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Teach Like a Shop Teacher

Teach Like a Shop Teacher

 Teaching Traditional & Modern Skills for Reading, Writing, Creating & Sharing in a Digital World

Create a Better Classroom

for You & Your Students

 

Teaching Traditional & Modern Skills

for Reading, Writing, Creating & Sharing in a Digital World

Teach Like a Woodshop Teacher

A Workshop Forum & Presentation

 

 

Tools & Tips for Building a Dynamic Classroom

 

Video Essays

Creating video essays out of traditionally constructed essays bring a whole new dynamic and range of possibilities for every student. A hard wrought and well-crafted essay is no longer a static piece of paper tucked away in a teacher’s desk or stashed in a crowded hallway locker. It is a multi-dimensional project that is shared with the world. Check out some of these that were created by my eighth and ninth grade classes.

It’s Over: A Final Reflection

~Paul, Eighth Grade

A Trip with Thoreau

~Charlie, 9th Grade

A New Way of Creating Rubrics

No longer will the term “rubric” create dread in your students. The Crafted Word Rubrics are not checklists; they are guides to help students respond to almost any assignment in a clear and confident way. 

Try them out!

    Few of us can do well if we don’t feel confident in what we are doing, but neither can that confidence be a misplaced confidence that is more succinctly called arrogance–a presumption of skill rather than an actual skill. Every time I create a teaching unit or plan a lesson–or even when I sit down to write something like this–I have to ask myself: “Do I really know what I am teaching, and am I teaching what I know in a way that all of my students are learning what I presume I am teaching?” I have to keep asking myself if I am the sage on the stage or the guide on the side; I have to keep asking if I am teaching essential skills and content or am I teaching what some reading workbook or English composition textbook says I should teach. Thankfully, at heart, I am still the shop teacher I have been for almost twenty years, but I am also the writer and teacher of writing I have been for more years than that. 

    Teaching shop is pretty cool because every kid comes into the shop with an untamed enthusiasm and eagerness to build something that is already in his or her head, and they are remarkably unfazed by their limited woodworking skills or by the scope of their dreams. I remember well an old student of mine who came into seventh-grade shop some years ago with detailed plans for building a one-man submersible submarine (as if you could build a non-submersible submarine:) and he begged me to give him a chance to try and build his design. Somehow he settled for something like a knapkin holder, but I heard the other day that he is now in Navy Seal training, so his ultimate dream never died; however, he learned that dreams can be realized and built out of a series of steps, an accumulation of skills forged out of the iron of real life and a dogged clinging to a vision of what he ultimately wanted to build.

    Young writers (all writers) need that dream and vision, too. They need to love the possibilities that writing offers to build something as awesome and real as a six-board chest or a sparrow whittled out of a piece white pine. They need to go to the empty page with the same sense of possibility as the kid walking into the woodshop, and they need to want to learn the skills that will get them to a place they want to be as craftsmen and craftswomen of words and sentences and paragraphs and stories. Most importantly, they need a place and a way to learn and practice those skills: a workshop of their own to walk into and dream and learn and create.

Thoughts...

Thoughts…

The Woodshop as a Metaphor
 
THOUGHT: The woodshop is a metaphor for what should be possible in the classroom
 
 
Points:

  1. “Ah, the shop!”  It smells good!

  2. They can move: 

  3. They get to use cool tools

  4. They learn to “cut the board all the way through.”

  5. They need help–hence collaboration is natural and reciprocal.

  6. Their hands work as much as their heads.

  7. They own what they are building–and it has a purpose and a destiny.

  8. They get the teachers undivided attention–at least some of the time.

  9. The teacher leaves them alone–most of the time.

  10. Mistakes are fixed, not criticized.

  11. They “never” worry about their shop grade.

  12. They are surrounded by the future possibilities of shop class.
     
  13. They can see that building their toolbox is just a first step towards something like a boat, a chair, a bed, a table, a sculpture, etc: [We can do this in the classroom by having publishing parties, sharing digital portfolios, blogging—anything that allows students to see where their education is going.]

  14. There is a completion of a cycle: Though my students usually have smaller whittling projects going on the side, there is always one “big” project that takes them the entire term to complete, and it is always a source of pride.

  15. What you build stays with you for your life, if you wish.
 
 
 
How Is Your Classroom Experienced?
Thought…
Your classroom should reflect your students needs, not your comfort zone–and definitely not a pedagogy which is not your own.
 
 
Points…

  1. A class is a physical place but also a metaphysical place:

  2. We can alter both the physical and the psychical to create a better classroom.

  3. What does your classroom look like?

  4. Is it yours? Or are you part of the shared classroom model?

  5. Does it reflect that part of you that you want to reflect.

  6. What does your classroom feel like?

  7. Where do you sit, stand, or move when teaching? (There really is not a right way if it keeps the students engaged, interested, and ready).

  8. Is there any cool factor? 

  9. Is your class any different than the classroom next door? Should it be? 

  10. What is the temperature of the emotional warmth?


 
Experiment #1…
 
At your next faculty meeting have the faculty sit in rows of desks.  Raise hands only if you know the answer.

  • Only 30% can respond
  • No talking allowed when leaving the room. 
  • The results of the problem are never published.


 
Experiment #2…
 
Have another faculty meeting where a common school problem or issue is presented and ask if small groups could possibly come up with some solutions. Have this group meet in a room with comfortable chairs or couches, and some refreshments. Let this group present their solutions to the rest of the faculty.

  • Hmmm. How would it go?
 
Respond To the Primal Needs of Your Students
Thought…
 
How do you respond to and prepare for the real and most primal and essential needs of your students?
 
 
Points:

  1. They need you to be genuine: if you can’t then you shouldn’t teach.

  2. Notice them. As much for the good as the bad. Class Dojo maybe?

  3. Say hello when they show up for class. Students need affirmation that they are welcome in your classroom.

  4. Give feedback–verbal, visual, & written. They need affirmation that their efforts on your behalf will never go unnoticed and unappreciated.

  5. Show students you care about more than how they are doing in your class. This is where the power of blogging is unparalleled. In the shop, the very nature of the mentoring makes kids feel connected because the shop teacher really is helping “them.” 

  6. Say goodbye when your students leave: make some sort of tradition surrounding the end of class. Your students last impression is a huge one, so make your goodbye a good and affirming ritual.

  7. Have special days, reward days, random acts of “let’s do something different days.
 
What Does an Engaged Student Look Like?
Thought…
 
What does an engaged student look, act and feel like?
 
 
Points:

  • What is Engagement and what does it took like?

  • How do we create an engaging classroom?

  • How do we nurture and sustain engaged students?

  • How do we assess engagement?

  • Create Rubrics, Folio’s, Videos, and blogging communities.

  • You know it when you see it.

  • An engaged student is willing and happy to figure it out.
  • An engaged student feels like he or she has accomplished something worthwhile.

  • An engaged student appreciates the value and or necessity of the content.

  • An engaged student is alert, involved, and curious.

  • An engaged student “can’t believe shop is over.”

  • An engaged student will actually talk about what they did in class while driving home–and they might even bring it up on their own.

  • An engaged feels like his or her time in your class is time well spent!
What Does a Disengaged Student Look Like?
Thought…
 
It seems like there are a few switches that engage students, but a lot more that turn them off and disengage and disaffect, so focus on what turns them on–and keeps them on!
 
 
Points…

    1. They can’t move.

    2. Everything is boring.

    3. The content and delivery is predictable.

    4. They can only use a pencil and paper.

    5. They work on their own—even when struggling with the basic concepts.

    6. Their heads are exhausted.

    7. Their bodies are exhausted.

    8. They’re hungry.

    9. They don’t know how to do what they are being asked to do.

    10. They only get help when they raise their hands.

    11. There is nothing palpable to show when class is done.

    12. They don’t know what they just learned?

    13. They don’t know how they did it?

    14. There is no endgame.

    15. The teacher hates them.
 
….And, yes, the list can go on as long as there is strength in the body.

 

Limits, Rules, Expectations & Values
Thought…
 
Kids spend a huge portion of their childhood in your classroom. What “family values” can and/or should carry over to your classroom?
 
 
POINTS…

  1. Set Rules, Limits, Expectations with the same passion and resolve as you would with your family.

  2. Let them in!

  3. Set rules, standards & expectations.

  4. Create traditions.

  5. Do fun things together.

  6. Laugh a lot and tell stories.

  7. Point out right and wrong. The moral compass!

  8. Forgive and Move on.

  9. Treat everyone equally. Get rid of tracking unless absolutely essential! It is a caste system by any other name.

  10. Treat each student uniquely: know your kids, accept them for who they are. This is quite different than being a “friend” to your students.
 
Create Possibility
I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government 
from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them. 
~Thomas Jefferson
 
 
 
Thought…
 
We need to give our students projects and possibilities that they create, own, oversee, and present. We should not try to own what they create.
 
 
 
Points…

  1. There should always be a project going on.

  2. Projects should include collaborative and individual work.

  3. There should always be some sort of self-assessment.
  4. Students need to be able to claim genuine ownership, be free to pursue new directions and ideas, and exercise responsible and mature judgement when developing and creating that project.
  5. There needs to be an endgame of sorts–some way to showcase and curate that work for future generations to share.
The Power of Portfolios
Thought…
 
We need to create portfolios that capture and collate a history of every student’s journey through school.
 
 
Points…

  1. Collect. Collate. Curate: A new mantra for change!

  2. Our profession is only possible because of those who collected, collated and curated our bodies of literature, art, philosophy, history, and culture.

  3. Metacognition: It is important to remember, reflect and respond as a way of understanding who and how we are as learners (and teachers).

  4. Use journaling as a way to enable and practice metacognition.

  5. There are practical and affordable(as in free)  ways to start doing this today!  

  6. There is no downside. You are just being lazy if you don’t! (sorry)
 
The Perils, Pitfalls & Promises of Technology
Thought…
We need to start bridging the digital divides that are separating teachers and department and find fertile ground (not common ground) to allow our collective and individual digital fluency to evolve in a dynamic and energizing way.
 

 
Points…

  1. Are technology decisions being made for the right reasons?

  2. Are there a few people making the decisions for all of you?

  3. Do you want it that way?

  4. What is holding you back from using more–not less–technology?

  5. Does technology engage or simply distract?

  6. Does it simplify or complify (I need this word to exist)?

  7. Keep the focus on focus!

  8. Does technology make you grumpy?

  9. Do you, as a teacher, fully grasp the implications, limitations, and possibilities of technology?

  10. Is being engaged with and connected with a broader, diverse world important to a child’s education—to you?
 

 
What works…
 
  • Managing classes and curriculum: Using an LMS such as Schoology, Edmodo, Haiku, Canvas, Moodle, Lore, etc., allows for easy access and sharing of assignments, grades, student and parent communication and a relative transparency of process.

  • Allows parents to “see” children’s grades as they are posted: [See “What doesn’t work” ]

  • Extending the classroom: online discussions, portfolio sharing, flipped classrooms…

  • Increasing collaborative opportunities.

  • Leveling the playing field.

  • Rethinking pedagogy.

  • Teaches how to manage a digital footprint
 
 
What doesn’t work…
  • That which attracts, distracts–and vice versa–that which distracts, attracts…

  • Complicates the classroom experience: too many logons, computers don’t always work, not enough access at home, hard to find work.

  • Allows parents to “see” children’s grades as they are posted.

  • Introduces a world the kids may not be ready for emotionally

  • The learning is too distant from the classroom: kids don’t bond with each other in the same way.
How To Help Teachers

Thought…

How do you help teachers who are struggling to engage their students?  How do you help teachers let go and grow and love and cope and change?

 

Points…

  1. As a teacher, you are the root of the problem or the source of inspiration. [No one wants to admit that they are not able to do well what they’ve been hired to do, nor do schools, private schools in particular, like to air their dirty laundry, and so change is made behind closed doors; administrators give advice, make demands, and press the issue and the teachers being questioned are fearful of losing their jobs, bitter at being unfairly targeted, and often still unable to change.

  2. Metacognition: Encourage teachers to “self reflect.” Explore and possibly embrace initiatives such as The Folio Project. [It has to start with how can we best adapt, change, evolve–whatever–in ways that make us better, more engaging, more joyful, and more effective teachers.]

  3.  What can schools do to help teachers be more engaged and engaging?

  4. Set high, yet realistic, standards that encourage and enable teachers to feel empowered and energized by their career choice.

  5. Let teachers make the best use of their time.

  6. Get rid of content driven faculty meetings and focus on process driven meetings that invite participation, reflection, and renewal—stuff that might possibly energize, enlighten and transform—not simply educate and inform.

  7. Do all meetings have to be synchronous? 

  8. Do all meetings need to be mediated by the same few people with responses generated by the same few teachers?

  9. USE TECHNOLOGY WISELY: Use discussion threads and require teachers to respond within a given time frame.
  10. Post power points and/or presentations online with a comment thread instead of making teachers sit through them.

  11. Take steps to lessens the work and time that keeps teachers from the core expectations of their jobs. Many schools still operate under the assumption that our parents only hear from us once or twice a semester, and so schools place great value on formal communications: conferences; mid-term comments; end of semester letters, etc, all without any built in time to accomplish these tasks in the course of their school days.

  12. Meet less or meet more, but never meet just to touch base unless it is a truly mutual meeting. 

  13. Consider allocating days to parent meetings (a lot of schools already do this).

  14. Have a comment writing and proofreading professional day. If you give teachers the time—even if they do not use that time when it is given.

  15. Use an LMS/CMS that is open, interactive, and dynamic and which gives teachers room to evolve in their teaching practices and maintain communication with students, advisors, and parents.

 

Reflections

Reflections…

Are You Ready?

 

        Writing an essay for me is relatively simple. I choose what I want to write about, and I start writing. There is not a soul in the world who is expecting anything out of this essay—or even know it is being created, which will be great if it dies an early and ignominious death. I don’t have a teacher pushing me in any one direction–like I am pushing you. The writing prompt and the inspiration is already in me; but, though I try to write well, there are no real-life repercussions when I don’t write well.  My audience for this (which is you—my upper school English class) is remarkably small and polite, and as much as I’d like to think that you are captivated by my writing, I know that in reality you are a “captive” to my writing, because, as my students, you are a prisoner in my classroom. You are somewhat doomed to read what I write, but your actual freedom to write is hobbled by a teacher who is intent on extracting (by what must sometimes feel like any means possible) what you know and think about a narrow range of literature–in this case, the first chapter of Walden: the essay called “Economy.” Throw into the mix your other classes and what do you get: a few more books, an era or two of some history; some idea of why leaves turn red; a handy way discerning volume from the breadth and width of a fruit–a smattering of Spanish words or Latin roots: a bookshelf from shop and an abstract oil painting for your wall.  Don’t forget your soccer and football teams, the school play, band, and student life, and now your day is completely filled.
 
But is it full?
 
It is certainly filled with an exhausting range of activities designed and structured to educate, enlighten, inform, and inspire. Your teachers are a diverse mix of people who really do give a damn about you and who spend more time than you might ever imagine trying to create and perpetuate this living and breathing machine called school, but, as Thoreau writes, “we[teachers and students] labor under a mistake.” We fill the day, but we rarely fulfill the possibilities of each day, and we never will until we remove the blinders that keep us on the beaten path. Frightening as it sounds, the lunatics must run the asylum: students must be allowed to take the reins and become learners and explorers, while teachers and administrators must adapt or die.  “New ways for the new; old ways for the old.” (HDT) The world really is a different place now. The “noosphere” or “omega point” predicted by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin almost a hundred years ago is becoming a reality.  People can be–and are–connected in ways unimaginable to the visionaries and teachers who broke the backs of tradition to create the schools we have today. But times have changed. The desk is more a ball and chain of myopic restraint, while our opportunities for true learning–for all of us–have never been greater. 
 
Something has to give. Society and its schools have become as much slaves to assessment as we are creators of destiny. Measuring someone by “the content of their character” seldom makes it onto report cards. Instead, we measure your progress and achievements with a reptilian calculation of the merits and deficiencies of your responses to specific inquiries and lessons we are convinced we have taught well.  We critique what and how you write, but rarely consider why you write.  Though we seem compassionate and practice empathy, we still erect a barrier that only a few of you can get over unscathed–and those are the celebrated few:  the smart, hard-working, and diligent students who somehow manage to do it all. Everyone else plays catch me if you can, and so this paradigm is set in motion, and it becomes the foundation of almost every school and university in the world. The gifted student becomes a recognizable icon, sculpted, shaped, and polished by the whims of academia. As parents we stumble over each other trying to weave our child’s place on the honor roll or his or her SAT scores–or even the average score of the whole town in comparison to every other school in the district–into the most casual of conversations. On the flip side of this coin, these honors are hardly as respected by peers and classmates (perhaps because  they sense the inherent fraud and advantage to the system) and past prowess as a student soon makes for unsavory and indelicate talk even just mere hours after graduation.   
 
Maybe doing well in school is not such an impressive accomplishment. It is pretty cool that we have a black president raised by a single mom–and we use this as praise for what educational opportunities can do; but history is full of great individuals who rose from humble beginnings. It is a recurring theme of humanity itself. It is part and parcel of what Joseph Campbell has termed “The Heroic Cycle.”  Schools do not create greatness; our primal need to be great is what creates greatness. No one reading this is precluded from realizing his or her individual greatness. We don’t have to be Telemachus facing up to the rowdy suitors in his house, but all of us have challenges that are unmet and untested, and we must meet them and we must test them if we want to be a hero. There is courage and strength of each of us, but not as much motivation, perhaps because the tools we use in school are not the best motivators. We instill as much fear as desire, and there is a subtle paralysis that takes hold. Only if the doors open wider and the walls fall down will we see the expanse of our opportunities–and only if you give enough of a damn to reach for the dream at hand, and then only if you see the dream. Realizing your dream should be your accomplishment, and layering dream upon dream should be your life.
 
Life has a way of doling out hardship in unequal proportions, but school should not be one of them. There is certainly very little that is fair about who goes to what school, but that is the unspoken inequity. We praise the notion of an egalitarian educational system, but we shudder at the thought of implementation.  Few of my Concord friends would ship their sons and daughters to our schools in Maynard because…well, just because.  Ironically, few of my Maynard friends would feel comfortable with their sons and daughters trying to mingle in a Concord milieu.  And so we keep up a pleasant caste system that feeds off the tension between the rich and the poor. It’s like the old camp song: “Don’t chuck your muck in my backyard/my backyard’s full,” but because of the internet, our backyards have merged; the demarcation line is blurred, and there really is a chance for every kid to play on the same field–if we let them.  Caesar accidentally burned down the Royal Library at Alexandria; we shouldn’t do the same with our new library of knowledge. During the first solo circumnavigation of the world, the Afrikaners in South Africa scoffed at Joshua Slocum’s claims that the world was round, even as he was ninety percent of the way around the globe!  Wouldn’t it be ironic if our schools lost the race for knowledge because we dithered at the starting gate?  
 
I certainly did not start this narrative with any plans to take on our educational system.  Sharper minds than mine could tear this essay apart, but only because they have had so many generations to practice.  The hurricane yesterday gave me a rare gift of time today, so I was just hoping to give you a few words to help you get started on your Walden essay. Words have that effect on me.  Maybe my own rereading of Walden made me listen more closely to the drumbeat of my heart no matter how measured or far away; maybe in these political times of gloating,  bitching, and belittling I didn’t want to be one of the thousand hacking at the branches of evil; I wanted to be the one striking at the root. The beauty and bane of Thoreau’s words is how easily they can prove either side of an argument, and my mind is so scattered that I could never get around to organizing all the facts; instead, I’ve simply scattered some seeds among the compost of my experience. Hopefully, one or two will be like the mustard seeds in that parable of Jesus. If not, I’ll have to till again and plant more thoughtfully.

All I know is what I sense: change is coming, and if you have your wits about you, you will be riding the edge of that wave. 
 

Do You Really Want to Be a Teacher?
Let Kids Write
 
        There are plenty of smarter, more gifted, and more interesting writers out there than me or you–but there shouldn’t be a more passionate writer. For better or worse, your blog is you–as my blog is me, and until you want a better you and I want a better me, readers will find another place to go.

         Few things in life are more important than having a passion for something. It is an offshoot of “give damn.” To have a life without a focus on some something or somethings to do and explore and develop on your own is a pretty pitiful life. When I was your age, I had a rock collection that filled a bazillion egg crates with chippings and scrapings I hammered off ; I had snake and reptile aquariums that had specimens of most any cold-blooded creature in the White Pond area of Concord. I had a shortwave radio that I made with my father–and a huge antenna on the roof to help pick up conversations happening anywhere in the world. I had a collection of fishing poles and rods and reels and lures and baits to somehow tease trout, bass, horned pout, kibbers, pickerel and anything else out of the Concord River, Walden Pond, the Assabet, Nashoba Brook and Warner’s Pond. Best of all my family had a plywood sailfish sailboat my father built in our garage from plans he got in somehow to magazine, and in that 12 feet of arc, I got my first taste of sailing–a taste that is as strong today as it was back then. My bedroom was a mess of magazine both strewn and piled–but always read: Boy’s Life, Popular Mechanics, Popular ScienceField and StreamSears Roebuck, National Geographics and any other magazine, book, or journal that fed my passions. Most of those publications are still around to buy in some way today, but there is an even larger world of bloggers out there who cover everything those magazines covered–and a whole lot more. These blogs and websites are where people go to feed their passions and develop their own knowledge and skills. It is where you go and where I go, and the better the blog or the better the site, the more often we return, and the more we return–the more of a mark that writer has left on the world. And that mark says something about that person. You. Something good, I hope.

    In ancient Rome there was a saying: “De gustabus non disputantum,”otherwise known as “There is no accounting for taste,” which is a good thing because it keeps the world to this day interesting, diverse, and dynamic. We don’t have to like what other people like, nor are there any compelling reasons why we should–but we should like something; we should want to be knowledgeable about something, and be good at something, and to constantly be getting better at something. Think of your passions, and think of what you can do to live out that passion or passions and share it with the world. Think of what you are going to leave behind as your footprints in this life. You do not want to be like the drunk sailor Elpenor who fell off the roof and died a death that no one remembers or cares about. As Odysseus himself said: “No songs will be sung about him.” Your “digital footprint” is the song that is sung about you.

     When I first started blogging with my classes–now close to ten years ago–most people were paranoid about kids names being “on the internet,” and so we built firewall on firewall behind private servers to keep you safe and removed from the real internet. In most ways it has been great. It gives you guys a safe place to practice living and sharing in the digital world without the dangers of anyone knowing you are out there. But times have changed. Soon you are going to want your name be out there–and out there in a good and positive way. You are not going to want someone to google your name and come up with…nothing. I am really proud to have discovered that it is relatively hard to study haiku and not come across my website at some point in your studies. I like that if someone googles my name they get the best of me and not the worst of me. I want that for you, too.

     If you’ve got a passion, then keep learning and practicing and experimenting, and then share it with the world. If the seed dies with the flower, there is no beauty left behind.

7 + 1 =

COLLABORATE

The Art of Collaboration

 

I

  Mrs. Roeber never seemed to let Jimmy go outside, which, to my thinking as an 11 year old, was why he was so smart.  Most days after school, I’d rush two houses down the street and get Danny Gannon to come out and play. Then the two of us would go to Jimmy’s house next door.  If Mrs Roeber answered, she would always be polite and say something like, “Jimmy needs to catch up on some science work. Perhaps he can play later.”  If Jimmy answered, he’d usually be out of breath from running upstairs from his basement “office” and plead with us not to give up on him—or at the very least go out back and talk to him through the basement window.

So me and Danny would sneak out back and lay on our stomachs on the pokey grey gravel outside his basement window. Five feet below, Jimmy would be doing his work at his workbench (which, in all honesty, was a pretty cool place).  I always wished I was smarter, so I could  do his work for him and get him outside to play. I was better than Jimmy at a lot of things, but those things never got graded, and most of those things you couldn’t appreciate until “later in life.”  But, to my Tom Sawyer way of thinking, I preferred being outside and average to being inside and smart.  Danny was an outside kid, and smart, too, and that always troubled me, but not enough to let it call my inside/smart: outside/not smart philosophy into question. Danny’s voice was always the one that tried to tell me that the sledding jump was too high, or that branch would not support my weight, or those snakes would bite, or that we couldn’t run faster than a nest of bees we just destroyed.

Once we got Jimmy outside, he was like a mad scientist: ”We’ll, just have to see how high Fitz can go on his sled,“ or, ”I’ll distract the snake so Fitz  can grab it from behind,“ or ”Bees have been clocked flying at 80 miles per hour.“ Looking back, we probably seemed like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, and we did tend to go our different ways as we grew older, but we always still manage to reconnect somehow, and it doesn’t seem like we are a day older. It’s kind of hard to put into words because Danny and Jimmy might not be the best friends of my daily life, but they will always be the best friends I need.

Just thinking of the three of us together is like a window opening to a cool and welcome breeze. And the coolest thing is the window is always there. It might be that the only thing we actually had in common was living next door to each other, but still, we made it work; we made it real, and we made it last.

No choice. No problem. We did it together.

II

          Life was pretty simple with Danny and Jimmy and me. There was no forethought in doing things together. It was more just some manifestation of a primordial DNA strand that we responded to with a visceral enthusiasm bordering on mania. We are born to be tribal in nature. We expect and need to be a part of a community, for we know in our bones and marrow that we really can’t go it alone. There is no Huck without Jim; there is no Odysseus without Athena, and there is no you without some hand that will pull you out of the muck you have made of your life. Thank God for the primitive man patiently stalking some larger prey to have the primitive women scrounging for tubers, berries, grains and millet, which no doubt provided the greater sustenance. We live and breathe a collaborative atmosphere of trust and unfathomable magnanimity.

Then why I did I always hate group projects, but, more telling: why did I change my mindset and my actions?

I hated group projects because they never seemed like group projects. What seemed in theory to be group work was really like some industrial factory spewing its incessant belching of traditions with an unequal and unsatisfying distribution of work and wealth, where the smart kids continued to be rewarded the lion’s share of honors, while the poor students (myself especially) continually paired themselves with a misfit tribe of friends who accepted the inequities of the classroom as a normal and an immutable reality of life. 

Danny, Jimmy and I went to the same schools: Jimmy was—and still is—brilliant beyond my wildest dreams. Danny, too, seemed way smarter than me and probably smarter than most of the smart kid, though tempered with a shy and steady reserve (which by teacher default kept him from the brilliant crowd) that often forced him into our regressive and unrepentant tribe.  As close as the three of us were in the ecosystem of our townie neighborhood, our schools erected barrier after barrier to keep us apart.  While in school those walls did an admirable job of keeping us apart, and so we were only able to collaborate in our feral joys outside of school. Jimmy was smart, but not arrogant, and never willingly sought the tribe that formed around him, for when the academic birds of a feather were called to gather together, he was soon surrounded by the peacocks and strutting roosters of Concord, all brilliant in their own ways and inclinations, while my tribe and I wore our B’s and C’s and D’s like gang tattoos on our bruised and battered torsos.

Really, not much has changed between now and then, and while kids nowadays are more polite and empathetic, and at least begrudgingly inclusive, the iron curtains in our classrooms are still there–just more subtly erected. The academically accomplished kids are almost insanely driven to preserve the status quo—and if paired with the less accomplished, they will go to extreme lengths to do all of the work themselves. They do not want their brilliance to be diminished by including the less accomplished, less fortunate, and less able, and they will labor far into the night to correct the sloth and ineptitude of their partners. Ironically, it is an ignominy that they will suffer in silence, mostly because “collaboration” is part of the rubric—and in the end they all need to say it was a collaborative effort, and kids like me who simply sprayed the red paint on a smoke-spewing model of Mount Vesuvius remained mute in the complicit code of silence that dictated our lives.

So the rich preserved their wealth, while the poor squandered the chance to make a mark on their yardstick of time. The paradigm was set long ago: one law for the rich; one for the poor. It always seems strange and telling that the rich suburban and private schools constantly tout the quality of their students and teachers, when in reality that are just exposing the “quantity” of wealth and resources at their disposal. It used to piss me off, and I was satisfied in a smug way that at least I saw through the smoke and mirrors, until a point in time not long ago when I realized that, as Jesus said, “There will be poor always,” and I just needed to redefine what wealth really is and how it is spread around a classroom.  I needed to unearth the inherent wealth in every kid I taught and see every one of my students as a treasure trove of possibility and make everything they did together engage that same passion of Danny, Jimmy and me hucking stones at bee’s nests. Every kid has to have a pile of stones to throw at the nest and the legs to run as fast as he or she can; otherwise, there is no skin in the game, no shared risks—and, ultimately, no shared triumphs.

III

          Every classroom in every school on the planet is a blessed mix of possibilities—rich or poor, enriched or impoverished—with a mix of talents, drive, will—and more than a share of abnegating responsibility. As a kid, I hated group projects, and this hatred has fed my myopic biases for the past fifty years. They sucked as a student because I was never a full part of the group—and as a teacher, the group projects sucked because I would see the same inequities I despised perpetuated in my own lame assignments. I kept unleashing the same monster that swallowed me in my childhood. I was stuck in the stream of my own inbred traditions, though convinced I was nobly doing my duty as a teacher.

My epiphany came when I realized that I never really taught what the word collaboration means. None of us can grasp the wisps of what we don’t understand, but I had aways just assumed that we had a common understanding of the word—to do things together (whatever that really means) but while reading and teaching Moby Dick with my ninth grade classes, I found myself one day discussing the crew of the Pequod—and what a wild mix of nationalities it is: native american harpooners, dreamy adventure seeking deckhands, carpenters, sail menders, lookouts, blacksmiths, cooks and mates all bound up in a common adventure. Roles were defined, but in the fray of the chase every man took to the boats towards a common and fathomable goal. And what a success it was until the monomaniacal Ahab stepped to the deck and pointed the Pequod in his obsessive direction—to kill the White Whale. What was collaboration became duty and fate.

In discussing that twist of the plot, we started a conversation about what collaboration really is, and by the convolutions of discussion, we extended the metaphor of Moby Dick to help us define what is meant by collaboration. Collaboration is a shared adventure with shared rewards wherein every person is due his or her rightful share—the share agreed upon before setting foot on deck. No collaborative effort is inherently equal, for our skills and strengths on any given project are too disparate—nor will the rewards ever be the same for we will alway reap in proportion to what we sew and tend and what we sign on to do—but the journey and the chase can and should be exciting and rewarding for everyone, and no one person should ever be allowed to alter the common purpose of the voyage, and every person has to accept the mundane roles on quiet seas and rise from the forecastle when all hands are needed on deck, and every man has to drop everything and pull on the oars in precise rhythm when chasing the whale—and, most importantly, every person needs to be on that ship for the length of the voyage.

The Pequot’s crew was hoping to sail home to Nantucket with a belly full of oil that could be measured and assessed down to the last drop, and every part of that motley crew would know and expect, and receive a fair share of the reward. 

So now I not only love group projects, but I believe that they are the heart and soul of my classroom.  They are what binds us together as a community. They are opportunities to share strengths and  work through weaknesses and differences. They help us recognize and respect the dynamic power of uncommon backgrounds pushing towards a common dream—not merely a goal. They help individuals find new and deeper sources of strengths that he or she never fathomed before.

But collaborative projects are not all roses and perfume. As a teacher you have to accept that it will take twice as long as you planned, and if you can’t be flexible, you are no better than Ahab—while at the same time your students need you as a captain who is stern and unforgiving and expects duty to be dutiful, who gathers the crew on deck when need be and frees them to their chores without being meddlesome, and when the blubber of the whale is being boiled down in the tryworks, your classroom will be a bloody mess. And just as in life, people will bitch and moan and convince themselves that their individual effort and persistence is what is keeping the boat afloat–and if that happens, call the crew on deck again–and again if needed. True collaboration is an honest day of hard and dirty work, not a bunch of friends trying to pass off sloth as substance.

And well all is said and done, and your students are tired, bloody, and bruised, give them their fair share of the split—and reward them, damn it, reward them.

Appophobia

Appophobia

Appophobia:
A lingering fear and distrust of apps

Always do what you are afraid to do.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

We have evolved into what we are because we have somehow learned to balance mistrust and wariness of danger with a counterbalancing willingness to explore and exploit the rewards of equally dangerous undertakings and adventures. The stories of our histories would be tepid and soon forgotten if not faced with struggle and perseverance that somehow revealed a greater truth and wisdom and courage to live in a higher state of existence. If we do not accept and embrace this, then we may as well just relegate ourselves to a more diminished and ignorant self. Mighty high sounding talk, I know, to lead into a discussion of apps on an iPad.

But, it is what it is…

Every folder on my iPad is essentially a toolbox where I keep useful tools. I never let any one toolbox contain more tools that can fit on the cover screen of any folder—usually something like 12 apps, most of which I seldom use, but some that are essential to my daily workflow. It is no different than the toolboxes a I use when teaching shop or managing the various projects I undertake at home.

I have a toolbox for plumbing supplies and tools. I have a toolbox for painting supplies. I have a toolbox for woodcarving. I have a toolbox for working on my car and bus and boat. All of these are kept in my workshop and in my shed along with benches, shelves, vices and hooks and hangers.

Not once has someone said to me: “Fitz, you have too many tools in too many boxes in too many places.” I simply have what I need and what has evolved to serve the purposes and tasks of my everyday life. And still I sometimes have to go to Tom Cummings shop or a friend’s garage or another friend’s shed to “borrow” what I need, but don’t have.

So why the incessant hubbub I hear about too many apps on a student’s iPad? If they are useful to him or her—or me as their teacher—it is a useful app, regardless of how often a specific app is used. My shop students routinely come to a shop filled with all manner of tools—most of which those students are clueless about how to use.

And the funny thing is that it never seems to bother them or their parents or the school because everyone intuitively trusts that what is there is a useful and an ultimately necessary part of a dynamic and well-equipped shop.

And many of them are extremely dangerous tools! Way more dangerous than GarageBand, Book Creator, iTunes U and iMovie. This appophobia is as senseless as it is crippling, and the clarion call to forbid these apps is being led by people who have no clue how to use and exploit these tools for academic benefit.

The usual fallback for declaring an app to be useless is to lament that learning new apps is confusing and distracting and the sign of an out of touch teacher. With that logic we should throw out quadratic equations, the krebb’s cycle and the causes of The Civil War, and the proper use of conjunctive adverbs. We should ban backpacks with more than three textbooks, any loose sheaves of paper and calculators with any kind of trigonometry functions. We shouldn’t give a lecture that is more than five minutes long or occasionally ask kids to just remember the assignment—as in just remember the conversation we had at the end of class.

Imagine the horror of so many when the first pencils with built in erasers tumbled off the assembly line. Mistakes could now be hidden with a simple flick of the wrist. How could teachers even begin to know what students did and did not know? Imagine a school allowing students to use textbooks to supplant the power of a teacher’s oration on any given subject matter?

Education is like a shark: if it does not continue to move forward, it dies. If education does not move in the direction of its prey, it ultimately weakens and dies. If we put myopic restraints on a teacher thing to put new and dynamic power into the hands of his or her students and forge a new and better way of learning, then education dies. No fish can ever be caught without stirring the waters, so we should embrace the messiness of learning as the tailings of a miner’s labor.

Which brings me back to this iPad of mine tapping away in the stillness of a late September night. It is my poets hoe, my pick axe, chisel and plane. It is doing what I need it to do at this given point in time. In a few minutes (I hope) it will be the final chapter in a good book. Tomorrow it may record my songs, film my video, craft my essay, fill my journal, create my quiz, model my discussion, post my assignment, paint my canvas, grade my homework—and when I don’t want it or need it, or feel if is useful, it simply disappears.

Back into my shed, my toolbox, or some dusty shelf…

The iPad is not a tool or a device or a thing. It is an enabler of possibility. Apps are not a panoply of evil undertakings; they are merely shovels and spades that let us dig deeper and faster and cut our corners as clean and square as Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne.

And I do not have a problem with that.

Keep The Passion Alive

Keep The Passion Alive

The Power of Descriptive Writing

Tell Your Story

Nature 300 8          Our minds shift gears when filled with imagery: either we slow down and smell the flowers or we shift into a higher gear, and our minds become alive with the power and rush that only images and actions can initiate to such great effect—but either way we, as readers, are more alive, ready, and willing to move in a new direction. The writer who does not realize this runs the risk of becoming an erudite prude at best and a self-centered mouthpiece at worst because his or her words remain untethered to the real world of the reader who instinctively wants and needs to be anchored to a place that gives full breath and breadth to the senses. It is through engaging the senses that a writer engages the reader. To learn the art and craft of descriptive writing is to learn how to tell good story—and in the end, all writing is simply storytelling, good and bad.

“This is such bull!” I can almost hear the academic writers crying out in opposition. “We are empowered by ideas and the synthesis and explication of these ‘thought provoking’ nuances of a brilliant mind working towards a solution of a specific and fascinating thesis…” Yeah, they got me there—but only if they got me interested in the first place; only if the tree of my life is already leaning in the direction of that thesis, and only if my mind is ready and willing to plow through the muddy slough that seems to be the field of what is blithely and blindly called “essays.” For me at least to keep plowing through, I need to be reached not only an intellectual level but also on the real and palpable visceral levels that completes the fullness of my being human—the blood, flesh, and bones that keeps the intellect alive. Good, descriptive writing is the vital core that captures not just the mind, but the pumping heart and manifest soul  of the reader.

Even this—this paltry creation of mine—is being fed not simply by my mind, but by the sublimity of where I am: it is being fed by the first full moon of the summer splaying bits of light through a canopy of woodland forest on a cool New Hampshire night. The dull light of my screen is more than words for me as it attracts more than what is in only in my head; it also attracts a bevy of insects buzzing around or crawling across the hard glass of my screen. Yes, I have an audience already! perhaps the only audience this will have, yet it gives every word I eke out a greater meaning and purpose, and without that purpose for me how can there ever be a purpose for you. I learned and accepted long ago that no one intrinsically cares about me and what I write: they care about what my writing gives to them—how it feeds his or her heart, mind, soul, and being. If he or she receives only a glancing blow, I will count this effort a success on the scales of my life as a writer. And if you—the completely unknown you—are still here reading with some semblance of earnestness that this is time well-spent, then I will reap the unmitigated joy of my words echoing deeper into these dark woods, and I am not alone with this feral whirl of moths, mosquitoes and junebugs.

Good writing separates not only the wheat from the chaff, but also shows the whole process of the winnowing: the drying and grinding of the seeds into the rising flour that becomes the very bread of our lives. My plea is fairly simple: if you are a writer, do not live simply in the guppy thoughts swimming in your head; live in the fullness of your experiences, and cast a net that will strain your gear and haul in a greater catch—a catch that will feed a hungry audience day in and day out and be another testament to eternity. If you are a teacher, let your students write first about what they know best, for if the seed is not in their hands how can it be planted, tended and watered in a garden of joy. Too often our students trudge from the fields of our imposed labors with hands, heads and hearts deadened by defeat—proud warriors once, but no more.

Keep the passion alive. Keep the passion alive. Keep the passion alive. Let every essay, every writing prompt, and every scratch upon the page be a story well told. Teach how to tell good stories; teach how to use descriptive writing to perfect and enliven those stories, and share those stories, and curate those stories.

But let each writer tell his or her own story.

And you tell yours.

The Art of Collaboration

The Art of Collaboration

Danny, Jimmy, & Me  

& The Art of Collaboration

I

     Mrs. Roeber never seemed to let Jimmy go outside, which, to my thinking as an 11 year old, was why he was so smart.  Most days after school, I’d rush two houses down the street and get Danny Gannon to come out and play. Then the two of us would go to Jimmy’s house next door.  If Mrs Roeber answered, she would always be polite and say something like, “Jimmy needs to catch up on some science work. Perhaps he can play later.”  If Jimmy answered, he’d usually be out of breath from running upstairs from his basement “office” and plead with us not to give up on him—or at the very least go out back and talk to him through the basement window.

So me and Danny would sneak out back and lay on our stomachs on the pokey grey gravel outside his basement window. Five feet below, Jimmy would be doing his work at his workbench (which, in all honesty, was a pretty cool place).  I always wished I was smarter, so I could  do his work for him and get him outside to play. I was better than Jimmy at a lot of things, but those things never got graded, and most of those things you couldn’t appreciate until “later in life.”  But, to my Tom Sawyer way of thinking, I preferred being outside and average to being inside and smart.  Danny was an outside kid, and smart, too, and that always troubled me, but not enough to let it call my inside/smart: outside/not smart philosophy into question. Danny’s voice was always the one that tried to tell me that the sledding jump was too high, or that branch would not support my weight, or those snakes would bite, or that we couldn’t run faster than a nest of bees we just destroyed.

Once we got Jimmy outside, he was like a mad scientist: ”We’ll, just have to see how high Fitz can go on his sled,“ or, ”I’ll distract the snake so Fitz  can grab it from behind,“ or ”Bees have been clocked flying at 80 miles per hour.“ Looking back, we probably seemed like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, and we did tend to go our different ways as we grew older, but we always still manage to reconnect somehow, and it doesn’t seem like we are a day older. It’s kind of hard to put into words because Danny and Jimmy might not be the best friends of my daily life, but they will always be the best friends I need.

Just thinking of the three of us together is like a window opening to a cool and welcome breeze. And the coolest thing is the window is always there. It might be that the only thing we actually had in common was living next door to each other, but still, we made it work; we made it real, and we made it last.

No choice. No problem. We did it together.

 

II

          Life was pretty simple with Danny and Jimmy and me. There was no forethought in doing things together. It was more just some manifestation of a primordial DNA strand that we responded to with a visceral enthusiasm bordering on mania. We are born to be tribal in nature. We expect and need to be a part of a community, for we know in our bones and marrow that we really can’t go it alone. There is no Huck without Jim; there is no Odysseus without Athena, and there is no you without some hand that will pull you out of the muck you have made of your life. Thank God for the primitive man patiently stalking some larger prey to have the primitive women scrounging for tubers, berries, grains and millet, which no doubt provided the greater sustenance. We live and breathe a collaborative atmosphere of trust and unfathomable magnanimity.

Then why I did I always hate group projects, but, more telling: why did I change my mindset and my actions?

I hated group projects because they never seemed like group projects. What seemed in theory to be group work was really like some industrial factory spewing its incessant belching of traditions with an unequal and unsatisfying distribution of work and wealth, where the smart kids continued to be rewarded the lion’s share of honors, while the poor students (myself especially) continually paired themselves with a misfit tribe of friends who accepted the inequities of the classroom as a normal and an immutable reality of life. 

Danny, Jimmy and I went to the same schools: Jimmy was—and still is—brilliant beyond my wildest dreams. Danny, too, seemed way smarter than me and probably smarter than most of the smart kid, though tempered with a shy and steady reserve (which by teacher default kept him from the brilliant crowd) that often forced him into our regressive and unrepentant tribe.  As close as the three of us were in the ecosystem of our townie neighborhood, our schools erected barrier after barrier to keep us apart.  While in school those walls did an admirable job of keeping us apart, and so we were only able to collaborate in our feral joys outside of school. Jimmy was smart, but not arrogant, and never willingly sought the tribe that formed around him, for when the academic birds of a feather were called to gather together, he was soon surrounded by the peacocks and strutting roosters of Concord, all brilliant in their own ways and inclinations, while my tribe and I wore our B’s and C’s and D’s like gang tattoos on our bruised and battered torsos.

Really, not much has changed between now and then, and while kids nowadays are more polite and empathetic, and at least begrudgingly inclusive, the iron curtains in our classrooms are still there–just more subtly erected. The academically accomplished kids are almost insanely driven to preserve the status quo—and if paired with the less accomplished, they will go to extreme lengths to do all of the work themselves. They do not want their brilliance to be diminished by including the less accomplished, less fortunate, and less able, and they will labor far into the night to correct the sloth and ineptitude of their partners. Ironically, it is an ignominy that they will suffer in silence, mostly because “collaboration” is part of the rubric—and in the end they all need to say it was a collaborative effort, and kids like me who simply sprayed the red paint on a smoke-spewing model of Mount Vesuvius remained mute in the complicit code of silence that dictated our lives.

So the rich preserved their wealth, while the poor squandered the chance to make a mark on their yardstick of time. The paradigm was set long ago: one law for the rich; one for the poor. It always seems strange and telling that the rich suburban and private schools constantly tout the quality of their students and teachers, when in reality that are just exposing the “quantity” of wealth and resources at their disposal. It used to piss me off, and I was satisfied in a smug way that at least I saw through the smoke and mirrors, until a point in time not long ago when I realized that, as Jesus said, “There will be poor always,” and I just needed to redefine what wealth really is and how it is spread around a classroom.  I needed to unearth the inherent wealth in every kid I taught and see every one of my students as a treasure trove of possibility and make everything they did together engage that same passion of Danny, Jimmy and me hucking stones at bee’s nests. Every kid has to have a pile of stones to throw at the nest and the legs to run as fast as he or she can; otherwise, there is no skin in the game, no shared risks—and, ultimately, no shared triumphs.

 

III

          Every classroom in every school on the planet is a blessed mix of possibilities—rich or poor, enriched or impoverished—with a mix of talents, drive, will—and more than a share of abnegating responsibility. As a kid, I hated group projects, and this hatred has fed my myopic biases for the past fifty years. They sucked as a student because I was never a full part of the group—and as a teacher, the group projects sucked because I would see the same inequities I despised perpetuated in my own lame assignments. I kept unleashing the same monster that swallowed me in my childhood. I was stuck in the stream of my own inbred traditions, though convinced I was nobly doing my duty as a teacher.

My epiphany came when I realized that I never really taught what the word collaboration means. None of us can grasp the wisps of what we don’t understand, but I had aways just assumed that we had a common understanding of the word—to do things together (whatever that really means) but while reading and teaching Moby Dick with my ninth grade classes, I found myself one day discussing the crew of the Pequod—and what a wild mix of nationalities it is: native american harpooners, dreamy adventure seeking deckhands, carpenters, sail menders, lookouts, blacksmiths, cooks and mates all bound up in a common adventure. Roles were defined, but in the fray of the chase every man took to the boats towards a common and fathomable goal. And what a success it was until the monomaniacal Ahab stepped to the deck and pointed the Pequod in his obsessive direction—to kill the White Whale. What was collaboration became duty and fate.

In discussing that twist of the plot, we started a conversation about what collaboration really is, and by the convolutions of discussion, we extended the metaphor of Moby Dick to help us define what is meant by collaboration. Collaboration is a shared adventure with shared rewards wherein every person is due his or her rightful share—the share agreed upon before setting foot on deck. No collaborative effort is inherently equal, for our skills and strengths on any given project are too disparate—nor will the rewards ever be the same for we will alway reap in proportion to what we sew and tend and what we sign on to do.—but the journey and the chase can and should be exciting and rewarding for everyone, and no one person should ever be allowed to alter the common purpose of the voyage, and every person has to accept the mundane roles on quiet seas and rise from the forecastle when all hands are needed on deck, and every man has to drop everything and pull on the oars in precise rhythm when chasing the whale—and, most importantly, every person needs to be on that ship for the length of the voyage.

The Pequot’s crew was hoping to sail home to Nantucket with a belly full of oil that could be measured and assessed down to the last drop, and every part of that motley crew would know and expect, and receive a fair share of the reward. 

So now I not only love group projects, but I believe that they are the heart and soul of my classroom.  They are what binds us together as a community. They are opportunities to share strengths and  work through weaknesses and differences. They help us recognize and respect the dynamic power of uncommon backgrounds pushing towards a common dream—not merely a goal. They help individuals find new and deeper sources of strengths that he or she never fathomed before.

But collaborative projects are not all roses and perfume. As a teacher you have to accept that it will take twice as long as you planned, and if you can’t be flexible, you are no better than Ahab—while at the same time your students need you as a captain who is stern and unforgiving and expects duty to be dutiful, who gathers the crew on deck when need be and frees them to their chores without being meddlesome, and when the blubber of the whale is being boiled down in the tryworks, your classroom will be a bloody mess. And just as in life people will bitch and moan and convince themselves that their individual effort and persistence is what is keeping the boat afloat–and if that happens, call the crew on deck again–and again if needed. True collaboration is an honest day of hard and dirty work–not a bunch of friends trying to pass off sloth as substance.

And well all is said and done, and your students are tired, bloody, and bruised, give them their fair share of the split—and reward them, damn it, reward them.

John Adams and Me

    From the deck of my sister’s house on the Oregon coast, I can see the breakers lumbering in as the heavy morning fog slowly burns away. In true west coast style, I brewed a coffee that is strong and pungent and will guide me through my own morning fog. I was reading until late last night in David McCullough’s book, John Adams. John Adams is an interesting character with whom I feel a marked affinity at every turn in the book (a book which has way too many turns!). Maybe it is my distance right now from New England that creates the affinity. I am certainly not a very political person, but I relate to Adam’s need for, and dedication to, his family, his love of walking the countryside, and his practical working of the earth closest to him—an earth replete with stone walls, fields, orchards, rivers, wood-splitting, and escapes to the sea—but most importantly, his escape to “quill and paper” to better expose his vanities and commonality, and to find a pathway to express the depths of his speculative thinking.

Though he often lived low, he always aimed high, and that is the demon and angel I wrestle with every day. With summer almost over, there is as much undone as done. I feel like a waterbug that has skittered across a great expanse of time and water without breaking below the surface to exploit the riches below. There is no new batch of songs, no folio of poetry, and precious few chapters in Hallows Lake, my own—and only—labored attempt at fiction. I can console myself with ten or twelve decent essays and narratives written in support of the writing communities I oversee during the summer months, but not much creative work, which, ironically, is the strongest suit in my deck of writing cards.

Writing is still the time that is stolen from the day and not the purpose of the day itself. My own purposes and instinctual priorities, like Adam’s, are the myriad responsibilities of the lifestyle I lead, but Adams took his life further, wider, and deeper. As a public figure, Adams was prodded and coerced by the dictates of a needy public and the enormity of the political upheavals of his time, while I am only inspired by a vague sense of my potential and a mysterious need to put words to the narrow confines of my own experiences and my own sense of the world closest to me.

At this juncture in my life, I wonder if that is enough? I wonder if I need to put myself on a larger stage and summon the courage to place my life in front of a larger audience and let the chips fall where they may? A week from today I will be back in the classroom in front of sixty 14 year-old boys who I need to inspire to somehow give a damn about everything I ask them to do. My monologues need to be reinforced by a model of hope and action. Too often it is true that we teach what we do not do ourselves; too often we only build a scale model of our true greatness out of brittle plastic and weak glue that can only weaken over time, and too often we don’t answer the clarion of our own callings, and so we sit, smugly satisfied with the diluted reality of our lives.

What we think is only made real through what we say and do. The waves rolling onto the shore in front of me now are barely perceptible to the boats fishing out of Nehalem Bay. The power of the water is only evident where the water breaks and crashes onto the beach. No one is here in Manzanita content to simply look beyond the horizon. We are here because the sea meets the land in a continual expectation of beauty and awe-inspiring power. We walk the beaches in search of both the detritus and bounty of the sea. If that sea gave us nothing; if we weren’t convinced there was not more to be had here than from the confines of our own yards, we would just have stayed at home and gathered the glory of our own gardens.

I have to set to sea and trawl the infinite stew of what I carry within me, and I have to take myself to where those words curl onto a more public shore. I need to take my garden to the sea and spread my wares upon the waves and let the beachcombers gather what they wish to keep.

It is not the history of John Adams I am after.

It is his unflinching and steady spirit.