Just Saying 2018

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.

Outlines

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

Stokely Poem

“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.

Of Titans and Pillars

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…

Mentalcize


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…

A Different Kind of ET

One of my greatest memories as a kid was watching Hee-Haw with my grandfather. I’m sure he was watching for the country music (maybe not, I was only 7), but I also remember him laughing quite a bit, so he must have been into the whole show. In this day of so much impersonal and predictable programming on the radio, I’ve been so happy to find a voice that has made listening to the radio Hee-Hawesque, which means fun (and maybe even fun for my grandfather…except he passed away a long time ago, but who knows, you know what I mean…).

So, here is my first full fledged recommendation. I reserve the right to pull it back if Eldon ever wins the Tour de France and is found to have been using steroids. There must be standards, you know.

Alright, The Eldon Thacker Show is a must listen for a few reasons. First, the music is authentic. The format of the show could be called Americana, but I think that might be too limiting. Eldon seems to reach for songs that cover whatever genre he feels like playing. The variety makes listening an adventure, like a box of something other than chocolates. Country, rock, old school R&B, blues, they are all there for the listening. Playlists are published to his web page, but you must speak Thacker to find them, so look for the Yammerin’ tab. In fact, just this week on Show-190, Lefty Frizzell and Aretha Franklin joined with Black Prairie and Crow Moses to give the show some old and some new. Yet all of it was tight and fresh because each of these artists are under represented on today’s mainstream air waves.

Second reason to listen..? The show is funny. There is a feel to the comedy skits that is Laugh In or WKRP in Cincinnati. While that might seem old to some, imagine clean humor with plenty of double entendre. The jokes are good corny, seem to shoot for common, as in everyday situations (What’s not funny about fart jokes?), but are done with taste, and sophisticated wit, so I’m not afraid to listen with my family. Good, clean fun

Finally, Eldon is just as authentic as the music he plays. I get the sense from listening to the shows that he sincerely believes in his self-described role as “music preservationist.” Now, that’s a big title, but he seems to relish his opportunity to go Indiana Jones on the music industry. Eldon talks of new artists with the right amount of promotion and respect while he holds older artists with a reverence appropriate for their contributions to music history. I don’t get the sense Eldon is in it for any reasons other than fun, providing a varied and independent voice to music programming, making sure music is heard not lost, and maybe he needs to feed some deep rooted idiocy or lunacy, something we should all do more often.

Please go check out the Eldon Thacker Show and find out for yourself. The show airs live Sunday nights at 10pm Central Time on 1510 WLAC-AM. You can also catch the replays at EldonThacker.com (my Monday choice), or listen via wlac.com. 

Anyway, enjoy…

Scaling My Instruction

I used to work in an adventure program for inner city kids hoping to learn skills that would lead them to college. Our program was intense and our facilitation philosophy was just as intense. We gave very little feedback and tried to focus the kids on self-reflection. There was even a sort of kangaroo court if one of the facilitators gave too much feedback. On those occasions when the discussion became more about the facilitator and less about the participant we would flash three fingers over our foreheads indicating an, “Enabler.”

There were times when the style seemed inadequate.

I tried to use the same style in my job as an elementary school teacher. Nope, the thinking brain wasn’t there yet. I tried it again when I moved to middle school. The results were mixed, but any success was due to a reliance on me kick starting a discussion. I struggled with what I perceived as my over involvement rather than recognizing that my guidance was necessary and not enabling. Now I’m in high school and I’ve evolved. High school is a challenge and the reality is that I need to be in tune with the individual needs of my students. I need to know who can handle the “isolation” of my adventure style of facilitating. I also need to know who needs more attention, be it instruction or coaching. Sometimes addressing a student’s mechanical issues is enough for that student. On other occasions that same student might need me to cheer them on or recognize a great effort they just put out.

One style is not enough. One way may not reach the masses.

Recently, I embarked on a journey to become a CrossFit trainer. My first class shadowing was really interesting for it was the first time I got to see the other athletes working out and it had been a long time since I coached adults. Quickly, I found that they are just older kids. Some want to be left alone. Some need constant attention and praise. Some need more instruction. And others need all of it. Therein is what CrossFit training/coaching is all about; finding what each person needs to make them feel successful, keep them improving, and building the relationship between a coach and athlete that thrives on the needs of the athlete.

Hopefully the kids in my summer program got all they needed to reach their academic goals. Hopefully my students in elementary and middle school were able to grow as my style evolved. As I pay better attention to the needs of my high school students, I believe they are accepting my more flexible style better. They relationships are stronger, the conflicts less, and their successes greater.

My goal as a CrossFit trainer is to continue to get better. Keeping the needs of my athletes is the first priority. A close second is making sure I step out of my coaching weaknesses so I can address the needs of those I coach. It’s not going to be easy, but they deserve it.

All of them…

A Backlash Against Present Day Schooling

Down to five
We try to make sense of education
One day at a time
Their need to be held accountable
Is something more than
Academics and politicians can measure
These students are so diverse
Yet they are being packed
Into a mainstream curriculum
That can’t serve them well enough
They need to learn that their abilities
Are enough for them
To succeed
Beyond a test or assessment
With that mythical Phoenix inter-rater reliability
One has CP
Another autism
One dropped out for a year
Another lived alone for a year
The last dances
Only in school when the moves are right
So damn your tests
Because something is happening
With these kids
They are doing homework
And talking about enjoying their assignments
Because they have expectations
And their intentions are translating
Into consistent actions
That are leading to greater success
Created by them
To see my motor challenged student
Struggle to hold a ball
While we discuss the homeless kid’s
Shin anatomy after he fell
Doing box jumps for his homework
Is more practical and more purposeful
Than all this other bull shit we are asking students to do
My five friends have shown me the value
Of extemporaneous teaching
For each is getting what they need
And providing me the energy
To weave the curriculum into their lives
In a way that just isn’t possible in the large classes
Where I have to worry about the mountains
Of insidious paperwork that measures my effectiveness
So damn your teacher effectiveness studies too
Because I’ve thrown out everything I was taught
Except the part about making education
Personal
Relevant
About the kids
Fun
Everything that is being lost in the race to some top
That nobody can get to
Or in the negotiations for contracts
And rubrics that enable students to quit
Thinking
Nope that’s not what’s happening
In my seventh period
We are learning
We are learning about each other
We are gesturing boldly
And proclaiming proudly
That learning is not school
And schools are killing learning
So each day
We shut the door
And relate their challenging lives
To the quest of understanding health
But more importantly
To understanding themselves

Product Please

“Do you gel it or struggle with the poof?”

Not really the question
I wanted to hear
As the stylist took hold
Of the first chunk of hair to cut

“Gel, no struggle,” I answered.

And then I questioned him
About his NRA bag
Which he evidently felt
Was like my hair without gel
So he turned it around to hide the logo

Funny how we were both sensitive
To something so personal
Mine, a genome outlier full of gray and attention
His, a deeply felt right
Valued in the air of liberty.
My hair says so much about my vanity
His bag pontificating so much about his America
Both needlessly managed
By each of our insecurities

I should feel comfortable
Rocking a style somewhat like cotton candy
If others don’t like my hair
Off with their heads
He should feel comfortable
Sporting his NRA bag
Even when they do obstruct
Simple solutions with fear based ammo
But that’s just my opinion
So off with my head, right?

Maybe the NRA could advocate for my coif
Of course there would need to be a cow lick clip limit.

Nope, they wouldn’t be that crazy

Fictionalism

Over the last few months I have been thinking quite a bit about spirituality and religion. After a long while of prodding from my longest friend, I joined Facebook and started reconnecting with some of my old classmates from high school. What amazed me was how many of my friends had become so openly religious. I must admit that I was a little shocked and put off enough to leave Facebook. However, I was more amazed at my reaction to my classmates’ turn to faith. Why should I care?

I’ve always been one to wonder about religion. For some reason I took to the “empirical” bug, but as I have aged, and hopefully become wiser, I’ve been able to think less judgmentally about matters of faith. I have a real curiosity about the intellectual side of faith, but have always wrestled with the dogma of organized religion. As the year ended, I decided to explore different relationships between what seem to be competing constructs. For example, in January, I am exploring the relationship of faith and skepticism. In reading, I happened upon an idea called fictionalism, which is basically described as sticking to something without any evidence to the contrary.

Fictionalism sure seems like it fits religions and skeptics. Does that make both a faith? Just keep believing what you will, think about how your beliefs impact others and be nice to people who are different than you. Maybe I should check out Facebook again…

All rights reserved-Chris Hancock
All rights reserved-Chris Hancock