Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pema for a hard day

There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable.  You can see this even in insects and animals and birds.  All of us are the same. 
A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet.  To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.  If we're committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.
From Awakening Loving-Kindness, by Pema Chodron

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Isabella Rossellini is awesome, via Brainpickings.

Susan Sontag's Guide to Counter-argumentation

The main techniques for refuting an argument:
Find the inconsistency
Find the counter-example
Find a wider context
From As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (public library) via Brainpickings 

From MUSE: More on Unconferences and DIY PD

This post was also published on MUSE '13

From THE Journal.  So, guys, we should probably do this.


Stage Your Own EdCamp
The best way to learn how an EdCamp works is to attend one. Check for a list of upcoming EdCamps across the country.
In the meantime, here's a simple step-by-step how-to guide for planning and putting on your own EdCamp:
  1. Reach out to your Professional Learning Networks with a note that you'd like to host an EdCamp in your region. Even with its loose structure, hosting an EdCamp event is not a one-person job but, with a strong team of like-minded educators at the helm, your EdCamp will be a success.
  2. Find a location for your EdCamp--a school works great. The location should have a strong wireless network, a large room for the day's opening and closing events, and plenty of rooms for breakout sessions. Also, white boards and projectors are key.
  3. Even if you find a free space to hold your event, it's likely you'll need funding for things like insurance, web hosting, and breakfast for your attendees. Check in with to see if any funding can be directed toward your event, and for advice on how to reach out to sponsors.
  4. Once the location is locked down, find a date that works and spread the word! Set up a Twitter account for your EdCamp, create a Facebook page, and put together e-mails and fliers to advertise the event. You should also create a blog, website, or wiki for your EdCamp where attendees can register and get more information as the day approaches.
Now that you've successfully completed the planning stages for your first EdCamp, here's what to do the day of the event:
  1. Most EdCamps begin with breakfast. That's the time to encourage your attendees to write potential session topics on index cards and post them to the schedule board--a piece of poster board at the front of the room.
  2. Sessions can be practical or theoretical; they can cover technology or have nothing to do with technology at all. Encourage your attendees to share their talents and knowledge, and to speak up about topics they've always wanted to learn more about.
  3. Let the learning begin! Be sure to post the session schedule online (remember, you've already created a Facebook page, blog, website, and a wiki--continue to use them!) and keep it updated throughout the day. Encourage your attendees to live tweet their experiences using a hashtag dedicated to your event and to post updates to your EdCamp's wiki. Also, make sure all attendees know they can leave any session at any time, for any reason. In EdCamp it's called "Voting With Your Feet"--this day is about individual learning, and if someone feels like they're not getting what they need from a session, they're encouraged to move on.
  4. At the end of the day, bring everybody together for closing remarks, and thank them for making the day a success. Encourage attendees to write up reflections from their experiences throughout the day and post them to their personal blogs and to your EdCamp's website. Create an archive of the day's tweets, posts, and session notes for attendees to access after the event.

From MUSE: DIY Professional Development

From an NCTE email, an article in THE Journal about do-it-yourself professional development makes the following suggestions:

1. "Watch and learn ... every day"
    Do something everyday: Un-conferences, YouTube (including the author's channel), Reading 

2. "Take it to the back channel"
"I define the back channel as the conversation behind the back of the presenter, recorded using a social networking platform. It is behind the back of the presenter, but also out in the open for everyone globally. At first this was a scary concept for me, but as a professional it encouraged me to really bring my A game to each presentation, offering new and fresh content each time I present. 
. . . 
I look at the back channel as group-structured note taking and an ongoing conversation that is more polite than whispering to your neighbor during a session."

3. "Share something new"
    This seems really important to me (obvs): Keep track of what you are learning and make it available     to others!  Diigo (see, e.g., the "Some things to read" feed in the Social Studies Forum on this site), blogging, dude's YouTube channel.  

Then model this for your students!  Yeah lifelong learning!

This post was also published on MUSE '13

Monday, June 25, 2012

From MUSE: "History can save your ass"

Also, while I'm reblogging their pieces, let me take a moment to encourage you to readThe Edge of the American West, newly relocated to The Chronicle of Higher Education(which also does the fabulous Arts and Letters Daily).

Anyway, this blog is fantastic, is made from real history professors (so you know it's good), and has a blurb from William Gibson (see title of this post).

This post was also published on MUSE '13

Genre Maps

I would love to have a literary genre map in my classroom, but I can't seem to find one.  I'll have to start mapping the genres on Wikipedia.

Or, I could just hang this.

From MUSE: How We Write History: Ordinary People and Emotional Manipulation

From The Edge of the American West

On Scalzi’s Redshirts and historical narrative.

June 15, 2012, 4:38 pm
John Scalzi‘s Redshirts is great fun, and honestly, I read it because I expected it to be great fun, and I got what I expected. But it also made me think seriously about how historians handle narrative.
It is no spoiler to say that the book is about the peripheral characters who, in Star Trek, get killed to advance the plot – or really, not even to advance the plot, just to give a sense of great stakes to the story. Kirk, Spock, Chekhov and some random crewperson in a red shirt beam down to the planet. The person in the red shirt – the redshirt – is going to get killed, because they’re expendable and we need to know how deadly the threat is this week. The poor redshirts aren’t people, they’re cannon fodder – not for the Enterprise, mind you, but for the script-writers. Even if their details get filled out a bit, it’s only in the service of giving their deaths greater impact – it’s not for them, it’s for the story.
Scalzi’s book gives those peripheral characters voices, points of view, and what, in the historical racket, we call “agency” – the ability to affect their own fates. In doing so he raises the question of whether we really want to be involved in the Great Story.
Most professional historians are familiar with these questions, and much historical research – going back at least to Arthur M. Schlesinger (no Jr) and Dixon Ryan Fox – has been about recovering the experience of ordinary people whose lives have meaning independent of the large historical narrative.
But what Scalzi can do, that historians cannot, is get inside the heads of such people, and what he suggests is worth thinking about. First, and maybe less revelatory, that people live better lives when the narrative leaves them alone; we know that – after all, traditional history covers a lot of violence and hardship, and it’s a story you had rather be left out of.1
Second, though, is the thought that sketching in the details of ordinary people in the course of the narrative is a sort of, to overstate the case slightly, pornography. We learn the backgrounds of minor characters specifically because the writers intend to kill them off and they want us to feel strongly about it when they do.
Isn’t this the function served by “the experience of ordinary people during the war/depression/etc.” chapter? To manipulate the reader emotionally? And if so, isn’t it somewhat suspect as a narrative tactic? In the name of recovering the agency of ordinary people, we deploy their suffering to give the Great Story more poignancy.
I confess to having a thought a little like this before, when an editor asked me to put in more “lives of ordinary people” material and I said I didn’t want to truck in “hardship porn.” Which probably wasn’t a phrase of my invention; if I’d been trying to invent something I would have called it “poornography.” But Scalzi’s book throws the concern into relief.
1The application Scrivener used to offer a piece of advice, in its default formatting text, that said the way to write a novel is to make up an interesting character and then have unpleasant things happen to them. I don’t know why they changed this to some rather more anodyne quotation from Nietzsche, and I can’t find the source of the original, sadly.
This post was also published on MUSE '13

The scent of sweetpeas

"Take a stroll in the garden and inhale the perfume of beans in bloom as evening falls, for then you may be sure to dream prophetic dreams; but be wary, for you will touch the essence of your very soul with your night-time visions, and the truth in these visions is sometimes a burden of sorrow, what some call nightmares; to ride the truth of the soul can be a fearsome journey." - Garden Spells, Claire Nahmad (1994)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind

A Mister Rogers remix.  Robert Krulwich decided it was the anthem for his blog.  It might just be the anthem for this one, too.


From "Washington-based musician John Boswell's Symphony of Science Series," via Krulwich Wonders.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The future

I just heard about something called a "robot space plane" on Science Friday. Did you know we had such a thing as a robot space plane?!?! We do.

Attacking Education

So, in case you haven't heard, the College Board has started a campaign to make education a focal issue in the upcoming presidential election.  The most visible piece of the campaign is a display of 857 desks on the National Mall representing the "857 students who drop out of high school in the United States every single hour, every single school day, according to the College Board" (NY Times).

They don't seem to be calling for much, specifically.  The website for the campaign,, says that America's schools are falling behind the rest of the world, etc., etc., and asks candidates to provide "real, tangible solutions."

And, so, great.  It seemed pretty harmless, if ineffective, to me.  And the statistic about dropouts seemed rather a random one to choose--I mean, I imagine that dropouts happen for a variety of reasons that are not necessarily correlated to the quality of graduates we are producing, which seems to be their biggest concern. . . . I didn't really think much more about it.

Diane Ravitch, on the contrary, got upset, heaping "shame" on the College Board in her blog.  And I was confused.  Because they are, at least, calling attention to education and asking, though in a vague and round-about way, for less rhetoric, kind of, right?  I understood it was ineffectual, but I didn't get the vitriol. 

I was about to chalk it up to D.R.'s perpetual state of outrage. (Sometimes I wish she'd be more moderate, you know? Arguments lose their effectiveness, and arguers their credibility, when they refuse to honor the positions of the other side to some extent.)  And then, I read the comments.

To start, several readers had expressed the same unexplained anger at the College Board's actions.  Blah blah.  I chalked this up to my being a tourist in a comment community.  I do not have the context to understand unstated (because unnecessary to reiterate) assumptions.  

Eventually, however, the College Board responded, and D.R. replied.  Finally, I started to see her point:  It was that they had called the education system a failure and that kind of rhetoric is unhelpful at least and dangerous and damaging to educators and thereby the education system at worst.  D.R. notes:
"Considering the massive budget cuts and layoffs, considering the challenges that students today live with, considering the negative actions taken by many states towards teachers, it is amazing that our schools do as well as they do.
Nations that want good schools pay for them. I hope that the next College Board advertising campaign will call on the nation’s governors to stop cutting education funding to give tax breaks to corporations."
A reader/commenter added some helpful counter-statistics (with sources! and links!) and a nice sum-up of the argument against the CB:
The facts seem to negate the panic your advertisement and your quote of talking points invites.  
The problem, as it always has been, is poverty, lack of governmental support through tax dollars, austerity budgets, and lack of political will . I wonder if The College Board plans on addressing these issues through you PR campaign? 
I guess I had to have it really laid out for me.  And maybe D.R.'s blog is intended for a closed community and can afford, generally, to resort to short-cuts and things-left-unsaid.  But I wish it didn't.

I tend to agree with most of what she calls for, and there aren't many people championing the need to address poverty as part of education reform.  So I wish she was a bit more careful in her argumentation.  

Also, her argument in the comments addresses the lack in the CB's campaign, rather than an affirmative misstep. ("I hope that the next College Board advertising campaign will call" etc.) Her post would have been more effective had she held off on the vitriol and provided some suggestions in the first place. 

I feel like this is one of the places where the education debate (and many other debates on important issues) goes off the rails.  We polarize unnecessarily.  The College Board's campaign has opened up a space for discussion, implicitly asking what we should really be talking about.  It opened up a space for some of the quieter voices to step in and be heard.

The College Board, whatever else they have done in the past, is now asking for real debate.  Rather than criticizing the decor of the room, or the wording of the invitation (how much longer can I strain this metaphor?), let's get in there and talk.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Models of Hospitality, Generosity, Tenderness

The June issue of The Art of Eating just arrived in the mail.  I found it waiting for me, along with a handwritten card, when I came home from running errands.  After putting away the fruits of my afternoon walk, I took them both out to our newly straightened, planted, ordered backyard and sat down with a cup of tea to read.

The card was a thank you from friends who are getting married in a month, characteristically prompt and characteristically warm and enthusiastic and full of love and promises of future hospitality and togetherness.  It brightened my already lovely day.

The magazine was next and, one page in, similarly filled with warmth.  So much so I had to share.
A long time ago I was in Crete, eating lunch with a large group of visitors, mainly food writers, a lunch that had been cooked by the people of the village we were in.  A chance came for several of us to see the oven where some of the bread had been baked.  A woman led us to her house, where the masonry oven, still cooling from the morning's baking, was built into the walls.  The house was two stories tall, high-ceilinged, sparsely furnished and with a sparse but certainly efficient kitchen.  Covering the entire floor of one bedroom were drying figs.
We had just left the house and were standing outside, when our hostess's white-haired mother appeared, wearing a full dress and with her hair in a kerchief.  When she heard who we were, she smiled without stopping, seeming joyful to see us.  Maybe that was because we were Americans and well liked, a legacy of the Second World War (when Crete fiercely resisted the Nazis).  But it was more than that.  She disappeared and returned and began to stuff our pockets, opening and filling them, with almonds and figs.  Most of us were wearing jeans and the gesture was very personal.  I can't say why, but it was immediately clear that this was an act of hospitality meant for us and yet going far deeper, back to the time, probably not so long ago in that place, when for strangers traveling through the countryside food was not readily available from an inn or tavern, but only from the people living there.  I began to cry.
It was as if I had been touched for the first time by one of the oldest and deepest human emotions, the desire to give pleasure to guests.  It was the greatest lesson in hospitality I've received, and now when guests come to our house I often think of it and ask myself how I can measure up.  Hers was the ancient desire, perhaps instinct, to send strangers on their way safe from hunger.
Edward Behr, The Art of Eating, June 2012 Number 89 
Is there a word bigger and more active than generosity to describe the pouring out, the opening up, the embracing-ness of this gesture? Of taking out a moment to express thanks and love? Of the pulling toward and the giving out all at once? 

Monday, June 11, 2012

From MUSE: Queen Victoria's Journals

On the occasion of her own Diamond Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II has made public thejournals of Queen Victoria, which cover her childhood through her Diamond Jubilee and include some really fantastic pen and ink sketches (sometimes watercolor).

The site also contains essays on various topics relevant to both English and Social Studies, including Tennyson and Queen Victoria and Queen Victoria and Her Prime Ministers.

Additional resources and links are also available.

This post was also published on MUSE '13

Monday, June 4, 2012

Protecting trolls, protecting ourselves

Jay Smooth knows you know all this, but "just in case maybe one of these congressmen has figured out how to use the internet machine, [he] just wanted to give a few reasons why you should not outlaw anonymous comments."  Reason #1? "The f^*$%ing first amendment."  Also, keep the trolls at home.

Friday, June 1, 2012

From MUSE: Prescriptivism, Descriptivism, and the Danger of False Dichotomies

Steven Pinker has written a nice article that not only reveals the falsity of the Prescriptivist/Descriptivist dichotomy but also provides examples of arguments from false dichotomies and is itself an example of a thoroughly reasoned counter to such arguments.

An excerpt,

The thoughtful, nondichotomous position on language depends on a simple insight: Rules of proper usage are tacit conventions. Conventions are unstated agreements within a community to abide by a single way of doing things—not because there is any inherent advantage to the choice, but because there is an advantage to everyone making the same choice. Standardized weights and measures, electrical voltages and cables, computer file formats, the Gregorian calendar, and paper currency are familiar examples.
The conventions of written prose represent a similar kind of standardization. Countless idioms, word senses, and grammatical constructions have been coined and circulated by the universe of English speakers, and linguists capture their regularities in the “descriptive rules”—that is, rules that describe how people speak and understand. A subset of these conventions has become accepted by a virtual community of literate speakers for use in nationwide forums such as government, journalism, literature, business, and academia. These are “prescriptive rules”—rules that prescribe how one ought to speak and write in these forums. Examples include the rules that govern agreement and punctuation as well as fine semantic distinctions between such word pairs as militate and mitigate or credible and credulous. Having such rules is desirable—indeed, indispensable—in many arenas of writing. They lubricate comprehension, reduce misunderstanding, provide a stable platform for the development of style and grace, and credibly signal that a writer has exercised care in crafting a passage.
From Slate, "False Fronts in the Language Wars."

This post was also published on MUSE '13