Sunday, March 11, 2018

Some Thoughts on Guns in Schools

There's a line in Flannery O'Connor's short story "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" that has been haunting me in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, specifically the resulting gun control debate and the discussion of arming teachers. In the story, The Misfit guns down a vacationing family on the side of the road in rural Georgia. He shoots the grandmother after the situation spurns in her an uncharacteristic moment of grace: after she's dead, he says "She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her all her life." Have we come to a crossroads in our society where The Misfit's words are coming true for us all? Are we only good when someone is either pointing a gun at us or has the potential to point a gun at us? I suppose gun supporters would argue that had the vacationing family been armed they would have at least stood a chance against The Misfit. That being said, who takes a gun with them on vacation? Now that I've written that sentence I am sure there are several people in our country that take a gun on vacation with them. These are probably the same people that feel the need to bring a gun to Thanksgiving dinner. But, aren't there some places that are perhaps too sacred for guns? Isn't a school one of them? Maybe I am being hopelessly naive. In the case of the school shootings, would the students have stood more of a chance if their teachers were armed? Statistically speaking, probably so. That being said, why am I against the idea of teachers carrying guns in the classroom? Let me try to explain.

I have fielded student complaints about assignments in which they claim their teacher was "holding them at gunpoint" to write a letter, or do an essay, etc. While this was hyperbole on the part of the student, had the teacher been armed it would have been a little too uncomfortably close to the truth. The authority an armed teacher derives in the classroom (especially if the students knew the teacher was armed) would bleed into the authority with which they view the teacher as their scholastic mentor and moral guide. Blurring this line of authentic authority with a gun's cheap authority will irrepairably taint our educational environment.

Funding for school psychologists is important and can impact teen mental health in a positive way. The psychologist can themselves be a resource for the student and potentially connect the student to a network of other professionals that can help. I believe School Resource Officers should be in every school building. These individuals not only help provide a safe school environment by carrying a gun, they can also be role models for students. I believe it's important for law enforcement to work closely with the community, and SROs are just one way in which this is possible. I have heard the legislation that allows some school staff to be armed. I don't think this is a good idea for the reasons I've outlined above. 

I'm a fan of Mike Rowe, but he doesn't think teachers are heroes. He calls them "do-gooders." He further draws the distinction: "do-gooders are people who make the world a better place through acts of kindness. Heroes make the world a better place though acts of bravery." And that heroism requires more than "just showing up." Mike Rowe probably wants to reserve the word hero for teachers like Aaron Feis and Scott Beigel who took bullets for their students. Although by and large I agree with Mr. Rowe, his definition of teacher as "do-gooder" just doesn't ring true to me. Ultimately it's a teacher's job to hold students to a certain standard. In today's society of broken marriages where maybe a single parent wants to score points with their kid by defending them against the teacher or against the school, this is not always the easiest job. In a society in which it has become commonplace for parents to second guess or even undermine the teacher's authority, this is not always the easiest job. In a society where no one is ever wrong, failure is unthinkable, and it's never anyone's fault, this is not always the easiest job. In a world where everyone believes they are an expert because they can simply ask Siri, this is not always the easiest job. In a culture where we value quantities over qualities, this is not always the easiest job. There are cases day in and day out where teachers are holding their students to a higher standard, and by believing in that student enough to hold them accountable, we face a challenge. The best teachers bend over backwards to help their students reach that higher standard; in doing so we face a challenge. I believe it takes bravery to face that challenge. Sometimes we're going up against a parent. Sometimes we're going up against a culture. Sometimes we're going up against a kid who thinks he can't do it. In the back of all of our minds is the question, "If I discipline this student is he going to come back and shoot up the school?" So are teachers heroes "just for showing up?" Of course not. The teachers who are heroes have the bravery to help their students reach a higher standard. There doesn't need to be a gun involved for that kind of bravery to exist in my world. 


Monday, December 18, 2017

The Case for Reader Response Theory in College

Revised 12.20.17
Reader Response Theory was recognized on the Ohio Department of Education Common Core Curriculum as of last February. (See below graphic from ELA Standards Revision Highlights)

The theory is applied, as the graphic says, to all grade levels. Here is the language that applies to high school:

As an undergraduate Secondary Education major at The University of Akron from 1997-2001, I studied pedagogy, literature, and creative writing. In a YA literature pedagogy class, Dr. Harold Foster advocated for the use of Louise Rosenblatt's approach to literature by having his students read young adult literature and sharing their experiences in written reflections and in class discussion. Dr. Foster's approach was so effective that I taught the fundamentals of Reader Response theory straight out of college in my own first classroom. Here's a slide from a PowerPoint I made during my first year teaching.

Of course better teachers than me have been using Reader Response theory ever since Louise Rosenblatt challenged the accepted notions of New Criticism and the theory that literature was autotelic. But up until recently RR Theory was seen as a middle grades technique advocated for by wonderful pedagogists like Nancy Attwell whose book In the Middle is now its third edition, and by the looks of it, just as relevant today as it was in 1998 when the first edition came out. Despite the fact that I teach 11th and 12th graders I felt reader response had something to offer my students, so (encouraged by videos like this one from Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project) I made it a large piece of my curriculum. For reasons that will be obvious to anyone familiar with the theory, I felt that literature needed to be more useful than simply the world of the academic essay with its rigor and thesis statements; now that I lead a CCP course on College Composition I & II at my high school, where I am charged to teach students how to write with rigor and thesis statements, I feel it is as important now as when I first started teaching to allow students a voice in the conversation about the meaning of literature, which when it's at its best, is also about the meaning of life.

Over the course of my 16 year career as an English Teacher I have encountered the opinion that RR Theory is perhaps a bit too "floofy" for advanced study. The theory goes something like this: because there is no hard, academic research involved, the students will be writing thesis statements that include the word "I" and the writing will be filled with personal pronouns that strike far too conversational a tone to be effective. Honestly, I partly agree, which is why I think the teacher concerned with rigor would do well to hold students to a higher standard (perhaps by integrating work from academic, peer-reviewed journals) BUT WHILE NOT FORGETTING that Reader Response theory can be just about the most useful and powerful form of connecting to literature available.

I recently explored August Wilson's Fences with my CCP students. My main concerns were academic rigor while assessing their ability to use source material, and proper MLA formatting in their writing. Despite these objectives I couldn't ignore the students quietly likening Troy to their own father; I decided to add a reader response component to their essay (see below for the full rubric), which in my world looks something like this:

The result were essays that achieved an academic, authoritative tone complete with the stamp of
authenticity and savior faire that I have been striving to inspire for years from passionate, relevant reader response. 

Would I have continued to use RR Theory even if it had not been officially recognized by the ODE? Sure, because it has produced some of the most poignant essays I have ever read and goes a long way towards making literature useful to everyone from struggling readers to advanced readers. I would have continued feeling a bit Gonzo in my approach to literature, which was often a label that I took pride in applying to my technique, but I am glad it is an officially recognized standard; at its worst, teachers will feel bullied into using it, and they'll do it badly... handling student writing that can be both emotionally daunting and dazzlingly beautiful with all the tender care of an industrial meat tenderizer... and at its best it will embolden other Gonzo teachers and perhaps persuade a few to Rosenblatt's cause with the dedication and nuance to do it well in the classroom.

So while I applaud the ODE for making Reader Response Theory an officially recognized theory, I also challenge those in higher education to make it a part of how you encourage students to respond to literature. Maybe we all need to have a frank discussion on what rigor really means.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

High School circa 1995

Snow White and the Bad Yearbook Photo

I stood in front of mirrors, like my home bathroom mirror with a chip in one corner. In between classes I would duck in and examine my appearance in the mirrors in my high school bathroom. There was no “mirror, mirror” business though. If I wanted to sound poetic and slightly emo, I might call those mirrors a coffin of glass. I saw a boy trapped in by the expectation that he be perfect in every way; perfect for mom and dad who had done so much for him; perfect for God who had sacrificed his only Son for him; perfect for his teachers; perfect for the girls at his lunch table. Perfect for the bite of the poison apple; the perfect poisonous comb, the perfectly strangulating lace and bobbin, the perfect... perfect... perfect.

At sixteen it was a lot of pressure, but I liked what mirrors had to say to me, by and large. If I saw something I didn’t like, I did something about it: a little dab of cover-up to mask a zit, maybe the swipe of eyeliner pencil to even out a sideburn. Designer shirt tucked in just so. I was probably a textbook metro-sexual, though in 1995 that word did not exist. I could have easily blended in with the cast of Friends. I aspired towards Happy Chandler’s hair, Dopey Joey’s physique, and I’d pit my GPA against Doc Ross Geller’s any day. We would all peg our pant legs sipping cappuccinos, quipping back and forth while Hootie and the Blowfish whistled softly in the background. I was working hard to look good, but no one seemed to appreciate my Z Cavariccis or Skids. I was a fashion zombie, at once both hyperly aware, yet all too unaware of myself.  

Then my sophomore high school yearbook picture came out. In it, my eyes were closed, my mouth was wide open as if in a yawn, and gasp! my hair was utterly disheveled. It was, in my opinion, the worst possible yearbook photo of all time, and the beacon of absolute social ruin. I had taken so much care in my day-to-day grooming habits but the photo that would commemorate my efforts looked like I had just rolled out of bed. How, I wondered, could life be so cruel?

Then a strange thing happened. The terrible photo seemed to win the attention of a girl I had been crushing on. She literally told me “Nice yearbook picture,” as we passed in the hallway. Was she flirting with me over the worst event of my social life? This girl wore ripped jeans, concert t-shirts, and sparkly everything. She was dark-haired and strikingly beautiful. She seemed to like my awful picture. I thought, “Maybe I should stop trying so hard to look perfect, especially if it causes girls like this to pay attention to me?” I knew I needed to do something else to get this girl’s attention. I noted the concert t-shirts. This girl liked music. My father’s opinion of modern music was that it caused people to do many, many goofy things.

Oh, dad. Just you wait.   

Bands, Bleach, and Bacne

The previous summer I had saved up lawn mowing money for a five disc CD player. I went with a Sony. I still have it. Anyway, the device held five discs. I had none. So, along with the CD player I bought Pearl Jam’s Ten, mostly just to see what all the fuss was about. The sound didn’t blow my mind. Some of the songs did. Especially the narrative “Jeremy” - a song about Jeremy Wade Delle, a 16 year old boy who shot himself in front of his schoolmates. On some level I knew the band was trying to reach out to kids who felt like nothing, and the song was a condemnation of violence and self-harm. As a kid with some self-loathing issues I could appreciate that message. It was music the likes of which I had never experienced. I was used to Weird Al singing about mashed potatoes. Or Hootie trying to convince a girl that he only wanted to be with her. Pearl Jam was, to borrow a word from the modern parlance of hip, edgy. 

Edgy, I decided, was good.

All of the guys from Pearl Jam dressed like slobs. Or, as my father would have pointed out, “goddamned hillbillies.” They had long hair and wore flannel shirts and ripped jeans.There was already a contingency of extreme grunge kids in our school who wore long, thermal underwear to cover their bacne and, as a rule, didn’t shower. This last fact earned them the nickname The Grubbies. I didn’t want to be a Grubby; I was pretty sure the smell Kurt Cobain was talking about in “Smells Like Teen Spirit” wasn’t B.O. However, here’s what I did know about Nirvana’s monster hit: I knew I would wait until top 10 at 10 to record it onto neon pink Maxell cassette so I could listen to it again and again on my tape Walkman. The CD could wait. I needed this music now. I knew it was a song about being a teenager. I knew it was directed at me. I knew the lyrics made very little sense. The sound, though, was something I’d never really heard before. The whole song vibed a “don’t care” attitude. It sounded like it was just thrown together. Lines literally expressed an “oh well, whatever, nevermind” philosophy. It said, forget perfect, forget manicured, forget the comb, man. At the time, it was the message I really needed.

The song “Come as you Are” started getting radio play and it spoke directly to me. The only problem was I didn’t know who I was. I was living to satisfy everyone’s expectations, so the perfectly manicured boy in the mirror started to fade. There was nothing casual or cool about him so he had to go. I started growing out my hair and I bought a Pearl Jam shirt that said “9 out of 10 kids prefer crayons to guns.” I decided to start dressing like I just finished cleaning out the garage: nothing tucked in, no pegged pant-legs, no perfect hair. It was around this time that I decided I needed a pair of black Converse All-Stars; I decided I’d come like Kurt Cobain, bleach and all.

Undiluted Clorox Bleach will blister the human scalp when applied directly to the roots. Furthermore, the stuff really irritates the skin if you were to, say, dip your patchy, pubescent, miserable excuse for a goatee into a Dixie cup of the stuff. Bleach causes large, red boils to erupt on the skin. How do I know this? Guess.

While experimenting with the stuff in my parent’s basement I accidentally got some on my black Cons. To my horror the bleach ate away the color completely. Soon I realized I had made a miraculous discovery. Bleach, when applied directly to the scalp does not make one’s hair as cool as Kurt Cobain’s. Bleach, when applied in random patterns, achieved by running one’s thumb over the bristles of a toothbrush soaked with the stuff, creates Converse that are BETTER than Kurt Cobain’s. I was still acting like a consumer, expressing myself with products, but I had added a creative element that was intoxicating, and I don’t just mean Clorox fumes. I was learning how to express myself. This revelation would come to evolve into what was at first a foray, but what would soon become a life-long incursion into the arts. It seems that what at first was simply goofy became a way of living a fuller life. 

It's a shame that so many of the grunge artists I admired chose death. I don't need to list them. Their names are engraved in the hearts of those that lived in that era, and their music helped me, and countless other children of the 90s dislodge the stick that had been planted firmly up our collective behinds by the expectations of Reagan’s America. It felt good to look like a loser but act like a winner. I was somehow proving society wrong, and it gave me the first real shred of power I had ever wielded, and I used that power to cut out a swath where I could make a stand as an individual. To this day I am grateful to the grunge bands that defined the 90s, bleach, and, I suppose, that bad yearbook photo. 

I did, after all, marry that dark-haired girl in the concert t-shirt. And we lived, happily ever after.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kevin Arnold and Arnold Spirit Junior

Here is why Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is the Native American Wonder Years.

  1. Arnold Spirit Junior is the indigenous counterpart to Kevin Arnold; even their names are similar.
  2. They both tell the stories of their childhood as adults, which brings a kind of sober clarity to the events of the narrative: a clarity we lack during formative events in our childhood.
  3. Both Kevin and Arnold fall in love with the beautiful and unreachable girl (Penelope for Arnold and Winnie Cooper for Kevin).
  4. Despite the challenge and burden of loving a beautiful and popular girl, both Arnold and Kevin persevere to win pieces of their respective love interests’ hearts.    
  5. Roger, a prominent character in Part Time Indian, is a total jock. Roger, a prominent character in The Wonder Years, is also a total jock.
  6. In both series, the Rogers work as a kind of romantic counterpart/rival to the narrator.
  7. Paul (Kevin’s friend) from The Wonder Years is a genius, and so is Gordy (Arnold’s friend) from Part Time  Indian.
  8. They both deal with love, grief, and adolescence with poignancy.
  9. Kevin’s sister Karen is a kindred free spirit to Arnold’s sister Mary Runs Away. They both run away.  
  10. They are both extraordinarily well-written and incredibly entertaining. If you’ve forgotten just how well TV can be written, check out the clip of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss.

Obviously there are problems with this comparison. Kevin is white and lives in an American suburb; his best friend Paul grows up to attend Harvard. Arnold lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation; his best friend Rowdy has serious anger management issues and is raised by an abusive alcoholic. The Wonder Years is about wonder. Part Time Indian is about hope. These are, of course, vital differences, but both stories are told in the same narrative style and with similar wit and courage. Alexie scholars would probably be content to string me up for making the comparison, but I think it’s a good one. I also think those of you that use The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, especially with a mostly white demographic, might do well to bring in The Wonder Years.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Amateur Essay

Here is a new version of this essay (newest proofread 9.18.17, then again 10.24.17), originally posted in April of 2015. It has been a tough essay to finish, and I'm still not sure it's done, but I'm using it in my composition classes as an example of an "Amateur Essay."

Here's the prompt I have used: the primary definition of “amateur” according to the OED is “one who loves or is fond of; one who has a taste for anything.” So, tell us how you came to have your tastes, maybe how your tastes lead you to do something you love, and how that something has shaped your life.  This post is doomed to be a mixture of black and white and oddly mismatched font, it seems.

TMNT and Me
As an adopted child, my mother brought a common painted turtle in a bucket into my kindergarten classroom. It was 1984 and no one had ever heard of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Eastman and Laird were just unveiling their black and white indy comic at a comic book convention in New Hampshire. Despite this fact, we were enthralled by the turtle.  Time Warp roughly thirty years later: as a parent myself, I decide to drive to my son’s school. It is his last day as a kindergartner at Marshallville Elementary School, and it is Marshallville Elementary School’s last day as a school. They are all set to tear it down during the summer. There’s something inherently sad about the demolition of an elementary school: all of those little amateurs will lose forever the opportunity to one day wander nostalgically through the halls of the building that helped nurture them. On the school’s last day, I am home early from teaching at my own school and in a rush to make it to Marshallville Elementary before they close their doors for good. I notice a turtle stopped in the middle of the hot summer highway. The year is 2013, and everyone knows what a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle is. He is a painted box turtle, and because of red markings on his face, the kindergartners will name him Raphael.
Time warp back to 1988: the year Playmates released the first wave of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures. My family moved during the summer before I was to enter the fifth grade. Rather than moving twenty miles south that summer it seemed as if I had also entered a legitimate time-warp that matured children at astonishing speed. In short, it seemed that all of my classmates had outgrown playing with toys! My new classmates were listening to bands like Great White and Young MC on their Walkman cassette players. Songs about hanging with chicks. The only chick I wanted to hang with was April O’Neil, which wasn’t saying much. That yellow jumpsuit? That hair?C'mon, she was the most difficult action figure to find. Besides, she liked Casey Jones. Judging by his long hair and sleeveless shirts, he was probably listening to Great White.
The turtles, despite their apparent lack of popularity with the fifth grade class of Northwest Elementary School, were my solace during that transitional year. I played with the action figures, drew pictures of them, and watched the cartoon after school. They represented everything I wanted to be: tough, resilient, and despite the fact that they were total outsiders, they had a great sense of humor. Everything just bounced off their shells. I was on the cusp of adolescence, and I didn’t just want to be a "teenager," I wanted to be a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle." They all hand jived, man, and said stuff like “Awesome!” and “Bodacious!” in their nearly identical surfer-dude voices. In those early iterations the turtles were still relatively one-dimensional, but they seemed to me, the epitome of cool. Besides, the only dimension I was familiar with was Dimension X: home of Krang, the malevolent master brain.  The only folks that shared my opinion about the turtles were my next-door neighbors, Robert and Ryan. Robert was a grade behind me and drew turtles too. Even then he was an entrepreneur, keeping his originals and tracing copies for a dollar each. He is now partner in a design company called Commuter Industries in Sacramento, California. Back then Ryan seemed to appreciate the toughness of the turtles the way I did. He was a Mikey kind of guy, so we made nunchucks from the cardboard tubes on wire clothes hangers and practiced our ninja moves at dawn and dusk. At the time I couldn’t understand how such “Awesome!” and “Bodacious!” behavior could add to my status as the weird new kid, but it did, and if playing with the Cheapskate during class didn’t seal the deal, constantly doodling turtles and turtle related pictures certainly did: I found myself in a new grade with no friends. My new teacher seemed to understand all of this somehow and began wearing a brightly colored Ninja Turtle wristwatch that was inherently awesome and bodacious because it sent me a straightforward message. "You are not alone."  
Don’t get me wrong, she was still capable of acts of great cruelty. 
As an avid, egocentric artist I decided one day to carve my name into my own desk.... an act of exquisite boldness and stupidity. My teacher made me walk down to the janitor’s closet, borrow a piece of sandpaper, and, in tears, rub it out in front of the whole class. I thought this lapse in judgement might disqualify me from further artistic opportunities. Not so. When the contest to see who could decorate the class door came around, I was chosen to draw the design. I chose Ninja Turtles, of course.I drew a large, turtle-themed mural complete with all four heroes and the Party Wagon, which proclaimed, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Want To Be Your Friend!” 
It should have said, “I Want To Be Your Friend!"   
Ironically, my unabashed love and fondness for the turtles led to my first real friend. Paul was the kid that could speed read, spoke Elvish, and got A’s on everything. This boy was Krang, the master brain. He was into Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I aspired to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Or, as my classmates might have said, Paul was the D&D Dork, and I was the Turtle Freak. I taught him how to draw and he taught me how to roleplay. We became great allies. It seemed that the people I bonded with most deeply during childhood were those with whom I was able to share a passion. Perhaps not such a brilliant insight, but one that still defines the terms of my relationships, as I’ve found it is only through this kind of interaction that you glimpse the real amateur. To borrow from Michael Chabon’s essay “The Amateur Family,” being an amateur is all about not being afraid to disclose that which holds you in a vulnerable state of wonderment.
Time warp back to 2013. Twenty-five years passed since I first learned and then forgot how to be an amateur. One day, on the ride home from his after-school program, my son Wyatt told me about his friend in kindergarten with whom he played Ninja Turtles at recess. “Do you play with anyone else?” I wondered. “No one else believes in them,” was his response, and in an instant I remembered being the original Ninja Turtle at my school. “They’re real, aren’t they dad?”I answered the way I do all of my son’s questions that deal with wonder.
"Of course they’re real." 
Each turtle played an important role in my upbringing. Raphael was my favorite turtle in those days when I was grappling with the relentless bully known as puberty. I was playing Raphael in armwrestling tournaments at lunch, while lifting weights in my basement, and while competing in the most brilliant contest ever conceived by the male teenage mind: bloody knuckles. I was Donatello studying with the Master Brain for straight As. I was painfully shy and, even worse, just as quiet. I struggled with the outward expression necessary for leadership roles. Unfortunately, I took everything way too seriously to be a carefree jokester like Mikey. As the years unfold these are still aspects of my personality I'm working on bringing to life. It seems any well-rounded guy needs to embody the tetrad of turtles. 
Some say comics, cartoons and toys are best left behind in adulthood, and that we should aspire to put away childish things as we mature; some may even go as far as Dr. Fredric Wertham and crusade against comics as trash that rots the mind. As a kid I got around to reading the original comics, had checked them out as graphic novels from the library in fact, but I got caught up in petty grievances like, “their bandanas are all red!” and “why are there so many Krang?” I absorbed the dodgy origin story. A random canister of mutagen bounces out of a random truck after the random truck hits a random pothole and the random canister of mutagen hits a random pedestrian holding a random glass bowl of turtles… see what I mean? I didn't understand or appreciate the Jack Kirby, Daredevil nod. Even today it seems a shaky basis upon which to build an entire world, and you may ask, "Didn’t the story eventually coalesce into a streamlined narrative the more you read?" Well, if by streamlined you mean they eat pizza and fight dinosaurs from outer space, then, yes, I suppose it did. It was the art that drew me in, and all puns aside, I came to revere the full page action sequences. The turtles were grittier than they were on TV, which had to do with the style of Kevin Eastman’s illustrations: thick, black lines and heavy cross-hatching. As an adult I have tried to put away childish things. I sold most of my turtle toys for twenty dollars at a garage sale and told myself I was too mature. My sons have been a blessing in many ways, but one of their unexpected benefits has been in healing me of the wounds inflicted by reason and adulthood by reminding me of my childish obsessions. I have truly enjoyed watching the Nickelodeon TMNT series with my sons, have begun obsessing over the excellent IDW comic line, and, I realize, still aspire to emulate the tetrad. I spend a fair amount of time and money buying turtle toys and comics. Some are for my kids but, let’s be clear, a lot of them are for me. In the novel Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon writes that nostalgia is just a way to try and reclaim some part of your youth. Tragically, my neighbor and close friend Ryan committed suicide in his early twenties. I know that part of my affection for the turtles has to do with the fact that we can no longer swing nunchucks, and every time I re-buy an old toy we shared, I remind myself it won’t bring him back. Those hallways may be just a memory, but it still feels good to walk down them. Now that I am an amateur father with two sons, the message of the turtles that speaks to me most clearly is that of the importance of family. I am in awe of the love, respect and obedience the turtles have for their “dad,” (a giant sewer rat that teaches them Ninjitsu) and how loyal they are to one another. In my most sentimental moments, the relationship the turtles have with Splinter reminds me of my own adopted parents, their unconditional love, the unusual fact that my dad and I look nothing alike, and the fact that they taught me how to survive in an imperfect world.  Now as a father, it is all I hope for my own sons: for them to see their father as a person worth obeying, to have the courage to stand up against evil, and to look out for one another no matter what uncertainties may lie ahead. Some believe that cartoons and comics are at best a waste of time, or at worst, trash that rots your brain. Just the other day, my oldest son Wyatt wore a policeman’s hat and a Ninja Turtle shirt out to dinner with the family. On the way home I overheard him telling his younger brother Jonas that he would run down any bad guys that ever tried to hurt him, and that he would always be there for him. Always. He made sure to emphasize the word “always.” It makes my heart swell with pride to hear my little turtles profess such loyalty to one another, and if that’s trash, then I guess this amateur belongs in the sewer.
Time warp back to my son’s kindergarten classroom. One of the last acts of my son's kindergarten class before the doors to the school closed for good was to name the painted turtle Raphael. They were taken with the way the turtle reared up and attempted, unsuccessfully, to climb out of the white plastic bucket that served as his temporary home. Despite the thoughtful touches (a smooth grey rock, a bit of grass and a twig), he seemed to really dislike his new digs. My sons wanted to keep him as a pet. “He needs to be free. He’d be unhappy as our pet,” I explained in my most reasonable dad tone as we stood next to a public lake. This was to be his send-off, but the kids were having trouble letting go. “But you took him away from his family,” they argued as we tipped the bucket on its side and, sure enough, Raph moved with all of his touted agility and speed out of the mouth of the bucket and into the water. If you’d have blinked, you’d have missed it.  “Maybe he’ll find a new family,” my wife said. It's all we could hope as we watched the still water, and, together, wondered.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Online Security

Last winter I posted a response to Cory Doctorow's Little Brother and I mentioned Bruce Schneirer's contribution to the afterword. Here's a list of the top 20 Online Security blogs of 2017 where you can find access to the ideas of other security experts.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Shape and Resonance in the Narrative Essay

Sherman Alexie's "Superman and Me" is a perfect example of a crafted essay that uses both techniques I call "the rule of three" and "full circle." Both can give shape to a narrative essay and both are done extremely well in this particular essay. Alexie uses repetition in the "rule of three" For instance: 1. "I was trying to save my life." 2. "They were trying to save their lives." 3. "I was trying to save our lives." The "full circle technique" is achieved through Alexie's description of Superman breaking down the literal door to save lives, and in the end, Alexie trying to break down figurative doors to save lives in reservation classrooms. Both techniques are used effectively to achieve thematic resonance. In my experience students have been able to imitate this effect to achieve power in their own narrative essays.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

"...anything that fairly excites our admiration expands us." - Thoreau

Though it's not packaged as "data," here's more evidence to support an inquiry-based classroom. The more a teacher is able to facilitate learning that stems from an area of, call it what you will- interest, admiration, curiosity- the more invested students will be in their learning, the more meaning you will construct in the classroom... the more you are ultimately equipping students to be interesting people that will expand society. Throw away your worksheets, people. No, wait, recycle.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Poetry and Protein

For National Poetry Month, here are my thoughts on poetry’s role in the classroom, featuring way too many food metaphors. For starters, can we agree that poetry is worthwhile? Novalis said, “poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.” A school with no poetry would be all method with no madness, right? Poetry offers poignant truth, beauty, and insight into what we all like to call “the human condition.” At some point, life’s cruel, absurd torchbearer has carelessly set us all ablaze, and the degree of our burns are as wicked and varied as any wildfire. Poetry can offer one of life’s kindest balms.

Poetry, in my opinion, is used most effectively in the classroom as seasoning, a garnish, or maybe even a dessert. When it is used as a main course, the waiter could become agitated at the diners’ complaints when the meal is not filling enough, or when they’re not sure how to ingest the course, or... maybe, after one bite, they discretely spit the poem into a napkin having wished they’d been able to order something else. Without some degree of variety and spontaneity your lesson is going to ultimately be as pointless as trying to explain how coffee, or asparagus, or organ meat is delightful to someone who reviles it. They won’t get it; heck they may even come to disdain you for it. Why not give students the freedom to explore poetry the way a novice chef might spin a spice rack, trying out different flavors and combinations? This, of course, necessitates an anthology. For American Literature, here is one of my favorites, loaded with wonderful poems, that isn’t going to break the budget at $2.70.

Now, you can also purchase a teaching unit to go with this book, however, in my opinion, worksheets should rarely be used with poems. While the intention of the worksheet may be wonderful, it always feels a bit too much like a survey card after a great meal: I’d much rather talk with someone about the food while I’m tasting it. I did once purchase a unit in correlation with this book, but usually we get through only a question or two before we’re stirring in other sources, personally relating, or gnawing on the poem’s inferred philosophical questions.

So some of you might be wondering- where’s the protein in this metaphor?!- and like so many armchair nutritionists you may become agitated at the notion of a meal with no obvious source of protein. Let me assuage your anxiety…. the protein is a classroom environment that encourages open-ended questions, speculation, personal connections, gravitas, and maybe a little bit of silliness. The amino acid of your enthusiasm will nourish novice poets and philosophers to speak up. This environment, of course, is in many ways much harder to pull off than simply buying a poetry anthology for $2.70… because, obviously, you must be sensitive enough love poetry for this to work, but thick-skinned enough to keep trying, even when it doesn’t.

Happy National Poetry Month, friends!