How about when students do the right thing? Do we hear about that enough? No. We hear about the decline of civilization, the ruination of education, and the folly that is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Just once, no maybe all of the time, it sure would be nice to hear about the good that happens in this world. As I write, stories are circulating about the “alleged” corruption of the current administration. Yet all I want to think about is the great practice my team had today, the wonderful choice that a student made, or the sincere regret a student expressed after making an unfortunate choice.

Hopefully, there can be some trickle-up morality for the adults running the show.

In my journal today, I wrote,
“Eff booster clubs.”
Not really, but I hope a wide audience will read this
And be offended,
Which might suggest
That I should have spelled out the offensive word…
Oh, I’m sorry, I did, booster…

Sports has become a money grab.
Sports has become an image authenticator.
Sports has become so out of balance
That I’m writing this agave style
And I still believe what I’m saying.

Sports is not about the gear.
Sports is about playing a game.

Fashion is for the runway,
Community chests are for the needy
And it’s gross the EXTRA amount of money the athletic fashionistas
Want to outfit a team.
Wouldn’t it be better to donate the money to charity
Rather than some new UnderNikeAddidas whatever wear.

When did sports lose any semblance
Of being something that teaches life lessons?
I suppose when the money grabbers,
Masking as protectors of the realm of sports insanity
Decided to put a fee on this or that
So their little son or daughter might look good
Playing an effing game.

You know what looks good? Skill. Sportsmanship. Competition.

And when did volunteer coaches start getting paid?
Do I not know what volunteer means?

Please know, I coach three sports.
I played three sports in high school.
I burned out on college sports about three weeks into it.
I was an average player in all my sports,
But I love what sports can do for a person.
I don’t love what sports are doing to people.
I loathe the fundraising, especially for the trivial
Or for the few.
Special jackets, special shooting shirts, special bullshit to me.
Volunteer coaches should know the deal coming in,
There aren’t getting paid out of the school’s coffers,
So why mine?
Again, I ask, what does volunteer mean?
Shouldn’t volunteers appreciate the thank you?
Isn’t that why they volunteered?

Or are they cashing in on the money pit that sports have become?

The harsh reality is that sports only pay off for a limited few.
Great, they earned it and whatever comes their way is kudos to them,
But for the rest of the families who are living in denial or
Sort of footing the bill for the other kids, I say,
Eff that.

I’d rather have a bunch of kids in awful uniforms
Learning to play together because they understood adversity,
Commitment, and hard work, rather than getting a spot on the team
Because they got to wear the most fly gear.

So my journal was right,
At least as how I see things,
One more time, quit asking me for money.
I paid already.

Last week, I did a post about my all-time favorite albums. The criteria were simple, I usually listen to the albums start to finish and I like them. This time around, I’m going for my favorite “Greatest Hits” albums. Honestly, I think greatest hits albums are a bit of rip, especially for groups that have them with very little to offer, but I’m a consumer, so I must be gullible. Hopefully, I’m not that way as a voter. I rest with a clear conscience after our last election…

Once again, feel free to share your greatest hits album favorites in the comments. I’ll check them out, but please play nice, I realize there may be limitations to my choices.

1. Chicago IX (Chicago): For me, it’s the summer of ’83 and I’m jamming with the windows open in my bedroom, the smell of boxwood shrubs outside, and a cool breeze coming off the James River before I head to Busch Gardens for work.

2. Crossroads (Eric Clapton): Don’t get snippy with me, it’s my list. I realize this is a box set, but if it had not be for this set, I might not be where I am today. If everything happens for a reason, I was meant to sit in my Philadelphia apartment listening to this for hours as I contemplated moving back to the South. Thank goodness for Sam Goody’s. Anyone for Tennis…

3. Dreams (Allman Brothers): Yada, yada, yada…I get it, you’re not a fan of box sets. See Crossroads… These two sets are my 1990-1991 year. Without them, who knows where I’d be.

4. Legend (Bob Marley and the Wailers): There is more to reggae than Bob, but I bet this album is the one the allowed all the other reggae artists to get paid. You can go wrong with any of the songs on this album and “Three Little Birds” might be my favorite. Many years after a reggae summer, I saw Ziggy Marley in concert. It was cool getting just a hint of the Bob vibe.

5. Eagles Vol. 1 (Eagles): My first album as a fifth grader was Already Gone. It was a gift from my sisterish aunt. The song, “Already Gone,” is one of those anthem songs for me. I think that the Eagles are the first band that I became aware of and this album is full of great songs. [Vol 2 came a little too soon for me. Okay, the more I think about, the more I think it should be on the list. Let’s include it without making it official.]

6. All the Great Hits (Commodores): After taking a rocket fuel ride in a lime green Monte Carlo, circa 1976, with Brick House blasting, I was a Commodores fan. I still wish Lionel Richie has stayed with them, but at least there’s this collection.

7. The Best of Earth, Wind, and Fire Vol. 1 (EWF): Nothing screams middle school like the Commodores and EWF. Where the Commodores faded away, EWF tightly held its grip on me. They are a big part of my second act and I once rode an escalator with one of the guys in the band. It was about twenty minutes before a show at the Borgota and I wasn’t sure, but when I saw him on stage, I knew. The energy of their show is awesome, just be prepared to stand up because everybody knows all the words and everyone wants to dance.

8. Greatest Hits 1974-78 (Steve Miller Band): All of my friends in high school had trucks. They were very different than the one I drive now as they only had the one bench seat. We would cram three or four into the cab and head down the road. All of my friends also had this album on cassette. We listened to it a lot. Thank goodness it’s a keeper.

So there you have it, eight greatest hits albums that left a lasting impression somewhere within my musical soul.

Oh, no, I forgot “Hooligans,” by The Who… It’s got to be on there somewhere…

List posts can be lazy or fun, it all depends on your perspective, I suppose. I’ve been in a music mind lately. My son, a guitar player, has me thinking about the rhythms of writing and how words can be musical or just abstract avenues to greater understanding. He and I also have been talking about what makes something interesting and I have to say, “I don’t know.” So, from him, I’ve got a music thing going.

An old high school friend reached out today and we messaged back and forth about Bonnaroo which was the focus of a recent post. He and I have not seen each other since maybe 1986-87, but music became a connection today as it did with a fellow blogger and super writer “Copper Cranes.”

While the vibes are high, I’m going to lay down my favorite albums. Not all of them were huge critical or commercial successes, but for whatever reason, they resonated with me. These are “start to finish” albums which means that I listen to them in full and without skipping any songs. There may be others, but for now, this is it. Feel free to add your own in the comments as I’m always looking out for albums I should check out.

Sorry, MT, I left Sting off the list, although that was a good show back in our college days.

1. The Way It Is, Bruce Hornsby: Bruce is a local guy for me and this first album has carried me through all these years. It’s serious, sentimental, and soothing. A great combination…

2. The Final Cut, Pink Floyd: Don’t kill me on this one, Floyd fans. I know that it doesn’t resonate with many, but I find the emotions to be deep and the story to be so important.

3. The Joshua Tree, U2: The second CD I ever owned (The Wall…). For me this album is about The Edge and his biting guitar. The more I listen to it, the better it sounds.

4. Yell Fire, Michael Franti and Spearhead: This album came to me at an important time in life. I would take long walks in the evening with this blasting on an iPod Classic. There was enough happy pop to mask the serious nature of the album so it could move me past angry yet satisfy my need to be “causey.”

5. No Alibis, Eric Clapton: I grew up in a southern museum town and moved to a major east coast city. To say that there was a little culture shock would be an understatement. Truth is, the city has taken over my heart and Clapton through many songs helped foster that change. This album, though, was there every day during that first year of urban living.

6. Born In the USA, Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band: There is so much to choose from with Bruce, Atlantic City and The Rising nearly making this list as well, but this album is about a 1976 maroon Pontiac Grand Prix and more high school shenanigans than my mother would want me to write about in a public forum.

7. On the Road, Lee Roy Parnell: My earliest years were spent in a small Texas town. Lee Roy is from that town and this album helped me break my phobia of country music. It’s the background noise to my writing of this post and as retirement gets closer I think about that “gold plated watch.”

As with any list, there will be criticisms, but remember, this is a “me” list and not some kind of statement as to the absolute nature of any of these albums. They all speak to me today, but the list could easily change tomorrow. (See LA Women, Hotel California, Sweet Baby James, Thriller, Kind of Blue…)

Wallow,
Wallow in your offensive,
Narrowminded existence
Of judgmental thinking.

Stay in your box
Threatened by the evolution
Of words, ideas, and culture
That goes on without
Your predetermined observations
On right or wrong.

I’m am offended by you,
The very idea that your brain
Is concrete hard,
Unable to accept a force without
Cracking, without dusting up,
Without limiting the lives
Of those open to possibilities,
Those not threatened by humor,
People unafraid to admit
This life thing,
As out of control as it is,
Should be appreciated as fresh,
Expansive, and liberating when
The iron bars, small boxes, and
Barbed wire are taken
From that prison block mentality
That you wish to place
On that which offends you.

You are a roadblock
To tolerance,
You are a wen needing a popping
With your lack of laughter,
Fear of the edge, and expectation
That we all stay within the lines
Of your boring butt coloring book.

Allow people to be,
Grow a pair, or
Shut up.

pexels-photo-94327

Trigger Warning: There is a bad word in this…

The time had come for me to take a unit test in a sixth grade Language Arts class. This was a big test for me because I thought I might have a chance to move to the back table with the coolest kids. Little did I know back then, but one would someday have a cool job working in a lighthouse up in Maine. Anyway, the test included a reading and then some comprehension questions. One of the tasks in the test was to make an outline about clouds.

I think I was already starting to dislike school. Maybe that sounds crazy since my whole career has been as a teacher, but it’s learning that I love, not school. On the outlining part of the test, I could not remember where the Roman numerals went and where the capital letters were supposed to go. My teacher kept sending the test back with directions for me to fix the outlines and I kept sending it back wrong. I’m sure that I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about the outlines. I didn’t care about the clouds. I only really cared about sitting with those guys in the back of the room. Finally, Mrs. K. gave in and let me move on to the next level. She also kept me in my desk near the front of the room.

Really?

I’ve thought about that day many times over the course of my career as a teacher. I thought about it a lot while I was working on my doctorate in education. During those Monday night classes where we debated that state of education in the context of creating change, I began to believe that we are missing the boat on education. As we are forced to squeeze more from students in the name of achievement and accountability and as we continue to force canned instructional programs on students for the sake of standardization and efficiency, we are losing the essence of learning. To learn is to have interest. To learn is to be passionate about something new. Learning is more than a college prep course, scripted instructional programs, or a one dimensional program focusing on some motivation inspired by industrial interests.

Recently, two former students talked to me about school in those terms. The first is a current high school junior who wants to be a physical therapist. She is working in an experiential program that has her paired with professionals in the field. She lit up when she talked about her opportunities to get practical experience before going to college. She also shared her disappointment at not being able to take fitness classes, because of all the other “academic” stuff she had to do. She felt like being in an environment where she was exercising and learning about how the body worked was more suited for her goals than learning about history. Names, dates, and the struggle for power…

I agree with her in principle. Core academic subjects are important, but how many of our students will use the content knowledge that is required in those courses? We miss the opportunity to link the content to life skills in meaningful and practical ways. For example, how often are students asked to write goals. While schools spend a great deal of time talking about students following their goals, we give them very little opportunity to follow them. Goal setting will continue to be nothing more than an academic exercise until students are allowed to pursue those goals and demonstrate commitment to achieving them. For my student, the traditional academic requirements are not necessarily meeting her needs. Too bad…

The second student graduated last year (2015) and I was fortunate to teach him for all four years in high school. When I asked him as a freshman if he was thinking about going to college he said, “I don’t have no time for fuckin’ college.” Instead of shutting him down for his language or telling him he would be closing doors if he didn’t go to college, I just said, “Cool,” and left it alone. He worked hard in my classes, helped other students succeed, took care of large family at home, and lived a social life straight out of Dazed and Confused. Today, he is landscaping and not regretting his decision at all. He does what he needs to do without giving in to the singleminded focus of college as the only path to success.

I love my job as an educator. Some would say that being a gym teacher is not really teaching (Try it, I dare you…). Health is an academic subject, but this is not about me trying to justify whether Health and Physical Education are important parts of a student’s learning. What this is about is whether we have the students’ best interests in mind or do we have the best interest of education in mind? I wonder about instructional programs that are based on shaky research practices. I fear that coercion is the tool that gets used to motivate students rather than finding positive ways of helping students find intrinsic motivators. Maybe the current model of success set for students and schools is unattainable because the logic of continuous improvement is flawed and I write cynically, schools are not allowed to succeed by politicians and the media (uh-oh…Am I running for office? Never.) Can we ever be satisfied when the goals are always changing? When will we be good enough? Remember, I love my job. Helping students learn to love learning is about the most satisfying thing there is for me as a teacher.

Please don’t confuse my criticisms of my profession as an indictment of my school. We are evolving into a building that values persistence, embraces innovation, and understands that an education can take many forms. There is an energy in my school that is shifting and it’s very exciting.

As for outlines, I’m not sure I ever made another outline after sixth grade. Check that, Mr. Yates’s history class in seventh grade was one serious outline. At least I only had to copy his outlines for notes. It obviously worked for him, but I can’t say the roller-overheads about the colonies or Thomas Hooker made more of a difference in my learning than if I had been allowed to format my own notes. Despite, or maybe because of, I like studying history. Names, dates, and the struggle for power… Clouds, though? When they are big and heavy it’s likely to rain or snow. That’s all I need to know.

 

Photo Credit: unsplash.com via Pexels

“There is a higher law than that of government. That’s the law of conscience.” -Stokely Carmichael

When systems are rigged
And the establishment is able to put forth
Actors following well defined scripts,
The people must speak.

When the actors are puppets
Spewing hate and telling the lies
Tapped out by the strings funding their candidacy,
The people must speak.

When the people
Have only an ability to follow
Blindly and with mouths sewn shut,
The people cannot speak.

When the people cannot speak,
Who will express the conscience
Of truth in our governors
Who seem unwilling to speak what the people seem to want?

Mankind is greater than the arbitrary collection
Of boarders and armies
That squash the voices of
People speaking for sensible leaders.

Perhaps the problem is speaking for leaders
Instead of acting with a proper conscience
That rises above the dogma
Spoken to us.

When we try to describe people who have been important to us, why is it that we must use the most dramatic words? Are people really titans or pillars? I guess that’s more a matter of vocabulary than anything else. Today, I was able to thank a couple of titans, pillars. Not really, they were my teachers and they were two of the best.

Many years ago, I entered a program thinking my career path would take me in one direction, but in the truest sense of what education should be, I learned more about me so that I would make decisions about my life that were informed, not blinded by a false sense of ambition. While it is a shame that it took until I got into a doctoral program to understand the bigger potential of education, I owe it to my former professors for presenting learning in a way that was meaningful, personal, and important.

So thank you Dr. Frazer and Dr. Svenning, you both showed me the relevance in gathering all of the information before making a decision, you both taught the importance of understanding a problem before proposing a solution, and you both made me love reading research with a critical eye.

I’ll always appreciate the wisdom that you both shared with me and I hope that I am able to pass it down to the students I’m working with. And just for the record, I don’t think titans are real, both of you most certainly are. Pillars just stand there, that’s not either of you. You are teachers, plain and simple.

The best…


Yes, I made up a word, mentalcize. If it’s already out there, I apologize. The last few days have brought an onslaught of thought about what it means to “live.” If you get a chance check out Chase Jarvis and his series “30 Days of Genius.”

As you can see from the map I did earlier, these talks have gotten into my head. That’s the idea, right? Besides the incredible perspectives his guests share and the way we get to see how Chase is making sense of his life, the black and white is mesmerizing. Maybe that sounds simple, but the b&w adds to the depth and focus of each interview.

If you check it out, drop me a comment, I’d be curious as to what you think. Even better would be dropping Chase a comment…