Thursday, April 10, 2014

I: Island--No Man is One #AtoZChallenge

As a teacher, I'm keenly aware of how interconnected we all are on this big blue marble. John Donne says it best in "Meditation XVII," often referred to as "No Man is an Island."

"Meditation XVII" (excerpt)

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

I think about Donne's words often, so my post today is about several of the reasons Donne's poem means so much to me and why the argument Donne articulates is one we should all embrace. 

1. It's impossible to live a totally isolated existence.

A recent post on Facebook reminded me of this. A friend posted "Here's Where Americans Think Ukraine Is," an article showing a map illustrating just how geographically challenged Americans are. Several placed Ukraine in Tennessee! The post prompted some interesting responses, including several from a high school classmate who railed against the government in a diatribe reminiscent of Pap in Huck Finn. In part, he claimed that as a self-employed individual 

I don't depend on them, never have, never will, self employed, didn't go to college, didn't finish high school, never drawn unemployment, no state or government assistance and I will not draw social security, don't want or need it, nothing ugly in my future, why would anyone depend on our government to support them or shoot straight with them? Those who do are setting themselves up for disappointment.

Aside from the straw man ignoring the article's point that Americans don't understand geography and that this lack of geographic knowledge affects important national decisions, the respondent ignores all the ways he depends on government for things like transportation, medical research via the CDC, environmental protections, etc. Simply, he is not an island entire of himslef. 

2. Within a school community, we all need one another for students to be successful.

I teach seniors, which means dealing with the senior project. As this is only our second year with this state mandate, many students are challenged to see it as a graduation requirement. I've relied on the support of our Native American tutor, our senior tracker who aides in enforcing accountability with at risk seniors, my principal and assistants, and the counselors to guide some of the seniors I teach through the senior project maze. It has been a challenge. 

Additionally, it's testing time. Ugh! To make testing work (inasmuch a this is possible), we're all pulling together. Last and this week we have SBAC testing. Next week we have the state mandated SAT test that all juniors take. Then we begin AP testing. In a school of 1,450 students, testing is a crucible of how well we work together. Since I have a student teacher, I've been administering the preparatory activity for math and language arts. 

Of course, we have many other end-of-the-year activities, including spring sports, concerts, competitions, etc. that necessitate working as a synergistic team rather than as disparate units hiding in our own caverns. 

3. Community necessitates concern for one another:

Our school and community have suffered some devastating losses this year, including two teen suicides in the community; a devastating house fire that killed four members of a prominent family, including a student at my school; a colleague whose home was destroyed by fire; and attempts to repeal an anti-discrimination code. 

In these instances, Donne's words ring especially true: We are all "involved in mankind." What diminishes one diminishes all. If this weren't true, we'd just as well live on the moon. 

Greenland: via Google images free to use and share filter
*At some time I want to devote time in this space to the island whose survival our own depends on: Greenland. It's melting at an alarming rate. 


  1. Hi Glenda - I too have written about how as a school we all need to feel included. You appear to have had major incidents in your community this year which must have deeply affected you and your students - being there for each other is so important at these testing times.

  2. This is my first visit from the A to Z blog, so it's great to meet you! What is the senior project like? We had to do a paper when I was in school, but that was more than 25 years core curriculum back then!

    Stephanie Faris, author

    1. The Senior Project is a state requirement and is handled in various ways in each district. Unfortunately, my district has take a very traditional path: a short 4-5 page research paper w/ a presentation. I offer the option of a multigenre project and require those who don't choose multigenre (which I prefer) to use the Pecha Kucha presentation format for their presentations. I actually have a YouTube video of me explaining the project to one of my classes using Pecha Kucha: