I lost my dad four years ago.  He was an exceptional teacher, a really good man, and one of my closest friends.  I have the annoying habit of playing DJ around friends and family.  Even during his last weeks of hospice, I put together little mixes of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, JJ Johnson and Kai Winding.  This spiritual reminds me of singing in choirs at Interlochen, but I also love the metaphor of campground.  Some place at home away from home. Some place you carry with you. Some place along the river of time where you stopped with the best people.  Some place perhaps more permanent than the brick you live in today.


“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”—E.L. Doctorow

A closer look: freedom

Despite the chest-thumping quality of Paul Ryan’s recent tweet, it begs a closer look.

“Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need. Obamacare is Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your needs.” – Paul Ryan, Feb 21.

  1. Bernie Sanders points out: “What good is the freedom to buy the health care you want if you can’t afford it?”
  2. Charles Gaba has noted, the point of health insurance is that you don’t know what your needs might be in the future.
  3. Choosing between healthcare and other critical expenses isn’t the kind of freedom that the majority of us desire.

But you have to admire the power of language, though, right?  He sounds like he is writing an elementary school poem:

  • Freedom is running down a hill
  • Freedom is …

And that’s the power of a politican’s rhetoric: making you wish away fundamental services because it will somehow make you more free.


Ownership of the anticipated rhyme

“Rhyming and echoing were important in preschool learning. Little ones find comfort in the patterns but also take some ownership of the anticipated rhyme.” – my mom

My mom and I were talking about gameplay today.  How a “get out of jail free” card makes you feel in Monopoly.  How learning and fun are constructed from (or at least always include) emotional echoes.  Surprises.  Recognition.  Comfort.  Relief.  Connection.  Ownership.  Resilience, etc..

In the movie, Witness, the Amish grandfather admonishes the boy: “What you put into your hand you put into your heart.”  Which might also be expressed as: What you put into your heart, you put into your hand.  When you feel, you participate.  When you anticipate, you engage.

Personal Helicon

As a child, they could not keep me from wells

And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

Seamus Heaney


What is learning like?

  • Content is discovered as belonging to a larger pattern
  • Skills are developed to interrogate specific content

How do teachers plan this?

  • They curate content by knowing patterns of content
  • They introduce relevant skills for specific content.

What happens to the student?

  • They discover content and the relevance of its pattern.
  • They don’t see the pattern and miss the content.
  •  They develop skills and its application to content.
  • They don’t develop skills and the content loses meaning.
  • They learn something else by accident.

How do you organize a classroom:

  • to let students discover content at their own pace?
  • to address moments when students miss the pattern of the content?
  • to let students develop skills at their own pace?
  • to address moments when students don’t develop the skill?
  • to increase happy coincidences when students learn something else by accident?

What do you mean by accident?

  • Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
    • (happy) chance, (happy) accident, fluke; good luck; good fortune; prividence; happy coincidence
    • from Horace Walpole’s 1754 observation of three heroes who “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of” in the fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip.

What are options to planning learning?

  • How can content be organized in small, interchangeable, atomic pieces?
  • How can content become self-discovered using what teachers know?
  • How can skills become self-developed using what teachers know?
  • How can content assessment become self-measured using what teachers know?
  • How can skill assessment beome self-measured using what teachers know?

Tribute to Thomas Lux

I just learned that the poet, Thomas Lux died yesterday. I first learned about this lion from Faith, who was a student in his Sarah Lawrence University MFA program. We invited him to teach at Cranbrook. He was all outsized energy. The lines of his poems strutted like a Sonny Rollins solo. The man was fun. He pitted the poets against the fiction writers in softball tournaments. He yelled out the names of specific poets to make Faith swing harder: John Ashbery, James Merrill! In Detroit, he and John Skoyles took us to Tigers games in the old and new stadiums. At dinner, he pulled his chair up to the table and knocked his long mane out of his eyes. He fulfilled the David Lettermen requirement for success: he always arrived with a story. At Sarah Lawrence, he was allowed research assistants who would delve into science and history to pluck out details that delighted him: slugs, plague victims, and god particles became the topics of poems. At his readings, he was all readiness. He could be loud hitting those lines. He could be beseeching even when he wasn’t asking for something. He was protective. He knew to nurture. He marveled at misspellings-spray-painted-over-highway-overpasses. He cared about the condition of things. He cared about the street corners where we miss and meet each other. What a goddamn loss for the planet.


Girl in the tree! Girl in the tree!

From my friend Sri in NY: “it’s 2 p.m. we are between the vets and the union plumbers, in the march but moving very very slowly—-soooo many people! to our left, there was a girl up in a tree, probably about 12 years old, chanting her little ass off. She had a bunch of posters and kept switching them up, changing the chant with every poster, and she was LEADING the crowd. She was fearless and untiring. Because of the slow momentum we were there for quite a few minutes and she led maybe ten rounds of chanting. After a while, in awe of her and in love with her, the crowd started chanting, “Girl in the tree! Girl in the tree!” #resist