Friday, May 27, 2016

Where I Stand...

A few weeks ago I finished year one of my PhD program in Social Foundations of Education. Yes, I am still standing. Yes, I really enjoyed it. No, I don't know when I'm finishing.

Intellectually I can't begin to explain my growth. No seriously, I tried to explain my evolution and, well, let's just say I've had better posts. Perhaps that is the point. The waters are messy. The world of education is utterly complex. We have to learn which battles mean the most to us. We have to ask better questions. We have to find joy in the search. A year of books, conversations, classes, teachers, articles, conferences, students, partners, and writing gave me that insight.

Where am I moving? Below is an (incomplete) narrowing of topics that currently interest me:

How am I going to spend my summer?
  • With my wife and new daughter, Irie
  • Traveling to visit family and friends
  • Submitting an article on space, the IB, and my observations as a practitioner
  • Submitting an article on the need for critical digital instruction for graduate students
  • Beginning a research project on immigrant policy and education in South Carolina
  • Studying for Qualifying Exams
  • Reading, reading, reading (suggestions?)

What's next?
  • Year 2
  • Teaching middle school social studies in South Carolina
  • Improving my Spanish and passing a praxis to be certified in foreign language teaching
  • Working and learning with more great people 
  • I finished a second draft of a book about my teenage years working in farm labor and attending private schools - I have no clue what to do next with it...

If Education is the Key, Then School is the Lock

Image Source: User Stevepd,

I noticed this quote scribbled among others running up and down my student’s arm. I get this because I too used to doodle all over my hands and arms. The nuns would glance over to a whole sleeve of ink and yell at me to wash it off. “We are going to call your mother!” That was eighth grade. My student is in sixth.

I am not alarmed. Kids do this stuff. I turned out okay. I was, however, struck by the profound nature of the quote. The words meant something to the kid. Quite the mature observation, I thought. I asked her about it. I told her that I kinda agree with her. Sometimes we do a lousy job. I get it. I tried to spark a discussion, but she wasn’t interested. She said she made the words up (she probably didn’t).

 The student was trying to say something. It was her way of silent protest. She is smart enough to understand the quote. She is smart enough to know that this whole school thing is a game she is currently not interested in playing. I know this. Some students really don’t like school. It is not hard to understand why.

The student is brilliant, but struggles to complete assignments and turn in work. She is not motivated by the random facts and figures crammed down her head. She loves music. She loves to draw. She loves to analyze. She loves to discuss. She wants to create.

I try to think of assignments that interest her. She spent a month working on a Pokemon comic that explained Plato’s cave. Pretty awesome, I’d say, but then the next month she plugged in her ear phones and listened to music I wish I was cool enough to know.

A few weeks ago, we designed an independent self-study of the Renaissance. By self-study, I mean we found a bunch of Renaissance era music (luckily my advisor has a passion for obscure instruments), and she tasked herself with recreating some tracks on Garageband. This is something I can’t do, but she could. I let go, checked in with her, and tried to provide any material resources I could. I trusted her. What she was doing didn’t look, feel, or even sound like school. She was momentarily free to break the locks schools create.

It was a great moment when some of the faculty listened to her song.

Many years ago, I would have claimed to save this student. Look what I did. I knew how to get through to her. I made her successful. What hubris. Hollywood builds up education to reinforce this savior complex. One constructed on pointing out student weaknesses and deficits, jumping on desks, being super passionate, and waving a magic wand. It’s our job to save kids. We’re superheroes after all. Except that we are aren’t. It doesn’t work like that.

She was the one with the talent, passion, and skill. She had strengths usually guarded under lock and key. I tried to honor her by removing the locks, albeit briefly. This is about care and love.

Care and love must continue even as the same student returns to listening to music in the back of my class, refuses to do notes, or scribbles quotes on her arms during my ‘brilliant’ teaching and ‘magical’ class.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Moving Along a Cotinuum and Dealing with Changing Ideas

I recently posted a piece called (Please) Don't Call Me a Flip-Flopper on The goal of the piece was to work out how a public writer or blogger deals with changing and evolving beliefs. I tried to express my anxiety about confronting beliefs that I once wrote publicly about, but am now rethinking. The responses to the piece proved most helpful in clarifying my own thinking on writing in public. Most helpful was Alex Acton's suggestion of a continuum of beliefs, rather than dichotomous choices. I have posted my responses to a few people because I think it shows what I was trying to communicate originally. I also post to my original piece below.

I very much appreciate your response. It can be difficult for me to express my evolving thinking in the space of a post. Sometimes what is going on in my head comes out a bit different on paper. The process of expressing my thoughts and ideas in public helps me process and clarify my attitudes and beliefs. Your response communicated (and put into clearer language) what I was trying to say. Your use of continuum vs flip-flopping is a great descriptor of how we evolve in our thoughts and beliefs. Thanks for helping me better express what I hold to be true! 
Alex's original response to my post

Thanks for responding Charles. I appreciate you taking the time to point out where I may be incorrect (or splitting unnecessary hairs). I think my overuse (or even use) of the term flip-flip didn’t really express what I was trying to get across. It set up a sort of dichotomous thinking I wasn’t trying to advance. Alex Acton used the descriptor of a continuum to describe how our thinking moves back and forth. I like this much better than some of the wording I used. Although I may have used politicians too heavily as an analogy, I would posit that they can very rarely show change on a continuum. That’s a problem.

I think part of publishing the piece is to acknowledge that writing in public (even if my audience is quite small) leaves a public record. I was trying to work out how one deals with this record of thought and opinion, especially when thinking evolves and changes. What has been awesome is hearing from people like you (and other responses). This has helped me clarify what I was trying to say and provide suggestions for continuing to write in public. 
Charles' original response to my post

Original Post: (Please) Don't Call Me a Flip-Flopper