Latches of being


Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

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Delicious transformations

IMG_3151Yesterday’s abundant harvest of tomatoes from our garden was transformed this afternoon into a cold Moroccan Tomato Soup as well as a version of Ratatouille.

The recipe for the cold soup is below. I used three kinds of organic eggplant, which I bought at the farmer’s market this morning, in the Ratatouille: Thai, Japanese, and Italian. (They are just as beautiful inside as out!–see photo below.) Add to the eggplant a little garlic (actually more than a little), some onion, tomatoes, cilantro, and a variety of spices.

Delicious transformations.


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8th grade logic


This morning during advisory I asked my advisees how the year was going so far. They said it seemed alright, OK. Nothing brilliant or sparkling. Sure it was school I was asking them about and they were speaking in front of their peers so it probably did not seem cool to say they liked school. One student said it was “boring” and I reminded him to be careful of that word because it said more about him than about the quality of his teachers or classes.

FM said it’s not so much school, but the homework that was boring. I told him the homework was tough for teachers too.

“Then don’t assign it.”

“But you get paid for grading it.”

“Yeah. What if we got paid for doing our homework?”

“Yes. How about we get some money for getting an A on an assignment, then a little bit less for a B, and a little bit less for a C.”

“How about anything under a C, you owe money to the teacher.”

“Wouldn’t that mean that a teacher would make more money if her students did not get above a C? That’s upside down motivation.”

“This sounds like academic capitalism. The ones who can play the academic game the best get the bucks. Those who don’t play the game as well don’t.”

“What if you are a different kind of learner and just can’t get the grades? That leaves you pretty poor by the end of the year. And maybe you’re the one who needs that extra money because you need a tutor or something.”

“What about a kind of learning savings account without using real money? Like we calculate how much we might have earned for the quality of all the assignments we did during the year and compare our totals at the end.”

“Isn’t that what a grade is? I mean, doesn’t a grade do the same thing?”

We had come full circle. 8th grade logic.

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“You are giving me such a headache.”


Today we talked about truth. How do we sift through the material we are flooded with on a daily basis and figure out what is the truth? What assumptions do we make in the judgment of truth? In light of the political rhetoric we are bombarded with, and especially the GOP debate on CNN last night, the students had plenty to share and plenty to be outraged about. The conversation was lively.

We looked at a diary entry by Henry Stanley written in 1870 describing the “barbarous” and “filthy” people in the Congo and his justification in destroying them because of a perceived threat. We compared it to Mojimba’s account, King of the Congo, translated by a Catholic missionary, of the very same incident and how Mojimba thought these white people were their returned dead brothers from the river and how shocked Mojimba and his people were that their attempt to honor the white men was so tragically responded to. We discussed whether different perspectives of the same event can be true simultaneously. Is truth defined by facts alone? Or is truth an interpretation of facts? How do our perceptions shape the truth? Can the truth ever be fully known? More spirited conversation followed.

We read an excerpt of  “Who are the Nacirema?,”  a description of Americans (Nacirema spelled backwards) written as if by an alien describing common everyday activities as if they were sacred rituals. In fact, the piece is written with such an outsider’s point of view, that it is difficult at first to see that the piece is really written about us and not some native tribe somewhere. We talked about how the truth can be manipulated. (The students will write their own Nacirema piece next week.)

I shared that in my first job after college working for World Book Encyclopedia, I had to read the entire dictionary, to help figure out which words should be illustrated. I learned that every dictionary has a dozen or so false words in  it. (So that when dictionaries are published, publishing companies know if another company has copied their words and can then sue them.) I also shared that the particular dictionary I was reading for World Book was a Thorndike-Barnhart dictionary and that many of the definitions were not written by panels of experts as I had always assumed, but were written by Clarence Barnhart, his son David, and a secretary.

The students became increasingly outraged.

I then had the students draw, to the best of their ability and without any reference, a map of the world. We will look at these maps tomorrow along with Mercator projections and other published maps that distort truth.

While the students were drawing their maps, DL said, “Oh, can’t we just look at a real map?”

“Hmmmm. What exactly is a real map?” I answered, stroking my chin and gazing at the ceiling.

“You are giving me such a headache— a good one, but such a headache.”

I love my job.

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Four Young Girls

birmingham-church-bombing-four-little-girls52 years ago today, Carol Denise McNair (age 11), Cynthia Wesley (age 14), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Addie Mae Collins (age 14) were killed in a bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted 15 sticks of dynamite beneath the front steps of the church. There were 22 other injured people, including the most critically wounded, Addie Mae’s younger sister —Sarah Collins. Johnny Robinson and Virgil Ware were two black youths who were killed later in the day. Robinson (age 16) was shot in the back by a policeman as he was fleeing down an alley refusing to follow orders to halt, and Ware (age 13) was shot by a white youth in a residential suburb of the city.

Though the FBI had collected sufficient evidence to prosecute the perpetrators, J. Edgar Hoover closed the case without any convictions, sealing the files in 1965. It wasn’t until 1977, 14 years later, that the case was reopened and that Robert Chambliss was found guilty of the first degree murder of Carol Denise McNair. Thomas Blanton and Robert Cherry, also Klan members, were convicted in 2001 and 2002, 38 and 39 years later, on four counts of murder. All three were sentenced to life imprisonment. The fourth conspirator, Herman Cash, died in 1994 before he was able to be tried. Thomas Blanton is the only one still alive and still in solitary confinement. He will be up for a parole hearing in April 2016.

It is claimed that the deaths of these four young girls shocked and outraged white Americans, helping to change their attitudes toward supporting the passage of the 1965 Civil Rights Act. And there is no need to remind anyone who may be reading this that some 50 years later, the lack of tolerance Americans have for each other continues to thrive. The system continues to privilege some and not others. Lives continue to be cut short.

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Ethical conundrum

DSC_0256When there is just 5 or 6 minutes at the end of a class and we have finished our work, we play a game called “Mrs. Robinson.” I’m not sure how the game got its moniker, but I learned it in a theater class many years after the movie The Graduate came out.

I first ask for a volunteer who sits in a chair next to me, with everyone else in the class sprawled out in front of us. I introduce myself as Mrs. Robinson and then ask the volunteer to give us his/her name. Usually everyone is pretty straight and just says their name, but once, a few years ago, the volunteer said, “Bond. James Bond.” It was very amusing.

This introduction is followed with me asking a question of the student volunteer. The question is difficult, complex, usually demonstrating a tangle of ethical issues. I have gathered these questions from a variety of sources over the years with some former students even framing several of them. First the volunteer gets to answer, then anyone else who wants to speak can share their feelings too. The kids love this game and often want to spend all class playing.

I introduced the game for the first time on Friday. The question I asked was — You discover that your wonderful one-year-old child is, because of a mix-up at the hospital, not yours. What would you do? Would you want to exchange the child to try to correct the “mistake?” Hands went flying after the volunteer stated that she would want her “blood” child back. Usually the boys tend to glom onto that kind of answer. Their responses went back and forth on the issue. It got quite heated.

“But you have already formed a deep connection, hopefully. You can’t just give the child to the other family. And your ‘blood child’ would not even know you.”

“But wouldn’t you want the child that you gave birth to?”

“Children are adopted and you love them. It doesn’t matter.”

“You could just not say anything to your child until they are 16 and then tell them and let them decide for themselves then.”

“Oh my god, that’s crazy. Your 16 year old would hate you for never telling them before.”

“Isn’t it in the first 8 months that a child learns like everything? Maybe his or her memory wouldn’t be vivid but they would remember being torn from a relationship where they were loved.” And on and on.

Finally a student said,”This is easy. I am Indian and in my culture, everyone is an aunty or an uncle. You would just formally connect with the other family and maybe even live close to each other, still loving the child you have raised and now your ‘blood’ child as well. And the two kids would get a chance to form a relationship with each other too. Chances are the two families are already related anyway. ”

Everyone quieted down. An ethical conundrum had been solved. Class ended. The weekend began.

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8th grade energy

IMG_2501 (1)

Last week in class we put together boxes that each student will fill with symbols of stories in his/her life that helped to shape who they are. We have talked about not being literal in their choices of items which leaves more room for “Possibility” of interpretation and layers of meaning.

The box itself is a basic origami box, one larger than the other so that one half becomes the lid. The students practiced the folding method on smaller paper, chose larger paper in a wide range of colors, and got to work. They actually were quite a dextrous group (and the few who struggled found a peer to help them) and easily put the boxes together that will hold their creativity and thoughtfulness with ease.

Following the morning class is a study hall in my room and a couple of boys were competing to see who could make the smallest box. MH kept cutting smaller and smaller squares until BL was able to fold a box smaller than Lincoln’s head on the penny. More and more students gathered around as the competition heated up. Then, using a IMG_2497calculator, he and PG determined how many of these small boxes would fit into the larger box they had made for the self-portrait box (5,324 boxes for those who are interested). BL decided to put his heavy pencil case on top of another small box and lid he had made (the perfect size to hold a penny) to see how much weight it could hold. They even tried two big dictionaries. The box and lid stayed structurally solid. Someone in the crowd of students who was watching all this was bringing over a third and fourth dictionary when study hall was over.

This is what is amazing about 8th grade energy when left to itself to play and push and explore. 8th grade energy has a lot to teach us all.

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