With the snow and cold, I decided to take it fairly easy this weekend, resting and reading. Mostly what I’ve been reading has been material from an EdX MOOC about Walt Whitman and a Moodle course about Teaching with Moodle.
For this evening, however, there are a few things that caught my attention from the Moodle course. The Moodle uses Badges as part of the system; particularly Mozilla OpenBadges>. I earned my first badge in the course which I’ve placed in my Open Badges Backpack. So, one of my todos is to learn more about Mozilla’s Badges and Backpack.
One of the first issues I ran into was that the badge I received from Moodle was for my work email address and the backpack was set up for my private email address. In exploring this, I managed to get my work email address added and come across Mozilla’s Persona.
Each of these are things that I need to explore in more depth.
I'm taking a HarvardX MOOC course on the poetry of Walt Whitman. Getting going, we have been asked to introduce ourselves. As part of the introduction we've been asked to list our favorite poem. There is no way I can narrow it down to one or two poems, so here is what I wrote:
Hi. My name is Aldon and I’m from Connecticut. I’m taking this class for a few different reasons. One is simply that I’m interested in always learning new things. I’m interested in how learning takes place online. And, I’m interested in Poetry, in 19th century America and Walt Whitman.
In terms of favorite poems, I’m going to break the rules, because I just can’t narrow things down to a few. Growing up in New England, I was exposed to Robert Frost early on and he was one of my earliest favorite poets. Stopping by Woods… Two Roads Diverged… In fifth grade, I had to memorize a poem, and it was John Masefield’s Sea Fever, which also remains a favorite of mine today. e.e. cummings was another poet I liked early on. domenic has a doll… anyone lived in a pretty how town….
It was probably in High School that I first encountered William Carlos Williams and So Much Depends Upon and The Great Figure became favorites. Later I wandered into the poetry of H.D. and many of her poems became favorites, such as Sea Rose.
When I studied the bagpipes, I immersed myself in Scottish culture and developed a love for the works of Robert Burns. My Heart’s in the Highlands… My Love is like a Red Red Rose… To a Louse …
I spent a bit of time reading Richard Brautigan in high school, but don’t remember many of them. The Winos on Potrero Hill comes to mind.
In college, I had the opportunity to hear some great poets. Nikki Giovanni, Ego Tripping remains a favorite. I can’t remember if Maya Angelou spoke at my college, but Still I Rise became a favorite poem of mine. We also had Denise Levertov speak. She read, A Tree Telling of Orpheus. It was the most magical experience I ever had listening to poetry, and many of her poems have become favorites.
The flip side of this was hearing Allen Ginsberg read Howl. I had read it many times and held it in deep reverence. In my mind it sounded ponderous as if it should be read by James Earl Jones. Ginsberg sounded nothing like James Earl Jones.
After college I binged on Keats and Blake. Yeats became a favorite, especially Lake Isle of Innisfree. I read a bit of T.S. Eliot in an adult Christian Education class in New York City, and still come back to the Four Quartets and The Wasteland.
Many of these poets became what I read to my children when they were young, along with Wordsworth’s Daffodils, and Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.
These days, I watch videos of poets reading. I like Sarah Kay’s If I Should Have a Daughter. I like Billy Collins Forgetgfulness and Richard Blanco’s One Today.
If I spent more time, other important poems would come to me as well, but I’ve already gone well beyond the one favorite poem.
Recently, people have shared some links on Facebook that combined with some other links make an interesting story. I’m sharing these links, without comment.
The Disease of Being Busy.
A ton of people didn’t vote because they couldn’t get time off from work
Connecticut voters defeat early voting measure
Gathering Time - Haleys Comet
Lowen And Navarro's All The Time in the World
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig talks about the ghosts from his past as he taught rhetoric and quality before his nervous breakdown. In Dead Poet’s Society, the character of John Keating played by Robin Williams, invoked the ghosts of former students, urging his students to “seize the day”.
Last night, I walked the halls of Amity Middle School in Bethany, accompanied by these ghosts and others. My wife was a student at this school over three decades ago. The mother of one of my daughter’s classmates was one of my wife’s classmate those many years ago. Did they imagine, back then, that their children would be classmates, carry small devices like the communicators from Star Trek and have access to machines that could print out three dimensional objects? What were their dreams, what were the dreams their teachers and parents had for them back when they walked these halls.
Back to School night started similar to the school day. The principal’s voice crackled over the loudspeakers. We all stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, bringing recollections of the ghosts of those who fought for our freedom. There was a moment of silence, thirteen years after 9/11 as we recalled our friends and neighbors who died in that attack.
Then, it was off to meet the different teachers. There were a few themes that emerged, the total point system was repeated over and over again. There were frequent mentions of the Common Core, and at least to me, it seemed, there was too little focus on the actual curriculum and acknowledgement of the ghosts.
The first class I sent to was World Geography and Culture. There was a good syllabus presented and a discussion about the focus on argument and debate. Fiona, like her parents, loves debate and I’m excited for this class. I did wonder about how much the students will be encouraged to question the assumptions they have about culture based on the culture they’ve grown up in.
The second class was Spanish. I believe both Fiona’s mother and uncle had Mrs. Young for world language classes when they were students.
This was followed by English. I am sure that this will be a fine class and that the teacher will inspire the students, but I have concerns. The teacher will be managing the class using a “behavior management plan” based on corporate structure. I’ve already written to the teacher expressing concern. I am not convinced that CEOs are the best role models for proper behavior. Nor do I believe that they are the best exemplars of the use of the English language.
She spoke about finding examples of good writing to emulate, of “mentor texts”, and my mind went to e.e.cummings, Jack Kerouac and James Joyce. Somehow I suspect that may not be the sort of texts they’ll focus on. She mentioned that because of the Common Core, the readings would be based more on the skills being taught than on the titles of famous books. I have mixed feelings about this. Skills are important, but so is being literate in certain classics. I hope Fiona will end up reading Lord of the Flies, The Pearl, A Separate Peace, and other great books that illustrate something more important about language than just skills.
The essay, 'Understanding Poetry,' by Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. comes to mind:
If the poem's score for perfection is plotted on the horizontal of a graph and its importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its greatness.
For those who miss the reference, this is a section of the text book that Mr. Keating in Dead Poet’s Society urges his students to rip out.
That said, I remain hopeful for the class and the work they will do. Perhaps the students can form a union to deal with the corporate structure. Perhaps some can even participate in the National Novel Writing Month Young Writers Program. I think everyone should try to write their first novel by the time they complete middle school.
There was a nod to integrated curricula connecting the English class with the social studies class. I was glad to hear that. I’m a big fan of integrated curricula.
The next class was science. The teacher highlighted the classroom and the lab equipment. My daughter wrote that she thought I would like the science teacher, and I do. They will be studying lab safety, metrics, the scientific method, earth movements, meteorology and astronomy. I wondered if AMSB had a weather station connected to Weather Underground. It doesn’t appear as if they do. I figure I’ll have to dig out my ten inch Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope soon. I wonder how much they will get into issues of climate change or the effect of fracking on earth movements. I also wonder to what extent the science curriculum can be connected to the social studies curriculum.
The following class was tech. The teacher recognized me because of my Google Glass and we talked about 3D printing. My daughter is pretty excited about this class as well. As the teacher lauded the school district. We do have a great school district with wonderful facilities, great teachers, all contributing to the success of the students. Yet I remember hearing former New York City school Chancellor Joel Klein talking about equality in education. He spoke about how if the school system is working properly parents should be happy with whatever school their children end up at knowing that they all have the same level of excellence. I thought about students at under performing schools in Connecticut and remembered a great quote attributed to Virginia Woolf, “There is only one thing wrong with privilege, it’s that not everyone has it.”
For the final period, my daughter wrote Phys-Ed/Choir and listed the teachers and rooms for each. I suspect that Fiona, like me, prefers choir over physical education, so I went to the choir room. No one else showed up. Since we were supposed to be following the A schedule, I should have gone to physical education. My daughter had made a similar mistake at one point, missing technology and going to choir instead. Yet it provided one of the best chances to spend time talking with a teacher.
We talked about folk music festivals, expanding musical horizons, and the role of the arts in STEM oriented systems. My middle daughter, with her masters in community arts education always points out that it really should be STEAM, with the A standing for Arts. Without the creativity of the arts, the inventions of STEM projects are too likely to be lifeless and soulless.
There wasn’t any discussion of integrated curricula here, but it would be great if choir expanded the musical horizons of the students to include cultures being studied in social studies.
Like the students, when the classes were over, the parents found time to speak with their friends before heading home. As I drove home, I thought about the Common Core, various ghosts, and seizing the day.
It had been a nearly picture perfect June day. The weather had been warm, but not unbearably so, and as the sun approached the distant horizon, the temperature began to drop. Young children rolled in the grass in front of the outdoor stage as their older siblings sang or played their instruments. It was the school’s end of year concert.
As the orchestra played Handel’s water music, I remembered summer days on the lawn at Tanglewood. They were rare, but special events when the family would gather to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We would have a picnic lunch on the grass, and I would roll in the grass like the young kids sitting in front of me. I still carry fond memories of those days and the love of music they helped engender.
I looked around at many friends sitting on the hill. We had seen our children grow here, and learn so much. This would be my last elementary school concert as a parent of one of the young performers. I sought to soak it all in. My mother would devotedly show up at all my performance as a child and perhaps was looking down here from heaven. My father, always seemed to be occupied with other things and would rarely show up. Now, he’s occupied in a senior living complex.
My wife’s mother died before I met her, and may well have been sitting next to my mother. My wife’s father remarried, and Papa and Nana would have been at the concert if it wasn’t for something of graver concern.
At the end of the concert, it was announced that various groups had won high acclaim in their adjudication. I commented to my daughter that this acclaim, at least in my reckoning, was of much greater value to me than CMT or SBAC scores. The ability to read small ovals with stems rising from them is far more important the ability to select the right ovals to fill in on standardized tests. People come to believe that filling in the right oval is some sort of accomplishment in and of itself.
In the next town, adults were filling in little ovals indicating that they supported or opposed the proposed town budget. Such votes are important, but they aren’t a real accomplishment. No one wants taxes to go up or services to go down. The real accomplishment is getting into the thick of it and hammering out specific instances where a town should increase or decrease its spending.
When the concert ended, parents struggled to round up their children and get them home to dinner, baths and bedtime. Meanwhile, in a nearby hospital, a Vietnam Veteran, who had struggled and suffered so much both during the war, and perhaps more significantly afterwards rested in his bed. Family was gathered around him as they talked quietly about his prospects and waited.