February 11th

Another Thursday. These are tough.  

Podcasting began with laying out the timeline for our entries into the NPR contest. The due date is March 11th, so I had laid out a series of assignments that will hopefully get kids across that finish line and maybe even generate a winner.  There were some terrific ideas. Of course, we’ll be making these in a Pandemic, so the ideas are confined to what you can pull off around your house. 

But in both podcasting and English I was reminded of the difficulty of teaching technical skills (for lack of a better term.). In podcasting, I’d love to be able to teach smooth audio transitions within their pieces, which is absolutely necessary, but I don’t know how to do this on-line, when pretty much everyone is using different audio software.  Similarly, in English — more on this later — I was trying to get everyone thinking about how to set up and explain a quote. 

Both of these skills require two steps: the work the community does to identify what it looks like when done well and then an individual working to do it on their own.  In person, I facilitate the first step, spiking the punch when I need to, and then look over kids’ shoulders for the second.  On zoom, I try to facilitate the first step while having no idea whether it’s working, and then get super frustrated at how overstimulated I am as I attempt the second while having no shoulder to look over.  

(Note: for podcasting next year…I’m going to have to fundraise to get more than a few computers with real audio software (I love Hindenburg for this work) so that we can all have one learning curve together.) 

In history, my opening activity went better than I expected, as we compared the process of finding truth in a courtroom versus finding truth as historians. Lots of great ideas.

E. pointed out the group dynamics of a jury and how that might compare to communal understandings; he also underscored the nature of rules.

A. highlighted the tensions of a courtroom; the combative nature of a trial (I offered the notion of an adversarial relationship in trying to get to the truth.)

A. suggested that there were rules around evidence and questioned what happens when evidence doesn’t exist.

D/M: both pointed out that issues of power emerge in a courtroom — politics, race, class, gender, wealth might create bias.

I then modeled potential approaches to the “Truth Toolkit”. As I was doing it, I came up with another idea — a kind of map, modeled after the sort of novelty maps you find in restaurants down the shore. This idea was spurred on by A’s even better idea of thinking of it like a children’s menu at a restaurant.  I’d love to see that.   

Our last activity was to look at the Table of Contents from two books: E.H. Carr’s What is History and Oscar Handlin’s Truth in History.  In groups, they had to generate questions that, based upon the chapter titles, might be required to come to the truth. These documents came out fairly well. Thanks to S. for highlighting the Carr chapter on morality and the Handlin chapter on “Good guys and bad” to provoke an exchange on how we see humans.

It’s funny — the assumption I’m fighting against, the one I need to do a journal entry next week to get after the most, is still this idea that everyone is entitled to their own truth.  I can’t go at it directly but I need to do something next week where they explain why this is right and why this is wrong.   I also need to finalize the benchmark, not so much the project, but the materials to be used to make the project. If they’re going to create a booklet with the purpose of exploring the truth around a public policy, I need to make sure I’ve got enough of a structure to prevent the arrival of sixty-one wikipedia articles.   

Ate some lunch then came back for English 3.  Had some luck with the opener — how did these three themes come into your life over the past three days — and then tried, unsuccessfully, to practice doing two things with quotes from Gatsby: 

1. Set the quote up. 
2. Explain its significance in as succinct a way as possible.   

I did this on chats. Maybe not the best approach. Had a document ready for this process. Also not convinced that’s the best approach. Maybe try a google form with the other stream tomorrow?  

We then had a reasonably good time working our way through chapter two.  The “Nick is actually gay” interpretation broke out much earlier this year than the past two years.  I don’t have a problem with this interpretation — or any interpretation — if it’s rooted in a close reading of the text, and a reflection on Nick’s identity would provide ample material for either of their short essays on opportunity or authenticity.  One notion that’s huge in adolescent/human minds is staying true to yourself and they’re alert to the moments when these characters betray themselves or they stated ideals. (Alas, now that I’m old I know that we all skate on the edge of hypocrisy with each action we take and that any true self of my own is complicated mess, shifting each day…).

This is also one of the moments where I wish there were countless teacher memoirs that you could look at; if you were teaching Gatsby twenty years ago, when did this interpretation occur? Or what did the day-to-day conversations look like in a classroom fifty years ago, when a teacher worked their way through these sorts of novels.  Yeah, I get it, maybe there was no conversation, but still, what were they talking about and doing? How did the students of the mid-1980s respond — Greed is Good, It’s morning in America — to this book?

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