. “But life doesn’t always come with that kind of certainty, and they’re never practicing the skill of rolling with the punches, of walking into an unknown or awkward social situation and learning that they can survive it.”

A quibble: there’s three all of three paragraphs on the students I’ve taught in West Philly. True, “addressing anxiety is low on the priority list in many economically disadvantaged communities” but that’s because more often than not, students, parents, and teachers are worried about basic needs being met, not because anxiety doesn’t exist. Even if I’m dubious about the political will or economic resources necessary for a treatment protocol to develop, it doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.

Read this article.

Organization and Ownership

Another opening conversation designed to get at the relationship between organization — how do I keep track of my work — and ownership — how do projects become mine?

I did a paper folded in three: left side where students wrote bullet points for what it means to be organized and right side where students wrote bullet points for what it means to own a project.

We used the middle space to discuss the overlap between the two.

Some key insights:
time management is much easier when it’s your time, your choice, from your decisions…
pride helps make you organized.
“When you own a project you need to be organized to keep up with your work and have good time management to get your work to its best.” –SP
“When you’re organized you’re taking ownership over your projects because you’re focused on getting your work done.” — JC

Bucks County thoughts

The terrible tragedy in Bucks County has taken up most of the front page of the Philly papers for the past couple of weeks.   It’s an awful story.   Four young men are dead and two young men are going away for a long time.

Questions I’d like answered:

How many other murders has the city experienced in 2017 where one person involved with drugs shot another person involved with drugs?  I can see that there are 166 murders as of July 15, 2017.

Have there been other individuals who have acted in concert to rob people attempting to buy drugs who have ended up killing them?

How many murders in Philadelphia have had this kind of extensive (and basically inept) cover-up by the perpetrator?  Is this a common thing or do we just know the details because of the reporting?

How many other murders have been on the front cover of the Philly papers this year?  How many of these murders received coverage over multiple days?  How many of the victims received this kind of coverage, detailing their successes and past lives?  All four of these young men were attempting to buy drugs.   Let’s say they had never dealt drugs before, that they were truly great kids, and made a single, tragic mistake.   How do I teach my own children, my own students, that you only get one chance, that there’s no margin of error for them, that anything that’s too good to be true probably is too good to be true?  How do I teach them to run away from anyone making an offer like this?




What we’re after

This article details a new business that has an elegant solution to a complicated environmental problem: desertification.

Money paragraph:

The cocoon is a bit deceptive in its seeming simplicity: a good deal of high-tech thinking went into it. “Everyone likes biodegradable,” Ruys said, “but it’s actually a tricky concept. You want a thing to work over a period of time, then completely disappear. It’s hard to do, which is why, as consumers, we still buy plastic.” Ruys solved the problem with a particular kind of wax coating that dissolves at the right time. He also spent a lot of time developing a wick that would precisely feed water to the plant.