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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Required Reading For Principals

Watching the documentary "Waiting For Superman" soon after its release in 2010, I clearly recall being incensed at one scene. A room full of tenured New York City school teachers are playing cards, watching TV, sleeping. The voiceover describes how this idle group has been deemed unsuitable for the classroom but instead of being fired, they are hidden away, collecting a full salary. That scene - along with an unflattering portrayal of AFT President Randi Weingarten later in the film - persuaded me at the time to accept the filmmaker's point of view, i.e. unionism run amok is poisoning the public school system. Shame on me for being so gullible.

More significantly, thank goodness my retired schoolteacher sister suggested "The Teacher Wars: A History Of America's Most Embattled Profession" (2014). Dana Goldstein's compelling, balanced account was needed ballast for the agitprop of "Waiting For Superman". Although never out of the spell, "The Teacher Wars" was most educational for me when Goldstein covered some of the turmoil in the 19th century. Without books like this, where would I learn how the 14th amendment divided some early feminists and how that is connected to teaching? Without authors this insightful guiding me, would I understand the differing educational visions of Booker T Washington & W.E.B. Dubois and the legacies each created in the African-American culture? I doubt it.

And, in the second half of her excellent book, in a fair and factual way, Goldstein does address some of the problems teachers unions have either created or exacerbated. In a perfect world, "The Teacher Wars" would be required reading for every public school principal and administrator in the country. But I'll settle for those folks internalizing only the final message of the epilogue - "Be Real About The Limitations Of Our System". Everyone else: If you swallowed the Kool-Aid that 2010 documentary was serving, you owe it to yourself to read this book as an antidote.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Still Wondering

http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2014/11/making-difference.html

Has there ever been a thinking person who hasn't wondered - at least a few times - if they've made a difference in the world? Without spending a lifetime in therapy, who can know when they've crossed the line that separates this understandable human wonder from an unhealthy pre-occupation?

Though I wasn't surprised, until an attentive reader pointed it out, I didn't realize I'd used the same title - "Making A Difference" - for two blog posts published a few years apart, including the one above from exactly three years ago. However, after reading both, I was surprised to discover the posts had a common thread - teaching.

A few days after reading those posts, I heard someone describe their work as  " ... not real meaningful or anything that contributes to the world ..." I flashed to my early years teaching sexual harassment, close on the heels of the Hill-Thomas hearings. Given the current news tsunami, in that moment, I was proud of the time I spent educating others about this important topic. Did I make a difference? I don't know. But, the work felt very meaningful at the time. That's coming in handy right now; today has started out as one of those wondering days.

 http://reflectionsfromthebellcurve.blogspot.com/2017/02/making-difference.html

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Key Learnings: Year 68

What did you learn - or maybe re-learn - between your last two birthdays?

On my last seven birthdays, I've tried to identify some key things I've learned over the previous year and shared them publicly here. This exercise is always more fun when others join me; I hope a few of you will do so again.

* From my daughter I learned how a Mark Twain motto I've lived by - "The harder you work, the luckier you get" - may have interfered with my ability to see the importance of serendipity in everyday life.

* From Susan Cain's excellent book "Quiet" (2012), I learned to better appreciate the dissonant aspects of my extroverted personality.

* Via a long conversation with a new friend, I learned a way to re-frame some lingering regret I've long held regarding some earlier-in-life choices.

It's especially appropriate today to say how thankful I am for all I've learned over the last year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Goal For Year 69

This is the seventh year in a row I've published a goal (or in a few more ambitious years, goals), on this day before my birthday. Because my batting average is now below hall-of-fame territory - having not made last year's goal - I'm going modest this time. Why not join me, set your sights low, and we'll celebrate together next November 22 after we both get to our respective finish lines?

Over my 69th year, I plan to re-initiate contact with twelve people who have fallen off my radar over the last several years. I don't care if that contact is as superficial as an e-mail to/fro or more involved, like a dinner etc. It's all about letting others know they've been on my mind.

For many years I've used a holiday letter for this purpose; that strategy hasn't been real successful. I suspect many people get overwhelmed around the holidays, as do I sometimes, so I'm going to space out my outreach and shoot for once a month.

Why not share here a modest goal you have for the next year? Maybe you'll give another reader a good idea. That would be so cool.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Ostrich Confesses

If "Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed " were new it would be easy to recommend. Books this well organized, meticulously researched, and educational don't come along frequently.

But the semi-hopeful conclusion of Jared Diamond's 2005 masterwork - partly predicated on a belief that leaders in the world were beginning to see the need to unite in the battle against climate change - feels a little hollow in late 2017. Diamond also asserts that a society's reaction - top to bottom - to early signs of a collapse, brought on by climate change and three other crucial factors painstakingly outlined in the book, play a critical role in reversing a decline. Had I read this book when it was published, I suspect I'd have been more optimistic about those top to bottom reactions.

Several months ago, I put down "This Changes Everything" (2014) by Naomi Klein after reading the first few chapters - too unsettling. Why didn't I just keep my hand in the sand and avoid "Collapse" as well?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Noose Of Conformity

fashion: a prevailing custom or style in dress, etiquette, etc.

My lifelong relationship with fashion has been conflicted. How would you describe your relationship with this wholly arbitrary concept that drives so much of our behavior, especially as consumers?

The first synonyms listed for fashion in my dictionary are fad, rage, craze. Though all of those words are major turn-offs to me, it would be dishonest to claim I've never succumbed to the groupthink that fads/fashions thrive on. But over my long life, each time I've changed the width of my ties or the cut of my hair, the herd mentality driving me to do so has not escaped me. I wish I'd resisted boarding so many of these silly bandwagons. But mostly, I didn't.

Each time I stop to consider how fashion mindlessness contributes to my own runaway consumerism, I try to talk myself out of whatever craze has hypnotized me. But fashion-driven messaging speaks to me - as it does to many - via the noose of conformity. And so, even when peer pressure is working me, unless I'm vigilant, the next thing I know, the latest and greatest is further cluttering my already over-stuffed life.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Modern Love

Fantasized about living in a different period of history? If so, what specifically appeals to you about any earlier era?

Maybe it's unimaginative of me but this particular fantasy has little allure. I could stand a little less traffic, political rancor, and intrusive technology, but in most respects, the second half of the 20th century and the early 21st century suit me just fine. For example ...

Despite sincere efforts to embrace the literary canon, most of my favorite books - novels and non-fiction - have been written during my lifetime. Film? A handful of pre-1950 movies still work for me in a big way but the overwhelming majority of films that really move me were released beginning in the early 1960's and, in my mind, movies keep getting better every year, noisy blockbusters aside. I love a lot of music written before the rock n' roll era but it's the later interpretations of many of those compositions  - and the modern day advances in the sound of recordings - that juice me. Traditional Dixieland jazz is energizing; modern jazz is transformative. Imagining the world of music before the Beatles? I'll pass.

House styles? Victorians, colonials and Capes are all nice but the only time I ever looked at a house on my own the architecture was modern all the way. Something about the lines in houses of that type just speak to me. Even when I'm out of my depth, spending a day at the Museum Of Modern Art stimulates me much more than visiting museums featuring art from earlier periods. I love the variety of foods readily available nowadays, the relative ease of long distance travel, recent advances in dentistry, how fast the lines move in the grocery store.    

With a nod to the late David Bowie, I say let's dance to modern love.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Parenting From Three Angles

"The Florida Project" is a film that begs to be discussed. Who gets to make the distinction between an ill-suited parent and a neglectful one? How can anyone reasonably measure the damage done to children by loving but ill-suited parents? What would you do to keep your children warm, fed and safe? That is, what lines would you cross or not cross? This provocative, beautifully executed film has further persuaded me that those of us who have never been truly desperate are unqualified to say which lines we would or wouldn't cross. I hope one person who sees this movie and reads this post will try answering at least one of my questions. I'll treat that as the follow-up to the discussion my wife and I had after leaving the theater.

Not a film enthusiast? OK, pick up "The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley" (2017 - Hannah Tinti) an old-fashioned novel - in the best possible sense - that approaches parenting from a totally different angle. For me, Tinti's worthwhile book was close to the bone; the intense bond Hawley has with his only daughter Loo had me from the start. But, just like the mother-daughter relationship in "The Florida Project", Hawley and I approach parenting very differently. How many couples or single parents do you know who approached parenting as you did?

Not enough time for a movie or patience for a book? Got two minutes and forty-four seconds and $1.29? Download "What Shall We Do With The Child?", a Nicholas Holmes-Kate Horsey composition from 1968 sung by Carly Simon on "Torch". Listen to this unheralded gem and try answering the central question. In sixty years of living inside music, I have yet to come across another song written about the subject Holmes/Dorsey tackled here. If you know of another, please educate me. Now, if anyone out there completes the trifecta - sees the film, reads the book, listens to the song - we simply must have lunch. I'll travel, if required.    

Friday, November 3, 2017

Thank You

A few things I've learned over the last few years teaching adult education courses about music:

* It's harder to decide which artists and songs to leave out than it is to decide what to include.

* It can be difficult to endure the first recorded version of a song that has endured. 

* With each course, it's harder to overlook "almost" rhymes (e.g. home/alone, find/mine, etc.) which, in turn, has dampened some of my enthusiasm for earlier songwriting heroes. It probably wasn't wise to read Stephen Sondheim's memoir "Finishing The Hat" several years ago. But I can't put that genie back in the bottle, unfortunately. BTW, reading that book has also complicated my own meager attempts at songwriting.

My learning is also invariably abetted by participants. Comments and suggestions made in and out of class frequently lead me to re-consider my presentations. And I'm grateful for the continuing support of returning participants.