Saturday, April 2, 2016

Book Club: How Can We Keep Ourselves Connected to Books and Each Other when the Year Ends? #A2ZChallenge Letter B

Do not, under any circumstances, belittle a work of fiction by trying to turn it into a carbon copy of real life; what we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth. --Azar Nafisi READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN

"I remember you telling me last spring that you want the class to be like a book club," M--- said.

"I did? How have I done?" I asked.

"Oh, this class is basically a book club. I love that we talk about books and that we pretty much share our thoughts." 

This snippet of conversation happened a couple of months ago in my AP  Literature and Composition class, which I'm teaching as a new prep this year. 

Fast forward to earlier this week when the class raised the topic of book clubs once again. We had been talking about students' senior projects, which will be based on a text we have read this year or one that might appear on the AP Lit and Comp exam. 

Some students had intended to read a new book during spring break but found themselves busy with other tasks instead. 

"We can always read during the summer and chat about books via Twitter or some other forum," I offered. 

"This class is really just a book club anyway," T---said. 

"T--- and I have been talking about starting a book club. I really want to be in one," M--- said. 

"I've never been in a formal book club," I lamented. 

"Hey, let's do it. Let's start a book club," M--- beamed. 

"Yea, let's do it," A--- agreed.

Other students chimed in and offered possible names for the club, which we have informally agreed to start when the school year ends. 

I told the girls that I love discussing books with them but that our book club can't be about me being the teacher. It has to be all of us chatting about books on equal terms. 

I suggested we begin with Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, a book about a group of women meeting with their teacher to read Nabokov's Lolita. 

That prospect excited the girls. 

The bell rang and lunch morphed into class time as the other students joined our informal book club that is AP Lit and Comp.

We still haven't decided on a name, although M--- and I have chatted via Twitter about some possibilities, including "Princesses of the Page." We can envision the swag and tiara's formed from the pages of books we'll read and share. And while we love the classics, including those from"dead white guys," we want the voices of women writers to join our book club. 

Every fairy tale offers the potential to surpass present limits, so in a sense the fairy tale offers you freedoms that reality denies. ---Azar Nafisi

Friday, April 1, 2016

Ask: Why Question? #AtoZChallenge Letter A

From the pragmatic to the philosophical, we live in a world of questions: 

"Hey grandpa, what's for dinner?" 
"What should I wear to work?"
"Who will be our next president?"
"What is the meaning of life?"

When I decided to participate in the A to Z blogging challenge 2016, I eschewed the notion of choosing a theme, but I also desired an organizing structure. Thus, I contemplated: 

What theme should I choose? 
Should I have a theme? I questioned. 


Through the act of critiquing the merits and demerits of a theme, I realized life is full of questions. 

Consequently, I thought...

Why not pose essential question? 

After all: 

I teach students to ask essential questions when reading.
I teach students to ask essential question when writing. 
I ask questions that I'll explore as I seek meaning in an often confusing world. 

Advertisers have long known that asking consumers questions leads to sells and that sometimes consumers don't know the questions until an ad campaign asks them. Mental Floss featured a segment called  "18 Memorable Ad Questions." 

I'd forgotten that at one time I wondered: 

Where's the beef?
Can you hear me now?
How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie-roll center of a tootsie-pop?

This month I'll ask a question for each post and base that question on a word corresponding to the day's letter. 

I have lots of questions about many topics, and the more questions I ask, the more I have. 

Ask: It's the best way to find the answers.

Any Questions? 

Image via Google Images:
Labeled for non-commercial reuse.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Closed Doors; Opening Doors #SOL16 Day 31/31

*A big thank you to Stacey, Dana, Anna, Betsy, Beth, Kathleen, and Tara
for running the SOL blogging challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. 
Tuesday evening I walked into my garage.

I punched the button to open the garage door. 


No groaning door or motor.

No light peeking under the widening sliver 
exposing the outside as the door raised. 


I pressed the button again. 

The same nothingness. 

The door did not budge. 

It clung to the concrete floor, 
refusing to move like a spoiled toddler 

attached to a door knob 
from which its mother vainly pried its hands. 

Had my husband not been home 

to hoist the door open via its pulley mechanism, 

I would have been stuck

unable to drive to the university 

unable to teach my night class.

That night I parked in the driveway and entered the house. 

A new garage door opener still in the box 

leaned against the wall. 

This weekend Ken will install it, 

but for now the door remains closed; 

my car sits in the driveway.

And so it goes. 

One door closes

another door beckons to be opened. 

*On March 1, 2016 I opened the door to the Slice of Life blogging challenge. I've kept that door open 31 days straight. Tonight at 11:59 p.m. EST the door will close.

Tomorrow, April 1, 2016 another blogging door will open. I have signed up for the A to Z blogging challenge, which runs during the month of April. My goal is to write 26 posts for that challenge, one for each day of the month except Sundays, the day of rest. If I succeed, I will have written 57 posts in two months. That's as many as I sometimes manage in a year. 

I have been all-in for the #SOL16 challenge. I have devoted considerable time and thought to each post. I have followed the "two down, one up" commenting directive and have commented on more than the suggested three each day, and because the team at Two Writing Teachers generously and graciously gives so much, I donated a prize that I will soon send out to the winner. 

To those who have visited my blog, thank you. I hope you found your time here well spent and hope you'll come again. If I did not reciprocate in commenting, it's because I could not find you, so if you visit again, please leave a link. 

Do feel free to check my blogging progress during April. 

Doors opening, closing on us by Marge Piercy, 1936

Maybe there is more of the magical 
in the idea of a door than in the door
itself. It's always a matter of going
through into something else. But 

while some doors lead to cathedrals
arching up overhead like stormy skies
and some to sumptuous auditoriums
and some to caves of nuclear monsters

most just yield a bathroom or a closet.
Still, the image of a door is liminal, 
passing from one place into another
one state to the other, boundaries

and promises and threats. Inside 
to outside, light into dark, dark into 
light, cold into warm, known into 
strange, safe into terror, wind

into stillness, silence into noise 
or music. We slice our life into 
segments by rituals, each a door 
to a presumed new phase. We see

ourselves progressing from room
to room perhaps dragging our toys
along until the last door opens
and we pass at last into was. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

An Old Tale, An Old Hope Chest #SOL16 Day 30

When my grandparents moved from Reinmiller Road, an idyllic wooden country setting, to Pitcher Street, an industrial neighborhood, in Joplin, Missouri, my grandfather insisted on purchasing a home with a shop so he could "tinker." 

Had grandpa had his way, he and Phoebe, my grandmother, would have lived in the red house overlooking the chicken coop and forest until they died. But grandma wanted to live in town, ostensibly to be closer to stores, even though she never learned to drive. And grandma nagged and pestered grandpa until he agreed to move. 

I loved spending the night with my grandparents. Mostly I loved observing my quiet grandfather in his shop. Grandpa meticulously organized his tinkering tools, and even though the shop was the size of many homes, Grandpa lined the walls with work benches and the walls with tools. One wall housed drills and drill bits, another bands and pulleys, another multiple sets of screwdrivers, wrenches, and awls. 

Throughout the garage grandpa had table saws, hand saws, saw horses, planers, sanders, and every other tool a tinkerer might want. Each tool had a place, and grandpa kept everything tidy and organized. 

Frequently, one of grandpa's four living sons would borrow a saw or hammer or mower. Frequently, strange men visited grandpa. I'd see him take out a clipboard and scribble notes and sketches. Then he'd quote a price and a delivery date. Only later did I realize that grandpa was running a side businesses making farm equipment. Specifically, he'd construct cage-like structures that fit on the back of pickup trucks; these allowed his customers to haul animals in the beds of their trucks. 

The garage was a quiet place. Grandpa didn't talk much. I sat and watched him work, intrigued by his skill and knowledge. 

Often grandpa made tables and chests, lovely hand-crafted pieces of fine furniture. He made a round pedestal table for my Aunt Linda. I watched him cut each piece of wood and lovingly caress its grain. I longed to have grandpa make something for me. But I was raised to accept what was offered and not ask for anything. 

One day grandpa began working on a piece of furniture crafted from golden oak. The wood shone, and I asked grandpa many questions. "Who is it for?" "What is it?" He only responded, "Oh, it's a little something I'm making for someone." His cryptic responses held a secret. 

As work progressed on the golden box, I watched the piece evolve from a concept to a finished item awaiting sanding and staining. Grandpa asked me what colors I liked when he selected the stain. 

I hoped one day grandpa would make a chest for me. 

That Christmas we sat in grandpa's and grandma's living room on Pitcher Street. Grandpa rose from his recliner and walked out the back door. He returned a few minutes later with the golden chest. He moved the chest into the room and left it by his chair. 

"Here you go," he said looking at me. 

I had longed for, prayed for, hoped for the chest. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I hugged my grandfather. He patted me on the back and made quiet grandpa sounds. "It was your dad's idea," he said as though he had nothing to do with the tinkering that produced my magnificent hope chest. 

I opened the lid and read the inscription: 
Many years have passed since that Christmas of 1970, but I still have the chest. It occupies a space in my bedroom where I see it every day. Although I'd never choose a piece of country furniture for my home now, I can't bring myself to alter the chest. The hinges and finish are all original, but time has faded the coloring and perhaps colored my memories, too. 
I never used the chest for its traditional purpose: collecting household items in hopes of marrying. Instead, I have stored various papers and projects in it. In that sense, it's more of a keepsake box than a utilitarian domestic object. 

When I think about collecting and storing objects and memories, A passage from Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner speaks to me: 

We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales, we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable...

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"The Mechanical Genius" and Education "Reformy" Stuff #SOL16 Day 29/31

*A big thank you to Stacey, Dana, Anna, Betsy, Beth, and Tara for running the SOL blogging challenge over at Two Writing Teachers. 
Tis the season of high-stakes testing. For students in my state, the good times begin rolling next week, at which point our school of nearly 1,500 students will begin the dance of circus clowns mandated by all the education reformites, a.k.a. federal mandates under the revised ESEA and State of Idaho legislature mandates.

Since Idaho tends to be two decades behind times, we're at the zenith of standardized testing. That means our students will take more tests this year than in any previous year and that the stakes are higher now than at any other time since the dark ages of education reform began in 2001 with No Child Left Behind.

To prepare for the testing prom, we met as a staff for professional development, which today meant testing duties. We have two high-stakes tests, the ISAT battery of tests sophomores take and the SAT test the state mandates all juniors take on April 12.

The age of education reform reminds me of "The Mechanical Genius," a story in V. S. Naipaul's Miguel Street.

In the story Bhakcu, the narrator's uncle, likes to work on cars. Indeed, the narrator describes his uncle as always having cars and always working on the cars he acquires.

I don’t think he always approved of the manufacturers’ designs, however, for he was always pulling engines to bits.

The reform-maestros operate like Bhakcu. They acquire and dismantle the nuts and bolts of schools regardless of the school's mechanical worthiness. They swoop in for the acquisition and dismember it until one day it falls right on them, as did one of Bhakcu's cars.

‘Man,’ she whispered, ‘you all right?’ 

He groaned a little more loudly. 

He said, ‘How the hell I all right? You mean you so blind you ain’t see the whole motor-car break up my arse?’ 

Mrs Bhakcu, dutiful wife, began to cry afresh.... 

Hat,’ Mrs Bhakcu called, ‘Hat, come quick. A whole motor-car fall on he?’....‘You know what I always does say,’ Hat said. ‘When you play the ass you bound to catch hell. The blasted car brand-new. What the hell he was tinkering with so?’

Hat arrives to help He (the pronoun Bhakcu's wife uses in place of his name) only to have Bhakcu threaten to "beat up" Hat, the very one there to help lift the car from him.

This paradigm of breaking and fixing and beating continues throughout the story as it has in the21st Century of reform. First, Bhakcu thinks the problem is the crank-shaft, next the brakes, and so on. 

As Hat continues rescuing Bhakcu, educators persist in working within a system politicians insist on breaking and rebreaking. 

Hat said, ‘Look, I just sick of lifting up motor-car from off you, you hear. If you want my advice, you better send for a proper mechanic’ 

Bhakcu wasn’t listening. 

He said to his wife, ‘The crank-shaft was all right. Is something else.’

Still, Bhakcu insists on "fixing" the car. Similarly, after scratching their arses, Congress decided to overhaul No Child Left Behind following a series of waivers for states unable to meet AYP, on the heels of the Opt Out movement, after seeing the failed roll-out of CCSS, etc. But the new reforms, the so-called fixes and ousting of NCLB in favor of a so-called return to state control has done little to stem the tide of destruction. 

To wit: Today our testing coordinator told us that the legislature reversed its initial mandate that students only had to participate in ISAT testing to mandating passing the test as a graduation requirement. High-stakes testing is akin to Bhakcu's new car, the one he's "fixing." 

One day Hat and the narrator saw the car speeding down Miguel Street, unable to stop. Behind the wheel, Bhakcu waved his arms in warning signals. When the car did eventually stop just before crashing, Bhakcu exclaimed: 

‘I did mashing down the brakes since I turn Miguel Street, but the brakes ain’t working. Is a funny thing. I overhaul the brakes just this morning.’ 

Hat said, ‘It have two things for you to do. Overhaul your head or haul your arse away before you get people in trouble.’

Like Bhakcu, the reformsters don't get it. They blame students. Mostly, they blame teachers for the problems they perceive with public education. And it's always public schools that incur their wrath. They beat the ones they damage with their political posturing. Bhakcu beat his wife and justified the beatings by his anger. 

But the real reason for his temper was that he couldn't put back the engine as he had found it. Two or three pieces remained outside and they puzzled him.

Educators and students are left with the detritus of the mechanical geniuses in the refomster movement, left with the pieces that no longer fit. 
Image via Google Images Labeled for Non-commercial reuse.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Things I Didn't Expect #SOL16 Day 28/31

Today I bought a pineapple at Winco. I paid $2.49 for the pineapple. Had I purchased it in Hawaii, where my husband and I spent the past nine days on spring break, I would have paid $9.00 for the same pineapple.

I knew prices in Hawaii are high--very high--in Hawaii, but I had no idea how high. I've traveled to expensive cities--New York, San Francisco, London--but the cost of living in Hawaii, our 50th state, takes expensive to a stratospheric level.

Sticker shock to the extent I saw it in Hawaii is only one of the many things I didn't expect from my Hawaii vacation.  Some of the things I experienced are unique to Hawaii while others are observations I made as a tourist observing other tourists.

  • I didn't expect to observe so much poverty in Honolulu. We saw many homeless individuals, and the housing we saw in many neighborhoods reminded me more of Mexico than of the United States of America. I've been in poor areas of the country and lived in poverty as a child, but the poverty I observed walking around Honolulu looked more like what I've seen in third-world countries than in the U.S.A. 
  • Flying into Honolulu I initially noticed that the landscape looked much dryer than I expected. Yes, Oahu's north shore harbors lush mountains and jungles, but Diamond Head looks brown, and once away from the touristy area of Waikiki Beach, the lawns sport brown grass. One of our tour guides told us that the island suffers from a drought. Of course, that evoked California's drought in my mind. 
  • I didn't expect to share a pizza with a dog our last night in Hawaii. We met Arrow and his owner at Harbor Pub and Pizza. Arrow is a service dog who saved his owner during a heart attack. He's a friendly fellow and came to visit us at our booth. The waiter even brought him a drink. 
  • I didn't expect to be offered a job while in Hawaii. After all, I wasn't there to job hunt. I was there for vacation. However, I was offered a job while on our Atlantis submarine adventure while purchasing a jacket for my husband. The woman who assisted me asked me if I'd like to work on the tourist boat and told me they're hiring. 
  • I didn't expect to see a woman wrestling with her baby to get the little girl into a stroller while traveling on a full elevator with eight adults and two strollers and two toddlers. The child began screaming and would not stop. "Why don't you hold her until you get to the lobby," I suggested. The woman became unhinged, and in no uncertain terms told me I know nothing about parenting and obviously have no children and "it's okay" that the child was screaming. Well, it's not okay for a parent to provoke a child to scream and to continue doing so in a confined space. 
  • Many people I know who have visited Hawaii talk about longing to live there. I fell in love with Hawaii the way many do. It is paradise, beautiful, comforting, but even though I want to return to Hawaii and travel to the other islands, I have no desire to live there. After a few months on an island, I think I'd feel claustrophobic. I didn't expect not to want to move to Hawaii. 
  • I didn't expect to hear so much of the Hawaiian language. Clearly Hawaiian's haven't gotten the "English Only" memo. I loved hearing Hawaiian and love the Hawaiian words and names. 
  • I didn't expect to meet a bus driver our first day who attended ISU and lived a couple of years in Pocatello. We do live in a small world. 
  • I didn't expect to find our hotel room with its double balconies such a perfect spot for watching Friday fireworks over Waikiki beach. I could look down from the 27th floor and observe the fireworks from their launch pads soar into the sky, passing by our room. 
We had a fantastic vacation, much of which I chronicled through slices during the Slice of Life challenge. Our global world with its easy access to air travel allows middle class folks such as us to travel to places that seemed exotic and remote to me as a child. Growing up I didn't expect I'd ever see Hawaii or Alaska in person. Now I've traveled to both states, and that's the best thing of all that I didn't expect from my spring break in beautiful Hawaii. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Fashion Show #SOL16 Day 27

New clothes rarely found their way into my closet growing up. As the younger of two girls, I earned my sister's hand-me-dows. Sometimes a brown paper bag of high-end outfits were given to us. 

At Easter things changed. My earliest Easters brought new socks and underwear in my Easter basket. 

I remember my father arriving with the big yellow and green baskets, one for me and one for Gaylene. I cried when dad left without leaving the basket and my new socks and chocolate bunny. We were supposed to go to Webb City with him, but mom wasn't at home when he arrived to pick us up, so he took the baskets but not us.

After Gaylene and I moved from Picher, Oklahoma to Webb City, Missouri to live with dad and our stepmother Jean  permanently, we started going to church and getting Easter outfits. 

Several of those dresses I remember in great detail. One year grandma Cowen bought us pink dresses with matching short capes. We had Easter headpieces that looked like spring ear muffs! Gaylene had no front teeth and two black eyes she received from trying to walk home from school with her eyes closed. She didn't see the board sticking out as she traversed the lumber yard. 

In fourth grade I had a cream colored A-line with a green ribbon down the middle and small flowers dotting the dress. It had a high lace neck that now reminds me of pictures of Shakespeare. 

That year sticks in my mind because my new dress brought me great joy, and my  sister's hand-me-down outfit caused her great pain. Her "new" outfit came from the brown bag of old new clothes; my new dress came from the store. 
Me on the left in my new dress, and Gaylene on the right in the hand-me-down outfit.
My dress is actually off-white, but tinting added later makes it look yellow. 

By fourth grade the hierarchy had begun to change in significant ways for my sister and me. That year she had a fifth grade teacher who assigned each student a number. Gaylene was "Number 3." Nameless to her teacher and struggling academically, I didn't realize the symbolism of that old Easter dress until this moment. 

My sister and I walked into Wildwood Baptist Church wearing statement pieces that Easter Sunday. We sat in our regular pew ready for the Easter fashion show. 

*A big thank you to Stacey, Dana, Anna, Betsy, Beth, and Tara for running the SOL blogging challenge over at Two Writing Teachers.