I sit here again to confront my old nemesis, the blank screen, as I have so many mornings before. It has been an ongoing battle of many years, especially during that time when I was putting up at least one blog post a day, every day, for years in a row. It is a common problem many of us face, how do we get started? It is more of a problem when what we are doing is very public, like a blog post. What will my readers think? Will this be a profound statement? Will this be art? Will this be just something that fills the page?
I've often ended up writing blog posts that lack profundity, that I'm sure various people reading it will wonder why I even bothered spending the time writing it. My daughter's master's thesis and upcoming book, Don't' Make Art, Just Make Something, captures an idea, actually, many ideas, about getting started.
Yet I'd like to suggest that many of us have already started. How many of you have doodled on the sides of various pieces of paper? I doodled a lot more when I was younger. How many of you arrange your room or prepare a meal as a creative outlet? For me, one of my creative outlets is paper clip art.
I've always fidgeted. I've often take paper clips and bent them into new creative shapes. Yesterday, at work, I took a few paper clips to make a miniature abstract paperclip sculpture. I then arranged it in front of a BuddhaBoard my daughter had gotten me for Christmas, which I drew a question mark on. I placed a penny in front of the whole layout and cleared the area of my desk around it.
Perhaps it isn't art, maybe it is, but at least it is something, something that conquers the nemesis of the blank page.
Don't make art, just make something.
The juggler stands in the big old empty circus tent surrounded by balls bouncing on the stage. Over the loudspeaker sounds the lyrics of Gordon Lightfoot's Carefree Highway:
Pickin' up the pieces of my sweet shattered dream
I wonder how the old folks are tonight…
Turnin' back the pages to the times I love best…
Searchin' through the fragments of my dream-shattered sleep...
Carefree highway, you seen better days
The mornin' after blues from my head down to my shoes
Carefree highway, let me slip away…
I look around the house. On my computer are too many unanswered emails and unwritten blog posts. Outside, the grass is high, higher than it should be.
There are signs around the house of the past month's other activities. On a shelf is a small replica of a lighthouse my mother had cherished. There are various special dishes from my mother's house being worked into the cupboards with our normal dishes.
I'm trying to integrate the good memories and mementos of my childhood into my adult life, now that my mother's house stands empty and owned by another family. At the same time, I am trying to process the painful memories; not forget them, but learn from them.
I eat my morning oatmeal. I'll include some frozen blueberries from Williamstown in my upcoming breakfasts. I'll finish this blog post, send a few emails, and head off to work where I'm also trying to pick back up too many balls to juggle at the same time.
As I sat at the Commencement ceremonies at Lesley University's Graduate School of Education, I thought to myself, "When was the last time you saw a help wanted ad asking for a standardized employee, must be good at filling in oval circles?" Most of the help wanted ads I see are looking for unique creative thinkers that must be self-starters able to work well in teams.
It seemed as if many of the teachers in the audience who had gone on to get advanced degrees knew all to well the failings of our push towards more standardized testing. The messages from the speakers were about the value of radical approaches to education and compassionate inclusiveness; when we think about 'them', all those people that are different from us in this shrinking world, we will eventually come to understand "They are us".
Looking at things from through the lens of health care reform, a topic I've been immersed in recently, I wondered what education reform could learn from health care reform. One of the big topics in health care reform, when you get past the hyperbole about Obamacare, is evidence based research into health outcomes. What are the outcomes we are looking for and how effective are different health care procedures?
Perhaps we need to look a similar way at education, what are the outcomes we are seeking? Are we looking to standardize all Americans and make them good at filling in little ovals? Standardized testing may be good at this, but is it what we're really looking for? How about teaching creativity and teamwork? This may be more useful in helping students find jobs and be productive, but is employment and productivity the highest goal we should be seeking? Where do values like compassion fit in?
Another key topic of discussion in health care is establishing the proper level of testing. Our health care costs have gotten out of control, in part, because of an over-reliance on testing. How often should a patient have a mammography? A PSA test? A colonoscopy? When are MRIs really called for?
If a patient tests negative for a condition commonly screened for and doesn't have a history indicating the likelihood of a condition developing, perhaps they should be tested less often. Maybe we should look at the same thing with standardized testing of students.
Many of my friends are eager to dismiss standardized testing outright. It has been promoted by corporations that benefit from it, and has not been designed by teachers in the front lines. Yet I've spoken with others that defend it, particularly as a tool to address underachieving schools, often in poor urban ethnically diverse school districts.
Following the idea of testing in health care, if a school is performing well, perhaps it shouldn't have yearly standardized tests. Perhaps every three years is sufficient, maybe even less frequently, depending on the stability of the teachers, the administration, and previous test scores. Yet for school districts that are not performing well, they might be needed on a yearly basis.
By moving away from standardized testing, schools can pursue lessons that will really help students in the real world, while schools that aren't managing to cover the basics continue to work on fundamental topics. Of course, this begs the question of what the basics really should be, what really is fundamental to a good education. As we think about a core curriculum, are we really teaching what will be core to students success in the twenty-first century, or, are we teaching what is core to maintaining the profits of an educational testing complex. That's a topic for a different blog post.
It's five o'clock on a Saturday. That's five in the morning, not nine in the evening, for any of you Billy Joel fans. I've stumbled out of bed to have my oatmeal and see what's going on online, before I hit the road on another busy day. Life has been throwing me curves and it has been hard to find time to write.
I glance at the Google News page. There is news about a commuter train collision not far from where I live, a train I sometimes take. Elsewhere, there are tornados, wild fires, and political scandals. Where is the good news? Where is the hope?
Perhaps it is this question that is driving the top headline of the day, $600 million Powerball jackpot attacks a crowd. For two dollars, you can buy a brief dream of what you'd do if you won, before taxes, 2% of the net worth of one of the Koch brothers, and people are lining up everywhere. Perhaps this reflects how badly our country is broken that people are living on $2 dreams of climbing out of the wealth imbalance in our country.
People talk about what they would do if they won the jackpot. They dream, for a day or two. Hold fast your dreams, the poet says. Yet what good are these dreams that have virtually no chance of coming true? What good are these dreams that too easily turn to a nightmare?
My mind wanders to those junior high school reading assignments, The Pearl, Old Man and the Sea, and The Lottery. Perhaps winning a lottery isn't all that it is cracked up to be.
Perhaps a good starting point is to think of those two dollars as a co-pay on a self-analysis session. What would you do if you won half a billion dollars? What would you save, what would you spend, what would you give away? What this tell you about what your values are?
Yet dreams should not be idle idylls. They should motivate us and change us. What are you going to do on Monday morning when the numbers don't match yours? Will the dream have fled, leaving no impact? Or, will you have learned something from the dream and find ways to help those you would have helped with your winnings? Will you find ways to help those you would have helped with the activities of your daily life?