LOVE IT or LEAVE IT: REALLY ??????

People really?? I know I recently have been waxing on about the backsliding we have been going through the past few years regarding Social Justice and race relations. But after the firestorm over Colin Kaepernick’s protest at the playing of the National Anthem, I am shocked to once again hear: “America: Love it or Leave it!” Are you kidding me? I had a ’60s flashback! All of the sudden I was not a high school US History Teacher, but back in high school, as a student during the heyday of the Vietnam War. The protest that was a part of everyday life came back in a bad dream. Not the protests themselves, but the division that literally and figuratively tore the country in two. Back in the ’60s & early ’70s we were becoming  (some say became) 2 countries. Sound familiar? Have we learned nothing from past mistakes. Do these self-proclaimed “Guardians of Patriotic Values” even understand the history of our country?

This country has always been about social protest against injustice. Anyone remember a meeting in Philadelphia around 1776? Our founding fathers, our greatest patriots, were, in reality, protesting the perceived social injustice and the curtailing of their rights  imposed by their own government! Who can forget that little Tea Party or that incident on King Street in Boston! These were not just  civil action protests, but violence against the ruling government.teapartycommons

Our founding fathers understood the importance, if not the necessity, of the right to protest. Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“Difference of opinion leads to enquiry, and enquiry to truth; and I am sure…we both value too much the freedom of opinion sanctioned by our Constitution, not to cherish its exercise even where in opposition to ourselves.”

Jefferson was quite clear; difference of opinions, protest, is the only way to get to truth and the rights of all.

If people had not  protested  and voiced dissenting opinions, women may not yet be voting (or running this country) and schools may still be segregated. Urban factories would still be fire death traps, and etc., etc.

What many of these “patriots” fail to realize as they are shouting down the legitimate right to take a stand, is that the protesters are  patriots. People who love this country are the ones who want to see the changes that will bring about the true American ideals of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” How can anyone feel this country is fulfilling its obligation to its citizens if we are not granting all rights to all people. And just as important, the right to voice an  opinion that may or may not be the majority opinion. Those who love this country are those willing to stand up (or kneel down) to face oppression and face the consequences.

colin

While discussing this the other day, a friend told me agreed with the reasons for the protest, but thought the way the NFL players were going about it was disrespectful. “Why do they have to be so public about it? Can’t they just donate money to a cause?” That is not the point. The high visibility of being in the NFL is exactly what makes the protest effective. Silently giving money may help, but who would know, and how does that promote the cause? If the players held a press conference to announce their contribution, they may be seen as self-serving. It’s because Kaepernick and the others want this country to be the best version of America that it can be, that they take advantage of the stage they have. I have had friends and students tell me they think the protest is disrespectful to the National Anthem. My response is this: “The protest is not disrespecting the flag, the anthem, or the country. It is the American value of allowing your voice to be heard.” To me the real disrespect comes from the television networks who broadcast the games. Except when it’s a playoff or Super Bowl and a superstar is performing, when do they even broadcast the anthem? The answer is they don’t. Why? Because they can sell the time for big buck commercials. That to me is disrespectful! They only are showing the anthem now because it’s way to boost ratings.

Protest does not work in a vacuum or hidden in a closet. The protest in the ’60s was championed by the slogan, ” The whole world is watching!”  That’s the point: To inform the public, to make others aware!  If we silence other voices, we are doing all a disservice. If we are apathetic to the events around us, if we say nothing, we are stifling protest, we perpetuating the wrongswhole-world

Those who protest are doing their patriotic duty. Everyone has the right to disagree with them; you have the freedom to disagree with the protest, but you MUST allow them the right and privilege to voice their feelings and use the tools they have to make their case. Just like the anti-war movement of the past, the protesters are not out to destroy the country they love, but to ensure America live up to its promises to all its citizens. The people who protest are attempting to hold America accountable for its actions, and to uphold its founding ideals. Those who protest are patriotic,  as are those who serve to defend these rights. On this we are all on the same side. We can agree to disagree, but we must allow all sides to be heard and to use the tradition of America to protest.

 

 

 


					
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‘WHAT DO I TELL THEM NOW?’

So, every year in my US History classes when we get to the discussion of slavery, or Civil Rights, politics, or current events, inevitably one or more students begins a dialogue about how bad race relations and/or social justice is in America today. I have always welcomed that conversation. “Yes, I can agree to a degree” I’ve been able to reply, “things are far from perfect, but boy they are so much better than they were.”This usually elicits a debate about past and present. My argument has been partially formulated on the fact I have seen first hand the changes in America from the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s to today. I lived through the marches led by Dr. King and the non violent tactics of the Freedom Riders and others. I remember the fraction in American society during the “race riots” of Newark and Watts.The emergence of the Black Panther Movement and “Black Power” I can recount with distant memories of segregated swim clubs ( yes even in New York) and places only “The Coloreds”would /could” go. I frequently would tell my students that they have the advantage of having a teacher for whom, this wasn’t history but current events. I was secure in telling them that things were so much better now in America then when I was younger.

However, what do I tell them now? Since I last saw my classes Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile was shot in Minnesota (and streamed live online). Then just a few days later Police Officers in both Dallas and Baton Rouge were killed  in retaliation when peaceful  protests turned violent and Police Officers ( specifically white) were targeted. Even the controversy over the protest of these events, such as not standing for the National Anthem has become a polarizing action.colin

Have we as a nation forgotten the deep history of (and right) to protest?

olympic-protestIs this things getting better? Can I really look my students in the eye and honestly say “Things are better today than in the past?” I am stumped and confused. I have always believed in the process of America, that we as citizens had the power and the responsibility to change the injustices and the wrongs of our society. Change is more often than not evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary, it’s slow and takes the people buying into the need for the change.Up to now I have confidently pointed to the progress we have made. Yes, it’s slow. yes it’s not enough, but compare where we have come to from where we were.When I look at the events of the past year or two, I am losing confidence that we are moving forward. The gulf between sections of America, Black and White seem to be drifting further apart.  The trust that change for the better can and WILL happen has eroded on both sides.We have become a nation of 20 second sound bites and 140 character summations. The problem is so much larger than a headline.Serious dialogue and discourse is being replaced by slogans and violence.Each new action begets finger-pointing back and forth and only increases the distrust and shuts down opportunity for any real conversations that may lead to positive changes.

This frightens me. What do I say to my students? My teaching has always stressed the power of the student. They are the voice and instrument of the future changes. I still strongly believe in that. However, What will be the base they start with. It’s not fair to sugar coat these events. Today’s students must see the world for what it is. But, is it all doom and gloom? Is there a foundation I can show them that they can build on? Can I honestly expect them to feel they can have a positive influence on the future if what they see today is a backsliding in trust and respect?  My confidence is being chipped away in large chunks. I have seen so much progress and always believed that although we as a society had so much more to go, we were on the right road.One of the aspects of teaching that motivates me is the knowledge that I have the opportunity to prepare my students for that change. That I may have a small part in helping them find that power they have inside them to implant the necessary advances we as a people must make.

I am saddened by my diminishing faith in our people. Now more than ever, today’s students need to be prepared to face an increasingly hostile world. To serve my students I must dig deep and find the way to show them that we as a nation, as a society, are bigger than the current events. That we can rise above the lowest common denominators and the hate mongers. These current events for our students today will become the history they will teach their children. What do I tell them? How can convince them they are the instruments of change for the future?

I am not certain what I am going to tell them, but I promise the dialogue will continue. It is paramount that we as educators ensure our students have an avenue and platform to learn about what is happening in our society and that they have a say in what happens so that we may again become a more united nation. We have a strong history of conflict, but that conflict has often lead to positive changes. Let us hope we can continue our steps towards a postive and future we can all walk together.

 

 

You Have To Be Taught

“You’ve got to be taught To hate and fear,You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,It’s got to be drummed In your dear little ear You’ve got to be carefully taught.”(Rodgers and Hammerstein  1949  from the musical South Pacific.)
These lyrics were part of my High School yearbook back in 1971. The song was decades old then, but now  over 60 years later, they are, sadly,  still as relevant as ever. This past weekend in Orlando, Florida the worst mass shooting in America’s history, and the senseless murder of a  rising young  singing star have brought the issue of fear , prejudice, and gun violence to the forefront. ( as if it’d really ever gone away, just hidden in the shadows)
 I’m lucky, my own children are adults, I teach in a High School, so my students are older and we can have frank and open discussions. How do those of you with young children and students discuss the senselessness of these events? Do you ignore them ? Do you steer the conversation  away from controversial discussions? Or, do you tackle the tough questions?
 As a U.S. History teacher I  have wrestled at times with such questions. I truly believe we must be open to having honest and difficult discussions, we do our children and students no favors by putting our heads in the sand and pretending the world is not a scary place. How else do we implement change if we don’t confront it? We as parents and educators are charged with the task of preparing the children and young adults for the reality of the world.
 I do not mean in any way to scare young children. I do not want them to be fearful and look for monsters and terrorists under their bed. However, they need to understand that life may be hard and not to be naive.There must be a balance between frightening   children and being  realistic. Just as they “got to be taught To hate and fear”   they also have to be taught to be loving and  accepting, to understand the way the world works, and to use their voice and power to change things for the betterment of all. 
 In my classroom I have struggled for years to keep my personal beliefs and political views out of my teaching. I believed that students should make up their own minds on issues. My classroom should not be a “bully pulpit” to push my own agenda. However my views on this have changed somewhat. No, I don’t and won’t “preach” my own feelings on a subject, but especially in an election year, and the current events of the times, many students want to hear my opinion. I now believe it is my responsibility to share with them, to open up a dialogue, create a safe space that allows students and teacher to exchange ideas, explore different sides of issues, and to formulate their own opinion. These students are hungry for answers and for  change, but how can they, the future of our country, implement change if they are not exposed to all the information.We must teach them how to seek the answers they crave, to learn how to ask the needed questions.To implement change, we must show them it’s OK to be different, we must show them to be accepting, we must show them they can start the process to end the violence and hate.
Yes, I will talk with them about gun violence, yes,I  will express my opinion, and most certainly yes, I will entertain, and encourage debate. I don’t want puppets echoing my sentiments, but, caring young adults who will act when necessary and have the courage of their convictions to act accordingly.
  Centuries ago,Thomas Jefferson had written “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”  As educators and teachers, let us use the responsibility placed on our shoulders to “carefully teach” our children.
Let us inform them, teach them, carefully, and with age appropriate language, but do not shy away. Do not be fearful of expressing your opinions . But, with balance and frankness that allows for student input and understanding. They got to be taught!condolences flag

Confessions of a Born Again Happy Person!

happy face

Hi, my Name is Eric and I am a Happy Person! ( Hi Eric)

Now this may sound strange but this is a quite the revelation for me. I was not always a person who was happy or positive. Just the opposite. I was always a Gloomy Gus. I never saw a situation that could not be made worse waiting for the other shoe to drop.No good deed went unpunshied!Every  silver cloud had a darker cloud behind it.clouds

I have always been a classic underachiever. I was told that I was destined for big things. I was the first to go to college, a good athlete, a “good person”. However, I felt in my heart I was an imposter. I surely didn’t feel smart. I always got reports that I “could do better” “Not performing up to expectations” I was a good baseball player, but, I was overweight, did not get myself in shape and so,I was cut from the team.   As a result I knew that every time I tried some new experience or challenge, failure and disappointment was just around the bend.

Life became a series of bad choices that only reinforced my self predisposed outcomes. Hate cold weather, go to school in New England. Like a big university environment, go to a school with less than 2,000 students. Want to become a teacher , get a degree in Criminal Justice. Get involved in bad relationships, and work in business for over 20 years hating every minute of it.

The one thing I always was sure of was that I wanted a family.After somehow managing to find a wonderful women to marry me,(and still I wound up on crutches the day of the wedding and almost missed it !) we settled down and started a family.Life was good. We bought a co-op and things looked bright.Then things got even better, I was offered a promotion and a chance to move to the suburbs. We bought a house ,moved , I was the boss , and we had our second child.Just when it looked like maybe the dark clouds had dissipated someone cashed my reality check! I got laid off,we had never been able to sell the co-op in New York, and now I  was out of work. To save our home I had to go into bankruptcy

Needless to say I had good reasons to not be all rainbow and unicorns. Over the next dozen years I worked in various jobs in my industry but the economy was tanking and I had 6 different companies either go out of business, downsize or merge and cut  down their  workforces. We struggled, but through the faith and devotion of my wife we managed, certainly nothing I did ! All those hollow predictions about my “potential” and how great I was to be, rang in my mind, and manifested itself in pessimism and negativity. I was not very pleasant to live with. I complained about everything to everyone. My belive that I was a failure was coming true.

So what changed? Just before my fiftieth birthday I got laid off  from my job by budget cuts . Again, confirmation of my failures! I came home with my pathetic little cardboard box.laid offMy wife and I realized there had to be a change. There was no going back to the path I had been on. After much soul-searching, I  decided to do what I always wanted to do. Teach. I looked around found a Master’s Program and, bless her, my wife supported my decision.An amazing thing happned.I was becoming a good student !! I not only enjoyed the work, I was learning and getting straight A’s. Within two years I  was teaching High School Special Education US History! Maybe, just maybe, the sun would shine after all! Well OK, I got RIF’ed twice before I landed my present school, but it felt different. I was slowly seeing the light. Being in a position where I felt I  belonged  had a profound effect on me. I saw how what I was doing with and for my students was having a positive influence on their lives. I felt that I was finally on the correct path.My eyes were opening, a cool wind was blowing the dark clouds away. This allowed me to really look at my life. How blessed was I to have a loving and supportive wife? Two fantastic children who were becoming strong adults.At the same time this allowed me to open my heart as well, as I awakened the dormant spirituality and peace within, that strengthened my faith in God.

I was enjoying life! I knew  that things were going to be all right after all! To be sure, things are not always perfect, I still struggle financially, I’m still a parent !!!, and well, students are not always little angels. But, I know that I can choose to be positive, I have my family,my faith, my friends and of course a truly wonderful connected PLN that allows me to see the beauty of the world and the positive spirit in me and others. The only expectations are the ones from within me.I can accept when things go wrong,I am convinced that I can overcome.Being positive and happy only makes things better. I draw strength from that. I am not naive, but I have a choice. I choose happy !happy because

Recharging your Battery !

battery-charging

I was roused from my slumber by an unusual sight. A bright, almost brilliant flash of light! I jumped up in bed and shaking the gauzy cobwebs from my brain, I realized what this mysterious sight was. It was the sun!! OMG it’s 7:30 AM .I panic my first class starts in 4 minutes! Then a Zen like calm engulfs me. It’s SPRING BREAK!! I have slept past sunrise! I nestle back in bed for a few more minutes before my mind starts racing with my “things to do while not doing anything list.”

Sure, I may not be in school, but that doesn’t preclude me  from not working. Even scheduling “downtime” or pleasure reading must be planned. But, is this really a good thing. Am I doing myself and my students an injustice by not slowing down. By scheduling and “doing” something every minute am I draing my battery, my power supply? My major plan for break was to not get up in the dark every morning.So far so good, but am I really recharging? Do I need to? Umm, yes ! We all do.
Recently in a #BFC530 chat we discussed teacher burnout.I used the analogy of being in an airplane when the oxygen mask deploy. We must take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.How can we be effective if we can barely keep our eyes open by 6th period on Thursday.sleeping teachers

In The dark days of the recent past ( 2 years ago) before I got my first Smartphone, I couldn’t fathom why the students always had to recharge their phones. I charged my flip phone every night and it could go for days. Then when I upgraded to my new phone I got it. The more programs that were running the more the battery drained. We are like that smartphone. Education is a tough profession. There may not be a lot of heavy lifting, but there sure is a lot of mental lifting. Lesson planning, instruction, student conferences,  observations,meetings, being connected online etc. etc. This is not a poor me lament. I am OK with all of this. But we need to be at the top of our  game to serve the students the best that we can. They deserve nothing less. If we are “running all of these programs” our battery will drain, and drain quickly.dead batterySo how can we be competent  educators? I miss my students this week. I enjoy being in the classroom, but recharging is vital to being a proficient  educator. It’s not selfish to sleep till 7:30, it’s OK not to check email for a day or two. I will be grading and lesson planning later in the week, but let me get up to about 75% charged first.

In February of 2015 The National Sleep Foundation issued new sleep guidelines.

  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category) 

I understand this is not going to happen for most of us.  Sleep is at a premium.Life, family and other responsibilities do get in the way.However, let’s take advantage of the recharging time when we get it.

If we truly desire to be the best we can be for ourselves and our students, there are times we need to give ourselves permission to step back. Read a fiction novel, sleep in, go off the grid for a day or two. We will be better for it  in the long run, and as a result, be more abt to have the strength and sharpness to be the best educators we can be.

When I come back to my classroom next week I hope to be close to 100% charged. Hopefully the power supply will last a while longer. So with that said, I am heading off to the kitchen in my penguin PJ’s to pour another cup of coffee and read a novel ( after all it’s almost noon !!)

 

Hat’s Hoodies & Crackers!

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I was at #edcampsouthjersey last weekend and had a chance to lead my first Edcamp session. It was a bit nerve-racking, but since this is my year of risk taking, I thought I needed to do it. Also, I wanted to discuss with fellow educators their thoughts and opinions on a topic that has been prevalent in my classroom as well as my school.

Hats, hoodies & crackers (food) in the classroom. Do these really impede learning?

I wasn’t looking for affirmation, I wanted to hear how others felt about, and dealt with this. Just about every school on every level has rules about attire and food. However, are teachers spending too much instructional time battling with students about dress and granola bars? Are we removing students from classrooms (thus having them lose learning time) over arbitrary rules? Are the rules arbitrary?  I asked this of the participants in my session. Can they justify the hat & hoodie rule? Explain how it stops learning? One middle school teacher made a very valid point. In his school behavior problems are often in the hallways, with hats & hoodies cameras cannot identify students.In his mind it’s a security issue. And in the class he pulled up his hoodie (many of us were in hats & hoodies!!) and covered most of his face. “To me “, he said,”this is a distraction, how do I know if he is paying attention, and not hiding ear buds”? To me this was a sound rationale. Whether I agree or not, at least there was some thinking and reason to the rule. In my US History class, we spend a number of lessons on Civil Disobedience, and how to use your voice for change. If a government can’t explain why a law is valid or in place, well, maybe it needs to change. Why should school be different? Students (and teachers) need to know why a rule is in place. I am not advocating anarchy, but questioning yes.

Another teacher was mildly angry “We are teaching the whole child, they have to learn how to follow rules. What are we teaching them if we don’t enforce the rules?” Again, I understand her thinking, but does anyone drive 65 miles an hour in a 55 zone? Probably yes. Okay that’s not following the law. Is the extension of that we are going to steal a car? Most likely not. Yes as a society we needs rules and law for the security and benefit of us all. But that doesn’t mean all rules are good or necessary. Our representatives are in place to try to make all of our lives better. The same is in our schools. If the end goal is to educate our students, we must have them in the classroom. And, make them feel safe and create an environment comfortable for learning. Not adversarial. If a student is comfortable then hopefully they will be more open to learning. If we are in a cantankerous relationship with the students, we are becoming a hindrance to education.  Rules that are counterproductive to this need to be reexamined. enforcement  hats

Another reason brought up was the dress code. “Look at how some of the girls are dressing! Bare bellies, low-cut tops, off the shoulder shirts.” I agree students need a dress code, clothes that objectify  women have no place in a school. But, that is a different issue.

One other teacher brought up the point that “in my day, a man took off his hat inside, and they (the students) have to learn how to dress for work.” For me this speaks to some core issues. Firstly; it’s not your day anymore. Look at the world we are living in today. Many of these students are modeling the world they live in. I spoke in a previous post about showing a world outside of what they see every day. However, we need to acknowledge where they are also. How many parent meetings have you sat in where the parents are dressed in a hat or hoodie? Are we sending them a message that their environment and culture is of lesser value than ours. In many ways the dress of our students reflect their culture. In this session we were a room of young to middle age white men and women. Are we imposing our standards and values on our students? When I was in High School (the 60’s and ’70’s) we protested and marched so we could wear blue jeans! Every generation, every culture has different standards and styles.How can we be inclusive if we are ignoring or devaluing our students and their backgrounds.

As for the workplace, in my Alternative Classes, most of my students are not a not on a college track. The majority have plans for a more “hands on” “blue collar career.” Many will be dressing for work as they dress now. Also, many of the parents and caregivers of these students also are dressing for work like this. What message does that send if we tell them their parents are not dressing “right “The message we send when we say take off your hat in class, may go deeper than we think.

So, we certainly did not come to any consensus, but we did have an open dialogue and that where it starts. I believe I now have a better understanding of why the rules were implemented, and I respect them.  However I need to consider what my goal is for the student’s as a whole. How do I make learning a collaborative endeavor and keep them in class, on task, and respect our differences? Yet at the same time teach them the need to follow rules, but also learn how to implement change in a positive way ?

IT’S ONLY ROCK & ROLL (BUT I LOVE IT)

“Hey Fieldman can you cover my shifts this weekend? I’m going to a rock concert”

It’s the Summer of ’69 ( thanks Bryan Adams) and I’m working in the Cresthill Deli. My friend Jerry and some of the other waiters ( all a year or 2 older than me ) are driving a couple of hours up the New York State Thruway ( later to close, got that Arlo!) to some hog farm for a rock festival ? Well, my dad wasn’t letting me go, so I covered the extra shifts. For 4 days as all my buddies got stuck at Woodstock ! So here I am a member of the Woodstock Generation who spent Woodstock serving Pastrami Sandwiches to the fine patrons of Spring Valley, NY. Yea no regrets !!! Right! Woodstock_poster

So obviously music and rock & roll have a strong, almost visceral effect on my life.As I’m sure for so many of you, of all generations, music is a measuring stick of our life ,events and who we are and sometimes why & how. 

Of course missing Woodstock had left a void in my young psyche, but over the decades music and events connected to them have helped to shape who I am dylan

I teach US History and much of the focus of my classes is learning about the mistakes we have made as a society and country , for the students to recognize the injustices and inequities in the world. But, just as important, to show students how to use their voice and power to make changes in the world. On occasions I have wondered where it all started for me. Why is social justice such an important focus for me? In a voxer conversation on #edbeat with the esteemed Sean Gaillard (@smgaillard ),we were discussing my attendance at the The Concert for Bangladesh. This was the first real rock benefit Concert. A truly pivotal cultural event .It was the forerunner of  such charitable phenomena as Live Aid, Farm Aid, and  Hope for Haiti.George Harrison of the Beatles, along with Ravi Shankar organised the show to raise funds and awareness for relief efforts to aid refugees from Bangladesh, following the genocide in that country. I’m not lying , I went to hear former Beatles Harrison & Ringo Starr, as well as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, and many more. But, over the course of the evening and subsequent late night dorm room discussions about how we were going to change the world, I realized it was more than that.I came to see the power that music has. It gives us a voice, a platform,an avenue to express how we feel, and unite thousands, if not millions of people for a common cause.rock n roll pete

Music allows us all to take risks, to see the world and ourselves from many different perspectives.Having watched Neil Young over 4 decades, I am amazed at how bold and innovated he is.It’s insiring. Always  true to himself he changes and takes risks. Many years ago I saw Neil perform at the beginning of a tour. He came out doing his “traditional” rock show. After a break, he came out as “The Shocking Pinks” a ’50s band complete with grease and pink high finned Cadillac.  A few months later I, went to see him again, same show, oh no, not Neil, it was Trans electronic music, and then an acoustic show! The lesson I learned was not to accept stagnation. Change can be scary, it may even fail (Trans was awful) but if I was to continue to grow as an individual I needed to not be afraid to look into myself and move out of my comfort zone. ( hello Major Tom & Ziggy !)  It was not always an easy road. I have been filled with self-doubt and lack of confidence for decades.But music was always there, either  to be my safe haven, or to inspire me forward.I could always find a song to comfort me, motivate or pick me up.   change

Music and concerts often become the sticky note that marks an event or place in our lives. It creates a timeline of both cultural and personal events in our lives.At the bicentennial( yea, I’m that old) watching Elton John dressed as The Statue of Liberty & Uncle Sam. That’s how you celebrate America’s freedom from England.Watching a Brit sing up a storm. Bonding with new college roommates freshman year listening to YES perform in our gym. Marching on Boston Commons during Anti War marches singing Country Joe McDonald’s  “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” (also known as “The Fish Cheer“) My sister and all our cousins joining  together at every family event to belt out a horribly loud version of “Whipping Post”  And walking my daughter down the aisle at her wedding to Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows”. These have become the yardstick by which  I measure my life.I can’t sing (when it comes to singing I am a great dancer !) can’t play an instrument, but man can I play a radio. ( OK a MP3 player) 

Music always has, and will continue to be an essential part of my life. I may not go to as many concerts as I once did, but, the strumming of a 12 string guitar or a Wah-Wah pedal crying out will always bring me to a contented place.               Peace out peace love rock

 

WHY I TEACH!?

why i teach quote

A student asked me this in class last week. The simple answer is “I want to make a change in the world.” However the answer is much more complex than that. I feel driven to make a change. I need to change the world! That may sound self-indulgent so allow me to elaborate.

I did not become an educator till I was 50 years old. Over the years I have gained a perspective that was lacking in my youth. Growing up white middle class from a supportive family offered me privileges I did not realize till  later in life that I had.I was the first in my family to go to college, (one of the first to graduate High School) but even with all that I felt lost and directionless I wandered through a parade of jobs and supposed careers , never really “finding myself”.At the risk of sounding  condescending ,I see how difficult it can be for our youth trying to cope with an ever increasing hostile reality.

I teach Special Education and Alternative Classes. The majority of my students have been disenfranchised and come from a lower socioeconomic strata. Many do not have strong family support. I hope to be able to show them that they have power within themselves. They have a voice to ask the questions they don’t yet know to ask. Things are hard as an adult, and unless they understand that they are the agents of change for the future, they may get stuck in the same systemic loop. I believe it is the responsibility of those of us who have come before to hand down what we have learned to the next generation.Not to do it “like I did”, but to offer them a broader perspective, and some real life experiences.The call of generativity to give back is overwhelming. Not to be the hero teacher riding in on a horse to tell the students how they should be , but, to be there to assist them in finding out what they can be.I teach

I certainly don’t have all the answers, I am not sure if I have any answers, but I can help to prepare them for the harsh reality of the”real world”.  In my history classes I use the story of history to show them how American Society came to be. For them to make changes in a system they need to understand how it developed , how it works, and how to become a component of the change they want to implement. There is a lot that needs to change and these students are the ones who in a few short years will go into the world  to make these changes.  I am not just teaching historical facts, history is a device and a tool to give them a broader perspective, to combine their world view with others who have “been there, done that”.It will be advantageous for  them to  learn how to think in broader pictures than the ones they see every day. To see that things were not always like they are today. Also, to see that change can and  does happen. But, change is not a passive activity, change may take time, change has to be pushed, prodded and pulled. Students need to incorporate that with the understanding of how they can affect the future, not just for themselves, but for their community and society. But to do that, they must believe in themselves, and that they have the ability to  do this!

I teach so i’m there when a student needs to sit after school to discuss what he’s going to do after graduation. I teach because a former student tells me I taught him about respect for others even when you disagree with them, or for a student to come by and show off his child and talk about his job and supporting his family.I teach because my generation did not do such a great job of changing the world.We were the generation of peace, love, and rock & roll.We were going to change the world !! Ow, we did some good things, but, over all we kinda left it a mess. I want the students to learn from our mistakes,so they will  be prepared for a new world outside of school . I teach because I want the students to see that risk is OK.The greatest changes have come from not being afraid to fail. Learn from your mistakes. Combine the lessons of the past with the fresh outlook of their generation. Not to accept what has always been.Understand that they  have support.  See that the world , their world, can and will change if they accept the challenge and risks.That’s why I teach.dont-be-afraid-of mistakes

RIDING THE ROLLER COASTER !!

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I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to try the new lesson!!! This year I made a conscious effort to change my teaching style. Gone were most of the powerpoint lectures. Gone were almost all “regular unit “tests. Students were going to be more involved in their own learning, and more empowered in how they learned. Also, more and newer  technology in the class.

So, here I was just about to start the unit on The Second World War. I haven’t taught this in over 9 years. Hmmmm, couldn’t dust off the old plans. They didn’t fit into the New Me teacher. So  I researched and found something that I was sure would ignite the class’s interest ,and make for a fun hands on learning project. An online”Baseball card creator”. How cool! They would work in groups and each group would research and create a trading card about an important figure in World War II, and then trade them back and forth .What could be bad for them. No lectures and notes from me, no long research paper ( but an opportunity to learn) Use of new technology with the chrome books, and working in groups with their friends. I almost dislocated my elbow patting myself on the back !! The big day came, I handed out real Baseball Cards to show what they looked like.

( Unfortunately Baseball Cards seem to be a dying artform) I projected the lesson on the big screen and walked them through it step by step including samples I made.

First they groused about which group was researching which people. OK, I was coming down the ride a bit but no worries, they would get over that ! Then as they started working 2 students started complaining they couldn’t find any information on their subjects. ( I had supplied a few tried & true hyperlinks to get them started)  I was confused. I checked in with them and they were researching the ballplayer from the card I had given them!        ( really a 3rd string catcher from the Mariners in 1998? ) The roller coaster was descending more rapidly now !! I got them back on track and the entire class was engaged and working Picking up speed the coaster was ascending quickly !!! Then the wheels started  to come off. The online creator was not letting them cut and paste photos. Yikes! 30 minutes of class time to figure that out.But we as a class got it.Bravo students. Wheels back on !,up up and away !! OK class, see you tomorrow and back to work then.

A new day at the top of the ride, class assembles and they log on . CRASH, the creator doesn’t save !! All the work from yesterday, gone! I have a mutiny on my hands !! I’m getting light headed from the rapid descent !! I stay calm on the outside ( never let them see you sweat!!) I go into damage control mode, get them settled down and cajole them to start over ( well actually, it was bribery by breakfast bars and peanut butter crackers, but hey !!!)  Slowing approaching the crest again, …. “Ah, Mr. Fieldman, everytime I go to another website to look something up, the card creator erases my stuff!” The coaster went down so fast, it left my stomach at the top. Another class period gone with very little work done.

Day 3 didn’t go much better.So what to do? I’m crushed they whole project tanked. Tanked, heck, it bombed like a V2 into London ( WW II refrence!)  Only about 1/3 of the cards are done. I make an executive decision. I’m pulling the plug on the project. We will just deal with what we have. I can’t waste any more time.

So what have I learned? I still love the idea ,but the execution was poor. Next year, I need to play with the tech more so I  really know it inside and out. Give the students more choice and say in how it is to be done. If my end goal is for them to learn  then is the process so important? If some  of them want to do it by hand and paper, what the heck why not, if that is what gets them involved. I learned not to get so invested in the how of a lesson, but the what ( are they learning).My enthusiasm on riding the roller coaster may have clouded my judgment of the process. But, that won’t stop me from continually trying new things and getting jazzed in the classroom about it. I think the class learned a valuable lesson about taking risks and failing. The world didn’t end when the lesson failed. I didn’t pout or rant. We adapted, and keep forward progress, inching the roller coaster back towards the top. 

So let’s see, our next project is making a Facebook Page about an important but underappreciated figure in Black History.I found the perfect online creator ( ow boy) ,printed out hard copies to do by hand, and when the students asked if they could use another online tool they found, I Was super excited! You betcha! Whatever or however it works for you !! Wow, we are back on top of the ride, and  the view is spectacular !!!

Hold on tight !!!

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What is Success?

In Room 101 I teach a class called Success 101. The goal of the class is to have students gain a perspective  of the future and their role in it. Where do you see yourself in say 10 years?What are your goals and aspirations? And, how do you plan to achieve them? We are working  to empower them with tools they can use to be successful. Aw, succes! What is success? Who gets to define what it looks like ? And what are the students willing to accept as their success?

The class is not designed to tell them what they “should be”, but to allow them to investigate the myriad of possibilities that are open to them. To explore what steps they may take to put themselves in the best position to succeed and how to handle failure if that happens . I understand as an older white middle class male, my definition of success may be interpreted differently by my students. (over half my class is students of color or from a lower economic strata) But does it have to be?  Am I trying to get them to be “successful” like me? No,  when I am talking about success it’s not the material success that comes to mind.  One of the first assignments in Success 101 is to imagine where they may want to live in 10 years. Look through Real Estate listings to find a home. To put this in some context, our school is in  New Jersey just boarding Camden, one of the most economically depressed cities in America. Many of the students either live in or have lived in Camden, or on it’s border and feel the economic effect of the city. They  have been told  that they  come from the “ghetto”. They are constantly are being told it’s a place to get away from.  Is that the message we want to be sending them? If you live in a bad place, you must be a bad person? And what is bad? Who gets to define what that means?  Are our students starting in a deficit or defensive mind set just by where they live? Is success for them “just getting out?” What does that say about pride in community and their ability to take control of  themselves and their future?

A good number of the students start by finding homes in California, Florida, or places in the midwest that they have no knowledge about, just to put distance between themselves  and their current situation. I understand that , but is that really success for them? Leaving your community, family, friends? I had a student who is from Camden, and found his “home” in the Midwest. Another student showed him his “home” back in Camden. The first student couldn’t understand why his friend wanted to stay.His reply was” I want to come back and make it better there”  To me that is the key issue, being successful will look different to everyone. Sure having money and a nice home  can be a definition of success, but it can be so much bigger than that. Why should students feel they need to leave their communities to be “successful”   Building a sense of power within the students to understand they don’t have to run away from who they are or where they are from. That they don’t have to accept the labels placed on them, Or, that’s it’s OK to break away and change. But, the choice shoulds be theirs. I want them to understand they get to define what success is to them and how they may affect change for themselves and their community. Don’t let other box you into choices that are not yours.

People will often be defined by others for  where they are from or how they live. For many students this may become a self fulling prophesy and identity . Are they letting others set  goals and definition of what success looks like that are not theirs? Do we want our students to feel they have to leave their homes and families for future success? Is this the message we want to be sending our students? You hear a message often enough you may  start to believe it yourself. Students should not feel that to be “successful” in life they have to leave their home or community. How do we open them up to see the power they have to implement change for themselves and their environment?if-not-now-then-when-if-not-you-then-who

Success is not monetary or collecting “things”. Success is having control of your story. Success is not allowing yourself to be defined or pigeonholed by where you are from or how you dress. Being a success in life may be just  living up to the responsibilities you have. Taking care of your family, being a responsible citizen, and using your voice to change the things that you see as wrong. I understand that people want to live a more comfortable life, be free of financial worries, feel safe in their homes. Sometimes we need to step back to gain a perspective on the world as a whole. Understanding that we do not live in a vacuum may allow students to see the world as interconnections of many types of people, and many definitions of success, and they can choose which is best for them. And yes, there is a lot that needs to be changed for the betterment of others,are we allowing our students to see that they have value, they have a voice for change?

So what are we teaching them about being a success?  Is it a big house and a SUV, turning away from who they are and where they are from? Or, is it using their innate power to affect change? To give back,and to come back to a community that needs “successful ” people to model for those who come  behind them and show that the future is theirs. That’s success!

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