Archive for December, 2007

Christmas Greeting

Dec 25 2007 Published by under borderland,commonplaces

We’ve got a house full of family from out of town, and in. Good times. It’s dark, but not too cold to get out and play. Sun comes up around 11:00 and dips out of sight a little before 3:00. Lots of time for sleeping and talking, punctuated by bursts of outdoor activity. We all went snowboarding the other day. The kids are masters. I’ll be a perpetual beginner. But what the heck. Nothing like a load of snow down the back of your neck to remind you of where you stand.

I really like this time of year. It’s Quiet.

Thanks to Jeff Wasserman, who used E.B. White’s 1952 Christmas Greeting as a writing prompt, which I pass along in full:

From this high midtown hall, undecked with boughs, unfortified with mistletoe, we send forth our tinselled greetings as of old, to friends, to readers, to strangers of many conditions in many places. Merry Christmas to uncertified accountants, to tellers who have made a mistake in addition, to girls who have made a mistake in judgment, to grounded airline passengers, and to all those who can’t eat clams! We greet with particular warmth people who wake and smell smoke. To captains of river boats on snowy mornings we send an answering toot at this holiday time. Merry Christmas to intellectuals and other despised minorities! Merry Christmas to the musicians of Muzak and men whose shoes don’t fit! Greetings of the season to unemployed actors and the blacklisted everywhere who suffer for sins uncommitted; a holly thorn in the thumb of compilers of lists! Greetings to wives who can’t find their glasses and to poets who can’t find their rhymes! Merry Christmas to the unloved, the misunderstood, the overweight. Joy to the authors of books whose titles begin with the word “How” (as though they knew!). Greetings to people with a ringing in their ears; greetings to growers of gourds, to shearers of sheep, and to makers of change in the lonely underground booths! Merry Christmas to old men asleep in libraries! Merry Christmas to people who can’t stay in the same room with a cat! We greet, too, the boarders in boarding hoses on 25 December, the duennas in Central Park in fair weather and foul, and young lovers who got nothing in the mail. Merry Christmas to people who plant trees in city streets; merry Christmas to people who save prairie chickens from extinction! Greetings of a purely mechanical sort to machines that think–plus a sprig of artificial holly. Joyous Yule to Cadillac owners whose conduct is unworthy of their car! Merry Christmas to the defeated, the forgotten, the inept; joy to all dandiprats and bunglers! We send, most particularly and most hopefully, our greetings and our prayers to soldiers and guardsmen on land and sea and in the air–the young men doing the hardest things at the hardest time of life. To all such, Merry Christmas, blessings, and good luck! We greet the Secretaries-designate, the President-elect; Merry Christmas to our new leaders, peace on earth, good will, and good management! Merry Christmas to couples unhappy in doorways! Merry Christmas to all who think they are in love but aren’t sure! Greetings to people waiting for trains that will take them in the wrong direction, to people doing up a bundle and the string is too short, to children with sleds and no snow! We greet ministers who can’t think of a moral, gagmen who can’t think of a joke. Greetings, too, to the inhabitants of other planets; see you soon! And last, we greet all skaters on small natural ponds at the edge of woods toward the end of afternoon. Merry Christmas, skaters! Ring, steel! Grow red, sky! Die down, wind! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good morrow!
E.B. White, 12/20/52

I enjoy E.B. White everywhere I find him. Reading this piece prompted me to search for more of his goodwill. The New York Times has a list of interviews and articles about him.

From E. B. White: Notes and Comment by Author:

“If the world were merely seductive,” he noted, “that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

From an interview about writing and country living:

Every once in a while some one who is putting together a reader–you know, a book of extra reading for an English class–writes for permission to use a piece of mine. I always say ‘Sure–thanks very much,’ but the last time I said ‘Go ahead and use what you want, but how about sending me one of the books?’ When I was in school, books of that kind were full of Walter Pater. I thought they must be changing their pace a lot, wanting my stuff.

“He sent me the book and I read my piece in it. At the end there were a lot of questions: ‘Why did Mr. White use repetition here?’ was one question. And ‘Explain the author’s purpose in inserting this phrase.’

“Gosh, those questions aren’t easy. I tried to answer them and flunked cold. I admit there was repetition there, but I hadn’t realized it. Anyway, I couldn’t think of a good sound reason why I’d used it. . . .”

From What Am I Saying to My Readers?:

What am I saying to my readers? Well, I never know. Writing to me is not an exercise in addressing readers, it is more as though I were talking to myself while shaving.

Peace. Keep up the Good work.

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Sustainability and Science Education

Dec 16 2007 Published by under education,science,technology

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, mainly due to hassles managing a classroom full of 12-year-olds full of holiday cheer bent on early celebration. It’s exhausting to maintain a focus right now. We have another week to go, right up to Dec. 21. And despite pressure to join the merriment, I push back and still celebrate reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic. And science.

The best thing going on in the classroom has been a year-long science project I joined. It’s a fairly simple concept. The NSF provides funding for graduate students in science, technology, engineering and math to “improve communication, teaching, collaboration, and team building skills while enriching STEM learning and instruction in K-12 schools.” The kids are enjoying science in a way I’ve never seen in all the years I’ve taught.

A graduate student (in my case, a biologist) comes in for 10 hours a week to assist with math and science lessons in a team teaching arrangement where he provides the content knowledge, and I help with lesson design and classroom management. He also does support work for me outside the classroom. He brings in demonstrations, gives lectures, and sets up experiments. The kids take notes, ask questions, measure stuff, make graphs and write reports. He gets a stipend, and I get some money, as well. The kids get to see how a scientist works and thinks, and they pump him for information about any number of things. Communication and mathematics skills are supported while science process and content knowledge is built, all seamlessly as part of the package.

Project participants from the various schools have monthly meetings where we all sit around and talk about what we’re doing. One of the things that keeps coming up is the question of how to sustain this after the grant money runs out. I say it can’t be done without the scientists. Having a live person from the field who can meet with the kids directly on a daily basis is the most powerful curricular initiative I’ve ever been a part of.

I’m thinking about how this project could serve as a model for curricular reform. Instead of tackling the problems of achievement and motivation from a skills and accountability position, we’re providing the kids with experiential opportunities to use the science process skills. Rather than hiring consultants and instructional aids, or investing in more tests and pre-packaged reading and math programs we could pay more graduate students for their time in return for their expertise, and we’d be enriching the system simultaneously on both ends.

We’re using the curriculum and state standards to guide our planning, which allows the program to remain responsive to local needs and limitations. There are no tests other than the ones we make. The kids are all excited to study science, and they’re using academic skills along the way.

It’s not a boring subject in school for them this year. Interestingly, as I come to think of it, the instructional approach we’re using is pretty standard. Nothing fancy, just lots of time and energy.

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Why we are here

Dec 04 2007 Published by under borderland,commonplaces

Ms. Whatsit reflects on an “aimless shameless walkabout” wondering where her blog fits in the larger context and whether she is “doing it right.” I responded that we should celebrate puposeless blogging, and in that spirit I have something more to say.

From James Farmer’s link to Fray: The Quarterly of True Stories, I found a story by Eric Spitznagel that was funny enough to make me want to read more of his stuff. Fortunately, he has a blog.

Unfortunately, he’s taking some time off.

But fortunately, there is a large archive. I mentioned to someone this afternoon that I’d read a pretty good story about Driving Through Chicago with a Trunk Full of Dead Dogs. Amazingly, she said that she’d read it, too, and we both had a laugh remembering some of the insane details.

The best way to search the archives is to subscribe to the feed and read the titles. I found a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, who died last April. Words of Wisdom from Vonnegut:

We are here to Fart Around.

That’s about all there is to it, near as I can see.

Carry on.

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