Saturday, April 25, 2020

What if kids end up ahead instead of falling behind?

It's not always about book learning and academic skills. In fact, when it comes to life and growing up, it's almost never really about book learning and academic skills. That's been a theme and an emphasis of my writing and my "teaching" over the years, for I look askance at the utilitarian skill and content basis of so much schooling. And, that view is central to my mantra for years that "not every kid needs to go to a four year college," and not every kid needs more time in school.

And, perhaps that's why I am smiling and nodding in approval with the anonymous Facebook post which has been floating around which poses this question:  "What if instead of falling behind, kids are advanced because of this?"

As we struggle and fret and worry and lament all that is being lost by the new normal of "remote learning" in education, and kids not being physically present in brick-and-mortar schools, we might consider some positives that could occur. And, let's be clear, this is not to dismiss or discount the equity gap in education and the serious challenges and access issues this will exacerbate for our neediest students, especially in terms of socioeconomic disparity. However, we can still consider that fortuitous benefits can and will occur for all in some ways. Here are a few interesting questions and thoughts from the post:

“What if they have more empathy, they enjoy family connection, they can be more creative and entertain themselves, they love to read, they love to express themselves in writing.

“What if they enjoy the simple things, like their own backyard and sitting near a window in the quiet.

“What if they notice the birds and the dates the different flowers emerge, and the calming renewal of a gentle rain shower?

“What if this generation are the ones to learn to cook, organize their space, do their laundry, and keep a well run home?

I think we are all considering the ways in which we individually, and society at large, might grow and learn and progress through this strange, unprecedented experience. In the early days of the stay-at-home, I posed the question: How much of the good stuff do you think we'll keep after this is all over?
More family time. More games and art. More creative homemaking. More re-evaluation of the important things. 

What if we focus on how we can all end up ahead?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Where's Our CEO President? Or Should I Say Totalitarian Dictator?

While over the years, I have become less focused on politics with this blog, and while I have definitely lessened my politically-focused commentary since 2016, when I retreated from that process and sought to focus more on art and personal growth, I have been moved to write one political piece in the last couple weeks. And I am even more inclined to post it after the President's bizarre press conference yesterday when he confused himself with a king, or dictator.

In the past few weeks, we have heard the President move from saying, "I take no responsibility at all ..." to his surprisingly brazen and incredibly aloof statement that "when someone is President, the authority is total." This shocking display of ignorance & hubris at the White House was in response to being challenged on the idea that he is the one who will "open the country back up," a statement which baffled me and others because he has done nothing (other than very limited travel restrictions at airports) to "close the country" or lead in any way on the COVID19 crisis. And, other than a few lone voices of dissent, the GOP stands largely silent & passive in the face of a President who declared he has "total authority." Where's the outrage?

And, back to my piece of writing from earlier this week, "Where's Our CEO President?"

While Donald Trump’s time in the White House has been an endless supply of quips and quotes, the Covid-19 pandemic disaster has given pundits and historians the catch phrase that will define his presidency: “I don’t take responsibility at all.” That was the President’s defensive answer to questions about his dissolution of the pandemic response team and the subsequent testing boondoggle that has prevented states and communities from identifying, isolating, and tracking the community spread of the most insidious villain the country has faced in a century. Widespread testing is the obvious first line of defense against a communicable disease threat, and one that other nations like South Korea, Taiwan, and Germany have seamlessly implemented. It’s also one Italy and Spain miserably failed, and from whom the White House and CDC could have learned. Oh, how far we’ve fallen from the days and iconic words of one of the nation’s strongest leaders, Harry S Truman and the sign on his desk: “The buck stops here.”

Thursday, April 9, 2020

HOWL, and Sound Your Barbaric Yawp

"The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me—he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed—I too am untranslatable;
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."

Have you heard the howling lately over the rooftops of Denver, or where ever you may be? It's not your imagination, and it's not (yet another) sign of the apocalypse or a rising up of the animal kingdom to take back the world. But it is howling. It's literal howling, though not from the usual suspects.

It's the sound of the city howling -- every night at 8:00 PM, people are heading to their yards or balconies or sidewalks or windows to let out a vigorous howl of utter primal urge ... and perhaps you should, too. As reported by Danika Worthington of the Denver Post, the coordinated howling is the work of two members of the Denver art scene who started a Facebook Group "Go Outside and Howl at 8:00 PM," which has grown to nearly a half million members from Denver to Switzerland to Brazil. Their reason: "what better time to howl than in this time of isolation?"

The practice of howling in the animal kingdom is communication, and it often has a communal aspect, (as anyone with a dog or in a neighborhood with dogs can attest. And, interestingly it actually is seasonal and, at least anecdotally, it can coincide with the full moon, which we just happen to be experiencing right now with the biggest super moon of the year. There is no doubt that something like a howl and primal scream or simply a yell has a cathartic aspect to it -- it can feel really good to just let go verbally. And, there is no doubt a literary or artistic tradition in America to the howl, as can be seen from 80s pop music back to the bard of American literature, Walt Whitman.

Many years ago, I recall watching an episode of the quirky 90s TV dramady Northern Exposure, in which the local DJ Chris Stevens introduced me to the idea of the howl, or to use ol' WW's term, "the barbaric yawp."  Chris, who often used his show "Chris in the Morning" to read from some classic literature, was reading from Whitman's Song of Myself, and he encouraged the residents of Cicily, Alaska to embrace their inner animal and howl or sound their yawp. I believe the concept of the howl or yawp also came up in the 90s literary film Dead Poets Society.

So, if you're feeling the urge to howl, step outside at 8:00 -- "I stop somewhere, waiting for you."

The last scud of day holds back for me;
It flings my likeness after the rest, and true as any, on the shadow’d wilds;
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air—I shake my white locks at the runaway sun;
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeathe myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love;
If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am, or what I mean;
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Art Hides - Finding Poetry in the Moments

"So I'll tell you a secret instead:
poems hide.
In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them."
                                        -- Naomi Nye

"It can be tough" I shared with my students yesterday (remotely, of course) "to see the art and beauty in the dailiness of a world turned upside down. But I wanted to end the week with a cool piece of poetry about finding art in the world. Normally, I would be doing more creative pieces, like this poem, through the spring as a sort of balance to the rigors of prepping for the exam." 

But, alas, I will have fewer opportunities to directly share these glimpses of artistic wisdom with my students, as we are only communicating via the internet, and will (heavy sigh) finish the year doing so so after our school district made the difficult decision to not return to classrooms this spring. So, I simply posted the text of this poem called "A Valentine for Ernest Mann" by Naomi Nye, as well as a blog entry with a video of her reading it. And I asked them to consider taking some time this weekend to simply notice and appreciate the poetry hiding in plain sight.

The idea of the art all around us has been on my mind lately, as I force myself to regularly get up from the desk, where I seem to be endlessly sitting through a schedule of Zoom or Microsoft Teams meetings in between trying to plan a quarter worth of learning about rhetoric into a couple accessible online assignments a week, and I wander the house and the perimeter of the yard. There is art everywhere. It's in the workouts we are doing, the mind-boggling math equations my son leaves scribbled on papers strewn across the coffee table, the snippets of FaceTime conversations I hear my wife and daughter having with friends, the books on the shelves that I haven't noticed for years but now spend an inordinate amount of time browsing, the lazily graceful movements of our betta fish flitting through the plants in his bowl, ... even the strange and surreal newscasts we occasionally (or habitually) succumb to.

Thinking about that beautiful poem from Naomi Nye has reminded me to look back to the poetry of William Carlos Williams who dared us to Dance Russe, or to perhaps find a bit of art in a note left on the kitchen table with some pondering about someone's intention to eat some plums. Williams and his style of Objectivism (which might perhaps simply be an extension of Pound's Imagism) seemed to find the poetry in the natural cadence of our lives, much as Walt Whitman had done fifty or so years before. The artists have always sought to bring our attention to that which we might naturally overlook, even if it's something as simple as how colors and textures work with and against each other in a really funky and cool piece of abstract art.

Art hides. 

But since you might have some extra time on your hands, look for it.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Go Inside a Cup of Coffee

Going Inside

Go inside a cup
of coffee,
swim around in the
follow the swirls of
cream and find
a pattern to the
visit the sweetness
pooling in the bottom,
peer out over the
edges at the
dried drops down
the side.
Balance precariously
on the rim,
then fall backward
into the warm comfort
of coffee on
a cold morning.

           - Michael P. Mazenko