Monday, April 27, 2015

My Epiphany

My Epiphany

I follow several people probably better equipped to address the unbelievable injustices currently perpetrated in America. I am not a person of color, but I truly try to be sensitive to all people and their individual experiences. I am not always successful, but I reflect a lot and correct and apologize when I can.

I had an epiphany tonight. I have been following the tweets of others about the protests in Baltimore.  My husband and I were also discussing the occurrences: the rioting, looting, and whatever other labels the media slaps on these events.  Of course we discussed morality, whether different events were “right” or “wrong”: Is arson okay but looting not? 

I have a hard time letting philosophical ideas go until I make personal sense of them, and this continued with me until I realized this: Who cares if I agree or not?  No one needs me to benevolently bestow my blessings or to condemn anything.  Who cares what I think?

Now, stay with me.  Here is why this epiphany matters.  I am white.  The best way I can help is to not stay silent about the inexcusable behavior of, hopefully, a minority of law enforcement officers and government officials.  I can also help by keeping these inequalities alive in dialogue and conversation.  I mostly do this by seeing what others are saying and quoting or re-tweeting their wiser words.  Lastly, and most importantly, I can shut my ignorant mouth and listen. 

I need to hear what, in this case, Black people are saying.  Why are they frightened to leave their homes?  Why are they afraid to get pulled over?  Why do they run from cops?  Why do they have to teach their babies how to deal with other races and policemen differently than what other races teach their children?  Why are they angry and frustrated and rioting and looting?  Why?  There are reasons, people!  Not stupid, surface reasons. Not excuses like failure to pay child support or prior records—those are symptoms.  What are the roots? 

Here’s what I need to do: I need to shut up.  I need to look people in the eyes (whether they are Black, Hispanic, LGBT, women, homeless, anyone forced into Otherness), acknowledge that individual—really see and feel his/her humanity—and LISTEN to his/her story.  I will not pass judgments.  This is not about me or my opinions.  I only need to know how I can help and not hinder.  This is about the future of our society.  This is about real people who have futures, if those in power will stop fighting against equality.

So, I am sorry for my failings.  I am listening….

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Stop Pretending Challenge

Stop Pretending

Many other educators have already written on the topic of what people pretend about education. I have only read a few from people I follow on Twitter. They have covered the gamut of education topics. One teacher even posted responses from some of her students. As so many educators have already discussed this, what more could I possibly add? I am so glad you asked—lucky for you, I only have two ideas to add.

1. We need to stop pretending special needs students need “fixing.” There is nothing wrong with physical disabilities or learning disabilities. All students should be educated to the best of their abilities. No one can claim to know a child’s limit—not even the medical profession. Look what Anne Sullivan did with Helen Keller, a child everyone deemed uneducable. If you want another epiphanous scenario (although it is fiction) read Terry Trueman’s Stuck in Neutral. Trueman’s narrator is a teen with cerebral palsy, stuck in his own body with no way to communicate; however, there is nothing wrong with his mind. As my teen quipped, “It’s not what they can’t do—it’s what they can do.” Stop limiting children.

2. America needs to stop pretending it truly cares about equality and equitable education. Those in power and places of privilege do not want everyone to be educated for several reasons:
A.   Education gives people power over their lives and situations. There is a reason slave owners denied their slaves an education—and made it illegal for slaves to read and write. Reading opens doors to the world. Readers learn about other countries, other races, other ideas. This is dangerous when trying to keep certain groups subjugated. If everyone could read, everyone might question the status quo; everyone might realize life can be different; everyone might yearn for a better life and future…and some people would not be able to maintain their positions and hold on to their power.
B.    It is much easier to create stereotypes and further subjugate certain groups. All Mexicans (because some Americans do not realize there are other Hispanic countries) are lazy and dirty and have too many children. All Blacks are loud and join gangs and have absentee-fathers and do drugs. All Asians are smart. All Muslims hate Americans and Christians. All gays have an agenda to spread their gayness. And when a member of those oppressed groups dares not act like a stereotype, the individual is vilified: You aren’t acting Black, etc. Those in power revel in shaming those who aim for equality rather than remaining in the shackles created by stereotype. This happens in education too: when we see a predominantly “minority” school succeed, those in power scratch their heads and scramble for explanations…and rush to shame other predominantly “minority” schools. Sadly, their own groups sometimes further shame those minorities when they simply reach out and claim what is rightfully theirs: education, freedom, equality.
C.    Until the American voters actively decide to “fire” the status quo running our country, we can never hope to achieve truly equitable education, and by extension, an equitable nation. Stop pretending it will happen in our current climate.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

BlueCerealEducation Content Challenge

BlueCerealEducation's Content Challenge

Since I have become BCE’s acolyte, I guess I must answer the challenge he set forth: to “talk content” to him. I love discussing content with people other than the ELA teachers who are as old and dusty as the books they insist must remain in The Canon (I have a really good story about that…). I constantly work to make classical literature applicable to students. If it ceases to speak to society, why continue reading it? The last few years I have taught 8th-12th pre-AP/AP English, so I do use more classical literature than I probably would in a traditional class—however, I had over 1,000 personal books (ranging from classical to current YA) for students to check out and read on their own time. Yes, my books stayed checked out. To bring literature to life, I incorporate as many visual components as I can, whether I use a forensic video about Caesar’s death or Lego Beowulf or Seven Pounds when we discuss moral dilemmas. I also love offering projects or creative writing as a “final” assessment for major works or units. I always give students several choices, including written options. By the way, I do not consider myself a creative person. I suck at any craft or art project. I am mostly an auditory person, but I have taught myself to be more visual to help me reach more students. I have had some stunning and hilarious projects over the years.

P.S. I will mostly include my original ideas. When not mine, I will notate that. If something peaks your interest, contact me—I am happy to share!

P.P.S. I’m not counting my preface as part of my 1200 word limit, BCE. Eviscerate me if you must…

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. I found a website to tour Ellis Island. Great for my students who may not travel outside Oklahoma. (Not totally mine)
2. Flowers for Algernon (excerpt): I put up the Rorshach inkblots. Thus begins some lively discussion on what we see. (Not totally mine)
3. The Giver: Students pretend they are the Giver and must transmit one memory to Jonas. I have had some stunning “memories” written over the years.
4. Anne Frank (excerpts): I send home a letter to parents/guardians explaining students need to spend two hours in isolation: no technology, no talking, no noise (such as water running). They record their thoughts, during isolation, in a diary-like entry.
5. Students build their own websites to review poetry types/terms.
6. Students build a website as a memorial to a historical event or person.

1. Inspired by Apple’s campaign “Here’s to the Crazy Ones,” students research world-changers and create a PowerPoint/Prezi. I have parameters for their search (male/female, other countries, etc.).
2. The Odyssey (excerpts): choose a scene to create a visual (any medium). (See pics)

3. Romeo and Juliet (I loathe, by the way): students make brochures about depression, suicide, etc. they could “give” to the characters to help them escape their destructive behaviors.
4. Of Mice and Men: make George and Lenny’s dream farm, movie of scene(s), make a soundtrack, collage of words/images, write what happens to George after the book ends. (See pics)

5. A Raisin in the Sun: design or choose a symbol to represent a character, write journal entries for one character, write an additional scene, or design a coat of arms (Not mine)

1. I have several things for The Hunger Games (mostly mine).
2. Comparative myth project: students look for commonalities (also discuss Jung’s collective unconscious).
3. Dante’s Inferno: partners are responsible for teaching one Canto and creating a visual representation (See pics). Sometimes have them create a Circle of Hell, focusing on symbolic punishment—not revenge.

4. Alice in Wonderland: rewrite Jabberwocky (not mine); write another adventure where Alice encounters another literary character, write a story of Alice’s journey at your school, make a movie, make a soundtrack and movie poster (do not use existing work), make a diorama (see pics), or make an Alice board game (see pics).

5. Julius Caesar: students make a newspaper (inspired by an idea for The Crucible, but this is mine)

AP test prep hampers me some, but I do some interesting analysis essays if anyone is interested J
1. Tropes and schemes bingo helps students learn the eight million literary terms.
2. The Crucible: newspaper assignment (partly mine); rewrite and film a scene, write an epilogue, be a character and write journal entries, write a letter from Elizabeth to John in jail
3. Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (moral perfection section): students and I each list five personal areas to improve. We make a chart like Franklin’s and keep track for a weekend.
4. Romanticism: we go outside (without technology) with pen and paper. Students find a spot and empirically observe nature. They write/sketch what they observe and their feelings.
5. Spoon River Anthology: students choose 5-6 different characters. They answer questions and prepare a presentation. My favorite part: using a private Facebook group I create, they write posts for each of their people. Since this is private to our class, they can get silly or very honest (if you have read Spoon, you know it can be frank). We also make connections using a bubble cluster on butcher paper—helps them respond to the appropriate characters on Facebook.

1. Summer 2013 students read Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil. When they returned we ate pears and tried to describe a pear, as is attempted in the book.
2. Beowulf: read Beowulf’s boast and write our own. We drink wassail and boast and toast each other (not mine). I also have a security assignment to fortify Hrothgar’s mead hall (mine).
3. Canterbury Tales: students watch TV for a weekend and focus on stereotypes. They write an informal essay the next Monday.
4. Hamlet, Othello, and/or Macbeth: I split the class into two groups. Each group takes one play to read, analyze, and do projects. Ultimately, they teach their play to the other half of the class. They must take one class period for each play. (partly mine)

5. Read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” with Humanism. I also use “Allegory” when we re-read The Giver last year. I see Giver as a re-imagining of the Cave.
6. Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year (excerpts): also read from other works on communicable diseases. Students pretend a plague hits town. They can make up a disease and take any role. They write journal entries of their experience. I have had many “blood-stained” journals!
7. Lady Mary Montagu’s “Letter to her Daughter”: Students write advice letters to their future sons and daughters.
8. Frankenstein: we drink tea/coffee and discuss the book in depth

9. William Blake: do 1-2 “Inner Child” days. We eat childhood snacks and play games (Red Rover, Red Light/Green Light, etc.) on one day and eat cereal/pop tarts/etc. and watch cartoons in our pajamas on the second day. Ultimately, after reading several selections from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence/Experience,” students write their own “Songs.”

10. Rime of the Ancient Mariner: students have made comic strips on
11. To alleviate some of my seniors’ stress, I assigned Winter Break homework: watch a Christmas movie—do not analyze it, participate in a family tradition (without your phone), ask your family what you were like as a child (bring me a childhood picture), re-read a favorite childhood book, color a picture and bring it to me.
12. In May, seniors write at least one thank you note to a teacher (from any grade). I provide the notes.
13. In May, seniors write letters to their future selves. I keep the letters and mail them five years later. Yes, I actually do this. For the Class of 2014, I’ll also mail their childhood pic and the picture they colored.

I push myself to bring literature to life. I share my passion for literature and the joy I find in reading. Ultimately, I want students to discover universal elements that interconnect us. No matter our outside differences, the human condition crosses all barriers and binds us. As I quote all the time from John Donne’s “Meditation 17”:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.