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The Fog of Literacy

Thinking About Literacy Part II

 

As the politics of school standardized test results continually ratchet up, the fortune of good leadership described in Thinking about Literacy Part I resonated through the lens of a conference I attended.  The topic was a proposed a switch in our state (NH) to move from one high stakes testing period per year to two, potentially creating a more vicious cycle of accountability and teaching to the test. In my view, increased standardized testing  is counterproductive to motivating reading and writing. Ultimately, the biannual testing became a choice of individual school districts.  Districts choosing to test twice though with one set of tests still had to give the annual state mandated test; meaning students in some districts were tested 3 times a year. …

Has the Word Literacy Become a Cliché in the World of Education?

Thinking About Literacy Part I

 

 

 

We all have memories that become moments integrating into our ongoing stream of consciousness that connect to facets of our daily lives.  A recent moment returned me to 1967 as I drove my parents’ car into the now demolished Dorchester, MA Neponset Drive-In with three  passengers, two of whom were hidden in the trunk. Once we all made it comfortably into the car, we settled in to watch The Graduate, a movie that resonated for four teenage boys because of Mrs. Robinson and the graduate’s (Dustin Hoffman) love interest.  However,  it was one iconic word of advice that brought me back to the present and unfortunately was predictably accurate…”Plastics!” Today, as we address issues of climate change, plastics is one of the key challenges to reducing our carbon footprints. 

As a graduate student, I received a piece of advice that was just as iconic as ‘plastics’; at least for me. Ted Sizer, a founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools(CES) was a guest in my class, Educational Issues & The Politics of Policy. He spoke of the Coalition’s philosophy centered on its 10 Common Principles, one of which was “Less is More.” The reductionist notion wasn’t originally coined by Sizer. Poet, Robert Browning, used the phrase in his 1855 poem, and multiple architects are given credit for coming up with the phrase in connection with a minimalist building designs during the mid twentieth century. For Sizer and the CES, the educational connection to less is more meant “curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.”

Which brings me to an overused word in the educational arena today that might carry the same insidiousness going forward that has evolved with plastics over the last 50+ years…literacy

Memorial Day 2021…Something Feels Different

This is a link to my Memorial Day Column In the Newburyport Daily News

Since rescuing a very energetic cocker spaniel, I’ve taken regular walks throughout the Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport Ma. For us dog owners in Essex County, there are so many wonderful spots to walk, but I’m not sure many matches one of the country’s first rural garden cemeteries consecrated in 1842 and listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

The stately oak and pine trees, older than anyone walking the grounds these days, are towering reminders of the largess of those buried there.  Especially those veterans representing essentially all the wars fought to protect our freedom, our democracy and the Constitution that has centered our nation during the most tumultuous points of our history. At this time of year, I always think of my father, George, who served in the Navy during WWII; my Uncle Paul who was wounded on a destroyer in the Pacific theater; my Uncle Sam, who I never met because he was killed in action as his Marine battalion stormed a hill in Okinawa; and my Uncle Charlie who was a crew member on a tank in the Korean War

During my walks of late I’ve made it a point to stop at several graves each day that are staked with small American flags signifying their service and while I can’t list the hundreds of our finest laid to rest in Oak Hill, I thought that at least three could be remembered for paying the ultimate sacrifice: …

A Sense of Place

The following posting appeared as a column in our community’s local daily. It’s a reflection on a fantastic annual local literary festival( Newburyport Literary Festival )which had to move online because of the pandemic

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One of my favorite times of the year is the Newburyport Literary Festival, and the most recent one that concluded a few weeks ago had a session that struck me as a metaphor for life in Newburyport, the challenges of work, school and the community brought on by the pandemic for over a year; and how the pandemic will continue to shape our world moving forward.  First, a bit of background.  The Literary Festival put Newburyport on the map for me 10 years ago.  Prior to that, I had been Portsmouth, NH centric, with occasional drop-ins to Newburyport.  The energy of the festival, the venues used for author presentations, and the nooks and crannies of the community for discussion, coffee and reflection created a sense of place that I hadn’t experienced in other communities.  After several years of attending the Literary and Documentary Film Festivals, my wife and I found that spirit of community too strong to resist and we moved to Newburyport.

That bond of community hasn’t disappointed, but the pandemic has thrown in a heavy dose of disruption that has seen businesses and schools needing to make huge adjustments to create hybrid worlds for continuing on safely with our lives. That has been viewed as a disadvantage by many as the suddenness of having to shift to hybrid, remote, Zoom based relationships has created an exhaustion and feeling of isolation for many.  One teacher recently shared with me her exhaustion on a Saturday morning.  She said that hers wasn’t an end of the week exhaustion; rather, it was an exhaustion of the soul. …

Ecotones, Disintermediation, & and Educational Crossroads

An ecotone is an area of transition area between two biomes. It is where two or more communities meet and integrate.It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest, grassland and water(ecosystems). An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line.  The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension… a place that is heterogeneous in nature and offers opportunities for a blended sustainability- or not.

One of my favorite ongoing observations while a Teacher in Residence at the University of New Hampshire was supervising a student teacher in a high school environmental science class for a year while studying bug life diversities and habitats on the many ecotones of an expansive school grounds  consisting of streams of water, old growth forests, and natural overgrown fields. Encroaching  the natural were athletic playing fields treated with an assortment of chemicals for maintenance; parking areas treated with winter salt; and a cut-through with high tension wires running along the edge of the property.  While they took samples of bug life in the different areas over time, the real interesting findings were which species survived and ultimately lived in the ecotone’s blended environments; where field met stream, forest met athletic fields, etc.

The experience resonates for me today and is a metaphor for the current state of education. Teaching and learning is caught to an extent in the old growth of  20th Century practices of education which still predominates school cultures. New 21st Century educational ecosystems where technology provides possibilities for flexibility of time, of pace and of place is changing the landscape of possibilities for of what schools, teaching and learning will look like going forward.  In this context, the interesting questions for me are: Who and what will survive as we continue moving forward?  What will the blending of the past and future look like as virtual options and personalization become more the norm?…and what will educators need to do or how will they need to change in order to survive in an ecotone of a fading 20th century model that will be increasingly dominated by 21st century possibilities?  The inevitable change is where the notion of the disintermediation of public schools enters the discussion; and the impact the 2020-21 pandemic has accentuated the tensions of the  virtual and blended teaching and learning possibilities emerging today with 20th Century dogmas.