There’s a new permanent sculpture on the front lawn of our county courthouse, right at the very heart of the downtown of my small Western Massachusetts city. Artist Greg Stone finished the piece in the days before passing away, and his piece — showing a young woman caring for a dove — is beautiful and powerful.
I felt the need to not just photograph it yesterday but also to remix the images of Stone’s piece. It’s yet another way for me to kindle the fire of Hope in myself and in my world. I tried to find a way to bring it all together, to tie the images into a larger digital composition. I could’t find a way to do that which satisfied me, so it’s pieces of the whole here instead of a whole with pieces.
Here is the original, from one angle:
I then began using an app called Fused, remixing the image (a second image is also from the courthouse — colored lights in the form of a peace symbol).
Working with the images gave rise to a poem.
I tinkered with the poem’s look, too.
I also followed my friend Carol V’s lead to tried out a 3D Cube tool, which is nifty but not practical for images with words, I found.
And then I did a podcast of the poem, using some recent guitar open tuning that I was messing around with as the underlying melody, which I thought meshed nicely with the poetry.
And that led to … Zeega … where I sought to combine the image and poem and media … this is closest to what I was thinking …
I still may yet do something more with all of these pieces. For now, I am happy just to have been deep with Hope.
Normally, I am more organized with my thinking at conferences, but I didn’t bring a laptop to this past week’s Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project in Atlanta, and my notes and media are all over the place. So, this is a bit of this and a bit of that. I am sure I am leaving out something I wanted to say …
The NWP AM sessions that I attended reflected an underlying theme of the conference: how does an organization like our local Western Massachusetts Writing Project energize teachers and provide avenues (the buzzword is Pathways, which is the name for a multi-year venture by NWP to support local sites) for them to emerge as leaders now and into the future?
In one session, a group of NWP teachers shared a beta version of a website resource they have been building, which curates articles and documents and other media files from across the many NWP websites as a way to provide information for new leaders. So, if someone who went through a Summer Institute (0r some version of it) wanted to learn more about how to start a Writing Retreat for teachers, or a book study group, they could tap into the website and easily find what others have written about on the topic. I think, once it is done, the online site will have a lot of potential.
In another session, related to Connected Learning, there was talk of how to move Connected Learning ideals into the university classrooms, particularly with an aim at pre-service educators. In the small group discussions, I joined in an intriguing look at the potential intersections of Civic Engagement (or, as Mia Zamora put it, Civic Imagination) and Connected Learning. Mia is planning an interesting project early next year, on this topic, that will be open to anyone, and it sounds intriguing.
I also helped my site director, Bruce Penniman, make a “pitch” to the NWP and a room full of spectators on the merits of a project that we are developing that provides a “pathway” for new leaders from content areas at our site. We want to create a Civics Literacy Leadership Institute, for social studies teachers, that is modeled on a Science Literacy Institute now underway. The idea is to merge literacy practices into content-area instructions. NWP folks are considering funding a number of projects, and we hope we are in the mix. It was as gentle a “Shark Tank” as you can imagine.
In the Plenary Session, we NWP teachers were encouraged to stay true to the ideals of teaching and advocacy and the writing project (teachers teaching teachers — teachers as writers) in this uncertain age. NWP Executive Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and NWP Director of National Programs Tanya Baker brought inspirational, and much appreciated, words to the room about staying engaged in the national conversations and doing meaningful work in our classrooms and in our regional networks.
Both Elyse and Tanya infused powerful poetry into their talks, and were separated by two powerful student poets who shared their stories of the power of writing and a few poems that brought us teachers to a resounding applause. We are always a good audience for young writers.
And when Tanya asked us to write to end the Plenary, I did, with her words in my ear.
Finally, I met many friends here and there and everywhere, some of whom I only interact with on Twitter. So, chatting in person with Jennifer Orr, Michelle Haseltine and Karen LaBonte, among others, were a great joys of connection. And hanging out and catching up with my good friend Bonnie Kaplan at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site was a perfect way to spend part of my Friday.
Wait … I can’t forget the NCTE Hackjam, where Andrea Zellner, Chris Butz and other new and old friends hacked the conference space with blackout poetry and human coding and schwag remix on the floor, and escalator, of the conference hall. I only came to NCTE for the Hackjam (now in its xxx year .. I don’t think we really remember), and it was worth it!
Eleven books into the Wimpy Kid series and Jeff Kinney still has the ability to make my inner middle school spirit laugh. Interest in the series has significantly dropped with my sixth grade students. Only one student ordered the book via our Scholastic account (two, if you count me, ordering one for my sixth grade son). Years ago, I could count a dozen orders or so.
But with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down, Kinney continues to be funny and insightful to the inner lives of a middle school boy, and all sorts of pop references dot the story. It opens with a reference to The Truman Show movie with Jim Carrey, and a character who slowly becomes aware that others are viewing/reading their lives. Greg wonders if anyone is watching him life unfold.
Yes, Greg, we are.
I chuckled at the ways in which Greg finds a cool place in the Speech/Language pull-out class (because that was me in elementary school — working on my S sounds), and the taking up of French Horn to join the school band (in order to get invited to a party). Lots of sight gags and funny moments are in Double Down.
Look, it’s no literary work of art. It’s entertainment. My son read the entire book in one short session on the couch. I read it in an afternoon between doing dishes and the clothes wash. We were both entertained, and I see now that my son has dug out his collection of Wimpy Kid books to re-read (again). He reads deeper and much more complex stories than Wimpy Kid, but he still finds pleasure in the world of Greg Heffley, as imagined by Jeff Kinney.
My son often makes videos. He has written and shot three longer movies with a group of neighborhood friends (all by the age of 11), had one of the movies showcased in our city’s Youth Film Festival and has done a variety of smaller films, too. Long ago, I showed him what I knew about iMovie (and he took part in a free Apple camp at the Apple Store to learn about video), and turned him loose.
He recently finished this short video (he is now 12). My only role was to hold the camera so that he and his friend could be the actors in it. They first researched the ideas from a site called Dude Perfect, which I was only vaguely aware of. But they loved some video that spoofed baseball players, so they, eh, remixed the Dude Perfect ideas into their own spoof video of baseball players (both kids are baseball nuts).
What struck me is this.
They sat down, together, with a pad of paper and pencils, and watched Dude Perfect videos, and made detailed notes about different “stereotypes of baseball players,” knowing they were going to riff off those movies for their video. They brought the notes to the baseball field, and talked through each scene, before instructing me to shoot the video. I tried to keep as quiet as I could. I was only the camera man.
I love seeing the development of a craft here, and I hope he keeps doing it. When he does a longer movie, it takes a lot longer to shoot and edit. These smaller projects are more manageable, and I think he has a talent (says his dad) in making videos. I know he has fun with being creative this way.
If ever I needed a chance to connect with other educators, now is the time. This morning, I head south to Atlanta for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, and I am grateful to be part of a teaching community like NWP. It’s a place of spirit and invention and sharing and caring. I’ll soak in that spirit as best as I can, and find some (if only temporary) rejuvenation with my fellow writing project colleagues.
I’ll be attending a few sessions tomorrow, including the main plenary session, and taking part in pitching a new leadership project for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site in one of the afternoon sessions for NWP’s Pathways project. We’re hoping to fund a Civics Leadership Course, which — let’s face it — is more necessary now than ever.
(This is a post for Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments of our day. You are invited to write, too.)
We were at the end of our staff meeting yesterday, discussing moves to make our school’s behavior management more systematic across the board. The administrators passed out an incident sheet, showing where things happened and how many incidents there were in our school last year. Talk turned to the difficulty of monitoring bus rides.
And then the principal informed us of a recent post-election incident in which a group of students (I teach elementary, so kindergarten through sixth graders) began chanting and shouting “Clinton Sucks” on the bus.
And there it is.
I know the principal and vice-principal dealt with the incident, but as I wrote last week, this election has brought to light, in ways nothing else has before, the political make-up of the small suburban community in which I teach. Nearly half of the voters here went with the new president, and some of the lawn signs during the election season were brazen enough to make me wonder who would put such language on their lawn.
I have this vision in my mind, of all of these very young children smiling, laughing and joining in with the chanting, no doubt caught up in the excitement of the crowd and the moment, and of the thrill of doing something a bit rowdy and unplanned. I can see the bus driver, trying to get the bus quiet. I can see the students who join in but don’t want to join in, for fear of peer pressure. I can feel the disconnect that comes when the energy of the crowd sweeps you up into its arms, even if you don’t want to be there.
The core students who were chanting on the bus no doubt reflect what is being talked about at home, as we all know young children will echo what they hear their parents say and think (at least, for now). I’m afraid to ask if the leaders were my students. I need to ask but I don’t want to know. You know? So much for being a Peacebuilder school in which we daily pledge to be open and kind to others, or having staff using Responsive Classroom techniques as a way to build community that respects all views.
Or maybe, there is only so much we can do in the school to promote tolerance and reasoned argument. I know I need to keep my own students and my own classroom in my sights. But I wonder, how much of our classroom exploration and talk of social justice in the world, as well as topics of racial equity and tolerance and historical imbalance of power, hit a wall when my students go home?
This election continues to drain me.
Peace (everywhere, for everyone),
PS — I would feel exactly the same way if the chanting was reversed, and Trump was the target.
I’m not on Facebook, so I don’t know the extent of the “fake news” filtering into feeds there during the US presidential election. But I have seen more than a few articles in which Mark Zuckerberg is defending the algorithms that might have allowed some made-up news to come into the system, and worries that such items might have influenced voting.
I could not resist taking one of Zuckerberg’s denials and popping it into Mozilla’s XRay Goggles for a bit of a remix myself. Yep. Fake news about fake news. In mine, he owns up to Facebook’s role and admits that Facebook itself is behind the fake news (it’s not true, as far as I can tell … just to be upfront).
Still, even if some of what he defending is true — that the automated system still allows items with no veracity and tilted political bents into millions of people’s feeds — the issue of fake news in feeds has larger ramifications about how a social networking site can play a role in elections, and … perhaps even more importantly … it raises the question: why aren’t more people getting news from multiple and reputable sources?
Who relies on Facebook for all of their news? I know. I know. Many people do. It reminds me of the need for us, as teachers, to double down on teaching media literacy, and rhetorical moves, and determining the surface truth and the deeper slants of everything we read, whether it is the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Facebook or your local newspaper (do you still get your local newspaper? Is there still a local newspaper to get? My old journalism hackles get raised here. I hope you still have a local newspaper).
Check out this report from Pew Research, which indicates that almost two-thirds of Americans get our news from social media. What? And that report is from the summer. Who wants to bet that the number went up during the election?
(Note: This post is a convergence of a couple of ideas, including DigiLitSunday, where the theme this week is “purpose.” I am sharing out and reflecting on that theme as I contemplate making music as a protest moment.)
I often respond to the world by turning to songwriting. Admittedly, my first attempts at writing songs always seem to slant negative, and then I often have to wrestle the words back towards something more positive and productive (well, sometimes a song just needs a downcast view of the world to be truthful and honest).
As I continue to go through my stages of What the @#&% over this election, I have been turning to music to vent. My purpose here, in both the writing and then the decisions I make with the production of my music, is to find a creative path into grieving and, then moving into action. It’s meaningful for me to write — it’s how I process — and my guitar has always been a companion during difficult times. I find comfort there.
The more optimistic song – called Hope Remains — is my attempt to remind myself, and maybe you, that we have each other in dark times, and that even in the darkness of the world, there is light. It can be hard to see. We sometimes need to search long and hard for it. We often stumble. But it is there. I wrote this one for me. I wrote it for my friends. I wrote it for you. Hope remains.
This song came together rather quickly. I knew I did not want to reference the election directly. That’s not what it was about. I started negative, and turned positive. In less than an hour, the lyrics and chord changes were done, and I had recorded the demo on my iPad. My original purpose in recording was to keep the song raw. No production – no reverb or compression or anything. The next day, though, I knew it needed something more, something lingering off the edges of the guitar and my singing. I then layered in the bass/cello on the bottom end and did a slight mix of the guitar/flute on the higher end.
The second song — called Welcome to the Boardroom — was my attempt to use Trump’s words against him, crafting a dangerous-sounding remix with his own voice as the underlying track. My purpose? Channel anger into song and use his own words against him. I put his voice through all sorts of effects, and gave the tune a driving beat, with an underlying distortion field of instruments. Listen in headphones to get the full effect. I also added in strange sounds, to aurally show how off-center and off-kilter I feel right about now. I felt a lot better afterwards. The cathartic effect, I guess.
We had our annual Veterans Day celebration at our school yesterday, just days after the election of Trump. I am not involved in the planning of this event, which mostly is done by the fifth grade as part of their unit on the United States Constitution. The entire fifth grade does this powerful choral recitation of the Constitution with veterans as their audience during a special breakfast. Their voices remind of the “we” of the Constitution.
After the breakfast, all of the veterans come into the gym, where the entire school is waiting. We sing songs and listen as each veteran stands up, introduces themselves, connects to a grandchild or child or niece/nephew in the audience, and then receives a loud applause from the school. The two central songs were written by our music teacher. It’s beautiful to hear all those hundreds of voices singing to the veterans, to honor the commitment to our country’s ideals. (And I am one of those who gets to listen — I served in the Army National Guard in my life before teaching and join the veterans in the chairs.)
As emotional as the event was, and always is (and this year, there were nearly 65 veterans who came to our school to be honored), I could not shake the strange sense of disconnect in myself from what I was witnessing here as celebration and what I witnessed in the presidential election. I should note that the small town where I teach is fairly conservative. I know this already from my many interactions with the community, and the way the town consistently underfunds our school (we are at the bottom of the state’s list for local funding and support for schools).
But I was still rather shocked to see that this town where I have put my heart and soul into for 15 years, my entire teaching career, voted for Clinton, yet only by a margin of about 50 votes. That means that half of the voters who turned out support a president-elect, one whom I can’t even come to grips with the fact that he made it into office (he probably is shocked, too), and against whom I will work to remove and block as much as I am able. This is not a town of struggling families, not the demographic that seems to have been the wave of support for Trump. This is a solid middle class white suburban town (with some pockets of poverty), with many families connected to the local air bases.
I looked around at the veterans in the room — some from the Korean War, some from Vietnam War, some from the Gulf Wars, and some still in active duty. I thought about the day’s theme of these men and women fighting and serving to protect our rights and freedoms. I wondered about the message we were sending to all those young people — that our Constitution allows a bigot to become president because freedom of choosing leaders is a wide net — and whether an election like this is a symbol of contradiction.
I wondered if it was just me, thinking that.
Knowing how the town voted, I suspected that while I was not alone in those thoughts, there were plenty in the room of adults who would disagree with me, and call the election something more positive.
I’d be lying if I didn’t also wonder to myself: do I really belong here as a teacher in this kind of town?
But, of course, I do. Maybe like never before. I am never overtly political in my teaching. I duck and weave when my students ask about my politics (outside of the classroom, I ‘d call myself a slightly left-of-center pragmatist but I do live in a very progressive, far-left city). I am purposeful, but thoughtful in my classroom. I am sure I have bias — in what materials I select, in how I teach my lessons, in the writing I ask my students to do. All teaching is political, to some degree.
This election reminds me of the importance of open minds and open hearts, and the role that educators can play in helping our students discover the values of our country. It’s OK that we can disagree. It’s not OK to let fear and intimidation stand, in or out of school. Active engagement in the world will become a renewed focus for me and my classroom. I’ve always known and celebrated the potential of teachers to shape lives, in a positive way.
Sitting in the midst of the dozens of military veterans, in gym full of hundreds of attentive children, it became even clearer to me what one of my paths forward to confront the results and message and tone of this election must be. Now, more than ever, teachers matter. I’m not going anywhere.
Our Veterans Day ceremony ended with a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. I’d like to believe that Woody would not stand around, either. He’d pick up his guitar and do something.