Archives for the month of: April, 2013
It worked!

It worked!

So you bury a bunch of scraggly-looking roots in the dirt and wait a while, and lose hope, and come back and Lo! there’s a spear getting longer by the minute– plus more, little ones and tall ones, doing exactly what they’re supposed to do, fulfilling their nature.  It’s a good system.

For more on this topic, read The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, in print since it was published in 1945.

carrot_seed

 

Competition:  considered an unmitigated benefit, the mechanism by which we achieve our highest.  I question those assumptions.  Competition seems to me to compress the galaxy of human traits and experience onto a 2 dimensional spectrum.  It truncates, severs, amputates, limits, constricts.   Rather than fostering the (at least) three dimensions of human expression, competition pits us against one another on some narrow, easily measured scale.  It may well spur those at the far right of the bell curve in that narrow field to do even better than they otherwise would–  but it also persuades those who place elsewhere on the bell curve, or who won’t fit on the scale, to quit.

What difference does it make where you fall?

What difference does it make where you fall?

Who knows what they might have brought to enrich our understanding?

As a teacher, I discourage competition and encourage mastery and creativity.  How curious to recognize that mastery and creativity are at odds with competition.

We all have a light to shine.

We all have a light to shine.

I can’t wear gloves.  I need to feel the soil, the roots of the weeds, the seeds in the furrows, the plants coming out of their flats.  So my nails break and, what’s worse, stain, no matter how I scrub them.  Today I slathered them with hand cream, well under the nails and rubbed into the cuticles, to try to protect them.  It was like greasing a cookie sheet before dropping the cookie dough on, hoping for a non-stick surface.  It worked, a little.  They’re better than they would have been.

Rober Pirsig talks about gumption traps.  Is an aesthetic turn-off the same thing?  or is that a different kind of impediment?

Ready for gardening

Ready for gardening

Dr. Jal Mehta

Dr. Jal Mehta

Teachers: Will We Ever Learn?

Read this excellent analysis of what needs to change for our schools to succeed more often and under more circumstances than they already do.  For once, someone isn’t just spouting the same old polarizing cliches:  charter schools; weakened or abolished unions; harder tests, constant evaluation, and firing everyone.  My new pen pal, Jal Mehta, whose mother is a teacher, calls for more time and resources for teachers to collaborate and establish best practices, which can be shared and built upon, rather than everyone just winging it, as we absolutely do.  I wrote him an email to suggest that some of us wing it rather well, but there is clearly a desire in public education to see teachers as widgets– and rather balky, defective ones at that.  And let’s face it:  if we were merely cogs in a machine, fixing that machine would be so much easier.

But good teachers are not cogs.  We are human beings who draw on wells of courage, creativity, and love to inspire our students– a thoroughly human and at times even noble endeavor.

Here is some of what Dr. Mehta had to say in the article:

Teachers in leading nations’ schools also teach much less than ours do. High school teachers provide 1,080 hours per year of instruction in America, compared with fewer than 600 in South Korea and Japan, where the balance of teachers’ time is spent collaboratively on developing and refining lesson plans. These countries also have much stronger welfare states; by providing more support for students’ social, psychological and physical needs, they make it easier for teachers to focus on their academic needs. These elements create a virtuous cycle: strong academic performance leads to schools with greater autonomy and more public financing, which in turn makes education an attractive profession for talented people.

In reference to the point about the welfare states in other successful nations:  surely it’s obvious that you can’t educate a kid in despite of his family, his neighborhood, his friends, his culture, or even his hopes.  Kids who have nothing going for them need a lot more than 7 hours of safety and sanity per day.

We aren’t going to get better schools and better education for kids by vilifying teachers, by taking away all their time to work, by treating them all as if they’re all the bottom 10%.  Some teachers are succeeding.  Why not find out what they do and help them do more of it?  And help others do it, too?

Dr. Mehta responded to my email by saying, “My heart is really with skilled teachers — trying to learn how they do what they do, and how we could create a world where more would be able to benefit from their practical wisdom.”  May you succeed brilliantly and soon!

Thank you, Dr. Mehta.

 

 

Tuesdays are guitar lessons.  I appreciate my teacher.  (I appreciate most teachers.  It might take one to appreciate one).  Today I was longing, for the dozenth time, to start learning how Shawn Colvin plays “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,”  which for me was one of those moments, driving along in the car, listening to the radio, that I almost had to pull the car over just to hear it with all my attention.  Richard gently says I’m not ready yet, but I’m getting there.

He encouraged me to listen to how Bob Dylan played it.  Then we had a little lesson on various finger-picking styles, from the Delta to the Piedmont to Country.  They all sound beautiful to me– I want to learn them all this minute.  Richard encouraged me to read Dylan’s autobio.  He said Dylan describes the various artists he listened to, and you can hear it in his songs.

Even Bob Dylan had to start out and learn how.  No matter where you might wind up,  and we all wind up in different places, you still have start at the very beginning.

Sometimes the most obvious things help.

Mister Rogers said, "If you want to learn a musical instrument, first you have to try, and then you have to keep on trying."

Mister Rogers said, “If you want to learn a musical instrument, first you have to try, and then you have to keep on trying.”

Today one of my students brought me this.  She baked it with her mother over the weekend as a thank you to the teachers who had written her college recommendations.  She said that it was her first foray into the world of yeast, and, to her consternation, it took a lot of time. Her mother , a former teacher herself, responded, well, think what time your teachers took to write your recommendations.

Her mother happens to have been my mentor in my very first year of teaching.  So to B:  thank you for understanding.  How much you understood!  Thank you.  And to the student:  you are one lovely young woman.  Sometimes college recommendations are so easy, they practically write themselves.  You will go far.  (don’t you wish that pastries could take the form of Mobius strips?)

 

It was even more delicious than beautiful.

It was even more delicious than beautiful.

Today I planted asparagus, most inexpertly, hoping for the best.  With some luck, next year I’ll harvest a few spears, then next year more, and so on, for the next 25 years.  Required:  faith.  My peas have not yet sprouted.  It’s always this way.  Each year it seems as though nothing will grow, all bets are off, and it’s Sahara for the lot of us.  .  . and then a sprout loops up out of the soil.

Dirt is good.

Dirt is good.

Hands on.

Hands on.

Vincent Van Gogh painted this when he heard the news that his beloved brother, Theo, and his wife had had a baby, named for Vincent.  We saw this at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in an exhibit

almond 2

called “Van Gogh Up Close,” and it was particularly moving coming at the end of a show that included so many of Van Gogh’s sad and desperate paintings, including a series of different views from his window in the asylum, some with gouges in the paint reflecting the rain and bars across the window.

Somehow trees comfort us with their stability, their grace under pressure, their sculptural forms, their impressive and showy output of flowers, leaves, and seeds.  Trees get a lot done, with quiet elegance.  A tree can mean a lot to a person.

Click below to read a beautiful account of a man’s grief and what the trees outside his window meant to him in the year after he had lost his love.  The quoted passages below give the merest hint of the beauty and truth of this article.  Thank you, Mr. Hayes.

A Year in Trees 

I didn’t cover the windows with shades or curtains. I would wake with the sun and lie in bed and watch the tree limbs for a minute. Some mornings, the branches looked as if they were floating on wind drafts, as light as leaves. With a stormy sky, they turned black and spindly, like shot nerve endings.  .  .

By the end of May, buds had sprouted and turned to leaves. I lost my view completely but gained a lush green canopy. Along with the leaves came another development: rustling, in countless variations, soft, sharp, gentle, syncopated — like a quintet doing vocal exercises in anticipation of a command performance. Privy to melodies out of earshot to those on the street below, I tried transcribing the rustling but to no avail, the letters of the alphabet proving insufficient somehow.

The holy grail of mindfulness in education

From the New York Times, evidence that mindfulness practice could raise test scores.  While test scores seem to me a limited measure of student attainment, they do drive the debate these days. If students who practice mindfulness can be shown to do better on standardized tests, as this article suggests, those of us who advocate for mindfulness in schools might be able to persuade skeptics of the benefits.

The group that took mindfulness training, however, mind-wandered less and performed better on tests of working memory capacity and reading comprehension. For example, before the training, their average G.R.E. verbal score was 460. Two weeks later, it was 520.

Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has studied brain function in long-term and novice mindful meditators, offered this analogy: “You can improve the signal-to-noise ratio by reducing the noise. Decreasing mind-wandering is doing just that.”

Other professors of cognitive psychology thought the study was well done, although based on a small sample, with results that have yet to be replicated.

“A type of training that can help one avoid susceptibility to worries, or other sources of mind-wandering, very well could improve performance,” said Nelson Cowan, a professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in the study of working memory capacity and attention, in an e-mail message.

Image

Behold the seedlings: zinnias and nasturtiums bravely facing the world.  It’s a challenge to keep them moist enough over the weekend and damping-off disease is my old enemy, but for now, we have a blessed event in room A202.

Many thanks to Sarah H. for the photos.

Is anything prettier?

Is anything prettier?

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