Calling Scheherazade

Scheherazade, who saved herself by serialization, needs to stage a come-back and tell us a string of stories.  Not stories kissed with apocolypstic, but of survival, and thrival, but not tribal, if you know what I mean.   We need the positive imagined outcomes of humanity.  We need the narrative of peace and prosperity, compassion, and the continued existence of the variety of life on earth.   I know, it doesn’t sell on Netflix.   But we need to speak about possibilities and good outcomes, we need to make it popular to be unabashedly hopeful and forge a new reality, closer to the heart, as Rush have it.  

 

 

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The thing that lasts

At the end of another school year, which always creates a slurry of emotions at the estuary of the single year and the rest of time, I think of things.

Did you see “National Treasure”?  I did, years ago.  I thought it was a fun pass down to the kids of the apex of our governance, that the peak we stand on is built on the long parade of unreasoning, and at last we have come to value reason over might, at least as a creed, if not always in action, but even with the articulation of that hope, we begin the journey toward it.   And although the metaphor was courted throughout the movie with a few good lines (“If there’s something wrong, those who have the ability to take action have the responsibility to take action”) – the literal manifestation of the National Treasure, which could have been the map itself, the long journey, on the back of the Declaration of Independence, the long work toward freedom; the movie manifest the greatest treasure passed down to be gold instead, because, well, people like me like shiny things.  But I don’t know if that delivered the goods, if you know what I mean.   I know a movie can’t be too preachy.  But hey, a central theme of humanity might be okay as a theme for movie climax, right?  To say, “hey, we’ve had the treasure all along, it is us, our lifestyle, our freedoms, the map we carry…”- maybe a be a bit too Wizard of Oz, I suppose.

I wonder though, why the things I think of as so utterly basic to who we are as a nation, seem to have slipped from common understanding.  I wonder where the breakdown occurred.

A former student asked if I had ever seen “Poltergeist”.  He was venturing into a change in our relationship- he was doing an “adult thing” by seeing a scary movie, and trying to relate on that adult realm, years after he was a student of mine.  “Yes!”  I said.  “I really liked the metaphor of how screens steal away our youth”.  By the look on his face, I could see the movie might not have delivered that to him, just yet.

I wonder about my own imperceptiveness, and what things, bigger and smaller I have missed.  Oceans are implied by the shells I have found.  I wonder what great recipes have not been passed down, or techniques have been lost.  I struggle with the idea that my own lack of awareness may bring discontinuity, even the death or extinction of something.  I’m certain it is true, in this, the Anthropocene.

So what lasts?  We know that our grandma’s experience becomes our genetic code.  Even more proximal, a mother’s milk, shaped by her own experiences, affects the “hardware” of the baby.  Down into the molecules, our behaviors manifest.  Out of the ether comes the matter.

I took some students to a farm, two years ago.  An organic farm, and the farmer was a spry 77 year old, doing work, speaking to the students with excellent illustration of earth to person affect.  I was spellbound, and asked if he had written his spiel down, made a book.  “No,” he said, “It would not hold the resonance of my voice.”   I don’t know what it means, really.  More shells, probably.  His response stuck to me, such an anachronistic thing.  A thing out of time.  Something that lasts with me.

What strands of thought, of DNA, how our love and lives be smithied into the collective conscious, or the legacy of individuals, I do not know.  So, back to the personal, the people I love, the moments that last with me.  Another year, and I have always been so lucky.

 

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Keeping the Duel out of the Duality

cerebral_lobesThe two party system has its flaws, not the least of which is the tendency to polarize.  During this time, during any time, if we are going to stand as a nation, North and South, right and left, self and other, we must recognize the need for the opposing point of view.  We need to respect the fact that there is a source for the differences, and insist on a reasonable exchange.  We cannot win over the “other side” if we threaten them.  Name calling- nope.  Reason.  Tell me why you think that, and let me tell you why I think the way I do.  Keep the calm in the storm.  Value each other.  There are no expendables.  Democracy is the ends and the means, and includes all voices.  Each of us must insist on all of us.

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The Great Virtue

Gen_Hugh_Milton.jpgIn my undergraduate work from 1984 to 1988 at NMSU, I had the privilege of working for the PBS station there, KRWG, doing some video work and editing.  I was neither here nor there about politics.  I had worked with Jim Laukes, who had done a series of oral interviews, largely focusing on the relationship of the National Labs and NMSU.

In editing some of the “teasers” for the episodes, there was one with Major General Hugh Milton that I remember.  There is a statue of General Milton outside of the Journalism building which also carried his name, when I went to school there.  This was the Reagan era, and I predicted that General Milton would be all about military might.  This was the Cold War, and I was young.

He said, “In a 100 years there has never been such change.  Do we understand it?  The answer is ‘no’.”   In the course of the interview, General Milton put his arm out on the table.  In talking about the Cold War build-up he continued…”Our country is hiding its greatest virtue under a bushel.  The might of The United States is not in strength of its weapons, but in the promise of freedom”.

It was a moment when my prejudices were exposed, and proven wrong, and I was humbled when I realized it.  I think of that now.  The great virtue of the promise of freedom.

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Toward a Better Future

After all the millions spent on testing, as a state we are educationally and economically worse off than when we began to replace instruction with measurement.  The best correlation to a test score remains socioeconomic status,  a test score has no correlation to student success, and yet we perseverate knowing that there are significant variables that cannot be captured on a test.  The premise of the reform was that having just three good teachers during the course of schooling is a boost to student outcomes, so we went to work evaluating teachers instead of improving their training.   If we apply resources at the beginning of the pipeline, rather than the end, we can change things. Rather than pursue this until we are utterly spent, let’s go with what we know works.

  • We know that the better educated teachers are, the better the outcomes for students, which is true even before a student begins school.  If we improve requirements for teacher education, we improve student outcomes.  (1,2)
  • We know that if those teachers are paid well enough, they are more likely to stay, and we know that teacher experience increases student performance and attendance. (1, 2)
  • We know that professional control of a classroom matters, that micromanagement by policy makers or site administrator is destructive to professional creativity and performance.  (Citation pending)

We can end the soft bigotry and hypocrisy of moving resources further and further away from our diverse students while we expect them to test better.  We can stop pouring millions out of our state on a course we have shown year after year to be a dead end.

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The Adventure of a Lifetime

It’s been a couple of years now, since my dad died, and I learned things from him, good and bad, as is done by all people everywhere in all relations- but he would say, in either case, its a “learning experience”, which would turn even the bad into something useful. That’s exactly the kind of platitude that would drive me crazy, but now resonates with me as a mantra in my role as a teacher, parent, spouse, and yet the offspring of someone in this place.

Mom was talking last night with one of my colleagues who just recently completed her PhD, about how she helped dad by typing his many hundreds of pages dissertation.  It’s a story like many that I’ve heard many times, which becomes more valuable with each telling, stories like a favorite tune that plays on the last radio station that will play it, that I know I am inexorably getting farther and farther away from.

Today I remembered when one of my father’s professors from Northwestern visited us at my folks’ place.  He was into his 90’s, and had been the sole reason my father got his PhD  in geology, dad had told me that it was this man’s passion for the subject that gave him his passion for his choice.  It was amazing to me that this guy came to visit, so many years later.

I think of this in my own teaching, that beyond the curricula there is the passing of the desire to learn.  The modern age of “learning to pass the test” forgets this, in fact betrays this.  I think of this quote from Einstein:  “It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry.”.

The passion for living isn’t found in the filling of roles, but in the adventure of life, and the excitement of learning.  Learning is not the passing of information, the connections that come together create something new, in each person who makes those discoveries.  For me, teaching is about this: the free thinking of people who live in a free society.  The passing of that flame is the joy of life, that each person holds infinite possibilities of limitless direction, their own direction, not the learning of skills to fill a spot that was left empty by the cog that wore out before them.

I would like to be as my dad was for me, for my own daughters and students, to encourage their questions as adventures to explore.  Life has not been done.  It is this, it is happening, and I hope to feel its pulse and pass that connection.  A new year’s toast, then,  to the dead, and then to drink from life in their honor.

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A plan of action.

testeraseWhat can we do?  New Mexico is now circling the drain in education, according to this August 2nd  Albuquerque Journal article titled “New survey ranks NM’s education system almost last in the nation”.  Let’s first learn from what we have done, which education is all about.  Six years ago, New Mexico education was ranked around 35th by some measures, which people will contest, but certainly not near 50th by any measures.  There certainly is room for improvement as 35th, but what happened that we are now almost dead last?  We collapsed our elected state education board to a single “education secretary” position, designated by the governor.  This was to bring us swiftly into compliance with the federal law, remnants of the “No Child Left Behind” which evolved into “Race to the Top”, with packaged deals from publishers and test companies.  Hannah Skandera, our Education Secretary, is the chairperson for the PARCC organization, whose test is the statewide tool.

The implementation of these reforms were rushed and feedback about their effects on the classroom was assumed to be whining from stationed individuals that needed turning.   The reforms were put in knowing that there would be “collateral damage”- casualties in with the old guard in teaching, etc., that would be well worth the trade if we could just hold to the long view.

Six years later, with end-to-end years of hundreds of  teaching vacancies, budget cuts, and sinking morale, Skandera reports that it is the educator’s attitude that is the actual problem, and it will take decades more to fix, according to the Journal article dated January 13, 2016, titled “Skandera blames NM education troubles on low expectations”.

More than pointing fingers, and saying to wait “decades”, we should go ahead with a plan to improve things NOW.  Let’s stop spending millions of dollars on out-of-state student tests and textbooks, and teacher evaluation companies whose products clearly have not improved anything in our state.  Many of those things are available RIGHT NOW for free online.   Ask me how,  I know how to do this.  So do many of us.  This is not military protocol, for us to “do as we are told”.  It’s what the military fight for:  our democracy.  Hear our voice, and we can teach.

Jeff Tuttle

Monte Vista Elementary

Educators, help build:  OpenSourceEd.org.

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