Monday, October 31, 2016

"I Wish" by @akbar_offishio - a @BeechwoodArts Production. @fairfieldu @CWPFairfield @writingproject

Yesterday was one of the magical moments in life where I was left feeling numb, mesmerized, humbled, and optimistic (even in today's political climate). Akabaru R. Niyonkur, a junior at Bassick High School, was asked to read his poem, "I Wish," at the Beechwood Arts and Innovation production of "Synesthesia," a salon in Westport, Connecticut, uniting artists, singers, writers, and collaborators. Akbar's poem was written during his summer participation in collaboration with CWP-Fairfield's Young Adult Literacy and Labs and Invitational Leadership Institute for Teachers (a National Writing Project production). This summer, Fairfield University Art Museum contacted us about collaborative writing with Rick Shaefer's masterpiece, Refugee Trilogy, and the rest has been history.

Akbaru received air time with Jennifer Bangser on local radio, and also caught the ear of Tanya Baker on the West Coast who interviewed him for her radio show on the partnership work. Unique to yesterday's performance, however, was the vision of Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito who produced and collaborated the collection at Beechwood. Their salon brought the writing of Akbaru to a whole new level, especially with the pairing of  pianist Daniel Kelly and vocalist Frederick Johnson. I know that Akbaru teared up while discussing his story in other venues, but yesterday was my turn to tear up. Hearing his words set to music, and accompanied with the talents of other guests, opera singer Wendy Morgan-Hunter and storyteller David Gonzalez, brought the summer work of Ubuntu Academy to a whole other level. The magic of Daniel Kelly and Frederick Johnson cannot be replaced, and what they did for Akbaru is immeasurable.

Several years ago, when CWP-Fairfield set out to create a literacy opportunity r for relocated refugee youth and immigrant students during the summer, I never anticipated that our collaborations would rise to this level. The synesthesia/synergy of Beechwood Arts and Innovation, coupled with the philosophy of Ubuntu - I can be me, because of who we are together, has exceeded any expectation I originally had. I simply wanted to promote kids as writers and to showcase some of the stories we often forget in American society.

Akbaru said, "I think there should be another event so that the other students from Ubuntu Academy might have an opportunity to share their writing, too." I would love to see that happen, too.

William King and Jessica Baldizon, graduates of Fairfield University's Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, and instructors for Ubuntu Academy, will be traveling with me to Atlanta, Georgia to present on two-years of work, including support for a young man like Akbaru.

I was fortunate enough to attend yesterday's dress rehearsal, and then heard the live performance - and lucky for me, the musicians gave me permission to record. I couldn't help but put a video together showcasing CWP-Fairfield's summer work. CWP-Fairfield and IICONN of Bridgeport hope to collaborate more for a sustainable future of Ubuntu Academy at Fairfield University.

Yesterday motivated me even more - we definitely are stronger together!

Yesterday was a good day, and I'm kicking off into a new week with pep in my step.
Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Time Is a Tricky Monster, and The Great Whatever Doesn't Always Make Sense With How It Uses Its Time

Several years ago, my colleagues welcomed me and Ryan Colwell as new faculty members in Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation. Kevin and Emily graciously opened their home, and Abu, Lossine, and Chitunga came with me for the festivity. It was a full house event, but what I remember most rom the evening was when the boys took their son, Christian, outside to play basketball. He was so excited to have a team to play agains, that he ran upstairs and changes his clothes into a jersey of his favorite team.

Fast forward.

Yesterday was an extremely hard day, as Christian's father, Kevin, was laid to rest after a 9 month battle with brain cancer. I've attended several funeral proceedings in my life, and I don't think any of them are easier than the other. Still, yesterday's celebration did a number on me - Kevin was a phenomenal scholar, friend, colleague, husband, father, coach, humanitarian, dean, activist, and human being. The praises were loud and clear - he was one of a kind.

Hearing story after story from his brothers, sister, and then the open forum - in the Quaker tradition - was extremely moving. The one story that got me most was the man who flew from Michigan to share that Kevin was his Big Brother in a Big Brother, Big Sister program. He had a difficult time sharing his story, but spoke from the heart and called all in the church to grab their tissues.

When I got home from the services, I looked for the photos of the twins, Chitunga and Christian playing basketball that day. Everyone was happy and the world was, somehow, a little more innocent.
I dont' pray much, but when I do it is for a reason. I am praying for my colleague Emily to continue to find the strength to keep her beautiful family afloat. I'd call the whole story a tragedy, expect for the fact that Kevin was an optimist and touched 1,000s of lives - there's nothing tragic about that. Rather, it is the opposite.

Still, the heart is heavy when there are no words.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Leadership is About Character; Democracy is About Freedom of Opinion; I Put My Trust in Awesome Every Time

Yesterday, I attended a luncheon for community organizations who support Bridgeport youth in a wide variety of areas: socio-emotional learning, college preparation, boys and girls clubs, tutoring, volunteering, athletics, in-school support, summer program, and many more. The group congregates once a month to pull together as a team that says, "Here's what we are doing to bring relief to a district that has numerous challenges."

It is always a refreshing time, and I am amazed at the number of community leaders who come together, both residents and non-residents of Bridgeport, to best assist young people who are most challenged by American society.

I like to believe in good, hard-working, dedicated, and passionate people. This was true when I was in Kentucky, in Syracuse, and now in Connecticut. In a matter of seconds, I can size up an individual's motives, sincerity, integrity and intentions. I learned from a phenomenal administrator at the Brown that really good leadership is hard to find. When one is good, the darts and daggers come flying at them in all directions.

Such has been the scenario for Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz of Bridgeport Public Schools. This is my sixth year working in the K-12 schools pf the city and when I first arrived I witnessed extreme chaos. This was followed by ridiculous chaos for a couple of years, and then a few years of calming progress. Fran Rabinowitz brought this calm to the district. As I move in an out of Bridgeport schools on a daily basis, I hear over and over again how wonderful it has been having her leadership for the urban district. She's a fighter, she's clever, she's smart, and she doesn't give up.

And then there are others who dedicate their lives to attacking, creating lies, establishing obstinance, debating, turning schools into political platforms, and running campaigns of anger. This work comes from irrational behaviors and the need to cause a tremendous stink. As I've learned from working in three states now, there's nothing that can be done to stop such behaviors.

This seems to be in parallel with national politics. Democracy is wonderful, but when the voice of a few begin to monopolize the healthy conversations of the many, then there's little that can be done. This behavior is criminal, especially for the effect it has on public school kids and teachers. Elected officials are just that, elected, and whether or not their mission is to improve the wellbeing of education is always one for the history books.

I wish I could say that I was optimistic about what I'm learning about the American people, but sadly that is not true. They are scaring me, and I can't believe the ego, insanity, difficulty, and hatred that overpowers the wonderful work of teachers, kids, staff, and administrators. This seems to be where we are in the 21st century and I'm wondering what comes next.

It was wonderful to see happiness from Fran Rabinowitz at yesterday's luncheon and to hear, once again, the optimism she exudes to everyone she meets. I shake my head, however, with my fairy tale beliefs that good always wins. I'm starting to see the counter narratives taking over our nation.

I do know, though, that there's a power when communities come together and unite in support of a child's future. I've seen this over and over and over again in high needs school districts. The united bring about change...the divisive simply irritate an already sore wound.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Getting Our Grump On - What NOT To Be as a 21st Educator, a Lesson in Counter-Philosophy to Prove a Point

As a kid, one of my favorite Sesame Street characters was Oscar the Grouch. Why? He was miserable, but part of the happy-go-lucky landscape who reminded the other muppets that things are rather stinky, miserable, and not as cheery as they like to be outside of his garbage can.

We shouted out to Oscar yesterday, by responding to a kick-off prompt tasking ourselves to recall classrooms with a poor philosophy and where students and teachers made learning....well, miserable. We came up with quite a few observations.

  • The Know-It-All Teacher. No one likes an arrogant, condescending, belittling educator who makes everyone in the classroom feel awful about themselves.
  • The Whiners. These are kids and teachers who spend so much time bringing everyone down that they become a drag on learning and the tasks at hand. It isn't constructive bitching, but over-the-top pitiful action that brings cold rains to every room.
  • The Gossiping-Too Cool Type. These are educators and youth who spend a lot of time getting into everyone's business and manipulating truths that don't push others forward, but vindictively make everyone uneasy.
  • The Unorganized. These are classrooms when no one knows what the expectations are, what is supposed to be learned, or what is actually going on.
  • The Super Competitive. Some teach with a sense of urgency, being the best, and dog-eat-dog ferocity, and these are those who treat learning like it isn't lifelong, but a race of who can be the fastest, best, smartest, and most known.
  • The Deficit Crew. Classrooms that lower the expectation with a can't do attitude where one isn't predicted to achieve, so the instruction is minimal at best. There are few expectations and challenges are rare.
Our list was a precursor to reading Freire's pedagogical leader expectations of love, belongingness, humility, community, action, and hope. After we went grumpy for a while, it became easy to highlight the philosopher's arguments for what successful teaching should be.

Sadly, the students in my course reported many experiences with the Oscars along their short academic lives, with wishes for the rest of Sesame Street. My metaphor for the day was a glow-in-the-dark bat, which I handed out to each of them. Basically, I said, "When you are in a situation that makes you feel batty - such as those that we named - then it is our job to find a way to glow, anyway."

It's Friday and I'm looking inward to find a glow to head into the weekend.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Finding Energy, Enthusiasm, Possibility, Hope, and Love in a K-8 School. Teachers, Students, and Partnerships Matter

The best part of my job as the Director of Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield is the collaborative support imagined and designed by wonderful individuals in K-12 schools. Over a year ago, I met with Bridgeport Public Schools to discuss a Turn-Around grant offered by the State of Connecticut in support of literacy initiatives. The school is like many in America's urban centers with high English language learner populations, extreme poverty, industrial challenges, and beautiful diversity. Partnering with many literacy powerhouses, including the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions, CWP-Fairfield will work with K-8 teachers to provide support for teaching writing and to help build a community of proficient readers, writers, and thinkers.

Yesterday, I engaged with the 4th-8th grade teachers and quickly learned that the deficits placed upon the school due to test scores and state labeling does not tell the entire story. I worked with many teachers who have dedicated many years to seeing their kids achieve, despite the tremendous obstacles they face. Typical for many in public education (and with parallels to other public occupations), the narrative is negative, negative and negative. This is far from the truth. These teachers are dedicated, driven, and passionate; the frustrations aren't with teaching the kids they work with, but with the lack of resources available to them to do the tasks they set out to do.

While I waited for the teachers to arrive from their first session of professional development I couldn't help but get nosey and capture a few photos that seemed to display the essence I felt from the teachers: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I knew I could! Word walls! Clear rubrics and expectations, and a quote, "Don't let others stop you from being who you are because of who they are."

There's a tremendous task ahead of all of us: to push a school forward to achieve on the ways we assess them takes the power of many collaborating together. It requires an investment of time, resources, reflection, support, encouragement, and whole-school buy-in.

From 2012-2014, I was fortunate to work with the vision of a K-8 school in New Haven, Connecticut that did, indeed, turn itself around on the benchmarks that repeatedly labeled it a failing school. It was never failing, but the language needs and social supports required rethinking, reimagining, lots of celebration, and a positive attitude. Nothing felt better than learning that in a short time that school turned itself around.

Now, time for another challenge, which isn't a challenge at all. It is a continued opportunity to work with amazing kids, their families, their teachers, and those who've dedicated their lives to offer opportunities in the United States.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Putting My Finger on Evaluation and Judgement in the 6th-12th Grade Classroom. Costuming. That's One Way.

Halloween + Targets = Happy Bryan.

This week's EN 411: Teaching Composing Processes looked at writing to evaluate and writing to judge. Inspired by Kelly Gallagher's Write Like This, I opted for charting criteria to form an opinion, and what better way to get graduate students to put their finger on this discussion (granted, a finger with the ability to also be opened to blow bubbles) than to hypothesize what makes an outstanding Halloween costume?

Everyone listed their own criteria: originality, humor, irony, attention to detail, believability, WOW factor, etc, and I handed out blank rubrics for them to specify language from low to high in each of these criteria.

From there, I showed five costumes I found online and I had them discuss with one another how they would judge and evaluate the mimicry given the rubrics they created on their own.

My point? Well, in order to be an insider, one needs to establish a sense of expertise. This, I feel, comes from experience, consulting with others in the community, and naming what are the levels for putting a rating on a given subject. They co-created criteria, and then used this to do their own evaluation and judgement.

We moved, of course, into commercials and the rhetorical devices used to get consumers to recognize and/or purchase their projects. My argument is that teaching students to be critical consumers of media (hence the language of discussing commercials and the tricks they use to sell us their product) also provides a vocabulary on whether or not they are successful. Rather than being numb recipients of materials thrown their way, they become knowledgeable receivers of such information to judge and evaluate for themselves.

Such thinking is almost innate - we are highly evaluative and judgmental creatures, but it is important to name the criteria we use, so that our judgement and evaluation is concise and in line with other communities.

I think the Halloween trick worked, and the gimmick from Targets also helped out. In other words, we put our finger on what it takes to be more deliberate in our teaching. I will definitely do this exercise again if the chance is provided. The bubbles were a bit of a distraction (playful), but I'm sure the metaphor will last for quite some time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bound. Bound. Bound and Rebound. Not a Basketball Post, but a Reminder of Keeping Our Hooves Tapping.

I came home late last night after filling in for a colleague and working in K-8 schools all day to find that Glamis, the Wonder Dog, decided my comforter was a giant teddy bear full of stuffing and that it would be an absolute joy to pull all of it out and make my upstairs bedroom into a white fluffy cloud.

An hour earlier, I showed my favorite Budd Lucky Pixar short to graduate students, the same one I often showed as a classroom teacher, especially when senioritis kicked in and I wanted them to know that the ocean needed to be emptied (with a fork) and Sisyphus's boulder still has to be pushed up the hill.

I sang the song as I cleaned up the mess the dog made. She was punishing me because I spent over 14 hours out of the house and Chitunga only had time to stop between work and classes to let her out. I know that dogs are fully aware of the exact decisions they make. Am I happy? No. Did she make her point? Yes. I get it.
Now as for the dancin', you can do more / You can reach great heights, in fact you can soar / You just get a let up and ya slap it on down, / And you'll find you're up in what's called a rebound. / Bound, bound, and rebound. / Bound and you're up right next to the sky. / And I think you can do it if you give it a try. 
Reboundin' is all way have.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Little Sister's Big Monday Birthday Today, and Glamis Was Hoping She'd Come Celebrate With Us

This was the scene on my windowsill all day yesterday. I made the mistake of telling the dog that it was Casey's birthday, and maybe she'd drive down from Syracuse with Dixie so we could celebrate. Glamis immediately ran upstairs to put on her birthday hat and then set out to make cupcakes. It turns out, when she lies on the windowsill, her back thighs make the perfect table - a 180 degree horizontal lap perfect for holding cupcakes for his aunt.

Blowing up balloons, however, was a little trickier, as her claws kept popping the balloons when she held them to her mouth to blow them up.

I imagine she will sit on the front windowsill today, too, for it is Casey's official birthday and there's still a chance she'll drive the 4.5 hours (or 6.8 hours in Barnwell-we-get-lost-everytime-time) it takes to get here from Syracuse.

Unfortunately, the card Chitunga and I have for Aunt Casey is in my office and wasn't mailed. It's Monday, and the week has begun with its own set of unexpected challenges to kick things off. In the meantime, the happiness that my (The Great One) little sister (The Pain) is turning another year older is a reason to have a smile on my face all day.

Glamis is looking forward to eating her cupcakes if she doesn't show. She baked them with Alpo, squirrel poop, stuffing from a stuffed animal, and a couple of Bic pens. She would have added a remote control, but they're a little too fancy and out of our financial reach.

Here's to my little sister's October birthday!  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

And Just Like That I Want to Hibernate Until April, But I Refuse To Turn on the Heat...Just Yet. Crispiness is Cool.

I was talking with my little sister on the phone yesterday morning, while she was sitting in her car to keep warm during Sean's Saturday soccer match. Jake was on her lap and they looked like they were freezing, but I was sitting in Stratford in shorts and t-shirt, getting ready for the gym. It was raining, but the temperature hadn't plummeted...


I went to the gym, worked out, and came back outside and thought, "If a snowflake falls from the sky I'm calling Bonnie and Karl in Florida and moving in with them. I'm not ready for the cold.

Ah, but then a day of cooking some sort of spicy sauce for pasta and chicken, the Louisville and Syracuse football games, and a stack of papers to work on, I thought, "It's all good. I can get into the darkness and frigidity ready to come."

I walked Glamis late afternoon and wished I had a pair of gloves on. I was in transitional attire: two sweatshirts, but still in a pair of shorts (from the gym). I am not good about showering on the weekends, because I get into Crandall chair mode and simply want to get through everything I couldn't accomplish during the week (which yesterday consisted of the 100 emails I failed to respond to that arrived between Wednesday and Friday).

The whole day made me think about how ancestors of yesteryear used to deal with the transition, before electricity and the ability to over purchase clothes from Kohl's clearance racks. Fire pits, yes, but still - what a miserable mess to teal with the onset of winter before modern luxuries were invented.

Still, the scenery of this season is always stunning and the smell of everything Fall is delicious to inhale. The Christmas decorations are a little too much (it's not even Halloween, after all) but the cheaper-than-usual apples at Big Y are a treat (and boy do I wish I was with Cynde last night for her apple dumplings for Nikki).

No rain in the forecast for today, but winds and cooler air. I guess I'll take it - whatever choice do any of us ever have.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Luckiness, Democracy, Hope, Equity, Equality, Diversity, Land of the Free, Refugees, and Global Realities

Like most Americans, my ideologies and philosophies were uprooted 15 years ago on September 11th. I tell people often that my first reaction was awe, not for the tragedy, at first, but for the very fact that it actually happened. I quickly recalled many college classrooms I attended that chastised capitalism, challenged the truths of democracy, and internally found flaws in what the United States stands for versus what it actually is. Seeing the violence on that day (and afterwards) stopped me in my place to ask, "Why such hatred? Why the violence?"  My friends and I speculated many things: global histories, colonialism, trade, politics (ah, good ol' politics) and the green monster of envy. The attack on America was an attack on what the nation stands for (Give me your tired, your poor, you hungry). Of course, the 65 million people in this world currently who live tired, poor, and hungry are unlikely to have an opportunity to experience the hope that I've known my whole life.

I've been thinking about this a lot, especially around the rhetoric of Make America Great Again, which has been a slogan used not only this election cycle, but by almost every elected president of the last 40 years. To win votes, fear needs to be established. If a nation is afraid that everything is falling apart, then the logic is we can trust new leadership to return to a mythological past where things were once superior (to some).  The United States has always been in debate about who is to be included in the notion of democracy and to have a say on what "WE, THE PEOPLE" actually means.

I attest that today is not yesterday. I've lived long enough to realize nothing sits still and the reality I know is a result of complicated, thick, bureaucratic, militaristic, and international decisions that are made to secure the opportunities I have. After eating my 3rd meal of the day last night, watching the nightly news, and catching up on the 15 newspapers I read online to make sense of the world, I moved to my IPad to play games (unwind) and then my laptop to capture this thinking. The opposite of great is not so great, so I need to compare the world I know with global reality (and admit to myself, as much as I like to complain, I have it great). Of course, I can't know everything about the world, and that is why I like to read and interact with as many who are different from me as I can. I've also had the fortune of earning an education, more education, and even more education. It makes me wiser (at least I tell myself that) and that is why I also revisit a children's book I used to teach called If the World Was a Village of 100 People. Such a portrait changes every year and now I go websites to read updates.

There are 7 billion people in the world, with 325 million residing in the United States.  That is approximately 4.4% (we are only a fraction of the world). In truth, globally,
  • 50% are women and 50% are men,
  • 33% Christian, 22% Muslim, 14% Hindu, 7% Buddhist, 12% other, 12% none,
  • 5% speak English,
  • 83% read and write (huge accomplishments in the last decades),
  • 7% have a college degree (up from 1 a decade ago) (if we have a college degree, we think differently, I surmise, than the 93% who do not)
  • 48% live on less than $2 a day, 
  • 22% have no electricity (30% no Internet) and
  • 35% are not flushing toilets and using sanitation as we know it.
My point of looking at this surface-data is to remind myself that what I have here, is not what is had by others around the world. The Statue of Liberty means something on a global scale and, we are learning in this election, it means different things to those of us living here. All eyes are on this election - will the Constitution and its traditions be the choice of its people, or will the decision fall elsewhere?

This is why I've been thinking of Draco Malfoy (sorry, but Harry Potter, Saving Private Ryan, Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games are my go-to metaphors). It's not only Draco, but his parents and his friends who uphold the Voldemort Anti-Mud Blood movement in the wizarding world - they want to rid perceived filth, mooches, and repulsive non-wizarding weight. They do not operate on rationality, but focus on emotions and magical thinking (they want to believe what they believe and choose to believe it by surrounding themselves with others who believe exactly like them). Our nation seems to be testing its own understanding of immigration, refugees, and American responsibilities to the world at large. Hogwarts is America.

And with power comes tremendous responsibilities. 

Recently, I was honored with the President's Innovation Award for Community Engagement and Service. The award was financial, and I was surprised to receive it. The acknowledgment came in recognition of the literacy work I do with teachers and students in the State. In my head, I instantly divided the award according to my personal value system: a portion would go back to the urban school populations I have spent my life teaching, another to myself to do house repairs, and the last to my friends and family who have supported me. In other words, I wanted to distribute my luck and fortune, because I recognize that I do as I do because of the magical people I surround myself with.

I realized this week that I am still able to do this, however differently than I originally thought. Why? Because when the award arrived, over 40% of it went to local, state, and federal taxes (I'm good with this, too. One has to work AND pay taxes to contribute to privileges one has). It is my responsibility, as an American with all of its glory and greatness, to give back some of the privileges I'm afforded. That's how this works.

When one migrates as a refugee to the United States they have a short window to pay back the organizations that brought them here. Quickly, they learn that if you can work, you must contribute. We have what we have (and it may not be what we wish we had) because our country operates to find jobs for many, to provide a free K-12 education, and to secure our society and municipalities with men and women who dedicated themselves to the protection of our gifts.  Within years, too, refugee families can apply to become American citizens and must pass a naturalization test to dedicate their knowledge and devotion to the values of what the United States stands for. 

I recommend everyone take the test: I guess many would not know the answers - they might even fail (and they ARE Americans). 

If the United States is falling apart (which many Presidents have said in the past in order to be elected and they will say it again in the future), then why are so many still trying to get here? Why are those arriving and cherishing the greatness of the United States willing to work as hard as they can, with minimal complaints, to be free, to have rights, and to have a chance?
The other night at a gathering of wealthy individuals and refugee families, a woman asked of the kids, "What else can we do for you? What do you still need from us?" The reply was the following, "As refugees, we have always been dependent on handouts and the giving of others. In the United States, we want to be independent and to provide for ourselves. The best thing you can do for us is to teach us how to stand on our own. We came here to work."
What we have in America is rather remarkable: grocery stores, cars, highways, fashion, youth sports, professional sports, colleges, universities, railways, airplanes, and even dog groomers. This is not everywhere, and I'm not sure it is America's responsibility to take care of everywhere else, either. 

The Jesuits, however, who make decisions by faith, invest in the notion of men and women for others. I've never been religious, but I've studied dogma and faith, and totally understand the need for prayer and doing good for others. There is a responsibility for having, for doing good, for being kind, for spreading love, and for loving others who are different from us. There's hypocrisy to this, of course, but I do believe the mission is important. Who are we to others? 

If one looks at how power operates in other places, it is not the power of the people nor the many, nor the diversity, or the voices that make up a nation. Rather, it is the thinking of one (and/or a few) who make decisions for everyone else. Studies of World Civilizations show what does and doesn't work throughout human history and the conclusion has been, "Every civilization bears the seed of its own destruction." Thanks, Aristotle. 

When I was walking last night and thinking (dog leading the way) I kept seeing the image of the Twin Towers behind the Statue of Liberty that I watched on television in 2001. It was horrible - life changing - but now I'm witnessing a similar destruction coming from within - a violent movement built on negativity, fear, jealousy, ignorance, untruths, and hatred. It's always been here, and it is doubtful it will ever go away. He, who should not be named, is alive and well. He is impossible to ever remove. There is only one truth, and that is his - if there are others, surely its a conspiracy against his own. Power. Brute, brute power accrued by spreading hate and misinformation.

I'm here to write, though, that he is us, and we need to do better. Civility, communication, listening, history, education, opportunity, and kindness still matter....maybe not to everyone in this nation, but to the majority. Love seems to be the one thread that characterizes the greatest stories every told. It is always the answer and I will continue to choose love for my family, my friends, for strangers, and for those I simply cannot wrap my head around. I will continue to add my 'o' to God, and to believe in Good. I am hoping I have good in my heart.

My choice is to invest in hope, because hope is all we've ever had. Hope is what I want for everyone in the world, not just those who look like me, act like me, drink with me, and talk with me. Hope is what this country has always been and I believe it is still the way it should be for those arriving.

United, we stand. Divided, we fall.

I love/to believe/in hope.

Friday, October 21, 2016

When the World Presents You With a Gift You Simply Embrace It As Symbolism and A Good Ol' Joke. #FishNose

Poor Guy. Rest In Peace.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I tell this joke often (and my sakanna hana nose story, too).

Three moles are climbing on a ladder. The first one says, "Mmmm. Mmmm. Do you smell that? I think it's chocolate chip cookies." The second mole following on the rungs replies, 'No. No. That isn't chocolate chip cookies. I think it is oatmeal raisin." The third mole trailing at the bottom trying to keep up, sniffs the air and states, "You two are fools. All I can smell are molasses."

Ba dum dum, ch'.

The sakanna hana story (it means fish nose in Japanese) is from when I taught in Kentucky, and I did a Fulbright Memorial Scholarship in Tokyo. I used to have a large mole on the left side of my nose - a genetic marking that made me totally Crandall. I think friends used to tease that my family could be lined up and we were like one of those flip books where the mole would move around faces, if all of us were lined up and your ran by us quickly. Bad joke. I know.

Well, my mole began bleeding and it wouldn't stop. I'm not typically too self conscious of my looks (I type, lying to myself), but the mole was always a particular source of frustration. I was on a date with a woman named Erin who told me, "You have fish on your nose." We were at a fish fry, so I wiped my nose. She then said, "No. it's still there." I wiped again. Coquettishly she said, "Here, I'll get it." And she proceeded to reach across the table and grab my mole. "Ooh, that's attached," she said.

I'm not married for a reason.

I went to a dermatologist who insisted I have the mole frozen off, which I did. This is before Henry and Hank, skin tags  famous in my world. Once frozen, my nose blistered into a gigantic blood glob and I had to wear bandages for weeks. My students in Kentucky were extremely curious of the gauzed bulge on my nose and begged to see it. "No, I insisted. Go back to work." Kids are so weird.

Then Mason Cox arrived to my room on National Chemistry Mole Day with his teacher and classmates and said, "We're here to see your mole. We have to see it. It's a chemistry must." Ms. Mary Todd, his teacher, totally agreed.

So, without thinking I unravelled my bandage to let them see. Oohs, and Aahs followed as I I was a fireworks display.  "Can I touch it?" Mason asked. "I don't know," I replied. I couldn't see what they were seeing.

And before I could stop Mason he reached out and simply touched the hemoglobin on my nostril. All I remember is screaming and some vulgarity that followed. The entire thing exploded upon 26 juniors in high school and all of them began wiping their glasses, cheeks, and shirts. "Oops," Mason said.

You can't make that up. We were all disgusted.

I haven't thought about that story in years.

Ah, but yesterday I went to the basement to get a box to transport items to school, when I saw a dead mole. My guess is that there's been moles out front of my home because there's this Whack-a-Mole pattern all over my front lawn. I've not pestered them, but knew I had them locally in Connecticut. I'm not used to seeing them indoors, however, and right below my last basement step was this little guy who was probably looking for more dirt to stick his own nose in. Poor fellow died on basement cement, but how he sniffed his way through walls is beyond me. I have yet to figure that out.

Anyway, I knew I had a post for Friday inspired by the critter and I write this it in hopes it cheers you up, no matter what mood you're in. I know that I'm in need of such story - this week has not been as pleasurable as they should be (debates, anyone?).

I'm off to New Milford now. Where the heck is New Milford? I have no idea, but I'm thinking about my only two mole stories (well, I have more) and heading out the door.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

#WhyIWrite #NDOW @fairfieldU @ncte @writingproject @cwpfairfield This is My October Contribution, 2016. #Ubuntu

Happy National Day of Writing, 2016!

It's October 20th and in the tradition of B to the R to the Y to the A to the N (Ribbit Ribbit) I will use today's post to offer a few reasons why I write. As our CWP-Fairfield t-shirts boast, I personally write

In other words it's as I've been saying for quite some time now...

Why do I write? Because I have to.

I write because I believe in the National Writing Project and I stand as testimony - in the flesh and proof -  for the power of the teachers teaching teachers model and the importance of writing instruction in K-12 American schools.

In my 5th year as a classroom educator, I was nominated to participate in the Louisville Writing Project XXI and have been a changed human being ever since. The National Writing Project works. Period. They invest in the power of writing and they invested in me so that I can invest in the young people I work with and the adults who advocate for their excellence.

I write, because I am. And I am, because I'm writing with you. So, thank you.

U B U N T U !

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Face Palm, Crandall. Good Idea, But You Didn't Think It Through. But While You Have Your Phalanges on Your Forehead, Keep Them There

I wrote yesterday how I was turning a leave and heading to bed by 9 p.m.

I said goodnight to Chitunga, did our ritual of appreciations and high fives, then immediately fell asleep. I was proud that I fell asleep so quickly, even though I knew he'd be up for another hour working on homework. I zonked out.

Here's what I didn't factor into the equation. My body is used to 6 hours of sleep (usually 1 a.m. - 7 a.m.), so falling asleep at 9 p.m. is great, except my internal clock began to ring at 3 a.m. - it was six hours, after all. I woke up wanting a bagel and coffee and was ready to tackle my day.

So, I did.

But there was no tackling this day, as I kept thinking, "Oi Vay. No way. You're kidding, right? Seriously? Um." and "$#$#." There are no words.

The Advil helped. Lots of water. A few walks. Yoga breathing and medication. Anything. Even prayer. Sometimes I wonder if there is any sense at all in anything I do or the world we are living in at this current moment.

By 10 p.m. last night when my last students finally finished talking to me (class ended at 9:15), I simply wanted to be home banging my head against the wall. There's a nervous energy in the world right now (well, at least in this election-triggered anxiety). There's a lot of need right now and I'm trying to be rational and calm.

Hmmm. Rational and calm. Good goals.

I welcome you Wednesday. We're midweek. We got this. Better days are to come.

Tried Something New Last Night. Retired From Working at 9 p.m. So My Brain Wasn't Running until 2 a.m. in the Morning

I definitely sleep better than the days when I was a classroom teacher and felt like I was carrying the world on my shoulders. The world is still there, like it is for most of us, but the hours differ in higher education. I feel like I spend much more time behind screens and editing, revising, planning, creating, and problem solving than the face-to-face work of K-12 teaching.

With that said, I've gotten into a terrible habit of staying up later and later to get things done. I have been going to bed at 1 and not falling asleep until 2. This makes mornings a little rougher, and I've always been my best in the morning.

So I made the executive decision to pull the plugs earlier, except on nights when I teach until after 9. I'm hoping this will allow me to turn my brain off when I hit the pillow, rather than seeing a continuation of words, screens, and laptop light behind my eyes when I close them. I can turn the systems back on in the morning - they will be awaiting me (and my coffee).

This is an experiment, however. I'm trying to listen to my body that is telling me that the 6 hours of sleep I've been getting is an hour or two short of what I need. Since it is the Fall and the Mucinex monsters will be returning soon, I also want to be sure I'm hydrated, equipped with teas, and getting sleep. The treadmill, I'm telling myself, needs to be slowed down some before I get sick.

I'm hoping that it works and I am at peace like the puppy above. We all need our rest, after all.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Polly Wanna Nother Chance. Squawk. Cracker. Squawk. Sad Reminder About Nature On Yesterday's Walk with the Dog

Um, this is not a parakeet. It's a parrot and if you look hard enough you
can see it has a tag on its leg. I didn't have my camera, so had
to improvise.
I heard a story that a truck on I-95 was tipped over, releasing parakeets all over southern Connecticut, so that in the summer, spring, and fall, wild glimpses of green and gold can be see in the pandemonium (that's what they're called in their groups) along the Long Island sound.

On Fairfield's campus, the parrots act somewhat like starlings and they rarely sit still long enough to get good glimpses of them. They are loud, however, so you're always aware their around.

In Stratford, the wild parrots have built a next on Conner's lane by the Bunnell High School and I love seeing their pandemonium tendencies, as they build enormous next and live in them like they're condos on Melrose Place. They get extra loud when Glamis and I approach their tree and in the spring, when they're feeding their young, I love seeing them hand upside down and sideways feeding the beaks coming from the nest.

Yesterday, however, one of the parakeets was lying dead on the sidewalk and its colors, magnificent, caught my attention. I needed to get a grip of the dog before she tried to pick it up like it was a colorful popsicle.

Poor bird that looked like the one above. I wondered what caused its demise as there were no marks on it: old age, a parasite, bullying from the other birds, a broken heart?

Oh, I found an article about the parakeets of Connecticut on the NY Times as evidence I'm not making this up. I have house sparrows, but I think I'm be more welcoming with the parakeets.

It's Monday, and although I'm already feel bird-brained, I'm going to go forth in hopes I can add vibrancy to the world as they do. I just hope to do it with two feet on the ground and not in the air.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Buddhas of Bamiyan, Bryan of Brown School (Maude Throwing Harold's Ring Away). It's the Thought That Counts

Sometime during 2001 I remember Alice coming to my room to say the Taliban in Afghanistan is blowing up Buddhist temples and taking down the iconic religious symbols. "This isn't good," she said. "Cultures are being wiped out."

Soon after, 9/11 happened.

Fast forward several years after I left the Brown School when I learned this or that teacher painted over the artwork that students left behind as their legacies - senior projects, colorful pieces to add flavor to the school and to create an aesthetic for all of us to learn in. Many of these teachers posted the white paint they used to cover up the art and I felt a punch in my stomach. One by one, I learned the memories of what made the school awesome were being erased. I defended the choices. Change is inevitable.

I was contacted by the school on Thursday of this week, however, to ask if I had copy of the tea room poem I wrote for Jessica Stauble's senior project, where she redid the space for student art, district meetings, poetry readings, class gatherings, and graduation celebrations. Student work hung on all the walls and the poem I wrote was painted across the top edge of the room, framing it all in Brown School colors.
We painted over your poetry and are working to turn the room into a space that can be used by teachers. We wondered if you have a copy of the poem that we can hang up on one of the walls now that the work is gone.

I left, so I have no hard feelings. It did remind me, however, of the Taliban's deliberate intent to take away Buddhist culture in Afghanistan. They aren't sure how the room will be used, but it might be a place for the band to practice or to store instruments.

Nothing stays the same. That is beautiful. Yet, I'm left nostalgic for the spirit that was left to me at 546 S. First Street under the vision and leadership of Ron Freeman. It's okay that my marks are being covered because, well, I opted to leave. Still, I am thinking of the beautiful students who were the heartbeat of the building while I was there and I'm wondering what this might mean to them. Perhaps it is a good life lesson, like it was for me when in my first year of college I returned to a Friday night homecoming football game and all the seats in the senior section were taken over by another class. We were quickly replaced and this was a good reminder about this life thing.

Ah, but paying attention to rhythm and movements is good. I've seen videos, for example, of presidential candidates at their rallies encouraging attacks on minorities and the press - these videos have been placed side by side of Civil Rights movements when hatred was encouraged on others.

Yes, keeping one's eyes open to how one embraces society or seeks to destroy it is always important.
My eyes are wide open.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Calling an End To the Week With Fish-n-Chips, A Friday Night Ritual That Seems To Be Timeless (and Surreal)

There's a Friday night ritual that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and that is the habit of Fish Fry Fridays. I guess it connects to the Catholic influence of Central New York, and it is one that was carried forward to my Louisville life, where most Fridays were spent at the Irish Rover.

Last night, I met friends at the Windmill in Stratford and I decided I'd do fish-n-chips for ol' times sake, thinking fondly on Fridays with my friends in Kentucky and even more profoundly of picking up Fish in Syracuse to reunite with my parents, sisters and their families. The American Legion in Cicero added a whole other layer to the memories.

Of course, Casey got into old VHS tapes and started sending me videos I used to shoot for her birthday: outrageous, youthful, and totally insane. I sort of remember making them to relieve stress, but seeing them, I was like, "Man, I could never be elected President."

It is surreal to see videos that you didn't really know existed (me with long hair and foolishness) and I went to bed feeling really old and freaked out by time (Holy incriminating, Bat Man).

And now I have to deal with a stomach ache from eating the fish. But, man, last night's dinner was good. Now it's time to problem solve and get things done. Zoom. Just like that and you realize how much of the universe has changed.

Friday, October 14, 2016

And Then There Are the Moments When We Face The Problem We All Live With, and the Consensus Desires Change

Norman Rockwell's The Problem We All Live With (1964)
Walking the dog earlier this week, I updated my IPod for new NPR stories (Yup, that's what one does when they turn grey) and I heard This American Life "The Problem We All Live With - a story of Normandy, Missouri, and the the 2013 integration of 1,000 students into Frances Howell schools. As I walked by homes and let Glamis do her squatting thing, I found myself infuriated by the story, inspired, hopeful, and then angry once again. I immediate came home to share the story with many I know only to learn that this was a re-aired story, and the original came out in 2015. I felt like I was slighted and tardy in hearing this program. It is, after all, what my mind thinks about every day.

Why the segregation in the 21st century? How is it that schools in the northeast are not as integrated as the ones I knew in Louisville? Why can't every place be like the Brown School?

Then, there's the Rockwell painting: a young, African American girl being escorted by U.S. marshall to get an equitable education while tomatoes are thrown at her and racial slurs are etched on the walls. It seems like such hatred it that of history books, but as Nikole Hannah Jones makes clear in her reporting, the hatred lurks in all of our communities, even now. This hatred, too, has been released from all the chains that once sealed it in because of this year's toxic presidential election. Out of the woodworks, the venom is being spit once again.

Yesterday, after my students and I discussed working with young people at Bassick High School, Maxine Green's notion of contexts and caring, Freire's command that a teacher must love, and Rizga's celebration of diversity in Mission High, we listened to "The Problem We All Live with Together." My university is primarily White, affluent and secluded from the diversity that is the United States. As I played the audio, I wondered if there'd be off-color reactions to the story or challenges to the reporting. I filled up three, single space pages of notes and I realized my students did the same. When the story ended, they all exhaled and admitted, "That was heavy." I agreed and said, "Let's just go around the room and offer a statement of thought about what you just heard.

  • The report caused a lot of anxiety in me, but I teared up and had hope when the teachers at Frances Howell welcomed the students bused to their school with cheers and celebration, countering the hatred the parents spewed,
  • The systems we live with work extra hard to segregate and keep communities apart, 
  • It scares me that this is so common and that we still haven't learned,
  • The answer is simple: integration. It's not an easy switch, but it works. 
  • The system continues to keep White and Black communities separated. 
  • Young people do not share the anger or hatred of their parents.
  • Young people pick up on the anger and hatred of their parents.
  • The one thing that mattered to Michael Brown's mom is that he finished his education. Although Normandy was a horrible experience, he finished,
  • I grow anger for those that are so unsympathetic. 
  • Students have voices and need to be heard. 
  • It breaks my heart to hear the broken hearts of children who want a chance. What if it was your child?
  • Why haven't Superintendents been able to turnaround failing districts and schools? 
  • Government talks out of both sides of their mouths (incidentally, while we had these conversations, it was released that Obama's administration announced that student's test scores in K-12 schools will now be used to rate, judge, and reprimand Schools of Education at Universities - with the consequence that teaching in high-risk districts will be discouraged because those scores will reflect poorly on teaching programs),
  • Can learning and education ever be truly colorblind? 
  • How do we fight the apartheid? The lack of resources.
100% of the young people in my course were appalled that this story was just being introduced to them today. Some admitted that their families paid college consulters to help them get into college because it was the norm - perfect schooling and perfect grades were the way of the schools, and they never thought that there were alternative experiences. 

I wrote in my journal that I sometimes feel like a traitor leaving the urban classroom, and I wonder if I can make a better difference at the college level  (when we know there needs to be stronger teachers in our schools). Of course, as a strong teacher in school the obstacles are tremendous when one considers the systemic problems of testing, force curriculum, and student-excluded pedagogy. 

I recommend listening to the radio show linked above. And I wonder what can be done next. That's what will keep me up for the next few weeks. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Writing Our Lives With Ubuntu and The Inspiration of Rick Shaefer's REFUGEE TRILOGY, NWP Radio Schedule For Tonight

Yesterday was a magical day uniting several wonderful human beings from southern Connecticut: youth, teachers, artists, curators, and writers who were involved in a special collaboration during the 2016 Invitational Leadership Institute at Fairfield University. In short, our programs served 200 young people, 15 new teacher leaders, and the inspiration of Rick Shaefer's work that is now on display at the Walsh Gallery.

Art begets art. Story inspires story. Writers write to connect.

Akbaru and Juma met me after they participated with undergraduate students of Fairfield University throughleadership of Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, Political Science, and a service learning course. The three of us hung out in my office for a while and rehearsed what they might say when interviewed on National Writing Project radio. They were nervous, but they are at the heart of the Ubuntu work that currently drives the collaborations, partnerships, and creativity of our programs. (I didn't know hot flashes came to individuals so young...but I understand the fear of public speaking. I shared many of my stories where anxiety has caused me to sweat!)

One and two years in the country, Akbaru and Juma are already putting their words and stories onto the American landscape.

In the house, too, was teacher Dave Wooley of West Hill High School in Stamford, and Ubuntu educators Jessica Baldizon and William King, of Cesar Batalla K-8 and Bassick High School. They were part of the bigger story, as well as Carey Mack Weber of the Fairfield University Art Museum and, of course, Rick Shaefer, the artist who inspired all the work.

We recorded late last night and now we sit back and await the premier of the show at 7 pm tonight (I will get home just in time from teaching to see how everything pulled together).

I'm forever thankful to the influence of National Writing Project, the wonderful kids who I'm fortunate to work with, and the awesome teachers who find their way to CWP-Fairfield. Today, a special shout-out to Tanya Baker for inviting us to be guests not the show.

I am, because we are. The community surround this project is everything.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Stealing Like Teacher Artists (Thanks @AustinKleon) and Wola! Solid Writing from Beginning Teachers @fairfieldu Just Like That

I have a terrible tendency to push a metaphor as far as I can. It's not that I push it like Salt-n-Pepa, necessarily, but I do extend it with props, humor, a Target credit card, and the multiple intelligence that famous scholar Howard Gardner seemed to neglect, humor.  I've had copies of Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist in my library for years (because those who know me buy it for me saying, "You need to read this book!"). Yet, I've never made the time to read it or to learn from his expertise.

Knowing I'm an academic and I'm always reading something, I seldom have time for reading the books given to me (Yuck! It's disgusting, right?), So, I decided I'd do something that would guarantee I would finally read the gift. I assigned Kleon's book in a graduate seminar on teaching writing in 3rd - 12th grade!


The thievery quickly began.

The purpose of this post is not to rewrite everything that Austin Kleon shares in his confessional, yet to acknowledge how his useful, advice book (nicely coupled with Ralph Fletcher's The Writer's Notebook, Kelly Gallagher's Write Like This, and Graham, MacArthur, and Fitzgerald's Best Practices in Writing Instruction) helped me to achieve my purpose in a graduate seminar. I simply shout out to the universe (and Austin Kleon if he finds this haphazard post), to say "Thank You."

In my graduate course this semester I have in-practice teachers, students fresh into a graduate program, professional writers, English as a Second Language teachers, scientists and mathematicians. Knowing my audience and their diverse needs from such a course has been tricky. Still, the notion of 'thieving as thinkers' and 'reading as writers' has been the commonality we all can share. Stealing like a n Artist, now, is a mantra. Since the beginning of the semester, I've used a notion of thieves as a major symbol for the work we are unraveling together:  we are thinking about writing in mathematics, thinking about writing in comic strips, thinking about writing for AP Lit exams, thinking about writing to provide information, etc. The key - and this is a National Writing Project key - is to read as writers!

It seems to be working, too.

Last night, my students and I read poems written and/or promoted by poet Jack Powers, as well as models from my buddy Kwame Alexander's books. With folded arms, goose steps, pouting lips, and a few tantrums from content-area teachers I learned that many of my students (who are adults) do no write poetry, cannot write poetry, do not get poetry, and resist poetry at all costs. Having to write poetry late on a Tuesday night was, to them, like having their individual finger nails peeled off phalange by phalange.

Yet, bring in best practices, Kelly Gallagher, Austin Kleon, Ralph Fletcher, and models from my friends and guess what? The room of graduate students suddenly achieved a series of on-the-spot poems that replicated the points being made. They were embarrassed to share (so shy), but I was in awe of what everyone could write in 10-15 minutes. They got it, and better yet, I hope they will replicate it in their own teaching.

Some blacked out poems while others wrote in two voices. A few looked at narrating a sports poem while others explored location and dates. We had models. We deconstructed them. We discussed what every poet was doing in their work. Then we stole. We borrowed. We thieved. We reconstructed.

They wrote.

I should share, too, that in my courses students kick off the evening, one by one, with a writing prompt they design. The student that opened things up last night did a clever activity where she handed everyone paint templates (colors with exotic names you can pick up at any Home Depot for free) and then made us draw from a hat a particular fairy tale she divided on thin slips of paper. Her directions were to rewrite the tale we pulled from the hat using the colors on our template.

I picked out Little Red Riding Hood, although my hues were purple and blue (I rifted on the fact that all of us are idiots, thanks Shakespeare, and that Mother Goose and the Grim Brothers really set out to write Little Hyacinth Flower Hoodie Girl, but it was too much of a mouthful). The writing exercise was fun and my student proved the point! All stories have been written, but the creative storyteller finds an innovative, new way to redesign a story (or genre) so it connects with a modern generation to communicate something original (which all of us are).

Ah, it's Wednesday and I need to prep for another radio show. (Hmmm, can I steal like a radio announcer?). Feeling good about my students at Fairfield University and loving the addition of Austin Kleon to my course, I am loving the masks I found at Targets (bulk, too) and the mustaches that completed the metaphor. We were thieves. We stole.

But onward, I must go! Happy mid-week, everyone.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Monday, a Holiday, Was Going Well, So I Took the Canine Up to Big Ys for a Car Ride and Then All Hell Broke Loose

There have been suspicions that Glamis, the Wonder Dog, likes to jump up on counters to steal food. She's not done this at my house, but she has done it when visiting friends. We've wondered if it was her or other dogs, but Sunday night I got confirmation it was Glamis. She leapt up and ate a stick of butter. I knew it was there one second and then it was gone the minute I turned my head. The next morning on the walk my guess was confirmed. She did a perfect Butter Poop (if there's such a thing - all was normal except the color looked rather on the corn-on-the-cob side).

I put it on the agenda to get more butter and to also get a butter dish (the first I've ever had). With a cover, she's less likely to do damage.

On our way to get butter (and a dish) on Columbus Day, I also gathered up the shoes and clothing that Chitunga and I have piled up for charity. I figured, why not kill two birds with one stone and drop the clothes off at the bin that sits in the same parking lot as the grocery. Gleams was in the back seat and a little jammed with all the extra materials, but she was a good sport. While loading the bin, however, she jumped out of the car and wouldn't get back in. Nope. It became the game of, "Uh, Oh. I don't think now is a good time to be out of the car," and instead of getting back in, she ran away afraid I was going to yell.

Now Glamis will always gallop five feet from where I am, but she won't come near me. An elderly man stopped his car watching the ordeal and tried to help. She raised her hair at him and ran further. When I got in the car to drive away, she followed, but I knew there was no way we'd make it six miles back home. The elderly guy kept trying to get her on a leash he made with rope from his car and I decided to start running around the parking lot. She followed. Of course, when I stopped, she'd run away again. I tried to run into a the lobby of a closed bank, but she wouldn't follow me there, so I kept running. 45 minutes we did this, laps around the Big Y with her chasing me, but not getting close enough for me to get her. I think all in the lot were getting a big kick out of my frustration.

Finally, I laid in the field by the car and pretended to cry. This worked, but I think it was because she was tired from the run. I got her collar and put her back in.

Then I got my butter, but they didn't have a butter dish, so I went to Home Goods. I found one there, but also saw a clearance bin of dog toys (couldn't resist because it was cheap) and also saw a print that was too cheap to pass up. After the chase, I started thinking about the days Baby used to run like that in Syracuse. The kicker was the print was manufactured by a company called My Dog Got Away. I took it as a sign.

I put together the display for today's blog to remind me that when Mondays get to be Mondays, I can sometimes be laid back and Saturday. I'm holding the Octopus, however, until I can reward her, but she knows it's in the house. She's been whining and looking at the cabinet I've stored it in since we got home.

This isn't a Marley and Me novel, but it's an essay-like version. Dogs are great to have, but sometimes they are so infuriating. It's hard to guess their nature and what will work to get them on your side.

And with that, I'm off for a long day.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Moment When An Epiphany Arrives. It's the Blob and That Is Why I Am So Anxious. Childhood Fear.

One of my earliest memories of being freaked out by a film (beside the Peanuts cartoon when Snoopy ran away from Charlie Brown and didn't come home) came to me when I was in first or second grade and my sisters and I were visiting my grandparents in Sherburne, New York. I don't have a lot of specific memories with my grandpa Ken, but I do remember the time he took me for a walk on Main Street to calm my nerves down. I'm not sure if we discussed my anxiousness or the fact that I was disturbed, but I know he sensed a fear within me and he walked me down the street to get an ice cream cone.

I'm unclear on where my grandmother was, or my parents - I'm not even sure if my sisters were with me. I vaguely remember that Dusty, our dog, was in the room when my grandfather and I settled down to watch a rerun of the 1958 film, The Blob. Something about the old man taking a walking stick to poke the egg-like apparatus that eventually oozed out gelatin that crept up the twig he used launched an acute anxiousness in my little mind's way of knowing. I watched the entire movie (and it wasn't as hot as I found the Attack of the 50 Foot Woman). Nope, The Blob petrified me and I didn't like the way it consumed all it encountered, sucking it into its membranes.

Fast forward to 2016 and a brief 'catching-up' textual exchange with Dr. Tonya Perry of the University of Alabama. She was describing that this year's election has sort of been like a blob oozing its way across the nation. At that moment, I realized that the anxiety that film caused me as a kid is similar to the eerie feelings I've had watching the political discourse this year as its meanders towards the White House.

Something has fed this oozing and it continues to get bigger and bigger. I know that this something is fear and hate, and I'm reluctant to blame those caught in its movements or the ones proclaiming the deplorable nature of those who support it. There has never been an 'us vs. them' ideology in my thinking. Rather, it's all of us on the same voyage responsible to one another. The very fact that a monstrosity has grown to the enormous magnitude that it has is the result of several generations ostracizing groups of people along the way. These people are looking for an alibi to explain their struggles and concern and I'm afraid the smarminess of the educated class has done little to appease them. In fact, I believe it has alienated them more.

I watched the Town Hall debate worrying that the very dispositions that perplex me, anger me, and rile me up, are the same ones that others find attractive. It's like a Rowling's text, "Voldemort is back." The Death Eaters have rebranded themselves with tattoos of distrust, shaming, and contempt. I wouldn't be uneasy with the rolling blob of animosity, except that there are so many who seem to be captivated by it.

I realize that the ways my blood has been moving through my body (flight or fight) is a result of the 2016 Blob that is on all our news stations and televisions, and in every break room and restaurant conversation.

Hate is real in the United States and divisions within the democracy have not been conjoined for resolutions (Gosh, Trump even acknowledged a divided nation and seems to prey on it), but left to fester in this troubling time (is it the result of the demographic reality that our country is more diverse than ever before and that the immigrants of yesteryear do not look like the ones arriving now?). I'm hoping to be optimistic, but The Blob scares me...not so much for the immediate effects it would inevitably have on the worlds I interact with, but on the total history of this nation and what it was theoretically devised to represent.

Only time will tell, and for now I'm traveling uneasy. We need to do better. I'm simply trying to figure out a way to do this. Watching the debate, I simply became frightened at the fact that there is support for the behaviors, remarks, and language that is being used. Frightening, indeed.

It's Phillip Roth's book, Plot Against America.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Became "Husband For Rent: Yesterday to Help Out Friends With Various Tasks. Earned Myself Corn Fritters. I Win

I can be coerced into anything and, really, all it calls for is a dinner or maybe a six back. "Can you help me transport these items?" "I need yard work done." "Would you be able to help me store some items in my basement?" "How would you like to pave my driveway, tile my roof, and rewire my upstairs?"

Yesterday, I painted the basement floor of a friend's home with Chitunga in tow. We were awarded with Corn Fritters with maple syrup and sausage. Bonus. I haven't had Corn Fritters in several years (and they are one of my favorite meals).

Truth is, I also like to paint. I usually like a day to prep, a morning to etch along the floorboards and ceiling, and then an evening of filling in the rest. We did pretty well, and from 2:30 until 5:30 we managed to tackle an entire basement. It ended up looking good and it was over in time to catch a few football games on the tube.

And I have to admit that I've been craving Maple Sugar Candy. I don't want a lot, but just a bite to bring me back to my childhood and the the rich, sugary intense sweetness that it offers. I think the Corn Fritters kicked that in gear.

Rainy morning, cloudy afternoon, and Presidential debate. Looks like a Sunday (and Tunga's going to an aerobics class and a Six Flags - a friend of his is teaching her first class and afterwards they're going to celebrate that she was licensed...Something tells me that a video of Chitunga doing aerobics would be one for America's Funniest Home Videos...$5 dollars to they who tape him).

Saturday, October 8, 2016

To Me, Autumn Tastes Like Apple Crisp, Vanilla Ice Cream, Conference Preparations and Samuel Adams Octoberfest

You know you're an adult when you get off work on a Friday night, come home, walk the dog, run the dish washer, load the washing machine, and head to get items at the grocery store necessary to survive the three-day weekend holiday. Yes, this included coffee, Sriracha sauce, tooth paste, milk, juices, and cereal. I didn't need to buy Octoberfest because I did that a few weeks ago.

Then, settling in for the evening, you pull out your bag of ungraded materials, open a bottle and dig in to what's been on the mind of students and the possible feedback that can be given to push their accomplishments along.

Gone are the days of night clubs, restaurants, and high school Friday night events. In replacement, essays, proposals, data, reflections, and unanswered emails.

And Octoberfest. There's a need for the flavor of Fall, where the nights get shorter, the bed calls louder, and the agenda seems fuller.

Kudos to Samuel Adams for this brew and their ability to put a little flavor into the reality that in the world of education, education never seems to take a break. The 6 pm news of Mathew, female degradation made by Presidential hopefuls, the strange support for Presidential hopefuls who degrade females that seems to have a larger portion of voting society, and the conflicts in Syria have me thinking that an Octoberfest will taste that much better. It doesn't change much, but it does put a good flavor into the soul amongst the craziness and deadlines.

Good Morning, Saturday. We're off!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Who We Are Together. Extending Service Learning in an Undergraduate Course @FairfieldU. @akbar_offishio #Special

“Bryan, I’m not used to seeing my kids smile. They come in and have stone faces. They need to be hard as a rock to survive in this school. They do not enjoy learning here. Yet look at them. They stayed after school. These kids came back. They want to achieve. They’re here at 4:30. And they’re smiling. They’re laughing. I’m seeing their teeth. This is amazing. These kids are talking and it means the world to me that so many of them are getting ears that are listening to them.” - Mr. King

Yesterday, I brought a group of undergraduate students to work with young people from Ubuntu Academy during their regular school year. Most of the kids are in beginning ESL and, yet, several alumni of the academy heard we were coming and stayed after school, too. They knew I'd bring pizza (after all, I said I'd reinvest the President's Innovation Award into the world to pay it forward). 

Seriously, I wrote my undergraduates and said, "This is everything we're reading in all these fancy books I'm assigning you. What these scholars are writing about, we're making happen. We are working in the community to put scholarship in action and to authenticate all the academic inequities we read about. Better yet, we are investing in each other. 

A human being is made a human being through being with other human beings. 

As I was leaving, one of the Ubuntu students ran up to me to share a poem he and my Fairfield University undergraduate co-wrote together from our first night of exploring educational philosophies as a team. I post it here because this summarizes everything. Akbar's only been in the country for a year and yet he's co-writing poetry with Julia! (And this wasn't assigned. They simply made this happen).

A Place We Make Our Own
by Akbar R. Niyonkaru (Bassick High School) and Julia Cascio (Fairfield University)
October 6, 2016.

It is a good time
             not for me (only)  
    but for who we are (together)

learning what she likes
             learning what I like, too.

We are different.
             We are compatible.
             But whole.
We share a smile.
             A symbol of happiness.

             It can be anywhere.
A place we make our own.
             The noise within.
Where we find comfort.
             Where we find strength.

      Where we find love.

The world.
             Time is short.
But it is beautiful.
             And our days shine extraordinary.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Light of the Moon Is More Special Than Its Ever BeenBefore. @jlmageezer is the Reason

Yesterday, a glimmer from the Class of 2005 of the J. Graham Brown School sent me a note on Facebook to say that today, this morning, the Class of 2017 will be walking to the first floor on the corner of 1st and Muhammad Ali to be partnered with another crop of lil' ones.

One variation of the story as it came to be can be found in the poem written many "moons" ago: The Story of All Stars and Moonbeams.

TODAY THE SENIOR MOONBEAMS GET THEIR KINDERGARTEN PARTNERS - THE FIREFLIES! IT IS A MAGICAL DAY INDEED (and somewhere theres a poem about this, too, but I haven't found it).

Jesse was hired as an English teacher at the Brown, her alma mater, and was tasked with the senior class (with all the senioritis that typically comes with the territory - seniors, if you're reading this make note that this year, your final year, is extremely important to your trajectory in life. Take advantage of it and know, what is today, will not be tomorrow. Carpe Diem).

Jesse also receive the AnERip book award with David Harvey during her senior year, a gift bestowed on the funk, spunk, punk, wit, hard work, poetry and creativity that is the school.

I'm so proud to know she's representing the next generation of the Brown School mission and its shared values.

Ah, but her message on Facebook grayed my hairs a little more. All Stars from my day are now Brown School graduates and I contacted the teacher of Fireflies, Barb Doyle, to say, "We have great grandkids together (Class of 2029? Am I right? Oh, Man).

Jesse put an all call on Facebook and suddenly Moonbeams of yesteryear started recalling their experiences with the youngest readers, writers, and thinkers in the school. For a decade, I spent Wednesdays with my senior classes and their little buddies in a wide variety of ways. I think of those days as extra, extra special - the family at the school is irreplaceable.

I am thinking of the Brown this morning and wishing everyone the glow of stars, fireflies and moons. There is a responsibility to such light and I hope they find it; somehow I know they will.

Jesse's got this!