Archive for the ‘learning’ Category


“Hello,” He Said To The Charming Young Lady Standing By The Hors D’Oeuvres Table At His Cousin’s Wedding, “My Name Is Charlie Charming, And My GPA Is Four Point Oh!” “Good-bye,” She Said, Wandering Off To Find Someone More Interesting.

July 23, 2010

For July 20, 2010

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. • Albert Einstein

Walker Percy said that you can get all A’s and still flunk life and I agree. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said that grades don’t matter. Sometimes they do. They matter when you’re hoping to go on for further education. They matter when you want to be considered for an internship or a particular kind of job or a scholarship that requires a high GPA.

They matter when you’d like to do something outside the box of requirements, since a record of good grades provides instructors with reassurance that you take your studies seriously and can spark their willingness to take a chance on your intentionality. No matter how much an instructor may like a student as a person, educational possibilities are usually built on a foundation of excellent, caring, high quality work.

Grades can also matter because they provide validation for students. A good grade shows someone that they can be successful in school. In my own life and in my work with other adults returning to school, a grade that recognizes the effort we put into our studies can be meaningful and motivational. It lets us know that success is possible and keeps us going.

There is seldom an opportunity in real life beyond school to share your GPA. No one cares. They care what you can do. They care what you do do. Your accomplishments are what counts.

And while it’s true that grades can and do count when you’re in school, it’s also true that grades aren’t the purpose of education, although it sometimes seems as though they are. Any time you are proud of your work, regardless of the grade it receives, you’ve been successful.

What’s an assignment you’ve been proud of after you completed it—in school or in life?

But there are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret. • Ronald Reagan


Becoming A Thaumaturgist*

July 15, 2010

We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams. • Willie Wonka

It’s my last day of teaching until fall. I’ve been teaching six days a week and traveling on the seventh and I’m ready for a break. It’s not that I mind teaching. I’m grateful both for the interactions with students and for the opportunities to keep learning.

There’s no way to teach with passion without continuing to learn. When you teach, you look at the world differently. You listen to the radio with teacher ears, watch television and movies with teacher eyes, and scrutinize just about everything you see for its usefulness in the classroom. You read books and magazines and newspapers and websites differently. Your walks through the neighborhood or through the mall or on the beach or in the woods become ideafests.

You think once, twice, three times before tossing away an empty box or a paper sack or leftover yarn or other bits and pieces and scraps. Lots of it you get rid of because you know there’s no way you can store it all (although I try), but you become a hoarder of ideas, an imaginer of possibilities, a magician of what ifs, taking this and turning it into that for the delight of your students.

I teach experienced teachers as well as those who will just be getting their first classroom in the fall and if I could give each of them a single gift, it would be the gift of boundless enthusiasm for their job. I am tired, but I am not tired of teaching.

It isn’t just teachers who function as thamaturgists in the world. How can you bring delight into someone’s life today, this week, this year?

Anyone who can be replaced by a machine deserves to be. • Dennis Gunton

* A thaumaturgist is a magician, a worker of wonders and miracles.

Note: I will be presenting at a conference next week, so will be on the road and sporadically connected as I’m able to be. I’ll be posting when I can.


If They Give You Lined Paper, Write The Other Way *

July 11, 2010

A box of new crayons!  Now they’re all pointy, lined up in order, bright and perfect.  Soon they’ll be a bunch of ground down, rounded, indistinguishable stumps, missing their wrappers and smudged with other colors.  Sometimes life seems unbearably tragic. • Bill Watterson

In my imagined memories I assert myself, tell my teachers no, refuse to do more of the same-old-thing, confess my ignorance, celebrate my strengths. In reality, I did none of these things. I was physically visible in my beautiful-to-me outfits, but I was intellectually invisible. What good were brains?

I hated school. Even to this day when I see a school bus it’s just depressing to me. The poor little kids. • Dolly Parton

Ranting digression: The start of school is on my mind because stores are getting ready for day one before I’ve even finished my final day. I’m still teaching. June is too early to start getting the shelves full of school supplies, but they were already appearing. July arrived and red-white-blue was quickly replaced by the colors of back-to-school. This happens every year, and while I can live with turkeys in August and Santa in September, there’s something about pencils and crayons and rulers and lined paper and bottles of glue and all the rest of it lining July shelves that irks me.

Certain peer pressures encourage little fingers to learn how to hold a football instead of a crayon.  Rumors circulate around the schoolyard:  kids who draw or wear white socks and bring violins to school on Wednesdays might have cooties.  I confess to having yielded to these pressures.  • Chris Van Allsburg

Thinking and asking questions only got me in trouble in school and at home. I learned my lessons well just like thousands of other children will learn or have confirmed this year when school starts again. They’ll comply, think convergently, take tests, raise their hands before talking, line up quietly, follow the rules, and learn to play all the games that adults believe good little girls and boys need to know in order to make it through life.

But I hope that they’ll also learn other things. How to think for themselves. How to have ideas. How to question accepted truth. How to ferret out lies. How to create, whether it’s with words or music or movement or with all the marvelous hands-on stuff the world is full of. How to appreciate themselves and how to appreciate others. How to find joy in little things. How to be optimistic and realistic at the same time. How to be themselves and revel in it.

Actually, all education is self-education.  A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education.  What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book.  You must fill in the colors yourself. • Louis L’Amour

What do you hope children will learn in school this fall?

You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him [or her] to learn by creating curiosity, s/he will continue the learning process as long as s/he lives.• Clay P. Bedford

* This quotation is attributed to both Juan Ramon Ramirez and William Carlos Williams, so I provide both.


There’s A Land That I Dreamed Of. . . . .Creating A Room Called Home

June 5, 2010

The books one reads in childhood, and perhaps most of all the bad and the good bad books, create in one’s mind a sort of false map of the world, a series of fabulous countries into which one can retreat at odd moments throughout the rest of life . . . . . • George Orwell

I’ve been re-reading L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz on my iPhone. It’s comforting to know that this childhood world is waiting any time I long for its familiar words. Although I never believed in the existence of Baum’s fabulous countries, his oft-explored territory reminds me how important such worlds can be.

Many years ago, there was an in-the-theatre revival of the 1939 movie version of The Wizard of Oz. In those days before VCRs and their spawn, this was the only way that youngsters like my cousin Sugar and I could see movies made before we were born. I remember skipping down the street in Los Angeles after the show, arms linked, singing “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” The sidewalks were sparkly, mica, perhaps, and the world was magical.

I don’t remember what we were wearing, although I’m sure we were dressed alike in those days when we pretended twinship. I do remember our shoes: black suede flats with clear acrylic heels and clear square acrylic bows on the front, a pair that ranks among my top five favorites, right behind our purple leather flats with braided aqua, hot pink, and purple straps. I wore both pair long after I outgrew them.

I also remember this, the words Dorothy said before she begins to sing “Over the Rainbow.” I didn’t remember them exactly then, but I knew what they meant. Auntie Em had just told Dorothy to find herself “a place where you won’t get into any trouble.” Such a place can seem nonexistent when you’re a child, even a good child. Despite the rosy glow that surrounds the idealization of childhood, those days aren’t always happy and carefree.

Dorothy was articulating my longing for home and acceptance when she said to Auntie Em: “A place where there isn’t any trouble. Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…”

In writing about his imaginary worlds, Baum said, “Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams – daydreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing-are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to invent, and therefore to foster, civilization.”

I know that the imaginary worlds of my childhood are part of what inspires me to ask my students who will soon be teachers to begin creating “A Room Called Home” as they think about what it will be like to be a student in their classrooms. I hope those classrooms will be places that focus on what is right with students, what is good about and for them. I hope those classrooms will nurture creative spirits and build imaginations and encourage civility, kindness, and caring.

I also hope that my students’ students will learn to love learning not simply because they have tests to pass or assignments to complete, but because curiosity and the enthusiastic quest for knowledge will add immeasurably to their lives.

If you were creating a classroom home, what would you include?

It is not on any map; true places never are. • Herman Melville


I’ve Been Making a List of the Things They Don’t Teach You in School*

March 11, 2010

I think you should basically teach a kid to read. A little arithmetic, a little writing, but if you can read, that’s the big thing. That’s the biggest thing my education gave me.
• Christopher Walken,
Playboy, September 1997

I’ve been reading about national standards in language arts and math today and such articles always get me thinking about what schools ought to be teaching as well as where the gaps were in my own education. Here’s what Neil Gaiman, Newbery Award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy, novels, graphic novels, comics, and much, much more (I love Coraline) had to say about school:

*I’ve been making a list of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away form someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who’s dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.

I don’t agree with Gaiman’s final sentence. Many of us learned to read in school. We learned our math skills there. We learned to get along with other people. We learned practical skills and we learned esoteric things that enrich our lives. I do think schools teach things worth knowing. I also think there are things you can and should learn on your own. And I know that there are things that schools should teach but don’t—like self-sufficiency—as well as things they shouldn’t teach, but do. My education left me better schooled in what I don’t like and don’t do well than it did in what genuinely interested me.

Make your own lists, one of things that they don’t teach you in school and another of things you did learn in school that will be useful in your life.

School never taught me how to manage people. The first time I had to reprimand an employee was a nightmare, and then when I had to fire someone, well, I was up all night trying to figure out what to say and what to do if the person fell apart. I wish I’d learned a little bit about these things in school.
• College student response about his post-high school jobs putting himself through college, 2007


Quality Is When You Smile at the Little Details *

February 16, 2010

I’m a thrift shopper and I think about quality whenever I’m in one of my regular haunts. Thrift shopping is like a treasure hunt; I never know what I’ll find. I understand that some folks are put off by the idea of using something that someone else has discarded, but I grew up hunting for useful stuff at the dump, so I’m not at all squeamish. I have even been known to wear other people’s shoes. Especially bowling shoes. Besides, I like to imagine the others who have used or read or worn or loved my latest purchase.

As I hunt for bargains in thrift or antique stores, I am often surprised by the excellent condition of things that have obviously been used and yet are decades old: clothing, games, books, jewelry, furniture, even “cheap” odds and ends and bric-a-brac. Sometimes stuff was made to last. I seldom feel that way about anything any more unless it’s been handcrafted by someone who cares.

When I was a teenager, I read Vance Packard’s (1960) book, The Waste Makers, and was greatly influenced by his discussion of the “obsolescence of desirability” and the “obsolescence of function,” referring to deliberate attempts by auto and appliance manufacturers or fashion designers or whomever is determined to convince consumers that they need the latest model of whatever it is because what they currently own or are wearing is either passé or lacking some crucial element that will make their life infinitely more satisfying once they acquire it.

I think about planned obsolescence every time I see a new telephone with features I don’t need and would probably never use. I think about it whenever I see an advertisement for a television that will bring the world into my living room so that I will feel as though I’m right there, whether it’s a football game or the rain forest or Paris at night. I think about it when I hear discussions of fashion forwardness on my guilty pleasure, Project Runway. No one wants to hear Heidi or Michael or Nina tell them their work is “so eighties.”

The world of planned obsolescence is all about creating desire for what is up-to-the-minute. The latest. It’s just a bonus if you produce crap  (well, that’s what it is and my grandma who always said “hmmm” instead of  “hell” used this word to describe some of the worthless-in-her-estimation junk that grandpa and I scrounged at the dump) that doesn’t last because then folks like me who don’t care about the latest will be driven to purchase it when the item we’d planned to use for years lasts only a few months. I won’t even start to rant about the systemic obsolescence that drives computer usage. Keep hard copy, that’s my advice, because you can’t count on being able to open your files forever.

Booker T. Washington said that excellence is to do a common thing in an uncommon way. This is a pretty good definition of the kind of work I’d like to receive from students in this or any quarter. It’s not that what we are doing isn’t similar to something students have probably done before. Every quarter has its share of presentations or papers or all of the other expected academic activities, but even those things can transcend expectations and become extraordinary if a creative mind brings effort and intention to the task.

You may be wondering how this is related to thrift stores and planned obsolescence. It’s related because the work any student creates can be either something s/he looks back on with pride or it can be something s/he is ashamed of, obsolete before it’s even been graded because no effort or thought has gone into its manufacture.

Imagine your work being found by a student fifty years in the future. Would s/he be intrigued by what you’ve written? Would you provide an authentic glimpse into whatever topic you’re exploring that would allow this future reader to understand current thought? Or would s/he just think that it’s a pathetic piece of meaningless trash? Harsh words, I know, but they come from someone who’s read many a pathetic piece of meaningless trash and would delight in never reading another.

Will your academic work have staying power? Will you be proud to look at it in ten years and think back fondly on the genuine effort you put into it?

If what you do matters to you, your quality work makes it matter to others.
• Dr. Pauline Wayne

* Thanks to Sarah Lambie, an extremely creative former student whose work embodied quality.


I Think It Is Good that Books Still Exist, but They Make Me Sleepy *

February 10, 2010

When I was in elementary school, I dreaded reading time. I’d learned to read early, first figuring out the connection between words in print and sounds I heard when I heard Campbell soup’s “mmm, mmm, good” on the radio at the same time I saw it on a billboard. By the time I was in school and part of reading groups slowly slogging through the illustrated pages of look-look-see-see sameness, I was bored spitless by the slow-moving ordeal.

I hid Nancy Drew behind my textbooks and got lost in her world of always escapable peril. I got in trouble for this. Books were confiscated, but were always returned. In retrospect, these teachers, none of whom ever got to know me very well because my family moved a lot, probably couldn’t bring themselves to keep a book from a child who was actually enthralled by reading.

As I got older, the library was my refuge. One of my greatest thrills was being old enough to ride my bicycle to the library and having a basket large enough to hold the books that fed my voracious appetite for reading. Now I teach a course called language and literacy for people who will soon be teaching middle and high schoolers and I’m saddened when some of them say that they hate to read, not because I think that everybody should love to read, but because I’m afraid that their attitude may influence someone who could get joy from this passion but may turn away because of words from a respected adult.

I understand that some people don’t enjoy reading, but it saddens me equally when someone discounts the value of anyone else’s passion for learning. It could be math or science that’s dismissed as “not fun.” It could be social studies that’s denigrated or art that’s deemed worthless to study. Perhaps it’s music or PE or–oh, no!–writing that’s a waste of time. Whatever.

If you’re a college student, you might be surprised to know that your attitudes toward your studies can shape the beliefs of younger siblings, of cousins, of friends’ children, of your children, of anyone younger than you who is listening and watching and wondering what life will be like once they have the endless choices they imagine are in store for them once they complete their compulsory education.

Class discussion in adolescent development this week centered on the influence of adults. When you’re still in school—even if you are choosing to be there—it’s easy to imagine that you won’t have any influence on someone else’s growth until you actually get where you’re going yourself. But I’ve just finished reading lots of stories about the influence not only of teachers and parents, but also of others not much past adolescence themselves who made a difference in the life of someone younger. Role models are found in unexpected places. Are you one?

What would someone younger than you learn about student success from watching you in school or listening to you talk about it?

Don’t worry that children never listen to you, worry that they are always watching you.
• Robert Fulghum

* Thanks to Frank Zappa for the title quotation.