Petunia Blossoms

Stricken with drought, seared with heat
And abandoned to a brickwork patio,
Petunia blossoms festoon a poverty of rangy arches
As they seek escape from their life sustaining dirt.
Crimson, wine, burgundy velvet,
Elevated isolates of intense and florid wealth,
Suspended above the scorched and tenuous dregs of life.
Violet, purple, plum, the colors we will into midnight
When city lights bleach the skies, empty and lifeless.
Into these dark depth of summer comfort
We slide.
Into these singularities of a life envisioned,
Visions then swept into the darkness,
Passed into alternate realities,
As into momentary, transitory deaths,
We fall,
And find freedom from a harrowing now.

August 2012

Seasonal Quips

Spring Pops Up

Spring pops up one sunny day,
Turns snow to mud and then away.
Nighttime falls and then more snow.
Bloody spring, just show and go.


Summer slows mentality,
Slides a hand over the heart,
And saddens old sentimentality.

Marshy days ooze toward sodden ends.
Luminous dusks linger,
Resolving into shimmering specks,
While night weeps in the long grass,
And sleeplessness seeps toward dawn.

   Vivum est iudicium sine iudicio.

Falling (revised)

   melancholy drifting, floating,
   sepia, ocher, rust,
   bleakness seeping, dappling,
   watery, listless, drawn,
   on arching and forsaken blades,
   holding their breath,
   awaiting at last the fall.


   winter wants few words:
   cold and cloudy, wind and snow,
   the caw and clatter of a crow.

Defending Aleppo

Education Week – Teacher

Published Online: August 7, 2012

Five Practices for Building Positive Relationships with Students

By Kelley Clark

The objective is posted. The Do Now is ready to go. Your well-planned lesson is aligned with state standards, includes a variety of instructional methods, and offers opportunities for both summative and formative assessments.

What might still be missing? A strong positive relationship with your students, the kind of connection that makes them want to go above and beyond in your class.

Can you have a good lesson without having a positive relationship with your students? Yes. But …

Clark recommends and comments upon these five steps:

1) Leave yourself reminders on your laptop.

2) Never let the other students see you react inappropriately to a student’s comment.

3) Actually use the information you receive from a first-day student survey.

4) Schedule "bonding" time.

5) Finally, and most simply, learn your students’ names immediately.

Kelley Clark is a high school math teacher and member of the Teacher Leaders Network. She was the 2010 Secondary Teacher of the Year for Williamsburg-James City County in Virginia. She earned her graduate degree from the College of William and Mary and is currently a part of their clinical faculty program.
You can follow her on Twitter@kkssclark.

cited above

I opened and read this article this morning only to be discouraged by the minimal simplicity of the five practices, which seem to me only humane, and moreover by the promotion of these practices as something teachers, even new teachers, would not have been told, in case they hadn’t already figured it out, by colleges, colleagues or workshops.

Building relationships with students seems to be a natural, even automatic inclination for anyone interested in teaching. For the few who aren’t this sort of person, there was and should still be instruction in the importance of relationship building in introductory college education courses. AFT’s ER&D Foundations course has promoted and articulated a much deeper, research based set of practices to build relationship with students since its inception in 1981. The press, as in the case of Marzano’s articles and books, have preached relationship building for at least as long. John Dewey wrote about it nearly a century ago. Yet here we are teaching teachers to be humans at such a fundamental level.

Perhaps the new normal is understood to be the capitalist constructivist nature of our global economy, and education functions as component assembly for this knowledge industry. This norm has already begun to replace the humanities emphasis with the economic emphasis, humanity v. economy. Even so, the marketing side would tell us that the perception of being liked will increase our readiness to trust and purchase. So too with the students: “I like it that you’re being so successful on these otherwise mindless, heartless online tests.” And there is an academic return when students feel cared about, especially the most needy students. Of course, it is much easier to achieve this perception of being loved when the teachers really cares about her or his students.

And that brings me to the real question: Why would someone become and continue to be a teacher if they didn’t actually love the kids? Kids, all of them though perhaps not all the time, are so great it should be easy to care about them, and feel that they all deserve the best education. And they will give as good as they get. It turns out that when you want them to succeed, they want to succeed. They are the other half of the relationship. Care about students, and they will, as far as they are capable, care about you. Teach them because you care, and they learn because they care. This by the way is even more pronounced among distressed populations.

Clark may be right on target with her five practices, but if she is, it’s plain to see why American education is in trouble. If we need to be taught to teach with compassion, we must be suffering from a debilitating emotional ineptitude. Human emotions are assets, not encumbrances. Caring is purposeful in the survival and maintenance of the individual and community and species, but it seems it is becoming vestigial. Perhaps in a cut-throat economy, we can learn to live and die without caring.

Thanks, Kelley. Soldier on. I just hope you aren’t defending Aleppo.



melancholy drifts down

in ocher, sepia and rust

watery light dapples bent blades

of emerald and verdigris

life holds its breath

and waits for the fall.

Front Phrases

It isn’t what we say; it’s how we say it. Because language is symbolic, it lends itself to labels and sound bites, bits that represent so much more. Because language is metaphoric, it lends itself to misleading eloquence, phrasing that conjures appealing imagery. Appearance trumps significance almost every time. Most important about what we say is that it sounds good. We must therefore question everything we see and hear. We have iconized words to represent complex and widely varied philosophies or policies. We ride these banner words for reasons only loosely related to those words. We parade verbal icons before movements whose function and purpose are cynically disconnected from the originating reality, and sometimes fairly antithetical to the operation and even existence of institutions to which the words were initially connected, words subsequently employed to leverage change for obscure and sometimes Machiavellian ends.

What do these iconic phrases mean? Here begins the examination of one such verbal icon, Education Reform. A search of book titles related to “education reform” at Barnes and Noble online reveals 32,640 titles. We can only guess what range of thought this encompasses. Even if the ideas enfolded in the pages of these books are repeated on average a thousand times, it chokes thought to accept that the phrase, which drives billions of dollars and millions of votes, can probably be safely construed only to mean ‘changing something that will affect school age children.’ Of course, it can be pretty certain that it will fuel a great deal of media-fanned political heat. In the end, what is likely to get changed is the flow of money, which generally moves away from schools and often into profit margins and dividends.

Look at the words according to Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary (electronic).


noun :

1 a : the action or process of educating or of being educated; also : a stage of such a process b : the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process <a person of little education>
2 : the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools


noun :

1 : amendment of what is defective, vicious, corrupt, or depraved
2 : a removal or correction of an abuse, a wrong, or errors

Let us assume that “the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools,” and “a removal or correction of an abuse, a wrong, or errors,” are pretty good indicators of what is suggested by the Education Reform advocates. At least something about what happens to school aged children is impacted by “methods of teaching.” It is certainly impacted by methods of learning too, but the field of educational psychology seldom enters the Education Reform discourse. The simplified findings of brain research are sometimes forced into that discourse. Unfortunately, modern brain research is more about what happens in the brain when one learns, but not so much about how one learns.

Memorizing Cassius’ appeal to Brutus probably looks the same as memorizing the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence in terms of brain activity. So how do we memorize better? Should we even be memorizing? Is that “learning,” and if not, what is? And what do we memorize? Our definition of education doesn’t touch on the processes or content we teach and learn. We can fault Merriam-Webster for the shortcoming in its definition of education, but how can we change the rules mid-game? That’s the definition we had going on. And that’s the danger of defining; defining attempts to fix the temporal into the perpetual. The practical reality of teaching and learning is something more and different from “the field of study that deals mainly with methods of teaching and learning in schools.”

If teaching and learning has to do with building society, and it probably does, then social policy probably should specify some of what we are taught. If part of our society, however, wishes to have its members learn, say, music, should society at large have the right, because it has the power, to deprive it of that area of learning? Well, we can’t manage the issue of rights and power here. In practice, our working definition of education deals with methods of learning, how we learn, and public policy doesn’t actually try to legislate that. At the same time, our definition doesn’t deal with what we learn or why, while public policy does put considerable energy into what we learn and in an off-handed way, why we learn it. The latter is not often stated, as it happens, but since the testing that matters is a measure of economic potential, we may extrapolate an economic motive in the prescribed content of education. Not a necessarily bad thing, though a bit flat given the depths of which societies and cultures are capable.

How we learn, returning to our line of argument, likely is affected by “methods of teaching.” At first glance, this seems like the place to effect change to reform this broken world; it looks “manageable,” and in need of repair. If the advocates of Education Reform are to be believed, they may provide the best evidence that past practices in teaching were indeed flawed.  These advocates were either well educated and are deceiving us, or they were poorly educated and shouldn’t be making education policy decisions. One questions whether the policy makers themselves know the answer to that one.

In reality, teaching and learning are complex interpersonal activities, much as parenting and (he improvises) childing. They are reciprocal processes, highly individualized and adaptive, deeply steeped in personal, sometimes sectarian morality, and served with a degree of social propriety and responsibility. Where do we draw the lines around these domains? The beliefs of which institution, family, religion, heritage, state, define those lines? How do we make the right things happen and keep the wrong things from happening when we can’t always agree on what those things are? Still, without having any clear idea what we are referring to, we will leave “methods of teaching” in our Education Reform policy, and move on to the “removal or correction of an abuse, a wrong, or errors,” because the reform part of our policy may resolve this methods conundrum.

Assuredly, if there is something abusive, wrong or in error about the methods of teaching they should be corrected or simply removed. To say there may be something abusive, wrong or in error about the methods of learning challenges reason, and further justifies leaving the learning aspect out of this discussion. We can agree that we want to avoid anything that is “abusive, wrong or in error.” Fair enough, as long as we can agree on that which is constructive, right and correct. Ah. That points to the soft-spoken or unspoken but hard sought goals of the Education Reform movement. Does constructive mean building a sound, secure society or a productive, profitable work force? Does right mean, among other things of course, all for one or everyone for himself.[*] And does correct mean there is only one right answer? We would have good cause to distrust anyone who even attempted to answer these questions. If they are still being asked after millennia of contemplation, one ought to consider the possibility that their irresolvability is their answer. The conundrum not only persists, it seems to loom over this Education Reform policy.

A year ago, I visited the Cathedral in Ely, East Cambridgeshire, England. I was of course impressed by the age, the history, the grandeur, but I was most impressed by what the Reformation had accomplished at Ely, and across England. Under the reign of the deeply religious, nine year old King Edward VI and his Lord Protector, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset,

The 1547 Injunctions against images were a more tightly drawn version of those of 1538 but they were more fiercely enforced, at first informally, and then by instruction. All images in churches were to be dismantled; stained glass, shrines, and statues were defaced or destroyed; roods and often their lofts and screens were cut down; bells were taken down; vestments were prohibited and either burned or sold; church plate was to be melted down or sold.

(taken from, 06 Aug 12)

Standing, as I did, among the destruction of nearly an acre of Norman stained glass, scores of friezes of angels’ faces, dozens of religious statues and more, some over 500 years old at the time, and the destruction of the original Saxon remains including the seventh century tomb of the founding nun, Etheldreda, was a profoundly numbing experience. This was a compounded crime against heritage. Local lords and their knights paid the Crown for the privilege of wreaking this destruction.

I became acutely sensitive to the potential for loss of roots, the loss of heritage and the consequential loss of identity inherent in reform. Were the Tudor Protestants about reforming what was an abuse, a wrong, or errors in the Roman Catholic Church in England? No. We know it was about diverting the wealth and power of the Church to the Crown. I make no defense of the Church, but ask who paid the price over time. It turns out that all across England, Victorian wealth replaced much of the lost glass and statuary and even rebuilt many churches, and I’m glad they did. But where did that wealth come from? That which made Great Britain great, the factory workers of the great industrial revolution and the exploited lands and people of the British Empire paid for the sins of fathers not their own. Reform appears to be the great change that never changes.

So, where does that leave us, and how is it that we hear this term and others similarly devised so often? They are front phrases of modern policy. Front phrases are façades raised to make actions and even words appear “pretty.” They are spins on the truth, euphemisms of reality, dust thrown into credulous eyes. Not only do front phrases mean whatever the speakers or writers want them to mean, they give vice the visage of virtue, and pledge solidarity with disparate purveyors of fraud. You see, it isn’t what we say; it’s how we say it.

Assume nothing. Question everything. Look for evidence. All arguments are logical, but not all logics are reasonable. Humans are capable of reasoning. They are also capable of obfuscating, and lying with the appearance of reasonableness. Education Reform sounds like a good thing, but what does it mean? And above what army does it rise as a standard?

Now should we try “Restore American Values?”

[*] I am aware of the gender exclusion here. It is intentional.

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